Black Country Fiction: Out and About, by Jason Jawando

All I was trying to do was go to town with me missus, Lisa. She’s not much to look at, but you don’t want another fella perving on her.

Do you ever have one of those moments where you’re having a row, and you can’t remember how it started or what you was rowing about? Whatever, there’s no excuse for some old fella to start perving on your missus.

Yeah, that was it… she reckoned I was trying to get off with Mandy, the dirty bitch from across the road, but I wasn’t cos she’s a slapper who’ll give you a handjob for a bit of skag, and I’m not going there again. Not after the last time. Don’t know why Lisa goes on about it, to be honest. And then she’s all this, telling me to leave the old fella alone, and he reckoned he was in with a chance cos we’d had a row, but that doesn’t mean she can run off with some random bloke.

He was standing at the bus stop by the offie. Old: forty or fifty perhaps. Shit-scared when I fronted him out. Probably spends all day in an office or something. What is it with people like him? They look down on you just cos you don’t go to work. They think they’re better than you, and they say stuff about paying tax and that you shouldn’t spend your giro on drink. It’s my fucking giro, I’ll spend it on what I want. It does my head in, to be honest.

At first, I think he’s looking down his nose at us, but he’s staring at Lisa which is when I realise he wants to get off with her, just cos she’s having a row with me. Probably reckons cos he’s got a job she’ll take her knickers off for him, or he’d only have to give her like a tenner, or something, but Lisa ain’t turned tricks since we both got off the skag.

So, Lisa’s going off on one and we stop in the middle of Chapel Ash. There’s always loads of cars driving past, and people walking home, and it stinks cos the brewery’s round the corner. And Lisa’s banging on about how I’m always going round Mandy’s, and I’m trying to tell her that I ain’t been with Mandy for ages, but she tries to get past me and I tell her she ain’t going nowhere. I’ll make her listen to me, if I have to, but she just stands there, and she doesn’t say nothing, and she’s just looking at the ground.

Lisa’s all this cos I got off with Mandy one time. Whenever I go over to borrow some fags I’m at it again. I ain’t going back there, especially since her bloke got out of Winson Green. If anything, Lisa’s more likely to go off with him or some other fucker. So, once she shuts up for a minute and lets me talk, even though she’s trying not to listen to me, I tell her I ain’t going nowhere. She don’t believe me, but what can I do about that? And then she says that she wants to go home. I stand back so she can get past me, but she doesn’t go anywhere. She does this thing where she sort of moves towards me, and she does a step one way and does a step the other way, and then just stops where she is.

So, I say – You going home or coming to town?

And she knows we’ve got to go to town, cos you can’t waste your time sitting in the flat all day. So she nods and it looks like we’re on our way.

And we’re walking towards town and it’s murder, cos there’s loads of people walking straight at us, and I’m trying to hold Lisa’s hand, cos she’s me bird. She ain’t much to look at, but she’s alright, really. And then I think we ain’t getting any cans in town cos it’s a rip off. So we have to go back the way we came, back to the offie. And she’s still going on and it’s like we’re going round in fucking circles.

When we get there I tell her to wait outside while I go in, cos she’s still banned. Don’t know why she’s banned. Best not argue though cos he might ban us both. If that happens the only place left is the new supermarket where the car showroom used to be.

– Wait there, I say to Lisa. But I don’t go in, cos the offie’s right next to the bus stop, and the old fella’s still standing there, only now he’s pretending he’s not looking at us. So, I tell Lisa to hang on a minute and say:

– What you looking at?

He says nothing. Just looks down the road, like he’s watching for the bus, and pretends he can’t hear me cos he’s got his buds in his ear. Probably listening to, I don’t know, fucking Coldplay or something. Stuck-up bastard. So, I walk up and get in his face and let him try ignoring me now.

– Terribly sorry, he says. Is he fuck? Takes his buds out of his ears, puts them in his pocket. Then he looks up the street like I’m not fucking there.

– Just waiting for the bus, pal.

And I’m like – Fucking what? Do I know you? Do I fucking know you?

And he says – No.

And I’m like – Why you calling me pal? I ain’t your fucking pal.

And he’s looking at me now, and I step back so he can have a go, if he wants, which he don’t. Only I nearly step into the fucking road, and he’s laughing. But not out loud. So, I say – Come on then.

But he just looks at me and says nowt. You know what it’s like. You ever been to sign on, and they don’t want to give you the money cos they think you ain’t looking hard enough for a job, and you tell them you ain’t looking for a job full stop, and that’s why you need a fucking giro? That look that they give you, that’s him. That’s what he’s like. And he thinks I don’t know he’s got his eye on Lisa, so I just say it to him.

– You think cos we was having a row you could get off with her?

And he’s standing there making out like he’s waiting for his bus. I wish he’d just hit me. There’s CCTV down there and people hanging round. If he hits me first, I can get my brief to say it’s self-defence. I don’t reckon magistrates’d believe me, even if there was like a hundred witnesses, but you got to give it a chance.

What’s he do all day? Sit on his arse? Reckon he’s ever had some psycho junkie try and rob him for his skag? Course he ain’t. And there was the time I had it off with Mandy and her bloke came after me with an axe. That’s why he went in Winson Green. I don’t reckon this bloke ever had that happen to him. I could have him, no bother.

And then Lisa pipes up – Leave him alone, Terry.

– What, I say to her. – You want to get off with him now?

I walk over and start kissing her, so this bloke knows she’s my bird. And I’m kissing her and trying to stand in front of him, so she can’t eyeball him, cos I know that’s what she fucking wants, and then a bus arrives, and he only goes and gets on it, like he’s been waiting ages.

So, I’m snogging her and he walks down the bus and sits right at the back where he can see us, which I know cos I turned her round so she couldn’t see him, and the bus drives off.

I should have hit him really to make a point, but if I go inside again, she’ll run off with another fella. Says she won’t, but she said that last time I went away.

All I was trying to do was go to town with me missus. Not much to look at, but she’s all I’ve got.

 

Biography

Jason Jawando writes fiction and drama. He has had short stories published in Crannog, Ranfurly ReviewProle, Bandit Fiction and elsewhere, and a short play was performed in a rehearsed reading at Birmingham Rep.  He is completing an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University.

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Black Country fiction: The Peaceful Morning on the Hill by Daren Carpmail

Mickey was getting a bit out of breath as he reached the top of Turner’s Hill. He sat down on a wooden bench. A young lad was already sitting there but that didn’t bother him – he fancied a chat.

The bench had a panoramic view of the Black Country. It was a cold but sunny day, and he could see tower blocks, pylons, trees, and houses for miles around.

‘Alright mate?’ he said, his breath casting plumes of vapour in the air. The lad nodded, barely looking up from his phone.

‘I can remember coming up here with my old man when I was a kid. In them days, the factories were still in full swing, and you could taste the smoke as well as see it. Not like it is now.’

The young man looked up for the first time. ‘Yeah, my Nan used to say that. All a bit before my time though, mate.’

‘I bet it was, hardly out of school ain’t you? Mickey’s the name.’ He held out a hand.

‘Oh, I’m Ethan, pleased to meet you.’ They shook hands rather awkwardly. Mickey carried on talking.

‘I came here once with Carol as well. We’d been out for a few drinks and were walking back this way. I love the view at night when it’s all lit up, it’s like Blackpool Illuminations. These days there’s too many yobbos about, but it was alright back then. I’m not saying you’re a yobbo mind, but you know what some of ’em are like now. It was a summer’s night, she lay down and…well you can guess the rest. It wasn’t our first time, but it was the first time it all went really well. You know what I’m saying. When I remember her, I always think back to that night.’

Ethan looked at the ground and fidgeted with his phone. He had no idea why the old dude was telling him this stuff but wished he’d shut up.

‘We were happy then of course. Carol didn’t mind me wanting to join the Army, not at first. She was even okay when I said I was going to Northern Ireland. She always said if anybody could look after their selves over there, it was me. She was damn right as well.’

‘You was in the Army? I don’t think I’d have the bottle for that mate, fair play,’ said Ethan.

‘It wasn’t all bad, you know. They only ever showed the worst parts on the news, but there were great times over there. The lads were first class, second to none, and some of the locals were alright as well.  But when it was bad…well…’

‘Yeah, I went on a stag do to Belfast last year. My Dad laughed when I told him where we was going, said nobody wanted to go there twenty years ago.’

Mickey didn’t seem to hear him.

‘My happiest days were in the Army. I was gutted at first when me and Carol split up, but it was for the best, I suppose. Five years we was together, five bloody years. But the Army just takes over your life. The mates I had back there were the best, like I said. It breaks my heart that a lot all of them never made it back… but it was more than just a job. I wasn’t doing it for the money, it was for Queen and Country.’

‘Well…yeah I suppose.’ Ethan looked thoughtful. A jogger trotted past, carrying a water bottle, oblivious to the world in his oversized headphones.

‘Everything was going well, and then I got invalided out. Can you believe it? It weren’t the Provos who did for me, it was my own dicky ticker. I still had years left in me, but the health and safety brigade wouldn’t have it.’

‘That’s rough, man.’

‘I tried to make a go of it in Civvie Street, I really did. I even got back in touch with Carol on the computer, but she’s married with kids now, and good luck to her. I really mean that. I got a job as a driver at first. I enjoyed that one, but the recession killed it all off. I thought I’d get another job. I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t, but it’s all changed now. Too many people after not enough jobs. You got a job, mate?’

‘Nah, not really. I’m doing an apprenticeship, training to be an electrician.’

‘Good lad, get a trade behind you. I wish I’d done the same, I wouldn’t have ended up on the scrapheap then. You’d think after all them years of serving my country, after everything I’ve been through, that people’d want to give me a chance. Yeah right! I couldn’t get a job for love nor money. I tried everything, but they said I had no skills. No skills! That and a dodgy heart did for me every time.’

‘Well, I’ll be going now.’ Ethan stood up; this was getting too weird. Mickey carried on talking and Ethan hovered uncertainly, thinking it would be rude just to walk off.

‘I ended up working in a supermarket. I hated the sight of the place. Wearing that bloody fleece all day and having to be nice to all the thick customers, showing them where the baked beans were, explaining the two-for-one offers. And did one of them even say ‘Thank you?’ Did they hell.’

‘It’s funny really. If you think about it, it was like Belfast all over again. If you wear the Queen’s Uniform over there you’re just a Brit, and the locals think you deserve all you get. But I’ll tell you one thing. I’d sooner face a mob on the Falls than the kind of low life we used to get in that shop.’

He pointed down the hill at a large bland warehouse, the sun glinting on the tiny cars parked outside.

‘The scum of the Earth they were, worthless pond life every last one of them. They thought they could talk to me any way they liked. Well, I wasn’t having any of that.’ He seemed to be trying to concentrate on something.

‘And I had to wear that nametag with ‘Mike’ on it. I’ve never been Mike, I’ve always been Mickey, ever since I was a kid. But if you ask me though, the customers ought to have called me Mr Farmer. I deserve a bit of respect.’

‘Well, as I said, I’d better be off.’ Ethan tried once again to leave. This guy was starting to sound like some kind of psycho.

‘So what if I told that old biddy to eff off? She was asking for it. Moaning because I wouldn’t honour her coupon. It was out of date! So that bloody kid who runs the place only went and fired me. Me! I’ve dodged bullets from the Divis Flats, seen my mates get blown to bits, and I get ordered about by a spotty little toe rag like him.

‘What those scumbags don’t realise is that you don’t spend as much time in the forces as I did without learning a thing or two – not to mention making a few contacts. Just look down there, mate.’

Ethan looked to where Mickey was pointing.

***

It took several hours for Ethan to give his statement. When it was finally over he went straight to the White Swan, where he promptly downed three pints in ten minutes. He was glad he his mate Kev had agreed to meet him.

‘You wouldn’t believe it, Kev. The crazy bastard just sat there, calm as anything. One minute I was looking at the supermarket, the next it was a ball of fucking fire. I’ve never heard a racket like it, my ears was ringing for ages afterwards. I heard it and felt it at the same time…people was screaming as well.’

There was more to say, much more. But Ethan couldn’t find the words.

‘Another pint?’ Kev asked.

Ethan waved vaguely to indicate yes, and looked forward to oblivion.

 

 

Biography

Daren Carpmail is 50 years old and lives in Smethwick. Several of his short stories have been published, both in print and online, and he has enjoyed some success in writing competitions.  He hopes to self publish a novel in the near future.

 

Banner image: Daren Carpmail