Every other Friday Weevil drops in to see his mother. Not that she always lets him in.
There have been misunderstandings.
But the old man is on his death-bed and Weevil thinks he should go visiting. If it’s a day his mother’s not keen to let him in, then fine. Off he will creep, through the scabby wind-bitten estate. He might lift the odd bottle of milk from a doorstep...or a delivery package, if there’s one just sitting there.
If his mother’s in a door-opening mood, before he’s put a toe inside, she’s spouting the Visiting Code of Conduct. No mind-altering substances, No alcohol, No bad language. As if he, of all people, doesn’t know. Wyn ‘Weevil’ Davies has, at various times, been an inmate of the Pupil Referral Unit, NuStart Juvenile Centre, the Penylan Young Offenders Institute - twice.
‘Your father’s on the oxygen now,’ says his mother, ‘so, don’t you go winding him up.’
She has more rules. A list of Do’s, a list of Don’ts written on yellow Post-Its, in her titchy handwriting. A single Post-It for the Do’s, and three Post-Its for the Don’ts. An example of a Do is Weevil doing the shop at the new Lidl. The Don’ts are shouty capitals, triple underlined. Don’t ask for money. Don’t take the car-keys. Don’t smoke.
There is one half Do/half Don’t. Weevil is permitted to go up to the old man’s room. But that’s it. Stepping inside is a Don’t.
‘It’s my old bedroom he’s in.’
‘You’ll tire him,’ says his mother, drawing a line in the fur of the rug with her big toe by the bedroom door. ‘Say hullo. Tell him your news – that is, if you’ve got any.’
‘You alright. I mean…’
He feels a wazzock standing on the landing, talking to the door.
‘Still at Boogaloo. Doing great. Boss man’s put me in charge next week.’
The door is listening. Then he hears a hurr...
‘There’s this girl I’m seeing,’ he tells the door, ‘Kasia for short, Katarzyna for long. Back where she’s from – Poland – she’s like a dancer, model, singer. For the time being, she’s working at the new Lidl. The other night she was on about the number of Lidls in Poland. You’ll never guess…’
If he puts his nose right close to the crack of the door, he can see…nothing.
If he could actually see the old man, then he wouldn’t sound such an arsing cockwomble.
Sometimes his mother asks him to run the Dust Buster around downstairs. Weevil’s party trick is to leave it running while he pilfers her handbag, or the contents of the sideboard, second drawer down. All the old hiding places. He ducks inside the downstairs loo and does a reccie on the medicine cabinet. He scored three times last month. His mother isn’t always remembering to double-lock it these days. Getting slack.
Each visit his mother makes sure he knows she’s keeping a tally of all the prescription drugs coming into the house. But the old man – himself a champion smoker, drinker, and pill-popper in his time – is getting to be more of a bugger to look after, and his mum is looking frayed. Since the old man’s heart attack, the diabetes, and the stroke, the medicine cabinet is a pick’n’mix paradise, if you’re into that sort of thing. Which Weevil most definitely is. Zopiclone, tramadol, diazepam, sertraline, dexedrine, simastrin. He pockets the easy-sells to flog to the underage kids he turns away in the queue at Boogaloo.
Him and the old man, back in the day, could never stand to be in the same room, but now the old man can’t speak, Weevil reckons there’s a chance they might get on better. Besides, deep down, Weevil knows they’re not so dissimilar. They both know life has more flavour with a sprinkle of a little something-something on top.
Half-five, Saturday morning. He’s weaving his way back to Kasia’s after PsychNite Friday, when he picks up his voicemails. His mother’s voice is scratchy, high-pitched. He can’t make out what she’s going on about.
‘They’ve let me down.’
His aunty Maree and the neighbours next door but one.
She has an appointment at the Infirmary, she says. She wouldn’t ask, but well she is. If he could just watch the old man. Four hours, tops. He swerves direction, calls her. Says he’s on his way.
At the front door she hands him a new Post-It. A pink one.
She waits there on the doorstep. Tells him to read it out loud so she knows he’s got it.
‘11am, Cefalaxin x 2.
11.15, Gardener’s World.
12 pm, Tramadol x 1.
12.30, Meal replacement/lunch (Banoffee flavour, fridge, top shelf)
2pm, Metformin x 2
3pm, Diazepam x 2
Then she adds, ‘Don’t open the windows and don’t mess with the oxygen machine – it’s set-up. Don’t talk, it tires him. You can read to him if you want – anything to do with gardens. Most of the books are under the bed. Any questions?’
‘Well what if he, you know. How will I know, like, what...’
His mother’s already beeping the car keys and so quick to leave she drives off with the belt off her coat snagged in the door like a concertina’d maggot.
Inside the house Weevil can take his time. He pulls out the sideboard drawers. Two curled up chequebooks. £110 in notes, 17 coins. Not exactly what he was hoping for, but it’ll do. The silence is spooking him. He feels like a burglar. Technically he is, but it’s his old house. He forces himself up the stairs. Now he can go into the bedroom, he’s got stage fright.
‘Pops?’ He peers around the door.
‘Just you and me today, pops. Popsicles.’
He makes like he’s about to high-five him, but the little bed is empty. He tugs the blind, the better to see. There’s his father, buried beneath a ruck of sheets and quilt.
‘Shit, fuck, bugger,’ Weevil whistles as he walks around the child-sized bed. His father looks so completely and utterly trashed. His dad’s beaky nose is jutting up like a cross between a pterodactyl, a clothes-drier and Keith Richards. His father looks completely and 100% astonishingly trashed. He’s impressed.
The old man’s eyelids are squeezed shut, like he’s concentrating.
‘Mam had to go out, so here I am.’
‘She says I’m not to rabbit on to you.’
Another hurr. A second one, an echo.
Weevil reckons the second hurr is the oxygen monitor. The machine blinks blue to red to blue again. Beeps. Resets itself. Clears its throat.
It feels like there’s three of them in the room, and the oxygen machine is Mr Personality in comparison with him and his dad.
The bedroom is quiet and noisy at the same time.
‘In the mood for a tune, dad?’ he pulls out his phone.
‘Bit of this?’ He plays a blast of Blood Blister. Looks at the old man.
‘Or bit of this. Abysmal Dawn. New one.’
Sometimes the oxygen answers first, sometimes it’s his dad.
‘I’m in total agreement with you as it happens. Past their sell-by.’
Weevil has run out of things to say. It was easier when he was talking at the door. He gets up. Surveys his old bedroom room.
Mustard striped wallpaper. That’s new. Leaning wardrobe. Looks like his old one. He’s pretty sure it’s his bed. There’s a plastic bowl on the bedside table. A baby’s towelling bib. Bottles of disinfectant and prune juice. What else. Here we go, a tub of pills. A canny young pharmacologist, Weevil studies the labels, does the maths. The old man’s pill regimen is punishing. Twenty-six a day. Respect.
He remembers the pink Post It and pops the first blister pack.
‘Open up, pop. Two for you,’ his father flicks out a lizard tongue, spotty with spit, ‘and three for me.’
He can’t get his head around the fact the old man is busy dying in his/Weevil’s old bed. What Weevil used to get up to in it you really wouldn’t want to be hanging about in it too long. He’s guessing the old man isn’t going to be.
‘No carking the next couple of hours, alright?’
The oxygen goes hurr and crackles. Followed by his dad. Call and response. Sometimes it’s his dad who crackles first.
‘So,’ says Weevil, ‘work’s peachy. I do the doors Tuesday-Friday at Shake Yo Ass, then Thursday, Saturday at Boogaloo. Overtime is better at Boog. Bigger crowd.’
He pings his phone.
‘And here’s a photo of the lucky lady of the moment. If you act nice, I might give you a thrill and show you a whole bunch more.’
On second thoughts, no, he wouldn’t.
He pulls up the last photo he has of Kasia, from two Fridays ago when he was driving her to the airport. She was on her way home for a funeral. Under a zebra fun fur she had on the sparkly halter-neck she wore to the all-nighters at Boogaloo. Different dress code over there, for a funeral then, he’d said. She was applying gloopy gel along a cheekbone. So how does it go at a Polish funeral, like how does it compare to one here? She’d moved on to lining her eyes with pink glitter in the passenger mirror.
‘Same! Drinking. Sad drinking, happy drinking, remember drinking.’
Then she said she needed to borrow two hundred quid for duty-free, to take something to the funeral, stuck the end of her tongue down his ear, and jumped out the car.
‘What time’s your flight back? I could meet…’
She had waved as she disappeared into the South Terminal. It dawned on him on the drive home that when she’d waved it hadn’t exactly been in his direction.
He shuts the phone. His dad’s right eye swivels and fixes on Weevil’s neck...or just beyond. Weevil turns to see what he’s looking at.
That shit hole. Weevil hadn’t seen it for years. The garden was why his mum and dad had moved here, to the backside of the city. For a bit of green, a bit of country. He unlatches the window as far as it goes. The only thing that had ever grown here was weeds and mud. He looks closer. Ten year’s-worth of mud, just adding to itself. One bush, not a leaf on it. Whatever the season, whatever the weather, nothing had prospered. Weeds and mud. He remembers the weeds, triffidy creepers – they had a bit of colour at least – blue flowers, but his dad would straightaway rip them up. The whole garden was splodge. The estate had been built on the site of the old chemical works. So dodgy splodge then.
That reminds him. Gardener’s World. The TV looks like the crap one they’d had when he was little. He finds the channel. A toothy old boy in a field. Both the old boy and the field are plastered with mud. TV mud looks way more glamorous than the gloop out the window. There’s a close-up. A hand flings a fist of seeds into the mud. Then a crunchy time-lapse segment. The next thing the TV mud’s gone psychedelic. Blooms the size of bin lids, neon pink, neon everything, the whole lot vibing with Caribbean sunshine. He looks out at his father’s doomed trenches, then back at the bougainvillea and banana trees. What a con.
He feels a stab of sympathy for his old man.
The credits roll, and down go the old man’s eyes.
Weevil pauses, then turns out the bedside cupboard. He numbers his finds:
One: a ball of wormy withered rubber bands,
Two: a penis-shaped urine bottle,
Three: half a packet of custard creams, gone powdery.
Four: a cigarette, with a kink in it. He waves it under the old man’s nose, so he can enjoy the smell.
Five: a brown envelope stuffed with twenties. £240.
Six: two bottles of sertraline, 100mg and 200mg. Nice. He shakes a pyramid but is careful to keep some back in case his mum checks. He casts about for something to wrap the pills in. Where had his mother said his dad’s books were again?
Under the bed. Stacks of them. He picks out anything and rips a page out to wrap the pills. The gardening books all have toothy blokes on the covers. And toothy women. Names like Practical Digging, Weed and Pest Control. The gardening magazines are up-market, with shrilling front covers: ‘From Zero to Japanese Zen Style!’ ‘A Bijou Butterfly Farm in Birmingham!’ ‘Garden Shed to Scandi Sauna!’ These would have you giving up on the spot and reaching for a nip of the parakeet. There was something else going on with the covers. They had small packets glued on. Multi-coloured packets of flower seeds. Wildflower Heaven, French Country Garden. Weevil reads out the contents on the back: sweet peas, cosmos, pansies, california poppy.
He waves a seed packet in front of his dad’s mask.
Hurr. Go on then.
Weevil rips open one packet, two. Then all of them. Shows the old man the seeds. He has a handful of what looks like black dandruff, pepper corns, and mouse-droppings. Then he goes to the window and flings the lot out into the mud. Turns back to look at the bed.
Hurr…hurrr goes the old man. Wasn’t expecting that.
Weevil lights up the sagging cigarette he found in the bedside and smokes it out the window.
12.00. Time for the next round. It’s a punishing timetable. No wonder his dad’s knackered. He’s feeling knacked as well.
He slips down the oxygen mask, places the tramadol on his dad’s lip. Same procedure. Lizard tongue and flick.
His dad drops off. Weevil sits down by the bed and stretches out on the rug. First sleep in his old room for what…fifteen years. He fancies he can still make out the smell of himself as a young kid, somewhere hidden beneath the other layers of old man and disinfectant. He leans over the monitor and turns the bleeper down. The room settles down around the two of them. Nap time.
His mother’s car. Weevil leaps up. The old man isn’t hurring, isn’t doing anything. Weevil is just pinching his cheeks, and pinging the mask back up as his mother walks in.
‘Back now.’ She says to the bed.
‘Hurr.’ Thank Christ for that.
And to Weevil
‘How was he? Manage his lunch?’
His mother’s face is grey creases, puckered.
‘You alright?’ he asks.
‘They keep you waiting. Three hours. Then they said sorry but it looks like your test results have gone walkabout. Had to have everything done all over again.’
‘Wicked. Well, I’m taking off then. Got a garage punk thing at Shake. There’s this girl Kasia, she’s like this dancer from Poland, but she’s working down Lidl for the time being. Random question – how many Lidls in Poland do you reckon?’
Then he puts a sock in it because his mother is swaying in front of him, within spitting distance, with both her eyes shut. Asleep on her feet.
‘I could maybe ask her around one time. Anyways. See you next week.’
At the bottom of the stairs, he turns and shouts up.
‘800. 800 Lidls in Poland.’
On the way out, he opens the fridge, necks his dad’s meal replacement lunch he forgot about. Shoves the notes back into the sideboard drawer. Closes the door quietly behind him.
That night at Boogaloo is a bust. Nothing works. The more he takes, the less he feels. The speed slows him down, the uppers are downers. He hangs around the bar knocking back tequila triple shots. They’re useless too.
‘Kasia and Kylie back from Ibiza then?’ asks Felix the barman.
Weevil eyes him.
‘Kasia’s gone home. Poznan. Grandad’s funeral.’
‘I’m getting her mixed up with Lula. Couple more shots?’
The band is a bunch of prancing wazzocks, going tinky-tonk. There’s no singer. Felix says the singer punched the drummer halfway through the first song and made off out the fire exit. Smallest crowd in the history of Boogaloo.
Weevil cops off early. Takes the short cut home through the wasteland. Stops for a pee. He looks up at the night, at the stars pasted on a supernatural sky. Their glitter makes him think of Kasia’s dress. He calls her. The number cuts out. Tries again, and again. Part of him – to be fair, all of him – knows that Kasia’s a conniving, two faced….
He drops to the ground. Stretches out and stares up. A cloud drops a luminous round pill, foil-wrapped. The moon.
That reminds him. His dad’s pills. He pulls out the wrap, flattens out the scrap of paper. ‘The Moon,’ it says. He begins to read. It’s a lunar calendar. It has times for moon-rise and moon-set, and all the phases of the moon. There’s a bit about the effect of the moon on the tides, and a neap tide, whatever that is. There are what to do lists – the best time to do this, to do that. The time for calving, when to do muck spreading. He turns the page over. ‘The optimal time for treating parasites,’ he reads, ‘is the dark moon under Taurus on the 7th of the month.’
All this information, these secrets of the universe on a rat-arsed bit of torn paper.
The rest is lying under his dad’s bed.
Next time he’s over, his mother straight off lets him in. No gate-keeping malarkey, no Post-Its. Says his visit the other day had bucked up the old man. Weevil can go on up.
His dad opens his eyes, hurr hurr. Adds a squeak. That’s new.
Weevil gives him the thumbs up.
‘Want me to read a bit?’
He scrapples about under the bed and fishes out the book with the ripped pages. The cover says ‘A Country Dweller’s Almanac’. He finds a page.
‘Forecast for December. The sparrow-hawk moon. Then January, that’s the Mating Fox moon, new at 4.43am. Feb.
He’s up to date now. The month of March; the worm moon.
He scans through. As many Do’s and Don’ts as his mother’s Post-its. Don’t sow under the new moon, don’t sow under the waning moon. Full moon, that’s the time. If you’d followed this malarkey, he tells his father, you’d have had a jungle, a welsh rainforest out there, the Garden of Eden. There are more instructions. What veg to plant. There are pictures of flowers. He scans the page. Something catches his eye, something that looks familiar. ‘Ipomea purpurea, Morning Glory. Common creeper. Easy to grow, hard to contain. After flowering pods turn brown. Crack pods open and use seeds in the Spring. Seeds traditionally used in a drink by the Ancient Mayans, to speak to spirits, forecast the future. Warning: can cause nausea, and induce powerful hallucinogenic visions.’
Sometimes, heading home after Boogaloo’s or his new job at Freak, high and freezing his balls off, Weevil will stop. He will stop in the middle of nowhere, in the brambles, the squashed bin bags…stare up at the stars crawling about, interpret them. If there’s a smell like warm metal, he knows what that means now. A storm is on the way. He feels the power of a prophet jumping in his veins and has the notion to talk in tongues at passers-by, at the stray dogs. These days the walk home is better than getting blasted at Boogaloo’s. Some nights he walks home the long way. He will talk to the moon, to the vibrating sheep and woolly thistles on the wrong side of Caerphilly Mountain. He knows almanac lore now, almanac wisdom. He can identify trees on the blackest night. An ash tree rustles like a judder of reverb. A beech sounds like warped static.
One night on his way home he stops and pulls his jeans down. He lowers his bare bum onto the leaves and mud. Sits a while. The Almanac says it’s an old country way to tell if the ground’s warm enough to start to sow. Hard to tell. Maybe.
He’s at Boogaloo when he sees seven missed calls from his mother. When he gets there, she says she’d been talking on the phone to Maree and the old man’s oxygen bleeper hadn’t gone off, and then she’d found him.
She says would he call the ambulance.
As they wait, he goes upstairs to say goodbye to his dad.
After the funeral, his aunty Maree and the neighbours drift back to the house for a drink. He remembers what Kasia said about Polish funerals – the sad drinking, the happy drinking, the remember drinking. A splodge of sunshine wobbles out and the illuminates the little house.
‘The garden!’ people are pointing out of the window.
‘Your father loved that garden’.
‘He was forever out there doing the weeding. Too bad he’s not here to see it.’
Weevil stands up. He opens the front door. It’s true. The mud has sprouted colours. There’s pink. Acid yellow. Tangerine.
Weeds, too. Crawling down the path, creepers with blue petals, like flying saucers. When the neighbours have buggered off home, he goes out for a reccie. The blue flowers are beginning to close up. The sun’s going down. But he knows the name now. His mum comes out to tell him something. She’s planning on moving in with Maree, and putting the house up for sale, but until then he’s welcome to come back and stay.
He will come back. He might sow a bit of a garden. He will pull up the blue weed and keep the flower heads. He will dry out the seed pods and keep the seeds.
Floral tribute. Morning glory.