Todd took me to the Tower Bar and because he was surly and bad company I got drunk enough for time to pass unnoticed. The bar was a shop with a newsagent one side, a betting shop the other. People came and sat for a drink then left and came back, or sat and stayed. It was quiet. The other drinkers were like Todd, as if the the dark tatty room, bare of all colour were their natural habitat. If you took away the taps and optics the place could be converted to a presbyterian chapel for next to nothing.
Todd’s sister came in on her way home from work. She was straight into attacking Todd. “Him,” she said. “Him.”
Todd went to the betting shop.
Her name was Josie. We had a few drinks. She said she’d take me to the hospital the next day. Todd never went.
He came back with a paper and sat reading it. Josie left. About seven o’clock we went back to his flat picking up a fish supper and a carryout from the Londis. We watched the Rangers Red Star game. He fell asleep before half time. I went to bed at ten o’clock.
Next day I couldn’t find anything in the kitchen. I felt sick and light-headed. I went down the lift to meet Josie at the station. On the eighteenth floor a heroin or methadone woman got in. “Ye ken her doon the front, tha’s oor Joey’s cousin. Bastards. Bluidy hung hersen in front o’ the bairns. Aye, ye fuckin social services for ye. An’ him in t’other block christmas day off t’ bannisters, no even in paper. Three in a month twats.” And we dragged on past the concierge station, her still coming down the lift shaft out into the light. “An’ thay puir bastards a’ Red Road, three ae them all t’gither.” , and continuing away from me. “Fuckin social workers. Fuckin doctors.”
On the train I asked Josie why Todd never went. “Drink,” she said. “And the rest of it.” Todd hadn’t see his Dad for a year. He hadn’t seen his partner and kids for two years.
We got a bus from Tulliston. Owen looked ok, not as bad as I’d heard. After half an hour, Josie left, kissed her Da and told me the time of the bus back to the station.
I had the runs and then went down to the café and bought a sandwich and a couple of coffees and came back. Owen drank half his then vomited it up into the cardboard bowl by his bed. “I’m a goner, lad.” But he grinned, looked as strong as ever. Then his face dropped. “ We’ll come back one day, son. I don’t know – what – the old ways are gone, it’s not class, it’s spirit, it’s human resilience. Weak now…” he drifted off, his head turned way from me,” weak now, but we’ll return.” He clasped my hand. He smiled and his eyes looked incredibly alive for a dying man. “Keep fighting, son.”
I paused, he didn’t. “How’s Todd?” he asked.
“Good of him to put me up and put up with me.”
“Josie’s a strong woman. She disnae ken how to get him back. But she does know he’s not to blame. She’ll keep doing her best.”
He chuckled. “D’ye ken, now things seen a lot simpler to me, he’s just like the wee lad who got angry when he found out I’d been blagging him eight years about Father Christmas?”
We both paused, my hand still in his, until his eyes closed. I gently unclasped hands and left. I found my way back to the station and Todd’s. That night we went to the Tower Bar and I got very drunk. Todd went off with some boys and gave me the key . I stayed on, buying an old guy from the shipyards whisky. When I got back to the flats I found I had lost the key. I got into Kelvingrove Park and tried to sleep on a bench.
It was grey light and frosty drizzle when I woke up and had to heave myself to sitting to vomit the white stuff. Two healthy looking young things were passing and glanced with a cold indifference sharper than disgust. I felt awful. I made it to a convenience store on Woodside Road and bought a quarter bottle stiffener, felt better, had some drinks in the Castle Vaults then found myself in Queen Street Station. I bought a ticket to Tulliston and had a coffee and food while I was waiting.
People were looking at me at the bus stop in Tulliston. They could tell. I was beginning to feel ill again.
I’d been on the bus fifteen minutes when I realised I must have missed the stop. It was only a five minutes ride when I was with Josie. We were curving up a country lane. woods either side. I went to the front and asked the driver where the hospital was. He said I was on the wrong bus for Storbrail, said I’d have to walk back to Tulliston or take a longer walk through the country park at the next stop. I got off half a mile later at the entrance to the park and he told me it was a four mile walk, just keep following the signs to the main entrance, then a mile and a half up the main road.
There was a faded wooden board. Woodilee Estate, south entrance. The path was steep upwards, muddy. A broken down lodge at the start of it, red brick, cold and dark. I had to go behind it, my lower guts had turned to liquid.
A cold sweat broke out, I was heaving for breath and from retching, got one shoe a foot deep in slime as I climbed. Dizzy and sick I reached a high path that was more used, some gravel thrown on it. I kept coming to branches in the paths, soon had no idea which direction I had come from. The place seemed deserted. The only presence was the stink of layers of decaying leaves being digested by filthy soil. Then a guy with a dog came towards me. I aked him how to get to the hospital. The look he gave me, like he knew. He told me to climb the bank at the next bend and get through the wire, it would be a short cut, I’d see the buildings. I was covered in dirt by the time I got through and saw a huge rising sprawl of something ruined and long abandoned. I went down through debris, junk, thistles, sodden marsh and looked up at a huge clock tower. The place was massive, its walls and windows sliding, refusing to make a fixed shape as I tried to take it in.
A voice from behind me. “Let you out an’ all?” I turned. A big, long jacket hung off something, its voice coming from deep inside the shadow of the baggy hood. “Here ye go, Jim.” A hand appeared from the coat with a bottle in it. “Gae on. It’ll warm ye.” I drank and felt warm and better. “They let ye oot too on Tuesdays?” I drank some more. “See ye later pal. Ah’m away in the noo. Fishcakes. “ The figure shuffled across the smashed glass and rubbish, and disappeared through a cavernous porch into the centre of the building.
I went round the other side, found an overgrown driveway and followed it down, had to scramble through a tangle of thorns and barbed wire that interwined a broken down galvanised gate, then down a road and I hit a dual carriageway. I could see houses to my left and headed in that direction, a suburb thickening about me. I bought a bottle of vodka, sat in a memorial garden and drank. I knew I couldn’t go and visit Owen in my state, white vomit down my jumper, covered in mud and stinking of drink. I just wanted to get to a bed. I drank some more and felt better..
Outside the park, I came on a board advertising the renovated canal. It had a map on it, and I realised I could get back to Todd’s walking down the tow path. But it took me ages to find the canal. I ended up on a road that petered out into asphalt in a small council estate. Some boys fixing a car there looked at me, like they knew, so I kept on walking down a path across fields. There were tractors and some sheep, teenagers on scramble bikes, corrugated concrete sheds for battery hens. The path went upwards then I saw the canal. On the other side were green hills with huge radio masts dwarfing a couple of farm houses. I went down to the canal and headed towards the city. A mile on and I came to six blocks of flats to my left, fifty yards in front of them a tangle of pylons and transformers, the pylons radiating in every direction. Six or seven young guys smoking weed and drinking special brew, a bit further on a granddad and young kid fishing in the canal.
I walked past the lush Maryhill apartments to the Firhill Locks, sweating again and sick. Sat down on a bench. An old guy came and sat next to me. He pulled a half from his thick overcoat. We talked. “See there, Scouse,” he said indicating the football stadium. “That’s where Alan Hansen started.” He passed me the bottle. “This place used to be jam packed with boats. I used to pick up cargoes frae Leith and take them on to Clydebank. We had a community of men, real men, dockers, bargemen, shipbuilders. I come here each day, They’ve destroyed everything but they cannae take mah memories.”
The winter night had fallen quick and scraggy. I walked the short distance to the junction, up past a burned out clothing warehouse, into Purcell Street, into the Tower Bar. Todd was sat there with Josie. “He died this afternoon,” she said. Todd looked at me, his eyes wet and innocent of fraud, full of longing. I sat and hugged him close to me, stroked his head. “It’s all right. He loves you, Todd.”