Here's another short piece. This time it's the start of something longer.
Straight Up by Steve Dempsey
Straight Up by Steve Dempsey
I shove past the woman with the push-chair and cross the road, my road.
“I've got a kiddy here, you fuck,” she screams after me. Yes, you do have a kiddy there, you worthless piece of human flotsam, and another on the way by the look of your distended poorly faked Versace hoodie. And I see from the shrivelled roll-up between the nicotine-stained fingers and the bottle of White Lightning in the plastic bag hanging from the handlebars, that you are passing on the misery to the next generation. You stand there caterwauling, with your faded Girl Power t-shirt, helpless, pointless and useless to me.
A brown BMW tries to cut in front of me but I keep going. The driver rolls down his window to complain but I point to my ear-buds and he throws his hands up in disgust. The car behind him sounds its horn impatiently. I'm not listening to any music. I just wear these so I can ignore people. The miserable, the angry, the whiny with their boo-hoo-hoo, the powerless. They don't mean anything. They gave up any power for a vapid life, settling for the easy road of mediocrity. I haven't. I took my chance, I own this place.
And here's something more to my liking, a woman well into her seventies getting on to the bus. She heaves at her tartan shopping trolley as youngsters crowd past her.
“Would you like a hand with that?” I ask.
“That would be lovely. You are such a nice young man,” she responds. Her mistake, she never asked my price. I never do anything for free. It's one of the rules. I take two years of her life. Not from her future life, those years will be arid, devoid of the spark that interests me. No, I take 1953 and 1954. The Coronation and Hilary on top of Everest certainly, but there's more meat to those bones. Frankie Laine at the Palladium in '54 when the old woman, Dora, was 19. Screaming with all the other girls and then a quick fumble in Argyll Street on the way back to the tube with Gerald, just about to go off on his National Service. They necked all the way back to Parsons Green but Dora got cold feet and went home giddy, heart pounding, juices flowing for Gerald, but still a nice girl. Oh yes, plenty for me to use.
I get to Starbucks and grab a seat in the window, opposite Amanda. She doesn't look up from her Financial Times.
“I saw what you did there,” she says, not liking it one little bit.
“Man's gotta eat,” I say, “We don't all get our buzz from misprints in the newspapers. The FT? Isn't that a little dry for you? I thought the Grauniad was more your cup of typos.”
“Bloody spell checkers. It used to be so easy but even the Guardian has upped its game. Thank heavens for the grocer's apostrophe. It'll be a sad day when that becomes good grammar.” A tall macchiato appears on the table in front of me.
“Ah, thanks Słoneczko!” I beam at the barista, who waves and retreats behind the coffee bar.
“When did you learn Polish?” asks Amanda. She folds up the paper and drops it onto the pile on the floor.
“You have to know how to talk to people. I've never paid for anything in here.”
Amanda pulls a face, “Fuck off. Do you think I do?”
It sounds as if she's about to get serious so before we have all three baristas jumping through hoops and balancing blueberry muffins on their noses, I say, “Of course not. Now, can we get down to business?”
I take a sip of my coffee and sit back. Amanda is rather old school. She has a sense of decency that stems from her strict Jamaican schooling. She got sent back there for her junior years and then came back to the UK for university. Or at least that was the plan, but somewhere along the way she picked up this eye for details. When she finds a mistake--it has to be accidental, she can't just scrawl out bad spellings on any old piece of paper--she can take that, correct it and apply it to something else. Her bank account for example. So she's never short of a bob or two; it's real Armani for Amanda.
Today she's slumming it a bit with me in Lordship Lane. This is my territory, East Dulwich, hers is Dulwich Village. Of course any suburb of London calling itself a village is nice, in a not-much-change-out-of-two-million-quid-for-a-small-house kind of way. It's not that East Dulwich isn't fine too. It poshed itself up no end in the last property boom when the Yuppies were all looking for the next Islington or Clapham. But it's still only got one generation of slap and won't be invited to any of the swanky parties yet.
So down to business. We have a boundary dispute. Between galderes, that's Anglo-Saxon for singers, callers or enchanters, home turf is a serious matter. You have to have it clear of other influences for the galdor, that's a spell, to work properly. We can do minor things anywhere but the for the bigger stuff, you need clear space between you and the next guy. You might think the post code areas in London are rather random but they're not. There's exactly one of us in each of them. I'm SE22 and Amanda is SE21. SE24, Herne Hill, is this black dog thing that we tend to avoid. Brixton, SE9 is a tree. I'm not going to do the whole list. You get the idea. The trouble is, every now and then the bloody government or the local authority moves the borders and it can serious mess with a galdere's head when he or she is busy with a galdor. Amanda must have something big on at the moment or she wouldn't be bothering with me, so I can probably make some capital out of this.
“So you remember that time, when I totally pulled your arse out of the fire?” she says, so then again perhaps it's not my lucky day after all.
“Er, no.” I reply, because I truly don't remember it at all.
“I thought this might happen, so I had you write this.”
She hands me a piece of paper, written in my handwriting and signed by me. It simply says, “Amanda saved you. You owe her one.” There is nothing on the back. The paper does not smell funny, nor does it appear to have been changed. I have a close look because Amanda's not so trustworthy when it comes to writing, but it seems kosher.
“And you're not going to tell me what this is about?”
I think about this for a while, have some more coffee.
“Fuck it,” I say, “What do you want me to do?”