This is the English version of a little story that I first wrote in Scots. It’s intended as a cross between Sawney Beane and Soylent Green, with a huge dollop of inspiration from Janice Galloway‘s ‘The Meat‘.
Them At Number Six
It’s me, Jeannie. Oh, aye, it’s about them at number six again. A week they’ve been moved into this scheme, and they’ve run riot. There’re out the back door sunbathing. No, they can’t see me. My blinds are angled down-the-way.
Oh, but that’s Council ones for you. Not like us. We bought our houses and keep them nice. Now, see, there’s the mother out in a pink onesie. What a state. She has a belly on her like Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s lunchtime, by Christ. And she says she’s on the sick, but I’ve seen her hanging out towels on the line. In our day…know what I mean, though? Standards, aye. And him? Fisherman’s beard and a spike through his lip. Tattoos as well and on the broo.
Well, I tell you, they’ve had me up to high doh. Their dog Krypton Factored under my fence the other day and – forgive my language – keeched in my rockery. Oh, I was boiling. There, I stoated up the back steps to have words with next door. But, see when I got up to their back fence, their wee lassie, Charli, looked at me all wide-eyed and dirty-mouthed. I didn’t have it in me then to let loose. So, instead of giving it laldie, I bent over and clapped the dog.
‘Lovely markings,’ I said. ‘Unusual.’
‘Sorry, missus,’ said the mother to me and then she roared at the dog, ‘TROUBLE, GET BACK HERE BEFORE I LEATHER YOU.’
But the sour-faced beastie just sat and licked its undercarriage on my side of the fence.
‘I know what’ll bring him home,’ said Charli and ran inside.
I expected her to bring out a dog biscuit, but no. She came back out waving a dinosaur bone. I’m telling you, the mother’s been to that new butchers on the main street…for them on benefits, aye. Oh, I could never eat… It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Anyway…
‘TROUBLE,’ shouted the girl, just like her mother.
The dog slavered and, WOOSH, pelted straight home and nearly ripped the poor girl’s arm off.
Next thing, Beardy ran out in his boiler suit. Reeking of drink. Smoking a roll-up. Face like a skelped you-know-what.
‘Sorry, pal,’ he said, grabbing the bone off the dog. ‘I’ll fix the gap in the fence so he doesn’t bother you again.’
‘No problem,’ I said, but my eyes were fairly bulging out like Looney Tunes.
Forgive my language, Jeannie, but that bloody fence is still needing mended. Anyway, I nearly broke my jaw trying to keep a smile on my face while they all stood around watching me use the last of my kitchen roll on – again, forgive ma language – picking up their dog’s keech. Pair of roasters. It’s the kid I feel sorry for…no, wait the now till I’m finished, Jeannie. So, there I went back inside and did they not kick off again?
‘Leg bones are for the blue recycling bin,’ said the mother.
‘No, they aren’t, you daft cow,’ said Beardy.
‘Wullie, I’m telling you, she said. ‘Leftovers are for the green bin and bones…’
‘Boiled bones are for the brown garden one,’ he said. ‘Mind the lassie told us that the last time I signed on?’
‘Oh,’ she said.
‘Aye, you daft cow,’ he said.
Speaking of murder polis, can you not hear the music they’re blasting out? No, listen, Jeannie. Doof. Doof. Doof. We get, what, one week of summer a year, and can I get a minute’s peace to read my Mills and Boon out on my lounger? Forgive ma language, but can I hell. £60 it cost me and I’ve parked my bahookie on it once. It’s been nothing but screaming kids, manky dogs, and rammy after rammy…Eh? What do you mean ‘obsessed’? Calm down. What ‘more important’ things?
Jeannie, it’s me. No, please don’t hang up. I understand now why we’re not speaking. I was heart-sorry to read your Sandy’s obituary in the Standard. I was so sure he’d rally round…well, how was I to know your last call was to say your man was brown-bread?
Jeannie, stop hanging up on me. Please? I suppose I didn’t listen…no… no. Erm, so was it quick, in the end? Poor soul. I should have come to the funeral. You always make a lovely spread. I could kick myself…but with us not speaking…How is it ‘all about’ me? So, you’re saying it was me that drove our Tommy into that whore’s bed? Forgive ma language, but your brother was a whoremaster, hen.
Oh, it’s you. Aye, I got your letter. It was…a bit heated, aye. I should probably apologise too. How are you keeping anyway, Jeannie? Are The Rural still bringing your messages round? It’s nice to be wanted, eh? Wait, I didn’t mean anything- Me? I’m scared. Are you sure you want to know? No, it’s not about them at number six. However, since it was you that brought them up…I’m joking. Jeannie. Seriously, here I’m trying to tell you about my redundancy…aye, that shut you up.
‘Budget cuts,’ the big boss said.
I should have cut him. I once caught the sly pig peeking down my blouse. Complain? Aye, and then who’ll employ me at my time of life? Of course I’ve taken advice…yes, but have you seen the size of the foodbank queues?
‘Mrs Beane,’ the daft broo lassie said to me, ‘I can see you have paid your stamp, but as I keep telling you, you only qualify for the meat allowance.’
Now, brace yourself Jeannie – and forgive ma language.
‘Meat allowance, by Christ?’ I said, ‘What about my fucking mortgage, hen? Would you see me out on the streets?’
Aye, very funny. I’m nothing like them at number six. Imagine me lining up for handouts with the likes of those Artful Soap-dodgers? No, the system won’t give me any actual money help, which is why, since we’re speaking now…I was working up to…oh, I understand, your pension won’t stretch. Forget I asked. I’ll find another way. I said forget it, Jeannie.
Here, I went for my – wait till I check nobody’s listening in – meat allowance. I gave my voucher to Plooky behind the counter…What? You know, one of Big Sandra’s sons. You do so know her. Screech-owl from the end of the scheme. Six kids. Was caught in flagrante with Joke the Polis in the phone box? Aye, her.
‘Are you wanting the donor info, Mrs B?’ said Plooky, holding up a wee card alongside my meat allowance.
I stared him down until he binned that donor card and I grabbed my package off his counter. Well, my heart fairly leapt when I felt the weight in it. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was just a big fish supper. Well, apart from the Government stamp. Forgive ma language, but those arseholes have printed ‘HUMAN’ in big red letters all over the packaging.
And this will stay with me until I’m six feet under, like your Sandy. Ready? Underneath the paper I saw five, cold, purple, hairless toes…with the nails all shined up. Well, I dropped that lump of meat and just stood there in the shop, with my eyes running like spickets.
‘I shouldn’t be here,’ I kept mumbling, but Plooky carried on serving.
Then her from number six stepped in. She bent down, picked up the foot, and re-wrapped it for me. Then, like a tealeaf, she slipped it into her own carrier bag and led me out the butcher’s shop.
‘What do I even do with that?’ I said to her on the way home.
‘It gets easier, missus,’ she said, as we wandered round the road together.
This time, when I got up to their front gate, her wee lassie, Charli, shouted to me, ‘Coming in for dinner?’
‘Err…err…,’ I stuttered.
‘It’s best to try the new meat in company,’ said the mother.
‘Oh, but I couldn’t,’ I said, even though I was sick with hunger.
‘It does help if somebody else boils it up for you – at least the first time.’
‘Yummy,’ said wee Charli, patting her own wee rumbling belly.
So, I gave in and entered enemy territory.
Here, you want to see the inside of number six. Like a new pin. I expected, I don’t know what, but they had comfy leather seats and a telly ten times bigger than mine.
‘From Gum Tree,’ Beardy made a point of saying.
And the scran? Wait till I tell you this. Me and Beardy parked ourselves on the recliners and the mother came through with steaming, full plates of stovies for us. And wee Charli was banished into the kitchenette with her mother.
So, there I stabbed ma fork in and lifted up the meat…Oh, Jeannie, people have a right peculiar smell…and taste. No, not chicken or pork. It’s its own thing.
Well, my fork fairly shook, but I forced that dirty meat inside my mouth and I chewed, and chewed…and finally swallowed. The dog’s eyes bored into me every time I took a bite. But then the stovies clawed their way back up my gullet.
‘Try this, pal,’ said Beardy.
He leaned over the side of his recliner and passed me a tumbler full of drink…home-made and aboot 80% proof it was. But, the more I drank, the easier it got.
So, aye, they’re not all bad. Oh, but then my you-know-what fairly trumpeted after eating it…aye, and I had a belly on me like Winnie-the-Pooh afterwards…Eh? No, you certainly will not catch me in a onesie.
Oh, but wait till you hear this. Beardy’s uncle was stuck in a wheelchair, just like you, before he donated himself to the meat scheme…oh, but he was in awful pain, Jeannie. You can’t blame him. But there did the broo not let him sign his full ‘donor fee’ over to them at number six? Hundreds, they got. And that got me thinking about our situation. So – and please don’t kick off – what do you think about donating yourself to the scheme? It’s just…I’ve got to think of my mortgage. I’ve got all the leaflets, if you’re interested? They cover the whole process; from your pain meds to your final slicing-and-dicing. You know, I’m always saying you make a lovely spread, so…Jeannie? Jeannie, are you still there?