Read Lottery Boy Online

Authors: Michael Byrne

Lottery Boy

Contents

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Acknowledgements

For my daughter, Eve

“Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Bully squinted up at one of the faces of the big, big clock across the river. Both hands were going past the six and it was time for Jack’s tea. He pulled the can and metal spoon out of his long coat pocket.

“Here you go… Here’s your tea, mate,” he said, making a big fuss of spooning it out, because there was only jelly in the bottom. Jack sucked it down without chewing.

Jack was a bull terrier, a Staffy cross, but crossed with what Bully didn’t know for sure, no one did. That other half was all mixed up bits of other dogs. Her short wiry fur was dark brown around the neck and streaked white and grey everywhere else, making her look like an old dog at the end of her days. And she had a Monkey Dog tail, and a wide back with legs that were jacked up at the rear and bowed at the front, so that when she sat up she looked like she
really
wanted to hug you. Her head, though, had little fangy teeth inside so that you didn’t
really
want to hug her.

When Bully had left the flat in the winter, Jack had come with him. It was the summer now and though she was getting on for two years old and filling out, she was still a funny-looking dog. Not a good dog for begging, but to Bully she wasn’t for begging. She was his friend and as good as family.

“Come on, mate … come on…” Bully pleaded because Jack was still looking at him and now there was nothing much left in the can. Still, he had another scrape round. Then without thinking he slid the spoon into his own mouth. It came on him like that when he was hungry – all of a sudden, catching him out, making him do strange things – like he couldn’t control it, like
he
was the animal.

Bully spat it out. The jelly didn’t taste so bad but it was the feel of it he didn’t like, cold and slimy in the back of his mouth. He rinsed his cheeks out with water and then from habit, to calm himself down, he read the ingredients listed on the back of the tin because he liked things that just told you what they were and didn’t try telling you anything else.

Water 65%

Protein 20%

Fat 12%

He got down to the last ingredient, the only one that he didn’t like seeing there:
Ash 3%
. And he thought of all the zombies in the factories flicking their fags and topping up the cans. And the other kinds of ash they used, maybe, if they ran out of smokes. But at least they were honest enough to put it on the back of the tin.

He went to lob the can into the river but changed his mind when he saw the picture of the dog. It was a Jack Russell. And he liked Jack Russell terriers – a bit too little maybe, a bit too yappy – but what he
really
loved was seeing Jack’s name printed out on the label. It made
his
dog sound important and official. Though Jack wasn’t technically a dog.
She
was really a girl dog – what they called in the dog magazines a
bitch
. And when he’d found her all that long time ago, last summer, and brought her back to the flat, and Phil had pointed out she was a
girl
, he’d named her
Jacky
straight away before his mum got back from the hospital. Bully, though, hadn’t called her that since he’d left the flat. He’d lost the
y
, so she was just Jack now.

He put the empty can in his coat pocket and wandered back along the river towards the big white Eye that always looked broken to him – the way the wheel went round without moving, like the zombies stuck up there were waving for help. Jack followed along next to him, every so often nosing his ankles but never getting under his feet. Bully had trained her pretty well before they left the flat. He’d spent weeks just teaching her to
stay
, giving her Haribo and Skittles whenever she did it right. They called that
rewarding good behaviour
in the magazines.

Bully stopped when he got to the skateboard park, sucked in by the clatter of the boards and the laughter. He didn’t think much of the place though. There weren’t any big ramps or jumps, just little concrete ones no bigger than some of the kerbs and speed bumps on his old estate. He didn’t even think it was a
real
skateboard park, the way it was squeezed underneath the big fat grey building above. And it reminded Bully of the block of flats where he used to live, the basement underneath where the rubbish chutes fed down to the bins.

He still didn’t know any of the boys who did tricks. He just came here to watch them laughing and talking and falling off, and then blaming their skateboards for everything. One day he’d rock up with a board that you couldn’t blame anything on, with silver and gold trucks and the best decals … and it would be just the best one. He wasn’t sure when that day would be but it would definitely be a day.

“Look at ’im,” he said, pointing one of them out to Jack. “Shit, in ’e?” Secretly, though, he hoped that if he just stood there and stared long enough, one day one of them might let him have a go. So far all they’d done was call him a
germ
and tell him to eff off. He didn’t know exactly what a germ was in skater speak but he knew it was something little and dirty and
bad
. Though to be fair, when he was here with Chris and Tiggs, Chris had called them a lot worse names and thrown that bottle so that it smashed right in the middle of where they did their crappy tricks.

That didn’t happen usually. Usually they just lobbed their empties off the footbridge to watch them float back underneath. Chris and Tiggs were his mates. They said things, making him laugh, going on about girls who were
pigeon
and
breezy
, messing about along the river. Chris sometimes tied a red bit of rag round his head and Tiggs
always
had his big extra ears somewhere on his head, listening to his
sick tunes
. They were both older than him. And they had been all over the place, all over London, even up to Brent Cross shopping centre.

He watched the skaters for a bit longer until a short little boy, shorter than him, did a
really
crappy trick and fell right off onto the concrete slabs, rolling over and skinning his elbow and rubbing it like that would make the skin come back. Bully started fake laughing. He knew they wouldn’t do anything because he had Jack with him but he didn’t want the Feds getting wind, so they left and carried on walking towards the Eye.

At the footbridge he stared at the beggar man on the bottom step. He wasn’t doing it right. Usually, if you were begging you sat at the top where the zombies stopped to catch their breath. The man didn’t look too good either, shivering in the sun, wouldn’t be making much with his head down, mumbling to himself like that but not saying a word. He didn’t even have a sign. You had to have a sign if you weren’t going to ask, otherwise how was anyone to know?

Bully went round the beggar man and climbed halfway up the steps to the footbridge. He stopped and looked back along the river to see if there was anything worth fishing for. The sun was still warm on the backs of his legs and a long way from touching the water, not the best time of day for fishing. There were still too many zombies about, not looking right or left, but leaving town as fast as they could. And in the morning, coming back just as quick. He squinted a little more to sharpen up his eyesight. Everything wriggled in front of him if he didn’t squint. He was supposed to wear glasses for seeing things a long way away but he’d left the flat without them, so he just squashed his eyes and squinted instead.

He made out a couple of maybes leaning over the railings, looking at the river: a tall girl in shorts and tights with an ice cream, her boyfriend smaller than her, joking about, pretending to rob it off her. Bully left them alone though. Girls didn’t like dogs but old ladies did. And there was one! With a nice big handbag on her arm large enough to fit Jack in, staring at buildings across the river like she’d never seen a window before. He went down the steps on tiptoe quick as he could, nearly tripping over the guy still shivering away on the bottom step, and came up on her blind side just as she was starting to move on.

He matched his pace with hers.

“I’m trying to get back to me mum’s, but I’m short 59 p…”

“Oh, right,” she said, but stepping back like it wasn’t right.

“I want to go home but I’m short,” he said, a little faster in case she got away.

Bully liked to make it sound as if he needed the money for something else, that he wasn’t just begging, otherwise they started asking you all sort of questions about what you were doing and why weren’t you at school. He’d learnt that.

“So can you do us a favour?”

She looked like she was ready to turn her head away, knock him back with a “no, thank you”, but then she looked down and saw Jack there.

“Oh… Is that your dog?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s a good dog, isn’t he?” she said.

“Yeah…” He nodded but only to himself and tried not to pull a face. Of course she was. Bully had taught her to be a good dog and to do as she was told because that’s what you did. You didn’t treat a dog
like
a dog and shout and hit it. What you did was, you trained a dog up so that it
obeyed
you, and then you had a friend for life.

“Have you got 59 pence then or what? I wouldn’t ask normally.” He always said this, though he never really thought about what
was
normal any more. Once, an old lady, even older than this one, with a hat and a stick and off her head, had taken him to a café and bought him a fry-up and they’d sat there in the warm for an hour, her telling him things about when she was a girl and lived in the countryside and had her own horse and a springer spaniel, but that wasn’t
normal
. Sometimes he got a whole quid out of it, often just pennies and shrapnel. Once, he got exactly what he asked for to the penny, a young guy counting it out in front of his mates for a laugh and that had really wound him up.

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“You sure?”

“I’m small for me age, innit,” he said.

She made those tiny eyes that grown-ups did when they were having a good look at you from inside their head. He reckoned he could just about pass for sixteen with his hat on. It was a sauce-brown beanie hat with black spots. And it was his. He’d remembered to take it from the flat when he left in the winter. He didn’t need to wear it to keep warm any more but it hid his face from the cameras in the station and made him taller. He fiddled with it, pulled it up to a point so that in the summer sun he looked like one of Santa’s little helpers who was way too big for next Christmas.

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