New Writing – Grand National // Andy Naylor
Two things change in here when it’s Grand National day.
First of all they put little nibbles out. Like you get at an art gallery opening or a well organised house party. Nothing fancy like, some of those mini sausages, a few peanuts and some cheese strings. Still more than is ever normally on offer. If it wasn’t Grand National day and I saw something edible in here I’d give it a wide fucking berth as I’d know for certain that that cunt Kenny had poisoned it. I can see him now fawning over some young women who are idling around waiting for their Barbour jacket wearing boyfriends to place a bet. That’s the second thing that happens on Grand National day. Normal people come in. Families, young couples, people who aren’t chronically addicted to gambling. You know the types.
Kenny’s already attempted to ethnically cleanse his little empire by booting out Rasta Lloyd and Irish for kicking over the nibbles table. I can hear Lloyd outside now tanning back a Red Stripe and passing comments on the derrieres of the ladies tottering in.
“You’re a cliché Lloyd”
I tell him as I step outside and pull my hood tight around my face as it’s really started to piss down. I was like all these people once. I didn’t grow up with betting like Lloyd or Irish. Those poor cunts might as well have been given a slip and a blue pen as soon as they’d been handed to the nurse and had their umbilical’s done. They’d grown up knowing they were either going to get a biscuit or a hiding depending on how the racing had gone. My old man never went near a bookies, couldn’t abide it. I can still see his face now the first time he caught me with my hand in my Mother’s purse. I’d never seen anyone look at anything with more hatred. Can you blame the bloke?
I take a long, slow drag on my rollie and watch Lloyd cycle off up the high street and straight into Paddy Power.
“ I gave you everything.”
My old boy said to me the last time I saw him alive. He did as well. You know when you watch one of those documentaries about a wrong un and it usually comes down to something that happened to them years ago? Abandoned at birth, beaten black and blue, fiddled by a priest. I couldn’t hide under any of that. I just always loved doing what I wasn’t supposed to.
I open the door to go back in and hold it open for a couple to step out. They look all flushed with happiness and an unusually early start on the booze. It must be brilliant to gamble every now and again so that it doesn’t really matter. I wish them well, I wish them all well. I settle back into my usual chair and I start scanning the Saturday list when something that I see out of the corner of my eye makes my heart stop. There’s a family stood across the room, a man placing the bets, a woman holding a tiny baby and at her feet a beautiful little girl toddling around and wavering all over the place without losing her balance completely. She’s got a mass of golden curls and she’s laughing and suddenly it’s twenty years ago. I’m outside a church and I’m bouncing my little girl, my Naomi up and down, up and down. She’s giggling and for the first time in my life I’m not bothered about pleasing myself.
Trouble is that lasted about as long as it’s taken this little one to wander away from her distracted Mum and reach out for something that’s on the floor. It’s one of the little blue pens and she’s brought it up towards her mouth and then swallowed it back and finally succumbed to gravity. She’s sat up but her face is going red and she’s choking. The Mum realises what’s happening about the same time as I start hurtling across the floor. She’s screaming and she’s tugging on the Dads jacket and even amongst the blaring tellies and the rustling papers, everyone has turned to look. I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’ve grabbed the little girl and I’m squeezing her and squeezing her. The Dad’s about two inches away from me and I can see the look of horror on his face. He just wanted to put a couple of quid on each way and get back in the Land Rover and now some tramp is trying to attack his kid. I squeeze once more and something gives and the pen flies out covered in watery sick. I collapse backwards and I’m crying. Crying out of relief for the kid, pity for me and the way my life’s gone and frustration that Silhouette Betty has romped home in the 12.15 and I haven’t covered it.
The Dad’s pulling me to my feet and enthusiastically pumping my hand and then he’s put a bundle of notes in my pocket. The Mum’s waded in and pulled me in for a hug, something I can tell she immediately regrets as I smell of piss and nightmares. The bookies has burst into a half hearted round of applause but it’s gone back to normal now. The family leave and I close my hand around the notes in my pocket and realise there’s about a hundred quid there. I could get myself a cheap suit with this, maybe some flowers, go look for my Naomi. Choose the right way for once.
I get to my feet and I’m smiling, full of hope for the first time in ages. Then I cross over to the counter and put the lot on Magic Monty in the one o clock, helping myself to a cheese string as I do it. Death or glory.