A Working-Class State of Mind

by Colin Burnett

Genre: Dark Comedy | Format: Short Story

 

Ah laid the boax ae painkillers alongside the boattle ae Smirnoff vodka oan the coffee table. It doesnae even matter tae me that ma flat is that cauld it wid gee an Inuit the shivers. Aw ah kin focus oan is the troubling thoats which are circling aroond ma heid like a vulture stalks a dying animal. Jist waiting fur the right moment tae pick through the bones. Each thoat bringing another feeling ae hopelessness and his gid pal, despair. Ah mean, Guantanamo Bay hus probably got a maire hamely feel tae it than this dump. Thirty years oan this planet and what do a huv tae show fur it? A TV they dafties fae CSI could trace back tae John Logie Baird. And look, even ma walls are fucked; they’re that yelly, ah’m starting tae hink they’ve went jaundice, probably because day efter day, night efter night, I sit here and try tae smoke maself intae an early grave. Ah heard earlier, oan the morning news, that the PM, Boris Johnson, hus called a press conference fur later in the evening. You jist ken that means somebaody is gontae suffer. As ah go tae light the joint ah hud pre-rolled in anticipation ae ma final act oan this planet, ah suddenly caught sight ae a spider dangling fae a long silvery thread in the corner ae the room. This tiny creature wis trying tae swing oantae the shelf wae aw its being, but still it couldnae muster the strength tae make it. Ah’m sitting here hinkin tae massel, Jist gee up, ma wee pal. You’ll never make it. Take it fae someboady who hus the t-shirt and the mental health issues tae prove it.

Aw, will yae look at the state ae this cunt. Jesus, ah look like Keith Richards efter a weekend in Amsterdam. The white vest ah’m wearin goes sae well wae ma pale skin and skinny physique. Fur fuck sake, it’s Die Hard wae AIDS. Honestly, av goat tae laugh. Ah mean, how hus it came tae this, eh? There’s been nae Queensbury Rules involved in ma fight tae survive, that’s fur fuckin sure. Aye, the man upstairs has shot fae the hips and done a right number oan me. Yin minute it’s yur sweet sixteen, the juices rushing tae yur baws, andreline pumping through yur veins, and the world seems like a tidy hing jist waitin fur yae tae fuck her. God, ah wis fuckin fearless back in the day; ah hud such dreams. Then, suttin happens, suttin Nostradamus couldnae huve seen cumin; yur life flashes by ye at internet speed. The next hing yae ken, yur starin doon the double barrel ae thirty years ae pain and disappointment. Aw, yur still a pup, ah kin tell; yuv still goat that fire in yur belly, that hunger tae dae suttin wae yur life. Gee it time, it will comm tae yae as well, the flies will become that bit quicker, the shelfs that bit further awey, and if yur lucky, some cunt like me will come along tae stand oan yae and it’s aw oor very quick. At least that wey you’re spared the heartache ae finding oot life’s jist yin big fuckin joke oan gadgies like us. Aw, dinnae worry, nae harm will come tae yae by ma hand. You’ve goat character, ah like that. There’s a loat tae be said aboot character. Yae see what huv ah been tellin yae, there’s nae point in tryin tae succeed; yae jist end up lookin like a porn star wae a yin-inch dick. Kin yae hear that? That faint voice at the back ae yur mind, the yin taunting yae and laughing at yur every failure. The yin whispering intae yur ear that yur nae gid tae nae cunt. Git yaist tae it because it’s only goantae git louder and before you’ll ken it, you’ve foond yur next best pal.

Ah live in the sixth richest nation in the world. And yit, ah kin hear Susan Boyle singing fae the rooftoaps, and tae tell yae the truth, ah’m even half expecting that Irish boay fae the telly tae turn up at the door wae bloody Pudsey the Bear in tow. Aw, what’s his name again? Looks like Gandalf fae Lord ae the Rings, only efter he’s contracted an STD. What’s his bloody name again? Oh, aye, Bob Geldof, that’s him. Aye, that’s the boay. Mean, ah hink he wis actually oan the telly last week campaigning tae save a distressed-looking tree or summit. Yae see, aroond here, it’s no the courts ae law or the politicians who keep the peace; it’s the drugs. Picture this scene: each morning ah awake fae ma coma, then ah sit oan ma patio chairs because ah cannae afford a decent couch. Ah sit there wae ma bowl ae Coco Pops whilst ah watch shows that kin only be described as propaganda against the working class. Ah mean, jist the other day, there wis this boay oan Jeremey Kyle who wis convinced his cat wis the anti-Christ. It wis summit tae dae wae the cat sitting oan his phone and dialling 666. Ah guess it’s true what they say aboot every litter. What’s the alternative? Change the channel and listen tae a graduate ae Hogwarts annoonce tae the nation that seeing me droon in poverty hus jist became a national priority. Either choice is hardly a substitute fur intellectual capital. Growing up where ah’m fae oor social status wis based upon how well you could fight or kick a baw. No exactly the criteria fur becomin the nixt Prime Minister or CEO ae a fortune five hunner company, is it? 

Mean, the only hing ah’ve goat ae any value is this tattered-lookin watch ma granda left me. Ma mate Fraser is intae aw they antiques shows oan the telly. The way the cunt goes oan, you’d hink he’s a curator at the British Museum and no oan remand fur robbin a couple ae posh stately hames. Ma mobile starts ringing oaf the hook at aboot half seven at night. As soon as ah answered the phone, Fraser starts tae yell doon the line, “Bawbag, yur a fuckin millionaire.”  Ma first thought wis he must be back dain acid or summit, so ah hung up the phone oan him. Aboot a half oor later, ah hear bangin oan ma door. It wis yin ae they polis knocks, ken? The yins that aboot take the door oaf at the bloody hinges. Fraser comes chargin in aw oot ae breath and gaspin fur air and then mutters, “Yur granda’s watch, it’s worth a million quid. Ah seen the exact same yin oan the Antiques Roadshow the night.” At first ah thought he wis fuckin wae me, but once ah could see his pupils wur still dilated, it started tae hit me he wisnae taking the piss efter aw. We were baith wettin oorselves at the thoat ae aw that money. First hing the next morning, we made a few calls tae git a jeweller tae value the watch. Oan aboot the fifth call ah made, we wur put in touch wae an expert ae watches who hud a jeweller’s oan Princess Street. This wis yin ae they place’s posh cunts go tae git their dicks up. Ah mean, it hud maire bling than Mr T. As we stood ootside the building, Fraser eloquently took this opportunity tae remind me ae his claim tae a share ae the money: “Aye, childhood pal, and remember it wis me who telt yae aboot the fuckin hing. And dinnae furget ah peyed yae back that tenner. That’s a hunner grand ae any rich cunt’s money.” 

Ah couldnae believe ma ears; ah stood there wae three quid in shrapnel jinglin aboot in ma pocket, and this cunt wants a hunner grand oaf me. This boay dressed in a tuxedo and bowtie who looked as if he wis waitn fur a bell tae ring to go and wipe his masters erse greeted us in reception. Ah could see by the glare in the boay’s eyes he wisnae used tae cummin acroass two rough and tumble boays like us in his line ae work. He directed us intae his office and started tae appraise the hing, and efter aboot a couple ae minutes he telt us suttin we should huv kent aw along: it wis worth a pittance. The colour fae oor faces drained awey, along wae oor hopes ae a wey oot ae this fishbowl we caw a life. Dinnae git me wrong, if ah had hud the energy, ah would huv taken Fraser tae the roof ae the buildin tae throw him oaf and then halled him back up fur an encore. The way that cunt hud been goin oan, we wur aboot tae dae a deal wae Somerby’s. Instead, ah find oot av goat a watch that ah need tae git sum unsuspecting celebrity tae wear then shoot thum oan the spot jist tae git its value up past the eighty quid mark. Poverty does that tae yae. It isnae jist a word fur politicians tae throw aboot tae git oor vote; it’s an illness ae the mind, boady, and soul.

*

Ah foond this half-empty boatle ae Smirnoff vodka ma mate hud left behind fae last weekend. Efter pouring masself a gless, ah raise it tae make a toast tae ma new companion, “This is fur you, little yin. Cheers.” Aye, but again, the wee man faws shoart. He’ll learn, he’ll see. Ah wis yince like him, a fighter. Now ah’m jist tired and ah feel sick at hert. That’s the hing aboot dreams and aspirations. They’re jist a fairytale story wur telt by oor parents. A fuckin make-believe idea that gees us hope that hings will git better. An idea that a naeboady kin become a someboady yin day, that David did beat Goliath. The truth is the maire you try tae reach fur the stars, the closer you become tae reachin fur the boattle. It’s like when wur bairns wur telt tae be gid and Santa Claus will bring us loatsae presents. It’s a beautiful idea, but there comes a point when we realise wuv been had. Aw it takes is fur some smart erse tae come along and tell us Santa’s no real. Then oor hale world is flipped upside doon. That’s what dreams and aspirations are in life, it’s aw yin big fuckin Santa Claus. Ah’ve realised summit likes, and that is that guys like me and the spider kin chase oor dreams, but we’ll never make it. In the end, fuck Santa Claus.

Dinnae gee me that look, comrade. Ah cannae help boays like us are destined tae be the pun ae the system’s jokes. It’s no us who make the rules, but it’s sure as shit us who huv tae follow thum, um ah right or what? Yae dinnae need tae convince me it’s no fair we huv tae hide in the dark like some diseased-ridden rat. Ah wisnae bullshittin yae earlier; ah wis like yae, many moons ago the now, mind yae, but ah wis yince full ae ambition tae. Aye, that watch ae ma granda’s, he gave me it when he thoat ah wis gonnae be a someboady. Back in the day ah wis a promising wee fitbaw player, ah even hud a trial wae the mighty Hibees. Aye, in another life ah mighta been a professional player and it could huv been ma name in neon lights above Easter Road. What happened, yae ask? Aye, well like a loat ae folk fae here, ah wis a victim ae circumstance. Ah became maire bothered aboot what ma mates wur up tae at the weekend, and then came the drugs. Before ah knew what wis happenin, ma dreams ae makin it oan tae the pitch became a distant memory and ah wis oan the fast track tae this point in ma life. Ah wonder, though, yince ah guzzle doon a few ae these tablets and yae sit and watch as ma lights turn oot, will ah make it oantae the pitch in the afterlife maybe? Jist maybe, ah might. 

Mean, maist ae the boays ah hung aboot wae at school spent some time at her Majesty’s pleasure. Funnily enough, ah bumped intae an old mate fae school the other week doon at the bookies. There ah wis, wishing a thoosand deaths oan the jockey ae ma fallen hoarse, when ah hear this voice that resembled a foghorn.

“Chrissy, long time no see, eh?” 

As ah turned aroond, ah wis faced wae Matty Johnson, who we hud nicknamed Bananas oan account ae him being a lunatic. He hud jist served a two-year sentence fur GBH when he attacked a guy wielding a mace. Ah mean, in this day and age who owns a mace? It alone actually uses yin. Some said he hud a fascination wae Game ae Thrones, but who knows. It turned oot the halea the incident wis aw oor a boay workin at Pizza Hut puttin too many slices ae pepperoni oan his pizza or some pish. We baith chatted awey tae each other like auld times, then he asked, “What yae dain wae yurself the now?”

Ah told him, “Jist trying tae survive another week oan the dole.”

Then Matty eagerly explained to me the benefits ae prison. “Ah’m telling yae, Chrissy,” he says, “you need tae spend a bit ae time inside. Three square meals a day and nae bills. Fuckin quality, man.”

Ah stood there hinking tae masself, Surely, it’s no came tae this. Ah’ve goat tae be incarcerated tae stay ootae the foodbank?

Ah mean, this is the place people come tae make it. A place where you kin be whoever you want tae be. And here’s me taking career advice fae a mace-wielding psycho while ah watch a hoarse decide whether ah will huv food in ma belly or a roof oor ma heid. Wae each waking moment, ah try tae convince maself, Something will turn up. Ah guess General Custard must huv said the same hing at Little Bighorn. And we aw ken what turned up there, another load ae irate Indians. Take a long hard look aroond, hings are doon aw acroass the board. You’ve goat Mr Burns in the White House. Guys who widnae normally steal as much as a penny chew are huvin tae steal tae feed their fuilies. Aw, and if that wisnae bad enough, some pencil pusher in London hus decided tae take it oan thumselves tae inspire the nixt Charles Dickens.

The maire intently ah watch the spider, the maire care he seems tae take in his attempts tae swing oantae the shelf. Ah’m no shaire if it’s the weed or the vodka or maybe a combination ae baith, but ah’m starting tae hink this wee guy is oot tae prove me wrong. Ah feel like Leith’s answer tae Dr Dolittle at the minute this ballsae wee bastard is game, there’s nae disputing that. Though again, he takes a sip from the fountain ae failure. You see, it’s in oor DNA tae fail, whether it be me or the spider, we always end up dain what’s expected ae us. Which is tae come up shoart. It’s the price ae being the underdog. Aw, ah git it noo, the cobwebs huv been removed, if yae pardon ma pun. You hink this shit box ae a flat ah’ve goat came easy tae me? That accepting a life ae poverty wis the easy choice? Lit me tell yae suttin, ah grafted maist ae ma days tae end up wae fuck all. That’s what aw these rich cunts kin never understand; it takes aloat ae blood, sweat, and tears tae git where ah um. As soon as a higher power or big bang or whatever yae believe in – ah’m no here tae judge – decided yae wur gonnae be a spider, then yae wur up shit creek withoot a paddle as ma auld gran would say. As soon as that umbilical cord wis cut, ah wis born tae be a naeboady.

It’s strange though, how hings come back at you, yae ken? Memories. Thoan conversation wae Matty talking aboot the old days and ah wis a sixteen-year-auld bairn again. It goat me hinking aboot the time ah spent in high school. Yae’ve goat tae understand yin hing, bairns fae ma area wur maire tolerated than encouraged by the teachers. This wisnae yin ae those Walt Disney films we wur making here. Yae ken the soartae film ah’m talking aboot. The bairn is involved in a terrible accident and hus tae learn tae walk again.  By the end of the film, the teacher hus their airm raised fur winning gold in the 200m at the Olympics. Nah, this wis real life, and like anyhing in this life, it wis tough.

The teachers wurnae able tae see beyond oor tracksuit or how we would say ‘ken’ insteed ae ‘know.’ Aye, in their eyes, the factory flair beckoned for us when we left school. Granted, at the time ah didnae realise they wur huving a premonition because that’s exactly where ah ended up. Well, that wis up until a few months ago. When ma boss imported a machine designed in China that could operate quicker and cheaper than a pair ae hands. Honestly, ah hear aw the time folk aroond here complaining, These immigrants are coming ower here and stealing our joabs. Naeboady mentions R2D2 is the yin waiting in the wings tae pull our plug. Wae jist a few crumbs ae encouragement fae ma teachers though, hings could huv been so much different. Ah might huv owned a factory insteed ae serving as a drone in yin by pressing a button aw day. Aye, ah could see it now, ‘Christopher Mathews: a captain ae industry.’ You never ken, Matty might huv turned oot tae be Scotland’s answer tae George R.R. Martin.

This time the spider is, close, real close. Ah’ve goatae admit, this wee guy hus aloatae hert. The maire ah’ve watched his struggles, the maire ah’ve come tae realise we are kindred spirits. We baith try and fail time and time again. The strange hing is this insignificant fleeting moment in life hus kept me fae drawing ma final curtain. Maybe ah wis jist looking fur something tae hud oantae before ah depart this mortal realm. Something, anyhing, that might show me there is still hope left in this world insteed ae the miserable existence that waits fur me oot there, waiting patiently tae greet me like an auld friend. Ah appreciate yur efforts tae show me there’s another wey tae dae hings, that hard graft kin pey oaf someday. Ah mean that, nae shit. The truth is it’s inevitable; we will choke when oor big moment comes along. Ah wid love tae believe yae, but ‘that’s life’ as auld blue eyes once said.

It isnae like ah’m stupid. Ah ken the difference between a dream and a memory. Ah kin tell you the meaning ae love. But what um ah gonnae tell St Peter when ah meet him at those pearly gates and he says, “Tell me aboot what you learnt fae yur time oan earth, ma son”?

“Well, St Peter, ah ken a gid joint when ah puff it. You’ll need immortality tae witness Scotland qualifying fur a World Cup. Aw, and ah learnt tae appreciate the meaning ae poverty.” 

Nah, there’s goatae be maire tae aw this than that, or what’s the point? The other night, ah wis searching Netflix tae find summit tae watch. Ah came acroass a film ah hudnae seen in years: The Truman Show. That guy wis in it, the yin who used tae be funny – Jim Carey. Aye, he played this boay who realises his whole life hus been scripted. Dinnae git me wrong, it might huv been the weed talking, but ah couldnae help but hink boays like me aw live in oor very ain Truman Show. We grow up, work in a joab that serves tae kill our ‘spirit’, then we settle doon, maybe huv a few bairns. And when the time comes tae draw our final breath, wuv accumulated enough debt that our creditors will be holding a seance. Aw because society tells us we need a flash motor, designer clothes, a holiday abroad yince a year, and a fuckin credit caird. The truth is, aw we are dain is making sure aw these rich toffs huv made a tidy profit fae our time spent here, and aw the while we produce the nixt batch ae workers tae take our place oan the chain gang. The greatest trick those in power ever pulled wis gitting the workers tae believe we aw huv equal opportunities. Fae the moment we first open our eyes and until the time finally comes tae close them. Our lives huv been mapped oot fur us by them fae the cradle straight tae the grave. In this country ‘cash is class’; when yur born intae a family wae a bit ae money and the right postcode, you’re oan the home straight while the rest ae us are jist warming up fur the race.

Ah kin feel these box ae painkillers daring me tae swallow a few ae thum, and then it will be over and oot. Nae maire ae this pain. Ah might actually be at peace fur yince. Earlier, ah went along tae the cash machine oan the high street. Oan ma way there, ah stoaped tae admire aw the artwork splattered across the shoap walls. Fae what ah could make oot, there’s a few folk fae here fond ae pork, aw and some cunt cawed Pongo – apparently yae wouldnae ride his ma intae battle. Ah punched in ma pin, and ma balance ae thirteen quid and eighty pence sent ma hert flutterin. Ma breathin became shallower and ah thought ah wis huvin a hert attack right there and then. So, ah decided tae Google ma symptoms; it turns oot ma obituary wis bein written yesterday. Ah jist thought tae masel in that moment, This life is jist too hard, and ah wis set tae end it aw until ma eight-legged hero arrived. You ken what? Ah’ve kept faith in a system ma entire life that hus promised sae much tae boays like me but gave us sae little. That’s why if this spider kin make it oan the fourth attempt then ah’m gontae gee this hale ‘life’ hing another go. Aye, ah like a gamble as much as the nixt degenerate, fuck it. This wid be a sign fae the beyond. Watching the wee guy, he seems tae huv sensed what’s at stake here. This time, he seems tae be taking maire caution. It almost seems as if he’s goat a plan ae action here. Aye, that’s it, son, you’re nearly there. Cmoan, yae kin dae it. Ah fuckin believe in yae, ma hairy little friend. 

Ah cannae believe ma eyes. He’s done it; he’s oan the shelf. “Yes!”

COLIN BURNETT

Colin Burnett is a Pubic Sociology graduate from Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh. He is an aspiring writer and has been published in The Sociological Review and so fi zine, along with some pieces published elsewhere. This piece was first published by The Sociological Review. He returned to QMU in September to continue his studies in MSC Public Sociology. Colin can be found on Twitter @ColinBurnett16.