And then Jocky says d’you think she’d have been worth it then? And I take a deep drag on the cigarette and think about that for a bit and I say yeah, I think she’s worth it. I’m using the present tense and he’s not. Jocky’s acting like there’s no way I’d ever do anything about chasing after the girl. But he’s wrong, not for the first time; I’m already planning on chasing after her.
We sit in the van for a bit, waiting for the rain to stop. I wind down the window because it’s all getting a bit much what with the cigarettes and the heat. I hate rain when it’s hot, just feels like a waste to me. I prefer rain when it’s cold. Cold and rainy. Hot and dry, that’s how it should be.
I first saw her a couple of weeks ago, and she was cradled the arm of some big man, pool table hero, all brow and forearms. Just something about her got to me, can’t say exactly what, very pale skin, looked delicate, precisely put together, though she was in his arm she held her own pose. Didn’t look like she belonged at the Fox, not with the brickies and roofers, the lads and the post work shouting and laughs. She looked different, was even chewing on a strand of hair but not nervously, thoughtfully, like she was sizing everyone up. I knew the lad a bit, seemed sound enough, but she didn’t look right with him though you can never tell. I asked Maccy and he just said she was probably a fucking student, not that I’ve got anything against students he said quickly as I raised my eyebrows at him and tipped my head slightly. You’ve always worked hard son, he said, you’re all right.
You see, I look like I fit in at the Fox, I’ve got a plaid shirt covered in all sorts of shit, I’ve got my hair cropped right down to the scalp because it’s easier that way. I look like I can lift a stack of tiles. And so it’s easy for them to forget and go on about fucking students.
So the rain stops and Jocky says we’d best get back to it and I say aye and I’m up the ladder and on the roof and fucking hell the city is beautiful in the sunshine after the rain. I mean proper light like you get in paintings, there’s purples and greys and greens and they’re all shining. So I stand for a minute and I take it all in, just breathing in and out and looking at it and I hear Jocky shouting why don’t you get some work done you lazy cunt, get some done yourself Fat Lad I shout back and put the felt on my shoulder and walk up the roof.
I even know exactly how I’m going to get the girl, I’m going to wait until the big man goes to the toilet or whatever and then I’m going to walk past her on my way to the pool table and bump her slightly and I’ll say excuse me in my softest voice and she’ll look round and say that’s okay and then she’ll be looking at my eyes. And when she looks at them that’ll be it, I’m going to hold her gaze for a couple of seconds and then smile and go and play a game or two with Andy and Ste, and maybe Jocky if the fat fuck’s come in for a pint and I’m not going to look at her again for the rest of the night. That’s how I’m going to get the girl.
Her fella’l break your fuckin’ arm says Jocky, hauling his fat arse up onto the scaffolding, and dumping a massive load of tiles. I’ve got say fair play to him for that, he gets tiles up a ladder like no one I’ve ever seen. Won’t use a tile-lift ever since the belt snapped on one, hiring company’s fault, shitty gear, and they all went flying off, a full load of tiles, thirty or so. One of them hit a little girl who was waiting to buy an ice cream from a van, the driver did one before any help could show up, just drove off playing his fucking chimes with this little girl lying there in the street. Match of the Day theme, it was. I saw that, but I know better than to mention it around Jocky ever again. Which is weird, when you’ve seen something that somebody else has seen and it’s a pretty big and scary thing and you want to talk about it and you can’t, that’s hard. I’ve always wanted to, but if you so much as mention how handballing all the tiles up the ladder is hard graft his face goes a bit thunderous and you think right, best shut up then.
I’m not arsed I say, her fella can fucking try. She’s worth it. It marks me out as different, the way I say fucking, rather than fuckin’. My accent’s changed a bit since I moved up here, but not that much.
So me and him roll out the last bit of felt, right at the top of the roof. We only need two batons so I hammer them in and turn round for a bit of a sit down to feel the sun on my face, and wait for some more tiles, he’s always quicker at getting them up the ladder than me, but I’m better at getting about on a roof than him, so we each do our bit, it’s the way it’s always worked virtually ever since the day I was working the bar at the Fox and wondering what to do with my life and my brand-new shiny degree and in walked Jocky and said why don’t you come and work for me? And I said yeah alright. And I hammer the batons in and set the ridges right and do the leadwork and call him a fat bastard and he puts the scaffold up and does most of the carrying and calls me a student wanker, that’s the way it’s always worked up with us.
Except Jocky hasn’t come back up the ladder and I get fed up of waiting so I climb down the scaffold (it’s the old sort with loads of footholds and hand grips and it’s more fun than the ladder) and he’s sat in the van with his hand on his chest and breathing hard. I don’t ask him if he’s alright because it would be a stupid question. I just start the engine and get to the A&E as fast as, screaming at people in the way and smacking the horn. Will you shut the fuck up with that fuckin’ horn says Jocky in a gravelly way which doesn’t sound much like him if I’m being honest, you’re getting on me fuckin’ nerves. There’s a bit of scouse in the way he says nerves. Nairves.
And when I get to the hospital this skinny doctor somehow makes sense of all the shouting I’m doing at him. Though by now it’s pretty obvious what’s happening to Jocky; I mean, I’m not a doctor and I know so they rush him off and I sit around for a couple of hours waiting for news. I go for cigarettes every half an hour or so, and I’m nervous. Nairvous. All the doctors and nurses are giving me funny looks because I’m still covered in shit from the roof. And then I see this nurse who looks familiar, she’s got very pale skin and very blond hair and she’s talking to the guy a couple of chairs down from me in a soothing voice which sounds like it might have a bit of Scottish in it. And I realise that it’s the girl, but I don’t really feel like talking to her, not right now.
Matt Fallaize is a writer and chef (and ex-roofer) based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK, where he knocks out meals, stories and poems in wildly varying quantities. His most recent chapbook, “99 Postcards for Georges Perec” is available now from the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. His work has appeared in various places and, you can find him, should you feel so inclined, on Twitter @MattFallaize or at https://coastaltown.blogspot.com/ Image: Roofs in L'Estaque, Paul Cezanne, 1882