Written by Edinburgh based writer Michael Shand, Jimmy this, Jimmy That was officially released on August 1st by Dolman Scott publishers.
It is available to buy through Michael’s website http://www.michaelshandplaywright.co.uk/novels/
But better to buy it on his website.
Also available on iTunes, Google play, Amazon Kindle, Blackwell’s online bookstore, and Waterstone’s online bookstore.
There’s a park we like to hang about in occasionally. During the day it’s packed with parents delicately pushing children on swings and dogs peeing.
When the sun goes down, the climbing frames and flying foxes get used for more daring activities, and the age range of visitors narrows. The resplendent red metal holding up the swings slowly morphs into a dark blood red, and a stray dog loiters outside the gate, awaiting permission to enter.
A perfect haven for the likes of us.
The fact it’s situated directly adjacent to Peebo’s flat is a fine example of the memories one must walk through before getting there. We neither allude to its proximity nor discuss it. We ignore it, because what’s in the past is history and history can’t be altered.
We’re currently outside the park, playing a game of bottle. The name of the game is to kick the plastic bottle into the bin from behind the marked line. This game has been made a lot easier because the bin has previously been burned out by bored teenagers like us, so the hole is large. The bottle is filled with a small amount of coke to help with elevation and wind control. There’s a tacit agreement we always play a game of bottle before entering the park.
There are only three of us playing the game, but actually four corporeal entities present, because Noggin’s sister Tiny is out with us today – currently sitting on the park bench, pretending to be engrossed in the game. She’s out with us because her mum thought spending a bit of time with Noggin and his friends would help her development. I can only assume she’s not referring to her breasts, because they seem to have developed enough already. Obviously we were a bit apprehensive due to knowledge of a certain incident regarding a certain area of her body, but so far she seemed pretty normal. Hadn’t said a huge amount yet, but that’s to be expected; she’s surrounded by three guys who spit, swear, drink and have created the most trivial but fascinating ways of passing time.
Noggin is taking aim and whilst I stand in the queue waiting for my shot, I glance over at Tiny. The pious fucker had given her the chuck a few days ago. Religion might have been her salvation initially, but once she saw through how condescending it all actually is, he probably got bored of her.
I look at her long hair, flickering in the wind – perfectly tinted with a hint of blond – and at her slim legs. My glance circulates the different features on her face and my eyes rest on her hairline. She must sense this, and glances at me. I look away and when I eventually look back she smiles. She blushes slightly when I catch her eye, and then looks away. There’s a kindness and vulnerability in this blush.
Noggin misses the bin by an inch or two and Specks lets out a gasp. I’m next up and go for a two pointer – putting a hand over one of your eyes. As I dig my foot into the concrete, the bottle lifts effortlessly into the air – the weight at the bottom dragging it down, defying the laws of gravity. Specks jumps onto the bench beside Tiny and squats, just as the bottle deposits perfectly into the bin. I throw my hands in the air and imitate the commentator of Italian football, ‘GOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL, LAZIIIIOOOOOOO!’
I look over at Tiny, who laughs for the first time tonight and this laughter fills my heart with joy.
The importance of scoring the winning goal at bottle is not to be underestimated. It gives you privileges; first choice of swing when we play swingy, last when we play stone the footballer, and most significantly, first drink of the vodka and coke concoction.
The half-litre bottle of vodka is mixed into a 2ltr bottle of coke and passed around the group. I got to start off the drinking – initially avoiding the saliva and crisp floaters – and then passed it onto Tiny. She didn’t take a huge amount before passing it to Noggin. Once Specks had it, we would enter the park and head straight for the swings.
The game is very simple: swing and swing and swing until you gain maximum altitude, and then at the perfect moment jump off and attempt to travel as far through the air as possible. When it’s not his shot, Noggin will be the designated marker, because Specks is a cheating bastard. We each get three shots and the swing seems to get rustier, louder and less trustworthy with every attempt – hence the advantage of me going first. Noggin’s world record is still marked into the ground and I’m desperate to beat it – mostly to impress Tiny but mainly because I’m really competitive. Of course, there’s another reason we play this game directly after drinking the vodka, and I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to work this out.
I post a pretty decent first jump, but, sadly, nowhere near Noggin’s world record. I sometimes look at it and think he must have been assisted mid-air by a travelling flock of seagulls to have jumped that far.
Next up is Tiny and she has this suspicious grin on her face. This could be a mixture of alcohol and embarrassment that she’s actually getting involved in one of our games. Or maybe she knows something about physics we don’t.
As the swing begins to rock back and forward with more and more vigour, I catch her looking at me and giggling; I’m starting to wonder if she might be an Olympic champion when I notice her already in mid-flight. I turn my head quickly and catch a glimpse of her arse. But these perfectly formed bum cheeks don’t seem to be getting any lower. In fact, unless the vodka has really gone to my head, they seem to be rising. It feels like time has stood still and we’re witnessing something miraculous. I look at the ground and wait for contact. I look past Noggin’s world record and outside the park. I look onto the field and down the road. I picture her flying above my house and looking into my chimney. I think of the noise a plane makes and how amazing it was when we went to Germany. I think of water: of warm water and that feeling when you first lower yourself into the bath. I think of masturbating and how it’s become a huge part of my life. I think about climax and start trying to form an image of this in my head. I think of all these things and they flash through me in an instant.
Then Specks is screaming, he’s shouting, he’s dancing about. He’s repeating, ‘ya fuckin beauty,’ and Tiny is lying on the floor, frozen in the doggy-style position, reluctant to move her feet. I struggle to comprehend my surroundings as I look at Noggin. He looks away from me in disgust, but must secretly be delighted it’s still in the family. Tiny has beaten his world record by an inch or two, and there can be no argument. He could argue the wind was on her side but this isn’t the fucking Olympics. He could argue she’s lighter, but that would be petty. He could say she’s suppler than him from her gymnastics classes, but who uses a fucking word like supple in any argument?
She gets to her feet and runs over and hugs me. Maybe the confidence comes from the vodka, but I embrace her like a long lost family member anyway and then let go. It’s interesting; having a female in the group has definitely changed the dynamic. It’s almost as though we’re maturing and Tiny is teaching us aspects of behaviour we never knew existed. As she pulls away from me I look into her eyes and mutter, ‘well done.’
‘Wis that a bit eh un-macho-man praise?’ she says.
She laughs and turns away, taunting her brother. It’s only taken a matter of minutes, but she feels part of us. She feels like the gap filler, the one sent from above to guide us through this transitional period, whilst we try and shake off the remnants of Jimmy Stokes.
We move over to the spider web climbing frame.
This is a slightly more barbaric game and Tiny incredulously laughs when we tell her the rules: one person climbs up to the top but balances their feet on the third piece of rope down. They are then asked a question. This question is
always football related. If they answer the question correctly, they move their feet up to the second last rope without any punishment. However, if they answer incorrectly, every other player involved is allowed to throw a stone at them and they have to take it like a statue. Although the stones are never very big, any facial contact can be really sore. The aim of the game is to get to the top, and then you’ve successfully made it out of the firing line; however, if you move or flinch when someone is throwing a stone at you, it’s known as a shitebag and the ramifications of a shitebag are severe; not only do you get two stones simultaneously thrown at you, the next question is un-football related. So believe it or not, it’s actually in your best interests to take the pain. The intake of alcohol helps with this, though.
Because he was last at Swingy, Specks is first, and after climbing to the top is instantly asked what Italian team Gabriel Batistuta plays for. There’s a disappointing sigh when he says, ‘Fiorentina’ – which is the correct answer. He’s then asked what country Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is from and says, ‘Norway’: correct again. There’s a pause and for some strange reason, Noggin looks at Tiny – who has her arms crossed and is looking a bit sad. ‘A cannae be arsed thinkin up the questions,’ Noggin says. Specks remonstrates he’s only one correct answer away from the finish line, but Noggin just turns his back on him and walks away.
He understands that to invite someone else into the group means you have to adapt to their ways. You can’t ostracise them by playing games they don’t feel comfortable with. I appreciate for the first time his filial kindness. I accept his subtle lamentations about baby-sitting, but his obvious admiration for Tiny outweighs this. He can see she really enjoyed swingy, because it made her feel like an ordinary teenager again, and after all, this is what the purpose of her attendance was in the first place. He can recognise standing on the side-lines, watching on as other people have fun is the last thing she should be doing.
Noggin stops, and then turns back. ‘D’yae wantae see the game we invented oan the flying fox Tiny?’
She looks at him and smiles. ‘Na…you go ahead.’
‘Fine…’ she replies, embarrassed at this slightly awkward moment.
He smiles at her and then looks at Specks. ‘Specks?’
‘Fuckin right,’ he answers, and without prior invitation, hands me the bottle of vodka and coke and then runs towards the flying fox.
Leaving me alone with Tiny.
I hand the bottle to her, and then look over at the other side of the park. She swigs from it and I laugh as Noggin is upside down on the flying fox, Specks dragging his feet. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen them interact this way. It doesn’t seem forced, but natural. There doesn’t seem to be an emotional disparity, but a connection. Noggin’s parents are encouraging, Specks’ parents are…well, we don’t need to go into that. But there’s an unforced acceptance
between them; cordiality brought on by the presence of Tiny: a belief that we’ve truly moved on and are ordinary teenagers again.
Tiny passes me the alcohol and says, ‘ye dinnae come roond anymare.’
An excruciatingly painful moment goes by.
‘Eh…A’ve been busy.’
‘Fuck off,’ she mutters. ‘A’m no daft.’
And then we have another awkward silence. An understanding materialises between us that I’ve been cruel. By refusing to go back to Noggin’s house, I’m confirming she was raped and doesn’t deserve to be normal anymore. She makes me recognise instead of being mature about it, I was childish. I ran from it.
She then laughs and says, ‘ye niver spoke tae me anyway,’ – obviously attempting to ease the situation.
‘A’m yer senior,’ I say to her. ‘Show eez a bit eh respect.’
Immediately I recognise the rape related connotations connected with what I’ve just said and feel awful. I realise I must fight this awkward feeling. I must divert it somehow and pretend it never happened. Or better still: stop worrying everything I say might be in some way related, because this doesn’t help either. She’s just a teenager who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
‘Yer only ma senior in age. Kevin told eez aboot yer Prelim results.’
‘Cheeky bastard,’ I grin.
And then something happens. A movement occurs, originated from the locking of eyes, and suddenly we move towards each other…and kiss.
A minute or two later she has her tongue down my throat and her hands gripping onto my back. I push her against the fence and we start kissing again. This time she puts her hands around my waist and I put my hand on her face. Girls always close their eyes during kissing, as though they’re trying to transcend or practice some tantric Buddhist shit. She’s a really good kisser and sticks her hand up my top. Her cold hand on my bare chest only accentuates the intensity of the kissing and for a moment I feel like I’m floating under water. I can taste the alcohol from her breath and somehow we turn around so I’m against the fence and she’s looking out into oblivion: the world outside the park. I glance over towards the flying fox and both Noggin and Specks have stopped moving. They’re staring in my direction and have become like statues. I’m looking at Noggin for approval. He seems to move forward but maybe it’s just the focus of my eyes improving. I look into his eyes and then at his mouth. He smiles, a warm, comforting smile. He seems to be thanking me without speaking. I watch him climb back onto the flying fox and suddenly feel immensely happy. I’m kissing Tiny but my intimate feelings are towards her brother. It might be the drink invading my senses, but I can’t help but feel an unequivocal love for my mate Noggin at this time.
I pull away from Tiny and she smiles. The transcendental moment of a kiss is soon drowned out when it finishes. You then have to deal with the consequences of your actions. I take her hand and feel confident enough to publicly hold it. She puts her head on my shoulder and rubs her fingers through my hair – confirming for the moment I’m her man and it was more than just a kiss. I look outside the park at an older woman walking her dog and think to myself: what of Jimmy Stokes?
Because it’s suddenly apparent nobody seems to give a shit about him anymore. Tonight it’s the four of us, but not the same four. The dynamics couldn’t be any more different, and a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time materialises. A feeling of perfect satisfaction.
Michael Shand is also releasing a novella ‘Some Doors Close’. It is available from November 10th.
The workplace of Jonathan Kingsley.
A small key will open a very large door.
The workplace of Jonathan Kingsley.
A small key will open a very large door.