Man’s Best Friend
Sacha found him in the woods. I wanted to get help, but he stopped me.
‘I’m sick,’ he said. ‘I’ve come here to die. Like your dog would do.’
She nosed at his hand.
‘Let her stay awhile?’ he asked.
I called her away; he would be colder alone.
On the day my brain-dead brother had Cheryl’s name tattooed across his heart, she dumped him. Most people would have known there was something wrong, but Tommo never even noticed that half her stuff was missing from his flat when he left. He must have sat in Biker Bill’s, deciding whether to have hearts or roses twined around her name, as she took the last of her DVDs from the shelf and unplugged the telly.
Tommo stood in our kitchen. He’d got his T-shirt pulled away from his neck and his skin was all red and puffed-up looking. Soft twat had tears in his eyes. I called him a poof, thought it was just the tattoo; I didn’t know about Cheryl. He lost it. Lashed out at me, caught me right on the nose; bust it, the fucker did. So he’s crying and I’m snotting blood everywhere, and that’s when he tells me about her dumping him. Bitch knew he was getting it done. He’d told her that morning.
He drove me to casualty in his shit heap of a car: crisp packets, empty cans, and football boots; windows you couldn’t see out of.
‘Tommo, for fuck’s sake, it’s no wonder she’s pissed off, you dirty bastard.’
He stood on the brakes; left my bust nose about a gnat’s off the windscreen. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel. He was breathing like it was all he had to do – all that mattered. And then some stupid tit in a Volvo started leaning on his horn. He was out of the car, up the bonnet like a raging fucking bull and I was dragging him back to the car and trying to calm him down, ’cos daft as he is, our Tommo, he’s a big lad and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of him. He never did anything. Never even touched the bloke, but the sod must have phoned the police ‘cos by the time we get to casualty there’s a squad car following us.
I was trying to explain to Plod, hold my fuckin’ nose on and count my teeth when this nurse came for us. Blonde, spiky hair, little, dressed in them scrubs they wear now and you could see she had a cracking arse. She turned round and she’d got a name badge on. Her name’s Cheryl; fuckin Cheryl – you couldn’t make it up.
You don’t want to know how much it hurt when they shoved my nose back, but I’m never having that done again. That daft bastard ever breaks my nose again it can stay broke.
Nurse Cheryl wanted to know why we’d been scrapping. She was just making conversation, like, I don’t think she cared, but I tell her about Bitch Cheryl and Tommo and his new tattoo and she was brilliant, Nurse Cheryl was; goes and fetches him some stuff to soothe it like, but Tommo just took one look at her name badge and set off bawling again. It’s a good job he’s family. No-one else would put up with him. Even Plod got fed up of the blubbing and decided he’d rather finish his shift than deal with Tommo and his broken fuckin’ heart.
It was a couple of days before I saw him again. I went round to his place, to see if he wanted to go down the ‘Spoons for a few scoops. He’d cleaned up. I swear it. He’d spent two days cleaning up. The place looked like a fuckin’ show home.
‘What the fuck’s going on? Queen’s not coming for her tea, is she?’
He looks down at his massive feet.
‘You said, like…’
‘That Cheryl dumped me ‘cos I was a dirty bastard. If thought if I cleaned up a bit, she might come back.’
Tommo – thick as fuck. Never gets the difference between truth and talk. I tried to explain, but it was pointless. So we go down the ‘Spoons and I make him buy enough beer, so none of it matters anymore, and then I walk him home and shove him through his door.
He phones me. Three a.m.
‘What Tommo? It’s fuckin three o’clock in the morning. I’m in work at six.’
‘OK,’ he says, ‘I’ll keep it short. Plan A or Plan B.’
‘Which one? A or B?’
I’d swung my legs out of bed and I was sitting holding the phone to my ear, trying to remember if we’d talked about this earlier.
‘Tommo, I don’t know what you’re on about.’
‘But you said I should make plans for the future.’
‘I didn’t mean in the middle of the night when you’re pissed as a fart.’
‘A or B?’
‘A, or fuckin B?’
‘Jeez, Tommo. What the fuck…go on then, tell us plan A.’
This was his plan A:
Go to casualty.
Hang around without getting kicked out by security.
Meet Nurse Cheryl.
Tommo asks Nurse Cheryl, who will naturally, in Tommo Land, be single and available, if she would like to go for a drink.
Nurse Cheryl falls head over heels in love with him.
Tommo maintains a loving, but chaste, relationship with the lovely Nurse Cheryl until such time as he can reveal to her, that she is the love of his life and that to prove it, he has had her name tattooed across his heart.
Like I say, Tommo: stupid. He’d already forgotten that Nurse Cheryl knew about the tattoo; that she gave him the bleeding ointment for it. I told him Plan B had to be better than that and I hung up on him.
I was wrong. Plan A was a million times smarter than plan B. But it’s not fair, not right, to blame me. You’ve got to blame my idiot brother – both of them were his ideas.
He didn’t tell me what he was doing; didn’t really involve me. Well, he did; he asked me for Dan’s number. I should have known, but I thought what the hell, if Tommo wants to do a bit of something, then he’s big enough and ugly enough, I’m not his keeper. Besides, what can I say, I’ve got Dan’s number – know it by heart, but that’s another story. I just thought he was after a bit of something to happy him up and when he turned up in the ‘Spoons grinning from one fat ear to the other, I just thought that Dan sure did know his stuff.
But then Tommo said that he was on his way round to see Cheryl.
‘Tommo, you sure that’s a good idea?’ I asked him.
‘Yeah, she’s still got some of my shit over at her place, and I’ve got a bag of her stuff in the back of the car.’ He was smiling but he looked nervous like it was a first date or something.
‘Don’t let her fuck you about again, Tommo. You can do better’
‘No, I’m done with her,’ he said. ‘Just need to get my X-box, some trainers and stuff.’
He was lying and I knew it. There was a lot going on in his head. You could see the fuckin’ cogs going round. He finished the one beer he’d said he was having and said, ‘See you.’
And that was it until he phoned me. Late, pitch black. I don’t know what time, and it sounded bad ‘cos he wasn’t right. You could tell in his voice that something was up.
‘Who’d you think, you daft bastard.’
‘Jez, can you come over.’
‘Dumped you again, did she?’
‘Fuck off Jez. Serious, I’m in a whole load of shit.’
I was half out of the bed, half asleep, jeans half on, halfway down the stairs when he said,
‘I’m at Cheryl’s.’
It was half an hour to hers. Half an hour, at half one in the fucking morning, after a skin-full of ale, and the fuckwit had me driving halfway across the country. Dickhead. I’d one eye on the mirror for Plod, an eye on the phone, looking at the stupid map, and all the time, it was in my head – the sound of his voice and how it wasn’t right.
I got there, and this was fuckin’ weird – Biker Bill’s van was outside, which was odd, ‘cos he lives above his shop. I know ‘cos our Dad’s his bleeding’ landlord. But it was his van all right. All painted up with dragons and shit, and it annoyed me, just seeing it, ‘cos I know he paid for the paint job instead of paying his rent.
The door was on the latch. Biker Bill was sitting at the kitchen table like he owned the place, greasy looking; his ratty hair in a ratty ponytail. He’d got a brew on, and he was busy making a packet of Golden Virginia into thin roll-ups, one already burning; ash on the table.
‘Tommo called me?’
‘Yeah, he’s gone; said he couldn’t wait.’
Biker Bill stood up; started packing his stuff away, filling the pockets on that dumb leather waistcoat.
He nodded towards the bedroom. I knocked. I went in. There was Cheryl, gone, out of it; dead to the fuckin world. I creep nearer, but she doesn’t move. There’s a new bright, shiny tattoo right across her breast. It’s red and sore and twined with hearts and roses and right, slap bang in the middle is the name, “Tommo”.
I fly out of the room.
‘Fuck you done, Bill? She’s doped up to the fuckin’ eyeballs, you can’t do shit like that.’
And he waved a bit of paper in front of me, and all I could see was that stupid bitch Cheryl had signed the bloody thing.
‘Where’d he go?’
But Bill was on his way out. ‘Last month’s rent,’ he gestured towards the bedroom, ‘tell your Dad it’s paid.’
I found Tommo sitting in his car staring up the empty road in front of him. I opened the door and got in next to him. He didn’t look at me, and I knew why – the soft twat had got tears in his eyes.
‘I fucked up Jez’
‘Yep. I’d say so.’
‘She ain’t gonna have me back now.’
‘I just wanted to pay her back, you know.’
‘No Tommo, I don’t fuckin’ know. I thought you said you loved the girl. What’s fuckin’ drugging her and having Biker Bill scrawl all over her tits got to do with love?’
Even Tommo, for all his dumb fuck logic, couldn’t answer me that much.
‘She’s gonna kill me.’
‘If you’re lucky.’
He started the engine. I told him he was a fucking idiot and got out the car.
‘See you tomorrow?’
I had my head half through the passenger window when he floored the engine and took off and I was left standing in the middle of the road, in the wrong part of town at half two in the morning with my head spinning ‘cos Tommo had just tried to take my head off with the door jamb.
He wasn’t in the ‘Spoons.
He’s always in the ‘Spoons, Thursdays, always, after five-a-side. Steeley said he didn’t show up for training. I texted him. He didn’t reply. An hour later, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I walked round to his.
The door was open, blood up the stairs, his kit bag on the floor beside his body. He didn’t answer me, couldn’t speak, but he was breathing. I phoned 999 and I was shaking and screaming at them to come quickly ‘cos I could see the back of my stupid, dumb fuck of a brother’s head, where some bastard had stoved it in, and the blood was glistening, dark and thick and sticky.
We sit with him, hour after hour. Me, our Liam and our Anthony, watching our kid brother lying there full of drugs and wires and tubes while some nurse, from the Philippines, changes bags and writes stupid numbers on a chart at the foot of the bed. And they don’t need to tell us what we already know.
Thomas Paul Addison, twenty-three year’s old. Brain-dead.
When all hope’s been kicked out of you
and your kapok’s on the floor
then grab hold of what’s left of you
and drag it out the door.
When all your food has lost its taste,
then force yourself to chew.
Do not permit yourself to waste,
however black your blue.
You must allow the birds to sing,
the sun to rise and set,
you must endure all joyous things,
and place your long shot bet
that there’ll be gaps within the gloom
and though your grief’s not spent,
that one day, when the roses bloom,
you’ll care about their scent.