… continued from “Dead Man’s Dressing-gown.” Unedited extract from the novel “Up the Wooden Dancers” a work in progress.
In a pub called Lavery’s, two shots remaining on the black relaxing nicely in the jaws, he knew he was on for another tenner. He’d been here since eleven and it was now three in the afternoon and none of these mugs could get him off the table. “Winner stays on,” they’d told him as he put down his marker. “No problem,” he’d said, and when it was finally his turn they’d said they played for a ten-spot. “No problem either,” he’d replied, secretly knowing this would be his day – he’d throw the first game, play like a student, put down his marker again then after a couple more games take the bastards for every penny. They’d get steadily pissed while he’d nurse his Guinness, staying focused. “He can play,” they’d said, and as he secretly predicted, the more they lost the more determined they were to win and would lose.
Ryan Brady had taken the monkey Rachael had left him, bought some new gear, thrown his old trackie bottoms and Everton top in a bin which was sacrilege but deemed necessary, bussed it to Liverpool and taken a Stena to Belfast. “I’ve always wondered if he went back to Ireland,” he’d told Rachael when she asked where his dad might be, as they were spooning in her bed. It wasn’t much to go on, but the reason he wondered this was because when his mum died he got a message from his cousin Rob in Omagh saying dad won’t be at the funeral but sends his regards. “Thanks a fucking bunch,” Ryan had thought, “thanks for fucking caring father.”
So he’d headed to Omagh and found Rob living simply with his wife, three kids and a dog that wouldn’t leave his leg alone. He hadn’t stayed long, just one night, deciding it was time to move on as Rob said his dad had legged it back to England owing money. “Manchester,” he’d said. “Fuck,” Ryan had replied, “All the way here and the bastard’s on my doorstep.” He hadn’t told his cousin he’d been sleeping rough, it didn’t feel necessary – him and Rob had never seen eye to eye so it wasn’t to be expected for him to care; piece of shite even seemed reluctant to let him crash for the night. Next morning he’d got up early, crept in the kitchen for some toast, helped himself to his cousin’s weed from the box on the mantlepiece and headed back to Belfast. With the 500 Rachael gave him now spent, Ryan needed another float to get him back to England. He’d called at Lavery’s for a pint the day before and noticed there was pool, so decided that’s where profit might be easy. So come four o’clock in the afternoon he was heading into Bradbury Place with two hundred notes in his arse pocket, the smack in the mouth for being so good on the table par for the course.
On the boat back to Liverpool and sometimes choppy seas, Ryan pondered at the stern with a crafty spliff. It’d been a weird couple of days – spooning a fit brunette in her posh gaff in Formby, an unspent hard-on in a suburban semi, being given £500 and realising it doesn’t go far (pair of jeans £100, trainers 70, T-shirt 30, the rest on fares to Ireland) robbing his cousin of his weed and recouping some of his expenses from the eejits in Lavery’s after hearing his dad was somewhere in Manchester. A not entirely wasted journey, nevertheless a journey the reason for which was nagging him. Why did he want so badly to see his dad again? Bastard walked out just as his football career was taking off, so why should he care? But as the spliff got chucked over the side and into the depths he decided the reason was because he wanted to know why. Why did his dad just up and leave? What had he, Ryan, done? Why couldn’t he keep the love of his dad like all his mates had? Or why did it wane like the murky waters below him? It used to be so good, kick-abouts in the park, being coached on how to bend the ball, finding the net with a crisp finish, going into a tackle and not getting hurt, letting a defender know he was there with a kick on the calf… And then, suddenly, without a word of explanation… He’d looked for answers from his mother but they weren’t forthcoming and the more she drank the less likely he’d get what he needed. So now he’d have to find out for himself, and that’s why he was heading for Manchester to look for the bastard. “You thieving twat!” said the message on his mobile, from Rob. “Fuck you,” Ryan replied. “Like father like son,” Rob volleyed back. Ryan’s answer was to block the number. A cousin erased.
But when the train pulled into Piccadilly and he headed into the bright-lit glassy concourse, fighting through the hordes, he regretted doing that. “There are things you don’t know about your dad,” Rob had said the night before, amid heated words after Ryan had kicked the dog for shagging his leg.
“Like what?” But then one of Rob’s kids started crying upstairs and when he returned he wouldn’t embellish. “You’ll find out for yourself… if ever you find him.”
The words bore into Ryan. Things you don’t know about your dad. Seven words that said so much but told him nothing. And his whereabouts in Manchester or otherwise equally void of precision.
Amid this mental torture Ryan emerged from the station onto Piccadilly, and was accosted immediately by some rancid kid wanting change. His first reaction was to tell him to fuck off, he was homeless too, but something snapped in his mind and instead he fingered his pocket for a pound. What struck him was that to the kid he looked like any of the commuters there, casual but smart, neat and cool, living life with some kind of purpose beyond survival. He knew he couldn’t afford to give that quid away, but felt the affinity of fellow street-dwellers mixed with the feeling of comparative wealth. And he also knew this was his epiphany, right there. With Manchester came a new start and a search in earnest. In a strange way he owed it to Rachael, who he never knew and would probably never see again, but who set him afloat with the strangest and most unexpected act of kindness. For that angel in a way, but definitely for him, no matter how long it took and how hard he’d have to work, he would find his dad. And he was determined to keep off the streets to do it. For that though he’d have to call in a favour from someone he knew. But first he’d find somewhere with a pool table…
To be continued…