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Spitting Scotch into the Clyde

A boy's best friend is dead. It's all his dad's fault, so he runs off with his worst whisky...

Spitting Scotch into the Clyde

I am what ma da would call “bollock freezing”. Ma gonads haven't even dropped yet, so they must be like plain wee peanuts right now in this cold and dark.

I'm also drunk – what else could this feeling be? I'm also really sad. I can't believe wee Barry's gone and left us. He was ma best friend in the world and now he's gone and left us.

I take another swig of ma da's brutal-tasting fire-water, and immediately spit it out over the bridge. It falls, writhing through the air like a man who’s got pushed off a cliff and is aw surprised about it. It splashes into the mucky River Clyde underneath.

It's Tesco scotch. I don't much like it.

Then, like I’m transfixed, I stare at my browned and blurred reflection in the river, all puffy red eyes like glazed cherries, poking out ma small face, which seems to curve down to my chin in such a pointy way that ma chin and mouth look really small, like I’m an alien or something. That head sits there on ma skinny frame and bony shoulders, and ma light brown wavy hair looks horribly pasted. I’m thinking this whisky’s bringing out a cold sweat in me.

I turn away and look out at the world instead.

The sun’s setting over the black trees, aw pink and orange and dusty behind wispy, polluted clouds. The trees are silhouettes, outlined by that fading reddish light. I wish I’d thought to bring ma camera, ‘cause it’s a proper Kodak moment. I can feel the hot whisky burning a hole in ma stomach, and it’s like I’m goin a bit Vesuvius; ma stomach rumbles and swells, low like a reverberating bass drum, and it rises through ma chest and out comes this stinging, fiery burp which makes ma throat tingle with nausea. I’m Puff the Magic Dragon, me. Feel like steam could shoot out ma ears like in one o they auld cartoons.

I’m tingling in a different way too. I feel … strange. Like some of the normal protective stuff I put round ma emotional feelings to stop them coming out all-of-a-sudden has been dissolved and washed away. Like … I dunno … there’s a grown-up word for it, I’m sure, but I’ll be hockey-pucked if I know what it is.

Maybe it’s losing ma best pal, Barry. He’s deid, and I can’t be with him anymore. Maybe it’s this sunset. It’s so beautiful, but if you didn’t know any better, like if you’d only just been born and didn’t understand that the day would come around again, you’d be sad, thinking like this was the end of … everything. The sun’s just totally rubbing your nose in it by being so pretty and colourful as it dies. A beautiful sadness as it declines … a swansong.

There’s a grown-up word I learnt the other day that sums it up. Ma pal Stevie just goat a guitar a few months back, and he’s started gettin into all this weird music, grunge or something, like Nirvana and the Pixies and stuff aw like that, moany bastards with long hair and big shirts who want tae die.

Stevie’s got this album by a band called Smashing Pumpkins. At first I thought it was a joke name, ‘cause we were aw smashing pumpkins last Hallowe’en and it wis pure good fun. But naw. Anyways, the album wis called “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”

So I wis like, “Whit’s Mellon Collie, Stevie?”

He wis like, “It’s like, being really, infinitely sad.”

And I thought that wis pure stupid. “Whit?” I said. “That’s like calling a CD Bliss and Extreme Happiness! They mean the same thing!”

I was quietly impressed with maself for that insight.

“Nah, but it’s pure clever,” said Stevie.

We bickered for some time about aw that.

But looking back, it’s a good way of describing it. It sounds right. Mellon Collie. The Mellon Collie of the sky is striking up a tune not aw that different from the one inside me. In fact, they’re chiming together. An infinitely sad tune.

Jesus Christ, won’t this feeling fade? That’s the difference. The sadness of the setting sun is somehow smooth, distant … natural. You know it’ll fade, and then come back around to its happy splendour in the morn. But whit about this sadness in me, eh?

Wis learning about acid and alkali in Chemistry at the school. Alkali’s stuff that soothes you; I thought of it as being the source of aw peace in the world. The acidic stuff’s aw the bad chemicals that bring out conflict. Maybe I’m thinking about Chemistry in wrong, unscientific terms.

But like, see when you’re sick, that’s aw the acid swirling round in your stomach, pickin fights, messin with your body’s established order, just being a nasty dodgy bastard. Then you drink some Milk of Magnesium, and it soothes you. Settles it aw down. You get a bit of peace.

Well that’s what the sadness of the setting sky is like. It’s smooth, it’s soothing, and it’s how things should be. I can appreciate its beauty. But this sadness in my guts isn’t the same. It’s a different Mellon Collie, and I know that I can’t be the only boy who’s ever felt it, and that in some way it could be made beautiful if expressed the right way, through art or something. However right now, like a tornado at its peak, all it does is hurt me. It’s hot, and acidic, and raw, and I just want to blot out all the pain.

There’s no peace in me now that Barry’s gone and died, only war.

The whisky might help – I thought so initially. Yet somehow, I’m startin to connect that harsh, uglier Mellon Collie with the scalding feeling the whisky’s left down my gullet and into my guts like a snail trail.

I sat down on the footpath, because my head started to spin and I wis dimly worried I might faw over. I'm on that bridge that goes to they halls where students at the Glasgow University live. Probably pretty handy having that fire station right over the road, with they two bright fire engines dozing off outside in the grey car-park, but raring to go if needed, because I bet all they students starts loads ay fires trying to cook for all their student mates.

I think I really loved ma friend Barry. I'm so sad he's gone, and it made me so crazy that I stole ma da's whisky and ran down Queen Margaret Drive , all quiet and empty because of the time, and came to this bridge and started swigging it back. It wis two-thirds full then, and now there's only a quarter left. At least, I think so: my vision's blurred, and I can't judge size so well. Plus there's a massive fuzzy hot feeling in my head, which I'm pretty sure, if I know anything at aw, will turn into a pulsating headache by the morn.

I bet ma da doesn't care about any of this, just like he doesn't care about poor Barry.

Had a beer once with ma da, when he let me have a sip o his at dinner, and then eftir when we were watching CSI Miami in the living room up quite late, he let us drink a full one. Didn't like it very much either, but I reckon it's one o they things that when you're aulder, you drink it in pubs and that because everyone else is, and also because of this warm, fuzzy feeling you get. It must be the drink, because like I say, it's really cold and getting darker.

Just can't believe he's deid. It's so unfair he had to die. He never hurt anybody, and if his ma and da knew, they'd be sad and drunk just like me. But the saddest thing is, they're deid and aw, so no-one can carry on the family line.

That's ma uncle coming up the bridge steps; he's found us.

“Leave me alone,” I called to him, but he kept approaching.

He got to me, just sitting there. He was a big, roly-poly man with short wiry brown hair and ruddy cheeks like a blowfish. His face seemed to centre around his wee, bristling auburn moustache. I mind when he first shaved off the rest of his beard, I thought it wis pure funny ‘cause he looked like Hitler. Ma da proper skelped me but ma uncle just laughed, shaking his head and rolling his wee eyes in that wey o his. Like he’d seen and heard it aw before.

I always liked my uncle, maybe more than Da, because when ma da would tell us, “Grow up!”, ma uncle would say, “Just hear me out, son,” and I liked that he called me “son”, because even though I wasn't, it was like I was in aw but name. That wis almost better than the real thing. It was like he wished me to be his son, as opposed to it just happening by chance.

He wis wearing a big white short-sleeved shirt wi wee blue lines strapped over his wide chest and wobbly stomach, wi jeans. I got the feeling he must've just thrown them on to come find us, because he probably wanted to go to bed. Ma uncle was a postie, so he got up at like five in the morn, along wi the sun and the birds. Also, his shirt wasn't tucked in like usual

“Come on, son, come home. I know you're upset, but you're upsetting your ma and da too,” my uncle said gently. He stopped and saw what was in my hand, and he got a bit redder; his voice a bit louder, higher in pitch. “You're no drinking are ye? You're dad's whisky and aw? He'll be furious! And at your age?”

“I'm thirteen,” I told him defiantly, trying to stare at him coldly but probably only succeeding in looking hot and furious. “I'm a teenager.”

“The law says you're not of age for drinking that pish. Gie it here.” My uncle took the bottle out my hands and had a swig, before grimacing, his wee eyes popping a bit out his chubby face, which made me choke a laugh. A wee trickle of amber liquid slopped down his quivering moustache.

“Pish,” ma uncle repeated.

“Don't tell on us,” I pleaded, looking up at him.

He surveyed me solemnly from high, a judge.

“Us?” he repeated my word.

He gazed at me too long and I stayed locked with his eyes too long, my expression too guilty. It was like the scotch was making me vulnerable and honest in my expressions; I couldn't react quick enough to stop it.

That’s the grown-up word I wis looking for. Vulnerable. Stripped away of all defences. Just a humming buzz of human energy; a ball of nerves and emotion and swelling thoughts; no body, no bones, no organs to protect me. Anyone can just reach in and tweak me, wind me up like a doll …

I glanced warily at ma uncle’s knowing and curious face, worried he'd be mad. Then I slowly reached into my jacket's breast pocket. As I pulled out ma deid wee pal, Barry, I was struck by just how biologically deid he really did look. Just like any auld deid bird you see on the road, or any auld mouse you catch in the kitchen and whack to death with a spatula. Just an insignificant wee animal.

It’s like when a pal at school leaves to go somewhere else, and eftir a while, once he’s long-gone, you can barely remember what he looks like without the help of a Kodak moment. The shape o their face, the shade o their skin, the sound o their voice, the expressions in their eyes … it aw becomes bland and indistinct.

Well awready, I can barely mind what Barry wis like when he wis alive, such is the certainty in the evidence before me of his death.

I strain ma memory hard. I can remember his beady black eyes, with that red Albino glint in them; those tiny pink ears. Those little pink, claw-like hands, scrabbling frantically at the cage. Nostrils like pinpricks on that ever-snuffling nose. Me, popping a few crumbs off ma Starbucks cookie into his cage, and him, snuffling at it, always snuffling. His smooth white fur, bristling like fibres in the wind, touched by light, given a free spirit by Barry’s life-force that, in death, has disappeared. Awready, his fur seems to have yellowed and matted. Just like any auld deid bird.

But I screw up my eyes and try … to … remember … forever … Barry didn’t die in vain, having achieved nothing. He wis ma best pal, better than Stevie even, and Barry couldn’t even speak or tell jokes. If I can … just … lock him … in … my memory … well, Barry’s free spirit can live on in mine.

“Come on, son, stop crying,” said my uncle, with real kindness.

I opened my eyes.

“I’m not,” I said quietly. “I’m trying tae remember.”

I looked down at the small, white form of my pet gerbil, not pure-white like before when he lived. Now, like I said, he was a bit yellower. There was a shady pinkness about him and aw, until I realised that was just the sad sky’s reflection, as the sun picked up its pace and started to rapidly recede behind the trees and Glasgow ’s buildings.

Barry wis so quiet and peaceful in death. There hadn't been any blood. Ma da had just dropped him on his spine: that wis aw.

I know it was an accident, but ma wee Barry never did nothing to anybody, and he was only ever comfortable wi being held by me. No-one else. Also, I knew Da had hud a drink, ‘cause by late, ma Da has normally had a lot of drinks. I don’t understand a lot of whit he says when he’s like that, and I don’t think he understands me. It’s that wey he looks at you, all blank and soulless, and he staggers like the Leaning Tower of Pisa wi legs. It puts me on ma guard, on edge – ma defences come up.

So when Da picked him up, picked up Barry, I said, Don't! Don't! He won't like it! But ma da went and did it anyway, he didn't even care, and Barry struggled and then ma da dropped him from two and a half feet up. Onto the glass coffee table, and he died just like that. Broken back.

“It hurts so much,” I said, in a quiet hoarse voice.

My uncle put a chunky, chicken-wing arm around me, and the whisky seemed to steam and heat inside me, coming up to redden my face and squeeze my eyes, so before the Tesco Scotch could do its worst, I got up.

I carefully threw Barry into the Clyde . The river was dirty, but he was deid so I didn't think he'd mind, plus he was just a gerbil. At least he could sleep in peace on the riverbed. I looked at ma uncle, who nodded at me.

“You need to learn to be a man some day,” said my uncle quietly. “Be as well today.”

I heard what ma uncle was saying. I understood. But all I could think wis , if I had a time machine, this would’ve never happened. With ma time machine, no promises would’ve ever been made to break, from ma da, that he would be careful. I could’ve stopped him from ever picking Barry up. There would’ve been no pain. No death. No spines, no hearts, would have broken.

“Are you listening to what I’m telling ye, son?” asked ma uncle gently.

“Aye, but I don't want to. I just want Barry back,” I said in dull exclamation, knowing it was hopeless in ma tone of voice.

“We kin get ye a new gerbil,” my uncle said, in a tentative wey, with the inflection on his words makin it sound like a question.

I shook my head, suddenly feeling cold and steely.

“Naw. He’ll just die and aw. Like everything else,” I said, and this sadness I felt now was truly dark, bleak.

It was like the sunlight in me was being shut out by thick curtains. Ma uncle looked at the bottle of scotch clutched in my hand, perhaps wondering like me when I’d managed to take it back off him. It went from being limply supported in my fingers to suddenly being held firm and still, caught in my clenched fist, rage surging there to solidify my grip and make it tense like electricity.

Ma uncle seemed to think twice, before his ham-like hand landed gently on my shoulder.

“Ease up there, Tom,” he said gently.

I looked into his small eyes, so much better versed in the weys of the world than me. That knowledge, that calm, seemed to reason wi ma hot, incoherent thoughts and soothe them.

“Barry's gone, son. Jesus is looking eftir him now.” My uncle looked again at the bottle of scotch, once more hanging slack from my fingers. “You're halfway toward growin up now anyhow. From your da's poor supply, you chose his worst whisky, more or less drank the loat, and you haven't even spewed it back up.”

He got up, casting a weary eye over the heavily drooping, dark, syrupy sky.

“Yet,” he added dryly.

I shrugged and he gave me that eye-rolling oh-dear laugh. I laughed too, a little.

Ma uncle turned to walk away, before telling me:

“Welcome to being a man.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © All work the sole property of Dan Vevers, 2011

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