HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

The Last Of The Shower

The Last of the Shower by Sue Healy

“Cofin open. Lookin dead. Needs wakin : )” Killer read the message and slipped his mobile into his leather jacket, flicking an imaginary fringe from his eyes. He’d had hair once. What was left was trapped in a grey ponytail at the nape of his neck. The wind was icy on his head; he lifted his collar and glanced over Ardoo strand. The sand was sodden black. Seabirds skimmed the froth of tide. Three children were at play, scarves wriggling in the wind. Anoraks of lime, pink and blue – bright blobs blown across a dark canvas. Lime was dragging sticks of kelp from a tangle of seaweed. Pink and Blue leaned, twisted and knitted the kelp into a tepee and crowned it with clumps of green sea-grass. They yelped. The mothers stood to one side in drab hats, brown coats, brown shoes. When the construction was complete they yanked the children away from the approaching tide. Killer moved on to the pub. It was still called “Campbell’s”. It was Campbell’s in 1978 - when it mattered. The wind rattled the Christmas fairylights on Campbell’s rafters now, unseating them from their hooks so they hung like a bad hem. Killer’s chest tightened as he opened the pub door. All was sheen and bright. There was no snug, no corner room, no lounge anymore, just one central counter and a white shirted barman with a deep tan and blonde highlights. He was polishing a glass and eyeing a reality show on a large screen plasma T.V. A plump, middle-aged man sat on a barstool doing a crossword puzzle. An older slouching woman entered the room carrying a tin of polish and splattered the air with Fresh Norwegian Pine. The cleaning woman noticed him and stood upright and smiled. Killer’s mobile phone beeped. “Put him on bed. Shd I cova him w/sumin? Fraid he mite smell.”
Killer began to reply, the blonde barman interrupted. ‘What can I get you?’ The barman’s teeth were big and very white, like they’d bite you. Killer ordered a drink, leaning away from the barman’s mouth. It was then he saw him, Barnaby, the stuffed giraffe with his stubby horns replaced by lightbulbs. Killer had forgotten about Barnaby. Up until that moment if anyone had asked Killer Kelly to describe Campbell’s bar in July 1978, he would have recounted the orange mural on the ceiling, the didgeridoo over the bar, the purple stools like poisonous mushrooms, the plastic tables pockmarked with cigarette burns and the perma-fug of smoke. Killer would have told you about debates and fisticuffs and deals and dope smoked. Most of all, however, Killer would have told you about the music. After all, it was all about the music. However, Killer would not have told you about Barnaby, the stuffed baby giraffe-cum-standing-lamp. He’d forgotten Barnaby. Completely. Strange that. Killer raised his glass to the giraffe and smiled. The barman leaned forward. ‘That’s Gerry. He came with the place, belongs down the barras if you ask me.’ Killer frowned and took a sip from his glass. ‘His name’s Barnaby.’ Killer’s mobile beeped again. “What they say? All OK? Ur Lyn xo”
Killer’s chest tightened. He fingered the Rescue Remedy in his jacket pocket. The cleaning woman was behind the bar now, vigorously polishing. She looked at Killer, her lips snipped. Killer turned to the barman and cleared his throat.
‘Eh, you the manager?’
The barman lowered the volume on the T.V., his eyebrows raised. ‘Me? God no, I’d be a disaster. Wouldn’t I, Morag? There’s the boss, there.’ He flapped the tea towel at the cleaning woman. The cleaning woman claimed her full height. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘Eh, no. No. I was just, eh, well I was just wondering if… do you do wakes?’
The crossword man looked up.
‘Sorry?’
‘Wakes. Like when someone dies and you lay them out on a table and have a party around them.’ ‘I know what a wake is.’
The crossword man folded his newspaper. ‘Oh, they’re getting very fashionable again, Morag. You’d want to start thinking about advertising for them. Fortunately, the one thing this bloody government can’t wreck is dying. There’s always a wake market.’
‘People are only dying to have them,’ said the barman. He laughed, then reddened and turned to Killer. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.’
Silence. Killer sniffed.
Morag’s voice deepened. ‘Have you just lost someone?’
Killer flicked his head. ‘Yeah, Bounce.’
‘Your dog.’ She glanced at the barman, who bit the laughter on his lip.
‘Not my dog. Bounce Wilson, my bandmate.’
Killer turned and stared at Barnaby
. ‘Your bandmate? A musician? He’s dead, is he?’
‘Ooo, well, I should hope so if he wants to give him a wake.’ The barman laughed. Killer turned, ‘I’m sorry?’
The barman put his fingers to his lips. He had clean fingernails. ‘Sorry.’
‘Rory, can you clean the stout pipes out the back, please?’
‘That’s what he said last night.’ Rory exited laughing.
Crossword folded his newspaper. ‘Bandmate? Was it drugs?’
Killer lowered his glass to the counter. ‘No, it was not drugs. The man had a heart attack. On a step machine. In a gym.’ Killer ran his eyes from crossword man to Morag. ‘Bounce’d been sober for fifteen years. He worked in care.’ Killer raised his glass and turned to Barnaby. ‘To Bounce.’
His audience all gave little nods and mumbled, ‘Mm, Bounce.’
Crossword spoke. ‘So, you were in a band?’
Killer continued to look into Barnaby’s glass eyes. He could see the three of them in there, back in 1978: Killer Kelly, Bounce Wilson and Austin Glynn-Burden, three musketeers, first year art students all. His face bubbled in acne then but he had all his hair and was the first to dye it too. Austin’s hair was long, brown and thin and hung like greasy shoelaces. Then there was Bounce. Bounce was always beautiful. His snarl ruined by full lips and dimples, the determined curl in his blond hair defied gel and his eyes, bluer than eyes should ever be, could never spark any punk menace. Bounce’s beauty burned brightest then – it was in London it crashed, shrivelled. Crack took Bounce’s teeth, and skin. Life fleeced Killer’s hair and Austin’s talent.
‘So, who were you?’
Killer ran his fingers through his invisible hair.
‘I mean, were you famous?’
Killer shrugged and looked away. ‘I was the bassist in The Shower of Bastards.’ He curled his lip slightly, that old hint of aggression on show – aggression that once had two busloads a night travelling to Ardoo from Oban and Taynuilt to catch a Shower gig.
Rory returned, cracking the silence. ‘All the pipes are in order, Mein Fuhrer.’
Morag’s eyes narrowed on Killer. He snarled a little more. The Killer snarl.
‘Are you John-Ned Kelly’s brother?’ Her index finger raised.
Killer dropped his snarl. ‘Yes.’
‘He’s an accountant in Edinburgh now, am I right?’
‘Yes.’
‘I knew it. I knew it. You have the Kelly nose. I’d know it anywhere. A big boney thing, if you don’t mind me saying and not that there is anything wrong with that.’
‘Ach, it’s lovely. It suits him, Morag. It gives you character.’ Rory beamed at Killer.
Morag was nodding now, congratulating herself on recognizing the Kelly nose. ‘And didn’t you used to be in a band?’
Rory clicked his tongue. ‘Oh Morag, you’re hopeless. She never listens.’ Rory shook his head. ‘He’s just said he was in a band, with the dead lad.’
‘Oh, that’s right.’
Killer twitched. ‘Yeah, we used to headline here. We played every Saturday night in July and August, 1978. Used to get a crowd.’
Crossword waved his pen. ‘I knew it. I knew it. I remember you all well. Were you the one with the beard?’
‘No.’
‘Right. Was that the dead fellow, then?’
‘No. We didn’t have beards. We were punks.’ Killer sniffed.
‘Oh.’ Crossword man went back to his puzzle, shrugging.
‘Punks?’ Rory opened his eyes wide, ‘I’m more an Adele man myself.’ He lifted his arms above his head and writhed his hips, “Soomeone like youuu”.
Killer sniffed. ‘We wrote our own songs.’
Rory winked at Morag. ‘Talented too.’
A flicker snagged Killer’s eyes. One of Barnaby’s lightbulbs twitched and died. Rory sighed. ‘That ugly thing’s knackered, Morag. We should chuck it.’
Killer fired Rory a look. ‘The Shower of Bastards kept this pub going for a whole summer of 1978. The Shower of Bastards had them coming from all over the county to spit at us.’
‘Spit, did you say?’ Crossword man pointed at his paper. ‘You know, I say we’d need a bit of that these days, boy. Spitting. There’s a lot of us feel like spitting at the government right now. I wouldn’t mind taking the train up to Holyrood right now and having a good old hawk at them, would you, Morag?’
‘You’d get a lot of company on that trip, Jim. They’ve landed us all in it.’
Rory turned up the reality T.V. show. Killer swilled some more stout. It sat sour at the back of his throat. His mobile beeped.
“Wot goin on? Wen u home? It freakin me out looking at him.”
Killer cleared his throat. ‘Eh, about that wake?’
Morag assumed a business face. ‘Oh, yes. Sorry to hear about your friend. Bandmate.’ She looked to Jim. ‘It was the beardy one who died, was it?’
Jim downed his paper again. ‘No, Mo, he said they were punks. No beards. Safety pins and spitting and all that.’
Rory rolled his eyes and massaged Morag’s neck, shaking his head at Killer. ‘She never listens.’ Morag turned to Killer. ‘I’m sorry, so much on my mind with this place,’ she glanced around the empty tables. ‘Well, your bandmate?’ Morag brought a notepad and pen to the counter and began to write. ‘There was only the one bandmate, was there?’
Killer glanced at Barnaby, his remaining lightbulb was flickering now. ‘There were three of us. The Shower of Bastards was a threesome.’
Morag was writing in her notepad. ‘And the other two are both dead now, are they?’ She clucked her tongue and frowned. ‘You’re the last of the Shower, are you?’
Killer frowned. ‘No. Only Bounce is dead. Bounce Wilson. Bounce died in a gym on Monday. A heart attack. In London. Me and my girlfriend have brought him home to be waked. In Campbell’s.’
Morag downed her pen. ‘Well, where is the third fellow?’
‘Who?’
‘Your other bandmate. You said there were three of you.’
Killer shrugged. ‘Austin? He’s in Krakow.’
Jim snorted. ‘What’s he doing over there? I thought the Poles were the ones moving here, to take our jobs. Well, that’s a sign of things if we all have to emigrate to Poland to get work. No doubt that’ll be the next thing.’
‘He’s teaching English.’
Jim widened his eyes. ‘That’s the worse thing he could do. You know where they’ll all be heading once they’ve learned English. Oh, yes.’
Killer closed his eyes and exhaled. He could hear them. He could hear July 24th 1978, he could hear the chants of the throng. A writhing, spiking mass of punk: chanting, shouting, screaming “Fucking Shower of Bastards. Fucking Shower of Baaas-tards!” They were kings.
‘So, the punk’s dead?’ Morag was clicking her pen.
Killer slammed his glass down on the counter, Morag jumped. ‘Punk’s not dead, punk will never fucking die.’ He stabbed the air with his finger.
Morag and Rory looked at Jim. Morag moved the notepad to her chest. ‘I’m sorry, I thought you said your friend was dead. And you wanted a wake?’
Killer smoothed down his ghost mane of purple hair. ‘Yeah, yeah, sorry. Bounce. Yeah. Bounce is dead. We want to wake him here. Can you just give us a price, please?’
Morag’s eyes had narrowed again. ‘Well, that depends on what food you want. Are we talking ham sandwiches? Or do you want a meal?’
‘What? Oh, I don’t know. Sandwiches, eh, Bounce went vegetarian ten years ago so we can’t have ham at his wake.’
Rory turned down the T.V. again ‘And how many sandwiches will the dead punk be eating, then?’ He laughed.
Morag shot him a look. ‘Rory, can you bring in the crisps from the store room, please?’ Morag mouthed a “sorry” in Killer’s direction.
‘He’s young,’ said Morag.
Killer sniffed.
Morag smiled gently. ‘Where would you like to lay the body?’
Killer jutted his chin at a corner. ‘The stage used to be there. That’s the best place for Bounce.’ ‘Do you have a trolley for him, or something.’
‘Bounce? No, we had him delivered in a travel coffin this morning.’
‘We? I thought his family was dead?’ Morag glanced at Jim again.
‘Lyn and me. Lyn’s my partner. She’s English. She’s just opened the coffin and rolled him onto the bed.’
Morag and Jim looked at each other again, and then turned back to Killer for more information. Killer cleared his throat and scratched his head. ‘Anyway, Lyn wants to see Campbell’s so… Look, ham sandwiches are fine. Can you just give me a price?’
Morag wrote in her notepad.
‘For how many?’
‘Sorry?’
‘How many will be at the wake?’
Killer raked his head and glanced at Barnaby. Both bulbs were dead now. He shrugged and spoke in Barnaby’s direction. ‘I don’t know, depends on who turns up.’
Morag gave a resigned sigh. ‘And there better be no spitting, we’ve just had those upholstered.’ Morag tipped her pen towards the beige seats.
Killer raised both hands. ‘No spitting.’
‘Good, so how many?’
‘I don’t know, could be… hundreds. Could be, I don’t know, twenty. Or not.’
‘Well, if you can’t give me an estimate on attendees, I can’t give you an estimate on the price of ham sandwiches.’
Killer fidgeted with the beer mat. ‘Yeah, I know.’
‘Maybe your girlfriend would have an idea. We women are better at this kind of thing.’
Jim put on his cap. ‘Oh, they are. Women are much better at sandwiches and that sort of stuff. You’re better off leaving it to them to sort out between themselves.’
Morag took a small card from under the counter and slid it over to Killer. ‘Are you staying in the village?’
‘Mmm? Yeah, at John-Ned’s summer house. Lyn’s up there now with the body.’
Morag patted the back of his hand. ‘Well, here’s my number. You just tell your Lyn to call Morag Kinsella about the wake sandwiches, when she’s finished with the body.’ Morag raised an eyebrow at Jim.
Killer nodded, paid for his drink and headed for the door, mouthing “goodbye” at Barnaby as he left.
Outside the wind roared over the sea wall. The tide was in, spitting and hissing waves over the wall. The kelp castle long gone.
Killer took out his mobile phone.
“Campbells nt doin wakes coz cutbacks. Jst call St. Andrew’s 2 bury. I home in 10.”

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Sue Healy is a graduate of UEA’s Creative Writing MA, and also won the 2011 Molly Keane Memorial Award. Previous to her move to the UK, she worked as a journalist in Hungary, 1997-2008, and edited ‘Hungary A.M.’ and ‘Expat Echo’. Her fiction has been published in the New Europe Writers Anthology, The UEA Anthology, The Moth Literary Magazine and The New Writer Magazine. In 2010, Sue won the Waterford Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Award. Earlier this year she was highly commended for The New Writer Annual Award, three-times shortlisted for the Meridian Award and once for the Wells Literary Festival Award, as well as longlisted for the Jane Austen Literary Award. Sue teaches creative writing in prisons, tutors creative writing for an independent online service and runs her own creative writing workshops.www.suehealy.org

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