Ugly Puggly 4
Ugly Puggly closed his eyes, but I wasn’t sure he was asleep. We bounced along thin cobbled lanes, his thigh rubbing against the young lad's. He’d that quiet smile on his face, and didn’t speak other than to direct me at the roundabout towards Thornwood. It was a steep hill and with cars on each side of the road, I couldn’t see a parking space. And when I did I nipped into it at the back of an ancient camper van. ‘That’s you,’ I said and kept the engine running. Pulled the handbrake on full, and waited to see if the van would slip backwards in the snow.
‘Thanks,’ he said and stretched a pale, bone-thin arm out to shake my hand.
Ugly Puggly opened his eyes and slipped outside the door to let him out.
A limp handshake. My dad would have had a few things to say about that. The mark of a man was in knuckle crunching.
He took off his broken sunglasses and left them on top of the air blower for me to get rid of. ‘Have you got a jacket or something I could borrow?’
‘Nah,’ I frowned. Suddenly, I’d turned into an outpost for the Sally Army. I was late for my dinner and Molly would be wondering where I was. She’d probably think I was cheating on her with Agnes, she didn’t know about, but surely did. I’d need to find a pair of shoes for Ugly Buggly and now this young guy wanted the jacket off my back. But I reached in behind the passenger seat and pulled out a work jacket and flung it at him. ‘Knock yersel’ oot.’
‘I can’t thank you enough.’
I turned my head away because his eyes were puffy and pinkish. He was greeting again. His eyelids drooping and making shiny and muddying the greens and sparkles of yellow in his eyes with each extended blink. He didn’t wipe them away, but let them run down his girly and boyish face.
‘It’s jist they took everything I had, stole my money and my phone. And even my trainers.’ He took a deep breath ‘And I’d invite you up but my mum doesn’t even know I’m gay.’
I sighed, and wished I’d had a packet of fags, even though I’d stopped years ago. ‘I ‘hink, she’ll have a fair idea.’
‘No, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t like that kind of thing. And I can’t say I’ve been mugged or she’ll want to call the police.’
‘She’ll jist thing you’ve joined the council workforce and they kit you out in shorts and flip-flops then as standard uniform as a cost-cutting measure. If she’s a Tory she’ll like that?’
He flinched and I regretted being a cunt, but Ugly Puggly saved me. He started in on plastic fragments and frogs and fish and the evolutionary cycle and how we were all becoming less fertile and more gay now. I got out of the cab, stepped away from the drone of his voice. But the young lad seemed to be lapping it up. His pale blue eyes shining. If I couldn’t have a fag, at least I could suck in some clean air polluted enough by diesel fumes to give a kick to my lungs.
Snow covered the tenement roofs and dripped down. A moon glow between black clouds in a grey sky. I stamped my feet to get some heat back into them. That reminded me Ugly Puggly was standing in the snow in his sodden socks. I watched his mouth as he rambled on and wondered if he was a poof too.
Girls like Agnes at our school were even crueller than the boys. A cackling gang to be feared, more than a razor gang. I knew now why they burnt witches. Back then I was an unsuspecting victim of their spells and smells. I’d eye them up from near and far. Raking over their clothes and bodies and listening to how they laughed. Each girl a fantasy. Tame enough to be red faced and tongue-tied when it became real.
Ugly Puggly took their abuse, but he did something different. He looked straight the fringes of hair and through them in the way you’d open a door and walk through. He showed no interest in guys either. I’d be talking about Agnes and he’d be talking about how crystalline structures formed in space.
‘Hi,’ I shouted at Ugly Puggly, ‘Whit you daeing?’
He’d one arm on the young guy’s shoulders and he was peeling off his trouser and handing them to him.
‘I’m gi’ing him my trousers.’
‘Fuck sake. Whit are yeh, a full-time stripper? Walking about wae yer bra and pants. You’ve already been done wae indecent exposure.’
The young lad wiped at his nose with the sleeve of my work jacket. ‘You’re a lifesaver.’ He stretched up and pecked at Ugly Puggly’s lips. I don’t know who was more surprised him or me. Slipping into the van he pulled the trousers on and made turn-ups with the longer legs.
‘I didn’t get done with indecent exposure,’ Ugly Puggly said.
‘That’s whit it said in The Clydebank Post,’ I replied.
‘Sensationalist tabloid. They were wrong. I got done with resisting arrest. The judge, of course, was a collection of old prejudices and not inclined to listen to my arguments. I told him I couldn’t be done with resisting arrest, because I shouldn’t have been arrested. It was a problem of logic. A tautology that relied on circular, non-reasoning, ability. An affront to Scottish law. I demanded a jury trial.’
I’d never heard The Clydebank Post being called a sensationalist tabloid. They specialised in selling local births and deaths and were filled with pictures of smiling school children. Scouts, Girl-Guides and cake-bakes for good causes.
‘But remember you’re a run-away. And whit will the police think if they stop me with you in the van wae only yer knickers on? They’ll think I’m some kind of bender!’
The young lad pulled the oversized jacket around him and zipped it up, so he looked like a head inside a quilted sleeping-bag. ‘Would that be such a terrible thing?’
‘Oh, fuck off the pair of yous.’ I pointed the finger at Ugly Puggly. ‘I’m tellin’ yeh, I’ll leave the pair of yous here.’
I jumped in the driver’s seat and stared out the window, the engine turning over quietly. A red McDonalds carton was propped up against the edge of a lamppost. I imagined rats coming out later and burrowing through the snow to get at cold chips.
The young guy was whispering in Ugly Muggly’s ear. He stuck his head in the van and I turned to look at him.
‘David wants to know my phone number,’ he said. ‘But I don’t have a phone. I said I’d gi’e him yours instead.’
‘Did you now?’
‘Whit is it?’
I put the van into gear and reversed backwards to give the van enough space. The passenger door flapped partially shut. Ugly Puggly stared in the window as I passed him on the hill. I’d like to have said he looked surprised or outraged, but he didn’t. He looked just like Ugly Puggly always looked.