Authors: David F. Ross
For Elaine, Nathan and Nadia
‘Sneak home and pray you’ll never know,
The hell where youth and laughter go.’
from ‘Suicide in the Trenches’
by Siegfried Sassoon, 1917
‘Now that the official figure for unemployment has exceeded three million, is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that she has brought so much despair to so many families in the United Kingdom? Is she proud of the fact that she and the Government have created more havoc in the British economy than the German High Command in the whole of the last war?’
Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover
Prime Minister’s Questions, January 1982
‘Bobby Cassidy was a man on the edge. Monaco was his kinda town …’
As experiences go, this was a highly unusual one. He had always imagined driving at ridiculous speed through the Nouvelle Chicane with James Hunt and Gilles Villeneuve visible in either wing mirror, unable to pass. But now that it was actually happening, Sean Connery’s commentary –
Where was that actually coming from? –
lent the whole thing a strange and distinctly surreal air. And it was becoming much weirder. Attempting to keep his full concentration on the tight, twisting track with all of its ludicrous hairpin bends and various urban distractions –
Was that really Sally McLoy from Hurlford waving at him from the balcony of the Grand Hotel, topless, with those massive tits jiggling away like jellies in an earthquake?
– he was troubled by the fact that he couldn’t recall how he got here.
With three million on the dole and the numbers growing by the day, how had he actually become a racing driver in the first place? He couldn’t remember the interview, or even filling in the application form. How many races had he completed? Had he met and been interviewed by Murray Walker? Did he still live in a two-storey, terraced council house at 13 Almond Avenue, Kilmarnock, Scotland, Europe, The World, The Universe (school jotters … old
habits die hard) with his mum, dad, sister Heather and prodigal elder brother, Gary? And most disconcertingly, why did he now have three arms?
shome mishtake …’
007 was beginning to really irritate Bobby now.
‘Shut the fuck up, Sean. I’m tryin’ tae fuckin’ drive here.’
As he came round the sharp corner at Portier and headed towards the famous tunnel at 180mph, Bobby caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass barriers surrounding the circuit. The red-and-white McLaren looked like a massive fag packet on wheels. A horizontal line of piercing spotlights caused him to lift his left hand off the tiny steering wheel and up to shield his eyes. As his hand reached his head, two conflicting realisations dawned on him. First, he wasn’t wearing a fucking helmet, and second, the third arm wasn’t his. It belonged to a woman sitting in a bucket seat behind him. And not just
woman; it was the right arm of the lovely Sally James from
, and she was starting to fondle his cock.
‘Sean, big man, we’re no’ in fuckin’ Kansas anymer …’
He awoke just in time. It wasn’t Sally who was gripping his hard-on. The third arm belonged to Bobby’s elder brother, Gary. That the two were lying in a top-and-tail manner suggested either pre-arrangement or that somebody more responsible had placed them that way. To Bobby, whose recognition of environment and understanding of context was currently diminished, the latter of these two scenarios offered only slightly more comfort.
Bobby retched at this thought. He pulled back instinctively and, amazingly, Gary didn’t stir. If Bobby was careful and composed, he could still get out of the situation with his dignity intact. The World Championship dream over for another season, he swiftly but delicately eased his brother’s hand away from his dick, then Bobby slid himself out of his own single bed and onto the pile of discarded and dirty clothes that lay adjacent. Gary moaned a bit, but didn’t wake up. Bobby had to work hard to stifle an attempt by his stomach to empty its contents right there and then. He edged
open the door to his room enough to squeeze through and then made his way along the ten feet of hall to the toilet – arse cheeks and sphincter working overtime.
As he reached the sanctuary of the small bathroom, a new and equally unpleasant sensation began. Motörhead had set up their gear inside his skull and were starting rehearsals for a forthcoming tour.
‘Let’s turn it up t’ a hard fuckin’ eleven, lads,’ said Lemmy. ‘Wake this stupid cunt up proper.’
This rapidly grew into a headache the like of which Bobby could scarcely remember. Worse than when he got his head wedged in old Doris Peters’ garden fence when he was eight. Having squeezed through to nick apples from her tree, his head had got stuck on the way back out. He’d only been in the garden for about twenty minutes, but either he’d grown during the robbery, or He’d tried to leave the scene via a smaller opening than the one Gary and his bastard mates had forced him through on the way in. The pain from having Gary drag him out by the legs had lasted about a week.
He sat on the toilet pan like the famous Rodin figure for around twenty minutes.
What a fucking state to get into
, he thought. He hadn’t moved since forethought had wisely prompted him to open the small top-hung window just before the deluge had begun. His legs were numb from lack of circulation caused by severe buttock clenching in the early stages. Thereafter, he thought
. It sounded like the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band tuning up but it was less effort to just leave the sluice gates open.
The cistern – temperamental at the best of times – had given up the ghost around flush six. By the time Bobby felt sufficiently empty to attempt standing, Motörhead was still thrashing away. As he tightly gripped the towel rail, holding on for stability like an OAP, they’d at least decided to try out a few unplugged acoustic numbers. Bobby allowed himself a glimmer of a smile at this ridiculous analogy.
‘Thanks Lemmy, ya manky, wart-faced bastard,’ he whispered
at the vaguely familiar image staring back at him from above the avocado-coloured sink.
What the fuck had occurred last night?
He’d had a few mental hangovers before in his short career as a ‘drinker’, but, Jesus Christ, this was crazy. He couldn’t remember getting home. Truth was, he couldn’t even recall going out in the first place. All he knew for certain was that Gary would be central to the reasons behind his amnesia. A pain in his lower back was now also beginning to make itself known.
‘Fuckin’ hell, you. Get a shift oan, eh?’ The gruff, croaky voice jolted Bobby. It had come from the imposter who had recently been trying to ease Bobby’s penis into fifth as he accelerated towards La Rascasse.
‘Ye’ll never believe the dream ah’ve just had,’ it said.
The bathroom door was now opened to the maximum its chain-lock would allow. Harry – Bobby’s dad – had fitted it following his sister’s impassioned pleas for a bit of privacy following her first frightening steps on the road to womanhood. There hadn’t been a working lock on the bathroom door for around ten years. Rather than get the right one for the situation, Harry had rooted around in his shed and fashioned a temporary solution from an old padlock. It had now been temporarily keeping unwanted visitors at bay for nearly fourteen months.
‘Ah was in disguise,’ declared Gary, his ferret-like features pressed against the two-inch gap like Jack in
‘Dressed up as the Phantom Flan Flinger, so ah was. Sally James comes ower, aw coy an’ that – an’ mind this is aw live on fuckin’ telly, Saturday mornin’ anaw. So she tells everybody,
“It’s time the Phantom was unmasked”.
’ Bobby gagged.
Gary’s face was now pushed so far into the gap that he looked distorted – like a Picasso, with both eyes on the same side of the head.
‘Whit the fucks that smell? Izzat you, Boab? Fur fucksake, yer no deid in there, are ye?’ Gary sniffed the putrid air several times before continuing.
‘So, as ah was sayin, ah’m aboot tae get unveiled on live telly. But
instead of takin’ the cape off, Sally fuckin’ reaches inside it, an’ starts wankin’ me off! Fuckin’ mental, man.’ Gary paused to maximise the effect. Bobby was astonished that they had both been dreaming about the same person.
‘Wan ae thae dreams yer absolutely fuckin’ convinced is really fuckin’ happenin’.’ Gary pondered again, inhaled deeply and carried on.
‘Then, just as ah’m getting close, she fuckin’ stops … leavin’ me hingin’.’ A third pause.
‘So fuckin’ hurry up an’ get oota there, tae ah finish masel off.’ A few more sniffs.
‘Unless you want tae do it, that is …?’
‘Ah was fuckin’ kiddin’, for Chrissake. Ye didnae need tae spew aw ower the door. There’s nae way ah’d av been letting you anywhere near ma knob. Ah don’t even care that yer a fuckin’ bender … it’d still be like … incest or something.’ Gary was enjoying taunting his younger brother.
Although he could have done without it on this particular morning, Bobby was generally glad his brother was home again. He could be
a total cunt
at times but, on the whole, he’d always looked out for Bobby. He had often taken the full brunt of Harry’s anger for things that were actually Bobby’s fault.
Bobby lifted his head away from his hands and looked around the room. He still felt as if he was part of a slow-motion replay of incidents that had happened earlier. He watched his elder brother’s freckled and impressively muscular frame disappear into the adjacent kitchen. Outside, it was a beautifully crisp late-winter morning: blinding low-level sun and sporadic vapour trails of breath from people out walking. The view from the dining table made Bobby feel slightly better. Regardless of how bad they are, hangovers eventually pass. He looked over to take in his parents’ newly decorated living
room with its smart woodchip wallpaper
‘painted in mongolia’,
as his mum Ethel had demanded. (Bobby called his mum Mrs Malaprop, and while the rest of the family found this highly amusing, the joke was lost on Ethel.) As far back as Bobby could recall, his mum had always been a bit brittle. When he was little, there were regular tense arguments between his parents. Usually they involved Gary. They had become fewer in recent years but her emotional fragility was the apparent legacy.
Bobby looked intently at the picture of a small boy that was hanging above the three-bar electric fire to the front of the room. It was a painting but not an especially good one and most certainly not an original. At least ten other people Bobby knew had the same painting positioned in a virtually identical location in
houses. Despite this, there was an undeniably hypnotic quality to the image. Years ago, when she first got it, Ethel had told her daughter that it was a painting of Gary when he was little. The track of a tear that wound its way down the chubby little cheeks came from large, blue, turned-down eyes, just like Gary’s. It wasn’t ever explained why someone had painted a picture of Gary while he was in such a state of distress. Nor why his parents had then framed it and hung it in a position of such prominence. Familiarity had rendered her mystification obsolete over the years, but neither Bobby nor his sister had ever been able to look at the picture without thinking about Gary. Especially in the months after he had suddenly left home and headed for London.
The ‘crying boy’ bore no resemblance to other members of the Cassidy family. Neither did Gary. Numerous family photographs were arranged around the principal room of the Cassidy home. On the sideboard; on top of the bloody piano that Harry had ‘rescued’ from the school where he now worked as a janitor; on the sills of the two windows that looked out onto the front and rear gardens; on the massive wooden cabinet that housed the television – for so long, the dominant voice of the household. (When it ‘spoke’,
listened.) Gary appeared in none of these photographs. Bobby hadn’t really thought about this before. Gary had always
just seemed to be generally absent; a bona fide black sheep. Now, though, with him back home and a real air of détente finally existing between his brother and his father, Bobby found this absence from family events quite strange.
The door of the kitchen opened and the tinny sound of Soft Cell drifted through it, followed by Gary. He was carrying a tray by its large wicker handles. Arranged carefully on the tray was, by Cassidy standards, an extraordinarily decent breakfast. A plate full of toast – carefully buttered and sliced diagonally, continental style; two boiled eggs – one already decapitated – sitting snugly in comedy egg-cups; a pot of tea encased in one of Ethel’s knitted and badly fitting woollen cosies; and two cups – one plain white and the other welcoming the drinker to Blackpool – made up the ensemble. Gary wasn’t finished though. The giveaway smells of bacon and sliced sausage made this whole exercise even more impressive, considering Gary’s former Olympian levels of laziness
. Maybe the Army had done him good after all.
Bobby shuffled about uncomfortably in his seat. He had picked the one that faced the rest of the room only because the base of his back was still sore and its solid canvas back was more appealing than the four hard-panelled chairs that sat around the circular table.