There was sleet falling. It fell straight down in the windless, chill air but the boys ignored it. They were standing outside the pub hoping someone would lend them money or bring them out a few beers. Barney Madden ran them out of it but they went back when he took himself home. Like he owned the place, Stevie said, fuck him, all he does is wash the glasses.
Andy felt the unhappiness grow in his chest again. It was heavy and he fought against it. No, he said to himself. No. He held his arms up and out in front of him and made soft, crooning, engine noises.
“Definitely getting a bike, so I am, and it won’t be long now. I’m still getting a couple of days on the boat with Dominic Byrne and he says he’ll have more work in the Summer and I’ll start saving then . . . “
Andy dropped his arms and sat on the wall.
“What do you say, Stevie Wonder?”
Stevie threw the butt of his cigarette on the ground and watched it roll into a puddle.
“I say you’re full of shite, Andy. I wish there was more than tobacco in that fag, that’s what I say . . . God, it’s freezing.”
They walked up and down, their fingers squeezed into the pockets of their jeans and their shoulders hunched and they thought about riding bikes on the straight, endless roads with the sun hot in the sky and their ipods loud in their ears.
“We’re never going to have them bikes,” Stevie said.
He nudged the rolled-up poster tucked under Andy’s arm.
“That’s as near a bike as we’ll ever get . . . cost a fuckin’ fortune even if you do have a job – most of them don’t hardly pay more than the dole. And you’ve got Lily and wee Grace. Have we any fags left?”
Andy lit a cigarette and dragged on it before passing it to Stevie. Stevie had a part-time job delivering newspapers to shops. Great, he said it was, getting up at three in the morning, the streets all dark and no traffic so you could hear the sea, and then the day to yourself. He wanted Andy to come too when the other helper was off, but Lily wouldn’t let him – said she’d be scared on her own at night, even though them birds were in the downstairs flat. She hated them birds; they were always laughing and talking so loud in the hall. Andy couldn’t imagine their lives – he looked at them like they were on television.
The sleet began to fall thicker and faster. There was no one they knew coming or going and Andy could feel the cold going into his bones.
“I’m off home,” he said. “It’s too fuckin’ cold to wait. See you later on, Stevie.”
He pulled the sleeves of his jacket down over his knuckles and curled himself around the poster. One of his runners was letting in and he tried to bend his foot away from the wet spot. He went up the shore road at a half-run and paused as usual to spit into the sea; it was only a habit now; he never waited to see how far it went.
He stood outside the flat for a minute staring up at the window, trying to guess if Lily and the baby were in or not. He opened the front door and listened. There wasn’t a sound, and then he heard a noise in the downstairs flat and the door swung open. Shite, Andy thought.
“Hi,” he said, moving towards the stairs, mopping at the wet hair on his forehead.
The girls stopped at the sight of him. Their faces were bright and their blonde curls bounced on their woolly scarves.
“Hello! Hi! There’s nobody up there.”
“We’ll make coffee for you if you like.”
“We’ll warm you up. You look like a wee icicle.”
Andy bolted for the stairs.
“No thanks,” he said. “They’ll be home soon . . . I’ll have to . . . “
He sniggered quietly to himself at the thought of what Lily might do if she came home and he was in there with them birds . . . they might have cooked him something and they’d have the heating on, probably had a big telly as well. Andy sighed, a long, painful sigh. He went into the kitchen and edged past the table to the kettle, batting the onions out of his way. They were strung from hooks in the ceiling. Lily had seen that once in a movie and insisted on stringing them up although she didn’t eat onions – didn’t cook anyway.
Water rattled into the kettle and Andy shivered with his hand on the cold tap. Maybe Lily would bring home something from the Chinese – she did that sometimes if her mother gave her some money.