Authors: Michael Cannon
First published August 2013
49-53 Virginia Street
Glasgow, G1 1TS
Copyright © Michael Cannon 2013
The moral right of Michael Cannon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any
information storage or retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or by licence, permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued
by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 0LP.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library
Typeset by Freight in Garamond
Printed and bound by Bell and Bain, Glasgow
For Denise and Rachael – my girls
Michael Cannon was born and brought up in the West of Scotland and worked variously as an apprentice engineer, tax officer, various temporary occupations and oil worker before
returning to higher education to study literature. He now works for the University of Strathclyde. His debut novel
was published in 1995 and
A Conspiracy of Hope
followed in 1996, both published by Serpent’s Tail. His novel
was published in 2006 by Viking to much acclaim. He lives on the south side of Glasgow with his
wife and daughter.
“If equal affection cannot be/ Let the more loving one be me”
from ‘The More Loving One’ by W.H. Auden
Nick didn’t take long. Quick Nick. I lay back and thought of Eng... I’ve no particular reason for thinking about Nick at this particular time. I’m in the
flat, with Lolly. She’s rolling her third spliff. The air’s layered with strata of smoke, turned rust coloured in the late light. You can puncture two layers just standing. I
don’t touch the stuff but people have become passive addicts just being around her. With Lolly there’s always a danger of proximity.
Sometimes I feel I don’t actually have thoughts in this place, I
them, suspended in this haze. But then that sounds like the kind of intellectual wank you hear from
students on the top deck of buses, putting the non-matriculated world to rights with their annoyingly loud voices.
Lolly’s got two speeds: dead-stop lethargy and high-octane hustle. Both infect people around her in some way. I’m the only one here to bear the effect of tonight’s sloth. It
takes me all the effort I can manage to stand up and walk to the window. It’s getting on for the magic minute. I always stand here and watch it, weather permitting. The sun’s cast an
oblong of light on the opposite wall, catching Lolly in its passing. She keeps herself air-hostess orange. Her colour looks even more ridiculous in the bronze rectangle. Either it’s the
passive dope or she’s radiating some kind of inner light, like a catechism picture of the Holy Ghost, sweating piety. Maybe there’s more to her than meets the eye. But that’s
rubbish. There’s exactly as much to Lolly as meets the eye and she spends a lot of effort making sure men spend a lot of time taking the sight in. She’s got hips to breed gladiators and
breasts like missile silos. She’s got a theory of fat women. Some women are dumpy fat, some gloomy fat, some shy fat, some aggressively fat and some, very few, are erotically fat.
There’s no mistaking Lolly’s category. She aims her breasts at men and they surrender. I don’t know if it’s got to do with genes or attitude, but it hardly ever fails. Maybe
her reputation adds to her attraction. I can’t say I understand it. But in a way I do. If I’m depressed I’ll rest my head against her chest, and it’s got the same effect as
wrapping yourself in a duvet that’s been blown dry in the fresh air.
She’s put the spliff to one side and turned her attention to the camera. I groan. She insists I sit on the sofa. Every time something happens, or doesn’t, she takes a picture of us.
She’s got shoe boxes of those stamp-sized photos you get in booths, black and white graduating to what passes as colour of the two of us, faces squashed together or at the wrong height
because the seat won’t screw up or down, cataloguing our reckless Saturdays through boiling puberty and beyond. She’s always saying we should pour them on the carpet and sort them out.
I don’t think so. I usually deflect her attention. It isn’t hard. I’m thinking of history. She’s talking nostalgia. If you don’t know the difference it can be fatal.
She doesn’t know the difference. I don’t have the energy to explain. She doesn’t have the attention span to listen.
I get crushed as she sits beside me. She leans forward to put on the autotimer. I get the full heft of her breasts in my neck. She’s got no sense of private space, and I’m not just
talking about rubbing her tits into the back of strangers on the tube. When I started to cry in the cinema toilets it was Lolly who kicked the door in and snatched the thing from my hand. We
watched the line appear. ‘Try another,’ she ordered. You only get one in the pack. I sat crying on the pan while she left to get another and then she stood beside me, holding my hand,
as I tried to accumulate enough pee for another try. And even then we got on one another’s nerves. She told me crying leaked out the liquid I was trying to muster. ‘Hardly,’ I
said, ‘I don’t think your bladder works that way. You’ve got your biology all wrong.’ And she said, ‘No. You’ve got
biology all wrong.’ And
even although she was annoyed, she was crying. And that’s when I had an unkind thought. Why me? Why me and not Lolly? When it comes to men she’s got no powers of discrimination that I
can see. And I know her best. I know her better than she does. I knew who it was because there was no process of elimination. I spent all my time discriminating at the expense of the fucking
obvious precaution. And the irony was that Quick Nick lived up to his reputation. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been more memorable, but it lasted as long as a jolt with a cattle
prod, which was the same length of time it took him to work out his exit strategy. I only found out his nickname later. Lolly told me. She told me she’d named him. I was too depressed to ask.
Biology or not, I tinkled out another pee. We waited. The result was the same. She squeezed my hand. She’s been near at every crisis in my life.
There are girls around here who use abortion as a form of contraception. I’m not religious and I’m not superstitious, but I’ve an image of those potential mothers, old women
about to croak, going towards the white light when they realise there’s a little queue waiting for them in the tunnel, a line of foetuses in various stages of development, eyes, when they
have them, deep black with reproach.
I wasn’t keen on telling Dad. Lolly’s idea was not to tell him and let the news seep in.
‘Are we talking about the same person?’
Dad’s ability to pick up a signal is as good as Lolly’s. His idea of a hint is a boot in the balls. They both live in a world where they confront, or are confronted. Facts arrive,
they aren’t foreseen. The reason I wasn’t keen on telling Dad is that he’s built this little fantasy round me to separate me, in his own mind, from Mum. He calls me
‘Princess’. This has more to do with him than me. I don’t need any fantasies to separate me from Mum. But he’s fragile enough. If it takes this little delusion to keep him
standing I wouldn’t deny it unless I had to – like giving him the news that I’m pregnant.
Rumour has it that Mum in her prime could give Lolly a run for her money in the fornication handicap. Maybe she still can. She left us eight years ago, when I found out how I got my name. Dad
said it was because of his favourite film star. ‘Your namesake,’ he said, ‘my little Gina.’ Dad and Gina Lollobrigida. A cosmopolitan Italian beauty and a skinny alcoholic
Glaswegian ex-plumber with nicotine stains, shakes and a volcanic cough that sometimes spots the furniture with glistenings of lung. Some fantasies are so fantastic they’re sad. Dad and Gina
Lollobrigida. As much chance of that pairing as walking into the living room and interrupting the Yeti doing sums. It turned out that Dad didn’t name me at all – Mum did. It turns out
that she got her inspiration from some third-generation Italian waiter she was granting favours to, ankles behind her ears on the gingham table cloths. He was the owner of a trattoria up town, with
his fake wop accent and straw Chianti bottles with candles in them. At least that was Dad’s description, that came out much later when he had a bronchial infection that obliged him to dry out
for two weeks. Mum’s bit of stuff said he was going to the Amalfi coast to set up a place of his own and he’d send for her. Turns out the place was closed down by Health and Safety
after the seafood pasta turned half the customers into double ended squibs, that Carlo’s real name was Frank, that he’d gone as far as Newcastle to contaminate the locals there and shag
hopeless Geordie housewives.
‘Typical fucking wop,’ was Dad’s pronouncement, in front of Mum, although we all knew he was no more an Italian than any of us. Maybe it was aimed to hurt, because she hurt him
so much. Maybe it was because Frank was tainted by association. He pretended to be Italian so he was a ‘fucking wop’. I live in Glasgow, with people. Dad’s surrounded by
‘fucking wops, fucking spicks, fucking chinks, fucking darkies, fucking pakkis and fuck knows who else.’ A short sally for his half dozen cans and we’re told ‘It’s
like Liquorice fucking Allsorts round here now.’ It wasn’t like that back then, the glory days of national pedigree, before the population became this mongrel, whenever that was. I
pointed out that he wouldn’t have had Asian shopkeepers servicing his habit at half past ten on a rainy Sunday night back then, but he was past reasoning a thousand bottles ago. He’s
fighting to keep the ethnic purity of him and his cronies, so they can all lie gurgling drunk on their various piss-stained mattresses across the city.