Tenents & Queens

Grey grizzled gizzarded to my Pauncho Villa

Re Joyce he says and my balding pate bobs wondering why the Irish are obsessed with ashes. Outside voices encroach on our conversation:There is a Jew in the marketplace...

I read it in the Guardian it must be true.

Hugh Gaitskell is dead.

Gibratar's been sold he says.

The rock?

No the nag you daft tammy. Came sixth in the National last. Wrinkles slowly cross his face like a race of competing snails. Gerty's man bought her. The news calls for a fresh cigar and a plume of black fug. He drinks from my beer and pretends not to notice. I'll bet you an orange sash to a shillelagh it's dog meat within the year.


Grey grizzled gizzarded oaked and glassy

 It's your round Marty.

I fish in my pockets for bigger game than they support. Sixpence, twice over.

Sixpence! he roars. They put a man into orbit but they can't keep a guinea in your trousers.

I shrug and reclaim my jar from his swollen knuckles. Apres moi le deluge.

Ah don't go all Auld Alliance on me lad. He shoots his gaze over the other tables, past the grimy window to where the barmaid is standing polishing a pint mug with due diligence. To each according to their need.

I push the coins over the scarred oak towards his curling fingers. Tap Gerty's man for a bob. He owes you for the shed.

Ay, he does that.


Grey grizzled gizzarded subfusc in winter fug

Gerty's eyes catch me from their reflection in the tarnished mirror, giving demoiselles-of-the-soap an animation they hadn't seen in years. In a glance a shard of pity a shard of amusement a shard of distain.

He was one of us, y'know?

Who? My gaze is still steady over the ocean of seats towards the maiden at the bar.

Gaitskell. Can ye no keep up? A sly mean look sets in. Maybe no one of your lot, lad.

I ignore the slight. It's only the beer talking. It's always only the beer talking. Gerty winks as if she'd heard every utterance. I manage a wry smile in return.

It was only Gaitskell that kept us from being swallowed by the Frogs. Mark my word, laddy, when you reach my age it'll be all monseiur le 'Aggis and neeps avec le garlic. Or sour kraut.

That's German.

He snorts at my correction. Would you rather be drinking this stuff or some foreign muck?

The coating on my tongue silently announces it's preference for the latter but I keep quiet, scanning the room for an easy crown or two. Wee Jonny is by the cellar door. Too handy with his fists to keep a girl and maudlin for it. Three minutes and a black eye or chipped tooth, I reckon, and bruises that won't fade by Monday. It's a quiet evening. No sign of Fishy Pete or McAllister, though he's old enough to be Methusalah's grandpappy.

By the crooked hatstand sits Yanek, staring at the twisted foil entrails of a cigarette packet. He's a loaded dice that one. Face of an angel in the half light but bandy legged as if he'd spent his formative years in the saddle.

The lunate edge of glass presses down on my forearm. Time and tide, laddy. Time and tide...


Grey grizzled gizzarded pockmarked under street sodium

Hi I say, sliding into the seat opposite and proffering a bent cigarette in greeting.

Hi he says back, accent as sharp as chipped china, hands frozen in time.

He's wearing a faux gold watch, the band too large for his thin wrist. It sits heavily on him, even at twenty three, like a child with an adult's shoes. His arms are pastel, the ghost of a shade that isn't white.  Faint hairs darken the sallowness. Almost feminine those arms.

I push the cigarette into his thin, unmoving fingers. He stares deeply. His eyes are the colour of forests: dark loam streaked with moss and lichen. Primal hostility tempered by cultivation. For a moment they swallow me and I have a strong urge to plot my territory in those foreign irises, the pale scarred skin of his face. But that would be an impossibility. The stripes on his jersey make him seem more solid than he is. Broad shouldered but slim. Beside him I feel lumpen, stone to his tree.

Flight or fight time. It's 50/50 either way and I'll only bet on a certainty. No one knows what he does but he comes in regularly every few days, sits for an hour on his own then leaves. Always pays with a crisp note never loose change. Fishy Pete says he's a spy for the East Germans but Yanek's no Deutchlander's name.

He glances briefly at the doorway in the back of the room and I exhale knowing this time he's not going to run. There's something unpredictably feline about his expression as he pushes the chair away from the table and pads quietly through the chipped open door with its flaking paint and patina of stains.

I follow a polite few seconds later. No one in the room stirs.


Grey grizzled gizzarded charcoal stubble on shroud flesh

He's there, impatient, sighing as he examines the scuffed linoleum, one foot resting on the tiled wall behind him. As I move towards him he looks over my shoulder with those dark pitted eyes. I push him gently into a cubicle my hands trying to find a purchase point on his jersey but he's tucked it into his trousers and belted it close. I yearn to be able to kiss his neck, pull him forward onto my lips and wrap my arms around his narrow waist as a wife might but this is not the time for emotion.

There is a metallic jangle as I loosen his belt and he fumbles with the buttons at the fly. At this stage I've still not seen uncovered flesh. I can smell soap on his hands, something with little perfume but sweet. I want him now and for ever. J'ai pleuré et j'ai cru. Dark cloth sinks to a dark floor. There is a blur of wiry hair on a thin thigh then:

Boots cracking on the cubicle door. Splinters of wood spiralling down down down. Flushed cheeks high on their own heat well up over ocean blue eyes. Wee Jonny is glaring at Yanek with visceral hatred, tendons on his arms writhing like snakes as he grips the cubicle's frame.

Yanek lets out a yelp, grabs at his fallen trousers and ducks past Wee Jonny like a shade. Then there is no sound but the two of us breathing heavily.

Am I no good enough tonight?

I smile like the dammed and still my trembling hands.


Grey grizzled gizzarded regretful.

Gerty clucks to herself as I hand over Yanek's dropped leather wallet. Thirty quid in new notes pushed between neat seams. No photos, no papers, just crisp notes. She holds one up forensically to the yellowing bar light before placing it into the till and smiling at me. That's for your honesty Marty. You'll get a few rounds out of that and no mistake. Over at my old table a gnarled hand is raised in salute.