She’s smoking in the kitchen. Her frail hand is sitting on the counter where we keep the kettle – fingers resting between the grains of sugar that have scattered around the mug. The lights are off, but the moon is making up for it, dancing through the window. It seems brighter tonight – the moon I mean. The light is bouncing around the room – from the clock that keeps getting stuck, to the bowl full of browning bananas that have been going off for a week.
“What’re you doin’ up?” she says. She takes a long, hard drag of her cigarette. “What bloody time ya’ call this? Needn’t bother lying in ya’ pit til’ noon again either!”
“Why you up?” I say.
“Y’ know the Donoghue’s, across the street there,” she points, dropping cigarette ash on the counter as she does. It mixes with the sugar and the odd drops of tea she always spills after stirring and taking the spoon out. It always bugs me when she does that.
“The new neighbours? What about ‘em?”
“They always go to bed at three in mornin’,” she says, fascinated.
“Watch,” she points with her finger – first at the Donoghue’s house, paying close attention to the dim light behind the living room curtains, and then the clock in our kitchen. The hand moves to the number twelve, and at exactly 3 o’clock, the lights at the Donoghue’s place go out.
“See, told ya’,” she looks satisfied.
“I’m not following, Mam,”
“Well it’s bloody weird, ain’t it? Right weird.”
“You’re weird. You’re not right sharp.”
“Why you up, Mam?” she puts out her cigarette, poking it into the ashtray, crushing the flames with her finger. The smoke ascends. She lets out a last mouthful of fog.
“Nowt’ really. Ya’ Dad’s snoring like a pig again. Not tired anyway. Sick of lying there.” she says. She pulls out the kitchen chair from the table. It screeches along the wooden floor and she flinches as though it hurts. She takes a seat. I do too.
“When ya’ tryna’ be quiet, ya’ always make more noise.”
“Yeah. Sods law.”
“Last thing I need is him moaning,” she says. “Anyway, go back to bed, I’ll be up soon.”
“Alright, Mam.” I say. I head on up to bed. I don’t have the heart or the strength in me to tell her that Dad’s been dead for six years.
“That nosey old bat’s watchin’ us again.”
“Her, across the street there.”
“Oh, at 42?”
“Yeah, look ‘ere,” he points. His finger slightly touching the dust collecting on the living room blinds.
“Probably wondering why there’s a strange bloke looking back at nearly gone three in mornin’.”
“Ahh, well, you married that strange bloke,” he chuckles. He lets go of the blinds and turns to kiss my cheek sweetly.
“Say, she’s probably just bored n’ lonely. Poor thing.” I say. “Marjorie who lives next door to her said her husband died a few years back. Hasn’t been right since, apparently.”
“Oh right. Shame.” Tony says. He flicks off the light. “Should probably head up anyway. Then again, probably won’t get sleep with all that racket goin’ on.”
“I know. That’s why I came down. Noisy bastards. You’d think they’d stop drinking by now with all the shit that it causes,” I say. “Every bloody weekend since the week we moved in, they’ve been coming back at stupid o’clock, drunk as skunks.”
“At each other’s throats.” Tony adds. “I know you’re sleeping with the barmaid, you lying piece of shit,” he says in a high pitched voice, doing his best to mock Sandra next door. I play along, in a deeper voice to imitate Rob.
“You’re deluded, ya’ god damned whore!” We both laugh for a moment.
“Anyway, come on. Bedtime.” I joke, playfully tugging on his fingers before locking them into mine. He shoots me that look.
“Mmm, alright then,” he says alluringly. He squeezes my hand and takes the lead, guiding me to the bottom of the stairs and walking me up them.
She comes rushing into the room with a load of pillows and nearly falls flat on her face in the process. She chucks them at my head.
“Ya’ can sleep on the sofa tonight. Don’t know where you’ve been!”
“Shut up, tart.” I say. “You don’t half talk a load of bollocks.”
“Yeah, yeah.” she says. She falls into the door frame, and uses it to rest. She leans on her left shoulder and holds up her hand, sticking her middle finger up at me. The silly cow can barely keep her eyes open.
“I saw you eyeing her up. I bloody saw. Must think I’m stupid, eh? A stupid tart. That’s all I am to you!” she yells.
“Who, ya silly cow?”
“That slag of a barmaid in Prussia”
“Fuckin… Patrick’s.” she slurs. “Slutty barmaid in her miniskirt. Needs to put some god damned clothes on. Whore.”
“I weren’t looking at anyone ya’ daft cow,”
“In fact,” she says, suddenly awake again and rearing to go. She stumbles up the stairs, tripping on at least half of them, and I listen to her uneven steps rummaging around the bedroom above me. I lean back, light up a cigarette and wait for her to stop thudding around like a moron. I can’t be arsed to go and stop her. Neighbours are probably already awake now because of the crazy bitch. Yeah, crazy bitch. Crazy bitch.
“Get out!” I hear her scream. “Get out, get out, get out!” she goes on. Crazy bitch. I unbutton my shirt and loosen my belt. It just hangs there, lifeless – like me.
“Get out!” she carries on. God she’s a crazy bitch. And that Roxy does have shit hot legs.
“How is he?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah he’s not bad,” she says. “Hasn’t been sick since 1, so I think I‘ll take him up in a minute.”
“Probably just a bit of a bug,” I say. Bradley sleeps peacefully on the sofa, wearing his Monsters Inc. pyjamas we had got him last Christmas. He never takes them off. Katherine had covered him up from his toes to just above his ears with the big fluffy blanket we keep on the back of the sofa. The sick bowl sits on the floor beneath, rinsed clean and ready for the next load.
I say, “What you doing?”
“Come here,” she says. She rests her hands on the windowsill where she is stood, then points outside to number 43, a few doors down from us. “Those alkies are at it again, look.”
“Oh. Surprise, surprise.” I laugh. “Ridiculous. Hang on, what’s she doing?” I say. A woman is hanging from the bedroom window at number 43 throwing clothes out onto the front garden and the pavement in front of their house. “She chucking him out?”
“Oh god knows,” she says, shaking her head.
“I’m gonna’ fucking string you up, ya’ crazy bitch!” the man from number 43 shouts. He drags the woman through the window and shuts it behind him then draws the curtains.
“Jeez, Rob. Don’t kill her.” I say.
“Should we call somebody?” Katherine asks.
“Pfft. Be the third time this month if we do.”
“Go back to Prussia and shag your slutty barmaid,” the woman from 43 barks.
“Be surprised if Marjorie hasn’t already called.” She says.
“Well, yeah. True. None of our business. Leave ‘em to it.” I tell her. She continues to peer through the curtains looking warily. “Wanna take him up then?”
“Yeah, yeah will do.”
“I’ve got him.” I say.
“Thanks hun. Say, if he’s no better tomorrow I’ll ring the school Monday n’ keep him off.”
“Yeah. He’ll be fine.” I promise her. Bradley snores gently into my chest. “You coming?”
“Yeah.” She says. She snaps back into reality and closes the curtains before making sure all the lights are switched off and checking for the third time that the door is locked and all the windows are closed. I hate that she worries so much.
“Right, they’re on their way. I’m bloody sick of this. Third time this month I’ve called; you think they’d learn. Only last Saturday she was stood on the doorstep screaming at him to get out. ‘I’m not going in there ‘til you get out! You can sleep in the garden, like a dog!” she was yelling. And he was trying to drag her through the door, hitting her a couple of times to try and shut her up. And the week before that, she locked him out of the house and he kicked the front door down. Honestly thought he was gonna’ kill her. But, no. No. Still alive and stupid enough to carry on. If my Marty was still here, he’d tell me “Marj, stop interfering ya’ old fart!”. Not nasty, though. No, he was so gentle. And he made me laugh. God, the hours we spent laughing together. Those two across there, though, that’d never be us. Marty would say the perfect time for a beer is on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Early doors. Saturday nights for good tele. And Chinese food if he was in the mood. Beef chow Mein and egg fried rice. Oh, and prawn crackers. He bloody loved his prawn crackers.
I like to think I do okay without him, though. I cope alright. Not like Theresa next door. God, since her Brian died she dunna’ know if she’s comin’ or going. I pop ‘round sometimes, for a cuppa and that. I try to keep an eye on her. Marty was good pals with her Brian. They often drank together. Them, and sometimes Frank, a door or two down.
But she’s got her son. He still lives with her. He’s a good lad – he looks after her. Still, must still be hard on the two of them – losing him so suddenly I mean. I guess Marty and I was lucky in a way – he died peacefully in his sleep. Brian, though; Brian was attacked in a jitty on his way home from the pub – Prussia I think. That’s where they usually drank. Marty had been out with him but he came home sooner. Brian drank a lot. Yeah, I think it was late n’ he was obviously a bit merry. The bastards got him from behind with a brick, apparently. Cowards. Police didn’t think it was personal though. Thinks it was someone looking for trouble n’ he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Took his wallet and that so, probably a mugging gone wrong. It’s sick to think what folk would do for money, these days. They never did find the monster, though. I just hope he’s suffering for what he did.
Oh, they’re here. ‘Bout time. Must be goin’ on for four now. Three-forty. Bloody hell. Dunna’ know why they’re bothering knocking. Just go in there n’ shut ‘em up. There we go. Oh, what a surprise, they’re splitting them up again. Oh, oo-er. They’re taking her this time. Makes a change. Right, sorted. Well, I think I’ll go back to bed then.”
I thought they were here for me again. It was the flashing lights. I know it happens most weekends, but I still shit myself a little each time. I thought I’d be used to the panic by now, though. I guess I thought I’d get through it.
I didn’t mean to do it. I just lost my temper. He was sleeping with my daughter. He was twice her age. He’s married. Was married. God.
It’s been six years. I need to move on from this. He was a waste of space. Nothing but a drunk. He was killing himself anyway. Marty told me the doctor was concerned about the state of his liver. He told him over a pint, apparently. Don’t know if it was cancer or not but it would’ve been eventually, wouldn’t it? Yeah, it would’ve. I wonder if they knew that from the autopsy. I wonder if Theresa knows. Would that have made it easier – to know he was dying anyway, I mean. Oh, fuck it. She’s better off without him. Besides, I wonder how she’d feel if she knew he was shagging the barmaid at his local. My Roxy. She’d probably be relieved.
I was waiting for Roxy to finish, you see. She usually gets home around 2 o’clock so I thought I’d meet her. She’s young and attractive and I didn’t trust the men around here. I still don’t. I especially didn’t trust Brian since I caught them that Sunday afternoon and he was always sniffing around Prussia like a dog on heat. He was waiting for her too. Now, I don’t know if they planned it, or if he was going to make a move on her but either way he was at the end of the jitty near the back of the pub. When I saw him, I just lost it.
There was a brick. I hit him. He didn’t move. Then Roxy came out. She didn’t see. I made sure we walked the other way.
The next day when she found out about Brian, I felt as though she was treating me differently. I thought she knew. I’ve always felt as if she wants to ask me – if I did it, I mean. She never has. She moved out not long after. She lives in a flat with one of her junkie friends. Jane I think, or Janine. I don’t know.
I worry about her. But I also worry about me, when I worry about her. I’ve come to terms with the fact I am a dangerous man. Every night I sit and contemplate how I can make the voices stop, telling me to do it again. It’s almost like a thirst. A hunger. And I can’t make it stop.
Rob’s home alone, now. Let’s see what he really thinks of my slutty barmaid of a daughter.
He always stands and smokes at the window afterwards. He throws on his jeans, to his otherwise naked skin and leans out of the window, flicking ash into the wind. The rays of moonlight beam onto his tattooed arms and shoulders, dancing down his spine and around the bedroom. I wrap myself in the thin white sheets, cocooning myself and watch him. He is beautiful.
“What’s he off to Rob’s for?” he says. I realise now that he has turned to face me. He is confused.
“Frank, going over to Rob’s place.”
“At this time?”
“Yeah. Wonder why…”
“No idea. Now, are you coming back, or what?” I say playfully. I lift the sheets, inviting him to climb back into his side of the bed, and revealing myself as well. He takes one last puff of his cigarette and puts it out on the window ledge outside before throws the nub to the garden below. He climbs back into bed and lifts his arm for me to lean on. I rest my head on his shoulder and gently run my fingers through his chest hair.
“Really can’t be arsed with work tomorrow,” he says.
“Don’t go, then. Stay here with me.”
“Mm, wish I could.” He says. He kisses me again, squeezing me tighter. I love when he holds me tight. I finger the tattoo on his chest, running my fingertip over the lines of ink. “You know; I saw Jane today.”
“Yeah?” I say. “How is she? Haven’t seen her in ages.”
“Ah, same old. Ya’ can tell she’s still dealing.
“No surprise there. She needs to sort herself out.”
“Yeah. To be honest, it’d be a start if she got rid of her flat mate n’ got somewhere herself,” he says. “Fucking nutcase. Jane said she thinks that her dad killed someone. Her own dad. It’s messed up.”
“Well why hasn’t she said anything, then? Killed who?”
“Oh I don’t know, she’s just a junkie. High as a bloody kite.”
“Let it go, babes.” I tell him. I rest my head on his chest.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry. She’s my sister. Just makes me feel like shit.”
He doesn’t speak again. Instead he drifts off to sleep peacefully, snoring slightly. I’ve worn him out.
“Mam, where are me’ trackies?” I shout. She doesn’t answer. She’s too busy gorming out of the living room window. “Mam!”
“What?!” she snaps.
“Should be on ya’ washing pile. Only washed ‘em yesterday.”
“Not them ones. The ones I wear to footy.”
“I don’t bloody know, Chris. Fuck sake.”
“What you looking at?”
“I think Rob’s dead,” she says. “Ambulance over there n’ police cars.”
“Down the street, look.” She points. “Who’s married to Sandra.”
“Sandra from the co-op?”
“Yeah, her fella’. She looks upset, n’ I haven’t seen him.”
“Shit. Oh god look, they’re bringing the body bag out.”
“You’ll never believe who they’ve arrested.”
“Frank, who lives across from us.”
“No way, that creepy old guy?”
“At number 46.”
“Yeah, he always sits in the dark and scowls at me whenever I walk past.” I say. It’s true. He always sat without any lights on, sometimes with weird music playing. He just stared out onto the street. “How do they know he did it?”
“Well, they don’t know for sure, but…”
“Oh it’s definitely him.”
“Well Marjorie came over not long ago and said that the couple who live at 48 saw him going over there at around 4 in the morning, so they’ve gave a statement.”
“Well it’s obvious then isn’t it, if he was over there at that time.”
“There might be a genuine reason yet, Chris.” She says. She always tries to see the other side in things, but this time it was obvious that the creepy guy had killed Rob. “I reckon they’ll be over here soon for a statement. They’ve been knocking on doors all morning.”
“How come he didn’t kill Sandra?”
“Chris, what kind of question is that?” she snapped.
“Well, where was she? Maybe she did it. Then again, no. Creepy guy at 46, definitely.”
“Marjorie said she phoned the police on them last night because they were fighting out in the street again. But they took Sandra for the night, so. I don’t know.” She says. She turns and actually faces me, now, letting the curtains hang freely against the glass. “I think they might be on the ironing pile.”
She’s sitting on the armchair next to the window, drinking tea and filling in a crossword from The Sun. Jeremy Kyle is playing on the TV. It’s a repeat. I’m sure I’ve seen this one before. It’s got some guy with rotten teeth on it, demanding a DNA test because his girlfriend had been a whore around the time she got pregnant. Typical episode. I turn the volume down because the arguing grinds on me. It’s far too much drama for my liking but me’ Mam’s always loved it. God knows why. She continues to occasionally glance out the window, peering into the street. It’s 12 o’clock now. The police cars have been gone since 11, but she continues to look. Over at number 43 are a bunch of different cars I hadn’t ever seen on the street. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cars on the street. Sandra has obviously got family round. I tell Mam to stop looking. She still does, subtly, every so often.
“What’s a six letter word for red?” she says. I really don’t feel up to this. She never finishes them anyway.
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, the fourth letter is ‘R’.”
“That’s seven letters.”
“Oh-ah. Erm, I don’t know, cherry? Copper? I don’t know.” I say.
“Bloody useless, you.” She says. She continues to scribble on the page in blue biro. She always writes with a mixture of capitals and lower case letters. It bugs the hell out of me.
“Mam, I’ve just got off the phone with one of the officers that were here earlier.”
“That nice officer from earlier. The one you said was quite dishy.”
“Well, it might not have been him actually but someone rang me… Apparently that Frank has confessed. He did it.”
“What? Killed Rob?”
“Yeah… but Mam,”
“Oh I say! I bloody knew it! Why they ringing us though?”
“Well Mam, he also confessed to something else. He said he killed Dad.” I say. For a moment I’m not sure she heard me right. Did I say it right?
“Frank killed Dad. He confessed it. He killed Dad. He killed Rob. I’m sorry.”
“How could he have?” she says. She looks more confused than ever. How do I explain to her that Dad was murdered by the man who lives down the street? How do I do that without breaking, or breaking her?
“Well, I don’t know the details yet Mam, they want use to go down there.”
“Well, your Dad’s still in bed. What they on about?”
“We’ll go when he’s up, and they’ll see. God knows what they’re thinking. My Brian. Dead.” She chuckles.
“A musical instrument beginning with ‘C’. Eight letters. Clarinet!”