[ fiction - march 11 ]
Summer, 1991, along the worn-out streets beyond York city's walls - the streets you never see in the tourist brochures - Eddie takes his late morning walk: the large scalped head, the 'I'm A Nut Case' T-shirt, the manic straightahead stare. His movements are purposeful, daring people to get in his way; he has his daily rounds to see to.
First stop is the Spar in Old Bone Lane. A welcoming grimace from Dorothy on the till; a pastie from the hot rack; a four-can of Kestrel from the fridge, and an argument with Dorothy when it comes to pay, resolved by ten Park Lanes instead of twenty, and Eddie leaves, slamming the door behind him. Responsible for the crack in the door pane the week before, today Eddie is too distracted to use too much force. Simultaneously, a cigarette is lit and a can expertly popped open as Eddie pauses by the giant promotional tin: 'HEINZ MEANZ BEANZ AT 17 PENCE FOR YOU'. Dorothy looks out at him. "Poor sod," she mutters, pushing shut her till.
Next stop is to see Mr Frank Church (nickname, 'Frankly Frank'), the local fruiterer, whose stocks are unseasonably low owing to a small passing trade, the newly built Tesco superstore (Frankly Frank's excuse), and a desire not to buy produce from what he terms "our coloured brethren". Mr Church is small and has something of an Adolf going on under his nose.
"You don't know where their paws have been before they touch the stuff," he says.
Ignoring Eddie's blank expression, he continues: "Send the fuckers home and torpedo their boats as soon as they're out of the Channel," he says polishing two English Pippins with Pledge. He hands the shiniest one to Eddie.
Then Mr Church reaches into a box on the floor and retrieves two large stalks of rhubarb. "Here, these are for your mum. England's finest. Boil them with a little fruit juice and a spoon of sugar. No need to pay."
"Mind yourself," says Mr Church.
When Eddie has left, Mr Church mutters, "poor fucker."
Out on the street, Eddie wonders, as he always does, about the faint smell of curry that wafts from behind the curtains dividing Mr Church's living quarters and the shop. Though Eddie had never laid eyes on her, it's been said that Mr Church's wife comes from Calcutta. "Poor bloody cow," Eddie thinks.
Next port of call is Bernie Pott's private betting shop. A mixed clientele, but Drago is the one to watch, a young greasy lad (on his clothes, on his face) who wears his trousers ultra low-slung, baggy style, so that most of his arse is kept out to view; a chewed roll-up stuck permanently on his bottom lip; a wheezy whining voice exclaiming 'Eureka!' when he chooses his horse, followed by a contorted-trouser- shamble up to the counter to place his bet. His betting slip completed in a child's mini-biro capitals: '20, DOGSBODY, 17/2, 12.15, DONCASTER'.
Eddie reads out loud from Drago's slip. "Dogsbody? What kind of a shitting name's that for a horse?"
Drago shrugs his shoulders. "Dunno, but she's a good 'un, Eddie."
Eddie opens another can and drains it down whilst examining the racing pages.
He lays out £2.50 on Gary Lineker's Fancy Trick in the same race, with two pounds each way on Dogsbody (just in case). A fifty pence Yankee too, and his dream of escaping to his favourite B&B in Scarborough - not in the family room he used to book, but lying on a single bed looking out at the milky rolling sea.
The 12.15 is run. Dogsbody romps home two furlongs ahead of Burt Lancaster's Twin Brother. Gary Lineker never gets out of his gate.
"Crap footballer, crap horse," says Eddie striding up to the counter to get his winnings.
"Keeping yourself all right, Eddie?" asks Betty from behind the glass screen.
"Don't aim my shit sideways," replies Eddie.
"No, but you have to keep going, don't you?"
She hands over his money, but somehow it feels like charity to her, like the two metre Pisa Tower of twenty pences on the counter at the Cornerhouse.
Drago tells Eddie he'll look out for his Yankee and call him if he's won.
"You know where I'll be," says Eddie, leaving.
Drago looks back at Eddie through the frosted glass on the front door. He and Betty say "poor bastard" together.
"We'll get a letter tomorrow," says Betty.
"I'll write them if you lick the stamps," replies Drago.
Eddie is walking into the brown empty expanse of the Cornerhouse lounge; the floral carpet sticky from the night before. He avoids looking at the bar, to the twenty pence shrine and the picture below it of his wife, Karen, and his three girls. He barges into the urinal and pisses angrily at the wall.
Back in the lounge, his pint is waiting, in his own pewter mug with its engraving 'WELCOME ANYTIME'. He drains it quickly and wipes his mouth.
"How's tricks, Eddie?" George, the landlord, asks from behind the bar.
"More Paul Daniels than Uri Geller," says Eddie.
"Not sure I..."
"Fuck not sure I, and pour us another pint, George."
The mug is collected and re-filled. George places it on Eddie's table.
"Fancy a game of darts?" asks Eddie.
"Yes, of course," says George, nervously remembering Eddie's last game. The one that ended with a dart in Cyril Crawshank's backside. Cyril was paid off with a bottle of Johnnie Walker; George being allergic to any kind of violence or trouble.
"You will aim at the board this time?" says George, the joke a kind of warning. "After all, I am the bloody landlord," he thinks to himself.
"Fuck off, bastard," says Eddie.
"As you like."
"I don't fucking like, so fuck off."
Eddie picks up his pint and takes it to another table. But then Eddie walks back towards him, and George closes his eyes thinking he's about to be hit.
"Sorry," says Eddie. "Language is fucking terrible. I'll keep quiet over there. I'm expecting some people from the paper soon. Will you tell them where I am?"
George nods. He can feel the phrase "poor Eddie" forming behind his lips but sensibly stops it from emerging. George pats Eddie's back like he does Buster's, his Labrador. He stops when he sees Eddie's nostrils flare.
"I'll bring you over a tray of drinks when they get here," he says.
"Thanks," says Eddie. "Have one for yourself and make sure the shitheads pay over the odds."
Eddie returns to his seat and eyeballs his mug. A swift move of his right arm and another pint is undone. He feels the need for a chaser or two but will wait for his guests to arrive. He looks across the bar lounge to the low-rise stage; a vacated drum kit from the night before, the bass drum emblazoned in yellow lettering: 'THE BEVERLEY BROTHERS'. A Wednesday night tribute, on drums and Casio Organ, to the Everley Brothers. To Eddie, toupee-wearing brothers Ken and Bruce will always be the Beverley Sisters, a joke he often repeats as they perform. Last night this description was joined by a full pint of beer lobbed towards the stage. A song about dreams and love stopped mid-verse, but then gamely carried on after an impromptu burst of a snare-drum solo from Ken Beverley, whilst Bruce made a joke about "raindrops keep falling on my head". Nothing was said to Eddie. In his familiar 'I'm a Nut Case T shirt', a description few would disagree with, people felt it better to just let things be.
Eddie is thinking about Bruce Beverley's nervous falsetto, when, into the Cornerhouse arrives up and coming young journalist, Aileen Bloos. Tagging just behind is a hung-over, low blood-sugared photographer, 'Nervous Norm'. 'Nervous' on account of an involuntary shake in his hands, an unhelpful trait that requires lots of photos to be taken in the hope that at least one doesn't come out blurred.
Aileen is petite, and smartly turned out in de rigueur journo-jacket and skirt. Now thirty, she's ready for the step up from The Yorkshire Evening Presss sees herself in London writing feature articles for The Observer, filing sympathetic and complex human interest stories with "that added literary dimension". Eddie, she hopes, will be her big story: the grieving widower, the innocent, humble victim of lawless youth crime. She doesn't want it to be too Daily Mail, so she'll find sympathy for the misunderstood youth too. But now her attentions are focused on the victim; she'll need to get to know him, make him trust her, and then open him up enough to tell her how he really feels. She's thinking these things, then spots what she feels (there's no one else anyway) must be him: the skinhead haircut and strange T-shirt are a little worrying, but he looks so sad slumped in his seat, all alone in the pub, all alone in the world. "That's good, I'm writing the article in my head already," she thinks, simultaneously deciding that "all alone in the world" is perhaps a little sentimental and clichéd.
"You the journalist?"
"Yes." She offers her hand to shake. "I'm Aileen Bloos, and you must be Edward Moore?"
"I've seen your articles in the paper."
She withdraws her hand. "That's nice. How are you, Mister Moore? Are you okay to talk today?"
"Mum tears up The Press for the outside bog-house."
"So we've already been close, you might say."
Aileen laughs nervously.
"You look nothing like your photo. Mind you, I've always seen it from behind."
"Yes, of course."
"Covered in shit, you know?"
Aileen is thinking of a new tack; so much hostility. Perhaps a headline: "The Raging Soul: A Working Class Man's Way With Grief". No, too much like a thesis, and maybe a little politically unsophisticated for The Observer.
"Sorry love, only joking. Why don't you get your camera girl to get in the drinks? Two whisky doubles and a pint for me. Whatever you want, too."
Norm is dispatched to the bar. Landlord George, as promised, brings the drinks on a tray.
"Thanks, my man," says Eddie.
"Happy to oblige, Edward," replies George.
"You can fuck off now," says Eddie with a wink. He turns and smiles at Aileen and then at Norm, who is seated on the opposite table. They smile back in turn.
Eddie's smile disappears as quickly as it arrived. "So, how much?" he says to Aileen.
"Couldn't we sort this out later?"
"How much or I walk"
"Walk, not talk."
"A walker not a talker."
"Five hundred, and another two-fifty if you allow us to photograph you at your home."
"One thousand and you can suck my tits too."
"I'll need to talk with..."
"Only you're not sucking them in my house. A thousand, and you can photo me in here."
Aileen goes quiet.
"Come on, a big girl like you can decide how much. You can have me for half an hour, cheap at half the price. Only forget half the price, flower."
"Okay then, but perhaps a photo in the street as well?"
Eddie turns to Norm, who is drinking coke, and noisily eating crisps.
"Do I know you?" asks Eddie.
Norm shakes his head in time with his hands. Nervously. Perhaps, a football match last season when a balloon full of urine had landed by his feet, and he'd turned round from taking photos to glare at the crowd: a shaven head bobbing around in the throng, a mad grin of a face.
Eddie looking at him still. "Never seen you before," says Norm.
"Did you fuck my wife? asks Eddie.
"I don't think so."
"Good. You can stay then."
A few pints later and Eddie's eyes are looking red and sentimental.
"You miss them terribly, don't you? asks Aileen.
"What do you think?"
"What were your children's names?"
"Lucy was the oldest, wasn't she?"
"How do you feel about the young man who did this to you?"
A look that could slowly choke from Eddie. A silence only disturbed by Norm eating his crisps on the next table. Aileen glares at him. He stops mid-chew and swallows.
"Alison - wasn't she the youngest?" asks Aileen wearily.
"No, kids' names were Money, Cash, and No Cheques. Wife's name was Andthen Fuckoff. She was Chinese. It means fuck off."
"I'm sorry, Edward, we're here to help."
Eddie stares into his empty mug.
A different tactic: "It must be awful to hear that they're going to release Steven Parks so soon."
"I don't care."
"Don't you? No, but I care about cunts like you writing it was Joy Riding".
"I'm sorry, it's an expression."
"A drunk little fuck steals his parents' car and drives it at a bus stop?"
"Where's the joy there?"
"I don't know."
"Don't you? I thought journalists know everything."
"I wanted to ask you about little Kylie..."
Suddenly Eddie gets up and pulls off his T-shirt. He grabs Aileen off her chair and hugs her hard to his tummy.
He shouts at Norm who, in fright, has scattered his crisps all over his table. "Pick up your camera David Shitface Bailey and get a snap of Lois Lane and me."
Norm starts to focus the lens.
"Stop it Norm," comes Aileen's muffled voice. She tries to pull away, and Eddie lets her go. "Jesus," she says. "Put down the fucking camera, and pack up. It's time to go."
She straightens her jacket and then rushes out to the toilet to reapply some makeup. A trembling Norm escapes outside to take in some fresh air.
Left alone, Eddie takes an opportunity to relieve himself. He unclips the clasp on Aileen's smart leather briefcase, unbuttons his fly, and fills it up. George sees but pretends not to; "I'm a landlord not a bloody policeman or loony nurse," he thinks.
Job done, Eddie takes Norm's camera off the table and exits the pub.
"Always nice to have your custom, Edward," calls out George in a voice just low enough for Eddie not to hear.
Eddie is back on Old Bone Lane; the sound of brakes catching, as a car turns the corner, going right through him. He walks towards the Territorial Army Barracks, and the bus stop outside the gates. Last night he'd gone there after closing time.
"Is it loaded?" he'd asked.
The sentry didn't answer.
Eddie pushed his chest against him and grabbed hold of his rifle. "If it is you can shoot me and I won't report you."
The soldier kept quiet hoping Eddie would go away, but Eddie kept close, his breath hot against the soldier's face.
"Not tonight, Eddie."
"It's not loaded then?"
Eddie let go of the rifle. "You army fucks are so polite, Wayne." Then he blew a kiss and left.
Today, Eddie crosses the road to avoid going past the barracks' gates. Behind him the new steel roadside barrier is shiny; bunches of blackened flowers droop between its railings, and a small family photo, covered in a grimy plastic sandwich bag, flaps from the bus stop stand.
Eddie walks on, turning the corner into Railway Street. He passes by a familiar house. The Parks's green Toyota is in the driveway, the large dent in its front still not straightened out. On many nights he's circled outside their gate, then stood waiting for each of the house lights to go off: "like the fucking Waltons".
Today he doesn't even look. He's thinking about Kylie lying on her hospital bed and his stomach knots up, a nauseating pain, so that he feels he might have to be sick to release it.
After a while he reaches his home. The front door is open just as he left it. He chucks Norm's camera and Frankly Frank's rhubarb in the hall, then walks through the kitchen and into his garden. The grass is long and dried out. He passes by the unused swing; the one he made for Kylie to surprise her when she got home; its red plastic chair swaying in the breeze.
He climbs over the small wooden fence and walks out into the wasteland at the back of the houses. Tripping over nettles, broken glass, and dumped bags of rubbish, he finds himself in the centre where the grass has been flattened and charred by kids building bonfires. Eddie sits on an old car tyre, looks up at the sky, and howls; his milky eyes reddened and rolling back into his skull. He howls, and howls, the sound rolling across the wasteland, through his house, and up over the neighbourhood roofs.
Steven Parks's parents hear it as they watch Neighbours in their lounge, and Aileen Roos and Nervous Norm hear it as they drive down Old Bone Lane. Margaret hears it in the Spar; Mr and Mrs Church hear it as they share their curry tea; Drago and Betty hear it in Bernie Potts; and George hears it standing at the bar in the Cornerhouse. George listens for a moment as Buster and the dogs in the nearby streets begin to respond. "Poor Eddie," he says, then turns up the pub stereo: Tom Jones singing 'The Green, Green, Grass of Home'.