The probation lady, the one with no makeup and no empathy, said they’d pick you up at 7:30, God bless her, and they’re right on time—white van, unreflective eyes of idiots inside, idiots wiping snot on the windows. You dry your eyes on your shirt cuff, hoping the van will crash on the way, killing everyone, so you can go back to bed, maybe teach your boy the origins of the Avengers or just get him to listen to your side of the whole ugly domestic, well, incident. Spend some quality time. He’s 10, too young to appreciate the trouble you’re in: 300 hours of slavery, punishment for breaking the laws of the land. You broke a window. Rochelle felt afraid and phoned the police—one conviction for the damage, one for the intent to assault. Best you stay away from your family one day per week and work the wrong off. You’re a villain and a bad influence on the boy. Today, penance begins. You’re lucky your wife hasn’t changed the locks.
The van stops at the end of your driveway, wheels up on the curb a little bit. Now all the thugs know where you live. Wonderful. You have a backpack with a nice lunch and a thermos in it. The driver, a little dark elf of a man, says, “Get the fuck out with that shit.” It takes a moment to translate: he’s saying you’re not allowed to bring your own lunch. The vanload of boys slides the door open, and they sit on your lawn with their feet dangling into the gutter. You look back at your bay window, and sure enough, your wife is closing the curtains, even though the sun’s only just risen. Cigarettes appear from behind the criminals’ ears, from inside drink bottles. They pass around and slurp a single can of Monster Energydrink, slurping. The van driver wears a high-visibility vest. He doesn’t make any eye contact. He lights two cigarettes and gives one to some cousin or relative, judging by the way they slap palms. The driver is of their world and on their level. He’s not the reasonable bureaucrat you were hoping for.
“Try and bring that shit up in here,” the driver mumbles, chewing his cigarette.
“I did indeed—listen, where can I list my allergies? I’m gluten intolerant and sometimes—”
“Leave it the fuck behind, bro. That’s contraband.”
You swing the lunchbox behind your leg. It has Snoopy on it. “My wife made it for me.”
“Want me to notify the department you’re in breach? Nah? Didn’t think so. Leave it in the letterbox. Bring nothing but your smokes and your shoes. Leave the attitude.”
The smell wafting out of that van is like the inside of the washing machine you tried to repair that time—salty rotting funky fruit, and something almost fecal, like diapers, all of it mixed in an ashtray. One of the criminals pushes a smoke into your side, and you say, “Not me,” and he says, “The fuck d’you say to me?”
You take the smoke and hold it like a dying baby bird from a hot sidewalk. What does one do with such an object?
When the cigarettes are smoked and they’ve urinated on your rose bushes, everyone piles back into the van and you drive out to where the hedges run for a hundred meters and rocky driveways are half a mile long.
In front of a country mansion, the driver pulls over in a puddle of gravel.
“Last smokes, boys.” The driver pushes a glowing pink vest with even pinker trimming into your hands. Pink? Is the man daft?
All the boys thud out of the van, trample some gravel, spit a lot, hunch their shoulders for warmth, and do some more smoking. You sit in the van, breathing through your mouth, fumbling with the cigarette you’ve been issued. Then, the boys climb back into the van. Someone wipes a wet finger on the top of your neck. You attempt to slump in your seat. Afterward, a wet finger is in your ear and your head hits the ceiling. God have mercy!
The van stops for good at a church out in the country. Without being ordered to, all of the boys evacuate and fetch items from the van’s rear—pot, burner, gas bottles, paint brushes, rollers, rakes, shovels, and a box of wrapped sandwiches. Six guys in different vests, all yellow, lob the gas bottle at each other, crumpling, gasping, and cursing as they catch it. You follow a couple of guys with yellow trimming before the driver taps the back of your neck.
“Don’t think you wanna go with them. Wrong color.”
To your left are Pinks. To the right, the Yellows are all gathering behind a shed and lighting very small, floppy cigarettes, which they shield from the breeze with great care. Their cigarettes smell like burning vegetables.
“Do I need to sign anything? I haven’t listed my next of kin.”
“Wouldn’t wanna be you,” says a man elbowing you as he scurries over to the Yellow gang. His back is the same shape as the back of the man you saw sentenced before you. He appears to have chosen yellow. You stared at that back as you tried to determine the mood of the judge and what sort of facial expression would appease her. A Chinese woman with a sagging throat, she was. She spoke to Yellowman as if she were programming a computer. You heard Yellowman quietly say, “Praise Jesus,” before he was led into the court cells for processing. You shared a cell with him for 44 minutes. There were no colors, then. The only entertainment, the only literature you had to read was your watch. You didn’t farewell one another when you were released into a cage on the edge of the motorway. Your son was crying in the car. His mother had some documents she made you sign before she unlocked the passenger door.
“You’da got fucked up.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Cheese roll? Hell no!” A pink guy with blue eyes lasering out from a brown face is standing beside you, shaking his head. “You’da got fucked up if you tried a roll with the Cheese.”
“By Cheese, you mean—”
“Not your color. Think Pink.’
Your Pink gang is setting the lunch up. This is the real work, apparently. The Yellows are occupied, digging a latrine and mixing foaming soap tablets with buckets of water and placing planks over the hole for one chosen Yellow man to squat on. He squirts into the chemical broth. Another Yellow is tearing A4 papers into strips and handing them to the defecator.
The vertically-challenged driver leaves the keys in the van’s ignition and blasts harness racing from the radio as loudly as he can. You think of people in the race stands smiling in hats, and you sniff and wipe your eyes. You could be in the office today, watching through the blinds as daddies with toddlers on their shoulders follow mothers pushing prams, making those few extra phone calls to get ahead, coming home, announcing a bonus for an unexpected sale, coming home a hero—but you won’t. You failed your family. You’re just a crim in a pink vest.
The first job is to weed a section of garden as long as a couple of trucks. It runs where the church’s lawn meets the road. There are pie wrappers and cigarette boxes in the soil. The Pinks squit strings of saliva into the soil. Will that soften the dirt? You’d like to consult a Pink about why spitting seems so pleasurable, but you’re unsure how to broach the question.
The midget hands out lunch bags with pale, faded apples, soft and slightly wrinkled. The largest Pink man, whose eyelids are fat and won’t stop squinting, sits on his rump smoking while everyone places their apples between his knees.
A guy with the names of girls inked all over his neck tells you to give your muesli bar to Four Hundred.
“And he’s known as Four Hundred, is he?”
The tattooed-neck man reaches into your lunch bag and takes your muesli bar, peels it open, and gives it to the so-called big boss. The boss tosses the whole muesli bar into his mouth like it’s a cracker. The tops of his hands bulge with meat. His arms look small compared with his vast core.
“Quit starin’. Hun’ll whomp you.”
“Mr. Four Hundred, dumbass.”
For two hours, all the weeding is done by you. You decide, 50 Saturdays, that’s what the Pink boss represents: Four-Hun’s 400 hours equate to 50 Saturdays, a year of weekends.
“Smoke,” bellows a foghorn. It’s Mr. Four-Hun. The foghorn is aimed at you. The pink Pink gang are stretching and laying their legs and elbows on the grass. They’re having a cigarette break because they’re tired from smoking, apparently.
“Afraid I don’t smoke,” you say and tug on a knotted root.
Mr. Four-Hun rolls over. A Pink helps pull him to his feet. The buttons on his pink-trimmed vest pop open. Now, his vest is flapping on his sides. His belly is a Swiss ball crammed inside a stretched black singlet. “New Pink owes us, y’all listening? You—don’t forget.”
“I shall, er, not.”
Mr. Four-Hun whistles on his thick kebab fingers. “Piss towel!”
Everyone plays piss towel for a while. Someone pisses on a towel and whips the other Pinks with it. When you get whipped, you’re “it.” You’re obliged to urinate on the towel and chase others. You’re “it” for long enough that your hands become white and wrinkly. The Pinks giggle and scamper about. They rest their hands on their thighs, panting, and then cough up mucus and spit at you. Mr. Four Hundred lies on his stomach, playing with daisies, nibbling grass stems.
A Pink brings a pot of water to a nice, steady boil. He pours cups of tea and provides a cup of water to clean sugar off the teaspoons. A chocolatey, sticky waft says the Yellows are sipping coffee.
You pour hot water on your hands and wipe them on the grass. You put your cup down your throat and stroll up the hill, until you’re standing amongst the Yellows. You tap the cellmate on the shoulder. His wings were clipped in court, just like yours. That 44 minutes together meant something. You both hunched your shoulders and tried not to sniffle in front of the judge. You could be brothers. “Hi, Tim.” His jaw falls open. “Listen, I was wondering if after lunch you’re interested in swapping vests or—”
A hand is on your shoulder. “The van. Get in the van. It’s the only place they can’t getcha!”
the midget driver barks. You’re trying to look backward and keep eye contact with your Yellow brother, but you’re being tugged by the elbow into the van and shut inside.
“Lose my fucking job if you get stuck!” the driver is bleating.
“I wasn’t stuck.”
“Stabbed, you fool!”
Will his name change to Mr. 392 now that he’s done another eight hours? When precisely did he commence leadership of Pink, Inc.? What nature of a day job could the man possibly work? Is he on full-time community service? There’s so much you’d ask your fellow Pinks if only they were a tad more approachable. The mysterious Mr. Four Hundred is a foreman, you imagine, a scary foreman who’ll pull you off a forklift if you’re driving across the concrete with your forks raised. You’re picturing him getting his Wheels, Track and Rollers endorsementEndorsements, when—
“Pockets,” Mr. Four Hundred is saying from the rear of the van, and the guys crowding each side of you roll their knees onto your hands and begin frisking your pockets. They smell like wet dogs.
“Better have them fucking ciggies.”
“Alright, alright! Okay, okay!” All you can do is point your chin and twist your hips to make the bulge of two cigarette packets appear. They release the pressure on your hands, and you lick the back of your sore wrist. You’re not really here. You’re in a bathtub of bubbles. Your son is singing with you. There’s opera on the radio and a chicken in the oven. If you will it, you will fulfill it—will it to fulfill it. Will it and change these godforsaken—
“Better,” says Four-Hun, biting open the smokes. Even with his shades on, you hold eye contact with him for just a moment in the rearview mirror before lowering your head. For one nanosecond, he needed you.
Bathtub. Bathtub with little Robert.
They strip the cellophane from the cigarette pack, and a guy called Bubblegum tucks it down your pink vest and pats your chest.
“Smoko,” says the midget and pulls over onto a layby on a cliff, overlooking a rocky river. Each male, Yellow and Pink, lights up before leaving the van. The air turns white. You gag.
“Get out and have one, Pink,” booms Four-Hun. “There. Go stand there.”
The Pinkies give you their names as they take your smokes, two each—a dollar a cigarette, up in smoke. There’s a guy with burnt flesh that may as well be brown; Foreskin is his name. There’s Strawb with his sunken cheekbones and Barbie with unpredictable blond curls. There’s Lips, with knuckles covered in scabs; Sticker, with swastikas pricking his neck, making him look like he’s constantly wired with agony; Floppy, with a huge nose and lips, soccer ball shoulders, and neck like a second torso growing out of his collar bone; and Starfish, with a bald head burnt by the sun. Then there’s you, gutful of ulcers, fingertips nibbled until they’re red.
And Mr. Four Hundred—the center of gravity.
The burner and billy are set up on the gravel beside the van, right there on the margin of the highway amongst the flattened Coke cans. It’s 8:10 a.m. Fog blocks out the sun. The water steams until it screams, everyone watching. Pinks and Yellows sip their cups, wince, and rip open little packets of sugar. After they’ve sipped and smoked three cigarettes, each Pink steps over the safety barrier. They find a nice clean slate of gravel, put their hands between their legs, and write their names in the ruin.
A trickle of Yellow piss comes near, like a probing snake. Strawb kicks gravel on it.
Two Yellows come out of the bushes. They’ve snapped some branches back to make it easy to go in and out of the bushes. Four-Hun scrunches Bubblegum’s shirt and pulls him towards the hole in the bushes. “Oi,” Hun barks at the midget driver. “There’s a sucky-sucky for you if you want.”
The midget folds up his newspaper, needing help getting over the barrier and into the bushes.
Three men later, it’s your turn.
Saturdays begin in horror and end in relief. For five Saturdays, your stomach remains unstabbed. On Saturday 6, the day’s job is painting the pipes of a new drinking fountain at the primary school. Robert wanted to come. He tried to hide in the car boot, but his shoelaces were sticking out. He tried to give you the cigarettes you’d dropped in the hall. Cigarettes—catching Robert with a cigarette, that’s how the whole domestic with your wife began in the first place. Robert didn’t understand you were getting picked up by a van of thugs. Work, he called it, as if what you do on Saturdays actually matters. ‘Why can’t I come to work with you?’ he asked.
You see a woman you know walking her Labrador along the horizon. She’s a mortgage broker you frequently see at training workshops, stroking her phone and nibbling croissants. She’s going to notice you and ask what you’re doing with these beasts. Are you visiting as part of a prison advocacy service, perhaps? Are you evaluating a piece of land before you organize its auction?
Everyone splashes at least a few drops of paint, except for Four-Hun, who spends most of his day eating smuggled tidbits his staff bring him—jerky, a mandarin, and a can of Red Bull hidden in the exhaust pipe of the van. Floppy thought it made sense to stash the forbidden can in the exhaust. It fizzes away into nothing when Hun opens it, leaving Hun without a drink, so Hun orders the Pinks to drag Floppy over to Yellow country, where he is kicked around as if he’s a coiled rug the Yellows are trying to unroll with their feet. For 80 minutes, he doesn’t move. You want to phone someone. You want to text your son: Send an ambulance!
Hun scoffs morsels from the lunch bags as he enjoys the beating. Since these men do not have a soccer ball for entertainment, you suppose it makes sense they’re kicking Floppy’s head instead. Nostrils thick with brown, tobaccoey snot, Hun breathes through his mouth and bits of food fly out like wood chips. You can hear the breaking skin of each mandarin segment, droplets of sweet juice spurting between Hun’s teeth. Then, he’s onto the jerky, making it ooze beefy drool with each chew. He guzzles the last drops of boiled Red Bull and belches. It took a lot to smuggle these gifts for the king. Random inspections of the van have been happening before it leaves the corrections depot, the Pinks say.
The Pinks are standing at attention, watching Floppy have his ribs kicked until they’re cornflakes. You turn away and hand Four-Hun your muesli bar. There’s an egg sandwich left in your lunch bag. You gobble it, hoping Four-Hun appreciates the favor you’re doing everyone. The gang hates egg sandwiches. You suppose your role here can be the human garbage disposal unit, eating waste. That’s useful. In the van, you were intimidated into sucking on a crumbly, wonky joint shaped like a used birthday candle. It’s the only thing that’s given you any appetite. Your body resists gravity. Your mood is flat.
“Did you chuck your apple in the pile?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Four Hundred, sir? I was wondering if you’ve got many hours left to go. I have about 260 to go, you see, so, like I said, I was wondering—”
“Go wonder somewhere else.”
An ambulance comes and takes Floppy’s body away. The Yellows boil fresh coffee water. The Pinks break for a game of rockball. They take off a T-shirt, fill it with one big rock or a lot of small rocks, and launch it at someone’s head. Knock a person out and you’ve won, and they’re “it.” After rockball, it’s back to lying on the grass. You suck your grazed knuckles. Strawb talks of rewiring the circuits of his landlord’s electronic garage door to crush the cunt, grinning as he talks. One person, Lips, talks about his enemies, but everyone else chips in, shouting, “Fucking cunt,” and, “Should’ve wasted him,” spitting constantly. If you don’t curse, you might be viewed as somebody soft and, therefore, a candidate for a beating.
During lunch, you smell the Bermuda, good golf grass, and pretend you’re in a spicy foamy bath and the insects nipping you are just the hot water tingling. It’s summer evening, 2004, and you’re in a bath with your son, him and his little diddle and squeaky voice, that’s all, with roasted chicken, opera, bliss, and a bathtub. Your son is playing with your nipples. His thighs are chubby. His eyes are huge and bright, and his hair is thin. He drinks bathwater. He eats mush. How did clouds get into the bathroom? Your head falls through the warm water of space.
“Pink! Pinky! Pinky! Wakey, wakey! Where’s them smokes at?”
“Oh, beg your pardon. I must’ve drifted off. I thought two packs’d be plenty.”
“Cunt, you better get some dropped off before we go home,” a Pink is going. You can hardly see him while you rub your eyes, getting used to the sun.
“Else you ain’t going home,” Hun adds and disappears a muesli bar.
You haul yourself off the grass and let the bubbles pop inside your head. You can’t ask the Yellows. You can’t ask the Pink gang. The only quiet place to make a phone call is the van.
Your boy answers his phone, thank Christ.
“It’s me.” Your lip is quivering. “Me, Dad.”
“Sup, dad. We won at half-court. I got a three-point—”
“You have to help me.”
The sun is going down the sinkhole. You drive to get to Highbury Drive before Quicksilver Fasteners closes. Turns out the man in question moves hinges and bolts for a living. It took a lot of Facebooking before you found him. Although on Saturdays they’d die for him, he’s not actually Facebook friends with any of the Pinks, not on LinkedIn, Old Friends, nothing. Floor Manager of Quicksilver Fasteners on Highbury Drive: that’s Mr. Four Hundred. You pull into the most remote parking spot. You don’t dare switch your engine off in case they catch you. You watch Mr. Manukia nodding and smiling at a couple of Indians as they take some screws or hooks or something out of a courier box and discuss them.
Maika Manukia’s not horridly obese and intimidating. Nah, in work mode, on civilian street, Maika is jolly, round, and reliably strong-looking, as if his bulk is only used for good, helpful work. He’s not sunburned, stinking, or tossing back sandwiches as if they were pieces of chewing gum. Some little girl, all dressed in crimson with Dora the Explorer gumboots, runs up and grabs his thigh, and he hoists her into the air. Granddaddy Maika has brought his little lady to work today, and he’s showing her off for the boys, boys he’s not allowed to touch or bump or even swear at, according to employment law, let alone—
Everyone’s heading off for the long weekend. You eat chips in the car and have a nap. You awake when the sky’s dark blue. You drive to the shops and fill a trolley with supplies from the Nite Stocker. You begin filling a second trolley. Cans of Red Bull are on special. Jerky is pricier. Chips come in mini-packs of twelve. Muesli bars are pretty affordable when you buy low-enough quality. As you shunt your pile of food through the aisles, watching pregnant women bent over babies in trolleys, you think about Mr. Four Hundred’s hours. Surely, he’s down to 200, or 150. After that, 75, and then what? He’ll simply not be there one day?
You drive through silent, black streets towards the hundred-zone, the goodies rattling in the boot. You chew a chocolate bar and your teeth stick together. Mailboxes stare at you. Every number with a hole in it is an eye: 6, 9, 0, 8. Your body doesn’t want to sleep even though your head keeps telling you, you were working hard on sorting out those Land Information Memoranda. Just how many hours ago? The math is hard. Who needs math? Bollocks to math. You’ll bisect a section next month, put ready-made houses on it, arrange what plumbing you can, go to meetings, read your performance reviews, and make 1,000 phone calls, begging strangers to give you money, pretty much.
At 2:00 a.m., you bite open the earth with a shovel, burying smokes, jerky, and cans of beer at the church, car lights off, bonnet hissing, and working in moonlight.
At 2:58, you tuck chips, lollies, and energy drinks in the soil of the drainage ditch on the edge of the high school rugby field. By dawn, you’ve stashed tubs of jelly, boxes of juice, Pepsi, cigarillos, and magazines in every community service spot across the farm belt surrounding your city. You stash cutlery and rope in community halls, cemeteries, sports fields, playgrounds. You stash toothpicks and bottle openers in a water filtration plant.
You ease back into your house, where the air smells like warm bedsheets that need to be changed. You clip your muddy fingernails and sit on the toilet. Tomorrow is Saturday. Tomorrow is Saturday.
“You should be in bed.”
“Whatcha up to, daddy?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“It’s already tomorrow. Sun’s up.”
“I’ll tell you after work.”
“Roman’s dad doesn’t work on Saturday.”
You turn the shower up as hot as it’ll go, burn off your outer layer of skin, towel off, and then slide into bed beside your wife. She’ll awake, expecting to find the old you in bed beside her, but the old you’s been left out there.
You slap, knuckle, and rub as many hands as you can reach. There is extra oxygen in the air today. It makes your feet float above the grass, makes you stare long, and makes your words agreeable. You bite open a sugar packet and knock it back. Cups of tea take half an hour’s preparation and 20 minutes to sip. A Pink serves cigarettes like hors d’oeuvres on the lid of the billy. You rip the plastic off your muesli bar and chuck it to Four-Hun—a perfect throw. He chomps it in one, raises his chin, and lifts his eyebrows in thanks. The first bubbles appear in the billy of water, and you rub your fingers together. Cups of tea taste incredible on Saturdays. Four-Hun’s stoked when you push a sneaky can of beer into his pocket.
“Drink Pink,” you go, knowing he’s wondering where you got the beer from. He moves his sausagey lips and chuckles. You tap a little dirt into the hole between your feet where you dug up the beer can. You buried a shopping bag’s worth of forbidden goodies at each worksite. You’re the richest man in this universe that materializes once a week. You can buy all the influence you want.
You couldn’t wait for breakfast to end, since your son sensed your excitement. You put a cigarette out in your cornflakes. Your wife called you a dumbass, redneck, and lowlife before storming off to the gym. Your son asked you for a smoke. You slid the pack and the lighter across the table before you went onto the lawn to wait for your pickup. You had a couple spare packs of smokes, anyway. No dramas. Get the bash if you don’t share your smokes. Set an example for the boy.
There’s fresh Pink meat. Looks like there’s fresh Cheese, too, across the river on their bank with their billy and their pile of apples. You order New Pink to light your smoke. He’s a ginger with long ears, fingers, and arms, and scars on his shaved head. He wears a T-shirt telling everyone that he fought in the regional MMA round robin, fifteen fights over one long weekend. He’d better know how to fight, then.
Four-Hun bellows, “Apple Shower,” just an induction game, an icebreaker. See, everyone pushes a broken bit of stick into an apple and everyone biffs the apples at the new cunt. Just a shower—sometimes he gets juicy, sometimes the broken bits of stick cut him open. His eyes get all full of juice and there’re seeds on his brow afterwards. It’s just like any induction, except his nose won’t stop bleeding, and you fling the dregs of the tea on his hands, and the cunt shudders like he’s got Parkinson’s disease.
“Still waiting on them smokes,” you go, and for the first time, your spit goes right where you wanted it to, right into New Pink’s eye.
It’s a good day at work, after all that—bliss, actually. You locate two sticks stuck in the ground, a piece of chewing-gum paper under a rock, a chocolate bar wrapper sparkling in a bush, little clues, little stashes, and little bits of power and influence. You dig in the right place, pull up a Playboy, a PSP, and a tin of chopped chicken. You do it when no one’s looking, with no Pinks, certainly no Yellows.
How’d you find the stuff? You’re just lucky, you tell the boys with a shrug.
Your spine jolts, so you flinch and gasp. Four-Hun is patting your back.
At work, there’s a whole hour of solid, unbroken photocopying each day that’s for the shitty flyers you drop off in community centers, rotary club, and shit. Flyers sell, like, 1 in 40 houses. Un-fucking-believable. Who knows, there’s a trend of retirement homes filling up all their rooms, forcing old rich folks into bungalows. That trend might send a few clients your way. Tuesday, there’s cold-calling to do, 10:00 a.m. until 11 when retired people are home. Then, warm calls come, but far fewer of those. They’re a 20 minute job each, most days, so ten warm calls can be 200 minutes. That’s four hours with breaks factored in. You smoke before, during, and after. When your fingers aren’t rolling smokes, they’re bending paper clips into spears, sickles, and shanks. You walk out each day, looking like you’ve got childbearing hips, your pockets packed with instant-coffee sachets and those little UHT milks. You’ll bury it all under the moon when you’re out being yourself, far from your family.
Your Approvals Coordinator is this young Christian fuck. He’s blond. Blond is Cheese, you decide. Cheese ain’t a good color to be. Mr. Approvals Coordinator needs to watch where he walks.
You want to stab a lot of people during the day. This one lunch time, you find a broken, jagged square of plastic in the recycling bin. You take it out into the car park, find a quiet spot, and scrape it on the asphalt until it’s a long, sharp sliver. You stash it under your Rancho cardigan. Let Mr. Approval build up some more debt first, and then you’ll take what’s owed.
“Everything okay?” Mr. Approval says.
You’re like, “Who the fuck wants to know?”
“Just checking you’re okay,” he says. “Please don’t talk to me like that in future, okay? I don’t like it. Is that new? That tattoo, on your neck—youchy—it looks painful. I never noticed that before. Everything copasetic? Yeah?”
He snatches an apple out of your hand at the lunch table, says he doesn’t like you sticking pins and skewers in the fruit.
He doesn’t talk to you when there’re others around. He sends you an email asking you to make an appointment for a “catch up.” That’s how the email puts it. “Catch up,” you snort, you’ve got to use that on Saturday: “Oi, Yellow, let’s go have us a catch-up.” Catch up with a rock in a sock, more like.
The crew at Rancho Realty is yawning by 3 o’clock Fridays, all except you. You’re amped. Tomorrow is Saturday, and when Saturday comes, you’ve got more energy than you know what to do with.
See, last Saturday, the scraper normally used by the midget driver to get the mud off his windscreen, well, one of the Yellows got that and snuck up on one of your boys as he was taking a shit and made a big wet opening in the Pink’s neck, a flap, a slice, like gills on a fish, how you can see the redness of the fish inside, and the cunt’s mouth was opening each time he gasped, and Four-Hun rolled onto his feet, didn’t do anything for the wounded Pink, who had bubbles of blood coming out of his nostrils, just told you all to grab an apple, see, and there were only about ten apples, but when you stick a few nails in an apple, goddamn, they get deadly, so it’s a good thing you buried a packet of six-inch nails somewhere around here, and it’s a good thing you all turned out to be good enough throwers to corner the Cheese responsible and land a few nails in his ear and watch the bloody apple juice turn his neck pink.
You’re telling this story as you and Approvals and about five accountants are waiting for the elevator. Approvals is giving you this look like you’re not even speaking English.
You rummage in the toolbox and come up with a hammer. You double check the garage door’s locked. When you smash your front teeth, your whole face splits apart, it feels like. You’re sure you’ve cracked your skull open and a hairline fracture has run from your jaw to above your eyes, that your face has separated into jigsaw pieces and fallen everywhere.
You were too fresh-looking, too pretty. It was holding you back. Serious Saturday soldiers can’t be pretty.
Bop-bop. Bop-bop. That’s your boy at the bathroom door, asking you if he can help. Yeah, you can help, boy.
“Don’t use a light one—find a dark one. Blood’ll ruin a white towel. No! Not a yellow. Biff it in the bin. Outta here with that yellow puke. I’m serious. Get me a red towel.”
You’re filling in gaps in his knowledge. You offer your boy a toke of weed. He doesn’t seem to know which end of the joint to suck on. He coughs until he’s scratching the floor. You rip open a can of beer for the boy, and it takes his cough away. You spend a good 90 minutes in the bathroom talking bitches and bullies, pay and payback.
Your son’s been having a girl make fun of him, the same girl every third period. She always has cooking class and tries to trip him when he’s headed to woodwork. Boys’ve witnessed it. He’s losing his mana.
You tell your son to keep his voice down. You find brake fluid and pour it on the garage floor.
“See how fucking slippery that shit is? Slip the bitch up. Pour it in the corridor when she’s coming out of class.”
You put the kettle on, demonstrate what boiling water does, killing bugs instantly and turning flowers limp with death. Your boy’s got deodorant in his bag, aerosol spray. That’ll blind the bitch. A lighter added to the aerosol? That’s a flamethrower, son. You tuck five twenty-dollar notes into his hand and curl his fingers around the money. Slip this to your teacher, it’ll make Teach go temporarily blind. No detention, no worries.
Your wife’s banging on the door, saying something about the air conditioner.
You haul it open and breathe fire into her face. “Don’t you know who the fuck I am?”
You show the new Pinks how to boil hand sanitizer in a lidded pot and then separate the alcohol. Everyone gets to sip from the billy of hot, clear hooch. First sip goes to you. They call you sir, even. That’s the way it is, now.
One of the new guys is a bright, useful little fuck, full of good ideas. When he turns up with only half a pack of cigarettes, you almost don’t let him live, but he goes and discovers a first aid kit zipped inside the rear seat of the van. It was there all along. Fancy that. There’re all sorts of useful shit in that first aid kit, always has been. Razor blades, for one. God-damn, what a find! He has this technique—you slot razor blades in an apple, put the apple in a slingshot, and launch it at the Cheese. Sliced cheese, bro!
Some of the good ole Pinks are still around. Strawb’s got more hours; Foreskin, too. Four-Hun? Pfft, get out. See, you found out where he works, backed him up against the wall with your bumper as he was trying to close up, to pull the last roller door down. Had that little granddaughter on his shoulders, he did. He started crying when you squirted petrol on his pants and started lighting a rollie. Helluva nice guy, Maika Manukia is, it turned out. He prays to Lord Jesus Christ when there’re flames getting near. Through the snot and sneezing, he said he’d get a transfer to another work gang.
You said, “Cheers for that. Guess I’ll take your position, if it’s empty.”
You’ll be doing a few extra Saturdays, but not because the former Four-Hun snitched on you.
Boy, oh boy, did you get in shit when the feds found out what you did to your boy’s mom. Your boy’s too young to do actual community service, even though he helped with the whole, you know, thing. The unspeakable thing. When your boy gets out of protective care in a few years, he’ll be good to have around on Saturdays. Makes a mean cup of tea.
Michael Botur lives in Whangarei, New Zealand. He is the author of three short story collections, available on Amazon.com. He’s also a kickass poet and a trained journalist and has published in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times, and Mana. He has two young children, neither of whom is complicit in his criminal activity.