And isnt it ironic, Alanis Morrisette is singing. Since Mike
gave her the album its all Shirley plays. Shes more into old school
happy-hardcore/rez stuff Ultra Sonic, TTF, QFX but this album has something
different, something personal, something she loves. Its almost drowned out by the
bass sounds from next door, so Shirley turns it up and returns to what shes been
doing. Her reflections all haggard and weird, twisted and witch-like. She remembers
herself as being a lot better looking than that. At school, she wasn't one of the fat/ugly
girls who had to hand out sex favours to get/keep a boy interested; she only did it
because she wanted to. Right now, her fingers running over her blotchy cheeks and onto her
blackhead-plagued nose, its like somebody elses memory.
Shell have to work on it. Some foundation,
mascara, lipstick . . . she can look back to her best for tonight.
In the next moment with the way her head is
turned and the patchwork wall behind her her thin cheekbones, pale lips, and misty
green eyes will make a sad, tragic sort-of, image.
But Shirley never sees it. Her head is tilted, as if
to amplify the sounds shes hearing; a new sound has crept in under the singing and
over the bass from next door.
Its her son, Lee, screaming.
A love story:
Lees dad is the same man Shirley lost her
virginity to. She was fourteen, and pissed on vodka and coke at a party in Glenrothes.
When she regained consciousness he was on top of her. His name was Russell.
Eight years and thirty-odd men later, they met up at
the Alpha, went home together. Shirley got pregnant, refused to have an abortion
she wasnt going to kill it, it wasnt its fault. Russell played dad for
a few months, moved into the Chinatown house with her, and then left to go with some tart
from Glenrothes who was built like a house-end.
The guy was a prick anyway. Good riddance.
He doesnt want to see Lee, and if he did, it
wouldnt matter, because he wouldnt be allowed to.
Lee sticks his hand out. Theres a patch of
virgin skin littered with grit.
WHAT HAPPIND? She has to shout to make
herself heard. When Lee gets going its like a foghorn or siren. His words come in
RENI DONE WHAT?
YOURE BIGGER THAN RENI, WHY DID YI NO PUSH
He breaks into a fresh crying fit, rubbing the front
of his dungarees. His mouths open, snotters are hanging from his nose. Like Russell,
Lee isnt the best-looking. Like Russell hes a sap, like Russell he can also
look evil at times, his eyes narrowing to slits when he grins that grin.
SHUT UP OR AHLL GIE YI SOMEHIN TI GREET
Still, he goes on: WAAARRRGGGGGHHHH.
SHUT YIR PUS, NOW.
When he cries like this she wants to make it worse.
Like she says, give him something to really cry about.
She walks across the kitchen towards him, noticing him
flinch, and shoves her hand down inside his dungarees, grabs hold of his nipple
hes chubby like his dad and twists.
The screams rise in volume; Shirley leaves him and
goes back to the bathroom.
Karen arrives at the back of four, still in her school uniform. Shes Shirleys
brothers daughter, but theres no real family resemblance. That might be more
to do with Karens puppy fat. Shirleys a rake.
They have a close relationship. Karens a pretty
intelligent, level-headed girl she reads, big books too, Stephen King. Shes
still a virgin. She comes over every night and sits with the odd fag or joint, telling her
auntie about all the gossip: who shagged who, who fought who. They both laugh about it.
But Shirley worries . . . shes been a story, Karen hasnt.
What time is it yire gaun oot again?
Karen asks. Shes at the kitchen table, fag in hand, copy of More! in front of
The tables booked fir half-six.
It the Vic?
How many timesll that be yisve went
Shirleys been in the shower, so shes in an
old housecoat and has her hair back. She combs it hard, forcing out the tangles.
R yi gonnae shag um the night?
The word shag never sounds right coming
out of Karens mouth, to Shirley anyway. If Karen noticed she wouldnt say it so
Shirley shrugs; Ah dunno, do ah!
Well, its up ti you. Ah bet yi he wants
How di you ken?
Well, Karen jerks her ear towards
her shoulder ihs male fir a start.
Nah, hes different.
What? Ihs no male?
Nah, ihs . . . Ah dunno. Ihs no evin
tried anyhin yit. Nuhin.
N dis that worry yi, like?
Mibbe ihs wife left um or cheated oan um or
somehin n ihs findin trouble trustin women again.
Ih wis nivir mairried . . . bit ihs hid
girlfriends. Wan ih thum wis in your dads year it the school.
Well mibbe ihs . . .
Mibbe ihs what?
Gay! Nah, ihs no gay . . . his voice is
deep n that, ihs nuhin like that. Thirs just somehin aboot um.
Ihs quite rich yi said, ih? What is it ih
Jist business stuff, Shirley says;
shes totally ignorant of his working life.
What age is ih again?
Ihs no that auld.
N ihs no braw.
Nut. Ihs jist . . . ah dunno. Ah mean, ah
mind ay um fae the After-School Club n that. Ah always liked
um n that. Ah always thought ih looked like a cartoon character,
Shirleys ready. She looks good. Shes wearing a tight black top and black
trousers and shoes. An office girl on a staff night out.
Yi look great, really, Karen says. She has
Lee sitting on her knee, his back arched so that his heads against Karens
When did he come in?
Jist ten minutes ago. Ih wis showin mi ihs sair
You calmed doon noo? Shirley asks her son.
You calmed doon noo? Yi finally cheered up?
Lee stares back.
Tell yi, ah think ihs goat that behavioural hing
or somehin, Shirley tells Karen. The wiy ih goes aff . . . Ah seen a programme
aboot it, n it wis jist like what ah hiv wi him. She turns her attention back to
Lee. Thats yir mum away noo, son! Yi gonnae gie yir mum a kiss!
She leans forward for a kiss. Lee grimaces, struggles.
She grabs hold of him and smooches his left cheek.
Thats mingin, Lee says. He rubs his
mouth with the palms of his hands.
Anywiy, ahm away.
Yi gittin the bus doon, like?
Nah, jist walkin. Em, yi ir takin Lee up tae yir
mum n dads ih?
Aye, ma dads comin doon fir um it
Well mind n lock the door, ih? Stick the key
under the slab.
Dinnae shag um too hard, Karen shouts as
Shirley leaves. Shirley cringes.
Mike waits in the bar with a pint of Special, catching his reflection. He can strike a
pose at home, in the mirror. He can suck in his cheeks, or tilt his head to one side.
Sometimes that can give the illusion of cheekbones. But, catching himself unaware . . .
then he knows how ugly he is.
Hes a fat man, a balding fat man, with a
moustache. When you look at him you wonder if he was ever young. It seems more likely that
Mikes hatch from eggs in some fucked-up farm.
A man who looks like Mike has no business going out
with a girl who looks like Shirley. Mike knows that. He first met her at the After-School
Club years back, Mike, using the KHS gym, took charge of fourteen-to
eighteen-year-old boys after school, refereeing football games, teaching a bit of boxing,
basketball. After a while girls would come to watch Shirley one of them. She was
around fourteen, and already well on the way to being beautiful.
When he met her in the pub four weeks ago those looks
had faded, been roughed up a bit, but the basic bone structure was still there.
And now shes here. She sees him sitting at the
bar and walks over, her white denim jacket open, her slim figure wrapped in black. Another
man might consider it sexy.
When he asks her what shed like to drink his
hands are shaking.
They both have melon starters. Mike has steak and chips, Shirley goes for chicken with
white wine sauce. Mike cant eat a dessert, through nerves. Shirley has a banana
They talk about the After-School Club.
Dean, mind ih him? Dark hair, skinny, looked a
wee bit like Jimmy Nail.
Aye ah mind ay him, Mike says, pissed off,
angry at the memory of Dean. A trouble-makin cunt.
Well, ihll no be makin trouble noo.
Aye? How, what happnd like?
Mike raises his eyebrows. Theres silence.
So, hows Lee?
Theyve met once or twice, Mike and Lee. Mike
gave him an Action Man. Hed bought if off Billy, a smackhead shoplifter, and the
same guy whod sold him the Alanis Morrisette album. He didnt tell Shirley
that, not that he thought it would bother her if she knew. It wouldnt, he just . . .
didnt tell her.
Oh, ihs awright. Jist playin wi ihs pals n
that, watchin ihs teletubbies. Yi ever watched thaim? Theyre freaky, like. La-la,
Dipsy. Wan ih thums goat a handbag, n its a boy!
The hings thi watch, ih . . .
Aye. Thire no is guid is the programmes we
Shirleys thinking of Lee. Mixed in with Russell,
she can see a lot of herself in him. She loves him so much; sometimes she wants to throw
him against a wall.
Well, ahm a bit aulder thin you,
Mike reminds her.
Aye? What were the programmes you hid
Mike thinks back, then shrugs.
Shirley has a few more bottles of Hooch, Mike a few more Specials, they wonder (Mike
wonders, hopes) whether to go to Caesars or Jacks; they decide against it
its a Thursday, student night.
Yi intae gittin a taxi up tae ma bit?
What aboot the babysitter?
What, Karen? Shis it ma
Mike takes a deep breath and exhales.
Aye, ah suppose so.
You smoke dope, ih? says Shirley.
Yi wantin ti skin up while ahm makin the
Mike looks around the living room: drug paraphernalia:
bongs, skins, loose tobacco, a plastic Coke bottle cut in half.
Ah cannae skin up.
Well, yi wantin a pipe?
Aye, goan then.
Shirley finds the pipe, the dope, and has hers first.
A deep inhalation, then a few seconds of holding it in, then a confident, easy exhalation.
Mikes the opposite. He burns his lips, poisons
his lungs, goes into a coughing fit, and has to have a drink of water.
Fuckin Christ, he says, staring at the
pipe. Ah think this hings fucked . . .
Mikes on the chair, he sat there on purpose. Theres a two-seater couch
worn green leather, the chairs arent leather or green, theyre grey and
Mikes willing Shirley to sit down on that.
She doesnt. The tellys on when she comes
through, something about Take Thats last single.
Theyre fuckin fannies, ih? Mike
Hes hoping itll be a comment she hears as
she passes, on the way to the couch. Hes forgotten about the tea, which she has to
stop to hand to him.
Then, unexpectedly for Mike she lowers
herself onto her knees, at the side of the chair, so that shes facing Mike, and then
turns to face the telly.
Ah always liked thaim.
Theres silence. Onscreen, teenyboppers are
bubbling in the streets. Shirley reaches up and touches Mikes hair; Mike flinches
like Lee flinches. She keeps touching, running her fingers through it.
Mike softly takes a hold of her hand and turns to look
at her. His piggy eyes, his bushy moustache theyd be amusing if they
werent so serious and solemn.
Ahve goat somehin ah want ti tell
yi, he says. Its aboot . . . us n that.
The atmosphere is heavier. Mike feels it against his
What aboot us?
Well, its no jist aboot us. Its
aboot . . . sex.
Shirley grins, cant help it.
What aboot it?
A pause, then:
Di you think its serious, ti you?
What di yi mean?
Ah mean, could you go oot wi somebody, live wi
thum, withoot it.
She laughs, out of nerves. Mike starts touching her
hair. Shes drunk, so everythings a bit hazy.
Mike thinks its better to blurt it out: Ah
really like you, Shirley, and ahd like us ti keep seein each ither. Bit the thing
is, ahve goat somehin wrang wi mi. Ahm impotent, yi see. Ah cannae hae
Shirleys confused, trying to take it all in. She
likes the feel of his fingers in her hair, though, she likes that.
So, the hing is, ahd like us ti keep seein
each ither. Ti be like boyfriend n girlfriend ah ken this is weird n
that, n ahll help wi Lee, ahm guid wi bairns, you ken that this is
weird, like bit jist that wan hing. We dinnae dae that wan hing.
Shirleys pretending to think, waiting for the
right moment to talk.
Ah mean, Mike improvises, if yi
wantit, really wantit, ti go wi somebiddy else, then ahd lit yi, s long is it
wis just fir that wan hing. N is long is yi didnae rub it in ma face. If yi really wantit
. . .
Aye, Shirley says, finally. Shes
nodding. Aye. N ah dinnae think ahll need that.
What? Mike asks.
Gaun wi somebiddy else.
Mike smiles, and ruffles her hair.
Hiy! It took mi ages ti git the tangles oot ih
this! Shirley tells him, running her own hands through it.
A moment of panic for Mike, hes forgot to ask
Wan hing ah want yi ti dae, though, is
promise yill nivir tell anybody.
Another pause, something like that should never be
replied to straight away.
Aye, ah promise. Ahll no tell
A few more words and the whole moments finished
with, but it hangs around. It needs something to ease it along, something to change the
Shirley offers to show Mike how to take spats, and
thats just what it needs. It lifts, they go through to the kitchen, where Mike,
holding his breath at the wrong time, blows his straight off the knife.
Mike is okay about cuddling women; non-sexual, no feelings of revulsion there, its
fine, so long as he doesnt think of wombs, gall bladders Mike often wonders
why women are so specific about a sore belly, a pain in ma gall bladder; makes him
sick ovaries and all the other stuff slithering around in there . . .
And everythings gone better than feared, so
hes happy and contented. At two a.m. he ends up lying on the couch, watching the
telly, with Shirley lying on top of him. He has his hand wrapped around her neck and can
smell her smoky breath fighting with his Aramis and her perfume. The Cables back
working, and theyre watching MTV. Mikes mumbling his opinion on a pop star,
how hed like to knock seven bells of shit out of the guy.
Shirleys laughing, contented. Occasionally
theres been boyfriends long-term enough to enjoy moments like these; occasionally.
A minute later theyre both slipping away into