All Stories, General Fiction

Long Live Carl Mar by Jane Houghton

Two punks sat outside a church, their slouching backs touching the north-facing wall, a few metres from the entrance – so as not to block God’s passage. Neither were religious, in fact they thought it utter shite, but they knew about respect. Respected respect. Their hair was spiky, but there were no spikes on them.

One boy. One girl. Or, as they were wont to put it, two gender-neutral homo-sapiens thank you very much. One of them, though they were buggered if they could remember which, had seen a program about it and decided there and then to make it their cause. Fight the good fight. Anything less was akin to being a Tory prick but they were wise to that; they were on a locomotive to enlightenment and everyone knew that there were no seats for Tories. They were not boyfriend and girlfriend or in a gender-neutral romantic relationship or any other type of romantic relationship. They were friends. Best friends. Siblings in all but DNA. They had known each other since nursery. Fourteen years. Blimey. Both were seventeen. They loved each other and would tell anyone that they were best friends but, by God, they did piss each other off at times. A lot of the time.

Jesus, DD. Save us a swig. You’re necking it all. It’s getting dark and I’m not even at Level One yet.

They had formulated their own drunk-scale. Level One was ‘tipsy.’ If your night ended at Level One, or pre-Level One, then it had been a shite one. At the same time, if your level of inebriation went all the way to Five, then shiteness was again involved. Shiteness of a different kind. But shiteness, nonetheless. A banging head the next day that screams like a banshee whenever you move. Or blink. Or swallow. Your Ma nagging in your ear, telling you to roll out of your pit sharpish and go get a job because this ain’t no hotel you know and money don’t grow on no trees blah blah blah, when all you want to do is sleep and prepare your mind for the next sesh. Athletes need their recovery days, yeah?

Sorry, Lyd. Got a bit carried away.

DD was a gannet with his ale. No. DD was a FUCKING GANNET. Gannet alone did not do his drinking abilities justice. He could sup an ocean dry. He was no such gannet with his food, though. Food didn’t interest him; he was as skinny as those Ethiopian babies that they show on the telly with the saucer eyes and flies stuck to their crusty noses. Once, he went two whole days without it and didn’t even feel faint. His Ma was away with her bingo bitches and it didn’t occur to him that he should eat. His was a liquid diet. Alcoholic liquid. Slice open his veins and out would pour Thatchers Gold cider.   

You always get carried away.

They drank Thatchers for two reasons. One: they liked it. Two: they thought that they were making an ingenious post-modernist comment about Lady T. They knew little about Maggie and even less about post-modernism, but it gave them purpose. Made them feel like they were doing something. Contributing. Making a stand for the working people. Being revolutionaries. DD’s Da was the Union rep at work, so he was no stranger to class ranting. His Da had made it an art. He railed against the fucking middle fucking class most days, disgust in his voice, murder in his eyes. Or at least Grievous Bodily Harm.

DD passed over the can, his lingering eyes suggesting that he would much rather it stayed in his possession. But he was not tight. He was a sharer by nature. All about spreading the wealth. Spreading the cider and therefore the love. His brand of punk was infused with the Romantic. Without wiping the rim, Lydia tipped her head back and drank. Neither gave two shites about germs or viruses or bacteria. Fucking government propaganda. No doubt inspired by the Russians. Or Chinese. DD and Lydia were harder than all that put together. A blind person could see how hard they were. Respectful, yes, not spiky, but rock solid.

Fuckin’ grand stuff, innit?

DD watched Lyd swallow. He beamed like a proud father, his child doing something of which he approved. He was the oldest by a month. Always aware of this, his feelings for Lyd branched into the paternal. With age comes responsibility.

Aye, it does the job, like. Boots you up the scale pretty handy so value for money.

Not that any actual dosh had been exchanged. They’d each lifted a four-pack when Old Ray wasn’t looking. Ray managed the offy. Or owned it. One or the other. They could never make it out. Sometimes he tried to sound posh and would call it a General Store. Geeneeraal Stooree. But his stretched vowels fooled no one. It was just an offy. Chocolate, crisps, pop. And loadsa booze. Old Ray had a bad eye, and his good eye was on the crap side, so he never caught on when things went walkies. He kept DD and Lyd in a regular supply without even realising. He was a decent type. When he wasn’t trying to be plummy Prince Charles. He had big ears like Charlie boy but that was where the similarities ended. Old Ray worked for a living. And he didn’t have a penchant for horses.

Yup. Reckon I’ll get to at least a 3.5 tonight. Got some of me Da’s voddy in me pocket. I’ll whack it with you after this lot.

Will your Da not mind?

Well, it’s like he’s always saying. That Carl Mar fella that he loves. Everything belongs to everyone. So, by rights, his voddy is my voddy. Our voddy. Long live Carl Mar and his beautiful ideas.

They each drank to his beautiful ideas. Lyd first, then DD. Coming to the end of their fourth can, DD crushed it, flicked and broke into the second four-pack. The evening was proceeding well. He felt comfortable and calm and there was a warmth in his belly. A can in his hand, his best mucker by his side. Life could be worse. Life was okay. A car swept by, its occupants just about visible. Two children stared at them from the backseat, their eyes wide.

The fuck them cunts looking at?

DD’s equilibrium was on the verge of tipping. It annoyed him when people stared. Even kids. Staring was rude. Fucking disrespectful.

No.

Fucking.

Need.

Chill, DD. Just kids. Drink your can.

DD obliged his friend. Anything to placate his mucker. Equilibrium restored.

Your Da still mithering on about that job?

DD took another swig. The topic of his Da and ‘that job’ riled him to fucking shite. Equilibrium wavering.

Is the Pope Catholic? Course he fuckin’ is. Calls himself a working-class warrior. Slave. He’s a fuckin’ slave. Working for peanuts. Breaking his back day in day out for those bastards. Won’t catch me doing that. No, Sir. I won’t be no servant.

Innit.

Lyd didn’t need to say more. She felt it. She felt his words.

Carl Mar would fuckin’ disown him.

DD’s Da worked in a biscuit factory. Twelve hour shifts for shit pay, the odd broken biccie and a limp Christmas piss-up for which the company always tried to get out of paying. They were taking on in Packing. Biscuit sales were booming. DD refused to eat biscuits on principle. People like his Da had to make them. Twats like Mr. Webster, the ‘Big Boss’, got to lick up the profits. Fucking pussy.

What about you, Lyd? Job Centre still hassling you?

Aye. Said that they’ll sanction me if I don’t go for that apprenticeship. Eight hours five days a week – for ninety fuckin’ quid. And it’d take me a pissin’ hour to get there. It’s a joke.

Yup, that it is.

Lyd’s Ma agreed with the Job Centre. She fucking would, wouldn’t she? Thought that she should take it. Told her that she was being a lazy cow. A job’s a job, Lydia. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Lyd cringed. Her Ma talked shite. It bypassed her arse and splattered out the other end instead. She seized the can from DD and poured a good two-thirds of it down her throat.

Better, Lyd?

Aye. Or I will be once you’ve cracked open that voddy.

Lyd wasn’t lazy. She wasn’t feckless or workshy or beyond help like the papers said. She had dreams. Aspirations. Her Ma was as bad as the Job Centre. They didn’t understand. They saw a string of failed GCSEs and her piercings and DIY tatts and thought that she should take anything. Take fucking anything and be grateful. The apprenticeship was in a salon. She would rather eat worms than set foot in one. Listening all day to some Mildred droning on about her bunions. Some Candice boring her arse off about her new fella. Balls to that.

Fuck.

It had started to rain. Large droplets bounced off their gelled spikes and sought out DD’s nose. It was a big one, almost as long as his lanky legs, so there was plenty to seek out.

Fuck, indeed.

Neither moved. Nowhere to move to. There was home. But neither wanted to go home. DD rummaged in his pocket. He pulled out the vodka. The bottle glistened, as happy to see them as they were it.

Right, time to bring this little one into the mix.

After giving it the once over, he held it out in front of Lyd. He could be quite the gent – and would have accepted such an epithet had it not been so fucking sexist.

I’ll give you first dibs. Don’t say I never give you nowt.

Lyd took the bottle. She felt touched. Loved. She knew how much DD prized his voddy; it was like someone gifting you their kidney. He was a good friend; always looking out for her and making sacrifices. For a moment, she had an urge to kiss him. On the cheek. To say thanks. But she didn’t. And thank fucking Christ that she didn’t. They didn’t go in for all that rubbish. Their friendship was stronger than that; it didn’t need the sentimental flourishes that lesser interactions rely on. The vodka singed her throat as it meandered through her system. It was not an unpleasant feeling. There was something freeing about it. There was an internal unfolding.

Me Ma called me a layabout last night. Said that I’m a waste of space. Me Da said naff all. Just sat in his chair and stared at the telly. Bullseye. Fuckin’ Bullseye from fuckin’ God-knows-when was more important. I’m sure he’s scared of her. All four-foot-eleven of her. Poisoned dwarf.

DD listened. He didn’t turn his head and look – that would have been too much. An invasion. Her voice sounded thick and gloopy. He imagined a lone tear fighting its way through. She was not a crier. He had seen her cry only once, and even then she had tried to hide it. ‘It’s me hay fever.’ It was December; there was not a flower in sight. He knew that she was hurting. In spite of what people thought, she was a sensitive soul. That was why he liked her so much.

I look at them and it scares me. Me Ma gets on me wazz but I’d be a grumpy mare too if I was her. Never enough money. Never enough anything. Everything one great big balancing act. Pay the rent, go without toilet paper; get the bog roll, make do with toast but no beans. Her and me Da work full-time and they’ve still got shite all. What’s the fuckin’ point? It’s all wrong. And no one wants to put it right. If they don’t live it, then they don’t fuckin’ see it, the cu…

DD belched. A thundering growl that shook his skinny frame. He tried to hold it in, he didn’t want to interrupt Lyd’s flow, but he couldn’t. The smelly bugger wanted out. Thatchers always made him gassy – a price that he was willing to pay. Lyd laughed, a layer of cheer diluting the heaviness of the previous moment.

Trust you. Better out than in. Anyway, listen to me, chatting on like some drama queen. Tell me to button it.

Button it.

Ta.

They arse-shuffled closer together. It was getting chilly.

YELLOW CAR.

Fuck a duck, DD.

The vodka bottle wobbled in her hand but she was able to tighten her grip before any escaped.

I nearly dropped the voddy.

That brought DD to his senses.

Shizaroo, Lyd. Soz. You know I wouldn’t want that.

She knew.

S’alright. But how d’you know it’s yellow?

Come again?

It’s too dark. It could have been fuckin’ purple.

Yellow Car was a game of theirs. A favourite. Its rules were simple. Spy a yellow car? Holler YELLOW CAR before your opponent does. The person with the most YELLOW CARS by the end of the night wins – and is a legend: a decent position in their book. Unless you are being sarcastic and calling someone a leg-end. The humble hyphen can make a world of difference. They invented it late one night. A night similar to this one. A night similar to tomorrow’s offering. And the one after that. They were good at inventing things. Drunk-scales. Drunk-games. Spot the common theme. Why yellow? Why not? Yellow felt like the right colour at the time.

YELLOW CAR.

He was off again. Eager to be crowned tonight’s legend.

Was it bollocks, DD. It was a transit van. Transit vans are never yellow. Everyone knows that.

The rain was not letting up. Like it had a point to prove. Like it was determined to flatten their spikes. This it would never do. A hurricane wouldn’t move them.

I know what we need.

DD pulled out his phone.

Ta daaaaa. Hope this thing is waterproof. I’ll put us a little tune on. Something relaxing.

He screwed up his eyes and ran his finger over the screen. His eyes were getting blurry but he could still make sense of the words in front of him.

I fuckin’ love this one.

Lyd waited, the anticipation building. A bit of relaxation would do her good.

                    Right now ha, ha, ha, ha, ha

                    I am an anti-Christ

                    I am an anarchist

Closing her eyes, Lyd smiled. Good ol’ DD. She felt calmer already. Her Ma and her Da and their haggard faces and the arseholes down the job centre were fading. She fuckin’ loved this one, too.

Jane Houghton

Image: Pixabay.com

5 thoughts on “Long Live Carl Mar by Jane Houghton”

  1. Hi Jane,
    It’s great to see you back!
    I really enjoyed this. There was an excellent mix-match of ideas from the old punks to this new breed.
    I thought the two characters were very visible.
    The time was also a bit of a mix-up. There were references to Karl Marx and the thinking of the unions, that takes you back to the seventies, Thatcherism, early eighties, Bullseye, late seventies and then all this gender neutral bollocks of today as well as being sanctioned and the preaching of their parents of a time gone by.
    The two characters were a total mixture of all that their parents were and all ideas involved / evolved from those times. They would hate to admit that but their story tells otherwise.
    It is interesting when you think on them being neutral (Fuck – I even hate typing that!!) but the old original punks were rebelling against everything as they found it all boring including sex, so the idea of them not getting close in that way is maybe a throwback to that thinking.
    You have toyed beautifully with the stereotypical punk and a lot is recognisable, but bringing it into this day and age changes it and gives it so many other levels.
    And to finish off with a nod to ‘Anarchy In The Uk’ is a wonderful touch.
    A very clever and perceptive piece of writing!
    Hugh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hugh,
      It’s great to be back! Thank you for the opportunity and for your continued support and advice. It means a lot to me.
      I had a lot of fun writing this one, and it warms my heart that you were able to pick out some of the things that I tried to do. Thank you for your thoughtful and involved reading – you go the extra mile and I appreciate it.
      Jane

      Like

  2. We humans have this peculiar need to despise ourselves but not as much as we hate those other fuckers. It’s not an intelligent enough a need to be paradoxical. Yet there it is, changeless, mockingly stalking along side humankind since the invention of the third person. This story illustrates it perfectly.

    Like

  3. love that Jane … I think you knew I would .. Couldve been my arse on that step … pictured the entire thing from start to finish .. nice touch finishing with a pistols tune ..

    Liked by 1 person

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