Jim nodded and said goodnight and waited for Connie to button up her new brown duffle-coat. It is a man’s coat, he thought again, looking at the long sleeves of it and the breadth across the shoulders. Whatever she says, it is a man’s coat. I’ll say it to her later, get her going. His own grey tweed was threadbare but he was attached to it. Connie wouldn’t let him have a new one anyway. She belted the door open and Jim ducked as it swung towards his face. Barney winked at him and locked the door behind them. They wriggled deeper into their coats, turning their faces from the wind, and then Jim pointed:
The fair-haired boy was crouching at the corner, his arms hugged over his thin chest, and him bare as a baby. He turned when Jim and Connie came out and moved towards them with his knees close together.
“The b-b-b-bastards left me.”
He sniffed hugely and wiped his face.
“I thought they were going to throw me in the sea! I’m fuckin’ freezin’ . . . give us a jacket for God’s sake, will you?”
Jim looked at Connie. She was laughing, her eyes going up and down the pale, shivering figure.
“Is it your birthday?” she asked. “Where did they go, your friends? God you’re a hoot, isn’t he Jim?”
“I’ll get my fuckin’ death out of this, an’ me ma’ll be waiting and I’ve no phone.”
The boy’s voice went up and up.
“Oh Jesus God I’ll kill the poxy bastards. Give us something to put on for fuck sake!”
He began to dance around like a boxer, swinging his arms, and then he remembered to cover himself. Connie turned to Jim and he backed away from her, shaking his head. His chest hurt in the cold air and he coughed. She can’t make me, he thought. I’m not going to. For a moment the three of them stood there, until bolts were shot in the door behind them.
“Quick,” Connie said. “Charlie’s still around, cleaning and that. Go on, knock the door.”
And then she turned and knocked it herself.
“What’s your name, boy?” she said.
“Frankie Pankie,” Connie laughed. “Isn’t that right, Jim? Frankie Pankie! God, he’s a hoot . . . Charlie!” she roared, banging on the door.
“There’s a bare-assed bird out here. Let him in. Come on, we know you’re there, we know you’re not gone yet.”
There was no sound from behind the door and then the lights went out. The wind rose with a cruel nip; the sea rolled black and oily beyond the wall and the first drops of rain were blown over Frank. He ran against the stout door of the pub and shouted for somebody to fucking well open up, and then he ran up and down the street listening for a car, for his friends to come back. Connie watched him and Jim stood well behind her, his coat clutched tight.
“Poxy bastards! Frank screamed into the wind.
“Make your man let me in,” he said to Jim and Connie. “Yous know him better than me. He must have heard us knocking – they’ll have put him up to it, the fuckers. How am I to get home? Lend us the taxi-fare will yous?”
Jim felt the rain on the back of his neck and turned up his collar. Poor bugger, he thought. He looked at the boy’s thin legs, white as milk in the dark night, and his arms like strings wrapped around his chest. Jim was cold himself; he wanted to go home to his quiet bed and lie against the warm bulk of Connie’s back.
And then he saw Connie taking off her own coat and his breath puffed out in a snigger. What was she at now? She threw it around Frank’s shoulders and he seemed to sink under it, bending his knees, trying to get his feet into it too.
“Come on now.” Connie marched him quickly away.
“You come home with us, boy. We’ll mind you, won’t we, Jim? Sure you’re only a little chicken. Are you sure you’re eighteen?”
She belted Jim’s ear and he staggered.
“Some husband you are,” she said.
“Letting your wife give up her coat and you walking there wrapped up like a teddy-bear, much good it’ll do you, I’ll deal with you later.”
Jim knew Frank was looking at him, expecting him to say something, to fight back, but he stared at the ground and coughed his hard, tight cough.
Frank turned after Connie. She walked fast with her face up to the rain and the pleats of her long skirt swung from side to side below the coat. Every time a car passed Frank stopped to look but it was never his friends. Jim wondered what they meant to do. They wouldn’t know where he was if they came back. He thought of saying that to Connie but his ear smarted. He fixed his eyes on the bare feet under the long brown duffle-coat. They were wet and splashed with mud and they moved quickly.
Connie put her key in the door and shoved it open. She grabbed Frank by the arm and pulled him inside and he stood in the dim hallway pushing one foot over the other. His face was pale and damp and he didn’t look drunk any more.
“Come on, come on,” Connie said, and he followed her.