of the Great Unwashed
Auld Pishy was sitting on the wall outside the Health Centre. He was crying
because he had no money left to buy cider and fags. He wiped his nose
on the back of his hand, then wiped the back of his hand on his breeks.
A bus moved by, and Pishy saw a wee girl looking at him as it slowed for
the lights. She was about three or four, and had her mouth open, trying
to bite the glass. Pishy tried to smile, but the effort went into a sob
which caught his breath and started him coughing. He leaned forward, trying
to get a proper cough going so he could fetch up some of the rattly catarrh.
When he had finished hacking he wiped his eyes, looked up, and the bus
He spat the result of the cough into the patch of grass behind the wall.
When he turned his head, there was a pair of legs in view, and he didn't
know who they belonged to.
It's yourself Pishy, said the legs.
Pishy looked up. The sun behind the figure made it hard for him to make
out the facial features, but the voice told him it was Mambo.
Ah Mambo, you're out and about already, said Pishy, and Mambo gathered
his coat about his arse and shuffled forward to sit beside Pishy on the
Is it the flu on you again ? asked Mambo.
It's not the flu this time, said Pishy, I was just in there seeing
your man and he says I'm done for.
You're done for ? said Mambo.
Aye, I'm done for now he told me. If it's not the cancer it'll
be the arthritis, or maybe it'll be the sciatica or the rheumatoids
that's burrowing into me every fibre.
So they got the tests back then ? said Mambo, and Pishy tried to remember
when he had last met Mambo, what he'd already told him.
Sure enough they done the tests and came back to me and says you'll
be needing more of them, so they sent me up the town and put wires and
all that on me, a whole day I was up there. They had to get the students
and them in to have a look cos they says they never saw the likes of it.
It's a miracle I've still the power of sight and common sense
Is that what they told you ? said Mambo as Pishy turned to fire another
gob into the pale green grass.
They did, and even with the results they've got now they're
telling me there's none conclusive or that, the fellas down in London
will have to be taking a look as well to make sure before they break the
news to me.
So they must have an idea there ?
I think they know more than they tell, but it's the sorting out of
all the things that's causing them the difficulty there. Too many
ailments in the one body, it's hard to tease them apart if you like.
So that's why you're crying there, said Mambo.
Who said I was crying ? said Pishy, staring up at his larger friend.
I was watching you there before I came across the road. You're an
awful man Pishy, an awful man right enough for wearing your heart on the
It's a bit of the hayfever, nothing more, replied Pishy.
Are you sure it's not just cos you've no cash there to buy fags
and booze and that ? asked Mambo, and Pishy looked up again, tried to
be stern, but the smile was upon him before he knew it and Mambo took
the packet of Mayfair from his pocket and flipped open the lid.
Here now, have a fag and we'll talk about it all.
Pishy took out a smoke, let it wobble between his lips as Mambo located
The two friends took a couple of puffs each, looked up the road, then
down the road, stood up, and started walking towards The Gate. The town
clock struck eleven as they reached the door.
So you can't ask her for a tap. Not even a tenner ? said Mambo.
That's right enough said Pishy, she won't talk at all, not to
me anyroad. And for all I tried to help the fucker.
Steady now Pishy, that's your beloved there.
I'm not talking about her. The cat. That's the fella caused
all the bother in the first place. It's not like I've ever mistreated
the thing or grudged it space. I never stopped her having them things,
just so long as they're not coming in the bed at night or making
a noise I don't much care what they're about.
Was it the expense then ?
Expense of the cat ? I wouldn't know about that. It gets the same
to eat as me, maybe a bit more. That's not a bother anyroad, you're
as well cooking for three as two I suppose. No, no, it's that carry-on
with the rubber band. The cat was out of sorts. Not that I noticed right
enough, but she came to me like that last week, she says, Monty's
got a problem, I says what's that then, she says I don't know
but he's been eating the ends off the curtains and hawking up balls
of hair and that. Sure, that's normal for them fellas I says, they're
doing that all the time, it's good for them.
That's well known right enough, said Mambo as he beckoned Liz set
them up again. We had that one, that Tabby, God rest her, used to leave
them behind the back door there, wee balls of wet thread. She thought
it was skinned mice and made me clean them away.
That's right, that's the things. Hairballs. Standard issue for
the cats. But no, she says, it's not right. He's pining for
something. Pining ? I says to her, pining ? What would the cat be pining
for. He's in a fine house and he gets the regular grub. That's
as much as the likes of him can hope for, what business has a cat pining
for more than that ? So anyroad, it was always going to be my fault, I
should have known it from the start, and it's when the spare belt
for the hoover arrived, that's the start of it all.
That wouldn't be cleaning up the hairy balls then, not when they're
No, the box it came in. It's a big fucking box like that for a wee
strip of rubber. There was two of them right enough, but you don't
need a box that size for a couple of belts. Anyway, I gets the thing out
the cupboard, takes it into the front room, takes the end off it, sets
about it, that's fine. Five minute job. I was hardly started and
she's in shouting the odds, screaming about Monty eating the band.
The belts was there. One in the machine, the other still in the plastic.
What bands are you on about ? I says, and it turns out the bastard made
off with the rubber band that was about the box, just a big long thin
sort of a laccy band. She saw him in the kitchen, he had it at the door
and was eating the thing down, hacking and retching and all that but eating
it down anyway. Then she made a bid to grab him but he panicked and went
up on the drainer. By the time I gets in he's gone away up the stairs,
so it was half an hour we were upstairs there, her clicking her fingers
and making likes of chicken noises and all that. I says, will you stop
with that clicking and clucking you're just scaring the fucker and
she starts up then cause I called it a fucker and the two of us were slanging
it out there up in the bedroom. Eventually I came like that I says fuck
this, I'm off and she's on then about the money and that's
for the leccy, and I was all set to go in town and pay the thing anyway,
but I'll tell you now Mambo, by the time I got to the bottom of the
stairs I came like that I says see that twenty, you're right enough
it was for leccy burned, and every intention I had to pay it too, but
now with your gob and your panic and your nipping I says, I'm away
down there now to buy drink and fags and I'll not be back till it's
Was that the Wednesday then ? asked Mambo
That was the Wednesday right enough. That stramash in the Bolthole. Even
if I have to apologise another ten times I'll still know in myself
that it would never ever have happened if it wasn't for that bastard
cat making off with a laccy band, the greedy stupid fucker.
So she heard what happened then ? said Mambo as the new pints arrived.
In the Bolthole ? Jesus no, least not that she says anyway. It was when
I got back that same night, I went to the bog and got sorted out, put
a cloth on the lump and that, but when I gets down the stairs there she
is, she was just in from the shift at the school, so I came like that
I says sorry love, about that carry-on and all that, and she's sort
of frowning and not talking and that but I knew it was alright. Pension
the morra, that'll be first thing I'll be down there pay that
leccy and that's my beer money for the weekend gone, but it's
no bother and I'm a fool and I'm sorry. So she's sitting
there, still not talking but it was that way you know it's going
to be alright, the worst's over. It was that millionaire show on,
your lass from Wales was just one away from the quarter million when it
Pishy stopped to draw from his pint. Mambo crashed the last two fags.
She was calling for the fifty-fifty so she was, she already used up the
other two lives there so she did. So, what's your man Al Gore's
wife called, is it Flipper or Tipper ? That was it. Then the door squeaks
open and in he comes there, Monty, as bold as you like, strides right
across the carpet. Fair enough, I'd a bead in me for sure but I knew
the peepers wasn't lying. There was the laccy band hanging out the
back end of him, trailing along the carpet it was. She was looking down
as well, but I don't know if she noticed right away. It was the best
thing at the time, that's what I was thinking anyway, this is the
answer to the whole thing, if I can save her Monty from further pain and
maybe stop him pining at the same time, so I goes off the seat like that,
down on the hunkers, right up behind the thing as fast as I could and
got a grab on the end of the band.
You must've been awful fast there.
Like a flash it was, I'm down there and I grabs the end of the band,
it's looped round my finger like that, and I yanks at it. So the
fella gets some fright and he's up like that, up in the air, straight
up like he was blown by a force underneath of him, and twisting his body
too, like towards the telly. It's like that way when you see an accident
coming, it goes slow motion, but I was sure I had the thing, it was a
good grip there behind the crooked finger. I was only trying to do it
for his own good as well, get the thing out of him and be done with it.
But when he lands he's off towards the door, past me again, but I'm
forward on the deck with the band under my hand, couldn't let it
go even if I wanted, and I did want to what with the noise coming out
of him then. I had to twist to get back upright and he's making a
terrible noise altogether, even with him almost out the door and the band
a good five feet long there. Jean's screaming like it's her
getting the treatment the cat's getting, he's got the ears flat
and the teeth out and the spit flying so I came like that, I was a bit
panicked myself right enough in case he came at me cos he looked awful
serious and that, I says fuck ye then and lets go of the band and he's
lying on his back there with the legs akimbo and I swear you could see
the eyes focussing on this laccy band heading back for him but it's
too late and it's a noise then I never heard the likes of, worse
than any banshee it was.
Right on his fellas too that would've been.
Must've been. You pinged him ! that's what she shouts then,
you pinged him ! and she was up and off after him but it was too late,
he was away out the door and off into the kitchen, out the flap. You could
hear it still swinging when we got in there.
So the laccy band never came out then ?
No no, he was away with it. It was the Friday I found it down by the path
there, all chewed up and bits of stuff along it, but it was still in the
one piece. But he's still not come back either, so she's still
Aye, he'll be having a think about it all before he comes back.
'Kin right. I went out there on the Sunday, late on it was too, must've
been over midnight, putting the bins out for the morning, and it was when
I was coming back in right enough, it wasn't even a noise or that.
Clear night, the stars was out grand, but I could feel the eyes you know,
like burning into the side of the face there, and I turns just at the
back door and looks back and there he is, I could see the silhouette against
the gable next door there, it was him alright, just the outline of his
head and shoulders. He must've been standing on that divider him
next door put up. Looking over the wall he was, looking at me, and it
was the shivers right enough cos he just stayed there watching. Thanks
be to God I couldn't make out the eyes on him, but the shape went
down, just like you'd think he was getting lowered by some other
creature, the shape went down and the tops of the ears went away. It was
him though, no doubts about it. He was checking. Checking on me.
Mambo finished the last of his lager, Pishy his cider. Mambo slapped his
pockets, drew out half a dozen coppers, then dropped them into the collection
tin chained to the bar. The sound of the clattering coppers drew a smile
from Liz. Mambo moved fast.
Liz darling, you couldn't see me right for a half-bottle till the
Liz puckered and shook her head.
You boys are well stretched as it is, she said, the best I can do you
is a two-litre of White Madness.
They left, Mambo with the cider under his overcoat.
Have you any fags in the house ? asked Mambo.
Pishy shook his head.
Right then. That's it. There's only one course left open to
Pishy stopped and looked up at his pal.
We'll have to find Monty, get you back in the good books. It's
no use a man having no fags and no booze and creeping about the town crying
and feeling sorry for his lot.
Mambo strode on, and Pishy followed.
Jean got home from her shift at the school later than usual. She'd
got one of the girls in the office to make photocopies of Monty, then
made some posters saying 'Lost. Monty. Reward' It was a bad
picture, a bit blurry, but it was the last hope. She'd put one in
the Post Office, one in the supermarket and one in the charity shop.
Coming up the path, she knew something was wrong. The front door was ajar,
and there were wee chunks of tuna all along the garden fence. She dumped
the shopping at the step and went inside.
They were in the good room. Mambo was snoring, flat out, the empty plastic
bottle beside him. Her man was asleep in his chair. The air stank of rolled-up
fags made out of old cigarette butts. The Weakest Link was almost at the
end, and the volume was near enough full.
She went back to the front door to get the shopping. She would have to
plank the purse before he woke up. He would be after money for fags and
cider. There'd be no peace otherwise. She took out a tenner, then
hid the purse in the cupboard behind the porridge. They would go out again,
she would get to watch her programmes in peace. She made coffee, then
put the two cups on a tray with a plate of cheese pieces.
As she was carrying the tray though, Monty walked out from the good room,
curling his tail, rubbing his behind against the skirting. He looked happy
enough, and was licking his lips.
Mambo stirred when Jean put the tray down on the table.
Ah Jean, it's yourself, he said.
Jean took the tenner from her pocket, dropped it onto Mambo's chest,
then fetched up Monty and went to her room.