Maura English was like a ma to me. She made sure I was always looked after by giving me the main street. But once, when I asked for a change she freaked out in front of all those old gee-bags and said, ‘I’ve put my faith in you these past years, Max. Don’t be an ungrateful little shit and throw it back in my face.’ It could’ve been worse, I suppose. I could’ve been on the hanging baskets with Rita Kilduff.
What I had to clean was fairly straight forward anyways: The Courthouse steps and doorway (sometimes a dog shit, maybe even a human dump), the Library’s wheel-chair ramp (cigarette papers, butts, maybe a needle), the painted white windows of ‘Rasta High Life’ (posters for cleaners, childminders, lost dogs, DIY men), the old AIB doorway (crisp packets, bottles, lighter refill cans), the porchway to Caffrey’s Jewellers (post, fliers and leaflets from people who thought he was still in business), The White Heart (they’d boarded up the windows and doors and painted them pink but Maura was always nagging me to make sure no posters or notices were allowed to stay up. ‘Even the ‘No way we won’t pay’ ones?’ I’d say. ‘Especially them,’ she’d moan, ‘it’s an empty pub on the main street, not the Liberty Hall,’) the entrance to the old shopping centre (always cans, a rank smell of piss and maybe socks or underwear— skidmarks once), and finally, back on the other side of the street—across from Deli-Burger and beside Jim’s Cash for Gold—the small monument on the wall that had the names of those two local lads chiselled into it (the usual graffiti: a scrawled Lido and Abdel and sometimes a drawing of a dick and balls with a few pubes).
My da and his mate, The Brinnie, used laugh when they saw me with the vest and go, ‘Ah, The Didye, cleaning up the mean streets of the Brig, one shite at a time.’ I just ignored them.
All ye needed with you for the clean was a hi-vis vest, those thick rubber gloves, one refuse sack, one pickers, and for the placard monument thing a toothbrush and solution. That was it. Easy, really. Even though like, I’d have preferred to be doing the gardening on the roundabout beside Wavin with Maura English and her kids since like, I’d never been asked.
NEAR THIS SPOT
There was a spot in Deli-Burger—inside the door to your left, at the high stools and half table—where ye could see from the monument across the road down to The Courthouse (my Tidy-Towns route). My da said he couldn’t give a flying fuck what I could see from there once I could see the menu. But I’d learnt it off at that stage.
I was in Deli Burger that night getting my da’s curry chips and batter burger and my brother Johnny’s cheese chips and American burger—he was back home since he’d broken up with Charlotte—when it happened. Lido called over to me from the monument just before I went in and I nodded—not excited or nothing—since he was different when he was with Abdel. Abdel made him seem taller and older or something. ‘Max, fam’ Lido shouted, ‘come here.’
So I went and said hello and all that, keeping my fist tight on my da’s note. Lido was all arms and shoulders, real loose and he said, ‘Relax Max—eeeyy,’ and Abdel laughed at his rhyme (like I hadn’t heard it before) and Lido said, ‘Nah fam, I’m only buzzin with ye,’ and he spat behind him into the canal and jumped down off the monument and patted me on the back—like he always did—and gripped my shoulder. ‘Hey,’ he said to Abdel, ‘member I told you bout me and my neighbour’s hand-shake? Watch.’ Lido nodded at me, and I shit myself for a second. You see, we’d been trying it outside his house for a few weeks since he never liked to go in early, and, like, in fairness, neither did I, ever, cause my da’s mate would be in there and he’d be taking the piss or Johnny’d be in his room balling over Charlotte riding Robbie Richardson’s older brother. But I thought it was just for the craic. The hand-shake. Only for us, like.
Lido raised his hand, ready to go, and smiled, ‘allow, fam, don’t disgrace me in front of my boy.’
When they first moved in my da used to say, ‘There goes Mrs Chiquita,’ if he saw Lido’s ma in all her gear going to their church on Sunday. I’d laugh with him, but I dunno, I sometimes felt kind of jealous, like, of Lido and his ma and his bro going somewhere together as a family (even if it was to a hall that used to be a carpet shop). At least they had memories, had each other. All I had was the memory of my ma on the couch with puke coming down her chin making a kind of pool between her neck and her chest and her cigarette after burning a hole in the carpet and the smell of it—the puke and the burnt carpet—being rotten. She had a vodka bottle on her lap (I was used to that) but this one was empty and I couldn’t wake her.
Lido didn’t really talk to me in school, yeah, since I was only in second year, but we’d nearly always meet outside his house in the evenings and have some bant. One night he was there with his headphones on rapping to himself and when he saw me he took them off and said, ‘You know what he’s rappin bout?’
‘Who?’ ‘Lil Wayne, fam.’ I must’ve just shrugged cause he tutted and went, ‘Punany man. Pu-Nah-Nee.’
‘Oh,’ I said, kind of embarrassed and he patted my back and shook my shoulder.
‘Fam,’ he said, ‘you’ve got to get yourself some swag. And you ain’t never gonna get it going round them streets with those big yellow gloves and that vest. Ditch that shit. You look like a cop.’
‘But my ma was delighted when I started it.’ ‘Fam, she was probably happy when you were doing it, like, as a ten year old.’
‘Maura English says she’d be proud of me now too.’ ‘Oh my days, Max. Maura English. Do her kids do that yellow glove shit?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, do they do it with all that actual shit and needles an all? Does anyone other than you do that shit?’
Maura English and my ma went to school together. Maura had loads of funny stories bout my ma and since my da said nothing about her after she died apart from, ‘She was a selfish bitch, Max,’ and Johnny said nothing bout anything to me only, ‘Fuck off, Max,’ Maura was the best I had. And no, no one else did it. But that made me more important, didn’t it?
A few weeks before it happened I was coming home from a late night walk—my da’s mates and all were in the house—when I heard a voice go, ‘Maxy baby,’ and I shit myself since it was dark and the road was real quiet and no one was around. I stopped walking and there was a giggle—two voices— and I looked into the lane at the side of Lido’s house but it was too dark to see anything. ‘Max, bro, come here, fam.’ It was Lido and since I’d nothing better to be doing I hopped the little wall between our houses and went into the lane, pure blind. I knew, like, there musta been a girl there since I could smell the perfume and I couldn’t see a stitch and I heard her giggle and Lido whispered, ‘Come here, fam, come here,’ and he reached out of the darkness and grabbed my right hand and, I dunno, I went with it and he dragged me forward and I couldn’t see for shit and suddenly he took my wrist, yeah, and pushed my arms onto something and the girl with him giggled and I felt a jacket or something and then after a second my hand was moved onto a hot, soft—so soft, man—handful of tit. It could only have been tit. I got a feel of the nipple and all and it was rock hard and, I dunno, I was on it for a second— less maybe—and whoever she was squealed and pushed me away and went, ‘Jesus Christ, Lido, his hand’s fucking freezing,’ and Lido just laughed and went, ‘Sshh, sshh—my mama’ll hear you.’
I backed away, on top form, and Lido whispered, ‘Lose the yellow gloves, fam,’ and his voice was swallowed up by, ‘Come on, baby,’ and the sound of kissing and I knew then it was Eithne—Bartek’s girlfriend. Everyone was talking about her after she tried to dye her hair blonde but made it bright yellow instead like a Manga girl. All those heads in school had a hard on for her because of it.
After that night Lido was my hero. He’d given me ammunition and, BAM! my world was changed. So to show him some appreciation and since we’d been practising that fist-pump, handshake thing for ages, I decided to do it in front of Abdel. When we did it—straight through, front slap, back slap, fist pump, grip the top of each others’ fingers, fist pump again and finger point with thumb up (like a gun) and boom you’re blown backwards by the force of the shot—Abdel fell around the place laughing, shaking his head and slapping his sides. Through all the shapes and noise I spotted their names in BIG BLOCK CAPITALS on the plaque thing—again. I’d only cleaned it like, two weeks before. And down at the bottom—again—was a massive cock and balls with the little spikey pubes. This wrecked my buzz since I knew I’d be there the next day scrubbing away at it with my toothbrush and solution.
I didn’t say anything but gave them their stupid high-fives and went across the street to Deli-Burger mad thick cause Lido knew I cleaned there and his name was the biggest on it.
I’d ordered and was in my seat when I saw Bartek coming up towards them. I knew, like, straight away there was gonna be trouble since he had that big thick constipated head on him and sure, Lido had told me about Eithne’s da seeing a text about a blowjob on her phone and her da thinking it was Bartek who got it and going ape-shit and marching down to Bartek’s door and decking Bartek’s da when he gave him beef.
Bartek was a psycho. He became a gym freak after his mate, that little shit Richie Nulty, gave him a beating outside the school over a spilt Yop. About a month later Bartek was back friends with Richie and invited him up to his house for a spliff or something and when he was at the front door about to let Richie in, didn’t Bartek pull out a hurley from his porch and crack Richie over the head with it—for real, like. How do I know? Everyone knows since it was Bartek’s da in his big Polish voice that recorded it on Bartek’s phone. I heard the da was hiding across the green with the phone waiting for them to arrive into the driveway. I don’t speak, what ye call it, Polish or whatever, but Lido told me someone told him that the da was saying, ‘Do it, son, do it.’ And at the end of the clip, when Bartek was all out of breath, you could hear the da say in English, ‘Bartek, look camera, look camera. Say to people what happen if they fuck with us.’
Not long after that, when Bartek began getting all ripped and all, he started going out with Eithne. But Lido said Eithne got tired of Bartek thinking he was the man when all he used to do was jizz in his pants anytime he got a feel of her tit, and that’s why she dumped him on his 15th birthday.
WERE BRUTALLY DONE TO DEATH
BY BRITISH FORCES, WHILE IN THEIR CUSTODY
I’m not sure how, but Bartek heard the text was about Lido and he musta been so thick he went and posted ‘ur ded Lido’ on Facebook and then Lido, taking the piss—he was probably with Abdel when he did it—posted a picture of stained tracksuit bottoms and wrote, ‘dont blow it Bartek’ underneath. I thought that was a bit of a stupid thing for Lido to do.
When I saw Bartek and Arek and Piotr coming up the street from my seat in Deli-Burger I was still pissed off, yeah, about Lido’s name and the cock and balls. Yer one from behind the counter went, ‘American burger, cheese chip, batter burger, curry chip,’ and I stood up, like—I was about to open the door and shout across to Lido—and she screamed, ‘Hey, pay now, you pay now: American burger, cheese chip, batter burger…’ and I just turned to her and went, ‘Relax the fuck,’ and I was surprised at what I said but proud too since I hadn’t stood up for myself like that before and the place was fairly busy and a hot girl looked at me and kind of smiled, like, as if to say, ‘Fair play.’ I got to the front and chips were sizzling in behind the counter and there was steam rising and that fatty gurgling sound from the pans was getting louder and another one was on the phone going, ‘Deli-Burger, you want delivery?’
Since I was busy paying for the grub didn’t I miss what happened. But my da was talking to the owner of the Cash for Gold and he said he had it on CCTV and it was pure fucking mental how quick it went down: That scaldy headed prick (Bartek) just popped around the corner out of nowhere and dived in at the poor young black fella (Lido) and legged it off and that was it. The only way you’d know he’d been shanked was the pool under him on the ground right there in the shadow of the monument.
My da shook his head after he told the story and said, ‘Sure didn’t they find the fuckin Stanley blade down the harbour the next day at low-tide, the fuckin eejit,’ and The Brinnie just chuckled at Bartek’s stupidity and said, ‘Weren’t you friends with the little black fella?’ And I nodded, yeah, like, yeah I was, but I dunno, I wondered if I really was since I done nothing when I came out of Deli-Burger that night and saw all the madness across the road only grip the chipper bag tighter and leg it home, kind of freaked, not knowing what had happened, but, kind of knowing since I’d seen the head on Bartek coming up the street.
We didn’t go to the funeral or nothing since my da said, ‘sure, what’s the point? We wouldn’t understand a fuckin word they’d be saying.’
Maura English texted a few days after and since I didn’t reply, in like, ten minutes, she rang. She was freaking out. The Tidy Towns inspectors were coming and a car had crashed into the roundabout and her display was in shite, The White Heart was covered in posters and loads of the funeral flowers had been left at the monument and Lido’s graffiti was still there. She. Was. Going. Mental.
Ten o’clock on a summer holidays’ Wednesday morning I marched up to the monument thinking I was the bomb with my gloves and vest and solution: Maura English needed me. Only Maura was there already with her boys, and the flowers were all gone. They were there the day before because I’d seen them and read some of the cards. A big refuse bag was in her hand and it was bulging and ripped and stems were sticking out of it and I said, ‘What ye do that for, Maura?’ Kind of angry with her, definitely disappointed. People had left flowers there for a reason and she didn’t give a fuck. The dead don’t ask for much. Respect their memory is all.
‘Never mind them,’ she said, reaching out for my solution, ‘now, come on, get cracking on this,’ and she pointed at a thin streak of blood smudged over the Irish words and then she just, like, gestured with a grunt at the grafitti Lido and Abdel had done on Friday night.
Fair enough, like, I knew she’d put a lot of work into all the Tidy Towns lark, but the flowers? That was bad out. Lido deserved better. So I said it to her again and she just pressed her lips, trying not to get angry, ‘Could you, for once in your life, son, just do as I fucking ask,’ and she stormed across the road with her kids and threw the bag in her boot and flew off. It wasn’t about the flowers.
20th SEPTEMBER 1920
AR DHEIS DÉ GO RAIBH A N-ANAM
That plaque monument thing was a bastard to clean. When I said all you needed for it was a toothbrush and solution, I never said, like, what sort of solution. It was mine. Like, I made it, especially for limestone (not just the monument). A coke bottle filled with my da’s WD 40, his paint stripper and old sunscreen was it. Know how long it took me to get that together? Fucking. Ages.
So I was nearly finished scrubbing the blood off—it wasn’t much since he must’ve just got it on his fingers or hand and then put it on the plaque for like, a second or two max cause it came off easy with a bit of solution—when I realised: Lido’ll never get a plaque like this. He couldn’t even get flowers, for fuck sake. That was bad out. But on I went, ignoring it all, scrubbing the thick permanent marker, the letters—all capitals of course—into nothing, like a good boy for Maura.
I was bet into it, putting the real intense scrub on like I did on my ma’s, when a shadow appeared over my shoulder and I turned and who was there with a little red rose and her hair all dyed black and looking like an Emo, only Eithne. We hadn’t actually seen each other after the lane, (and even then we didn’t really see each other) but I had met her in my dreams every night since. She left the rose at the bottom of the wall and her top was real loose and I got an eyeful and she stood up all serious and then she frowned at the plaque when she saw what I was doing. She was a ride.
‘What ye doing that for?’ she said, all thick.
‘It’s for the Tidy Towns.’
‘The wha? Leave it.’
I copped, I dunno, it just hit me: Maura English is a cunt. Not only that, but I was just as bad. No, worse. I might as well have thrown the flowers out myself with my poxy yellow gloves.
‘Fuck this,’ I said. Like, seriously, what was I doing? Lido was a mate and I was scrubbing the proof of his existence off the walls. ‘Give me one second.’ And I turned into the plaque and it reminded me again of my ma’s gravestone and I gave it one more final going over, really went at it to clear everything bar his signature tag off.
I took the solution and the toothbrush and fucked them into the canal and reefed off the yellow gloves and looked at the shite all over them for a second and thought about Maura and her kids and all the flowers they’d arranged that I’d never smell and then fucked them into the canal with the hi-vis vest too. Sometimes ye don’t need a ma, ye need a ride. Or a blow job. Or even another feel of a tit.
‘Well?’ I said, cool as fuck.
She didn’t say anything for a second and I thought I’d blown it, but then she bit her lip and nodded, ‘Deadly.’ Shy kind of. And I thought, why not? So I said, ‘You wanna go Deli-Burger for a milkshake or something?’
Her eyes went big, like she was surprised little me would ask such a thing and she shrugged and whispered, ‘Okay, cool,’ and we waited for two cars to pass and then crossed the road and I opened the door for her and showed her to the best seats in town and I got the drinks and brought them over and smiled, delighted, ye see, cause the cock and balls—even the little spikey pubes—could be seen perfectly from where we sat.