Ugly Puggly 8
I took Agnes a sausage-roll for lunch. Seventy pence from Villa Bakery. You couldn’t beat that. She’d rolled out of her bed, and she wasn’t looking her best. I felt a bit breathless myself, as if I’d been back on the forty-a-day, but I’d only tried those electronic puffers. There seemed precious little air in her kitchen. A cat litter tray in the corner under the telly that needed seeing too. The stale smell of fat, decay, damp things, but that might just have been me. ‘Whit’s the matter wae yeh?’
‘I’m depressed,’ she replied. She stuck on the kettle and picked at the pastry on the sausage-roll.
‘Whit ha’e you got to be depressed about?’
I told her about Ugly Puggly and Dave staying overnight. When my wife had went to bed, I’d waited for the creak on the stairs before I’d suggested we crack open a bottle of conversation. It didn’t matter if it was whisky or cheap vodka, gin or even wine. But they’d said they were too tired.
‘Fuckin’ too tired,’ I growled. ‘Whit age are they? A hunner?’
She glanced in my direction. ‘You’re o’er sixty.’
‘Fuck,’ I said. ‘I know.’ But I wasn’t really listening. ‘You gonnae finish that sausage- roll?’
She brought it over. I ate it in two gulps. Washing it down with sweetened tea, I doled out the advice. ‘If you’re depressed the best thing you can dae is go oot for a wee dauner.’
She was leaning over me, turned away and I heard her weeping. A shadow of her hip swinging days and bouncing long hair. ‘I think you better go.’
How worn and tired she looked. I hadn’t been consciously avoiding her, but I tried to laugh it off. ‘Go where? Go when?’
‘Now,’ she said. ‘Now would be good.’
I sighed as I got up from my chair, felt the tears in my eyes. She allowed me to hold her, but no longer pressed herself against me. Tears streamed down her blotched cheeks and soaked into her blue housecoat lapels. Stretching away from her, I raised an eyebrow and nodded at the ceiling. ‘We could go upstairs for a quickie.’
She raised her head and summoned the ghost of a smile. Her voice throaty and broken. ‘You’ve no got it in yeh?’
‘We go back a long way…and I want yeh to know… I’ve always.’
‘Sssh,’ she said. ‘You were a funny looking kid at school.’
‘We were aw funny. A time of innocence. Nae fat kids. Nae black kids. Nae cars or colour telly and nae supermarkets. Everybody got a ball for Christmas and an Oor Wullie annual wae the Broons. The height of cuisine was Desperate Dan wae his mash potatoes and cow-heid pie.’
She pushed me away. Dried her eyes with a hanky. Blew her nose. Refolded the hanky and stuck it in her side pocket. ‘I didn’t get a ball for Christmas, or Oor Wullie.’ Her once cheerful eyes, stilled. Studied me again, her joy faded.
I left her standing there as I let myself out. My feet slowed at the door and I was amazed at my stupidity, as if I could feel her through the walls, but I didn’t turn back. To apologise would have added to her woes. Told myself it was her that had rejected me.
I sometimes drifted back to her street. The van making the turn without my noticing before I pulled at the steering wheel, as if it was a matter of faulty wheel balance.
I went to see Ugly Puggly. He was like the police. You always knew where you were with him. Things fell into place with him. But his house was a squirrel’s nest. He still had the old twin tub his mother used in the kitchen. Said it worked fine. The rooms smell of nicotine and the walls retained that brownish patina of sticky smoothness. Piles of books and magazines, but the thick curtains were always tight with the light.
He was on the floor fixing a bookcase next to the electric fire. Sheaves of papers dropped out, with pencilled calculations on them. Aware of me hovering about, he ignored me until I spoke.
‘Wae back to his mum’s.’
‘Probably for the best.’
‘Aye,’ I chuckled. Moved a pile of books for a leather armchair, and put them on top of another pile on a bed pushed up against the wall, the sheets clatty. Plumped myself down on the seat. I studied a photograph of a frowning Highlander in kilt and battle dress, before squinting at it again, and realising it was his mum at a wedding. ‘We’re like cannon fodder.’
He banged down on the shelf with his hand and seemed satisfied the shelf would hold. He pushed himself up to sit in the chair opposite me. ‘Cannon fodder? Whit dae you mean?’
I leaned forward, a mischievous smile on my face. ‘You and Dave. Me and Agnes.’
‘I still don’t know whit you’re talking about.’
‘Doesn’t matter—he was a good bit too young for yeh, anyway.’
Annoyance flickering across my face. ‘Dave,’ I growled.
He rocked the bookcase back and forwards, testing its firmness on the sticky carpet. ‘Too young for what?’
‘For fuck sake, whit is this, twenty questions?’
A shaper tone in his reply. ‘You’ve not asked twenty questions. You’ve asked one question, about Dave. And I’ve told you he’s away to his mum’s. He’ll be back later.’
‘Oh,’ I paused. ‘You’re meant to offer yer guests a drink.’
He lifted the bookcase and placed it against the wall and started stacking poetry books in it. ‘You know where the kettle is.’
‘Aye, but I’m no staying.’
‘Why’d yeh come then?’
‘I thought you might be lonely.’
He stopped slamming books into the bookcase. He shook his head and stared at me. ‘When have I ever been lonely?’
‘Dunno,’ I admitted.
‘I’ve no time for being lonely. Our biggest enemy is time and taking things for granted. The world as we know it is overflowing, catching us up now. The current generation will be the last generation unless we do something about it, now.’