Saturday, 18 January 2014

THE INK BLOT GUEST SPOT: "Silver Lining" by Grant Harbison

Bruce McKenzie sat on the settee and changed the channel on the television with the remote control once again.

Daytime television, he thought to himself. Nothin’ but soapies an’ quiz shows. The unemployed in Britain must have the best general knowledge in the world. Pretty useless when there’s nae jobs aboot, an’ nae prospective employer gies a damn whether ye know that Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland, Pythagoras was Greek, or any such trivia. That kind o’ knowledge is only good for the pub oan quiz nights.

His wife, Linda, came through to the living room and glared at him. “Are you mopin’ again?”

“Nothin’ else tae dae,” he answered.

“Ye could try lookin’ for a job.”

“Ah’m forty eight years auld. Naebody wants me.”

“That’s because ye havnae tried.”

“Oh, ah’ve tried. Ah’ve been tae the job centre many times. Nothin’ but red tape. Everythin’ requires experience. How dae ye get experience if ye cannae find a job? Even a toilet cleaner has tae have experience. How hard can it be? Dae ye want tae know the biggest joke? Ye have tae be employed before ye can apply for a part time job.”

“Yer jist no interested. That’s yer problem. Ye’d rather spend maist o’ yer time drinkin’ wi’ yer mates in the pub or wastin’ money oan horses that don’t win. Ye’ll have nae redundancy money left the way you’re carryin’ oan. Even when ye were workin’, it wis the pub an’ the Bookies every Friday an’ Saturday. Noo that yer unemployed, it’s nearly every day. Yer problem is that yer too easily led. Twenty eight years of marriage an’ what have we got tae show for it? Nothin’.”

Tired of his wife’s habitual tirades, Bruce got up and went to the bedroom to fetch his jacket. When he opened the front door of the flat, he heard his wife yelling.

“Aye, away ye go tae yer mates. Wan o’ these days ah’ll no be here when ye get back!”

Bruce sighed and headed for the lift.

Outside the flats, it was a typical wintry day in Glasgow. Permeating rain accompanied an icy wind that blew vehemently. Bruce zipped up his jacket and started to walk; but before he reached the main road, the rain fell harder. Cursing to himself, he ran back to the entrance of the flats for shelter.

Cannae got oot in this, he grumbled to himself. 

He fumbled in his jacket pocket for his cigarettes and felt his car keys underneath.

Ah could take a drive. Ah’m gonnae have tae sell it soon.

He lit a cigarette and thought about where to go. After a few minutes deliberation, he decided to head towards the city centre. He dropped his cigarette, ran to the car and drove off.

After parking the car outside a pub a little later, he took a slow walk along the road. He felt a sudden pang of hunger and went in search of a café. As he strode along the road, his eyes were drawn to the Bookmakers on the other side. Ignoring the temptation, he ambled purposefully forward and eventually found a café on a corner. Once inside, he ordered a roll with bacon and a mug of black tea. After he had consumed the roll, he sipped at the steaming hot beverage and thought about how his life had been four months earlier.

There had been rumours going around that the Glasgow division of the company would be closing down. Bruce had heard it many times in his thirty years of service, and had scoffed at everyone’s concern. But when the union had validated those rumours, he’d been just as worried as the rest. When the final day had come, management had apologised to the workers, stating that it was the recession that had caused the closure. Alone in a pub that evening, he’d pondered over the word and had concluded that it was a fancy dressed word for a depression.

For the first two weeks after being made redundant, he hadn’t been able to break the bad news to his wife, and had left the flat at the same time every morning, pretending that he was going to work. Eventually the stress had gotten to him, and he’d come home drunk one night and told her. He’d known that she would be upset, but he’d expected a little sympathy and had received none.

Once he’d finished his tea, he looked out of the café window and saw that the rain had stopped. He paid his bill and lit a cigarette as soon as he got outside. After walking around aimlessly for a while, he saw an ATM, withdrew £200 and made his way to the Bookmakers.

Strolling along the road, he wrestled with his mind, trying to convince himself that he would only be taking one bet. He’d tried that approach many times in the past, but the overwhelming feeling he always got that the following race would be a winning one, frequently outweighed his common sense.

As he reached the Bookmakers, he hesitated when a feeling of remorse came over him; but the lure was too much and he stepped inside. He briefly glimpsed at the names of the horses that would be running in the next race and decided on a horse called Paradise Venture, which had odds of 10-1. Once he’d placed his bet of £100 for the horse to win, he waited patiently for the race to begin.

When the race began, his horse maintained a steady pace, sticking close to the front runners. A while into the race, his horse caught up to the one in front and excitement rose in the commentator’s voice.

And as we head for the final furlong, it’s neck and neck between Shining Armour and Paradise Venture.  

Bruce felt his heart beat faster and held his hands in front of him in silent prayer. Suddenly the tone of the commentator’s voice reached a crescendo.

We’re in the final furlong and it’s still neck and neck between Shining Armour and Paradise Venture. But here comes Paradise Venture. Paradise Venture has taken the lead. Paradise Venture is streaking ahead. Paradise Venture has won!

Bruce couldn’t contain himself and let out a mighty roar before he went to collect his winnings. Filled with jubilation, he elected to go for a celebratory drink in the pub next to where his car was parked.

No more than two, he silently warned himself.

The pub was a small affair, and apart from a couple who sat close to the bar, Bruce was the only other patron. They were very loud and he estimated their ages to be early thirties. From their attire and the numerous tattoos and piercings, he deduced that they were either Goths or Heavy Metal fans. He ordered a lager shandy and thought about what he was going to do with the money. He resolved that he would have to buy something nice for his wife. Deep in thought, he was startled when the man that was sat at the table stood next to him. He ordered a pint of lager and a vodka and lemonade.

“Get a packet o’ peanuts as well,” the woman at the table cried out.

“Aye, awright.”

While waiting for the drinks, he stared at Bruce. “You look pleased wi yersel’. Get a big win oan the horses, like?”

“Ye could say that,” Bruce replied.

“Oh aye? An’ how much would that be?”

“A thousand quid.”

“Yer kiddin’.”

“It’s true.”

The man turned to his girlfriend. “Jenny, this guy jist won a thousand quid oan the horses.”

“Congratulations,” she responded.

He turned back to Bruce. “This calls for a wee celebration. What are ye havin’?”

Bruce shook his head. “Sorry, ah cannae drink too much. Ah’m drivin’.”

“Where dae ye stay?”


“We stay nearby. Why don’t ye come tae oors? We can have a wee party.”

“Ah need tae get back tae the wife.”

“C’mon. We’ll get a few drinks in, have a few laughs. Ah’m sure she’ll understaun’.”

“Ah don’t even know ye.”

“Ah’m Gary an’ the lassie ower there is ma girlfriend, Jenny. What dae ye say?”

Bruce hesitated for a moment. “Aye, awright.”

All three of them finished their drinks and left the pub. It was late afternoon and the early winter darkness began to fall.

On the way, Bruce stopped the car outside an off licence and he and Gary went inside to buy the alcohol. Ten minutes later, Bruce parked the car next to a tenement building. They entered through the close, with Bruce at the back. Gary turned the handle of the door of the house on the bottom floor and the door opened.

“Jist as ah thought,” he said. “Ye forgot tae lock up again, Jenny.”

“Sorry, Gary,” she said.

Cannae be too careful these days,” said Bruce.

“Aye,” replied Gary. “Especially if ah’m lookin’ efter it for a mate. He’s away tae Spain for a holiday. Come in.”

“Oh, so it’s no yours? Where dae you stay?” Bruce asked when he walked inside.

“We’re still oan the waitin’ list for a flat. We’re stayin’ wi’ ma mother in Springburn until we get an offer. Ye want a beer?”


“Vodka for me,” said Jenny.

Gary put an Iron Maiden CD in the CD player and then went to fetch the drinks. As the evening progressed, the drinks flowed more rapidly, and Bruce struggled to keep up with Gary. He noticed that Jenny was still nursing her second drink.

“Ah guess yer no much o’ a drinker,” Bruce said to her.

“Naw,” she replied. “It goes tae ma head too quickly. In fact, ah cannae even finish this. Ah’m off tae bed. Goodnight.”

After Jenny had retired to bed, Gary brought out the whisky. Not being much of a spirit drinker, Bruce felt the effect instantly. But Gary kept pouring glass after glass. After a while Bruce struggled to focus. Gary saw his dilemma.

“Ah’m away tae get ye a blanket an’ a pillow, mate. Ye can kip oan the couch.”

Bruce sat on the couch and took off his shoes and trousers. When Gary came back with the blanket and pillow, Bruce lay back on the couch, wrapped the blanket around himself, and fell asleep almost immediately.

The following morning, Bruce woke up with a massive headache and a huge thirst. He quickly put on his trousers and shoes and headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water. When he saw that the clock on the wall showed 11am, he was taken aback.

Ah couldnae have slept aw that time. Ah have tae get home. Ah better tell the other two that ah’m leavin’.

Moments later, he knocked on their bedroom door. “Gary, Jenny!”

When he got no response, he knocked a bit harder. He opened the door slightly and peered inside. There was no one in the bedroom and the bed was made. Although it seemed a bit strange to him that there was no one in the house, and they hadn’t bothered to wake him, he assumed that they’d just gone to get some groceries. But when he put on his jacket and put his hand in the pocket, he knew something was very wrong, when he realised that the money and his car keys were missing. He ran to the front door, but as he got there, he heard someone putting a key in on the other side. When the door opened, Bruce and a man he’d never met before stared at each other in alarm.

“Who are you an’ what are ye doin’ in ma hoose?” the man yelled angrily.

“Ah came here wi’ Gary last night. Are you the guy that lives here?”

Gary? Who is Gary? Ah’m callin’ the police.”

“Wait, don’t. Ah think ah’ve been conned. Ah met this guy last night and he said that he was lookin’ efter the place for somebody. Ma money is gone an’ ma car keys.”

The man picked up the phone.

“Please, ye have tae believe me.”

The man put down the phone and looked at Bruce suspiciously. “Ye mean tae say that someone wis livin’ here while ah wis away?”

“Ah know it sounds like a likely story, but it kinda looks that way.”

“How did they get in? And how did they know ah wis away?”

“The door wisnae locked when we got here. Maybe ye were bein’ watched. Please, ye can see that ah havnae stolen anythin’. Ah’m a victim.”

“Jist get oot o’ ma hoose!”

When Bruce got home a little later, there was no one home. His eyes were immediately drawn to the envelope on the mantelpiece. He opened it and read the letter inside.

Bruce, I’ve had enough. I’ve gone to stay with my mother for a while. I need time to think. Don’t even think of contacting me. I mean it.

Two weeks later, Bruce strolled along the road feeling sorry for himself. As he neared Ibrox stadium, he saw a car that looked a lot like his. When he got closer, his excitement rose when he recognised the number plate. He quickly ran to his flat to fetch the spare keys.

Upon his return, he looked around to see if anyone was watching him, before he got into the car and drove off. After parking the car outside his block of flats, he checked the inside of the car and opened the boot. Inside the boot were two large suitcases.

Jist in time, he thought. Looks like they were plannin’ tae go somewhere.

When he got to his flat, he went straight to the fridge and took out a can of beer. After a few sips, he wondered about the suitcases. Curious, he went back to the car to fetch them. When he returned and opened them, he stared in absolute shock when he saw the vast amounts of money inside each case.

There has tae be a fortune!

Just then the telephone rang.

“Hello,” Bruce answered.

“Bruce, ah’m no comin’ back.”

“But, Linda.”

“Nae buts. Ah’ve made up ma mind.”

“Linda, ah’ve got somethin’ tae tell ye.”

“Ah’m no interested. Ah’ve decided tae make a new life for masel’. Ah’m no prepared tae live a life o’ poverty.”

“But, ah’ve got some great news!”

Goodbye, Bruce,” she said and hung up.

Bruce put down the telephone and stared at the suitcases.

“Your loss, hen,” he said with a huge smile on his face.
Grant Harbison


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