Christmas Card From A Hooker In Newton Abbot by Tom Leins

Gritty Santa.112Christmastime Madigan was born on the 14th of July 1979. The unusual first name was chosen by her mother, Maureen, who thought that her baby’s eyes were the colour of slush-covered December pavements. We played in the same streets when we were young. When we were fourteen Christmastime taught me how to fuck, behind the recycle bins. I asked her how she knew what to do, and she said that Barry Slattery taught her. Barry Slattery, I later found out, was a TV repair man who used to go drinking with her mum. Within a year he went down for manslaughter after killing a man during a drunken argument. The judge gave him a life sentence for trying to dismember the body afterwards, but he was out in 16 years.

*

A woman who looks a lot like Iggy Pop opens the peeling front door. It takes a moment before I realise that the ravaged figure in front of me is Maureen. Her pink, threadbare dressing gown gapes open, and her snatch looks like well-worn carpet.

“Hello, Joe.”

I glance around uneasily, trying to avoid eye contact. Trying to avoid looking at her mangy old pussy.

“Hello, Mrs Madigan. Is Christmastime around?”

“Follow me, sweetheart.”

She leads me down the hallway to the small lounge. There is a Christmas tree in the corner. It has been decorated haphazardly, and the lights blink erratically. A mangy angel sits on top, legs akimbo.

A scrawny middle-aged man sits on the sunken sofa. It has been covered in faded beige corduroy. The room gives off a clammy hairspray-and-perfume odour. He wriggles in his seat, fiddling with his zip. His cheap suit looks like it was made for a fatter man. “This is Marcelo. He’s a friend.”

He doesn’t offer me his hand.

I glare at him, wordlessly, until Christmastime walks in, still wearing her work uniform.

As I start to walk out of the room, Maureen offers me a wedge of tart-cards from her handbag.

“I haven’t got you a Christmas card, Joe – but you can have one of these if you like.”

“Erm, thanks.”

*

Upstairs.

Christmastime unbuttons her hot-pink rayon blouse and looks at me, challengingly. I put my hand up her skirt, feeling the wetness of her underwear. Her lips graze mine.

“He’s back, Joe. He’s out.”

“Who’s back?”

“Barry fucking Slattery.”

*

In the morning I pause outside the living room. There are no voices, only soft grunting sounds. In the kitchen Christmastime’s uncle Alan is smoking high-tar cigarettes through his tracheotomy. He nods a greeting at me but I’m too lazy to respond. I gulp down a brisk cup of tea and thumb through yesterday’s Mid-Devon Advertiser. Whilst I’m waiting for Christmastime to get dressed I stare gormlessly at Alan’s ravaged throat. He doesn’t seem to mind.

“Got any plans for Christmas, Alan?”

He shrugs.

“The rate I’m going I’ll be lucky to fucking live that long.”

*

It’s Christmas Eve and the social club is full of welfare bandits, sore-knuckled survivalists and a smattering of casual daytime drinkers. Behind the bar is some woman who used to be a crack-smoker. She glares at me when I order a bottled beer, then hands me my change wordlessly. A solitary string of tinsel dangles above the spirits rack. The man next to me is using a Christmas card as a beer mat.

Barry Slattery is a horribly damaged man, and a full-time smoker. He even smokes during mealtimes. A ravaged chicken-in-a-basket pub meal lays on the scarred table-top in front of him. One half-smoked cigarette smolders in the ashtray, another dangles lazily from his ugly mouth. A heavily made-up teenage girl sitting next to him sips at a cocktail through a straw. She can’t be more than thirteen. Grey stubble bristles around his sunken mouth as he offers me a grim, humourless laugh.

“Enjoy fresh meat do you, pal? Her name is Sylvia, and in the back-room she’s everybody’s darling.”

He has a grisly Westcountry accent. Grislier than most.

“I wonder what your parole officer has to say about that? A second jolt in Channing’s Wood can be tough on an old nonce like you.”

He grunts, sounding half-amused, half angry.

“Aaron, can you deal with this prick? I’m trying to eat my fucking lunch.”

A man with a bullet-shaped skull extricates himself from a nearby booth. He’s meaty with prison muscle and his eyes look like pools of spilled milk. He slips out of his bomber jacket and steps towards me.

“Take your best shot, bitch.”

He hits me so hard I taste blood in my throat. I stagger slightly, but don’t go down. He looks at me dumbfounded, and I try not to gasp for air.I pick the ashtray off Barry’s table and club Aaron behind the ear. He drops to his knees and looks up at me, pleadingly.

I take a step towards Barry Slattery.

“If you go near Christmastime or her family again I’ll put you in the fucking trauma unit.”

I don’t hit him. Instead I look him in the eye as I kick Aaron behind the ear.

He vomits on the paisley carpet, and a few people start to clap, half-heartedly.

“You come round here again and I’ll fucking murder you…” Barry splutters.

Newton Abbot is like any other small town – contaminated with violence and fear.

Luckily I don’t scare easy.

*

Christmas morning.

Barry Slattery’s face looks like a carrier bag full of meat that has been kicked around a car park for a couple of days. There is a hole in his gut where Christmastime has attempted to disembowel him with a bread knife, brown fluid leaked all over the carpet. Christmastime is sprawled across the corduroy sofa, sipping a large gin and tonic. When she notices me she raises her glass and slurs in my general direction:

“Hello, Joe. Merry fucking Christmas…”

I look around. I’m just pleased that there isn’t blood on the walls.

TomLeins-2013Bio: Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. This year his short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey and Sein und Werden. He is currently working on his first novel: Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.

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