Anthony – A Novel / Chapter 1
Anthony – A Novel
What I’d give to be pissed right now, shagging some fit lass every which way, making her scream. But honestly? That sort of thing’s not me. I’m about taking my shoes off at the door that I didn’t slam. I’ve never been properly, I mean really properly pissed, so I’m staggering into doors, and throwing up for hours on end in someone else’s bed, until there’s nothing left but shame, a sour mouth and a thick head. I’ve never had sex, or a kiss that’s been more than lips quickly pushed together for a dare. Even then the lass had to be forced. And I had to give her a couple of quid afterwards, in front of all the other chicks and dicks that were playing. I do, though, have a key for my Nanna’s house, and a sordid affair with afternoon TV. It turns my brain to soup for a while. There’s something comforting about being in a soupy state for a handful of hours, every day, at the same time, in the same place, with the same person.
“Get the Battenberg cake, Cameron?” Nanna’s voice is getting quieter, like someone’s wrapped a phone cord around her throat, and is slowly tightening it. I nip at my shoelaces with my iced, fat fingers. Fucking shite gloves. Waste of a quid. They’re heavy, wet and suckered to my fingers. I have to pull them off slowly, finger by finger. I open the front door again and squeeze the excess water onto the front step. Twat. Shouldn’t have done that. It’ll freeze over and be slippery as fuck in the morning. Enough water came out of them to fill a half pint glass. I drape them over the radiator. Dribbles run down the groves, leaving snail trails in the deep dust. I can see Nanna’s little head twist around the back of her green leather armchair. She has a notebook and a fountain pen on a glass tabletop, with thirty odd trapped butterflies under the surface. The table came from a car boot sale, and its three legs are wreaked with woodworm. The notebook pages are crammed with black scribbles, like small dollops of burnt worms. She doesn’t know I look inside them when she’s out of the room. Most of the time I can’t make out what the hell she’s put down, mind.
“Don’t do that Nanna, you’ll snap your neck.”
“I like to check it’s you.”
“Nobody else has a key.”
I shuffle down the hall. The carpet is thick and soft. My toes soon start to thaw. The kitchen smells of damp and bananas. There are three in the bottom of the plastic fruit bowl next to the sink. Their skins have started to shrink, ripping up openings down the inner curves. They have brown age spots, like the ones that have spread all over Nanna’s hands. Her Nature of England calendar hasn’t been used yet. It was a present from Dad for Christmas. It’s a shitty, cheap one from one of them bargain bookstores. The thin pages are already curling at the bottom corners, and the naff moorland picture on the front – like someone has taken it from inside a moving car – is fading from the sun. I flip the pages forward to February. A brittle bug falls on the floor. I nudge it onto the door mat. It disappears between the brown, shabby bristles. That’s that. Gone forever. Not even a Dyson will get it out of there now. Granddad used to shove his wellies on the mat, after he’d been down the allotment. Nanna still has them under the stairs, his boots, caked in old, dry mud. It would crumble away if you picked them up now. Granddad’s been gone a while. I grab some plates off the wooden draining board and open the knife drawer slowly, being careful not to let it come off its hinges, like it’s been threatening to do for months on end. I take out the knife Nanna received as a wedding gift when she married Granddad. The wood is starting to warp on the handle, and the blade has a slight curve to it, from all the years it’s been used to hack through turnips and stale bread. But it can still cut its way through anything. I go into the living room. Nanna’s face is like the moon; round and white, with little dips and hollows where old age is sucking the life out.
“Northern Echo and me fags too?” Can’t remember a time I didn’t see Nanna without a fag in her hand. There was something cool about it when I was little, when she used to write all the time. She’d lean over the breakfast bar, scribbling and smoking. I’d pretend she was working on some screenplay for a big Hollywood director. A screenplay that would buy us a house with a pool in the states. The kitchen would smell of coffee, tobacco and paper, which she’d get cheap off the market and store in boxes under the stairs. Now, I realize that fags and pens don’t give you a one way ticket to America and heaps of golden opportunities. Pens run out and fags do nothing but tar coat your lungs and make your house and hair reek.
“They had a new lass behind the till, Nanna. Pink hair, black nails and that. She wouldn’t let me get your fags.” Nanna’s smile drops like a wet bath towel on a weak washing line.
“Bugger. But you know, I used to have pink hair, before you were born. Your Dad hated it. Said it made me look like one of them floosies who sells herself on the street. Little sod your Dad was. Was? Still is.” My belly is hanging over my school trousers. I can feel the heat of the gas fire in my belly button. I yank down my shirt, hoping Nanna hasn’t seen.
“Now then boyo, don’t you be worrying yourself about a little bit of tummy. The ladies like it. Keeps them warm at night, after the job at hand, if you know what I mean.” It’s like I’m sitting here with me knackers hanging out. Shame leaks out of every pore. If I could, I’d have a tummy tuck. I’d have all of this blubber lopped off. I want to tell Nanna about how being fat is like I’ve been cursed by a gypsy because I wouldn’t part with notes for a few sprigs of dried heather. No lass fancies me, and if they do anything, anything, like turn to ask me something, I can feel myself getting hard. I’ve wanked off in the bogs more times than enough. I reckon the cleaner knows something’s up, the rate we’ve been going through bog roll in the lads is mental. Keep expecting the head to organize an assembly for the lads, on what to eat to keep you from needing a shit three, four, five times a day. Most of the guys don’t even use the cubicles anyway. They wait to go home for a dump. I want to talk to Nanna about the anxieties that are always pilling in my head. She used to be able to listen for hours, then give me a load of advice. But just recently, she’s become a lot older, and things have started to change.
I peck Nanna’s dry forehead. She tastes of vanilla and grapefruit.
“Go on then, boyo.” There’s a Macmillan Cancer Support mug, the type designed by a kid, where it’s all smiles. No baldies, crosses instead of eyes or little red tongues sticking out. The cup is on a reed coaster. The grotty thing has been sat in the exact same place for fuck knows how long. It was there when I was learning to walk. I used to like running my fingers over it, like I used to rub my fingers over the grooves in Mam’s fingernails, before she pissed off. Rubbing my fingers over grooves always reassured me, made me feel safe and okay. I used to think everything would be alright if I could just have mum’s hands in my hands.
“Tell you what Cameron…” I can only just hear Nanna over the water as it chuggs out the tap.
“Might be able to get one more book out of me, before I go.” My insides lurch. It’s like someone has tried to have a go at shifting my bones. I hate to think of Nanna dying. Can’t even begin to imagine how I’ll cope with her not being around anymore. I shiver when I think of it. I need to clear my throat of a dry lump, before I can reply.
“More ideas then?”
“Scribbling all afternoon.” I know what’s coming next. I’ve heard this a thousand times. “Then my fingers…they just, well, you know.” I mouth along. “They just gave up.” All of her digits are contorted and sore looking. How she manages to hold a cup or a plate is beyond me. “All the ideas slipped out of my head when my hands gave up. This old age malarkey, I bloody hate it.” The Battenburg is a squashed. I try and sculpt it back into shape. It doesn’t work. Just makes it looks worse. The cross sections aren’t equal anymore, and it irritates me. I take it through anyway.
“Doesn’t matter.” She takes the plate. “All goes down the same way.”
I want to sit down at Nanna’s feet and let her stroke my hair, especially around my hairline and the base of my neck where it’s sensitive and tenses up easily. I want to sit and tell her about Karl Davis being a complete cunt at school, ranting bollocks about Mam day in day out. But loading my crap onto her seems cruel nowadays, and I stopped sitting by her feet yonks ago. Asking her to stroke my hair would just be weird now. I imagine Dad walking in to find me sat on the floor and Nanna with her hands on my neck. I’d never hear the end of it. I’ve never let her do it when Dad has been around, even when I was small. It was okay to rant about stuff when Nanna could walk without a stick, and cook tea without needing help. Before she had that hoist installed on the bath and the special banister attached to the wall. It was okay when she would turn the TV off, and listen, really listen, keeping eye contact and all of that. But those times have slinked off. Time has caught up with her faster than anyone else, so it seems, and I’m not coping well with it at all. I want time to take a breather. Leave us alone for a few years, give me time to sort shit out and get the answers that I need. I make the tea in cups. Nanna broke her pot the other week. Haven’t had it in me to replace it though, and anyway, nothing seems good enough for her. It’s all crap quality, looks like it wouldn’t last a month. Granddad bought her teapot before I was born. My first tea was made in it when I was still on bottles. Nanna has kept a shard of the pot on the mantelpiece, next to Granddad’s cherry red urn, his old, washed out Middlesbrough Football Club cap rests on top. I let Nanna’s teabag sit in the cup for four minutes, then squash the life out of it, till its tan brown, and add a small splash of milk. Me, I like the bag dipped in and out. Two sugars, loads of milk. Apparently I’m a pussy because of the way I take my tea. That’s what Dad said.
The Book Show is on TV. They’re blabbing about the Turkish delight in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The pink chunks of starch and sugar in the fancy box that tempted that poncy little shit Edmund to be a bastard to his brother and sisters, and betray them to the White Witch. Apparently sales of Turkish delight shot up after the film was released.
“Tea alright Nanna? Strong enough?” They’re interviewing a guy whose wearing these mint glasses, with green and purple frames. I’d dare wear them if I had balls. Nanna’s always saying she should be on that couch. I try and imagine myself wearing those glasses. They wouldn’t last long on my face. “Nanna? Tea alright? I know it’s been one of those days. But I’m here for you now.” Baturnberg is one of those things that’s so soft and light it feels like you haven’t touched anything. I want another piece, or two. Baturnberg doesn’t last more than a day round here. Nanna has only eaten a mouthful of cake. Pinky yellow chunks of cake are lumped at the end of her fingers, like she’s been scrambling through clay. “Nanna?” Her brilliant blue eyes are motionless. I was sat right here. Right fucking here! I force my first and middle fingers into her mouth. My elbow sends her notebook skittering under the armchair. My dribble and tears pool in the creases in her face. I drag the lump of cake out and fling it across the room. It smacks against the pearl wallpaper and leaves a mucasy trail. Her head drops back against the seat. Her throat looks like chicken skin. All I can hear is applause and muffled information about a competition. The remote has shifted down the side of Nanna’s chair. I shove my hand down the side of her heavy thigh. I touch it. I reach lower. I can hear her hair brush against the back of the chair as her head lolls. I tug the remote out. The volume reaches its peak. I press the batteries in which I switch off the TV.
“FUCK!” I smash the plate I throw her cup of tea. I shake Nanna and her glasses come off. I stand on them and the lenses crack like thin ice. What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fucking fuck! I want to go for the telly and kick it in. “Nanna’s you’re not having me on, are you?” The neck of my t-shirt is soaking. My face is dripping. Nanna I bloody love you!”
I cross her hands on her lap. They’re weighty and cold, like dough. Where do people go when they are in distress?
I crouch down on the scratched, rough bottom and hug my knees. I have some of Nanna’s hair wrapped around a broken bit of fingernail. I should be calling 999. It smells of strawberries and toilet duck, and those animals shaped soaps Nanna loved but never used. My phone is like a dead weight in my trouser pockets. Takes a while to function and yank it out.
“I’m at the pub. What d’you want?”
“What about her? Better be important. Just got a beer in.”
“There was nothing I could have done. She was here then…”
“Fucksake. Your Mam is going to be livid. Keep your arse there. I’ll finish my pint then come over. Tell you what you can do right, go on the net…”
“She doesn’t have it. You were supposed to install it…”
“Get the Yellow Pages then, smart arse, and call your Uncle Macca. This should get him shifting his fat arse out of bed, bone-idle twat.” Dad puts the phone down.
It’s your fault, fat boy.
Nanna hasn’t been dead ten minutes.
You killed her with that cake. You shouldn’t have bought it.
I hardly make it to the bathroom before I haul.
Feels better, doesn’t it.
I wad some loo roll round my hand and swab at my mouth. I rub my face with a wet flannel. What’s going to happen to Nanna’s soaps? I want to take them, but Dad will notice. He’ll want to sell them at a carboot.
Keep the blood flowing.
I go up and down the stairs. I take two at a time, then three. I don’t hear Dad until he’s clipping me around the ear.
“Mam better have her knickers on else I’ll kick your fat arse to kingdom come, you hear me?” I hurtle past him to spew again. He jeers something, but I don’t catch it. I wash my tackle, then my hands. I draw blood biting my lip. I go into the living room and stand behind dad. He’s in front of Nanna, hands on his hips. He removes her rings, necklace and earrings and pockets them. They clink with the change in his pockets. “Take your Granddad off the mantel piece while I go get a bin bag. That urn will fetch a few bob down the car booty, and we can scrap that fucking hat…no, wait son. Give it a wash. We’ll see if some oldie will take it off our hands for a few quid.”