Extract: Grief by John B Spencer


A different can of fish

Ollie got it from the Al Pacino and Robert de Nero film, Heat, the one they were both in together, sticking ‘fucking’ in the middle of a word all the time, Al Pacino, in the film, saying, ‘I’m over-fucking-whelmed.’ Ollie, now, saying – the two of them fed up waiting, wanting to order –‘Tarama-fucking-salata.’
Then: ‘Usual shite.’
Reading from the menu: ‘Taramasalata, humus, domades…’
Ollie pronouncing it, ‘Dom-aids.’
Simon saying, ‘Dom-ard-ays.’
Saying, ‘“’Ard” as in “so ’ard, when he punched him his eyes bled”. “’Ays” as in “’Ays”, Middlesex.’
Then: ‘Rice wrapped in vine leaves.’
Ollie saying, ‘Fucking bubbles.’
Passing on the starters.
Saying he would have kebabs.
If they could manage that.
Simon saying, ‘Souvlaki. Kebabs is Turkish.’
Ollie saying, ‘Kebabs, souvlaki… who gives a shit? It’s all fucking Greek to me.’
Westbourne Park Road.
Window table with the rain pissing down outside.
Ollie looking out the window, traffic blocked by a Thresher’s delivery van, driver waiting in his cab for the rain to ease off before unloading, off-licence next door, Ollie saying, ‘Fucking oblivious.’
Simon saying, ‘This place been here since before they built the overpass.’ Marylebone Overpass. Two blocks north. ‘They used to call it the Two G’s.’
Ollie saying, ‘Traffic backed up half a mile in either direction and the fuck-wit is sat there reading the sports page.’
Simon saying, ‘The Two G’s on account of Agamemnon has only got one G – signwriter fucked up.’
Ollie saying, ‘You think I give a fuck?’
Then: ‘Here she comes.’
Then: ‘Lovely Rita… this could be amusing.’
Simon saying, ‘While we’re on the subject…’
‘What subject?’
Ollie saying, ‘Verbal he’s giving that woman. You could almost feel sorry for the poor cow.’
Then: ‘What about taramasa-fucking-lata?’
‘You said – just now – “tarama-fucking-salata”.’
Ollie saying, still looking out of the window, ‘Now the geezer in the Metro is having a go.’
Simon saying, ‘You don’t think it sounds better my way?’
Ollie saying, ‘Fuck you on about?’
Simon saying, ‘Taramasa-fucking-lata.’
Ollie thinking about it.
Saying: ‘Sometimes, I don’t believe you, I really don’t.’
Looking at his watch.
Saying: ‘Is he going to show, or what?’
Simon saying, ‘Fuck should I know? He told me one o’clock. It’s half-past, already.’
Ollie saying, ‘So, let’s order.’
Simon looking round for the waiter. Raising his arm, the one with the prosthetic hand, thermoset resin – looked like a dead version of the real thing – saying to the waiter when he arrived at their table, ‘Chicken souvlaki, twice.’ The waiter saying, ‘To drink?’ Simon looking at Ollie, Ollie saying, ‘I’ll stick with the lager.’ Simon saying to the waiter, holding up two fingers of his good hand, ‘Two more of the same.’ Amstells. ‘Cold ones this time, if you would, Stavros.’
The waiter saying, ‘My name is Dimitri.’
Simon saying, ‘Never mind… to me you will always be Stavros.’
Dimitri looking at Simon’s other hand.
The thermoset resin one.
Couldn’t take his eyes off it.
Simon saying, ‘Stavros, you are seriously starting to piss me off.’
Dimitri saying, ‘My brother – we are from Kalimnos – he has a hook.’
Then: ‘He lost both his hands.’
Ollie saying, ‘But just the one hook?’
‘That is correct. For his right hand. My brother, he used to feed the island cats. They grew to depend on him during the winter months when there were no tourists. Then, for two weeks, the fishing boats could not go out. The cats are starving. Pedros goes out into the bay with some sticks of dynamite. Kabloom! All the fish float to the surface… you see? Only, Pedros forgets what he is doing and lights a cigarette.’
Simon saying, ‘Kabloom?’
Dimitri saying, ‘Nay, kabloom. My brother is lucky. The heat from the explosion cauterise his wounds. Otherwise, he would have bled to death before help could reach him.’
Simon saying, ‘Tragic.’
Dimitri shrugging his shoulders.
Saying: ‘Teena karnomay. It means, “What can you do?”’
Simon looking at Ollie.
Ollie saying, ‘Need to know basis, or fucking what?’
Simon saying, ‘You think we could have our food, now, Stavros?’
Ollie saying, ‘Halle-fucking-lujah.’
Simon saying, ‘A–fucking-men to that.’
Ollie looking at Simon.
‘You taking the piss?’
Simon saying, ‘Would I ever?’

Lucy not adept at dealing with this nonsense.
Her brother, Ted, barging his way back into her life, banging on the door last night – close to midnight – disturbing the neighbours, demanding a bed, Lucy not seen him, the two of them not exchanged a word – not even a Christmas card – since she had completed her media studies, bid farewell to the family home, moved down from Leicester…
How long?
Eight years?
Lucy – already in bed with her Kathy Lettes novel – on the front doorstep in only her fleece dressing gown, bare feet freezing on the cold tiles, saying, ‘Hello! Are we both on the same planet, or what?’
Ted saying, ‘One night, sis. That’s all… I promise.’
And: ‘I’m straight, sis. That’s the God’s honest truth.’
Lucy relenting… making up a bed for Ted on the living room sofa, asking if he was hungry, she could fix him up some cheese on toast, scrambled eggs – something like that – if he wanted, had some nice ciabatta bread, fresh from the precinct Tesco Metro this evening? Ted saying, ‘Cia-what?’ Knowing exactly what ciabatta was, playing the provincial, being the same old Ted. Settling for a tub of Ben & Jerry from the freezer, chocolate chip cookie, eating it with a desert spoon straight from the carton, saying, ‘Don’t stay up on my account.’
Lucy saying, ‘I do have work in the morning.’
Ted saying, ‘Well, there you go, then.’
Lucy, uncomfortable at leaving him alone.
What else could she do?
Hover all night?
Saying, ‘You will make sure everything is turned off, won’t you?’
Ted, from the sofa, saying, ‘Trust me, sis.’
Half-way up the stairs, Lucy coming back down again, Ted wasted no time switching on the television – Channel Five, Compromising Positions –Lucy saying, ‘By the way, you should know… this is a non-smoking house.’
Ted saying, ‘Surprise, surprise.’
This morning… Lucy leaving for work at her usual time, Ted asleep on the sofa, TV – now The Breakfast Show – still on from last night, the damp smell of nicotine and socks, empty Ben & Jerry ice cream carton used as an ash tray on the floor beside the sofa. Ringing the house at ten-thirty from her office. No reply… Lucy, Features Editor, the local glossy free magazine, Riverside – restaurant reviews, historical interest pieces with archive photography, resident celebs plugging a new book or stage production, classified ads – the magazine existing on advertising revenue from local estate agents, all of them, not wishing to be out-done by the competition, taking a double-page, full colour, every month… how she had first met Hugh, Darby & Wickes Residential – Hugh saying, ‘Neither surname is mine, I’m afraid.’ – Lucy renting furnished at the time, couldn’t wait to get into her own place, Hugh putting her on to the house in Atwood Road.
Gorgeous Hugh.
Saying: ‘Brackenbury Estate… prices are set to go through the roof.’
Saying: ‘Solid investment.’
Saying: ‘This property will put you in the loop… take my word.’
Their footsteps echoing from room to room. Small terraced house, two up, two down, with the lounge knocked through and a kitchen extension. Laminate beech stave wood pattern flooring… Lucy had found the flooring later in the Ikea catalogue, would have preferred the chestnut finish.
Ted – last night – saying, ‘Bit sparse.’
Lucy saying, ‘The minimalist look.’
Ted saying, ‘The anti-allergy look.’
Hugh opening the french windows, saying, ‘Original feature.’ Hugh and Lucy moving into the garden – the reason she went for the house – timber decking, grasses, water feature, bronze fennel and lavender, south-facing. Hugh saying, ‘Perhaps we could dissect the fine print over a drink? I’ve always found a glass of shampoo to be conducive.’
Lucy thinking, Shampoo?
Conducive to what?
Saying: ‘You’re, like, hitting on me, right?’
Then, needing to say something else – anything – saying, about the garden, ‘How very feng shui.’
Standing beside the water feature.
Small fountain playing over moss-covered pebbles.
Lucy saying, ‘I do hope there are no frogs. I would hate to tread on a frog in the dark.’
Hugh saying, ‘It’s pronounced fung shoowah.’
Saying: ‘Or, dinner, perhaps? I know a nice little Italian family run place, in Chiswick, just opened up… Rizzo’s. They do a marvellous Melanzane alla finitese.’
Making a meal of the Italian.
Lucy saying, ‘I’m a vegetarian.’
‘Melanzane alla finitese is fried aubergine with Pecorino cheese.’
‘You must think me very stupid.’
‘No, but I do think you are very beautiful.’
Lucy, wanting to create a favourable impression at the viewing, made a special effort with her hair and make-up, wearing a cashmere vest top, blue mohair scarf, blue moleskin trousers – looking good, feeling good – how could she disagree with this man, so urbane, so sophisticated, so different from the men – boys – she had known in Leicester?
Lucy saying, ‘Are you married?’
Hugh saying, ‘Yes… and my wife understands me perfectly.’
Then: ‘Does it matter?’
‘Any children?’
‘Sprogs? You must be joking.’
Does it matter?
At the time, Lucy truly believing that it didn’t.
But, of course, it did matter.
It mattered so very much.
Calling Hugh, now, from her desk. Speed-dialling his mobile number. Hugh answering, saying, ‘Cutey… can I call you back? I’m with a client.’ Lowering his voice, ‘Soft option gateway a mile wide… expecting to close.’
Then: ‘Seize the moment, right?’
Lucy saying, ‘My brother turned up.’
Hugh saying, ‘Poor Lucy. Look, I’ll get straight back.’
Hugh – one lazy afternoon in bed – talking the vernacular of his profession, saying, ‘Nobody “makes an offer” any more.’ Saying: ‘What you do is “hit a bid”. Imagine… that scene in The Godfather, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton at the wedding, Al Pacino saying, “My father hit a bid he couldn’t refuse”.’
Lucy saying, ‘Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?’
Soft option gateway.
A discreet way of Hugh saying he was dealing with a mug.
Soft touch.
Swallow anything…
Lucy, for the first time – surprising herself – thinking, Christ! Could that be how Hugh sees me? A soft option gateway… casual sex with no strings attached? Time out from the office – a diversion – wife and kids waiting at home of an evening?
Thinking: Sprogs? You must be joking.
Soon caught Hugh out on that one.
Two boys, Sam and Edwin, five and seven… both at school.
Hugh showing her the photograph from his wallet – as if that made it all right, his lying – saying, ‘You would get on wonderfully, I know you would.’
The photograph, a family group, taken on holiday – Hugh saying, ‘Amalfi, last Spring,’ – Lucy saying, ‘Well, aren’t they both a chip off the old block,’ seeing Jean – his wife – thinking, Why should he want me? She is so beautiful.
…giving Hugh half an hour.
Trying the house, again – without success – thankful that she had not switched on the answerphone this morning before leaving for work. The horror of having to listen to her own silly voice – ‘Hi! Do leave a message. Why? Because I’m worth it.’ – every time. The recorded message inspired – if that was the word – by the L’Oreal television commercial. Had she ever really thought it was funny?
Heaven forbid.
Vowing, whatever else… she would change it tonight.
Knowing she wouldn’t.
Calling in Marta – Marta Chomak, her assistant – saying, ‘Marta, your big chance. I had a phone interview for mid-day… Maurice Fiennes, as in the actors – but, no relation. Civil servant on early retirement, written a crime novel called, Dust Will Settle, bit of a lush, by all accounts. Think you can handle it?’
Marta saying, ‘Sure… what’s the emergency?’
‘Family crisis.’
‘Are we talking life event?’
Soft option gateways?
Life events?
Lucy saying, ‘Doesn’t anybody speak English any more?’
Marta saying, ‘Are you OK?’
Lucy saying, ‘I am so not in the mood.’
‘Hey… I’m on your side.’
‘Leave it.’
Thinking, Is this how it feels?
The start of a nervous breakdown?

Ollie Norton had a thing about guns dating back to the day he shot his younger brother dead with a .22 air rifle. Never handled a real gun, not once, in his life – the .22 air rifle not counting – but still considered himself an expert on the subject, going on about shooters every available opportunity… which is how Simon and Ollie first connected with JW Morgan, quiet drink in the Roebuck – draught Grolsch – suits all back at their office work stations, Ollie saying, ‘One thousand, one hundred rounds per minute. In-fucking-credible… can you imagine? Empty a clip in under two seconds.’
Talking about the Mac-10.
‘Big Mac’ to the tabloids.
‘Raincoat’ to the villains.
Yardies loved them…
Our Caribbean brethren
…according to Ollie.
Ollie saying he knew this face, worked out of a council flat in Hornsey, reactivated decommissioned guns, Mac-10’s his speciality, the going rate eleven hundred including silencer and ammunition, got the ‘de-acts’ from magazines, gun shows, private sellers, saying, ‘… designed a new breech block, better than the original.’ Then: ‘You remember that scene in Jackie Brown, they used it in all the trailers, Samuel L Jackson saying to Bobby de Nero, “… for when you positively have to take out every mother-fucker in the room?”’
Simon saying, ‘Crap film.’
Ollie saying, ‘Whatever.’
Then: ‘The gun he was talking about… it was the Mac-10.’
‘You don’t say.’
Both aware of JW Morgan – listening – at the bar.
Not knowing his name.
Introductions coming later…
Ollie saying, ‘Now, if you take the 9mm semi-automatic. Everybody’s favourite hand-gun.’ Playing to the audience. ‘No self-respecting enforcer would be seen dead without one. A Beretta 9mm, you can pick up for a hundred notes, no sweat.’
Barman calling across, saying, ‘The gentleman would like to buy you a drink.’
Simon – looking at JW Morgan – saying, ‘That a question?’
Barman saying, ‘Question?’
Simon saying, ‘Way you Kiwi’s talk… everything comes out sounding like a question.’
Then, to JW Morgan: ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’
Ollie enjoying himself.
Talking the talk.
Saying – raising his glass – ‘The Beretta 9mm.’
Then: ‘The handgun for when you get the green light.’
Prison slang…
Green light.
Target for death.
Simon saying to Ollie: ‘Did you know… ugly criminals are more likely to be found guilty by a crown court jury than good looking ones?’
Ollie saying, ‘Fuck is this to do with anything?’
Simon saying, ‘Forewarned is fore-armed, so they say.’
JW Morgan hovering at the table, now, hands tight on the backrest of a vacant chair, saying, ‘May I?’
Simon saying, ‘We know you?’
Ollie saying, ‘You’re standing in the light.’
Simon saying, ‘What do you think? Is Ollie an ugly bastard or what?’
JW Morgan saying, ‘That’s not for me to say.’
Then: ‘What you were talking about.’
Simon saying, ‘I have two words for you… fuck right off.’
JW Morgan saying, ‘That’s three words.’
Simon saying, ‘Then I’ve got one more word for you… don’t take the fucking piss.’
JW Morgan saying, ‘If you would hear me out…’
Then: ‘You mind if I sit?’
Ollie saying, ‘Very much.’
Simon saying, ‘Are you aware that this man shot his own kid brother … killed him stone dead?’
Ollie seven.
George three.
The .22 slug fired at a range of twelve feet, the width of the living room, destroying George’s right eye-ball, lodging in his frontal cerebral cortex, little George pronounced dead on arrival at West Middlesex Hospital… family and friends all saying what a tragic accident, the county coroner recording a verdict of Death by Misadventure.
Ollie, home and dry.
In the clear…
Saying, now, ‘You’re looking for a butt-fuck, you’re out of luck.’
JW Morgan saying, ‘It was the AK47.’
Simon saying, ‘You on about?’
JW Morgan saying, ‘Samuel L Jackson.’
Then: ‘… Jackie Brown.’

The drive home – Lucy’s brand new canary yellow Punto – taking fifteen minutes, twenty minutes less than her usual time during the peak hours traffic… Hammersmith Broadway, west along the King Street one-way system, doubling back up Glenthorne Road, first left into Lamington Street and the end of her road. Parking, no problem, CPZ introduced a year ago, commuter traffic, servicing the Piccadilly and District lines, pushed out as far as Chiswick and beyond – bloody good riddance! Lucy letting herself into the house, OK, just a little bit scared… you never knew with Ted. What he was capable of… what he was likely to do next. Their father, Noel, describing him as a loose cannon, washing his hands of him after the conviction for aggravated assault – broad daylight – The Market Square, Leicester city centre, the woman with not a penny, cash-point just swallowed her card … more luck than judgment Ted had avoided the more serious charge of armed robbery. Noel saying, ‘He is no son of mine.’ The incident and subsequent court proceedings all over the local papers. ‘… I don’t want him in this house, not ever again.’ And, ‘How can we hold our heads up in public after this?’ Their mother, Beth, taking a more pragmatic view, saying, ‘Well, at least, now, we know where he is, dear.’
Full Sutton and Frankland Prison.
Four month custodial sentence…
Lucy sitting on the hallway stairs.
Unwilling – unable – to go back into the living room.
Still waiting for Hugh to call.
Thinking, Bastard!
Ted or Hugh?
Thinking… that first time she and Hugh had climbed these very stairs – Hugh with his boyish blond locks, chubby, cuddly Hugh, how could anybody stay angry with him for long? Lucy, too much Mexican beer at The Piano & Pitcher – that, not the reason – her mind made up before the date, wearing her best La Perla bra and knickers, Hugh saying, ‘Lucy, you have no idea how much I want this to happen.’
Then: ‘Well! You are a skinny thing, aren’t you?’
Lucy naked beside the bed…
Hugh already beneath the duvet, struggling to remove his boxers, Lucy surprised by his shyness. Hugh saying, ‘The Queen always stipulates cotton sheets and woollen blankets when she travels… hates these things.’ And: ‘Won’t have a television in the bedroom, either. Wise woman.’ Lucy hating it that he had called her ‘skinny thing’, telling Hugh about The Zone… Jennifer Aniston, the actor in Friends, losing thirty pounds with the regime, saying you could gorge yourself on all manner of wicked delights – much as you liked – bacon and eggs, steaks with cream sauces, fried chicken… as long as you stayed clear of carbohydrates. Saying, ‘Cutting carbohydrates from your diet, blood sugar levels drop, the pancreas produces less insulin, less insulin means your body starts burning fat.’
Lucy not believing she was going on like this…
First time with a new lover.
Saying: ‘I thought men liked their women slim?’
Hugh saying, ‘Only women think that.’
Then: ‘I blame the magazines.’
Then: ‘Come to bed.’
Lucy – the effects of the Mexican beer wearing off – totally nervous, not sure why. It wasn’t as if Hugh was her first. Back in Leicester there had been Daniel and, before Daniel, Steve. Lucy wondering if she could include Steve… all over before it had started, Steve’s Vauxhall Vectra parked in an unlit slip-road between the allotments and the canal… Lucy hardly aware that it had happened apart from the mess on her best River Island dress…
Thinking, River Island!
Another life-time.
Hugh saying, ‘Luce… come on, I won’t bite.’
Then, ‘Not too hard, anyway.’
‘Luce’ as in ‘noose.’
Hugh saying, ‘My little “Luce” woman.’
Laughing at his own joke.
Lucy saying, ‘Hugh, I so don’t like you calling me that.’
Twenty-eight years old.
Two lovers… including that one time with Steve.
Hardly a loose woman.
Hugh saying, ‘Darling, I’m sorry.’
…so was Lucy.
So very sorry.
Ted gone…
Her Kenwood NV sound system, iMac computer, Ivor Moranz classical guitar, all gone, too. The Ivor Moranz classical guitar – Lucy close to tears every time she thought about it – a present from Noel and Beth on her twelfth birthday, Lucy just seen Tracy Chapman performing at The Live Aid Concert, wanted to be just like her… including black. Lucy, not touched the guitar for years, now, but that was hardly the point, was it? The guitar hanging on the living room wall, Lucy telling friends the story of her adolescent crush, her friends saying, ‘Tracy who?’
Lucy – how many times? – promising herself she would find somebody to tune the guitar properly…
Pile of shit – human stool – on the living room floor.
The excrement embedded with cigarette ends.
Marlboro Lights.
A malevolent pomander.
Lucy mouthing the words.
Hugh… ring me, you bastard.

Ollie standing in line – WH Smith – to pay for his Sun, counting how many times the till girl repeated herself before he got to the front of the queue.
The girl now saying it all to him: ‘Do you have a club card… Would you like a club card? …Would you like one of these?’
Christmas promotional magazine.
Stack on the counter.
Ollie thinking, Fucking zombie.
Saying, ‘Just a bag.’
The girl, counting out his change, saying, ‘Have a nice day.’
Ollie – outside – saying, ‘Jesus fucking wept!’
Working it out in his head. The five minutes he had been waiting she served six customers, seven including himself. Say she worked a six hour day… that was how many customers in an hour times six – giving up on the mathematics.
Saying to Simon and JW Morgan, waiting on the pavement, ‘You imagine… her old man about to feed her a length, she’s still going, “Do you have a club card? Would you like a club card?”’
Saying: ‘Brain-dead or what?’
Simon saying, ‘A bag?’
Ollie saying, ‘Newsprint… it gets your hands dirty.’
JW Morgan still with them from the Roebuck, walking with Simon, Ollie going ahead, past the greengrocer’s stall outside the entrance to Sainsbury’s, into Blockbuster Video… Ollie browsing through the new releases, Enemy of the State just in – whole section of them – Ollie saying, ‘Chuck Norris, did he retire? Used to like his stuff.’ Then: ‘Claude van Damme, another one you could rely on.’
Simon saying, ‘John Woo.’
Ollie saying, ‘Did you know he was Belgium… Claude van Damme?’
Simon saying, ‘Belgian.’
Thinking, The fuck is going on?
JW Morgan – even the name not ringing true – wearing a brown fedora, long-rider’s gabardine macintosh, astrakhan scarf, salt-and-pepper hair, full grey beard, looked like Brian Donlevy, the actor.
Saying: ‘I was going to ask about the hand.’
Simon thinking, Weren’t they all?
Saying, ‘Don’t.’
JW Morgan saying, ‘Did you ever hear of apotemnophilia?’
Ollie saying, ‘Is this to do with spiders?’
JW Morgan – looking at Simon in a way he didn’t like – saying, ‘It’s a rare sexual fetish. Apotemnophilia is when you get off having parts of your body amputated.’
Simon saying, ‘You are kidding me.’
‘No, really.’
‘You think I’m a fucking freak?’
Ollie saying, ‘Pro-fucking-found.’
…Simon, already, in that other place.
The darkness.
Glastonbury ’97.
Blaming the E’s – beans – and the smoke for what happened.
His hand – his own right hand – waving to him from the mud as if it was attached to another body drowning down there beneath the quagmire. Two scousers arguing, one of them holding the plastic wrist-bands above the heads of the crowd – back stage, access all area, passes: The Pyramid, The Other Tent, Dance Tent, Acoustic Tent, Jazz Tent, the wrist-bands in electric blue, pink, orange, yellow, green, courtesy of his Uncle Ray – on his mother’s side – worked security at the festival since the beginning. Simon’s wrist spraying blood into the darkness, concourse packed solid, Children’s Field on the left, Simon thinking, Pig-ignorant shits! The scousers sussing there was no way they could now get the passes over their own wrists, one scouser – the one with the machete – saying, ‘Fucking waste of time, this. We don’t need this… we really don’t.’ Throwing the passes into the hedgerow. Simon, dizzy, why was he laughing? Massive Attack and The Jools Holland Big Band blasting it out all over the valley. Prodigy about to start up on The Pyramid Stage – where Simon had been heading before this shit. One of the scousers wearing a T-shirt, read: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES. Simon thinking, You would fucking have to, state of you… waking up on a general ward, Bristol Royal Infirmary, no idea how he got there, Uncle Ray beside the bed, Mag-lite swinging from his belt – size of a police baton, fuck knows how many Duracell it took – Uncle Ray saying, ‘We will have those bastards, don’t ever doubt it.’ Uncle Ray, fond of the sound of his own voice, coming out with crap like: ‘You can forget how hard hard really is.’
And: ‘Let shit go and you get shat on.’
And: ‘Sometime, all you can do is hold your ground and get stomped… it’s that simple.’
Uncle Ray.
Full of it.
Simon saying, ‘Fuck the scousers, what about my hand? Did anybody think to look for my fucking hand?’
Right forearm cradled in a wire frame, like a storm lantern.
Seepage staining the white gauze of the bandage.
Simon’s mum crying.
Uncle Ray saying, ‘There, Kathleen, don’t upset yourself.’
Saying: ‘What your father would have made of this, I don’t know.’
Simon’s dad, Mick, been gone eighteen months, pulmonary tuberculosis. Weight loss, fatigue, coughing up blood – eighty cigarettes a day man since his teens – thought he had lung cancer, too frightened to go to a doctor. Could have made a full recovery if they’d caught it in time, Mick dragged into Charing Cross Hospital kicking and screaming, hardly able to breath, fingers and toes all clubbed up – blew himself up, nearly took the ward with him, lighting up under the covers while on oxygen… cause of death: internal flash burns.
That, and the pulmonary tuberculosis.
Simon saying, ‘The old man? What did he ever make of anything?’
Then: ‘Discounting a balls-up.’
Uncle Ray saying, ‘That’s your father you’re talking about.’
Simon thinking, Who the fuck else?
Spineless git!
Months after Glastonbury… used to the phantom pain, learnt to handle the thermoset resin prosthetic, sat through all the counselling, physiotherapy and reorientation crap, Simon ringing Uncle Ray, asking about the scousers.
Uncle Ray saying, ‘Less said the better.’
Simon thinking, If only…
And, now, JW Morgan… a sexual fetish?
Saying, ‘You don’t know how close…’
Prosthetic hand, a dead weight on JW Morgan’s shoulder, Simon saying, ‘The JW? What does it stand for?’
JW Morgan saying, ‘Jim White.’
Ollie saying, ‘Jim White Morgan?’
JW Morgan saying, ‘Just Jim White.’
Simon saying, ‘No Morgan?’
JW Morgan saying, ‘No Morgan.’
Ollie saying, ‘You made the Morgan up?’
Simon saying, ‘Did you know, your namesake had one of his testicles surgically removed… cancer?’
Jimmy White.
The snooker player.
Ollie saying, ‘Didn’t affect his game, any.’
Simon saying, ‘Here’s to the glorious losers.’
Ollie saying, ‘Do you have only one ball, Jim?’
JW saying, ‘There was a war-time song… about Hitler.’
Simon saying, ‘About the “G” word.’
JW saying, ‘You said a hundred pounds.’
Earlier – in the Roebuck – JW finally coming out with what it was he wanted, Simon, poker-faced, thinking, Now, hold it right there. Simon … saying, ‘You?’
Ollie saying, ‘Do yourself an injury.’
Simon saying, ‘DIY is not an option.’
JW, now, saying…
Blockbuster Video.
Action/Drama/Comedy section.
‘Shouldn’t we be keeping it down?’
Simon saying, ‘Leave it to the professionals.’
Then – off the top of his head – ‘Five before, five after.’
Ollie, for once, not putting his foot in it.
Saying nothing.
His face a picture.

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About John B Spencer

Also by John B Spencer (published by The Do-Not Press)
Quake City
Perhaps She’ll Die
Tooth & Nail