This Terrible Silence

by Robin Stephen Brown

Format: Excerpt | Genre: General Fiction

He touched his nose gently with his fingers, just gave it a wee gentle stroke to see what the damage was, to examine the damage ­– he couldn’t really feel much that resembled a nose truth be told, there was nothing that felt very nose-like, just this mass, this fucking swollen tender mass of – it was absolutely fucked, his nose was absolutely fucked. There was this big ball of pain in his head, behind the eyes, between the eyes and behind the nose. Orientate yerself Alistair, that’s what the situation calls for, a wee bit of orientation. Take in yer surroundings, look for notable landmarks, look for something tall to climb. That’s what they tell ye to do, is it not? When yer lost? Climb something tall, or look to see which side of the trees the fucking moss grows on. The moss should be growing on the east side of the trees or something like that, something – or was it the west actually, it could be either really, Alistair had no fucking clue, had no fucking idea. He wasn’t Bear Grylls, alright? Let’s be fucking realistic. Besides, why would there be any trees about? And he doubted very much that the same principle could be applied to lampposts. Take a new tact then Master Crawford. Use the old noggin, use the old brainbox and have a wee think. First things first, where are ye eh? Yer in Edinburgh. At least ye hope ye are, ye were anyway, we can say that with certainty, ye were absolutely one-hundred per cent in Edinburgh. We need some specifics here though, let’s be more exact, more precise. Ye were in Diane’s, ye were drinking in Diane’s. But where are ye now, specifically. Where are ye at this precise moment, at this instant? Specifics Crawford, we need specifics.

He was on his arse, flat on his back. And it was wet. He could feel cold water seeping through the jacket, seeping through the clothing and making the fucking skin crawl. He opened his eyes and stared up into the cold starry sky, quite beautiful really, it was quite a beautiful sight really, the stars and the moon, all the fucking cosmic constellations, the wonder of space and the fucking universe. He could smell piss though, which took away from the effect somewhat, detracted just a little from the vastness of it all, ye understand? Something as intimate as the smell of piss, it tends to bring ye crashing back to the fucking ground. He sat up and looked around. He was in the gutter, which explained why his clothes were soaked. And he’d – ah come on Alistair, come on to fuck man, this is embarrassing, it’s

He’d pissed himself. He was in the gutter, his face was smashed to fuck, and he’d pissed himself. What a fantastic evening this was turning into, what a great day out, really, a great day out for everyone concerned, just fantastic, fucking fantastic. He tried to get to his feet, attempted to struggle back onto the pins, back onto the pegs. He had a wee swivel, tried to work out where he was, still in the Dalry area surely, no? Surely in this condition he couldn’t have staggered very far. He took a few tentative steps and nearly fell back on his arse, nearly collapsed back to his starting point. There was a very real possibility that he was still a bit pished. In fact, let’s be completely frank here, let’s try some brutal honesty – he was absolutely hammered still and there were no ifs, buts, or maybes about it. He was totally and utterly cabbaged, drunk as a fucking boiled owl. That was one of the old faether’s expressions, one of the old bastard’s sayings, I’m drunk as a boiled owl son. And he gave young Alistair plenty of practical demonstrations too, used to stagger into the house after work reeking of whisky, Alistair sitting there terrified in his fucking pyjamas while the cunt lurched about shouting at whoever he laid eyes on, smashing things and spilling drink all over the place, smashing things and – ye had to let him tire himself out, ye know? Leave him to rage for long enough and he’d fall asleep on the sofa in front of the fucking telly. Aye, he acted like a fucking virtuous old prick now, but the Old Man had been known to enjoy the bevvy in his day. If Alistair was a mess, then that’s only because he’d learnt by example.

Alistair gave a wee wobble and grabbed ahold of a lamppost to steady himself. Look around for a street sign Crawford, that’s what the fucking things are there for, for identifying what street yer on. Grove Street. He’d made it to Grove Street, quite impressive really, not a bad display of stamina, not too shabby at all. Good staggering Crawford old boy, really top-notch showing. His head gave another throb, just a wee reminder for our young hero, just a wee throb behind the eyes to remind him that he was in a bit of a predicament here. The eyes were rattling in the head, he couldn’t see straight, never mind walk straight, so trekking across town didn’t seem like the strongest game plan. He pulled out his phone, maybe he could order an Uber, the wonders of technology ye know, he could order himself a wee Uber to save himself from starving to death so close to fucking Swynecastle. What a way to go that would fucking be, not even worth thinking about, Alistair. Aye, an Uber seemed like the best plan, what with the pished trousers, what with the state of the clothing. Aye, that surely seemed the best course of action, the best

But what was this, eh? A wee message from the fair maiden, a wee message from Charlotte plopped on top of his notifications like a diamond on a steaming pile of shite.

“I know today must have been tough for you, Al. If you need anything, just let me know x”

Good old Charlotte. What a lovely offer, a real nice message to receive. In fact, after such a kind offer, surely it would appear rude of him if he neglected to take her up on it, if he – at this stage, he really had no choice but to take her up on the offer. She’d promised she was there if he needed anything, anything at all. There was a real chance she’d have her feelings hurt if he didn’t let her help him. And that was the last thing he wanted, ye know? She was a wee belter of a person. She was a fucking belter and he was determined that he wouldn’t hurt her feelings, come hell or high water, he would not be hurting those feelings of hers. He owed it to himself, as well as to her, to let her take care of him a wee bit. And as an added bonus she lived in the West End, well within staggering distance, in fact even within fucking crawling distance, if it came down to that. If the old ham shanks decided to down tools, he could just about drag himself there, he could fucking slither there on his stomach like some great fucking slug, drooling at the mouth, leaving a sticky residue of saliva and vomit and whisky and fucking pish behind him. Aye, it was the only way. He’d slug himself to Charlotte’s for a bit of looking after. He started to sing under his breath.

I want to love you (P-Y-T) pretty young thing, I need some lovin’ (T-L-C), tender loving care, and ahhhhh’ll be coming there!”

He was paraphrasing of course. Wasn’t his type of music really, a wee bit disposable and manufactured for the likes of Alistair Crawford. But still, the sentiment seemed fitting. The King of Pop had it fucking right. He was a weirdo right enough, a right fucking fruit cake of a man, an alleged paedo and a fucking Jehovah’s witness to boot, which was actually almost stranger, the Jehovah’s thing was almost more disturbing, actually, it gave Alistair the fucking heebie-jeebies, made him skittish, made him

But look, the man’s personal life was irrelevant, really. The fact is that the guy touched upon a few human truths every now and again, alright? Mr Jackson had hit the nail on the fucking head. TLC was exactly what Alistair needed at this juncture. He attempted a wee moonwalk, attempted to give his feet a rub on the old rhythm rug, the old – but come on now son yer in no condition for those kind of antics, ye’ll knock yer own fucking head off on a stop sign. Enough of that Alistair, enough of that carry on. Straighten yerself up old boy. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and began to stumble in the direction of Charlotte’s flat.

Now the question was, which buzzer was he looking for here, eh? He was at the right block, he was pretty fucking confident about that one, he was feeling pretty cocksure about that specific piece of information, but he didn’t have a fucking Scooby which flat number was Charlotte’s. He stared at the panel of buttons in front of him like a fucking cat staring into a mirror, transfixed, unable to move, but coiled to pounce once he had the fucking nut screwed, once he’d summoned up the necessary amount of valour. There were fifteen flats in the block, so that gave him odds of 15/1. That’s not all that bad really, no? Alistair was a fucking experienced gambler, he’d won bets at far greater odds than 15/1, he’d won at odds of 40 or 50/1 before so there was nothing to be fucking worried about. Stranger things had happened. Besides, he was in pretty poor fucking nick here so if he got the wrong flat they’d understand once they saw the state of him, they’d understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, that his fucking hands had been tied, had been

He pressed the service button with his thumb for a good thirty seconds, a good – I mean, it could even have been as long as a fucking minute, who was counting? No point in beating about the bush. Trying to predict the winning number at odds of fucking 15/1, it wasn’t going to fucking happen. He was a gambler not a fucking lunatic. Might as well just wake the whole fucking building, someone was bound to let him in, somebody was bound to answer his plea for help. A gruff voice leaked from the intercom.

“Hullo?”

“Eh, hi, I’ve got a package to deliver. There’s this package I’ve got, I need to, eh … deliver it. Haha.”

Nicely played Crawford, a deftly positioned laugh to ease the tension. He really was a master of this dialogue shite, this conversation malarkey.

“It’s fucking 11 pm pal, stop fucking wasting my time.”

Silence. Maybe the laugh wasn’t such a brilliant idea, he’d shown his cards too early, he’d fucked it, he’d – I mean, he’d made light of the situation, hadn’t he? He’d aggravated the guy. Ye’ve nobody to blame but yerself, Crawford, nobody to blame but yer-fucking-self.

All of a sudden, he heard the distinctive metallic click of the fucking penny dropping. He had a fucking phone, didn’t he? Use yer fucking phone, Alistair, it was the obvious solution. He opened up messenger and composed a paean to his muse, a message of such lyrical beauty it would put old Bill Shakespeare to fucking shame, in fact forget fucking Bill, he was always overrated, this message would have good old Rabbie Burns chaffing at the bollocks with jealousy.

“Hi it allisrt am outsde can I comen in srry am quiet drug xc”

He leaned against the door to wait, head pulsing in the cold, breath rattling in the lungs. It really had been a flash of brilliance to come here, to seek shelter with the beautiful and alluring young Charlotte. One of the best decisions of the evening it had to be said, one of the best decisions of his life even, that was his current mood, he felt like he’d made the best fucking decision of his life and no pish-soaked trousers were going to put a dampener on proceedings. No, it happens to the best of us, even the finest amongst us have had a wee accident at times of extreme stress, at extremely trying moments at – well, I mean he’d had a lot to drink, that was the thing. If ye sat in yer house and necked ten pints of water ye’d be fucking pishing yerself so why should people expect anything fucking different when it was Tennent’s ye were sending down the hatch, eh? Add the whisky to that total and throw in the fact he’d had his face boxed in, and ye had to admit that he really hadn’t done that bad. Indeed things could have been much worse, he could have lost complete control of his bodily functions. Many a soul, when put in young Alistair’s position, would have voided completely, would have allowed a full evacuation like some senile nonagenarian, like a fucking corpse or a

There was a buzz and the door clicked open. Alistair was sent sprawling into the stairwell and back onto his arse. This really is becoming something of a fucking habit Alistair son, ye’ve spent more time on the ground than ye have on yer feet for fuck sake. He’d develop a reputation as a fucking donkey if he wasn’t careful, he’d be categorised as a klutz if he didn’t watch himself, and that kind of categorisation is tricky to shake off, ye know? Say what ye want about Crawford Jnr, heir to the Crawford throne, but never call him a fucking klutz. He was as nimble and agile as a fucking cat, alright? A real natural athlete, a fine physical specimen – he was capable of taking care of himself is what he meant to say. So aye, tonight hadn’t been his finest night, hadn’t been his finest moment. So what? He’d had his face burst and he’d fallen on his arse and he’d had a wee lapse in bladder control. But in ordinary circumstances, on a normal day, nobody could deny that Alistair Crawford was a young man with his shit together. The world was his fucking oyster, don’t ye know.

He levered himself back to his feet and smacked the dust off his clothes, tried to make them a wee bit more presentable, tried to get them into something approaching presentable condition. It was a losing battle though, let’s be honest, a wee bit of dust was the least of his fucking worries, was the last thing he should be worrying about at this moment in time. He pulled the phone back out from the pocket to see if he’d received additional instructions, to see if he’d been given any additional clues as to the whereabouts of his final destination.

“Flat 6”

Very to the point, Charlotte. A masterpiece of fucking brevity. What a girl, eh? The girl had some serious fucking talents. Alistair started to scramble up the stairs, tripping here and there, but by and large maintaining both his balance and his dignity. Aye, dignity was the word, the manner in which he’d overcome the odds to scramble up fucking Everest was fucking dignified. There was a real sad dignity to things tonight, he’d comported himself with grace and good manners. Yes, there was a distinctive whiff of tragedy, just the faintest scent of the pathetic, but such is the nature of life. The Japanese had an expression for it, Old Tanizaki was a fucking fanatic for the sensation, ‘mono no aware’. The beautiful sadness of things, or something like that, something along those lines, he couldn’t say for sure, it didn’t translate directly alright? The stupid fucking expression didn’t translate directly, or so he had read anyway, he wasn’t fucking Eddie Seidensticker so he couldn’t say for certain. The point is, life is sad. Sometimes there is a wee hint of beauty in there as well, a wee bit of dignity to be salvaged. Ye see the problem is, the beautiful side of things was difficult to keep in sight. That’s what happened when he got stuck in his train of thought like this, there didn’t seem any fucking point any more. What did Alistair have to fucking look forward to now, eh? Just his old friend melancholia, the good old fucking blues. Misery, that’s what lay ahead for him now, that’s what lay in store, what lay – when he thought like this, he just got himself a bit depressed, ye understand? He was susceptible to this fucking creeping sadness and he was not a fan. It ranked pretty fucking high on his personal league table of terrible fucking feelings. In fact, truth be told, the melancholia was beginning to get the fucking better of him here, he was beginning to question if showing up at Charlotte’s tonight was the best idea of his life. In fact, increasingly it was beginning to appear like a fucking shocker of an idea. The whiff of tragedy was growing stronger, starting to become overbearing, beginning to – but ah, what is this? The delicate smell of urine was forcing its way to the forefront of the bouquet! Of course, the young master Crawford had pished his pantaloons! What a rare and enjoyable vintage this night had turned out to be! Truly extraordinary, so many tertiary aromas, mingling to perfection and ending with a final note of what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-here … divine. I’m telling ye Crawford, fucking divine, to-fucking-die-for, truly a

“Alistair, what are ye doing here?”

He was standing in front of flat six, swaying on the spot like a dodgy scaffolding job. The flat door was open just a crack, just a few, hesitant inches. Two green eyes were glowing at him out of the darkness, fucking beaming man, absolute fucking lanterns in the shadows.

“Charlotte, hi, eh, I’ve got a – I mean, there’s this parcel … or something …”

“Al, what are ye talking about? What happened to yer face?”

“I … I’m fine, I–”

His legs gave up the ghost, downed tools as feared. Before he even knew what was going on he was in a fucking ball on the floor, in a fucking – he was in the foetal position and he was fucking howling. His eyes were streaming and he was fucking howling, roaring into the night like a wounded animal. He could feel a hand shaking his shoulder, trying to jiggle him back towards consciousness, but it was too late. It was far too late, he was gone. It was that sadness man. Sometime ye had to let it go, ye understand? Sometimes ye just had to let it go until ye were fucking empty inside, until there was nothing left to come spewing out.

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ROBIN STEPHEN BROWN

Robin was raised in the small town of Kinross and has spent the last seven years in Edinburgh. He is currently pursuing an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. He has more books than sense.