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Matty’s getting hitched and we’re all out for the crawl. The Admiral to The Dog and Duck is the usual route and today’s no different. Halfway round and we’ve got souvenirs. Gaz has nabbed a road sign of a man digging a hole, Bilbo’s picked flowers but he won’t say why, and Matty’s filled his handbag with salt and pepper and a thing of vinegar that’s leaking and stinks of piss. Me, I’m basically carrying Matty. He didn’t want his chair on his big night.
Matty’s best man is his sister which is weird because it should be me and everyone knows it. But apparently she’s been dead supportive since he came back, helped him with his physio and stuff. She’s not here tonight which is good, but she did the organising and fair enough she’s done an alright job, gave us a big bag of drag to dole out to Matty bit by bit and told us to watch out for a WPC in The Dog and Duck.
Halfway round means we’ve done three pubs. Two pints a pub means we’re six pints in, apart from Bilbo who’s had two gin and tonics and a vodka martini. The Crown’s next. It’s grim in here but at least it’s cheap. Number seven gets us leaning but there’s still some talking to be had. About Bilbo’s new Saab and Gaz’s new bird. About footy but not playing footy because we don’t talk about that when Matty’s around. He says he doesn’t mind but I can’t believe that’s true. Then Bilbo starts chatting about his folks and asks about everyone else’s folks. About Matty’s dad who’s packed in the plumbing and Gaz’s mum who got four numbers on the lottery but didn’t win that much. All Bilbo’s ever wanted is a dinner party. But when he gets round to me they all go quiet, take a step back, as if I’m the bomb that saw to Matty’s leg. Then Bilbo pipes up that we should have got my dad out tonight because there’s no point him being alone in the circumstances. I say lads, we’re out on the crawl, let’s chew down number eight and move on.
Up the high street and Gaz is heaving and weaving. Drags his face across a few houses then walks the wing mirror off a car. A skinhead standing outside the Baron sees it happen and comes screaming over. Surprise surprise Gaz finds his straight lines again and him and Matty scarper three-legged up the hill. I’m going with them until I realise Bilbo’s stopped to explain. This could be the end of Bilbo so I hang back. Turns out it’s not even the skinhead’s car and he’s happy to forget all about it when Bilbo slips him a third tenner. Can’t miss a drop on the crawl so I sling down two pints in the Baron whilst Bilbo nurses half a lager and peach. Bilbo thanks me for stopping back, says my mum would be proud. Piss off Bilbo.
Ten pints in and the whole town’s throbbing with it. Up the hill to the Dog and Duck. Church is on the right. We cross to the other side and not just because the vicar’s probably a wrong’n. Can’t stand that place. But when I do give it a quick eyeball I see Gaz has left his digging sign in the graveyard. It would have been a laugh a few weeks ago but not now. I lose it, charge across the road and suddenly I’m rolling across a bonnet. Ground hits me like a tank but I’m red-misting and back on my feet to put my foot through that sign. The car drives off which isn’t on but the police would probably understand not stopping for some loon having it out with a stick man.
Turns out that knock did me some actual damage. Face hurts. Elbow hurts. Lie on my back for a bit, quick rest. Head’s spinning too and it takes me a while to realise I’m still in the graveyard. The smell of it. Wet grass and dug dirt and cut stone.
I try to stand up but the sign’s tangled on my foot. Try to kick it off but it won’t budge. Then I’m scrabbling at the floor, wriggling like a worm. Then a tiny hand lands on my shoulder. But it’s no angel, it’s Bilbo.
He unhooks me from the sign and helps me up, takes me up the road and sits me on a bench. That bonnet hit my jaw and the hinge is all swollen. Can hardly talk and my breathing’s gone fast. Bilbo gets it all wrong, tells me it’s okay, it’s okay. I try to tell him to piss off but it comes out all groany. So he pats my knee and does this little laugh. Says he’ll always remember the time my mum stuck up for him when Gaz put a full johnny on his neck. I still can’t tell him to shut up so I catch his hand and try to crush it but whatever’s wrong with my elbow has turned my grip weak so we just sit there holding hands with him sniffing those stupid flowers he’s carrying.
Then he’s just talking and talking in his squeaky little voice. Wish he’d piss off or that I’d piss off but I’m tired. Starts telling me about his flowers. Calls them some religious name that sounds like that vicar’s awful spiel, going on and on when you just want to chuck some dirt in the big hole and go home.
And Bilbo’s going on and on now. Telling me how these flowers were his mum’s favourite and how it’s helpful to remember the little things. And then he starts listing it all. Chicken korma and Patrick Swayze. I find my voice at last and tell Bilbo that flowers and curry and dead actors don’t matter to his mum now. Don’t want to see how this creases him so I jog on up the hill.
There’s a dog in The Dog and Duck. They used to have a duck too but that dog is a nasty little shit. Got big bollocks and big teeth and it’s sitting by Gaz and Matty. Matty’s in near enough full drag now, but old frilly stuff like in that Downton Abbey show I never watch no more.
Matty asks what happened to my arm and I tell him and he says just sit down mate. I have a go at Gaz about the digging sign and Matty agrees it was proper harsh. Insensitive is the word he uses. Dunno how Matty’s holding it together. Would’ve thought there’d be less of him to soak up the booze but maybe what’s left of him has got used to the bingeing. Or maybe he’s dropping pints, sneaky prick. I love Matty. Poor lad. Gaz mumbles and grumbles that he’s sorry he didn’t think. His face has gone long like he’s sniffing a guff. Beyond pissed. Apology not accepted, mate.
I ask for six more pints but the girl will only give me one. While she’s got her back turned Matty sweeps more salt and pepper and vinegar into his handbag. I tell him he’s done pretty well nabbing all that shite, just like the good old days, isn’t it just like it used to be, because we’re best mates and that’ll never change and when we’re a hundred-and-ten we’ll still be out on the crawl, won’t we, won’t we. He says he’s taking the salt because they forgot condiments for the wedding breakfast. Then some soft lad comes over to the bar with his phone in his back pocket and I don’t think I just swipe. Screen’s unlocked and everything. Some proper swag this. Matty looks dead cross. This is miles better than his daft condiments.
Gaz wanders off to the bogs and I leave it a minute before following. I think I’m gonna do him in, yeah probably gonna do him in. But I find him snoozing on the floor with his kecks down and that nasty dog sniffing about. It’s too good to miss. I take a pic on the phone then send it to a load of the contacts. I don’t send it to the number under Mum though, just give her a Hi how r u? Plan is to draw her in with normal stuff then send her a snap of Matty’s stump claiming her son has had an accident. Proper funny that.
I get back and show Matty the pic and he goes all quiet. He’s stewing, says he wants to talk serious for once so I let him. He says just hear me out, mate, listen. He says that if it wasn’t for Sharon and his sister he would have topped himself because at first he couldn’t stand the sight of his stump and he was boozing too hard. He says this and it’s true. He says that actually he’s feeling better than ever and by the way Sharon’s cooking up a little’n but don’t tell anyone. If he can deal with losing a leg, he says, he can deal with anything, because he’s realised you can either drown in the shit and the booze or you can keep on with life, are you getting me?
Then I say yeah, you can deal with anything, Matty, unless it’s a long ball over the top, mate. Matty gives me this nothing smile then flips the talk back onto me, asks how I’m holding up, and I say what, holding up my pint, with my hand you daft prick. Then he asks again and I say I’m fine can’t you see I’m fine.
The dog follows Gaz back from the bogs. He’s yawning and his words have gone straight. He’s all talk is Gaz and apparently he’s a good nurse when it comes down to it. He says he’s gonna call it a night because he’s gotta get up early tomorrow. Matty’s not bothered but I am because it’s Matty’s big night. I start having a go, saying Matty’s still here and never mind Bilbo he was never gonna last, and I’m here, even I’m here, I’d never miss a minute of the crawl. But apparently Gaz has got to take his old man to a kid’s panto in the morning. He likes the shouting apparently.
As soon as Gaz is out the pub I’m proper howling about that. About Gaz sitting through Cinderella with his bonkers dad when there’s a picture of him getting a blozzer from a dog going round town. Matty tells me to just grow up so I tell him to grow down then I give him this big wringing hug. He’s stiff as a board until his hands come up to pat my back. I love Matty.
We’ve still got the dress-up bag and I tell Matty he’s got to finish it or he doesn’t get to go home. I hand him the bag and then get my twelfth pint and one for Matty. The girl gives me a narrow eye but pours them anyway. When I turn around Matty’s wearing that hat.
I drop my pints. One bounces one smashes. Then I’m at Matty’s throat telling him to take that hat off. Everyone in The Dog goes mental because I’m choking a war hero and I say I prefer war heroes that can still fight because I’m not thinking I’m just raging. Some big lad drags me off and he’s about to kick my head in when Matty tells him it’s okay, it’s okay.
Matty plumps up the hat. Gives it to me. Little purple velvet thing Mum wore on Sundays. Matty’s sister must have hit the Oxfam in town.
We don’t get booted out because Matty plays the stump card but it looks like the girl’s already called it in because a copper turns up. Just one and she’s carrying a bag. But she’s not after me she’s after Matty. Cuffs him to a chair and takes her jacket off and then I realise. Whole pub hoots like an owl and even that dog is barking. Everyone’s crowding in but I’m pushing out, falling backwards through blokes like I’m sinking in quicksand.
And then I’m out the other side. It’s quiet here. Peaceful.
I put the hat on my face. Breathe.
Tulips. Fish and chips. The bloke that plays the Downton butler.
Can’t fall short on the crawl so I drain a couple of half pints that were left behind in the crush. Done.
My pocket’s buzzing like a beehive. There’s some replies to Gaz and the dog. Yellow heads laughing but crying.
The lad’s mum has replied too. She says Im gud sweetheart sweet of u 2 ask. R u havin a nice time. Take care.
I reply Gud thx.
She sends a yellow head kissing out a heart.
So I say Mum how r u rly wil u pls tell me if smthng wrng.
So she says Am fine. Is evrythng okay.
And I say Am fine cant u see am fine.