Interlitq is delighted to publish its story in English for today, “Norwood Junction” by Andrew McCallum Crawford
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by Andrew McCallum Crawford
They were in a pub south of the river. Well south. Almost Croydon. Danny was staying at his sister’s for Christmas. A family reunion. What a joke. He brought over two pints of Guinness and sat down.
His father wasted no time getting to the point. ‘So what’s yer intentions?’ he said.
The beer was warm. South London. What did you expect? He’d expected his dad to show a bit of interest, that’s what. Danny had been away for a year. More than a year. There was no interest, however. There was no Tell me what it’s like living in Greece. How’s the job? Are they paying you? Are you getting by all right? Maybe he hadn’t asked because he knew the answer. Maybe he didn’t care. Danny wasn’t getting by. The ticket had cost a month’s wages. He didn’t know where the January rent was coming from. ‘What do you mean, what’re my intentions?’ he said.
‘You know,’ said his dad. He had that look on his face. That look Danny knew so well. The anger was rising. ‘You’ve got a room full of stuff up the road. What’s yer intentions?’
‘What?’ said Danny. ‘Do you want me to get rid of it?’
‘That’s up to you,’ said his dad.
‘Is it taking up too much space?’ said Danny.
His father just looked at him.
‘Are you thinking of getting a lodger?’ said Danny.
‘Don’t get smart,’ said his dad. ‘When are you going to sort it out?’
Danny wouldn’t be sorting anything out. He wouldn’t be going to Scotland, that was for sure. South Norwood was as far north as he would get on this trip. ‘Dad,’ he said. ‘Believe me, I don’t need this shit.’
His father glared at him, his eyes red. ‘I’ll tell you what, then,’ he said, and stood up. ‘I think I’d better leave, eh?’ He was crying as he made for the door. He hadn’t touched his beer. A man was leaning against the bar staring at Danny through thick spectacles, pointing at him, muttering. Aye, thought Danny. I’m a bastard, thanks for noticing.
He could have tried to find him. That was an idea. He finished both pints and ended up in a pub across from the station. The Cherry Trees. The place was dead, but in the semi-darkness they were trying to make it party time. An Indian was barking Knees Up Mother Brown into a microphone while someone slapped a piano. Mahatma Ghandi meets Chas ‘n’ Dave. It should have been funny. Danny stood at the bar and examined his reflection in the gantry. Eventually, he ordered a beer.
Someone touched him on the arm. ‘Cheer up, Jock! It’s nearly Hogmanay! This is on me.’ His name was Gilbert. His mate was Des. They had commandeered a table in the corner, and no one was bothering them. Empty tumblers and fag packets. Gilbert was from Belfast. He was a talker. The crack was good. It was the first time anyone had asked about Greece and waited for an answer. ‘I’ve never been there,’ he said. ‘In fact I’ve never been out of Britain. What’s it like living somewhere they don’t speak English? Do you speak Greek?’ Danny had all the answers. Like Gilbert, he knew how to tell a story. Des just sat in the corner, banging the back of his head off the window sill and getting the beers in when the glasses were almost empty.
‘It’s my round, I think,’ said Danny. He was on his fourth pint and still hadn’t paid for anything.
‘Don’t you worry about that,’ said Gilbert. ‘Don’t you worry about that at all. Des is on the compen.’
‘Eh?’ said Danny.
‘The compen,’ said Gilbert, as Des crossed the floor to the bar. ‘Criminal injuries compensation,’ Gilbert explained. ‘He got on the wrong side of someone, y’know?’
The place began to fill up. Soon a crowd of women were cramming themselves into the next table. They were roaring drunk. Gilbert fancied his chances. ‘Want to give it a go there, Danny?’ he said. ‘They look fit.’
Danny glanced across. ‘Nah, best just to leave it,’ he said. He knew trouble when he saw it. But there was no stopping Gilbert. He moved in beside one of the women and sat down.
Des laid the beers on the table and climbed into his corner. Immediately, he leaned over and put his hand into his back pocket.
‘Take it easy,’ said Danny. ‘I’ll get the next round. We’ll finish these first, though, eh?’ He hoped Gilbert wasn’t making progress with the women. He didn’t want to end up buying drinks for them as well.
‘Look at this,’ said Des. He took a wee piece of paper out of his wallet. It was a cutting from a newspaper, folded once. The letters were smudged, but it was in good condition. And there was a black and white photograph. It was smudged, too. ‘That’s my da,’ he said. ‘He was the drum major in the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band.’ Danny looked at the photo, and at the article above it. Fair enough, there was a picture of a man, but the article was about a flower show in Epsom. What could he say? ‘He’s dead now,’ said Des, to the accompaniment of laughter from the women. Don’t Dilly Dally, croaked the singer.
Gilbert was back. ‘Fuck that,’ he said. ‘They’re all pregnant.’
Danny laughed. He looked at the bar. The bloke who’d been in the other place was leaning on the counter, staring across, jabbing his finger.
‘You have to respect your da,’ said Des, his eyes on the newspaper cutting, the back of his head thudding off the window sill.
The man with the spectacles was still pointing, muttering. Gilbert noticed. ‘What’s his problem?’ he said.
‘Search me,’ said Danny, and squinted at Des.
‘I’m not having that in my gaff,’ said Gilbert, and went over to ask the score.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Des was still looking at the photo, rubbing his thumb over it. ‘You’ve got to respect your da,’ he said.
The man with the glasses hobbled to the far end of the bar. Maybe he was going to the cludge. Gilbert sat down. ‘He reckons you drank his Guinness,’ he said.
‘I think he’s pished,’ said Danny. He watched the man take an overcoat off the stand. He put it on slowly. Then he took a walking stick out of the rack and made for the exit. When he got there, he looked at Danny and mumbled something.
Gilbert was breathing heavily. ‘Back in a minute,’ he said, and followed the man outside.
‘I’m on the compen,’ said Des, his face right next to Danny’s.
‘That right?’ said Danny. The women at the next table whooped. The singer was at it again. I Love Lahn-dun taahhnn! He sounded like Sid James.
Gilbert came back in. Even in the half light, you could see his face was red.
‘What happened?’ said Danny.
‘Just gave him a slap, that’s all,’ said Gilbert. His knuckles were skinned. He pressed them into his knees.
Danny got a round in. He’d had enough. He swallowed his beer and wished them a happy new year when it came to them. He ignored the women.
Get Off Me Barra!
The door banged shut behind him. The street was empty. There were no cripples lying on the pavement. He set off for the other pub. He knew the road from there. Maybe he would bump into his father along the way. He doubted it, though. His father would be back at his sister’s, waiting.
About Andrew McCallum Crawford:
Andrew McCallum Crawford grew up in Grangemouth, an industrial town in East Central Scotland. He studied Science and Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. His work has been published in many reviews, including Lines Review, New Linear Perspectives and Midwest Literary Magazine. His first novel, Drive!, was published in 2010. His collection of short fiction, The Next Stop Is Croy and other stories, was released in October, 2011. He lives in Greece.