Edition One

The primary purpose of The Red Letters is to promote the power of written word to the masses. We have been privileged to have had a beautiful blend of great submissions from around the world – read on and you will get it. Because of her unique ability and insight, her genuine understanding of humanity, Robert Chalmers’ love of her work and his utmost respect for her as a great writer, we have decided to treat you to a piece witten by Layla AlAmmar first.

Layla is a Kuwaiti writer who has had a huge amount of success for someone so young, including publications in the US and the UK, and being shortlisted for the Aesthetica UK award in 2014. The Red Letters would like to express our thanks to Layla for her humanity and her unique intelligence.

Last Thanksgiving

by Layla AlAmmar

There’s a discussion going on about where to smoke the pot. Some say that even hanging out the windows, the alarm will go off. Others say taking it outside would be better, but the Americans think the November wind might be too much for our desert blood.

“Besides,” says Zakaria Don’t-Call-Me-Zak, “this isn’t some lawless Arabian land… or Canada. There are consequences to lighting up here.”

“Only if you get caught,” Teetee replies with a wink she shouldn’t be giving him. She’s in a belated punk phase and recently shaved the left side of her head. On the other side, her hair is of standard Arab quality—long, thick, and with a tendency towards the coarse. It leaves me with a slightly nauseating confusion… the style, not her hair itself. I wonder if Zakaria likes it.

It’s decided then. Down and out they go, carting throws and shawls. Perhaps this winter is too much for us. Zakaria brings up the rear, turning to me with his gleaming smile. He hasn’t eaten today, so his straight, big teeth aren’t dulled by turkey, potatoes, and cranberry sauce. I don’t know why we call it an Arab Thanksgiving. The only Arab thing about it are the guests, all of us converging on the city like some reverse diaspora.

He wants me to go with them, with him. He opens the brown blanket draped across his shoulder, and I try not to notice how thin he’s gotten. It seems he reacts to the shaking of my head before I do it, lips pressing into a thin, dark line as he follows the others.

And then I’m alone in this Daddy-bought loft with its LCD screens and hi-def sound system. The exposed brick looks darker than normal, a wall of red in the dim light. Someone has switched off the overheads, leaving us with just the candles. So many candles. Long and tapered, short and squat, white, red, and burnt orange, they cover every surface. A cluster sit on a mirrored tray in the corner, so that the floor looks aflame over there. Tall sticks are propped on the mantel, reaching for the low ceiling. Short, stumpy ones are scattered across the table, throwing shadows on turkey bones and gravy boats. The apartment reeks of them, a heady, manufactured scent that clouds my mind and sits heavy in my lungs: vanilla, spice, cinnamon, pumpkin, even coffee and chocolate. An olfactory Thanksgiving.

“Aren’t you gonna go?”

I face forward. Sam is dancing, and I never pass up an opportunity to see it. I smile, keep shaking my head. Though I could be shaking my head at his dancing; it is dreadful enough to warrant it. His movements are smooth and assured, long brown limbs twisting this way and that in some facsimile of hip hop, but they never produce the shapes he intends. The whole does not equal, let alone surpass, the sum of its parts. He looks like a white boy, a poser, a pretender. But it doesn’t matter. I still love it, and I still miss it.

“You’ve always been a bit of a square.”

I laugh. He’s always sure he knows me. But there is truth there that I can’t dispute. “Why do you suppose I keep getting invited then?”

He turns on his heels, then tries for a Michael Jackson toe stand. Almost. “You know all the right people, I guess.”

He goes quiet, concentrating, throwing shadows against the wall, shadows more beautiful than the moves. He nails a moonwalk, heel turn, jacket flip combo, and I clap in appreciation. They’ve made it downstairs. I hear them through the window, laughter and crude jokes climbing up, up, and away. My heart knocks against my ribs, and I suddenly feel I should have gone with them. But these moments are so rare. Me and Sam. Seeing him, hearing his voice.

“I’ve missed you.” In my imagination, he means since he moved here.

There’s singing now. A wave of discordant voices vaulting over the windowsill. It doesn’t matter where we are: 42nd, Central Park, or climbing out of the Spring Street stop, something about this city coaxes my friends to endless, out-of-tune renditions. Sometimes it’s musicals, sometimes it’s Disney tracks, sometime it’s 80’s pop. Alphabet City is inspiring them and they have a go at Seasons of Love. It doesn’t go well.

“They don’t talk about me anymore.”

“We do sometimes.”

“You do,” he says, doing some sort of grapevine across the bare floor.

“Same difference,” I reply as the singing breaks down and an argument about whether it really is ‘525,600 minutes’ rises up to us.

“It isn’t though. If it weren’t for you, they’d never mention me.”

I shake my head, face turned towards the sound below. TeeTee is vicious in arguments. Her fuck-you’s and you-piece-of-shit’s soar through the open window like acidic arrows. A neighbor hangs out of a nearby window and barks at her. She replies with a volley of blush-inducing sailor-talk that incites the group to cackles and the neighbor to threats. No one cares, least of all TeeTee. She returns to her assertions about the correct figure. Zakaria doesn’t contribute.

Is he not arguing because he doesn’t care? Is it that he doesn’t want to let on how well he knows Rent? Is he interested in her? He never argues with girls he likes. We didn’t argue for the longest time, but he did pick a fight when I cut my bangs over his sink the other night.

“Look at me!”

I’m pinned back against the sofa cushions, and Sam is in my face. His features are twisted and globby, blurred and indistinct, and I wonder if Zak put something in my drink again. He’s shaking me. Sam is. Shakes that rattle my teeth and send my reason rolling across the parquet floor like so many marbles. “You’re not listening! You’re not looking!”

“I am!”

“You’re forgetting.”

It’s a scream, but no one’s lips move. His voice is lower and less raspy than I remember, like honey is lodged in his throat.

Maybe I am forgetting.

“You are.”

The shaking starts again, one hand on my shoulder, the other pushing my chin up and back so all I see are the cracks in the ceiling. There’s a spider web in the corner, torn down the middle and glimmering in the vanilla lights. The air smells like cinnamon and smoke. I beg him to stop, but that’s in my head too because he doesn’t listen. I’m falling, sinking into the couch, and I welcome it. My eyes narrow to black. The beige carpet scratches my face. It’s all a lie. An illusion. Nothing is certain. Not even physics, because I’m belly-down on the floor, but Sam is still in front of me, shaking my shoulders. His face is still there before me. His voice, still too low and thick, abuses me.

 

Eileen Merrimen is an internationally renowned writer from New Zealand, with numerous awards and accolades. Primum Non Nocere is an exceptional story and she comes highly recommended from one of the world’s best writers and tutors of creative writing. Robert Chalmers has never met the author, but he has expressed his appreciation of her work and thanks her for kindly allowing him to publish this story:

 

Primum Non Nocere

(By Eileen Merriman)

Adam can’t see his first patient. He can’t see her because the computers are down, and his phone won’t stop ringing. Every time he looks at his clinic list, there are more patients to see. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Every time he looks at his watch, half an hour has passed.

And his phone –

His phone –

Adam rolls onto his side, groping at his bedside cabinet.

Phone. Ringing. Hospital.

Am I on call? I’m not on call.

‘Adam Rawlinson,’ he rasps.

‘Hi Dr Rawlinson.’ The junior doctor sounds about fifteen. ‘I know you’re not on call –’

Adam blinks. Syrah, cigars, Syrah, Syrah. Oh what a night and now – what time is it? 6 am?

‘I’ve got a patient here called Abby Thomas. She insisted we call you first thing.’

Adam sits upright.

‘She presented last night with a seizure.’ The junior doctor carries on, her cheerful tone worming into his head. ‘We saw she had a past history of lymphoma, so we thought we’d better scan her head.’

Adam’s tongue goes numb.

It’s been five years since you finished treatment. That means you’re cured.

       The junior doctor’s words drop into his ear. ‘There’s a mass in her right temporal lobe.’

The phone slips from his grasp and clatters to the floor.

‘I’m going in,’ he says, to himself, to the doctor, to Abby. ‘I’m going in.’

He inches the Range Rover out of the driveway and watches the speedo climb to forty, fifty, sixty kilometres per hour. His heart thrums in his chest.

You have large cell lymphoma. There is a seventy percent chance we can cure you.

       70 kph.

       Will I lose my hair? Can I call you Adam?

Yes, and yes.

Barely slowing for the roundabout, he speeds down the tree-lined avenue, early-morning Christchurch diffusing into his car. Weeping willows, bent toward the river. Gloomy streetlights enshrouded in yellowing fog. The damp scents of wood-smoke and soil swirl through the vents.

Her skin was cool, like water. She smelled like sun-ripened nectarines.

And then he thinks of the mass, a mass in her head, it could only mean one thing but  –

There has to be a mistake.

 

He’s not in the practice of giving patients his cell phone number. They might call him at inappropriate times.

Do you have a support person who can bring you in for your chemotherapy?

I don’t have any family. There is no one else.

       Abby never called him at inappropriate times. But Adam called her.

I can pick you up, if you can’t drive yourself in. For your chemo.

       He’d steal glances at her as he drove her into the day ward – at her freckles, bobbing beneath the milky surface of her skin; her near-translucent eyelids; her full, ripe lips.

Who’s looking after your daughter?

The neighbour, she’d say. Or, a friend. Sometimes, her head would fall against the headrest and she’d slip into sleep, so quick, so deep.

Adam knows about quick. He knows about deep.

 

As soon as he walks into the Emergency room he feels her eyes tugging on him, just as they did the day the twenty-seven year old single mother first walked into his clinic.

Abby is lying in a cubicle in front of the nurses’ station. Her tawny eyes lock on his, and he feels a thrill in the pit of his stomach, which is just as quickly replaced by a plunging sensation.

A mass on CT. There must be a mistake.

‘You must be Dr Rawlinson,’ a greying nurse says. ‘Do you want her notes?’

Adam takes the folder. ‘Any more seizures?’

‘Just the one,’ the nurse says. ‘We’ve got her on neuro obs.’

‘Thanks.’ He walks into the cubicle, closing the curtain behind him. ‘Abby,’ he says, and then stalls. What to say? He pulls a chair up to her bed and perches on the end of it. ‘Did they – did the doctor talk to you about your scan?’

‘It’s back.’ Her voice is dull, but her eyes are shiny, like copper coins. He can see how scared she is – scared enough to rouse him from sleep, after a year of no contact.

‘I haven’t,’ he swallows, ‘I haven’t seen your scan yet.’

Abby plucks a piece of paper off the cabinet beside her bed and thrusts it at him. ‘I asked them to print it out. Even I can see it.’

The printout shakes in his hand. It’s her name on the scan, her brain with the ring-enhancing mass staring back at him.

He clears his throat. ‘We can give you treatment for this.’

‘I don’t want any treatment.’

‘Abby.’

‘What?’ Her voice is loud, so loud. From the sudden silence outside the cubicle he senses the nurses are listening. He lowers his voice.

‘This is still – treatable. We can treat this.’ But he doesn’t use the word cure. Not this time.

‘I don’t want to talk about that,’ she says, in a fierce whisper. Oh yes, he remembers fierce Abby, the girl who took all the breath out of his lungs. Is that why he can’t breathe? He can’t breathe.

‘Why did you ask them to call me, then?’

She averts her head. There’s a rapid pulsation in her neck. Adam sits next to her, his thigh barely touching hers, and feels his own pulse quicken.

‘I didn’t forget about you,’ he murmurs.

‘But you tried.’ She closes her eyes.

Adam lets that one slide. He struggled with it a year ago, has struggled with it ever since. Like the good doctor he was, he’d let her go.

Primum non nocere: first, do no harm.

‘Where’s Tamsin?’ Her daughter was seven when he last saw her, a year ago. It’s like yesterday, and forever ago.

‘With the neighbours.’ Her eyes flutter open. ‘How long have I got?’

His chest tightens. ‘With chemo, we can give you a few more months.’

‘How long?’ Her gaze is unwavering.

‘Not longer than a year.’ He’s helpless. She is so strong, and he’s helpless. Hopeless. Just like before.

Abby says, steadily, ‘I need someone to look after Tamsin, when I’m gone. You’re the only one I trust.’

Adam stares at her. What she’s asking him to do is impossible. But when he opens his mouth, what falls out is, ‘OK.’

‘OK,’ Abby echoes, all the fierceness draining out of her. She closes her eyes again, and tilts her head back against the pillow.

Adam hesitates, and then leans forward. Her skin is cool beneath his lips, just like always. She still smells like sun-ripened nectarines.

‘I can’t leave you here,’ he says, but she doesn’t answer. He watches her sleep for a while, like he used to, and he wishes they were back in the bedroom of her tiny apartment, with only a single sheen of sweat to separate them.

He stands up and parts the curtain. The nurses’ station is empty. The lonely dirge of an ambulance siren cuts through the air. He sits at the desk and opens Abby’s notes.

       History of presenting complaint: patient found fitting in bathroom by daughter.

He pictures Abby in the shower, the water running over her moonlit skin. He pictures a small girl in pigtails dialing 111 and speaking into the phone with her precise, rounded vowels.

‘What will you do?’

Adam glances up. A young woman stands in front of him, winding her stethoscope through her fingers.

‘Sorry I called you so early. I asked her if there was someone special we should contact, and she gave me your name.’

He goes very still. ‘She meant specialist, of course.’

The junior doctor blinks at him. ‘Well, yeah, I guess she was confused, since she’d just had a seizure and all.’

‘Confused, yes,’ Adam murmurs. He closes the file and stands up. ‘Tell her I’ll be back,’ he says, avoiding the junior doctor’s eyes. ‘Later.’

He drives home slowly, the sun reflecting off the cellophane surface of the estuary blinding him to all that lies in front of him. And the whole way, he murmurs his hypocritical oath.

Primum non nocere, he whispers. Primum non nocere. It’s all he can do.

 

Hunter Clarke is man of odd intelligence. He has (in his own words) ‘seen more than he wanted to see in life’. He describes himself as ‘Thatcher’s bastard, or maybe even her orphan’. He grew up in various places, somewhere between the old gypsy settlement on the A7 and the city of Edinburgh. For legal reasons, Hunter has changed the title of this story, and he has tortured The Red Letters editor for telling him to do so. RC would like to say ‘enjoy’, but take from it what you will.

Hot Dogs With Nothing On

They let him oot this morning, nae shoelaces, nae lighter, nae cash. At 3am, Kev was released fae Liberton copshop. They dae it on purpose, every time. Dalkeith police station is two miles fae his flat but naw, they always take him somewhere well ootwith walking distance, like Musselburgh, or Portobello, or Penicuik, and they always release him in the early hours when they ken he cannae catch a bus. He never had any cash on him anyway, they’d put what little money he did have on the list ay stolen items, and his lighter, that was ‘stolen’ as well. They gave him his fags back, but nae lighter, and they even took the laces fae his fucking shoes.

It was fucking freezing anaw. Instead ay walking aw the way hame tae Nitten, Kev decided tae kill the hours by walking tae the Toon and strolling around until Nadine came oot tae work for the day. She’d give him some cash for the bus and money for booze, and mibbe in the meantime he’d bump intae some homeless punter who’d give him a light.

He actually managed tae get a light pretty quickly fae a pissed student who was falling his way up Nicholson Street. ‘Just keep it,’ the posh wee bastard said, no realising how lucky he was. Kev had been feeling violent since his release, the shakes were kicking in and he kent it would be a guid few hours before he’d get a drink. So he went the Dalkeith Road way, wi the intention ay laying intae some middle-class student type like. They often stagger toward the student halls in the early hours, singing like fucking poofters. He had a kip in the stairway next to some depressed auld jakey who shared a couplae tins ay Special. After that he had a dander and found Nads sitting cross-legged ootside the Royal Bank on North Bridge.

‘Change for the homeless?’ she was shouting. Kev crouched down at her ear.

‘NADINE!’

‘Fuck you!’ Nads screamed, slapping Kev across the heid. ‘Yi could’ve gave iz a heart attack ya daft cunt.’

‘Sorry babes,’ Kev laughed, ‘Ah didnae mean tae startle yi. Yi ken Ah love yi.’ He pecked her on the cheek.

‘Fucker.’

‘Made much yet?’

‘Pennies just.’ She pulled a wad ay notes fae her back pocket. ‘Still goat this fae yisturday, but. Two hundred.’

Nadine worked as a prostitute in Stirling in her spare time.

‘A wee reserve, just in case,’ she said. ‘Need enough tae last a few mair days but. SPARE SOME CHANGE FUR THE HOMELESS?’

Despite being toothless and grey, Nadine was pretty. Once upon a time, she was the Madonna ay Nitten, ay. Then she got intae the smack. She quickly lost her teeth and her hair went grey overnight. She was only thirty-two tae, pretty… when she dyed her hair and wore her dentures. Kev and Nads had kent each other since high school and had even had a wee fling back then, when Nads was beautiful and Kev was cute. They got back together a couplae years ago wi the idea that they could help each other oot. There’s something aboot the genuine care that exists between two low-lives that can only be found in the very depth ay human depravity. Like last year, when Nadine hit her renal artery after injecting intae her neck, she spent seven days in an induced coma while they gave her dialysis. As soon as she was up and able tae walk again though, she was ootae there, self-discharged so she could score, ay. Kev was angry, but he stuck by her. He was angry when he found oot she was working fae that flat in Stirling as a prossie, but still he stuck by her. They’d had some fucking vicious rows anaw, but something kept them together ay, though whether it was real love or a mutual appreciation ay the power ay want and the stranglehold ay addiction, Kev wasnae sure.

It worked both ways tae. Nadine always made sure she came hame wi a wee bottle ay something for Kev, and she even put up wi him when he had the DTs. Like the time when he was sitting talking tae her and her heid suddenly turned intae the heid ay an Alsatian. He even told her, ‘Nadine, yir a dug!’  She just laughed. ‘Naw, seriously Nads, yir a dug…’ She just kept laughing.  ‘Ya daft cunt,’ she said. She stuck by him when he was arrested for stealing a donkey fae Dalhousie farm because he couldnae be bothered walking the rest ay the way fae Bonnyrigg tae Nitten after a night oot. He was galloping up the A7, trying tae control the beast when the police suddenly appeared alongside him, chugging up the wrong side ay the road at aboot ten miles an hour, screaming at him tae pull over. It took him a guid ten minutes tae get the donkey tae stop anaw, he’d never ridden one before. Still, Nads saw the funny side ay it, once she’d calmed down a bit.  And when he pissed hissel, which had happened a couplae times now, she was angry, but…and aw the times he’d been arrested, well… it was a mutual respect for need, he guessed.

‘Goat a wee advance fur us? Need a wee bottle like, ay.’

‘You stink. You been arrested again?’

‘Just a few DVDs, ay. They tried tae throw the book at us anaw, said Ah nicked ma ain lighter an aw hing. Anywiy, goat enough for some fags and a wee bottle?’

‘Here, ya fucking alci.’ She handed him a score.

‘Muchas gracias, junkie.’

‘Nae bother. CHANGE FUR THE HOMELESS?’

***

Kev spent the rest ay the day smoking roll-ups and guzzling Frosty Jacks in his flat in Nitten, till around half-seven. Then he decided it was time tae dae some work hissel. Nadine brought back most ay the bread and he wanted tae make his contribution tae, ay. Wi the confidence ay the cidro in him, he jumped on 33 tae Edinburgh.

When he got off at North Bridge, he lit a pre-rolled fag and admired the view for a while. No the view over the bridge, naw, Kev had discovered another view ay Edinburgh tae admire fae there, the view inside the bus shelter. If you gaze intae the plastic window ay the bus stop right in the middle ay North Bridge in the twilight ay dusk, you get a unique vision ay the real Edinburgh. Hanging over the rooftops ay the department stores that line Princess Street is a ghost town, a misty image ay the Edinburgh underground casting its spectre over the façade ay bullshit that calls itself ‘Edinburgh’. It’s actually a reflection ay the buildings and monuments ay Waterloo Place and Calton Hill, and it’s fucking freaky. It floats in the skyline just above Princess Street like a projected shadow, grey and misty like a black-and-white picture, and it’s uncanny; the outlines ay rooftops reflect each other perfectly. The Athens ay the North truly does exist. Now though, it’s a tourist attraction by day and a hive for rent-boys, cottagers and junkies by night.

He admired tae the city lights, yellow and red and green in the cool twilight, and the noise ay the traffic, the shouts and jeers ay the pissheids and passers-by, the sound ay ambulance sirens and cop cars.  It was so beautiful, standing here at dusk, or at dawn.

‘GIES SOME MONEY,’ he heard someone yell, ‘AH’M AN ALCOHOLIC!  AH NEED A DRINK OR AH’LL DIE!’  Kev laughed oot loud.  ‘SOMEB’DY GIES SOME MONEY, AH’M AN ALCOHOLIC!’ The excitement inside Kev was rising, it was just aboot time. Fuck it, it was time. He tossed his fag away.

His exhilaration grew as he stomped down North Bridge. His heart battered and palpitated in his chest and his gait seemed tae be powered by some inner electrical generator as if his legs had a robotic mind ay their own. They kent exactly where they were going.  That same electricity buzzed in his temples like he was getting a beautiful bout ay ECT, and in his brain, which pulsated like a heart in his heid. He loved doing this. Sometimes he almost willed them tae put up a fight, so he could kick the living shite ootae the dirty bastards. But the look on their faces when he walked away wi their cash was usually satisfying enough.

He got the idea one day when he was dying on a piss. It was a rare Scottish Indian summer in the middle ay February. At around 3pm, Kev was strolling up Waterloo Place on his way tae Meadowbank tae see a man aboot a dug when his bladder suddenly caught fire.  A stinging, volcanic inferno rose fae his belly up intae his chest. Kev had hep c ay, which he’d caught fae Nadine, and the pain ay needing a piss is multiplied by a thousand wi hep. He likened it tae the pain ay alien labour. An alien being, like one ay they ones fae that Sigourney Weaver film, was trying tae get oot ay him and he needed tae piss urgently tae aid its birth, otherwise it would eat him alive fae the inside ay. He looked around and realised there were nae alleys tae nip doon, and nae pubs nearby tae dart intae either. He staggered on, deciding he could make it tae the pub in Meadowbank.

The internal flame blazed on as he stumbled past the colleges and the parks up there. He passed the Robert Burns monument, wondering what a rambling, drunken cunt fae oot West had tae dae wi Edinburgh. He came fae fucking Ayrshire, he wrote shite that they forced yi tae learn and recite in school against yir will, and they go and put a fucking monument ay um up in Edinburgh.  He felt like shouting oot loud, but the primal desire tae piss took precedence. He nipped intae the park, past Robert Burns and through a gap in the hedge, intae another park that was hidden fae view. He undid his belt and was aboot tae let go, when he took one final look around. The last thing he wanted was tae get caught taking a piss in public, you can get put on the fucking Register for that nowadays.

And there he was. A few metres behind him, wi his hands in his coat pockets and a pervy grin on his wee fat face, stood some wee auld cunt wearing a bonnet, sixty-five if he was a day. He was smiling at Kev and at first, Kev thought he was laughing at the fact that he’d caught him aboot tae take a piss. He looked around for a dug, there must be a dug, he must be a dug-walker if he was standing here by hissel, where’s the fucking dug? But there was nae dug and the realisation hit Kev like a punch tae the bladder.

This is where the rent-boys go!

Wi Herculean effort, Kev held back the piss he was aboot tae relieve hissel ay, re-buckled and got the fuck ootae dodge. He somehow managed tae hold it in as he staggered his way down tae the pub in Meadowbank, clutching his liver aw the way, finally making it after what seemed like an Olympic walk.

‘Aaaaah…thank you God!’ he said oot loud.

The relief was close tae orgasmic and he rewarded his efforts wi a pint. It was while he was standing there in that busy pub, sipping away at a cool beer, that it hit him. He could have just gone up tae the guy, given him a false price list, cash up front of course, taken the money and walked. What could he have done?  Attack a thirty-one year auld alci?  Call the cops?

Aye officer, Ah was just standing there in the park, mindin ma ain business looking for a wee blowjob, when this wido just took ma cash and walked away withoot providing the goods?

Kev’s new career started that day.

***

He lit another cigarette as he made his way up Waterloo Place. The excitement was reaching a crescendo now. Here we go, here we go, here we go…Kev’s big cousin Boab was shagged when he was a laddie ay, and it had fucked him right up. It wasnae gay folk that Kev had a problem way really, just fucking weirdos ay. Kev loved Boab, and words like ‘revenge’ frequently passed through his mind when he did this. REVENGE. Aw please, put up a fight, Ah’m in the mood the night, Ah wannae kick the shit ootae a perv, Ah’m wearin ma steel tae-capped Cats, designed especially fur kickin some faggot ass…Boab would be proud ay him anaw.

He slowed his pace as he passed Robert Burns. He had tae be careful here, needed tae make sure he was alone. Junkies are usually scrawny wee cunts, but the last thing he needed was some smacked-up wee rent-boy wi an infected hypodermic on him. Hep c’s enough, he didnae need fucking HIV or hep b. He shivered in the April breeze as he passed through the gap in the hedge, looking around cautiously. Darkness had now replaced dusk, that’s how quickly it happens in Edinburgh, and the city lights were shining brighter than before. Trumpets sounded fae somewhere in the distance and he was sure he could hear some Spanish music tae, nae bagpipes though. He heard an ambulance siren or a cop car, wailing its way through the city.

Bonus. There was one guy standing there, his back tae that same hedge that Kev almost pissed on a year ago. He was wee and speccy, probably around forty-five and thin on top. Beneath his tweed trench coat, Kev saw that he was wearing a shirt and tie. Guid. Rich businessman are the best ay, they’re always nervous as fuck, terrified that they’ll get caught and their wives’ll find oot. They never put up any resistance, they’re aw shiters ay. Kev took one last puff on his fag and flicked it away.

‘You awright mate?’ Kev said.

‘Alright?  Oh…yes, I’m fine.’ This was definitely his first time, he awready looked like he was having second thoughts and, for a moment, Kev wondered whether he was gonnae turn and run.

‘You, eh, lookin fur some’ing or some’ing?’

‘Sorry?’ Kev sensed the nerves in the guy’s voice.

‘You lookin for some’ing?’

‘No, no-’

‘Just standin here, ay? In the dark, by yirsel-’

‘Are you…the police?’ Kev burst oot laughing, the adrenalin still pumping through his veins. Part ay him wanted tae start laying intae this cunt right now.

‘Nah mate, Ah’m no the polis. The polis!’ Kev laughed again. ‘Dae Ah look like a copper? Ah’m no a junkie either, though. Look, are you lookin for business or what?’

‘Business?’ he said, as if he had no idea what Kev was on aboot.

‘Look mate, cut the crap, yir here fur a reason. What is it yi want. A handjob?  The full service? What?’

‘Well, eh, I’ve never really done this before but-’

‘Just tell us what it is yi want mate, Ah’ve no goat aw night.’ Kev was getting impatient wi this guy now, a real rent-boy could turn up any minute.

‘Well it’s this.’ Kev’s eyes nearly popped ootae his heid when the guy pulled oot a massive organic cucumber fae the inside ay his jacket. It was one ay they huge hame-grown fuckers, probably ten inches long and thick as fuck.

‘What the fuck dae yi want mi tae dae wi that?’

‘Kick it up my ass, as far up as you can.’

‘Ay?’

‘I’ll hold it in place for you.’

Kev was silent.

‘I’ll give you two hundred pounds.’  He pulled a wad ay notes fae his wallet and waved it in Kev’s face. Kev was too dumbstruck tae grab it and run. ‘But you have to kick it all the way up, okay?’ Kev looked at his steel tae-capped Caterpillars and sudden curiosity overcame him. Is this guy serious? He looked at the man; the man looked back. Behind his specs, his eyes were wide and pleading, like a hungry dog’s or a rattling junkie’s. Why the fuck am Ah even contemplating this? Just take the cunt’s money and go. But an alien curiosity lingered in Kev. What would happen?

‘Yil gie me two hundred tae kick that hing up yir arse?’

‘Two hundred. But I want you to take a run, yeah. Take a few steps back, run and kick this cucumber as far into my ass as you can.’ The curiosity was too much for Kev. This guy was a weirdo, but Kev wanted tae see what would happen. He was gonnae dae it.

‘Right, but it’s cash up front.’

‘No. You’ll take my money and run away. I’ll give you half first and half afterwards.  Deal?’ Kev contemplated this for a second. Should Ah be daein this? It’s too weird. Ah wannae see if he cums though. Ah could take a photo for Nads. Aye!

‘Awright. A hundred up front then.’ He held oot his hand and the guy counted oot five twenties, placing them on Kev’s palm one at a time, then immediately turned around, pulled his trousers down and bent over. Fuck me, this guy’s keen! He held the cucumber over his arse and panted as he spoke:

‘Right, I’m ready. Take a run, remember.’ As Kev walked back tae the gap in the hedge, he pulled his i-phone fae his inside pocket. ‘Ready?’ the guy said.

‘Just aboot.’ He quickly took a pic ay the guy standing there bent over in the breeze, wi his pants at his ankles and his arse shining in the moonlight, holding the cucumber over his anus and panting in anticipation. ‘Mind,’ Kev said, ‘if you get injured, Ah’m no callin nae ambulance. Yil huv tae dae that yirsel. An Ah’m no pullin it back oot fur yi either. Yi dae that yirsel anaw. Awright?’

‘ALRIGHT!’ he gasped, ‘JUST DO IT, COME ON!’  Fuck, some folk have nae patience.

‘Hud yir horses, mate. How dae Ah ken Ah’ll get the rest ay the cash?’ Kev had never actually done any business before. By now, he’d usually be halfway down Waterloo Place wi the cash, listening tae some fat auld fag shouting ‘Hey, give me my money back!’

‘IT’S IN MY HAND,’ he shouted, ‘I’LL DROP IT ON THE GROUND WHEN I CUM.  NOW COME ON, DO IT!’

Right, here we go. Marks..set… Kev hopped, skipped and booted the cucumber as hard as he could. A strange squelch, like a spade being thrust intae mud, emanated fae the guy’s arse.

‘Ooooh…’ the guy gasped, but the cucumber was only half-way up. Kev took another pic.

‘COME ON, GO AGAIN, ALL THE WAY!’ The Guy’s face was beetroot; he looked like he was gonnae pop. Kev wiped tears ay laughter fae his eyes. ‘AH’M GONNA CUM, COME ON!’  The rest ay the money, bound in a rubber band, had fallen tae the ground, but Kev ignored it, still morbidly curious. ‘COME ON, ALL THE WAY!’

He booted the cucumber again, wondering how the fuck the thing didnae split wi the force ay his kick. Squelch!  But it still didnae go aw the way up, there was aboot an inch still showing. Kev could see that the wad ay cash was starting tae blow in the breeze and he was beginning tae feel a bit queasy now anyway. Time tae go.

‘Sorry mate, Ah’m done,’ Kev said, picking up the cash, ‘Ah’ve did what Ah said Ah would, now it’s up tae you tae get that hing ootae yir arse.’

‘But…but I’ve not cum yet!’ he pleaded, ‘come on, one more go…please…’

‘Sorry mate.’ He took one last picture for Nadine and walked away, leaving the guy in limbo, beetroot-faced and unsatisfied, wi a cucumber stuck up his arse.

‘Guid luck mate.’

                                                                        ***

Nadine and Kev were cuddling on the couch, watching some talent show that Nadine liked. For a DSS flat occupied by an alci and a junkie, the place was pretty clean ay, carpetless, but tidy. Nads always insisted on keeping the place tidy. Kev was guzzling a bottle ay vodka and Nads was smacked up tae the eyeballs awready. He had another couplae score bags that he’d bought for her hidden in his coat. If he gave her them now, she’d smoke them now, so he kept them wi the intention ay surprising her later. Nads ran her hand through Kev’s hair.

‘Kev, Ah’m gaggin oan a fag.’ After the chaos ay the cucumber incident, Kev had forgotten tae buy fags. He had some baccy hidden away for later ay, but nowt for Nads.

‘Aw c’moan Nads, Ah’m fucking knackered.’

‘Just nip up tae the garage, it’s two minutes up the road. Take the car. Moan, Kev.  Ah’ll be guid tae yi later.’ She ran her hand up his leg.

‘Well…’  Kev contemplated this. He could dae wi a shag after the night’s madness, and it’s rare for Nads tae put oot when she’s high. ‘Ah’ve no goat a license though, mind?  Revoked, remember?’

Just then a wee lass, probably ten, came on the telly dressed as Madonna, singing Crazy For You.  Nadine laughed oot loud. ‘Hiy,’ Kev said ‘remember the days when you used tae look like Madonna?’ Kev traced the ootline ay Nadine’s face wi his fingers, ‘her Like A Prayer days, that was it! You wur gorgeous back then.’

‘Fuck off. Remember the days when you used tae look like Shane Ritchie? You wur cute…once. Now look at yi…Shane MacGowan,’ she laughed.

‘Hiy, c’moan now-’

‘Aw, yi ken Ah’m jist kiddin,’ she stroked Kev’s hair again, ‘Shane MacGowan’s goat nice eyes.’

‘Bitch,’ he smiled, and kissed her on the cheek.

‘You goin fur they fags or no?’

‘Aw come oan, Nads, Ah’m settled now.’

‘It’s jist up the road, Kev, c’moan, Ah’m gaggin.’

‘Ah cannae be arsed. Hiy, what did yi hink ay they pics?  Fucking mental, ay?’

‘Ah’ve seen worse,’ Nadine said. Kev was hurt, he thought she’d love them. ‘They were quite funny, Ah suppose.  Fucking weirdos ivirywhere, ay?  Yi gonnae git they fags then?’

‘Weirdest hing Ah’ve ivir seen.’ Just then, Nadine started cradling Kev’s balls.  She looked at him and smiled.

‘Ah guess Ah’m goin fur fags then.’

***

Kev was a fitba pitch away fae the garage when he was pulled over. Just ma fucking luck, ay aw the hings tae git arrested fur, buyin fags, fur fuck’s sake!  In his rear-view mirror, he saw a copper who looked exactly like that liquid-metal shape-changing cop fae Terminator Two emerge fae the cop car. He knew he’d be spending the night in the cells, he driving withoot, half-cut anaw. Deciding he wanted something tae dae when he was in there, he quickly cheeked his i-phone, so at least he’d be able tae listen tae some music. It gets fucking boring spending aw night in the cells, ay. Then he remembered Nadine’s smack. Shit! He fished around frantically in his inside pocket, looking in the mirror at the same time. Terminator Two was on a mission, stomping towards the car, and it seemed tae take Kev an age tae find the two bags. T2 was just a few feet fae away when Kev closed his eyes and swallowed the bags, massaging them down his throat just in time. He rolled down the window and tried tae stay as cool as possible, smiling his best innocent smile.

‘Hello officer.’

***

The interview was a nightmare. The smack had taken effect and Kev wasnae really used tae it. The hairs on his neck stood on end and he felt sleepy, but it was nothing special, really. What does Nads find so addictive aboot this? The coppers, Terminator Two and some Scouse guy wi a Freddie Mercury moustache, were real bastards anaw, calling him aw the shit under the sun, reminding him ay aw the crimes he’d committed over the years, asking him who does what in Nitten and Mayfield. They were convinced that he kent everything there was tae ken aboot every crime that had ever happened in the Dalkeith area. Luckily, Kev was a known alci clearly under the influence, so they breathalysed him, went through his pockets and gave his car the once over; nae strip-search. So he just sat there listening tae their shit, smacked ootae his heid wi an i-phone stuck up his arse. This has definitely been one ay the weirdest days ay ma fucking life. Freddie Mercury spoke first:

‘So Mr McBride, it seems you have a long history of previous…’ He read oot his list ay convictions, tut-tutting every now and then, and making the odd derogatory jibe aboot the fact that Kev was completely ootae his tree, ‘…and now we catch you driving under the influence, without a license, in an uninsured vehicle not registered to yourself.’

Kev was aboot tae make some wise crack aboot being a disruptive one by nature when he felt a vibration in the chair he was sitting on. Then his arse cheeks started rumbling and a familiar tune sounded,

Whoa baby give me one more chance…

 

Terminator Two and Freddie Mercury looked at each other.  Then T2 leapt fae his chair, grabbed Kev by the collar and pinned him against the wall.

‘Kevin, why is Michael Jackson singing ootae your arsehole?’

Realising that it was probably Nads looking for her fags, Kev started laughing, wondering how the fuck the phone didnae switch itself off when he shoved it up his arse.  The sensation, he had tae admit, wasnae unpleasant, but the situation was fucked-up.

‘Cos, man…ken what Ah mean…just…ken what Ah mean?’ Kev laughed and laughed and laughed. Mibbe it was the smack, or the bevvy, or the bevvy and the smack, but he suddenly found the situation he was in the funniest thing he’d ever experienced, forgetting in his haze the pictures ay the Cucumber Man that were still on his i-phone.