The very wonderful Hi-Vis Press have just launched the stunning Low Light magazine. It is simply a sensory feast of words & images. I really strongly urge you to buy it, not just because I have this story printed therein -:
Tony reckoned the best thing about living in Shields was the fact the bookies opened at 8.00 on a Saturday morning. Free bacon sandwich and hot drink for the first dozen punters as well. He was always there in good time for that little bonus. Also, the early start meant he had a reason to get out the house sharpish and enjoy the fresh air, especially as Linda was always at graft. Ever since he’d took bad and got paid off, Saturdays were his only treat; spending hours in the bookies while he had a bit coin in his pocket. The rest of the week, he plugged the work shaped hole in his life on line; getting his head round important stuff on You Tube and Facebook . Stuff that his new mate Glen from the NE33 Loyal recommended he take a look at. He’d met Glen last year and they clicked immediately. Caught up at least once a week. Generally Saturday mornings over a breakfast freebie and The Sporting Life.
Before he got sick, Tony’d not been bothered about politics or any of that shite, but now he’d time on his hands, he realised the world was changing. So was he. Maturing intellectually. Ready for the impending conflict Glen had told him about, between the West and the Jihadists. The New Crusades. He’d learned a lot about current affairs from articles Glen sent him by Britain First and the like. He’d accepted friend requests on FB from patriotic heroes like Jayda Frandsen and Tommy Robinson. Felt touched and a bit proud they saw through his problems and valued him for the man he still was underneath it all. A nationalist soldier who’d taken a stand outside the Mosque on Laygate the other month with the rest of the lads from the NE33 Loyal. Defiantly drinking cans on a Friday afternoon, even if it was so cold he’d had to wear gloves. You had to show the Muzzies who ran this place. So fuck if the Yemenis had been around since the 1890s or that Muhammed Ali had his marriage blessed there in 77, this was a town for white Christians. Linda’d not been happy like, partly because he was drinking and partly in case people saw his face in the paper but so what? She should have been proud he’d made his point. Drawn a line in the sand against the invaders.
Linda and Tony were struggling. Money was tight. Care work. Every shift imaginable. Six days a week. Eight quid an hour for microwaving ready meals and changing piss-wet bedding. No travelling time included. Chewing her nails on a delayed bus. Fretting about smelling of ammonia. Him; DLA transformed into PIP. £80 a week. Barely paid the electric. Three monthly medical assessments. See whether the malignant time bomb in his head was ticking faster. Gets worse and Tony’s in the departure lounge. Gets better and they’ll knock him down to ESA. Stays the same, there’s the next 13 week check-up on the horizon. The results for the latest one were due any day. Linda had set a reminder on his phone. He didn’t use it much now. Buttons were too small, though he kept it about him to stop her going radge.
She’s anxious all the time. Shattered from work and worry. Texting him on the hour, every hour to make sure he’s alright. The stress doubles when she’s back indoors. His memory’s shot. Doesn’t remember what they talked about an hour ago. Even worse if he’s been on the lap top all day. Worn out as bad as her. Angry and frustrated. No sense of decorum. Broken emotional handbrake. Hundreds of tweets and status updates about Islam destroying the British way of life. Stuff slagging off the EU. Corbyn. Phrases about gays she couldn’t ever have imagined him thinking, never mind saying when he’d been in proper fettle. Mood swings when she complains how it makes him seem to the rest of the world. A thug and a bully. Tony won’t listen to her. Can’t accept he isn’t the normal bloke he’d always been. Disproportionate response. Boiling rage and harsh words. She sits on the back step; chain smokes and cries. He watches telly; forgets their row, asks for his bait. Battered prawn balls with curried chips for him. Endless cups of tea with double sertraline for her. Tears on her pillow. Drool on his.
Another Saturday. Sunniest one of the year. Linda’s on the 7.22 bus to Whiteleas. A blanket bath and a mixed berry Oats So Simple for some old lass with vascular dementia. Tony’s on the back step with a Lucozade and some Hula Hoops. She’s given him a tenner for his bets. Weekly pocket money. Curls it round his phone in his left front pocket. Won’t need to buy food if he gets to the bookies for opening time and his freebie breakfast. Rest of the week she leaves him a couple of Greggs pasties. Works his way through a multipack of crisps and a big bottle of fizzy pop on top of that, with the curtains shut and the radiators on. Cloudy sickness sweats fill the room. Sunday, always a roast at her mam’s. Eats it with a spoon because the knife and fork are no help these days.
Linda used to love their Sundays, back in the good times. They’d drive for miles, talking about the future. Laughing. Sometimes a lazy drink. Sometimes a quick one in the sand dunes of a secluded bay. Then, once they’d shacked up, they’d collect her mam and dad. Take them out for dinner. And now, her dad’s gone and Tony’s no relation to the bloke he once was. Car went when the job did. Now they try and walk down to her mam’s. Slow steps. The odd stumble. Two miles an hour, but you can’t risk putting him on the bus in case he starts. Injudicious comments. When he first came out of hospital, he was forever getting thrown out of pubs and shops for saying something outrageous or offensive. Now they avoid the risk, though her heart stops every time a Polish registered car or an Asian shopkeeper crosses his sight. Tony just can’t help himself. Or doesn’t want to.
Sun’s cracking the flags on the back yard. Going to be a hot one. Summer apparel out the wardrobe. Ditches the Help for Heroes hoodie her mam got him for last year’s Armistice Day Parade. Lyle & Scott cap instead of the Diesel beanie. Tony always covers up. BNP hijab. Hides the post-operative scars on his funny shaped head. Chemo killed his hair. Made his skull swell. Can’t manage laces now, so it’s K-Swiss slip-ons that were her old man’s. Lonsdale shorts and the North East EDL polo Glen gave him as a reward for heroic conduct at the Mosque demo the other month. Tony knew his country was fucked, so is his health. Docs telling him the thing in his head was inoperable. Fuck did they know? Born in Karachi. Over here planting bombs. Their family taking jobs from the white worker or benefits from the workless class. Tony deserved his bit. He’d grafted for it in the past. Now he was poor and poorly, someone should have cared for him. The government didn’t and sometimes it seemed Linda didn’t, working all the hours to avoid him. That’s why being a warrior for his race gave him an identity. A purpose.
Feet slapping on the pavement and the back of his neck getting burned. Down the bank to William Hill’s. Before he became politically aware, he often used Paddy Power. No more. Fenians. Principal financial backers of the dissident republican movement. That’s what Glen told him. Anyway, Tony got barred for pulling down an Irish tricolour in the PP shop at The Nook when his Cheltenham bet flatlined back in March. The manageress was just opening when Tony arrived. First among unequals. In the door and the young lass who worked weekends had a trestle table with a pile of bacon sandwiches and a pair of jug kettles. He got a big cup of milky coffee and his regular breakfast roll, then perched on his usual stool bottom left corner to check the form. Writing was getting hard these days. Hands couldn’t grip the pen properly. That’s why Glen was so good, filling out his slips. Split his stake 50/50 between horses and football.
Tony could see alright, so reading was no bother. In fact, his eyes were still sharp, which is why he noticed a trio of beguiling purple beauties tucked into the top of the pen dispenser above his head. Three twenties. Sixty fucking quid. Nobody could have dropped it this morning. Probably left overnight by a flush punter on a roll. Fair game. Spoils of war. Illness and political awareness denied Tony a conscience. The manageress and the Saturday girl blathering about some soap opera shite, so he acted quick and careful. Palmed the notes into the hip pocket of his shorts. Inconspicuous, he manoeuvred off the stool and lumbered to the door, mumbling about not seeing anything he fancied and was away. First time in years he’d left the bookies with more coin than he went in with.
Slogging it back up home was tough, but concentrating on putting his feet down in the correct sequence stopped Tony thinking how he’d have to explain the cash to Linda. Halfway back he stopped for a breather. Took a pew on a bench opposite the One Stop on Marsden Drive. Five minutes of dry heaves through his mouth before he felt normal again. Hot and thirsty from the bacon sandwich. Hadn’t had time to drink the coffee. Ditched it when he made good his escape.
It was one of those accidents of fate when Glen came round the corner at a bit of a jog. Running late for his gambler’s nutrition, he eased off the gas when he spotted Tony and slid down next to him. Usual pleasantries exchanged, though Tony was baffled by the Staffordshire bull terrier puppy on the raggy length of rope wound round Glen’s wrist. Leaning across in his skunk impregnated Superdry with the hood up, like a White Power niqab, Glen confided he’d bought the dog from a bloke outside The Ship last night for £20. The pub had a No Dogs policy and the canine vendor needed to get pissed. What’s a fella to do?
Tony told of his secret good fortune. He thought it a shame he couldn’t treat himself to a proper bevvy for a change, to celebrate. Glen was able to explain how they’d have the best of both worlds. Spend some of it on drink and take the rest home. Fuck the consequences. Tony smiled. Long time since he’d done that. Fished in his back pocket and peeled off a twenty. Glen tied the dog (he’d called it Churchill as it was proper English and hard as fucking nails) to the bench and came back with a box of Carling each (none of that foreign shit; a patriotic British beer). Tony still had forty quid winnings left as well. That would please her. Linda was always worried about money. Sixty hours a week and half her coin went in tax to pay for asylum seekers and nonces to get their teeth done. Not fair. Hard working white people like them should be rewarded by the state. Glen always told him that and Tony knew he was right.
The day grew on and the two of them sat, drinking, discussing, sweating. The docs reckoned Tony shouldn’t touch alcohol, not in combination with his medication, but they were only saying that because of Islam. He wanted a nice lager. Deserved one. Deserved as many as he needed. And the more he sloppily poured down himself, the more distorted and blurred the sounds and sights of Shields and Glen became. Tony’s head was heavy and he grew weary in the dazzling sun. He needed sleep, but still had cans left. Maybe a little rest would give him the strength he needed to finish things off.
The buzzing of his phone jerked him awake. He’d fell asleep face down on the bench. Patch of piss at the crotch of his strides. Phone and tenner for the bookies damp in his front pocket, but not ruined. Slowly he came round. Text from Linda saying she was finishing work early and would be back soon. She was bringing back his favourite from the Golden Pearl. Drink had sharpened Tony’s appetite and the thought of battered prawn balls made him salivate. He turned to tell Glen he had to get home, but Glen and the cans were gone. Only the Staffie remained. Subdued and whimpering.
Tony couldn’t leave it behind, so he patiently untied the rope and coaxed the puppy to its feet. Just past noon and he’d already been pissed and was now badly hungover. Linda would be furious. No she wouldn’t. He had a dog as a present. They could take it for walks. Teach it tricks. Also, there was the money he’d found. Tony was an earner again. In vain, his hands rummaged through his other pockets for the magical twenties. They’d gone too. Only the now yellowy tenner she’d given him that morning remained.
At the house, he went round the back, where Linda was sat on the step as usual. Biting her bottom lip. Cuppa and smoke in one hand. White A5 envelope in the other. Looking up, her eyes betrayed neither love nor recognition. Only fury at the sight of Tony shambling home with a snapping stray who immediately took a slash against the back gate. His slurred apologies only made things worse. Linda tore the letter from the envelope.
“No discernible change in patient’s condition or prognosis,” that’s what the Consultant says. You’re going to be like this forever. No tragically early death or blessed release. This is the new normal. This is the future and I can’t fucking stand the thought of it.
She came at Tony. Screaming oaths. Belabouring the baffled drunk with tiny, puny fists of impotent rage. It was only when she turned on the cowering Churchill and launched a kick to the dog’s midriff that Tony reacted. Grabbing her by the wrist, he tried to make Linda see sense. Calm things down. It didn’t happen, so he pushed her away. He’d forgotten how light she was. Feathery bones in a paper sack. She fell over the dog like it was a meat tripwire. Went full length. Landed head first. Banged her temple on the concrete driveway. Didn’t move. Blood trickled and mixed with the ageing remnants of motor oil stains that remained from the good times. Linda was still and quiet. Tony took Churchill inside and shut the door. They shared the battered prawn balls, but Tony kept the curry and chips for himself. Satisfied, the two of them dozed on the settee.
Around six o’clock the emergency services finally came. An ambulance for Linda. The dog handler for Churchill. A pair of burly coppers in short sleeves for Tony. The weather was still gorgeous. Tony blinked at the sunlight, then laughed when told to mind his head when they put him in the back of the van.