HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

HC 32014

Sometimes you need a bit of light relief and – despite the rather tragic ending – this story, Twelve Steps and a Lightbulb Moment, provided just that. The swapping points of view and different voices made us all laugh out loud at points, so well done Karen!

Karen Jones is from Glasgow.

Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines, e-zines and anthologies, most recently in the Bath Short Story Award Anthology. She is addicted to short story competitions and has been successful in Mslexia, Flash 500, Spilling Ink, Candis, Writers Bureau, The New Writer, Writers’ Forum and Words with Jam.

Her short story collection, The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories, is available from Amazon.

HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition


TWELVE STEPS AND A LIGHT BULB MOMENT

CRAIG

So you have this terrible illness and then you get lucky, get better, and you promise yourself you’ll never waste another minute of your life again, you’ll live every second to the full. But it doesn’t work that way and pretty soon you’re back to the bad old ways. You just wasted your second chance.

MHAIRI

I saw him from a distance, walking down Argyle Street, heading straight towards me. It was peeing with rain, so town wasn’t that busy; not easy to dodge him. I’d thought I’d be able to dodge him forever since he’d moved away. At first it looked like he had a Glasgow tan but as he got closer he seemed more yellow than orange – jaundice. Could have got a part in the Simpsons. That Fuckin Jade’s always got something to say about me being stupid, so just so we’re clear: Aye, I know The Simpsons is a cartoon and Craig’s real.
“Mhairi, doll,” says he, “been a while, eh?”
“Aye, Craig,” says I. “Let’s see now, there was the night ye nicked ma weed at that party we went to thegether. The party you left with Big Angie – and ma weed. And, of course, the last night we were all together at Davy’s. Who could forget that? Special.”
His face crumpled and I felt bad. He clearly wasn’t a well man and there’s me giving him a hard time about stuff that happened over a year ago. He used to be not a bad looking guy in a rugged, Colin Farrell, looks-like-he-could-maybe-do-with-a-good-bath way. I went easy on him.
“You look like shite, Craig.”
He laughed but it looked like laughing hurt. “Cheers, doll, that fair cheered me up. Aye, not been too good. Got some mad virus and stuff started packing in – liver, kidneys – ye know, stuff. Headin’ for the big off for a while, but they reckon I’m on the mend now. I’ll be back looking like Johnny Depp soon.”
I was thinkin’, aye, maybe Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing, but I was being nice.
“Sounds like you’ve had a helluva bad run, eh?” Then I had to get another dig in – couldn’t help myself. “So are you clean? Aff everything? Or still just takin’ everybody else’s?”
I swear, I thought he was going to greet.
“Fair comment.” He took his hands out of his pockets and held them up in surrender. The rain ran down the sleeves of his old blue fleece and when I saw his wrists I realised how thin he’d become.
“I’m sorry, Craig. Past is past, I shouldn’t be nippin’ at ye.”
He shook his head, fast and violent, like a wet dog, the rain flying off his hair and hitting the hood of my jacket as he leaned in close. “Naw. Fair dos. That’s why I’m back for a couple of weeks. Want to say I’m sorry. Not just to you – to all of yous that I treated like shit back then. See, I know it’ll sound a bit wanky, but I feel like I’m getting a second chance. I want to do better. To be better.”
I nearly laughed in his face but he looked like a poor wee soul. I wrapped my arms round him. In the past he’d have tried to cop a feel but he just patted my back, said thanks and walked away.
I can never keep my stupid mouth shut. “Craig, fancy a drink one night? I’ll get everyone thegether and we’ll have a laugh, eh?”
“Aw, that’s good of ye, but I’m aff it. Staying out the pubs and temptation ‘til I’ve got it beat. But I’ll come round for a blether one night, eh? Cup of tea and a blether?”
I nodded. “Aye, aye that would be great.”
Jesus – a cup of tea and blether with a reformed Craig McNicholl. Couldnae wait.

BIG ANGIE

Mhairi Sweeney phoned about Craig, to warn me. Typical Mhairi, dead dramatic. She’s a nice enough lassie – face like a camel chewing a wasp – but no harm in her. I don’t care if Craig’s back, if he’s ill, if he’s ‘pure yellow’ like she said. That’s all behind me now. That whole crowd and the drink and the drugs and the mad parties – I don’t do any of that since I got engaged to Ralph. Ralph’s a restaurant critic for the local paper and we move in different circles, know what I mean? Mhairi reckons Craig’ll be in touch, says he’s doing some kinda twelve step jig round Glasgow, making amends for everything he ever did wrong. He’d never live that long, daft bugger. The way Craig ended up, there’s not many people he didn’t rip off or piss off.
Great guy ‘til he was blootered, then he was your worst nightmare. Fine on the drugs, especially weed – he just fell asleep. I have cause to remember that because one night he actually fell asleep – well, let’s just say on top of me – after a party where he found some weed and we went back to mine. But the drink? The drink made him mental. He’d do anything for a laugh. At first we egged him on: climb that lamp post; pee in that letterbox; shag that gnome. He did it all. But sometimes he took it too far, did dangerous stuff.
Last time I saw him must have been about a year ago. We were all at Davy’s. Davy’s not got many real pals – his skin looks like somebody attacked him with a cheese grater (I think it’s maybe eczema), and he’s awfy chesty all the time, heavy breather and coughing fits – but if you can get past that, a decent guy, always happy for folk to hang out at his place and get wasted so long as they shared and didn’t make a mess, know what I mean? Kept his flat weird neat and made us all use wee cork coasters for our cans. He had antimacassars. Only person outside my granny’s that ever had them on their chairs as far as I know.
So that night the rest of us smoked some weed but Craig had taken acid and then started on the vodka. Bad idea.
Davy starts talking about this guy he saw on telly who could eat weird stuff then bring it up whole. Me and Mhairi thought it was disgusting but Craig and That Fuckin Jade – who informs us all the guy must be a regurgitator – were dead into it, asking Davy to list all the stuff the guy ate. Davy’s like that, “Tennis ball, goldfish, needles, light bulb...” It’s when he says light bulb that Craig’s eyes get wider and we all know what he’s thinking but it’s That Fuckin Jade that says it.
“Do it, Craig.” And she gives him one of her sweetest smiles. That’s the thing about her – dead pretty, dead wee girly – the guys all fall for it. But deep down she’s a twisted wee bitch.
“Do it, Craig,” she says again.
We’re all saying don’t do it, Craig. Really don’t do it. But Craig’s reaching for the bulb and Davy’s telling him to at least let it cool down. Aye, ‘cause getting a burnt tongue is the big issue there.
And Craig eats the light bulb.
Cup of tea with Craig at Mhairi’s? I suppose I’ll have to so he can get through his twelve steps, but after that, I’m done with the lot of them forever.


DAVY

Craig ate a light bulb at my house one night. Never even replaced it. I had to buy a new one myself. That’s taking liberties, so it is. He spewed up blood all over the place. He’s not getting back in here – ever. But I’ll go to Mhairi’s for a cup of tea with him. Maybe he’ll square me up for the new bulb I had to buy. The antimacassars cleaned up okay, but I’ll be talking to That Fuckin Jade about them anyway.


THAT FUCKIN JADE

I heard Craig’s back. Haven’t seen him since he had his ‘light bulb moment’. That’s what he called it when he could talk again, once the cuts had healed. They all blame me. Big Angie says I egged him on. I’d never argue with her – she’s got those upside-down legs, and the last time I saw an arse that big, a mahout was hitting it with a stick – so I took the blame at the time. Mhairi says I slipped him a tab – aye, like you’d need to force drugs on Craig. Mhairi’s as thick as mince, so there’s no point even talking to her. Davy says I mopped up the blood with his antimacassars. I’ve never touched his antimacassars.
It’s all bullshit. I was there, I got drunk with Craig, but when he decided to eat the light bulb, how was anybody supposed to know he had no idea how to do it properly?
It wasn’t my fault and I’m sure he’ll agree when we all meet at Mhairi’s for that cup of tea they didn’t bother their arses inviting me for.


MHAIRI

A week after the day I met Craig in Argyle Street, we all met for a cup of tea at my place. It started off badly and went downhill from there. I’d invited Davy and Big Angie, who’s got even bigger. Ralph must launch her out the house like a barge every day then feed her up in those restaurants he reviews. I think he gets his kicks making her fatter and fatter. Shuddersome. Anyway, then That Fuckin Jade turned up sayin’ Craig’d want her there more than anybody and she’d every right and understood his pain and had an O’ Grade in psychology and could totally help. Angie shrugged. Davy had been in the toilet for ages – he does that – so I had nobody to help me keep her out.
Craig arrived at the door looking better – almost a normal colour. I let him in, but there was something not right.
“Craig, have you been drinking? I thought ye said ye were aff it?”
He smiled, all sheepish. “Just one pint, doll. Hit me hard though. It’s all good. Just one pint with Stench.”
We all exchanged Christ-not-Stench-Craig-is-clearly-stoned-out-his-box looks. Stench is the biggest waster on the estate. One pint my arse.
Then Craig hugged everybody. He couldn’t get his arms all the way round Big Angie and ended up with his face stuck in her boobs. Then he had a fit of the giggles and groped me. He tried to snog That Fuckin Jade but she dodged him, patted him on the back and said she understood. Cow. He went for Davy next. Davy doesn’t like being touched and freaked out, saying he wanted money for a light bulb.
When he heard the word ‘light bulb’, Craig backed off and went, “Oh, aye, nearly forgot.” He had this creepy smile on his face.
We were all like, “Fuck, naw – no way, Craig.” Even That Fuckin Jade shook her head. I ran for the table lamp and got there well before him, so we thought we were safe – no way he could climb on a chair and reach the big light in the state he was in.
He put his hand his pocket, started laughing – he’d brought his own.


CRAIG

The first night I ate the light bulb? Just a laugh. Never knew you’re not meant to chew. Always wondered, if I’d known that, would it have been different? Stench was so sure I’d get it right the second time.
So you have this terrible illness and then you get lucky, get better, and you promise yourself you’ll never waste another minute of your life again. But you bump in to a loser like Stench, stumble over one of those steps. You don’t remember how the bulb got in your pocket, you just know it’s choking you and you’ve wasted your second chance.