Benny lifted his cup, Aye, fine hen, fine.
Is this no a great feelin? Sandra said sippin her own tea. There widny be many Monday mornins ye’ve felt like this’
Benny took a sip an sat back, still holding the cup. Ahm good Sandra, it’s a nice feelin, bit ahll jist dae whit they tell me. All ah will say is that ah feel that wee bit stronger ivry day, bit we’ll no look too far ahead hen, wan day at a time an that eh?
Ach aye, yer right enough, fingers crossed an on we go eh? Oh there’s the phone it’ll be ma Mam, wait till ye hear this.
The phone wis on a wee table in the hall. Sandra squeezed in tae the seat an lifted the receiver. Izzat you Mammy? How are ye the day? Aye we’re aw fine, smashin.
She looked at Benny. Aye he’s great as well Mam...aye he’s lookin well...ye should have seen it this morning Mam, the girls loved it, their Da fussin over them makin their boiled eggs an toast, packin their wee lunch boxes for them. They ate every bit so they did, then they’re away tae school aw happy so they were, great innit?...well it must be four weeks noo...Aye ahll tell him...Oh aye Mammy ah think he’ll be fine, well, we’ll see...aye awright Mam, ahll talk tae ye later, let ye know how it goes, awright, bye.
Sandra put the phone back and sat for a minnit. She looked straight ahead intae the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen windae the river wis only yards away, flat calm and slow. She stared for a minute then turned and looked at Benny again, remembering when they first met. It was at the Fair and she and her pals were walking in jist as Benny and his pals were leavin. They were all about 15 or 16. Benny looked as if he had been fighting as his clothes were torn and dirty. Sandra thought he might have been crying as well and she said to her pals that she thought he had this really sad, almost hunted look aboot him. Like a wounded animal she said. She told herself immediately it was him. And now nearly twenty year later here they were.
Benny hadny moved all morning, after the girls left for school he turned on the television and stared, elbows on his knees, hands clasped under his chin, gently rockin himself back and forward. Sandra stared at him for a full minute took a deep breath an then said Dae ye want tae go tae the Post Office for me? Cash the Fam book?
Benny turned roon, they looked at each other for a few seconds then he shrugged.
Aye sure hen, nae bother, as long as yer sure, ye want me tae bring anything hame? Messages or anythin?
Naw, the tea’s in, it’ll no take ye long, an it’s a nice day.
Nae problem, ahll get ma shoes on.
They lived aboot a mile from the toon centre an it wis a flat, easy stroll for Benny. The sun wis warm on his back an he whistled as he marched in tae the Post Office. He wis aw smiles when he met folk, even them he hardly knew.
He thanked the lassie behind the counter, nodded tae the torn faced wan, and stuffed the money intae his jeans. On his way home he passed the bench ootside the bookies. Three or four of his pals were sittin on a bench in the sun passin a wine bottle roon. When they saw Benny they gave him a cheer.
Gus said Here he is folks The wan an only Saint Bernard.
Another voice said Whit’s the secret Benny boy, how dae ye dae it?
Benny laughed, crossed the street and joined the lads. Awright boys? he said, How are we? Feelin any better?
Ach the usual Benny, ye know how it is.
Course ah dae guys, ahve only been sober four weeks remember.
Whit ye up tae Benny, were ye in the toon?
Aye Gus, Sandra sent me in tae pick up the Fam. Are ye’s waitin on the first race?
Ach it’s no worth bettin on Benny, the favourite’s a wan tae eight shot. It’s meant tae be a wonder horse, entered intae the 2000 Guineas an The Derby.
Benny nodded, feeling the money in his pocket.
Anno yer aff it Benny but we’ve still got manners. Will ye take a swally?
Benny laughed an put both hands in the air. Naw Gus, honest ahm fine, wan day at a time an aw that shite. So, the favourites a wonder horse eh? Wan tae eight eh?
Fuck aye, bit we’re beat efter this Benny, unless ye’ve any goodness in ye.
Benny stood for a moment then he said Right a bottle’s a fiver innit? Whit if ah pit Sandra’s Fam money on the favourite? Forty pound exactly wid throw ye forty five, ahll gie Sandra her forty an youse get another bottle. Whit dae ye’s think?
Gus said Haud on Benny it’s yer Family Allowance money it’s too big a risk.
Aye Gus anno whit yer sayin, bit how many times hiv ah turned up skint an rattlin an youse hiv handed me a bottle right away, ah only want tae gie sumthin back, it’s only fair?
Benny, we’ve always operated that way. Another day another giro, it keeps us aw goin. Bit your sober noo, there’s different rules when yer aff it. The money’s tae help yer real family. No yer drinkin family.
Gus it’s a fuckin wan tae eight shot, fir fuck sake, the favourite should skoosh it. C’mon, it’ll be a doddle.
Leave it Benny.
Benny wis gone. Clappin an rubbin his hauns he ran intae the bookies and saw that the horses had begun tae get loaded intae the starting stalls. He grabbed a pencil an slip an wrote Favourite 2.00 Newmarket and ran up tae the windae. Johnny the bookie knew all the lads, gave them a sub noo an again, bit he shook his heid as he took Benny’s slip an pile of notes.
A wan tae eight shot should never get beat Benny, bit ye know yersel, it’s no that easy tae buy money.
Jist stamp ma bet Johnny will ye?
Sure Benny, sure thing pal.
Benny pushed the slip intae his pocket an went back ootside, The money's doon lads we’re golden, fuckin golden.
Ach that’s brilliant Sandra, everybody on the street laps Benny up so they dae, we’re aw rootin for him. All ah can tell ye is when ma Tommy got sober he said he found it really hard at first. Hard tae fill his days he would say. Ah think his counsellor told him he needed a focus. Aye that wis the word she used. A focus, an then before we knew it, it wis her that he wis focussin on, focussin the arse right aff her so he wis. An then the pair of them focussed right aff oota toon.
Aw Jeanette that wis an absolute shock tae everybody so it wis. Never in a million years wid anybody think Tommy wid jist up an leave ye like that. You two were together since primary school ah think.
Aye Sandra no half wis that a shock, bit there ye go, whit can ye dae except pick yersel back up an get on wae it. Ah should’ve seen the signs when Tommy told me wan day that he wisny the same guy I married 18 year ago. Bit it wis the weans Sandra, they adored Tommy so they did, still dae. How can ye tell them their Da would rather go tae the theatre an write poetry than take them campin in the summer?
Sandra got up and put the kettle back on. Surely there wis room for Tommy tae dae both though? Ah mean oor two couldny believe it when Benny had a couple of eggs boiled for them wan morning and he made them take cereal as well, ah think they thought that wis him jist getting hame.
Ahll say wan thing Sandra, ahve always thought Benny wis a wee bit stronger than ma Tommy wis. Mentally stronger. So ahm sure everythin will work oot fine. Jist keep yer eye on him, fir wee daft things, bit ye’ll be fine hen.
Pouring two more coffees Sandra said Aw thanks Jeanette, ah really dae appreciate that. We’ll see though, we’ll jist wait an see. Noo, whit aboot the Tenant’s Group Meetin the night, are ye goin? Ah love they wee meetins even though they end up like knittin bees.
Aye Sandra an there’s a wee pie, beans and bingo night efter it as well tae raise funds for the Majorettes, so whit we’ll dae is take a few cans in wae us and then mibbe get a few merr later on. Aye it’ll be a rerr wee night an ye can tell everybody how well Benny’s daein.
At that moment the door opened and in walked Benny. He stood framed in the kitchen doorway facing Sandra. Jeanette sat with her back to the kitchen door facin oot ontae the river so she couldny see Benny but half-turned and said;
Aw hello Benny boy, aw ahm hearin is right good reports aboot you, ye know that?
Never takin his eyes aff Sandra, Benny said Awright Jeanette, how’s it goin?
enny stood silent. Sandra stared, she had seen that look before. They stared at each other, neither listening while Jeanette spoke about focus and willpower, and mental strength. Their eyes seemed to bore deep intae each other until Benny lowered his and he turned towards the front door. Sandra stared at where Benny had been standing then she said;
Ye know whit Jeanette, ah think ahll jist gie it a miss the night. ●