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The Bells, The Bells

Kevin Robson drinks whiskey and sees things in a different way.

You know our pub The Careless Whisper? We had this singer on stage there last week. You know Fred? Fred was telling me she was a “terrible monstrosity” – him mouthing the words slow at me like a bloody goldfish, coz if you know me, you’ll be knowing I’m partially deaf in both me ears. He wrote down “FAT WALRUS CROAKING” on my deaf pad I always carry. I told him I was glad then that I was of the deaf persuasion. This made him laugh out loud. I clapped him on the back. “It was the Bells that made me deaf,” I was telling him, “Bells Whiskey, that is.”

Seems to me how the committee had a change to their minds after that awful singer. They swapped things around. Instead, Saturday night we had this big ugly old sock of a fortune-teller. Just for a change, here for one night only at the Whisper, we had a clairing voyant. She only went an’ picked me out. Fortunatellerly, it was about nine o clock in the evenin’ by then, and I’d had enough of the fighting-spirit Dutch courage.

There I was, me with just the dozen double whiskeys under my belt. Everyone hooted me to go on up on the stage. Naturally I couldn’t wait to show her what’s what. I’m great with the craic, me. I got up there, an’ I sat down on a chair facing her. She grabbed my one hand between her two sweaty palms, and then placed me other hand on top of her crystal ball. I could see close up how truly ugly she was. Moles over her face like a country lawn in Spring, and the biggest wonkyfied yellowed teeth to go with a wonkyfied stare. On her head she had a dishrag of tartan, knotted up under one of her chins. She looked the part – she also looked familiar, if you’ll be catching my drift. She might also have been Old Ma Jenkins from the Post Office: her that keeps all her half-eaten sweets in her linen hanky for later on.

She was jabbering away with the talking, going nineteen to the dozen, breathing her smelly breath into my face, and I hear a call from down below behind me, like you might be hearing something if you’re under water, far away like, shouting, “He’s deaf, you know!” Someone threw her me deaf pad, someone else a stub of pencil. She writ scratchily, and tore off the page like she was in a temper with me. Honestly, I’d done me best wit the woman. She folded the page and pressed it into my hand. Then she done a strange thing. She grabbed me by me hair and lifted me out of the chair. Then she turned me round an’ pushed me on to the stairs down the stage. I missed the first step down, and managed to land myself a good ‘un almost face-down back in my chair. I heard a stripe of laughter and saw folk clapping.

Well, I sat back in my seat and I opened that scrap of paper. It said, ‘Tomorrow Sunday 11.14 p.m. Outside the Careless Whisper by the crossroads. White Audi A4 Whiskey Golf Foxtrot 194 Tango. Thirty-eight mph. Watch Out!’

“Rubbish!” I thought “What would I be wanting to buy meself a car for, especially if it can’t get up to 40?” and I signalled Harry at the bar for another of them there double whiskeys. I crumpled the paper and let it sit on the table.

The very next night was a Sunday. I was to be found in my usual seat in the Whisper, doing what I do best. After closing time, Fred, Harry and a couple of the others gave me a help through the door. I still had me glass in me hand, and was being most especially careful not to let the going of it. I downed the last of me whiskey to my lips, and tossed the glass back over my shoulder, turning to see that it had broken with no noise on the pavement. As far as I could see, and in my very best of judgement, the road seemed relatively clearish. But as I stepped out from the pavement my legs were suddenly took away from under me. It was as if I’d been blown up high into the air by the hugest gust of wind.

I remember seeing a wisp of a white blur. No pain. Me sat sitting on the crown of the road among shattered headlights and splinters of red wet things. A dark bush was sat on me lap. A number plate looked out at me from the side of the bush, WGF 194 T. I’m sure I’d seen those numbers before, but I couldn’t for the life of Jeezus remember where I’ve been knocked down by a motor before. Haven’t you been? Yeah, we all have.

The ambulance driver’s name was Hugh. He was desisted by Lloyd, the parrot medic. Lloyd had a wonkyfied eye too. I oughta get one, perhaps they’re all the rage. Soon, it’ll be you can’t come in the Whisper unless you’ve got a messed-up eye, to be sure. He also had the mother of all foul breath from him.

“Hugh,” I asked, “Hugh, do you believe in God?”

“Quiet, shhhh.” He tightened something hard round my neck.

I’d heard him! Me hearing had come back to me! Not such a bad thing, being run over, it’s not all bad... does mighty good for your hearing. Still, I wouldn’t let it lie. “Hugh,” I said, “Hugh, do you believe in God?”

“Quiet, shhhhh…” He tightened me neck up more.

“Hugh, does God believe in you, though?” I chuckled as they put their fingers under me and rolled me onto a bed on the floor. I blacked out.

Next I knew I was finding my surroundings to be a hospital bed. “Nurse” I cried, “I can’t feel my legs!”

She came. “I can’t… I can’t feel my legs!” I repeated.

“I’ll get a doctor, he’ll explain,” she told me in her soft Scottish lilt. Put me in mind of Simon’n’Garfunkel. They were of the Scotty persuasion, if I remember rightly. “In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,” I sung to my newly re-activated earholes.

4 a.m. I still had my watch on me wrist. I felt the hands. The glass was missing. An Asian doctor has come in, the collar of his blue shirt too big for his scrawny neck, a child in man’s clothes. I told him: “You’re a child in man’s clothes,” I said.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been on call,” he tells me, stethoscope round his egg-blue collar.

“You should get your mother to take you to Peacocks, they’ve got some lovely shirts in the winda,” I tell him. He comes back with somethin’ like, “You were in a car accident.” He has a very serious look on his fizzer when he says it.

“Oh really?” my voice dripping with the sarcasm. “Try to be telling me something I don’t know.”

He picks up a clipboard. I think he’s gonna clock me with it. Instead he says again, “You were in a car accident.” Then he goes all formal like. “I will come back when you’re more reasonable. Before I go, is there anybody you’d like us to call – a friend or relative?”

“My daughter. I have a daughter.”

“I’ll get the nurse to take the details. Get some rest. We’ll talk in the morning.”

This morphine kicks in. It’s not as good as the whiskey, mind. It’s not yer Jamesons, nor even yer Black and White. Makes you the awfullest? itchy in a man’s peculiars. But it does work. Eventually the nurse arrives. She comes over. My watch says 4.55. It’s a liar. My watch is a liar. I’m gonna total this watch! I’m gonna do the Flatley stamping on the muvva!

Now there’s two of them there now standing over me – two wee golden angels, smiling down a mother’s love on me.

“Abby – is that you?”

“No, I’m Livvie, I’m your nurse. Who’s Abby?”

“Not you nurse. My daughter Abby, next to yourself.”

“There’s no one else here, just me,” she says, and puts her hand right through my Abby’s tummy.

“She looks like you nurse, does my Abby.”

The other figurine I saw with my own eyes vanishes.

“How do we reach her?” the nurse asks.

“You phone, dontcher.”

“The number?”

“I used to’ave it. She moved on.”

“We’ll need a number.”

“Let… sleep. I’ll remember it,” I reached out my hand to where Abby had been, where I’d been seeing my Abby, but she’d clean mean disappeared.

Fields of yellow and blue grass. My mother holding me. My first love. The time I almost drowned. Going to Macdonalds. My first long trousers.

She was back again tugging me shoulder. “Go away nurse, I’m having a lovely dream.”

“We checked all records – we can’t find a number for your daughter.”

“It’s not important… Tell me nurse – was there anywhere you really wanted to go – really wanted to, mind – and when at long last you got there, it wasn’t ‘alf as good as you thought?”

Uh huh?” She looked at me funny, like I was a bomb not yet for exploding, and she moved away like a crab; a slow step, then another slow step. When she got to the bottom of the bed I let her have the both of me barrels: “Well, answer me bitch! No, tell you what – you shut up! Shut up when I talk to you!”

“I’ll get the doctor.”

“You go – get him then!” I thundered at her. “You get him then, you see if I care!”

What a dream I had. I was back in County Cork, marrying my Jessie, Abby coming along seven months later – premature and not premature, if you know what I’m meant to be meaning, in that type of a town-full-of-curtain-twitchers way. In days when they said, “Did you see that Jessie Tyler with that doyty man from the Chalk Pit? Ooooh, bold as brass that one.” That’s the sorta thing what they’d say – what they said about me and my Jessie.

Still, I showed them different. Made an honest woman of my Jessie, so I did. I can still see me – that’s me, that is, throwing me babby Abby, high into the air; and the catching of her, her so much loving it, gurgling and chuckling. There’s me, look – holding Jessie and Abby, posing for a photograph in our first own brand new home. My car. Me dressed in olden days, wrapped in crinoline of juniperberry and wine. You held my hand. We’ve all gone to look for America. Feeling Groovy.

Here’s a strange thing: me looking down on me. The me I’m looking at is in a hospital bier, wired up to a whole load of tellies and sweet-shop bottles. I can smell roasting pork, there’s a crowd of suited ‘n’ booted hospital bodies.

“Stand back!” goes the head honcho hospital body. Then he hits me chest with two steam irons with wires hanging out. There’s that sizzle, more roasted pork smells.

He stands back and looks at the tellies biting his lip.

“Once more,” he says, him full of panting, with the sweating, green circles under the arms of his dress.

The same palaver again with the irons.

Again he stands back and looks at the tellies, biting his lip.

“Are we agreed?” – plummy voice like he’s been to college, or even university – “Time of death, zero nine three six?”

The others look up at the clock or their watches. All murmur or nod their soppy hatted heads at him. I look at all the dust on the top of the strip lights, on the tops of the tellies, and at the doctor with cartoon pictures on the top of his green cap, and down at the all the bits of red shiny cutlery. “Your arse. I’m not dead, not dead, not dead... Hello Abby. Hello Jessie.”

© Kevin Robson 2009

Kevin Robson ducks and dives in Hadleigh, where he is contracted by the second-hand-car-sales Mafia to enforce the strict Essex code of honour.

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