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Mucky Pups

Life in the Fast Lane

Peter Miller
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“I’m convinced of it,” spat Woody, slamming his fists hard on the table, his eyelinered peepers electric with stroppiness.

“Control yourself. You won’t get anywhere without proof, and you were too daft to make sure of that, weren’t you?” I said.

“Fuck off, Mitch,” Woody said and ran his scabby hands through his burgundy hair. He turned to his left and stared at the two old ladies who were looking a little unnerved since he had thumped the table, catapulting the cutlery sky-high. I bet they wouldn’t believe him either. I certainly didn’t, but I didn’t fancy letting him know. He’s very delicate, liable to do something funny if you rub him up the wrong way. The last time I’d seen him he was telling me and Stewpot about how him and his girlfriend had forked out fifty-odd quid to go and see a Paul McCartney concert in Liverpool docks or somewhere daft. It’s quite hard to keep a straight face, but what can you do? It’d make more sense to believe that they’d coughed up fifty quid for a trip in a time machine to see The Beatles in Hamburg. We went to see a Stuart Sutcliffe exhibition once, the paintings were supposed to be really good, all his teachers had said so, but I reckon they just wanted to bum a Beatle. It was the inaugural show in a new gallery out near the Barras, quite posh for that area, they were just beginning to gentrify it, but they had a long way to go. The bar was quite good though, we saw Ricky Ross out of Deacon Blue there and one of his mates came in and said “How’s life in the fast lane?” and Ricky Ross answered “That’s the big question” which I thought was quite diplomatic of him. They were really successful at the time, but still really homely, not very fast lane at all. Stuart Sutcliffe was a bit more fast lane, and his bird Astrid was dead sexy and posh.

“I dunno what those two cows are mooing at,” grumbled Woody as he poured the spilt tea back into his cup from his saucer, then held the cup against the edge of the table and slid what was spilt on the table into the cup with the edge of his hand. It was cold anyway, from the look on his face as he took a big swig. What a plantpot. Stewpot rubbed his nose, making a loud squelching sound, and wiped a sleeve’s worth of condensation from the window. I was sitting beside him and could see down into the street below, chock-a-block with double decker buses—red, blue, orange, green. They’d just deregulated the bus service not long ago, and the streets of the city had turned into a bus swamp, the mighty machines sinking deeper and deeper into the traffic quagmire. No one going anywhere, all steamed up and stuck in the mud, faces like waiting for the wet weekend that had been given out on last night’s weather.

“Why don’t you get a lawyer?” asked Stewpot, his moonface a beacon of lunatic elation. He was always like that when he got ideas.

“Cos I cannae fuckin’ afford a fucker!” glared Woody from the end of his tether, “So fuck off with yer fuckin’ twatty arsehole ideas!”

“Ya dick,” murmured Mungo, still huddled up in his Rupert Bear scarf, “nobody’s gonna steal your bloody songs, and definitely not that lame-brained donger!”

Woody just looked at him, and slowly drew up his hands into a praying position.

“Lord protect me from jealous wee cunts!” he seethed, making Mungo giggle like a schoolgirl on speed.

“What’s so fuckin’ funny?”

We tried to keep straight faces, but it wasn’t easy. Mungo’s laughter was always pretty contagious, that’s what made him good company back then, I suppose. Even Woody was chuckling away after a while, anger blown away like dandelion clocks.

We were huddled round our usual table in The Belle Epoque Café, tacky period decor and effusive old ladies grumbling or gasbagging but never quiet, never still. Brightened up by well-scrubbed waitresses in uniforms like on The Duchess of Duke Street or Upstairs Downstairs. They looked a bit younger than us, probably all on YTS schemes, a fantastic way to fiddle the figures for all concerned, and there was always a little flurry of waitressy activity somewhere in the cavernous rooftop conservatory. They seemed to perk up when we walked in, it’s probably my imagination though. But I don’t know. We were all ugly buggers, especially Woody, but I suppose we were more likely to set wee hearts in bonny bosoms a-flutter than the Help the Aged poster campaign stars that filled the place. Sometimes, when they were bending over a bit to put stuff on their tray or take it off carefully, you got a glimpse down the waitresses’ blouses, I really loved that. I used to leave tips just so they’d be nice to me next time, a kind of genteel sub-species of tea-room prostitution. I suppose I needed help really. But Scotland’s full of nice looking birds. And full of fucking nutters, people who are born alcoholics, even though they never touch booze, like Woody. He was trying to convince us that King Kong Groover, the new album by Babylon Zoo, was a note for note copy of a demo tape he’d sent to a record company about a year ago. The company was called Dumpster and was run by a couple who used to share a flat with Jas Mann, the bacofoil brains behind Babylon Zoo. He’d had a number one with a song off a Levi’s advert, and everyone thought he’d be a one hit wonder, but now he was back, using Woody’s songs, at least according to Woody. He wanted to go down to London and kick seven bells of shite out of him so that he’d pay him the money he felt owed, and put his name on the crappy record sleeve. Woody’s not a full shilling, he’s very enthusiastic, but he doesn’t always think things through. But I don’t think he’s a liar. Who knows? He’s one hod short of a full brickie, that’s for sure. He’s a record company’s dream customer. He bought eleven different versions of a piss-poor record by The House of Love after Bickers had left, and used to get his mates who worked in record shops to save him any fancy Marc Almond promos or Van Morrison special editions that came out. He was heavily into hip-hop too. I liked Woody, at least I think I did, but I liked to keep a safe distance. What’s that snake called in The Jungle Book? He had eyes like that. Chaka Khan eyes? No, that’s not right. That was the tiger. Hissing Sid? Can’t remember. But he’d coil himself around you until he got whatever it was he wanted, Woody would.

Mungo couldn’t stop laughing, and Woody was getting a bit pissed off now. I asked him if he’d sent anymore demos off, but he just shook his head. He must’ve liked how it felt to shake his head, because he carried on shaking his head, faster and faster, and running his grotty fingers through his hair, producing a light flurry of dandruff, which settled on the plastic tablecloth. It showed up when it landed on the flowers, but the pale peach background was too light. Mungo stopped laughing, Stewpot and me looked at each other, the scalp dust gently billowing down, Woody now making frenzied whimpering noises. Old ladies noisily reaching for their umbrellas in case they needed them for sabre-rattling self defence, the nearest two sheltering their tea cups with their wrinkly hands as the dandruff drifts got deeper. Bloody gunk beginning to splatter the tablecloth, salt and pepper pot, spoon-by-spoon sugar dispenser and squeezy sauce bottles, in whose darkened interior lurks who-knows-what, horrible mouldy growths usually. My heart accelerated and my brain was blocked. The same thing must have happened to everyone else too. Woody’s whimpers were now animal squeals, high pitched and alarming. All the light in the tall gallery room, a kind of rooftop conservatory, seemed to converge around him and reflect back, blinding or befuddling all of us. Woody, the calmest spot in the room all of a sudden, straightened up and allowed his hands to fall gracefully to his side, smiling serenely. His chair toppled over backwards and his burgundy bonce got an almighty crack off the up-rushing chess-tiled floor, followed by a silence broken only by a deaf customer blissfully stirring her tea in the corner, a spookier scene than the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was all over in two shakes of a baa lamb’s tail, but it seemed like ages. A supernatural chatter and hum bubbled up all around, but we were all stunned and our speech was impaired, like unplugged robots. “B-b-b-b-b-ha!” was all Mungo managed, eyes like washing machine doors on the spin cycle. Stewpot squelched his nose and for some reason wiped some more condensation from the window, which was steaming up more and more by the minute. One of the waitresses, Honeysuckle, according to her name badge, ran flip-flopping over and dropped to her knees where Woody was lying, looking like a man more in need of Florence from The Magic Roundabout than Florence Nightingale, because of the stupid dribblesome grin on his face. I got a fantastic glimpse down Honeysuckle’s blouse, a brief gander at her heavenly bra-clad bosoms as she felt his pulse, and my own heart rate speeded up, never mind his. I loved her. It had passed through my mind that I loved her before, but now the rosy whiteness within her crimpelene blouse had made my mind up, sharp as the division between black and white tiles throughout the floor where Woody lay goofily bleeding. I could have sworn that her crimpelene blouse gave off sparks, which zapped up Woody’s nose and made it twitch like a rabbit’s. She struck me as very nice, we could start breeding like bunnies straight away, if only she’d agree.

“Are you OK?” she whisper-sang to unconscious Woody. She had a voice like the watery trickling tones of a robin’s song—a mountain spring or a leaky lavatory, depending on your point of view.

Woody didn’t answer, and for a terrible moment I thought she was going to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, my bonnie bride soiling her luscious lips on skid-marked Woody’s pooh-stripe smile. I could’ve sworn he was smirking on purpose, the wee shitefaced bastard. How did he know I cared? I had to do something, take some steps, or it’d all be up the Khyber. I hopped off my chair down onto the floor and started to crawl towards wailing Woody under the wobbly table, like Nottingham’s finest, Stan Laurel. I don’t know why I did that, perhaps I expected the general kerfuffle up above to turn into an all-out custard pie fight, but it wasn’t a good idea. I got all tangled up, so that the first time my eyes really met Honeysuckle’s, met properly, that is, a kind of semi-formal eye introduction instead of the usual “here’s the bill, here’s the money, thank you, goodbye, count the tip, bugger off tight bastards” quasi-contact, I was fighting off half a dozen man-eating chair legs, and she just brushed the strands of sandy hair out of her Crystal Gale brown eyes. And when I say “sandy” I mean sandy like a gorgeous seven mile bay-curving beach with cliffs and wheeling seagulls. That kind of sandy, not just sandy sandy, sand and cement on a building site sandy. And she looked at me and for half a second I thought she was going to hate me forever but I just kept on fighting and eventually I got to the other side (and it wasn’t a big table!) and crawled up to her and who’s that slob on the floor? Oh yes, it’s Woody of course, and she actually smiled at me, a proper smile, a trumpeting involuntary smile, not laughing at me, smiling at me, and my heart would’ve stopped beating there and then and I could’ve died happy, but Woody came round and, what with him being a twat and all, his first reaction was to grab me by the Adam’s apple, dig his dirty nails in and start to throttle me, which scared the life out of me because I wasn’t expecting it. I’d just fallen in love for the first time, why would anyone in that position expect to be throttled, unless they’d not realised that the object of their affection’s husband was lurking in the shadows, hand in pocket, mind out of socket, like in the Southern Soul song that I like so much, “Snake Out of Green Grass, Parts 1 and 2” by Roshell Anderson, ready to kick the daylight out of anyone that went near his missus? It’s not in the script. It should be moonlight and After Eights, not scabby hands round throat and death rattle breath in the nostrils. But no sooner had Woody got a good grip and pulled me into his orbiting stench than his batteries seemed to die out again and he let go and collapsed. Honeysuckle seemed to have forgotten about him now and—oh bliss!—was fussing and faffing over me, was I oookay? and she smelt wonderful, coastal fresh, much better than the putrid pig belly odour emanating from Woody’s gaping gob. I don’t know how it happened, but she moved in such a way that her left breast brushed against my tragic face and I can still feel it now, even though everything changed between us soon after. I was just washed downstream by love, like a tired troubadour whose donkey has just managed to lace its roller skates up. I’d never known it before, this ideal mixture of peace and excitement, tranquility and turbulence. It felt like a moth-eaten memory of an expanse of unruffled pondwater as a child leans precariously over the edge to sail his new toy yacht. Perfectly framed, an apple crunch for all eternity, sun panelling down on fishing boats in the distance, beyond the sea wall, gulls soundlessly performing aerobatics, lighthouse as tall as the child’s father making sure his sprog doesn’t fall in—plop! So without thinking, as she tidied me up, put me right again, I just said to her, simple as that:

“Honeysuckle, I love you.”

“I know,” she whispered, without looking at me. Bingo!

In an ideal world we would have kissed there and then, but a big baldy bloke came blustering over, bellowing nonsense about how we were all banned and Honeysuckle was sacked and “Keep calm ladies!” and, last and definitely least, something about an ambulance. We hung around until the ambulance came, and then we shuffled and shrugged our way down the room in the middle of all the hoo-ha, leaving Honeysuckle to argue the toss with Mister Baldywop, who was still fuming. Honeysuckle was as cool as a vacuum packed cucumber on a supermarket shelf, arms folded, talking to the blustering buffoon, and listening to his verbal slobberdosh. I looked at her and sometimes she looked at me. Us lot were rounded up at the other end of the glass gallery, now floating in watery afternoon sunshine, a meteorological mistake. A dozen or so umbrella wielding grannies were making sure we didn’t do a runner, and taking the opportunity to ridicule Stewpot’s admittedly offensive clothing. Those silver trousers were nothing but trouble at the best of times. But come to think of it, this was the best of times. I was bundled up from bobble hat to boots in warm woolly well-being, like a big soft blanket from a Mister Billington Fox’s basket. Honeysuckle seemed to have won her job back, and the shiny-pated plonker had calmed down a bit.

The ambulance people came to do their stuff (everyone had forgotten about unconscious Woody by then) and when they were finished the umbrella-armed senior citizen sentries broke ranks and we were allowed to accompany our strange companion to the hospital. Honeysuckle waved to me, cute and low, shooting from the hip, knees bent briefly. My love! She did, she did, so there! I couldn’t really believe it either, and it didn’t take long for doubts and paranoia to come Black Sabbathing at my door, but that’s normal. I suppose. I was banned from the café, but I’d wait for her outside in a few days from now. No need to rush things or make myself look desperate (which I was), but those few days lasted, if not quite a lifetime, at least two weeks.

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Copyright ©Peter Miller, 2001
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Date of publicationDecember 2001
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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