At one house that was far from the road, the door opened a wee slither, then a dog squeezed itself through the gap and jumped at Philly, barking and scratching. A woman appeared and she said, – Roger! Roger! and caught the dog’s collar just as its claws ripped through Philly’s trousers.
– Fucking hell! he said.
She pulled the dog closer to the door.
– Why you up here? she said, – We don’t appreciate coldcallers.
– So you set your fucking dog on me?
The dog lunged again but the woman’s hold on him meant it couldn’t reach.
– What d’you want here? the woman said.
– It was just to see if you get your milk delivered.
The woman pointed at him with her free hand.
– See whoever your boss is, you tell him we’re not interested in people coming to our door with this crap.
The dog broke free and jumped again. The claws of one paw stuck in the material of the duffelcoat, and as Philly spun to get away from it the dog was pulled round as well, up on its hind legs.
– Fuck! he shouted, and tried to bat it off with his arm.
– Don’t you lay a finger on that dog! she screamed and moved to untangle the paw.
– I’ll kick its fucking head in if you don’t get it away!
The woman got it free after a second or two of pulling at it, then she was dragging the dog back inside.
– You come here again and I’m phoning the police.
Philly pulled his sleeve over his hand, and rubbed at the saliva on his coat till it disappeared. From the front room the woman banged on the window and pointed towards the gate. Philly flicked his middle finger at her, walked slowly down the path.
The driveway at the next house wasn’t so long. A young woman answered and Philly explained about the local milkman, how many parents in the area also thought a route was needed. He mentioned calcium, teeth and bones. He asked if she drank any hot beverages. He enquired about her children’s ages. The woman said it was a really good idea, as sometimes they did run out. Philly smiled and suggested eight pints a week. The woman said she had four weans, and her and her husband both drank coffee every day. She thought ten pints was enough to be sure they always had some left. When Philly got his notepad out, she said her husband controlled all the money stuff, she’d need to wait till he was in from work to arrange the days and so on. He’d be home by six. Philly would come back. The woman smiled and shook his hand and said thank you very much and it was nice to meet him.
He sent Brian a text: 10 pints up. U?
The reply came quick: 12. Well done. Keep goin.
The sun was starting to go down. The big houses looked beautiful in the fading light. Philly took his time looking at the brickwork and the fancy gardens as he went up the driveways. Brian’d took him to see Uncle Gerry’s house when they were out cruising at the weekend, and even though it was smaller than these ones, it was still a lot bigger and fancier than Philly’s family’s house. And that had come from milk. From all the time Gerry and Tam’d been doing this, walking door to door to door, talking, telling people how much they needed to have milk, milk at all times, milk for all the family.
After a while, Philly realised he might not get another door. Nobody else was speaking to him, he couldn’t get a discussion going because they wanted him away from the door the second he opened his mouth. He thought, surely not even Tam could’ve done better with this route. They just didn’t want to hear it.
It was getting dark. Ten pints was thirty quid for the day. Not enough. He started jogging up the driveways, trying to cover more ground.
Another text: 20. Still going ok?
Philly ran through a gate, tripped on something and fell on the tarmac. A voice came from the blackness of an open garage.
– Hey! What’re you doing there?
He got up and brushed dirt and pebbles off his palms.
– Son? You alright?
He turned and went out onto the pavement. It was half-five. He had to get one more. He unbuttoned his coat, thinking that if he shivered people might feel sorry for him and take just a pint or two.
By quarter to six, he hadn’t spoke to another person. He made his way back to the big house as the streetlights were starting to come on.
Tam sent a text: Ready 2 head?
Philly sent back: Jst wrappin 1 up. Will b 5 mins.
It was five to when he approached the door, but there was a big black Jaguar in the drive, the light of the moon shining bright off the doors and the windshield. The man of the house was in. He chapped the door and after thirty seconds he did it again. A tall, bearded man opened it. He had on a suit but no tie. The light from the hall was reflected by the wineglass in his hand.
– Hi, I’m Philly, I was talking to your wife earlier..
– Oh aye, the milk route?
– Aye, that’s right. Philly smiled.
– We’re not interested pal, I just get it at the super-market, the man said and closed the door.
Philly chapped. The man answered again.
– It’s just, your wife and me, we did make an arrangement. I’ve already done the paperwork. It was just to let you know the delivery days.
The man pulled the door open wide and stepped onto the porch.
– You un-do that paperwork, coz we’ll not be paying for any milk son. I do the shopping for my family, the wife should’ve checked with me first.
– Sorry, Philly said, – I’ve sent the order to Head Office. You’ll need to cancel it with the milkman next week.
– Son, the man said, – Don’t give me any shite about head offices, I know this sort of operation. If any milk’s delivered here I’ll be getting the milkman’s company details and speaking to his boss. Letting him know his door-to-door team are making fake orders.
– But she fucking said…
– Sorry, the man shrugged, – Now you’ll need to go.
Philly shook his head. He said, – Thanks then. Thanks a lot, ya stupid fucking prick.
The man dropped the glass and grabbed Philly’s arm, forcing it up his back. Philly tried to get free but the man pushed it higher. Philly shouted out with the pain. The man ran him down the steps and pushed him down the drive. Philly stumbled, but managed to stay upright.
– Consider yourself lucky, the man said, and went back into his house.
One of the shift managers waved to Karen and she waved back. The wee engineer office was deserted after all. Usually there were a few of them sitting with their feet up and a mug of tea, enjoying the calm before the next breakage.
Jaffa looked up and saw some suits in the boss’s suite. They were standing looking out over the floor, chatting. That was the real bosses, even above Baxter. Thank fuck he never worked in this bay, having they cunts looking down on you half the day. They got to the fire exit and Karen hit the bar with both hands. The door flew open and fresh air blew in their faces, the plastic safety shoes clunking down the stone steps leading out to the carpark, making a weird noise. Away to the left, a group of older guys were standing in the smoking shelter, laughing at a wee fella who was trying to climb up the side of it. Another one pulled his hairnet off and ran away.
Karen whistled as a black Porsche drew up to the concierge window. Jaffa saw a Chinese guy in a suit and tie leaning out the window, saying a few words to Ewan the concierge then being waved through. The Porsche crept forward and soon was lost among the hundreds of other motors. The workers’ cars spread out in all directions from where Jaffa was standing, away up to the fences in the distance, and then all ye could see were the trees. The sunlight bounced off a thousand bonnets and Jaf had to shield his eyes.
He was still walking behind her. She led them up the stairs of the other building and through the double-doors. She had a wee look about. It was still too early for anybody to be in there. They went into the canteen. The only sound was the wee murmur of the men back at the smokers’ bit.
They hurried into the kitchen and Jaffa shut the door behind him. Karen pushed her lips into his. She took her hairnet off, then his, put them both in her pocket. Jaffa stuck his hand in between two of the buttons on her jacket and fumbled up the way, grasping. She pulled away and removed her factory clothes and shoes, then jumped up on the hotplate. Jaffa’s hair was sticking up with the static. He kicked off the steel toecaps, unbuttoned the jumpsuit and stepped out of it. She smiled. He moved forward and kissed her again. His head banged off the heatlamp above them but he didn’t stop. It swung back and hit him again. She pulled him down, closer to her.
When it was over Jaffa climbed off, pulled his boxers up, and walked through to the canteen. He came back in with a handful of napkins and gave them to her. She used a couple on herself then gave the hotplate a wipe with the rest. He sat on the floor. Karen put her trousers and jacket back on, took out a packet of fags and a lighter.
– That was nice, she said.
– Nice? Thanks. He took one of the fags, and she lit it for him.
– Ye know what I mean.
He took a long draw then tried to blow some smoke-rings. They were quiet for a few minutes.
– Aw Jaffa, she said.
She shook her head, – Is this what it’s came to, eh?
He stared, – What d’ye mean?
– Nothing, she said. I just felt like saying something.
– Is it the divorce?
– I know I shouldn’t keep fixating on it, but it’s hard, ye know.
– Aye. I understand.
– It’s not that he left me for somebody else, I’d no been able to stand the sight of him for years. And it’s not how young she was either. Good luck to him.
She flicked some ash onto the tiles. Jaffa nodded.
– It’s how hard he’s making things now, that fucking lawyer he’s got. I was with him twenty years, more than that. My full youth.
– And he’s loaded, eh?
She bit her lip.
– He’s got money, aye. He’s comfy. So would I be if I’d my fair share. But he’s got this lawyer up to all sorts, making shite up. Trying to screw me at every turn.
– How can he? Ye were married, does that not mean fifty-fifty?
– Ye’ve to fight for everything Jaf. It’s not as easy as people think. She flicked more ash onto the wee pile, – I’m doing extra hours in here now, just to keep my head above water till it gets sorted out. It’s hell so it is. She looked at him and smiled, – I mean, these days you’re my only fun in life. How sad is that?
– Here, fuck you. He grinned and tried to flick ash on her sleeve.
– And this is what you’ve to look forward to boy, all this hassle. Half of all marriages end in divorce now.
– Nah, he said, – It’ll not be me.
– How long you been married?
– A year.
She tutted, – At your age too. God.
– Honestly, it won’t happen to us. We’re alright.
– Really? she said, – What ye doing with me then?
Jaffa shrugged, – Guess I just need something to make this fucking job bearable, he said, – She doesn’t know what it’s like to be stuck in here day after day. She couldn’t. We need something, don’t we?
– Makes me feel awful special.
– Naw Karen, I mean..
– It's ok, she said, – I get it.
– I do like ye. I mean, I think you’re gorgeous eh.
– Aye, alright.
– I do.
– So when you’re not in here, everything’s rosy in paradise? She leaned forward to put her shoes back on.
– Eh.. it's not bad. It's fine.
– I’m convinced.
– Naw, it is, it’s good.
He dropped the fag-end on the floor and watched it, still burning.
– She does annoy me.
– She just, she doesn’t understand me sometimes.
Karen laughed, – What is there to understand?
– About money and that. Fucking spending what we don't have, moaning when we don't have enough. Ye know?
– Her da and that were a wee bit well off, but I keep saying to her, we’re not fucking celebrities. We’ve just to do our best. Manage. Things'll get better.
– Is she happy with that?
– What ye saying?
– Am saying, is she alright with that? Does she accept it?
– She's with me. She's not going anywhere.
He got to his feet.
– We'll be good, he said.
– I’m sure ye will, she said, taking the hairnets out her pocket, – You’re a good laddie Jaffa.
He grinned, – Thanks mammy.
Over Karen’s shoulder he noticed one of the cleaners through the glass.
The cleaner's head bobbed along the length of the window and out of sight.
– Fucking Rocky Four just went by the window.
– Who the hell's that?
– That cleaner, the one with the blue rinse.
– Wee Jeanette?
– Shit. She see in?
– I dunno. She kept walking.
– Fuck. Karen pursed her lips, – What were ye calling her?
– Rocky Four. Everybody calls her that.
– Ye not seen that film?
– I think so, years ago.
– Rocky trains by chasing wee chickens about, going after them and trying to catch them when they’re running all over the place.
– She does the exact same thing when she's out in the yard and it's windy. She chases they crisp-pokes about for ages, round and round and round, going for them with her hands. She's fucking half-daft.
– Jesus Christ, Karen said, shaking her head, – You’s are bad bastards. Right ye better get that romper back on, we’ve been away too long. ●