Ugly Puggly 65
I’d been sleeping in the Bongo. It was a better home than some of the guys I drunk with during the day had down by the canal. We were off grid, near the sewerage works. No real need to make conversation and the sun shone, mostly. Snakes and ladders. We learned that in AA. It didn’t matter how far you climbed. How close you were to respectability. Even people who made the laws of the game, when they took that drink they slid back to pre-adolescent-punk yearning of fuck you and fuck off. Nothing and no one else mattered. Snakes without ladders.
When I took an epileptic fit, JD, one of the younger crew with a wicked beard, didn’t stop me from threshing about, like a fish online, but he did stop me rolling into the Clyde. He took what money I had in my pocket and what was left of my carry-out, but he left me my phone. Nobody wanted a Noika, not even a drunken thief. I was lucky because cheap phones keep a charge longer. He checked who I’d made my last call to and phoned Ugly Puggly.
I worked all this out after he’d arrived and coaxed me into sitting up. I’d peed myself, but already stank as part of the great unwashed. A wilderness within walking distance. Like me, but for different reasons, he knew which fence to climb and which path to clamber down towards the Clyde shore. A stretch of rocky outlets and shrubs. The Clyde canal leeched and overflowed through gates into the Clyde. Most folk could count on a welcome as long as you brought a spill of drink. Empty bottles and cans ended up in the water, so even the fish returning to the pristine shores got half-cut. A few hardy souls had even set up some kind of shelter with broken branches and fiery embers. Wood smoke warded off the darkness, leaving behind only grey ash and stars in an empty sky.
‘You want me tae phone an ambulance?’ Dave held up his slim new iPhone, his face soaked in sweat from running.
‘Nah,’ I shook my head. ‘Fuck off! I’ll be alright.
Dave wasn’t tutored in the way of the camp. And why it had cleared. If you phoned an ambulance, the police followed in their wake. He dressed like a member of a boy band with his skip-cap worn back to front on his blonde hair. The Salting lads with the narrowed eyes of border guards were suspicious types. He’d have been seen as bringing trouble to our front door, even though there was no door. But that was our drunken reality. Scatter to the winds.
Ugly Puggly loomed over me. He had cropped his silvery hair. His leathered face was deeply lined. He still cut about in an old shirt and old stained trousers, but he moved lightly on his feet and there was a look of concern in his eyes. He’d have fitted right in with the Salting lads. He gave me his hand and helped me get up. He followed my gaze. I eyed the trampled space and scattering of douts for any semblance of drink my fellow travellers had left behind.
‘You lookin for somethin?’ he asked. But he already knew the answer.
I pulled away from him, lurching towards the grey bevelled concrete in-shot tidal water flowed in and out, bringing detritus and taking it away. He grabbed my arm before I fell.
‘Aye,’ I said, regaining a little of my composure. ‘A gun tae shoot mysel.’
‘I cannae gie you a gun,’ he said. ‘But I can help you get cleaned up and gie you a bed for the night.’
‘Nah,’ I replied. My head was full of black clouds pushing down on me. And I stumbled as I followed the well-trodden path, but quickly regained my rhythm. ‘I’m alright,’ I told him as he hovered at my back.
Dave overtook us and climbed up over the wee bit of fencing. He stood on the canal path and a guy on a bike, dressed like a traffic light, whizzed past him, almost knocking him sideways as he checked his phone. I laughed, and it hurt my ribs. I hadn’t laughed in a while.
Ugly Puggly offered his hand to help me climb the fence.
‘Nah,’ I grunted, pushing his arm away. ‘I’m no a fuckin invalid, yet!’
But my feet wouldn’t work right. He helped by clutching my shoulder and taking my weight. He propelled me forward and helping me to get enough momentum to get up over the humph of shale and on to the cinder path.
‘I’ve a favour tae ask,’ he let go of my arm.
Dave turned to look at me and shook his head in disgust.
‘I was wonderin if you could sell me yer van?’
He couldn’t meet my eyes.
‘But it’s my hoose.’ I searched my pockets for the keys. I pulled them out. Modern cars and vans had electronics and fobs and all kinds of gadgets. Mine were old-fashioned as a silver penknife on a chain. ‘Here, take them.’ I bundled them into his hands ‘They’re nae use tae me. I don’t need a hoose, noo.’
‘How the much dae yeh want for the van?’ he asked.
‘Shut the fuck up,’ I said, and tried to stride away from him and Dave, but they easily kept up with me.
‘Alright, then,’ I stopped and whirled around to face them. ‘Six cans of lager and a bottle of vodka. And we’ll call it quits.’ I stuck out my hand for Ugly Puggly to shake. ‘Deal?’
‘Fuck aye,’ said Dave, flashing his teeth and grinning.
Ugly Puggly left my knuckles hanging like bruised fruit until my arm dropped to my side. ‘I’m no buyin you drink,’ he said.
‘Fuck off, then,’ I cried. ‘Don’t!’ I stumbled on and whirled around. ‘Just gees twenty quid then?’
‘I’ll gee yeh a warm bath. Make you somethin tae eat. And gie you a bed for the night.’
‘No, I don’t want a fuckin bed for the night. I jist want the money.’ A young guy passed us and I caught him glancing over. ‘Whit the fuck yeh lookin at?’ I shouted.
I signalled to Ugly Puggly with an inward curl of my arm and hand. ‘Gie me he van keys back.’
He shook his head. ‘Nah, you gie them to me as a gift. In good faith, I accepted them. Their mine, noo. I can phone yeh an ambulance if yeh want?’
‘Fuck off, ya cunt!’ I lurched towards him and flung a punch.
He stepped back and pushed me and I fell onto my arse. Sobbing, I looked up at them. ‘You cannae drive anyway. So yer fucked.’
‘We’ve been takin lessons,’ Dave said.
I struggled to my feet. ‘How many?’
‘Five,’ he replied with a smug look on his face.
I sobered up. ‘That’s no enough to get yer license.’
‘Who said anythin about licenses?’ Ugly Puggly frowned. ‘It’s enough to get us movin. We’ve got tae leave before the day-after-tomorrow.’
‘But the back wheel—’
‘I can fix that,’ Ugly Puggly said.
And I knew he could. And I knew he would.