Two self-righteous souls looked down on me with disgust. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
I recall clearing Monday night’s debauched film from my eyes and seeing those two shaking their heads at me in tandem as I tried to cobble together the series of events that led to the couch, half-naked and hop-headed.
“You obviously haven’t learned anything, hey – hey?”
I didn’t know what he was chatting about, but I felt like a child who’d been caught with their hand in the sweetie jar.
Daisy didn’t say a word but stood behind him, almost cowering but trying her best to give off a stern glare, which didn’t quite work. I mean, it was laughable, but I wasn’t laughing for long.
“Mallet, he’s gone too far now, hasn’t he?”
Who the bleedin’ hell is Mallet? I thought to myself.
“Err, yes Samuel, you’ve let yourself down.”
I’m not sure why he called her Mallet, I think it’s a pathetic excuse for a nickname, but I wasn’t exactly in the position to question it. In fact, the whole situation was like a mallet to the head.
Yet again, it’s very hard to tell you precisely what they said to me, but as soon as I let out a chuckle, the verbal onslaught came sharp, swift and with pomp, like an intruder in a family home. It hurt, and I can tell you that for nothing.
The content of my tongue-lashing started with the pair dressing me down about my drunken behaviour and general disobedience, followed by a cross-examination of my weaknesses, coupled with an acute fear of living life; my laziness; my scruffiness and my aversion to finishing the things I start. Each word was more poisonous than the last and it bust my emotional stomach wide open with shame.
Insults are hard to take. I don’t mean those kinds of insults that slide off the skin like you’re fat and you’re spotty, they’re childish at best. I’m talking about the ones that dig in deep, wrap themselves around your soft spots and pull them out of every orifice for the whole world to see. Needless to say, after several of those insults, I became a quivering, bawling wreck, which opened me up to more verbal violence. Even Daisy – or Mallet’s – (as she obviously liked to be called) soft voice became sandpaper.
Through all of the pleading and the tears they didn’t stop; the velocity of their onslaught increased and their words entwined into one rhythmic pattern, like they had been up all morning rehearsing while I was in my drunken slumber, but it stung far too much to be canned.
As the pace slowed from a Latin Hustle to a Hesitation Waltz, the subject turned to my future. The Honch took the lead: he advised me to look at myself in the mirror, study myself beyond the blemishes and wrinkles, and then kill all of the ugliness and bad habits inside me by having the courage to identify them. He told me that I had a real spark – potential – and that if I wanted to be a member of the club, I had to think about changing my ways immediately or I’d be left behind. He also said that I must cast away the ties, shackles and dead weights in my life as they would only stunt my growth. When he delivered his words in that flocculent tone of his, I couldn’t help but eat everything he said. I only really got the gist of what he was talking about, but I was willing to do anything to be part of his club and get wrapped up in his world. I thought, maybe, just maybe, he could even become a mentor to me.
They fed me and told me to clean myself up. I felt emotionally pulped yet cleansed until I came out of the bathroom. Daisy and The Honch stood firm in the doorway with a red bucket held between them. Before I could query the contents of the mystery bucket, they demanded that I dropped to my knees, and in my delicate state, I obliged without any hesitation – and SPLOSH.
The putrid soup of slop and second-hand brews, which had been sat baking in the sun, slipped down my throat and spread all over my clothes. It tasted and smelt, like a million rotten trench feet that had been dipped in stilton, it was what could only be described as the Devil’s own brew. I wept for my sanity and threw myself onto the floor in spasms, just like I had in Toys ‘R’ Us on my fifth birthday when the Power Rangers dolls went out of stock.
Silence filled the void between me and my two attackers. I was quaking. The room had morphed from a safe haven to a torture chamber in a matter of minutes.
Daisy and The Honch set me the small mission of going home alone, digesting the afternoon’s events, getting an early night and waiting for further instructions. Again, I didn’t know what they were gassing on about, but I wasn’t going to argue, not after that.
When I got home Aunty Mags was out for the count. She looked peaceful and there was even a bit of colour in those scrotum-like cheeks of hers. Despite having upset me, it looked like Daisy did a good job at caring for the old girl, which back then, I was grateful for.
But it was that evening that my tune changed, unmistakably. Like many times in the past couple of years, I stood in the doorway gazing at the woman who looked after me when the whole world turned its back; the person who was partly responsible for moulding me into at the very least, a reasonably decent member of our fair society.
You see, I never knew my parents, only second or third-hand tales that people would recount to me as a so-called treat on my birthday, or at Christmas. You know, the kind of phoney children’s tales where all of the ugliness has been cut away from the body like a tumour, leaving only a squeaky-clean account of how incredible this or that person was. It’s alright until you’re about thirteen as you can comfort yourself with the fact that you were spawned by a pair of superheroes who were chiselled by the gods, but at some point, you develop a hunger for the truth, not birthday cake.
My birth mum was Mags’ sister and apparently she was a vile, unnecessary, cold and callous piece of excrement that smoked and drank too much. And my old man, well, he was just too out of it to notice. He wasn’t much better than her. When aunty Mags actually shovelled up the bullshit and shot me straight, it was the best present I ever received. It hurt but it beat any aftershave, underpants or tangible good I have even been given on my birthday, Easter, Christmas or any other occasion for that matter.
Aunty Mags and uncle Kevin raised me as their own since I was two years old, after mum and dad, known locally as Jill and Mark (and an assortment of other more colourful names) were written off in a drug-fuelled motorway crash. In some way, I feel the world is probably better off without them. Maybe there is a hole left gaping in my soul, but it’s not really something that haunts my day-to-day existence. I don’t think so, anyway.
When uncle Kevin died, a piece of my heart was buried with him. A fair and gentle man, Kevin taught me to ride my bike, tie my laces, do my sums, talk to girls and even give someone a punch on the nose if they gave me too much lip – he was a million noblemen in one fleshy package. Now that’s my gaping hole right there; cancer took him away almost overnight and neither myself, nor my aunt, ever quite recovered from it. I didn’t even get to go to his funeral.
The funny thing is, although I remember most of the things he did for me, I don’t remember uncle Kevin himself, in all his nuanced detail, that clearly, just that he was a good man and he took care of us – the rest is a bit blurry now. Perhaps I shut it all out as a way of coping, a means of trucking on. Even so, I know he was a good man and that’s all that matters. Yes, that’s all that matters.
Anyhow, I’ve always believed that Kevin’s death directly contributed to Mags’ ill health and I reckon it did so with immediate effect. Her strength was packed up and couriered to lands unknown and no matter how many bottles of wine she searched in over the years, the poor woman never really found it again. That’s when I became her official caregiver: there was no other option; I mean the women raised me for Christ’s sake.
On that crimson leaved evening, my sense of duty shifted. Up until that moment, I had always gazed upon Mags with a look of respect, but something had changed. I couldn’t figure out what had rolled me off my axis, but feelings of love were replaced by those of a clawing hatred. I crunched my Tic Tacs with rage and ground them into thin air. I wanted to spit at her for dragging me down those past few years and costing me a great chunk of my youth; I wanted to gob tobacco-laced phlegm on her dependence and throttle her until she cried for making me take care for her every need. I very nearly did, believe me.
Downstairs was the safest place for me to be at the time. I couldn’t put my finger on where my resentment had come from and I was genuinely frightened of what I might do if I stayed near her room any longer.
When I calmed down, I tried to rationalise the episode, you know, break it all down in my head. That may have been that last time I truly tried to make heads or tails of anything that ever happened to me.
Head in hands, I sat at the kitchen table and examined every knot on its uneven surface, you could have heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for the hum of cheap electrical appliances. It was getting late and still, I had no answers. Why had The Captain and Daisy been so harsh on me? It was only one drunken night out, surely it didn’t warrant a punishment like that. You might think it did, I don’t know.
My feelings were all over the shop: even though I had been treated like a dog and dressed down to the bone, I never wanted Daisy so bad and I couldn’t stand the fact that my actions might have muscled me out of The Honch’s secret organisation. Somehow I conjured up a newfound negativity for my sick aunt, and it was impossible to comprehend. Those thoughts flooded my head and washed through my veins, which made me very anxious – and the silence was driving me mad. In situations like that, the only thing I can do to stay sane is put on the radio.
A little static and there he was, his voiced greeted me like a hot oven on a Sunday afternoon…
“Hello all you cats, cretins and creatures out there, we’re just a stone’s throw away from the hump day, and surely that’s reason enough to party, right?
Whether you’re in, you’re out, you’re black, white, uptight, alright or searching for the light, I’m here to give you what you need. If you’re feeling down and craving a little perk, put a drop of whiskey in your coffee and get ready to kick those evening blues to the curb. So lean back, relax and listen to this Northern Soul classic from the one and only…”
Rob Robust always knew what to say, and although I’m a huge music fan, to listen to the track he had cued would only have diluted what he said; when he’s on the radio, it’s like he’s literally talking to me – and me only – like some secret code only the two of us can understand.
I felt a bit better after listening to Rob, like I could maybe figure things out, even if at that moment my head was all clogged up with shit and fluff, and nonsense. I did exactly as instructed and started to brew up a coffee while scouring the cupboards for the Famous Grouse, when I heard the letterbox go. There was no way it was the wind and with haste I ran to the front of the house and threw the door open. A silhouette ran down the centre of the street. I chased. I screamed but it didn’t stop and instead, the shape sloped off behind the long snakes of stationary cars that lined the estate. I ran out of breath. I panted like a pup then lit up a fag. On the way back to my front door it seemed as if all eyes were on me: I was the poorly paid subject of a back alley peep show. Daggers ran down my spine. I was about to head back inside, I spotted a note face up on the pathway.
It simply read, ‘Just Checking In.’