Feel So Fine (aka Feel So Good) - Derrick & Patsy You're No Good - Colin Young She Is Beyond Good And Evil - The Pop Group Someday I Will Treat You Good - Sparklehorse Good Love - Rome Jefferies
20 Jul 2012
New Rules/Old Rules
Ste’s phone goes off. It’ll be the Scruff, has been all day. He ignores it, doesn’t even check.
We’re playing pool in the vault of the The Flagpole. It’s a Saturday afternoon so there are a few in but mostly older blokes watching the racing. You hear them talking about the horses, the trainers, all sorts of shite, and none of it makes any sense to us. There’s a sign on the wall warning people about what’ll happen if they are caught with drugs; a bloke was emptying some kind of colostomy bag or something into the urinal when I went for a piss earlier – he didn’t want to disturb whoever was doing Whiff in the cubicle.
It’s that kind of pub; you know it. The shoplifters have already called on their rounds, selling razor blades and big bars of Dairy Milk. In fact, that’s how Ste met the Scruff in the first place: buying knocked off Fruit & Nut.
We were at the start of a new frame. There was nowt down off Ste’s break so I’d knocked in yellow because yellows looked best. There was an easier red on but you have to think a few shots ahead.
I’m at my second visit now. I would usually clear up from here but Ste’s phone disturbed my concentration. Then there’s his gob.
“Apparently he’s got himself a sword, the daft cunt.”
I roll a long yellow in down the cushion. Ste bangs his cue on the floor, a little bit too hard for the usual sportsmanlike stuff.
He always calls me that, even though we’re the same age. We’ve known each other since Primary School, me and Ste. Most lads round here have. It’s probably why we’ve all got so much in common: the way we talk, what we wear, the little scams and that. Most popular scam the last few years has been putting a scruff in a flat and getting a grow on. Ste has been mithering me for ages to go in with him but I’m not into all that.
“I’m getting a Pole, or one of them Slovaks next time,” he says.
My shot rattles the jaws of the pocket.
“Hardier. You know what I mean?”
It stays on the table.
“Oooof, unlucky, kid.”
Turned out the Scruff was a skiving bastard (surprised me too; those shoplifters usually graft to fuck) and spent more time in the local than in the flat now he had a regular wage. He didn’t look after the plants properly, bit of a gobshite too by all accounts, so the police had found out and were planning a raid.
Ste had got to know in time though. He sent some lads down with ballies, bats and bin bags to rob the flat, teach the Scruff a lesson. The Scruff still doesn’t know it was Ste robbed the place. Apparently the poor bastard wet himself in the corner when they burst in.
To be honest, Ste is a bit of bellend. But like I said, we’ve known each other since Primary School.
I tap my cue. There’s no way he meant that. And I wonder how he got to know about the raid, when it was happening and that.
“Who gave you the nod then, Ste?”
You see in films and hear with some of the real heads in town and that about coppers being paid off or having people in your pockets, but Ste was nowhere near that league. He might have two phones but he’s still got a day job.
He lines up a long red. He’s miles off.
“About the police?”
He stands back up, looks at the tip of his cue as if that’s the reason he missed.
“I’m a believer, kid.”
I let out a little laugh as I ask. He chalks up, doesn’t even look at me.
Good Amos is one of those half-mad characters you get in any town. There’s a few near us, probably a few near you too, and you know the stupid stories that grow up around them. Well people say all kinds of shite about Good Amos. Impossible shite.
I take my shot but cannon into a few of his reds. One rolls dangerously close to the top right bag but sits there on the lip.
He lives at the top end of the Estate where they’ve not started knocking things down yet. They say he grew up in the old slums, in town proper, when they knocked down everything ages ago and built the stuff they are knocking down now. You can hear it in their accent still, the people who were moved from there. Most of us are their kids and grandkids and we’ve got the accent too.
Ste settles down to take his shot; knocks in the one over the pocket instead of leaving it there.
“Shot,” I say, smiling inside.
You don’t often see Good Amos out and about but when you do he’s always got this black suit on that must have been a belter at some time, but now’s all baggy at the elbows and knees. Under that he’ll have on a white shirt, buttoned up to the top with no tie, and his shoes are always shiny as fuck. He doesn’t have a belt, wears braces instead, and he also has this black hat, a wide-brimmed one like you see priests in some films have on. The way he looks you’d expect him to have a nickname like that, The Priest or something, but he’s got his name tattooed on his knuckles for us all, to make sure we get it right:
GOOD on the right set; AMOS on the left.
Ste misses his next one. I shake my head.
“I’m not having it.”
“I know,” he says “I think there’s a slant on the table.”
“No. All that Good Amos bollocks.”
He walks over to the shelf where he’s stashed his Peroni, pauses for a few seconds.
“You going to take your shot?”
I roll in tight for a snooker; not a natural shot for me, I like to play more of an aggressive game. Ste raises his eyebrows over the lip of his pint as he takes a swig, shakes his head, eyebrows stretching up as he swallows.
“Is that two?”
The white is clearly touching, but I let him have it. He looks at me.
“You’re dying to know, aren’t you?”
He’s right. Even though I know it’s bollocks I need to hear what he has to say. So he tells me.
“You knock his door and wait. If you’re lucky, a piece of paper will pop out of the letterbox for you. Then you go to confession – to church – but when you go, you don’t confess for yourself; you confess for Good Amos.”
He plays into space rather than take the free ball. I think that’s a mistake to be honest.
“On that piece of paper are the words to his confession, and you’ve got to get it completely right otherwise…well, let’s just leave it at that for now, you have to get it completely right: word for word.”
He misses what looked like an easy red to the middle.
“New rules or old rules?”
It doesn’t make a difference, there’s only a two shot carry if you actually pot something first go but, again, I let him off,
He starts waving his cue around, pretending to work out some angles.
“When you’re done with the priest, you write down whatever he gave for penance on the other side of the paper and go and take it back to Good Amos. And that’s when it gets proper strange…”
His double almost makes it as a treble but still doesn’t. He stands and rests on his cue.
“So you get back, you go in and…fucking hell, you’ve never seen a gaff like it: no telly, no radio, no carpet, no settee – just a stove that’s old as fuck and some wooden chairs and a table. There’s no pictures on the wall but painted onto the plaster are words upon words upon words: same words as his confession.”
I give him the don’t-be-a-dickhead look you can give your mates.
“Then he sits you down at the table opposite him and there, in your place, is a piece of paper and a pencil. He doesn’t say a fucking word, just looks at you, but you know to write down the question you’ve come to ask. He holds out his left hand, the one with AMOS on the knuckles and you put the paper in that hand. You don’t realise how big this fucker’s fists are till you see them up close; he must have been one right hard bastard in his day – in fact I wouldn’t fuck with him now – and he closes a big left fist around your question. Then he holds out his GOOD right hand.”
“And that’s where you put the penance?”
Ste nods. I’m not even thinking about pool now, if I’m honest.
“He does it again: closes another big fist, this time round the penance, but this time he shuts his eyes and smiles to himself. Now this is what makes you really shit yourself, even though that’s what you’re there for, and no matter how many times you’ve seen him do it, cos, when he opens his GOOD fist, the sheet with the penance on has gone and there’s another piece of paper in its place. And that piece of paper has the answer to your question on it.”
I pause. Look at him. Then I piss myself laughing.
He tries to look not best pleased.
“You should ask him for the Lottery!” I say.
He’s still not laughing.
I look at him for a few seconds; search out a twitch in his lips,
“I can see, Ste; I can see you’re dying to laugh!”
Finally he speaks.
“It isn’t a laughing matter, kid. Just take your fucking shot.”
I look at the pool table, get down, knock a few more in.
We play in silence until I’m on the black. It’s an easy finish.
As I’m about to name my pocket, Ste speaks.
“Sorry,” he says, “I shouldn’t have snapped.”
I shrug. “Don’t worry about it mate. Sounds like it’s been a stressful week.”
He puts his cue in the rack.
“It’s not just that it’s…something happened once. With Good Amos.”
I’ve not heard him sound like this in a long time, the way his voice is, not since we were really small and his…it was horrible. I shouldn’t even talk about it. He doesn’t like to. I stand up from my shot without playing it.
“It’s all right.”
He looks at me as if to ask if I’m sure. I let my cue slide down through my hand so the rubber end bounces gently on the floor. It’s to say, “Listen mate, I shouldn’t have took the piss, I know; I’m sorry. But I’ll listen. Promise. If you want to get it off your chest I’ll listen.” And he must hear all that because it just starts to spill out of him.
“A couple of months back, I got cocky. I started taking Good Amos’s wisdom for granted. There’s been a question I’ve had in my head since I was a little boy but I’d never asked it; just stuck to business and that. And this was the same: business. I had a lot on that day, so I was impatient, not thinking right. At the church there was a young lad kneeling down in a pew, praying – Polish or something by the look of his trainers – but the door to the booth was closed and somebody else was obviously in there. To kill time, I went up to the front and threw a quid in the tin, lit a candle for my real mum, and found a pew of my own. Whoever was in there was taking ages. I read the hymn books. I was surprised by how many tunes I could still remember, but soon there was nothing to do. The longer I waited, the more annoyed I got. I fucking hate waiting and I fucking hate church, confession especially. It just seems fucking weird doesn’t it, some bloke telling me to say these prayers and my sins are forgiven, telling me I’m good to go even though I haven’t told him any of the real sins in the first place? Eventually, the booth opened and a young girl came out, gorgeous she was, went over to the Polish bloke. I went to go to the booth but the priest came out of his side, waltzed off somewhere – probably for a wank – and I thought, fuck this, the penance is the same every time anyway: I’ll just write it and say I’ve been.”
Ste actually sits down. His hands look like they are shaking but I don’t know if that’s just me wanting them to.
“Back at his house, Good Amos offered me a chair at the table and he went round the other side like he always does. I wrote out my question, put it in his left hand and then, again just like always, he held out his right hand: the GOOD hand.”
“And you gave him the penance?”
Ste nods, slow. “As soon as it touched his palm he opened his eyes. I was fucking frozen. Every part of me wanted to do one but I couldn’t move a fucking muscle. He didn’t seem angry or owt, just opened his left fist, letting my question drop, and raised his palm over my head, hovering there like some fucked-up Baptism shit. Then he closed his eyes again, and when he spoke, it was quiet but the kind of quiet you know not to interrupt.”
I know exactly what he means.
“That Poor Boy lay down on the cobbles, and he was a boy, not much more – none of us were – his hat even farther back than he’d pitched it, strutting here with his mates, now gone, all white mufflers and hair down over one eye, all gone. You could see the crack in the crown of his head. The blood did not run as freely as I’d seen before. It were a black-red puddle but moved slow, much like you should expect the Fiery River to move if hell rose up between those cobbles to meet us early. And for those not with us, for those watching from windows and doors, hell had already set up lodgings here long ago, and we, the young, the new, we took hell’s song to those streets in our pockets, sounded its hooves with our clogs, our belts whirling in the air like the Devil’s own tongue. That was those not with us. For those with us, this was the very heaven the Good Book never told. Our streets; each of our small bodies transformed in the smashing and milling, the chivving and roaring; oaths of the like never uttered in the Assizes, high in the air – so high – high as voices you should hear on a fairground ride or in a singing saloon, or any other place where you should expect a good time was being had. High, all of us high and loud except for That Poor Boy. And one other voice. The other voice was not hushed through forfeit of the senses, though. The other voice was mine. I was in a very silent ecstasy, for if this really were our glimpse of heaven, I had been filled with the Spirit so full I daren’t have opened my mouth lest it escape early: ‘not yet’ spelled out in every quiet step I took around That Poor Boy. I bent down. My belt was still half-wrapped around my fist, the buckle heavy on the ground. The same black-red that wrapped its fingers round my brass oozed slow on the cobbles. I reached out, spanning my palm over That Poor Boy’s skull to measure where the life had spilled out; work out just how much was still left in.”
Ste opens his eyes. Looks at me.
“And he took his hand, the one he had over my head, shaking, back down onto the table.”
“Now it was time!” he shouted, “The Spirit poured out of me then!”
I nearly shat myself.
Ste’s voice got quiet again.
“He closed his eyes at the table. Smiled. In his right hand was a small piece of paper. I picked it up and read. It was the answer to the question I’d never asked.”
I’m stood there with my gob open. All the sounds of the vault swim out of the silence I had in my head while I was concentrating on Ste’s words and separate out into the normal noises of a Saturday afternoon in there, but even that’s quieter than usual, a few of the older blokes looking over to see what’s going on.
I look at Ste.
He holds my stare for ages and then, finally, he winks.
“You fucking dickhead!”
“What?! Oh, you cunt! I can’t believe you–”
We both laugh. Whether the laughing is real or not, we keep it loud.
I look back at the table and I name my pocket. I smash the black in to show off and it goes straight into the middle of the bag. The white ricochets around the table off cushion after cushion and we both watch as it does. But our faces change, slowly, as it rolls towards the pocket where Ste should have left his red, nothing there to stop it dropping in. And his phone goes off.
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