I wore a beanie beneath another two-tone wool hat. The colour of my hair was a snapshot of fashionable black and white. The Weird Fish logo and the outline of a silvery fish stitched into it did nothing to keep my head warm, but it was a freebie. Three coats added bulk to flab. Two pairs of trousers. Worn one on top of the other on alternate days. So I wouldn’t look smelly, as if dossing in the high-flat bin sheds, beside the golf course. A wealth of cardboard and council lock-ups for the overspill of human household waste. Things they didn’t really need. Lock yourself in. Knock yourself out. The cold always worked its way up from your feet. Shoes, leather boots or training shoes with three pairs of socks, it only carried freight. My body vibrated like the ding of a tuning fork. I needed to get up and stamp my feet. Light a fag, to warm myself from the inside. Rats sniffed the air with the end of their whiskers and pitter-pattered away like gentlemen taking a rest cure. Gave me time to ponder. Rub the palms of my hands together; get heat into the arthritic fingers of my left hand after that accident. My breath like a cartoon fog that once made my son laugh as we huffed and puffed against the french windows and made a smiley face out of condensation. An artist, I’d held his pudgy wee hand up so he could add to the happy family and pointy ear tableaux. But he’d wiped us out and got angry. Not understanding how we disappeared. Then I’d laugh and snuggled in. His furies were my joys. Then I checked my pockets and brain fog lightened and I released I’d no fags. Only rich cunts who lived in Bearsden could afford them, almost a tenner a whip. They smoked green or marijuana or some other medical nostrum to make them feel better about themselves, more alive and living on the edge. Silvery lungs kept away from traffic and busy roads and thoroughfares all their lives because of the polluted air poor folk gulp down and took for granted. Nae fags was a belter of a reason for drinking, but it was like a fish supper without chips and lashings of vinegar. I felt guilty about other people having such shite lives. But I had to screw the nut. A big day in front of me. I folded the cardboard and hid it for later. Sometimes everything clicks like God standing tall at a Billy Graham revivalist meeting.
The wages of sin were death. Booze opens the door. And decide if it was for you, or not. You got a warped sense of self. Shite following shite. Something bad happened, like I couldn’t find my shoes. Not even the odd ones. Then I lost my specs in a fight that wasn’t my fault. Then I found out the buroo has stopped my money because I didn’t turn up for an appointment I didn’t know I had. And I’d lost a house, which admittedly was carelessness on my part. A big thing for them. They were all cunts anyway. But I didn’t broach the subject, not to hurt their feelings. With God’s grace, I let it go. And went for a drink.
A lot can go on in a Tuesday, even though it was officially Wednesday. The routine involved me getting drunk and losing myself, but somehow finding my way home where I’d no home since my wife died. I could rarely be bothered moving. Cunts were always coming across to ask how I was doing. And where had I been hiding? It might have been nice hanging about for a chat, but I was too busy getting smashed.
There was always somebody belting out My Way on Karaoke, which my wife adored. Just say the right word and there was always some cunt in the pub shouting they were fucking rotten. God’s truth. Usually, that was me. But I wasn’t particular. It could be anybody. I was willing to step aside. And I tried to be nice about it. Particularly if it was a fat bird with bat eyelashes squeezed like toothpaste into her wee sister’s glitzy dress. If it followed form, she usually had a brute of a boyfriend that told her lies. A Gordian knot for gorillas clenching their fists and growling. I had to tell him the truth, too. That was what prophets do. It might cause a little minor incivility, but it hadn’t been me murdering a classic. That was how nations went into decline. And how you got barred from pubs.
Some nameless regulars winked at each other, and thought it was another form of entertainment. They’d ask the Karaoke chanteuse to sing My Way. Miracles happened. She was nothing much to look at. But she got through the song, Her Way. It wasn’t Frank’s way. And her eyes teared up. I thought we’d a bit of a connection. I wandered over to tell her that I loved her. And so did God. Somebody hit me on the side of the head with the butt of a pool cue.
‘You must be the boyfriend?’ I said, but didn’t wait for a reply.
It was pointless explaining karma, and I barred myself from that pub before it was mysteriously firebombed by angels. God didn’t even hang around to see what happened in the lounge bar. That was the night I’d turned a five quid bet into £6 666. I’d been the main topic of conversation since opening time, which was also closing time.
The devil grinned and dug me in the ribs sitting on a burnt-out bar stool. He did that thing where he offers you the whole world and chuckled. I shrugged. And told him I didn’t trust him. Not because he’d goat’s feet, after all some kids were born that way, and as a teenager I’d danced to Tiger Feet, but because he had a ponsy English accent. I added I was perfectly happy if he just sorted out my Giro situation. Drinking was thirsty work in the desert. I’d have to go somewhere else, pronto. That crucified me.
I raised my eyebrows and studied the gantry as I perched on a barstool. Carol the barmaid came over smiling her bonhomie smile. She was nice with blonde hair, but not to look at, but it wasn’t her fault she was born ugly. I might have mentioned that.
‘John,’ she said. ‘You know you can’t drink in here.’
‘I’m not drinking. Just looking.’
The boss came through from the lounge to see what kind of fuss I was. That made me laugh. Just staring at him. He was the devil incarnate.
‘What you doing here?’ I asked him.
A demonic grin. ‘Aright John?’ he asked.
I studied the gantry again and licked my lips. The few customers that were in were laughing. The devil had that bad habit of playing to the gallery. His end of days was not complete without a ritual humiliation or a nation unravelling. Yet he was friendly enough, in an unfriendly way.
I placed a box of Swan Vestas matches on the bar. Tapping them up and down. The devil knew about fire. I had that on him.
‘You can’t smoke in here,’ he said.
‘I didn’t say I was.’
He started talking to Carol in that smarmy way, as if I was out of the pub and already somewhere else. Nobody could see me anymore. The punters went back to talking in their normal voices. And I no longer existed. The devil had done a job of me.
The devil knew so many people. That’s what made him dangerous. According to the experts, you’ve got to perform an exorcism. The inside track was always bogged up because that’s where all the horses run. You’ve got to go outside. Do something different like Jesus turning the other cheek.
‘What do you reckon, John?’ the devil pursed his lips and paused.
I shook my head. Jesus was waiting. I reached across the bar and lifted a bottle of gin. Pouring it over my head, I lit the matches. You could hear in the silences, puffing and panting and people running.