An extract from novel-in-progress Cheats and Liars
I hear a deep clear voice behind me.
“Be not afraid of greatness, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
It’s Phil, my friend, the actor. It was worth making the effort. He’s always good for a manly chat. He swings around and sits opposite me.
“I know thee well enough, thy name is Gloucester. Thou must be patient, we came crying hither . . .”
“Ah Phil.” I say. “Great timing as usual. What are you up to?”
“Me?” He says. “Me, I like hanging around in the arty centre I do. It stimulates the right glands. I am an arty centre pervert. What others get from washing-lines I get from being waited on by unemployed nasturtiums.”
“Oh shut up. Pint?”
I decide to get a couple of whisky chasers to go with the pints. Phil is fiddling with a phone when I get back to the table.
“Here.” He hands it to me. “It’s one of those touchy-feely bollocks. As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.”
It’s a nice phone, lovely colours, bright blues and oranges, crisp text, feels good in the hand, like a suitable stone – a hurlable stone.
I can’t be bothered. I drop it on the table.
It’s great to be with Phil. We don’t really need to say anything so it doesn’t matter what we say. He is my oldest friend and I forget, we forget each other, in between our always random meetings. It’s been a while, six months at least. He looks a bit tired.
“All OK Phil?” I ask.
“OK sir.” He salutes. “It’s the fucking cancer. He holds his hand out to silence me. “Details unimportant. Been away you see. Tripping in Switzerland. Driving a fast car, Chinese herbs, blood transfusions. Needles, mushrooms, always the bloody mushrooms, and the acid, legal there you see – with this guy – proper, pure. But I am dying, Egypt, dying. I go, and it is done, the bell invites me.”
“I didn’t know Phil. But you look good, you’ll be all right?”
Phil smiles and sips the lager. “Hmm – sweets to the sweet.”
I allow the news to process while we sit quietly, drinking and looking around the room at the bustle. The bit part characters in this act of this play flow through the space, a slow dance of atoms forming momentarily into illusions of shapes and colours. And no, there is no meaning. And Phil and me, climbing over a farmer’s fence at thirteen, pockets full of eggs, hands and mouths stained with blackberries. Me and Phil at sixteen, pissed on foul beer, smoking a joint in the toilet of the Waterloo. Two boys from the estate punching their way through to manhood – and escape. Lucky me, lucky Phil, lucky us. We did it, we got out, found our places out here in this mad melee. But Phil, he mustn’t die. How can that be? We’ve only just begun. All those trips we haven’t made, those women we haven’t fucked. It’s not enough, not enough yet.
“Remember Phil, remember we said we’d do Dublin one day. We never did, never been to Dublin. Never did Dublin. Did you?”
“Sweet Molly – no boy, never done Molly, never, never, never. Another?”
Phil goes to the bar for refills, leaves his fancy phone on the table. The bar is busy. Phil is lost in a squash of bodies. His phone buzzes and blurts out an old fashioned telephone ring tone – bring, bring – it sings.
I read the screen – Patsy. This is the Patsy he was married to until a few years ago, his second wife, a thin wisp of a woman, short blonde hair – tattooed arms, pierced nose, a funny little package if you ask me. He was hopeless around her, struck dumb by the illusion of love. She always looked annoyed, then she ran off with some guy who’d made millions from herbal medicines. They must still keep in touch.
I pick the phone up and press a block of green pixels that looks vaguely like a telephone.
“Hello.” I say, “Phil’s phone.”
“It’s Brian, Patsy. Remember me – Phil’s friend?”
“Oh, the artist – yes of course.”
“Phil’s at the bar – we’re in Chapter.”
“How is he?”
“Looks OK to me.”
“Has he told you?”
“Sort of – he seems good though.”
“It’s not good Brian. He’s avoiding it. But then what can you expect.”
“He’s still at the bar, it’s busy. Shall I get him to phone you back?”
“Just tell him I phoned, that’s all. Let him enjoy himself.”
A Sunday afternoon drive – that’s nice, can’t remember the last time, can’t remember if there ever was a Sunday afternoon drive before. Yet, it seems familiar – the quiet(ish) roads, the over-abundance of cyclists and pedestrians on the road to the beach, sitting in the car on the front, looking out to sea and wondering whether it’s worth getting cold and wet to slip along the damp sand for the sound of the lapping tide. A quick visit to the toilet before stopping for a drink and a basket of chips in a country pub on the way home.
And after the pub – what? It all depends on Phil of course, it’s his day. He wants to drive. I’m not sure but it’s a small concession to appease my dying friend, even if it means risking my own life.
He drives well, carefully and confidently – then, he has a wobble and clutches his head, but not before he pulls over. He falls against the steering wheel.
“Sorry.” He says. “A hit, a very palpable hit . . . Damn fucking cancer, sometimes it hurts. You couldn’t get me a nice big lump of hash?” He asks. “Good quality?”
“Yes, of course, if that’s what you want. If you’re sure.”
He rummages in his pockets and brings out a bottle of pills and a wad of cash. He hands the cash to me and tips two or three of the pills into his mouth. He crunches the pills between his teeth and grimaces.”
“They work quicker.” He groans. “You’d better drive.” He nods at the cash. “Take what you need.
I peel off three hundred pounds in twenties and hand the rest back.
It’s his car but I drop him off at his flat and head off home to wait for Barking Boris, not as daft as he sounds, or looks – canny as hell; only does house calls and then only after a rigorous vetting process.