I’m Jack. That’s the name I go by for sure. I’m Jack and I’m one of five siblings. The good one. The other four aren’t worth Jack shit. Ha ha, no pun intended.
I’m sober today. For now anyway, but it is only ten o’clock in the morning. Give it time.
So the siblings, how about them? Who cares, but you did ask, didn’t you?
Eldest one. Lawyer, don’t you know? Clever arse. As many bedrooms in his house as we are siblings. That’s five in case you weren’t paying attention.
Fit wife though. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a gal like her, but no, she only has eyes for her lawyer hubbie and as he is no looker, I’m guessing it’s the bank balance. Lawyer. Ha. Never represented me when I needed him. Said he didn’t hear the phone when it went off in the middle of the night. How did he know that’s when it went off then?
Next one down is Tom. Tom is a sporty little fucker. Football, tennis, rugby, darts and monopoly. Okay, the last two were attempts at sarcasm (which I am extremely good at, my best asset), but still he is alright Tom.
We aren’t best buddies by no stretch, but he is never shy with his round when he sees me, even though he knows he shouldn’t.
Jesus, only up to two of them and it is still only half past the hour of ten. I’m sure that can in the fridge is calling my name, if only my name was cheap cider. I only need one to get me on my way. Probably because I live next door to the ale house, so it is more a saunter, not a sprint to the bar. I do have some pride, you know.
Okay, number three.
Well, that’s me. Middle kid. Wool the colour of coal. Black sheep, you got it in one.
I stumble through life looking for a purpose, an opportunity, but when one presents itself I look the other way. Woahhhhh, work? And ruin another day on the ale? Stumble. That’s what I do.
Ma tried her best, but when most days of my youth involved her getting calls from the school and then later from the police, well even she washed her hands of me, eventually. She allowed me to stay, but I stayed like a ghost for most of the time.
Dad was ever present at work, trying to make his own way and a way for his family to follow.
Two of them did and so that leads me to sibling number four; Ann. She, like me, did not follow in the path of our father’s success.
If you have ever seen me drunk (if you are ever in the town centre past nine on any given weekend then chances are you have) then double that and add a splash of coke (and I don’t mean fizzy pop) and that’s our Ann.
I love her to absolute bits. Her heartbroken at eighteen and just weeks later losing the baby her shit-bag man was going to be a dad too, no wonder she went off the rails big time.
She brings out the big brother in me and that led me to my first little stretch inside. She has a mouth on her alright, no doubt, no question, no excuses, but it’s her mouth, she is my sister and so if she wants to say something that offends someone, then the offended party best shut up or be dealt with. Except this one didn’t.
A Saturday night in town, she has been on it all day with me not far behind and we bump into each other in the classiest joint in town. Well, one of the few that let us in.
“Love you bruv” she slurs when she sees me and drapes herself around me like a carpet.
“Love you too sis,” I reply and give her a smack on the lips.
Little yuppie type with his yuppie type mates cottons on to us, snorts like a pig and to the amusement of his buddies offers us some advice.
“Get a room will you? I’m trying to enjoy my night.” He turns smugly to his crew, all high fives and grins.
It’s an obvious sign their behaviour. We do it, we are ‘druggie scum’, they take a toot and it’s just hard working lads letting off steam at the weekend after five days in the office dealing with overdrafts and law suits.
Sister Ann won’t let it go though. No, the ‘big A’ does not like an insult, especially when family are concerned.
“He is my big brother, ya perv,” she slurs giving him the stink eye.
“Jesus then,” quips the suit. “Inbreds from the estate making dirty in public. What next? Their own porn channel? A Game All the Family Can Play?”
Ann reacts as Ann always reacts; with venom.
“I’d rather shag him than you, ya’ drip. Look at you in your poncy suit, probably get off knocking ya’ wife about, friggin’ half-wit.”
Suits’s mates all cry out with laughter, but he is not amused and probably because our Ann is telling a half truth. He confirms his desire to be alpha male by lunging at her, bad intentions on his mind.
“Well that fuckin’ escalated quickly,” I say as I make peace with God and jump into the affray.
And that is all I thought it was; affray.
The Judge thought differently though and even though my previous offenses had been petty theft, relieving shops of their alcoholic goods etc, he thought that the fact I had bought a glass into the matter worthy of a sentence inside. I say bought a glass but what I mean is I pushed it so hard and so fast into suit’s face that it took hours to remove the bits and a fair few more to put the fourteen stiches into him as well. Nobody loves our Ann more than me.
I stumbled into prison and I stumbled out of prison some months later a changed man. Changed into an angry man with a good heart but too much liking for drink.
Speaking of which, is it time yet? Clock says “no.” Another hour, sixty minutes, three thousand, six hundred seconds. Yep, I can do math.
May as well rip the top off the cider and tell you about number five whilst I am waiting. Special this one. The baby of the family. Born too early and it shows.
Now fifteen years of age and still can’t walk without his wheelchair. Hang on? That doesn’t make sense and so a take gulp of my adult apple juice and now it does. Can’t walk so needs a wheelchair. That makes it a bit clearer.
Dribbles like a fucking tap left on the little bastard does, but we love him.
Alfie he goes by and when you say it he grins like a loon. I love him. I love him like it hurts, but will they let me near him on his own? Will they fuck. Not anymore.
It went like this;
Me and Alfie hit the town. Couple of good-looking brothers on a Saturday afternoon stroll. He looks at me like I am his long-lost hero back from war. War that is, not prison, for the second time around, which is more like the truth, but he doesn’t need to know that.
Quick meander around the park where he manages to hit one of the swans with a bit of bread.
Said swan looks angry, he doesn’t know Alfie ain’t got a bad bone in his body (just ones that don’t work so good) and makes a noise that sounds like trouble so me and our kid make a run for it. Well, you know.
I push and run, he sits and laughs. Little bugger didn’t mean to do it. Yeah, okay.
Breathless we crash outside the takeaway. Burger for me and a straw, a cup and that’s Alfie’s dinner sorted out.
Now once inside us we have the afternoon for mischief but make do with the beer garden. Couple of drinks by us and we have our version of a chat. I give his hair a stroke and his head a kiss.
“Love you Alfie,” I say, and he seems to get it. He grins his big grin and basks in the sun. It’s time for another pint so up I get, not yet stumbling.
“Stay here Alfie,” I say, cracking myself up. “Don’t go anywhere.”
I guess he will do as he is told.
The inside bar is dark compared to the brightness of outside and so it takes me a minute to spot Harry, another man fond of big drink.
He greets me with a handshake, a hug and soon after a double short and so the conversation begins.
Usually banter, birds, booze, brawls. Football and sports follow and I am not much of a fan but it would be rude not to join in. Besides, it is my round and so I signal for a pint each and two doubles. Legs getting a bit wobbly now with only a burger inside me, but what the hell, I’ll have a lie in tomorrow. As long as I am dressed before first doors, twelve o’clock high noon.
Now Harry is quite the raconteur and can make a five-minute yarn turn into a hilarious marathon and so of course he does. His story is that long it takes his next round and then mine to finish it. My sides ache as he bellows on about some transvestite he thought he was in love with. Until he awoke the next morning to realise, well you know. Wrong choice under the pressure of booze and all that. Bet he stumbled out of that gaff sharpish.
As well as a bloody good storyteller, he also knows the next best thing and this early evening it is the happy hour at the Feathers, a watering hole just up town. A no brainer really and so, not exactly holding each other up but getting there, we make our way forward for more merriment.
Neither of us can work out whose round it is next, but we don’t really care. We go back Harry and I so I stump up, the same again. Including doubles that is six drinks between us but what is a bad head between friends?
Some bird murders the karaoke, but our senses our dull and good old Harry includes her in the next round. She joins us and I give her arse a pinch. She doesn’t mind and this is turning into a good night.
It brightens even more when Ann walks in, already wobbling from an all-day drink session at her flat, but she is always game for more and knocks back a white wine like a glass of pop before disappearing into the toilet to ‘wipe her nose’. Whatever.
She comes back full of the joys of spring and hugs me, pulling me in close.
“You are one sparkling brother you are Jack, “ she slurs. “To all of us, you know?”
I nod. “Yes indeed I do. Up for an award next,” I laugh.
“You deserve one bruv,” she says. “ Especially how you are with Alfie. Between you and me I couldn’t do it. I just think…”
Her words are drowned out by a deafening silence and a panic hits my throat like it wants to scream.
I clutch the bar to stop from propelling forward, but I compose myself as much as I can. Harry catches the look on my face.
“Jack, you okay?” he asks.
“Alfie,” I say.
“Yeah we know. Ya’ love him.” He says this whilst giving me a friendly shoulder punch.
“It isn’t that I love him,” I say. “It’s that I’ve fuckin’ left him.”
They all cotton on pretty quickly and follow me top speed out of the door. As top speed as stumblers can.
I’d like to say we burst through the gate of the beer garden, but it is more like we fell through it.
My heart sinks as I see Alfie didn’t listen to me, didn’t stay where he was supposed to. He has gone.
“Jesus Jack,” says Ann. “You’ve fucking lost our Alfie.”
An old soak catching a smoke looks at me in disgust and that’s when I know I’ve hit rock bottom. When someone like him has disdain for you, well then…
“You prick,” he says with venom. He spits tobacco out of his mouth. “You didn’t lose him, you left him. Good job your older lad Tom was here with his football mates. They were horrified.”
“Eddie,” I say pleading. “Where have the taken him?”
He snorts his contempt.
“The fucking tip like Stig of the Dump. Where do you think they have taken him?”
Ann looks at me in horror and I nod.
“I’ll see you tomorrow bruv yeah?” she says.
I nod and start the long walk home.
Alfie is the forgiving type because he never knows anyone has wronged him, but my parents have no more forgive in them. The frosty silence is no more than I deserve.
I look at my little brother, wrapped in a blanket and cosy as hell. He sees me a laughs, claps his hands and I bend to hug him.
“Your bags are packed,” says my dad without looking up from the television. Mum just stares at her book, but I know she hasn’t seen a word.
“I’m not a heartless man,” says my dad. “It will do tomorrow, but that is that.”
I know and I nod.
“Look I’m,” but my words are drowned out as the television sound is turned full volume.
So that’s me. That’s Jack. That’s who I am but what I do is stumble.
I realise my can is empty, but that is okay as my body clock knows the time. Plus I hear the doors from the boozer next door open and so I stand, check myself in the mirror (not too bad, not too good) and prepare for the day ahead. I’ve no doubt it will be the same as yesterday as sure as the one tomorrow will be the same as today.
Making my way out onto the street it is but a short stroll. Even though the legs are strong this early in the day, I stumble into the pub and I’ll stumble out of it tonight, because that is what I do. I stumble.