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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Jim Norton

When You Need It

At intervals on the long arm of the sea wall there are little red-n-white plastic strips across the cracks. They look like Band-Aids, kinda. Seems they're gauges recording the stretch, the rate of rupture. Storms pound the seaward side, shipping wash rakes at the lee.

Feeling faint after the walk out to the lighthouse and back, I needed a sugar-boost fast so, recalling the eats shack I'd noticed earlier, I swing off at the roundabout on the drive back to Raytown. The shutters are up. A big guy stands outside, cell-phone in hand held away from his ear, a look of – exasperation? – creasing his fleshy face.

Opening the offside window as much as I judge prudent – dockland and all, and who is he anyway? – I catch his eye: 'Open?' Irritation becomes resignation as he thumbs off his call and with a slight shake of the head, focuses. I'm half out of the car now, he's on the far side. We look at one another across the roof.

'What'y'want?' 'Bottle of water and a chocolate bar?'. He eyes me, then decides. 'Never refuse a body water. Sail or oar, can't do without water'. And he's off, disappearing through a side-door.

I make to follow but faced with a plastic strip-curtain, stop and look into semi-darkness. Wuuu. I see a store-room and not much beyond. Chancey. Then it's – fuck it – and I'm through, behind the counter of Donnie's Diner. It's a galley kitchen, everything ship-shape. On a magnetic wall-strip a neat row of knives and a handy cleaver.

'Twix?' Good for a boost. Or a Yorkie bar?' Ta. Then the water. Suddenly we're talkin' diabetes... no, had the tests ... hypoglae-what's-it ... giving up and going back on cigarettes, yeh, sucking your dinner through a tube, who needs it ... booze ... drugs.

Drugs. "My nephew," he says, "me sister's young fella comes to me an says, 'if I don't have fifty they'll stab me this evenin." So I give him the fifty and I says don't buy what you can't afford'.

And I offer in return, 'Yeh, there's my da dying of emphysema and he says to me, "son," so I give him the cigarette'. Donnie nods. 'You couldn't not'.

I give him the ₤4:35 – not doing me any favours there. For two Twixes and a bottle of water?!

Pecking around
a stump-footed pigeon
gets what it needs

And off. It's bumper-to-bumper. Night ferries are in.