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image for story - a pint mug with a map of scotland on itTHE CURSE

Mark Gallacher

See the way that lassie behind the bar is watchin me? You’d think she’d have somethin better to do. She’s got some preconceived idea in her heid because I’ve been here aw afternoon. I mean, put a man alone in a cafe and it’s crystal clear he’s wantin solitude. Put im in a pub and it’s because he’s alcoholic and hasnae a human being to call a friend. Preconceptions. I tell you.
       But what was I sayin? Earlier. I’ve lost my flow. Boozin. The curse. Aye. Gettin smashed. Blutarred. Call it what you will it’s the well-founded curse of my generation. Whole families screwed up by the alcoholic anarchy of inebriation.
       It’s our fuckin cultural pastime. Forget the footy. Boozin’s more Scottish then nuclear submarines and smoked fuckin salmon. Excuse me. Swearin and heart attacks and dour church goin misery must be aheid in the authenticity stakes. But booze is right up there. And the violence it brings. The mindlessness. The hurt it lets people inflict on one another. Heidline stuff.
       And the next day? They’re sick and sick again with whatever memory they have of whatever it was they did. And what do they do? Back down to the boozer. A tortured apology aw round to everyone. Don’t worry, people say. You were out of your heid, they say. You were just pished. It’s nothin. Have a drink.
Everyone lettin everyone else off the hook. And the merry-go-round starts up again.
       But it has its uses. Admit that. It shuts stuff out and shuts stuff in. I swear if I couldnae get pished sometimes, I’d take a crowbar to the nearest skull. I’d smash it open just to dissipate that feelin of shite. That shitty feeling that builds up in the veins from just livin. It’s like plaque or somethin. You ken? And the humiliation of knowing you feel that way and there’s nothin you can do aboot it. So bevvy is a way of replacin one poison with another. You with me on that score? Good.
       So, at least I’m honest. At least I’m no pretendin I’m sittin here because there’s nothin else worth doin. Or I want to watch the fitba. A fuckin Tuesday night is worse then Monday. And I’ve no job as yet. Not since the last one. But, I’ve money to burn. I’m loaded.
       We sold the hoose and the ex-wife’s no lookin for palimony. Just stay away from the bairns. That was the deal. Easier then you think to wave bye-bye to aw that marital piss. Mind you, the bairns hated my guts anyway. No that I was a bad father. Never hit em. Never locked em up. Never forced em to get a job and pay dig money. Fuck, I even gave em thir pocket money when they had more money then me at the end of the month. Nope. They hate me because SHE made em see me the way SHE sees me. A disappointment. A let down. A waste of space.
       She told me once I suck aw the positive energy and love outta people. Like I have a black hole for a heart. She learnt that piss watchin Oprah and talkin with her fancy-arse friends. She divorced me because she said she’d realised I wouldnae change.
       Before the divorce—when the crunch came, the day the marriage finally fell apart, she delivered this big speech. Must have been workin on it for months. Said I didnae have the strength of character to redeem myself. Turn over a new leaf. Said it was a pity I wasnae more like my brother.
       I can tell you she got a shock when I walked out there and then. How’s this for strength of character, I told her. I think she expected me to break doon or greet or go ballistic or somethin like that. As if I was goin to beg or something. That’s the thing. Just because you love someone disnae mean you have to be a slave to em. Disnae mean you have to lose your self-respect, just because your significant other thinks you’re an utterly fuckin radge. 
       Can you see that barmaid still watchin? She’s no worked here before. She should mind her oan fuckin business. She’s here to serve bevvy, no be the fuckin mind police. I’ll say what I want to say, loud as I want to say it. It’s a free country. I can express whatever and whenever I want to and if she disnae like it she can close her ears. I’m sorry but her Sunday School Teacher manner is affectin my humour. 
       Did I tell you my brother’s deid and buried? S’okay. Aye. No need to offer condolences or anythin. Long time ago. Thing aboot my brother was he was a worse boozer then me. He could drink until he passed out. Wake up and start aw over again. He slapped his wife around on many an occasion and pretended he couldnae remember a thing. Said he was sleepwalkin when he did it. Slept around too. Anythin in a skirt was fair game. Auld or ugly. Christ, some nights it was auld and ugly.
       You’d think he was a saint the way people talk aboot im. See, he turned over a new leaf or call it what you will. Quit the bevvy and took up healthy livin. Joggin every other day and eatin rabbit food for dinner. Cinema on Saturdays. Church on Sundays. Thirty two years auld and actin like Lazarus Of The Mornin. Started takin the bairns on holiday. A good citizen. Thing is he was still the same man underneath. Everyone had forgotten what a complete eejit he was, except me. But nobody was listenin to me. I was the bad boy now. The rotten apple. People kept askin: why cannae you be like Bobby? Straighten yourself out? Quit the drink. Quit the violence. Be decent.
       Bobby, he lapped it up. He even started goin to night school. Took readin classes up at the uni. Philosophy. Literature. Came in here one night and tried to lecture me. Life Choices he called it. Started showin me books I should read. James Kelman. You heard of im? Naw, me neither. Anyways, I should definitely read Jim Kelman, he says. He knows things. Aboot men. Aboot how it is. The workin class culture. The futility of life.
       I lost it then. Started ragin. I’m aw for education. Just some people think it gives em a right to lecture you or feel sorry for you like your life isnae worth anythin. Like you’re ignorant and you don’t know what’s happenin around you or what’s up aheid.
       I ripped into im. Told im at the end of the day he was still livin in a Barratt Box with a wife who didnae know her arse from her elbow because she was full a Valium. And his bairns were morons too. Too scared to tie thir own shoe laces. I told im he could fool aw the others but he was still the same Bobby inside. He couldnae undo aw the things he’d done by quotin arty shite from middle-class books fed im at the uni.
He didnae like it either. He acted like I had tried to put a curse on im. He acted angry but he was scared. I told im to take his books and his flash advice and shove it up his arse. Leave me in peace or they’ll be trouble, I warned im. I wisnae above clocking im one. That really hurt his feelings but I wisnae carin. I was ragin.
       And that was the last time I saw im until he had his heart attack. He was only forty-two. He took another one not long after in the hospital. Big massive one they said, as if God had just reached doon from the sky and switched a light out. He’d no chance, never mind the Life Choices. That was hard. You ken?
       Everybody at the funeral gave me the look. Waitin to see if I would fuck it up. Everybody gettin up in church and talkin aboot Bobby as if he was a fuckin saint. No mention of his earlier conduct. Interestingly enough I wasnae allowed to say anythin. No a peep. No problem. I wasnae there to settle old scores or make pretty wee speeches. I was there to bury my brother.
       But Mary, the widow, shecouldnae keep her fuckin mooth shut. She had to get her ten pence in. She waits until we’re back at thir hoose for the wake when I’ve my first whisky in my hand. The whole family’s there; my bairns and the ex-wife. My mum was sittin in the corner on a chair like it was her own wee throne in a kingdom called purgatory. And Mary comes up and has a go. Says I can stay but I cannae have a drink. It would be disrespectful to Bobby. Because Bobby wanted one thing in the whole world when he was alive and that was for me to quit the drink.
       I knew that for the lie it was. Nothin to do with Bobby and everythin to do with her and my ex-wife. The cunts’d rather I shat in my pants then have a good time. I could feel em aw waiting to see what I would do. My mother started greetin like Niagara Falls was pissin out of her eyes. My ex-wife was shakin her heid like I’d done somethin terrible already. As if Bobby deid and me still breathin wasnae bad enough for her. It was fucked up. I couldnae see why they were settin me up as the bad guy or somethin. Like I said, I was there to bury my brother. So I put the whisky doon and got my coat. But I went back into the front room and I told em straight. They were aw hypocrites. I told em Bobby wasnae a private club they owned. I knew my brother just as well as any of em. He was as fucked up as the rest of us, I told em. Clean shaven or otherwise it was the same man in that box we buried.
       Well, you’d think I’d cursed the deid or somethin! Mary flew at me, her fingers nails sharpened for the chance. Some of the others had to pull her off. I laughed at her just to show everybody I didnae give a shite. Someone spat at me while she was on my back. One of the sprogs I think. That was particularly hurtful. Then my mum fainted and fell outta her chair in the corner. People howled that I had killed her. Farcical.
       But I was out the door and I came here and held my own private wake. Which is how I got this scar across my face. Another story. Aye, it was a sad day that aw round. It disnae embarrass me. I hope it disnae bother you? It intimidates some people—this talkin freely.
       I miss im though. Sometimes I dream aboot im. He left me aw his fuckin books in his will. Can you believe that? I get a heidache just fuckin thinkin. And there was nothin that cow Mary could do aboot it. I’ve kept em aw just to agitate her. But fuck em. The both of em. In case you’re wonderin. No. I havnae read a one.
       It’s your round by the way. Cannae you see my glass is empty? Tell that lassie if she’s got somethin to say she should suck some air in and say it. Tell her I’m talkin to you because I want to and not because I’m desperate to talk with someone. What’s your name again, anyway?

© 2006 Mark Gallacher

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Author Bio

Mark GallacherMark Gallacher was born and grew up on the west coast Scottish town of Girvan. He lived in Bolton and worked in Manchester for a number of years before returning to Scotland. In 1999 he moved to Denmark to live with his Danish partner. They married in 2006 and have two young sons. Mark published a pamphlet of poetry, Envoi Poets Publication, when he was 21, called More Than A Dedication. (“profoundly moving”- Chapman Magazine; “haunting poems that deserve to be read and re-read” -New Hope International. His poems have appeared regularly in many quality UK literary magazines and in the US. His short stories have been published in print in Scotland’s leading literary magazine Chapman, and in New Writing Scotland 23. Online publications appear in Pulp Net and are showcased by the ever generous and enthusiastic Laura Hird.  He is currently finishing a novel, dusting off a short story collection, riding the roller coaster of parenthood, and working as a full-time translator.

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January- February 2007 #57