THE CORNER OF VICTORIA & ALBERT – A short story by MJ Corrigan
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.
Dirty, thick rain clouds had darkened the sky and the television lit the room with its empty glow. I glanced at the clock on my laptop: 4pm. Glasgow, with this unseasonably pish weather you are truly spoiling us. Grimacing, I switched on my table lamp. The imaginary electricity meter ticked round in my mind at a frightening pace. I reached for my phone and texted Paul.
Sorry, mate. Skint. No pint for me tonight.
I had been looking forward to that pint, too, even though Paul would have inevitably taken me to the Queen’s Park Café, a rampant Celtic shop. I liked the pub despite its clientele of plastic Pearses and cardboard Connollys, always fighting one perceived injustice or another. All wood panels and pints of 70 shilling, the Queen’s was your classic old man’s bar; the fact that it considered itself upmarket enough to call itself a café told you everything about Vicky Road’s idea of sophistication.
Viewed from Queen’s Park’s lofty summit, Victoria Road was a magnificent Imperial set piece, a marvel of city planning, but its apparent grandeur didn’t withstand closer inspection. Once a domain of the wealthy, the street’s decline mirrored that of the Empire that built it. In spite of its proximity to Shawlands, it had resisted almost all attempts at infiltration by immigrant West Enders. Amongst the motley collection of charity shops, bookies, pawn shops, cash converters, off licences and pubs lay its sole concession to gentrification, an over-priced deli that was as out of place here as its owner’s rounded R’s.
Outside, the street lamps were still off, although the gloom showed no signs of lifting. The only light on the street came from passing cars and the neon sign above the Bank of Scotland that read: CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS. Below it, grey men shuffled slowly, heads bowed. They’d be as well turning to religion, I thought: divine intervention was the only way anything would change on this road. The names might have been different but the shops were the same as they had been for years: Presto had become Aldi, William Hill had become Paddy Power, Abbey National had become Santander. The deli was new, mind. And the Cheque Centre.
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
What was that damn song? It had been in my head for days.
I tried to focus on my laptop screen. The cursor blinked back vacantly. Without the reward of a pint afterwards, my motivation had vanished. I looked down ruefully at the Queen’s. Its tables, left outside in the futile hope of an Indian summer, stood forlornly in the rain. Springing up, I fetched my wallet from the hall table and counted the change inside twice. Two pound twenty. Not enough for a pint these days, even on Vicky Road. I shouldn’t have had one yesterday, I thought.
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone.
Although I was brassic, I had ducked into the Queen’s on the way home last night, just popped in to see what condition their sedition was in. The long faces and funereal atmosphere meant I didn’t need to wait for confirmation from the TV. Even the Saltire bunting seemed to sag from the ceiling. Credit where it’s due, I thought: if this referendum had done anything it was to put Scotland flags in Celtic boozers for the first time in living memory.
Returning a few despondent nods of acknowledgement, I had ordered a half pint of Guinness and sat at the bar for a while, quietly glorying in their defeat like an away fan with a ticket for the home section. Some of them were even greetin’. Serve you all right for calling me a unionist, I had thought. I’d never been a unionist in my life.
I looked at the clock. 4.30. The cursor blinked impatiently. I typed:
A CAN-DO ATTITUDE IS ALL YOU NEED.
Pish. Highlight, delete.
A smooth English voice broke my concentration. On the television, a Cameron spoke of his delight that Scotland’s people had done the sensible thing. I winced. Self-righteous prick. We did it in spite of you, not because of you.
The Etonian strains were drowned out by altogether more guttural singing from outside.
“You can stick your independence up your arse!”
I looked out. A group of Rangers supporters, on their way to Ibrox for the Friday night game, were marching along the middle of the road, caring as little for the downpour as they were for the oncoming traffic. Bedecked in Union flags and Red Hands of Ulster, they were already in party mood. One boy, face painted red, white and blue, jumped on a car bonnet as it stopped at the lights.
“No fuckin’ surrender!” he shouted triumphantly at the terrified motorist.
That’s what a unionist looked like, Paul, I thought.
The Rangers supporters marched onward, their chants growing fainter as they left Govanhill for Govan.
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
Sitting down at my desk, I tried to identify the song in my head but was disturbed by the bleep of a text message. It was Paul.
Come on, mate. I’ll buy you one. You’ll be wanting to celebrate the night anyway, will you not?
I glanced again at the Queen’s. A young boy in a kilt staggered drunkenly along the pavement beside it. Another casualty of last night, I thought.
And you may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?
Stuttering to a halt, the boy slumped down outside the Cheque Centre and sat motionless as tears washed the blue Saltire from his face. A man in the queue, Union flag wrapped around his shoulders, tried in vain to help the boy to his feet but, finding him uncooperative, returned to the queue with a shrug.
And you may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
I had the slogan now. The cursor blinked expectantly. I placed my fingers on the keyboard and wrote:
YES, WE CAN. SUPPORT THE GOVANHILL FOOD BANK’S CANNED FOOD DRIVE.
On the TV, the Cameron’s face contorted into a smirk. I scrambled across the room for the remote. Unable to find it, I pulled the plug out at the wall. Silence.
I hit save on my laptop as a huge gust of wind caused my window panes to clatter like a freight train, shattering the quiet. I stared disbelievingly at the weather for a moment before pulling on last year’s winter jacket and hurrying down the close stairs.
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house.
Talking Heads. That was it. Talking Heads. Once In A Lifetime.
I opened the close door and stepped out into the rain, the refrain playing on repeat in my head.
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
On the corner of Victoria and Albert, grey men shuffled slowly, heads bowed.