THERE’S A JOAB OAN – A SHORT STORY BY CALLUM MCSORLEY
“Get up, there’s a joab oan!”
“Fuck up, let me sleep!”
“Sleep!? Yuv bin sleepin aw fuckin day. An am sposed tae be the deed yin?”
“Aye, that’s right, ye are, so hows aboot ye go back tae the fuckin grave an let me rest in peace, awright?”
“Get up!” Crookit Stan puts his hawn right inside ma guts an it’s so fuckin cauld it feels like bein electrocuted, like am oan fire, an a jump right aff the couch an practically hit the ceilin.
“Ye fuckin tosser! Wit wis that fir?”
“There’s a joab oan. Get fuckin dressed. It’s bin months since wuv hud work.”
“We? Wit’s this ‘we’? Ye dae fuck aw while a risk ma neck.”
“Ye try huvin yer neck snapped in two, then wull talk aboot riskin necks.”
“Fuck up.” A go through the hoose tae the kitchen tae make a coffee, an also tae get away fae that deed, floatin prick. Arsehole.
“An don’t go stompin aboot through there in a huff cause there’s nae fuckin mulk! It’s no like a can pop doon the Lidl fir ye. Yuv done fuck aw fir weeks, jus lyin oan the fuckin couch watchin Richard Whitely, while the hoose faws apart aroon ye.”
“It’s no Richard Whiteley,” a tell him, victorious eftir findin a half-pack ae soft custart creams behind the breed bin.
“It’s no Richard Whiteley. Cunt’s deed. Ye should know, right? Aw yous deed yins know each other, aye?”
“Fuck up.” Now it’s Crookit Stan’s turn tae storm oot the room fir a minute. A caw him that oan account ae his crookit neck – snapped it fawin aff a roof, silly bugger. This used tae be his hoose – a fact he needs tae constantly remind us ae, as if the see-through Casper-cunt’s mere presence wisnae enough in itsel.
“When ye see him, tell him the show’s in good hawns, aye?” A drink the coffee black – nae sugar either, cause it looks like there’s hings wigglin aboot in the packet – an a stuff ma gub wae the bickies oan ma way up the stair. There’s pictures hangin aw the way up ae Stan wae the wife an wean. Av no taken them doon yet, though it’s bin a good three year since a moved in. A cannae be arsed, an it gies me somethin tae threaten him wae when he’s really gettin oan ma tits.
Three years. A could count the number ae joabs that huv come in since then oan ma hawns an feet. It wis his idea – Bruce Willis fae The Sixth Sense oer there – in the first place, aw this. Fillin ma heed wae aw this “gifted” an “responsibility” pish. He hudnae met any other cunt that could see him yet an he’d bin kickin aboot oan his tod fir a coupla years, stuck in the hoose, so he wis excited aboot it. No so much these days. Am no much fun tae be aroon anymore.
“State ae this place,” Crookit Stan says, waitin fir me in the bedroom. The flair’s carpeted wae dirty washin, curtains are pulled oer, an the windaes behind them huvnae seen a bottle ae Windolene since a moved in.
“Aye, it’s too bad yer missus didnae stick aroon tae keep the place clean.”
“Fuck up, ye miserable bastart.” The lights start tae dim – a sure sign av riled him up properly. “Look at ye! A wummin like Elsie wouldnae even spit oan ye, ye pathetic fuckin tramp. Life’s wasted oan ye. Ye mope aroon here as if yer the wan who’s stuck in here, as if yer the wan who’s deed, who’s wife an weans huv hud tae move oan!”
“Speakin ae movin oan, is she shacked up wae yer best pal yet? A could check fir ye.”
The light bulb bursts. Crookit Stan looms up oer me, his eyes poppin right oot his pus. “Ye wee prick, al boot yer baws so far up inside ye, when they dae the autopsy it’ll look like yuv actually goat some brains inside yer skull eftir aw!”
“Aye well, ye cannae touch me Aw Dugs Go tae Heaven, so away an smash some plates or make a fuckin table hover or somethin.”
He disappears in a puff ae smoke that smells like burnt toast.
A look oot the wan suit a own fae the cupboard an gie it a sniff. A bit dusty but no bad. It’s a black yin – multipurpose, suitable fir funerals, joab interviews, an court appearances. A pair it wae a black shirt a used tae wear when a worked in a pub. Black oan black. The Man in Black.
A drop ma goonie oan the bathroom flair – cannae mind the last time a took it aff, nevermind the last time it wis washed. The pockets are full ae crumblin, snotty tissues. They remind me a huvnae hud a wank in fuckin forever. Cannae get doon tae it when ye never know where that cunt Stan’s lurkin. In Sunday school they used tae tell ye, “God is watchin,” well, somebody is, but it probably isnae God. An these ghostie boys get aff oan some weird shite. Ye huv tae when yuv no goat corporeal form.
A huv a quick shave, wash the essentials, get dressed an grab the kit bag fae the top ae the wardrobe. Stan’s waitin doon the stair.
“Wit’s the script?” a say.
Stan hawns oer an address he’s noted doon. It makes me whistle. “Don’t fuckin steal anythin,” Stan says.
A hawd up ma hawns, pleadin no guilty. “An is it genuine?”
“How the fuck should a know?”
“Christ, forgive me fir thinkin a fuckin ghost might huv a bit ae insight intae the eftirlife. Patrick fuckin Swayze oer here.”
“Fuck up. Caw when ye get there.”
He disappears an the door slams shut in ma face.
This fuckin hoose. A whistle again. Am surprised there’s no a barrier tae get intae this street, nae guard checkin IDs an strappin oan the gloves an KY tae check yer no sneakin a bomb in up yer arse. It’s the last yin doon the end ae the cul-de-baw-sac – three flairs, triple garage, enough space oot back tae keep yer horses. Place should huv a moat an draw bridge.
A ring the doorbell an gie Stan a caw oan the mobile.
“Wit’s goin oan?” Polite yin.
“Don’t know, jus goat here.”
“A jus rang the bell there.”
“Then wit the fuck are ye phonin fir if yuv goat nothin tae tell me?”
“Ye said tae caw when a goat here, am jus daein wit am fuckin telt, ye miserable git.”
“A meant, phone me when ye know the fuckin score. Don’t act like a mug.”
“Fuck yersel, Field ae Dreams! A should scoop ye up in the fuckin hoover, ye – Hello, Mrs Telford, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” A put oot ma hawn an drop the phone tae ma side, though I don’t hang up cause a want Stan tae hear the next bit – “My assistant passed on your message, I gather you would like a consultation?”
The wummin’s Tango’d wae make-up an too auld fir it. Oer-dressed an aw, considerin she’s jus kickin aboot the hoose waitin oan some reprobate like masel. A wonder if she slaps it oan fir the postie an aw.
“Aye, come in,” she says. If the voice isnae enough tae tell by, the statue ae the leapin tiger oan top ae the piano is enough: workin class stock, shiteloads ae money. Place looks like it wis decorated by a fitbaw player. More ceramic animal statues through the hall an livin room, like Joey fae Friends. Wawpaperin that’s both expensive an ugly as fuck. Telly bigger than the bookcase.
“Would ye like a cuppa, Mr Gibb?”
“Call me Derek, and I’d love a coffee if you have one,” a says in ma work tones. If ye want people tae think yer in charge, yuv goat tae speak like the people in charge. Makes ye a fuckin snake, awright, but it works.
“Aye, mulk an sugar?”
“Yes. Three sugars, please.” Black suit, black shirt, black teeth.
She comes back wae the hot drinks an a ask her wit’s bin goin oan – a hell-mooth could’ve opened up in the doonstairs lavvy an ye would still get offered a hot beverage before gettin tae business in Glesga.
“Well, at first it wis jus, like, hings were goin missin.” While she talks she’s tryin no tae nibble at these big falsies she’s wearin.
“What kind of things, can you remember?”
“Jus like, hings, ye know? A hairbrush, jewellery, bits an pieces.”
“Jewellery. Was it just your things going missing, or was it your husband’s too?” This look flashes fae her eyes an a know av stepped in shite there.
“It’s jus me here,” she says, an nothin more. Am guessin divorced, no deceased.
“And you couldn’t have simply lost them somewhere? I’m sorry, I’m not trying to insult you, I just need to go through every possibility.”
“That’s wit a thought at first. That ad jus, like, put them doon somewhere a couldnae mind. But it kept happenin. Then, wan day, a foon them aw – aw together, under the bed in the spare room.”
“And why did you look under the bed?”
“There’s a lot ae shite – sorry – there’s a lot ae stuff in the spare room, ye know, boxes an auld furniture, stuff that has nowhere tae go, an a wis lookin fir a bag ae auld clathes a thought ad put under there, cause a wis gonnae give it tae the collection, an when I looked under, there wis aw the stuff that went missin.”
“And what happened after that?”
“Well, the pictures kept goin crookit.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Ma photies oan the waw. An no jus the photies, the paintins too. Ad be walkin past an ad notice a frame hangin aff tae the side, so ad fix it, then later oan ad be goin past again an it’d be squint again. See?”
Am lookin at a big print ae the Brooklyn bridge hangin oer the fireplace while she says this. “Do you have cleaners?”
“And is it possible that they’re moving the pictures when they dust them?”
She shakes her heed. “Av sacked ma staff twice an replaced them twice since this started. A thought it wis them, fuckin me aboot. Sorry.”
“No need to apologise, Mrs Telford.”
“Look, mister,” she’s startin tae greet but she looks hard an am nae longer feelin in charge, “am alone here an am scared. Ye huv tae help me. Ye huv tae.”
“I will, Mrs Telford. I promise.” A put a sneaky paw oan her knee. She disnae bat it away. “Please, continue.”
She saves the best fir last. We go up the stair an intae the master bedroom – me makin a big show ae cartin the kit bag oan ma shoulder. The wummin’s nest is a silky, gold, mirrored nightmare ae a place. She points tae the words scrawled oer the heedboard. There’s somethin aboot the crusty texture ae it that tells me it’s no bin done wae rid spray-paint.
“A wake up this mornin, an that’s there, right above ma heed!” she says.
“Did you call the police?”
“The polis? Better aff wae Jonathan fuckin Creek.”
“Mrs Telford, why don’t you go on downstairs and have another cup of tea while I have a look around.”
“Ad rather huv a gin an tonic,” she says, leavin me starin at the words in blood oan the waw:
Well, that’s fuckin original.
A pull oot the mobile – the kind ae piece ae shite used exclusively by grandparents an drug dealers – an caw Beetlejuice.
“Aye, so wit’s the score?” A tell him the story, an aboot the words oan the waw. “An is it real? We goat oursels a ghostie?”
“Dunno. Could be pig’s blood or somethin. She’s goat an ex hings ended badly wae, a whole compliment ae staff wae plenty reason tae hold a grudge, an…” A go through the top drawer ae the night stand. “…There’s enough vallies in here tae keep a heifer under till they elect a proddie Pope. Ye could huv sat oan top ae her heed while ye painted the waw an she widnae huv woke up.” A pocket a few ae the vallies fir later.
A go through tae the spare room wae the boxes an sideboards an clathes racks aw covered in dust – this feels more like hame tae me – an get doon oan ma belly tae huv a look under the bed. “She says it wis jus jewellery an make-up an that. Wit is it wae the undeed an the need tae cause a fuckin minor nuisance aw the time?”
“Fuck up. Is there anythin there the now?”
“Naw, doesnae…” There’s some loose splinters an skelfs. Wan ae the joins between the flairboards is aw chipped, like it’s bin pried up more than a few times. A get ma fingernails in an it comes loose wae a wee bit ae effort. The next yin too. A use ma phone light tae get a look intae the space av opened up. There’s a shoe box. Adidas. An inside…
“There’s a jawbone.”
“Wit? A know there’s a fuckin joab oan, wit the fuck ye think wur daein right the now? Ye bin gubbin acid ye daft –”
“No a fuckin ‘joab oan’, a fuckin jawbone. Ye know? Hing that dangles fae yer skull, hawds yer bottom teeth, aye? The hing ye never stop flappin.”
There’s nae meat oan it, nae leather fae auld, deed skin. It’s bin cleaned. Adult teeth, but the piece is no huge. A bring it oot fae under the bed, an am hawdin it tae the light when a stack ae the boxes tumbles doon oan me. Then there’s dusty auld ornaments flyin through the air, dresses flappin aroon like bats. The light’s flickerin, it’s freezin cauld.
“Fuckin quit it! Where are ye?” A get chinned wae a piggy bank that’s shaped like a VW campervan – wan ae they Scooby Doo-lookin trucks. Fittin. “That’s enough ae this shite! Enough!” Am pointin ma finger as if am tellin aff a wean. An it works.
Lassie looks aboot fourteen, fifteen year auld. A pretty wee hing fae the scheme. Ye can tell by the trainers an trackies, the hair pulled back, the look oan her face as if she’s ready tae boot ma baws in if a come near her.
“Wit’s goin oan?” A can hear Crookit Stan’s voice aw tinny fae the phone, but it’s doon at ma side. The other hawn, hawdin the jawbone, goes behind ma back.
“Are you all right, love?” a ask.
“Fuck d’ye think? Don’t caw me that.”
“Sorry, then why don’t you tell me what your name is?”
“Ye takin the pish wae that accent?” This yin throws me an a don’t know wit tae say next. A can hear that shitehawk Stan laughin aw the wae fae the hoose.
“Jus tryin tae fit in,” a say, eftir a while. “How long ye bin here?”
She shrugs. “A wee while. Before that bitch doon the stair anyway. Hoose wis empty fir a bit before that. The cunts hud tae sell it cheap too.”
“Ye scared them aff?”
“Aye, an a tried tae follow them an aw, but…”
“Ye cannae leave?”
“Maybe a can help ye oot.”
She laughs at that. Laughs like an auld wummin who’s heard it aw. “Ye some kind ae medium then? Mystic fuckin Meg. Celebrity Ghost Hunters is here tae help, aye? Better go an get yer proton pack.”
A open up ma kit bag an turn it upside doon, gie it a shake. “No goat fuck aw. A sometimes keep ma sangwidges in here.”
She laughs again, jus a wee bit, though it looks like she might start greetin any minute.
“That conjurin blood’s a neat trick. Wit’s yer problem wae the wummin doon the stair anyway?
“Ye seen wit she’s done tae the place? A fuckin tiger oan a grand piano.”
“She’s no that bad. Ye like her jewellery an face-plaster, right?”
“No that bad? Tell me that when she’s singin fuckin Abba songs in the middle ae the night eftir two bottles ae wine.”
“Yer no a fan?”
“A jus want tae be left alone. A jus want some peace. Ye think ad be allowed eftir aw this. Ye think the big man upstair would owe me that much.” She’s gettin intae a state now. The lights are goin again, the temperature fawin. “Instead a get tae watch that psycho bastart scrape the skin aff ma bones, scour them up wae a sponge like he’s washin a fuckin plate, while the wife an wean are through the hoose watchin Peppa Pig oan the big telly.”
Am flounderin here. Stan is still oan the line an he’s shoutin fir me tae put him oan tae her.
“Look, why don’t ye speak tae ma pal here, he’s bin through it too.”
“Wit dae ye mean, is he, is he like me?”
A nod an hawn him oer. Christ, am hopin Stan can handle this. He did huv a wean himsel eftir aw.
Am wonderin where the rest ae the bones are. If he’s split them up wull never find them aw. Am no even sure that would help anyway. There’s nae rule book fir this shite.
She hawns the phone back. She’s calmed doon a bit. “He’s a nice man,” she says. “Is he really deed?”
“As deed as disco.”
“Wit happened tae him? Wis he killed too?”
“Nah, he fell aff a roof.”
“Why wis he oan a roof?”
“Cunt wis a fuckin roofer.”
She howls wae laughter an the room trembles, the light bulb fillin up tae burst, while Stan’s askin wit the fuck’s goin oan. “Wit’s aw that noise!?”
Crookit Stan’s in a rage when a get back hame. The place is dark cause aw the light bulbs huv popped. Ectoplasm spunked aw up the waws. Fuckin ghosts.
“Can ye believe that cunt?” he’s goin, “These fuckin rich people. They jus go roon daein witever they want! Cruisin the cooncil estates tae pick up wee girruls they think willnae be missed. Wull show this fucker!”
“Yer too late.”
“Wit?” The windaes are aw frozen oer, the hoose is grumblin an shiverin.
“A spoke tae the polis, hud them oot at the fancy hoose an showed them wit wis in the box. They reckon they know who it wis, goat a few deed lassies tied tae this punter fae a few years back.”
“They sure?” Stan’s eyes are goin back intae his heed, back tae normal. “Is he in the jail?”
“Naw, he killed himself when he knew the heat wis oan.”
“An the wife an wean? She says he hud a family.”
“Jus moved away, a think. Probably changed their names an aw that. A would.” A get the suit aff me an leave it in a heap oan the flair. A put the kettle oan – forgot tae get mulk, fucksake! – then go up the stair fir ma goonie. Stan’s followin.
“So how come she’s still hangin aroon?”
“Ye tell me, hangin aroon’s yer specialist subject.”
“So that’s it then? Back tae Mastermind an the couch an sleepin half yer fuckin life away? While that lassie’s oer there alone an feart.”
“Case closed,” a say, takin a sip ae ma awful coffee. “An she’s no alone. She says she’d take it easy oan the Telford wummin fir us, gie her a chance.”
“Yer sick, Deek, ye know that? Yer ill!”
“Nae worries, av goat ma medicine!” A pop wan ae the vallies in ma mooth an swally it wae coffee. A pull ma goonie tight aroon ma chest cause the mad bastart’s turnin intae that bird fae The Ring again, gettin aw worked up an makin it cauld.
“Wit is this? This mopin aroon, wishin ye were deed?”
A hav tae laugh at that yin. “Deed!? There is nae deed. Life jus goes oan an oan. Av seen it. When a think aboot puttin ma heed in a noose a jus look take wan look at ye an remind masel it’s pointless. Al admit a used tae think bein deed would be easier, but cunts like yersel make it look hard.”
“Here’s a tip anyway: make sure the drop is long enough, ye don’t want tae choke yersel tae death, it’s better tae break yer neck.”
“Fuck up, sit doon, an watch the telly.”
He floats doon next tae us an a can feel him there, though he stays quiet, fir a change. A try tae watch witever shite’s oan, but a cannae concentrate. A jus keep thinkin ae Crookit Stan’s neck.
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