Pedro Lenz will be appearing as a featured writer at the Festival Neue Literatur. The following excerpt is translated by Donal McLaughlin.
Naw Much of a Talker
It aw started long afore that. Ah kid jist as well make oot but: it aw started that wan evenin, a few days eftir they let me ootae the Joke.
Boot ten in the evenin, it wis. Hawf past, mibbe. An’ see the wind? The wind widda cut right through ye, fuckin freezin it wis. Fog Valley. It November an’ aw. Ma heart wis like a soakin-wet flair-cloth, it wis that heavy.
So ah takes masel intae Cobbles, fancied a wee coffee ah did, wi a guid shot ae schnapps in it. The dosh they gi’e ye when ye leave the nick ah’d awready blown awready, naw that ah kidda tellt ye whit oan.
So there ah wis: fuck aw dosh, desperate furra coffee but, wi schnapps in it, furra bit o company an’ aw, a cunt or two tae talk tae.
Ahm tellin ye, arent ah? Ma pockets wur empty, part fae a few fags, a few coins. Things wur a bit tight like. Tighter than tight, tae be honest. Waitin on money some cunt owed me, ah wis. Try sayin that but when yir fresh ootae the nick. Ahm owed a whack o money, jist dont hiv it yet.
Impresses nae cunt, that.
So ah goes intae Cobbles, like ah say, an’ order a coffee wi schnapps.
Regula asks hiv ah the money fur it?
Naw a bad question, ah admit.
Dae me a favour, Regi, ah gi’e it, spare me the patter, bring me o’er the coffee jist an’ we’ll take it fae there.
Total patter-merchant ur whit, she goes – an’ goes an’ fetches it.
She’s like that, when she comes back: Ah didnae pit it through, an’ she looks at me thon wey – ah dunno whit wey, masel. Diffrint, anyhoo, diffrint fae usual, wi a bit mair longin in her eyes, or summit. Ahv nae idea whit like it is fur ither guys, see me but? that kinda thing warms ma heart – toasts ma insides, it dis – a woman like Regi lookin at me like that.
Thanks, Regi, love. Ye’ll get yir reward in heaven. The money an’ aw some time. Gi’e her peace wi that kinda patter, she gi’es it next, an’ ahm naw tae start gettin used tae it eether, cos if Pesche finds oot she didnae pit it through, aw hell’ll break loose so it will. Ah know masel whit like he can be.
She’s brilliant, Regula, ye hiv tae hand it tae her, she looks oot fur us, jist takes it intae her heid naw tae pit summit through, nae cunt’ll know, an’ anyhoo: Pesche, the gaffer’ll be the last wan tae notice. Goalie here, meanwhile, his his coffee an’ that’s aw that matters.
Ahd known furra long time she his a big heart, Regula. That evenin there but, ah started tae like her a loatae other ways too.
It’s strange, that. Dead strange. Yiv known a woman fur years an’ naw thought nuthin of it, an’ suddenly, christ, suddenly she’s got summit. She his: she’s suddenly got summit that’s got unner yir skin, suddenly ye like her like. Explain that yin tae me! That particular evenin, ahd a loatae questions tae answer, tae be honest. Suddenly but, wan single question, jist, intristit me – an’ that wis: wis there any chance at aw, in this here lifetime, that me an’ Regula kid become an item mibbe?
Regula, love, ah gave it, kin ah ask ye a wee favour? Kid ye slip me a fifty tae Monday? Whit it is is: ahm owed a load ae money, jist hivnae actually got it actually yet. A wee cash-flow problem. Ye ken hoo it is –
She looks at me like that. Then goes like that: so ah hidnae changed at aw in the Joke, eh? ye widnae think, tae listen tae me, ahd done nearly a year in there, ah hidnae changed a bit, still full o the same auld shite ah wis.
Dont get yirsel worked up, Regi. Ye dont know whit yir on aboot. Ye know fuck aw aboot me, fuck aw aboot the Joke an’ aw. An’ it’s better that wey, believe me. Ye should coont yir blessins. As fur the dosh: ahm naw beggin, certainly naw goney beg fae you, it’s up tae you, eether yiv a fifty or ye hivnae an’ we kin talk aboot summit else. That’s aw there is tae it.
She gave me the fifty: folded it an’ pit in ma breast pocket, wi’oot a word. Ah took her haun, gi’ed the inside ae her arm a wee kiss an’ gave it: see if ye didnae hiv tae go tae work, ahd take ye straight hame so ah wid an’ blow ye away. Ah swear, Regi, ahd make ye a happy woman.
She wis like that tae me: ah wis a daft bastard, really wis, an’ she gave a wee laugh an’ ah gave a wee laugh an’ aw. It wis guid tae laugh again, it really wis. Ah hidnae hid much tae laugh aboot recently, ah really hidnae.
When there wis fuck-aw schnapps left in the coffee, ah went o’er tae the Spanish Club tae see wis there any grub left. An’ sure enough: there wis some, even if it wis late. Paco rustled up a bit ae fish. Re-heatit the rice fur me. Jist the joab it wis.
He wantit tae know where ahd been keepin masel. He hidnae seen me aroon fur ages.
Alcatraz, ah went, haudin ma fingers up tae ma face tae look like jail bars.
He shook his big heavy heid jist, winced a bit wi his mooth. They’re guid at that in the Spanish Club: they know when tae ask ye things an’ when it’s better naw tae.
Hey, Paco, tell me, hiv ye seen Uli or Marta in here at aw? Naw? Hiv they naw dropped in, naw? Naw, it disnae matter. Yir rice is guid, by the way, really guid. Ahv said it afore an’ ah’ll say it again: yis ur really guid cooks in here.
* * * *
Ah looked at the clock, up oan the wall beside the faded Real Madrid penant, same beam the fluorescent tubes ur on. Hawf eleven awready. Wan last Veterano, then get tae fuck hame, ah thought. Shitin weather. Gimme a schnapps, Paco, an’ pour it nice eh, fuckin freeze ye it wid ootside again.
Strange, there wisni mair in oan a Friday. A few young yins playin table fitba, a few auld yins hivin a natter an’ that wis it. An’ me waitin. Fur summit.
Mon, mate, dae summit, ye need tae fuckin dae summit, ah tellt masel. Ah ordered anither brandy. Guid joab ahd Regi’s fifty. Yir a diffrint person so ye ur wi cash in yir wallet. If ah dont find Uli soon but, Regula’s goney hiv tae wait tae get paid back.
Thinkin o Regula hid me greetin aw ae a sudden. Don’t know how masel, fuckin embarrassin it wis but: sittin on yir ain at a table an’ the tears trippin ye.
Closin time, Goalie!
Paco’s missus. If need be, she caws the shots roon here. Ensures the rules ur kept. Paco’s too fuckin saft. He cannae throw folk oot, cannae bring himsel tae dae it. She kin but.
Ah rubbed ma eyes, pretended they wur irritatin me, paid an’ left tae go hame. Ah didnae take the maist direct route but. Naw, ah wantit tae drop by Cobbles, see if Regula wis finishin her work an’ aw mibbe. So ah smoke a fag in the courtyaird, keep an eye on the back door, thinkin that’s the door she’d go ootae. Lights wur still oan in the pub. Wid be nice tae see her, even fur a wee minute jist, ah thought. Ah waited in the dork, unner the porch. Ye widnae hiv seen me fae the street an’ naw fae the carpark eether, thank fuck. Buddy wis waitin oan her an’ aw, ye see. Buddy wis sittin in his motor. Buddy wis her bloke – it wis official. Buddy wis pickin Regula up fae her work cos it wis his responsibility, cos that’s whit ye dae if yiv a burd who serves behind a bar an’ ye want tae be sure she gets hame safe. Specially if she works at a place like Cobbles, frequented by dangerous cunts like me. By worse cunts than me an’ aw.
Congratu-fuckin-lations, Buddy, yiv it aw under control so ye hiv: ye check yir motor, check yir burd, check yir hair, Buddy, ye check yir blood pressure, you’re the boss, Buddy, hunner percent, the champ, Buddy, she’s yours, yiv it aw in the palm ae yir hand, ye hiv her in the palm ae yir hand, well done, aye – well done, well done, Buddy, ya fuckin wimp, an’ ah spat on the fuckin grun.
Ahd nowt, at that there moment. Nada. Nae claim oan the lassie. Nae money. Naw a hope. Nowt. Ah jist wantit tae stroll past as she wis leavin her work, like it wis a coincidence like, an’ gi’e it: Look who it is, Regula! You oan yir way hame an’ aw? Where ye headin, Regi? Mon, ah’ll take ye. Naw, it’s naw oota ma way, naw, really, it’s nae bother, ah wantit tae go that wey anyhoo.
As we walked, ahd then hiv done ma “mysteriously silent” act. Usually works, that yin. Specially if she’s been behind a bar aw day. Ye dont go nippin her brain at hawf one in the mornin. Naw, ye need tae be able tae shut the fuck up, tae listen if she’s tellin ye summit, an’ even if she’s naw. An’ then, later, ootside her door, a wee hug an’ a kiss on each cheek, naw: the three kisses we dae, an’ ye make the last last that wee bit longer, that wee bit longer than usual. Then ye get tae fuck. Ye dont forget tae turn back but an’ g’ie her a wee wave.
That’s hoo ahd hiv played it. An’ she’d be thinkin: he’s an awright guy, Goalie. Jist been in the jail furra year an’ hisnae any money, he’s got class but. Why’d he hesitate like that at the last kiss? Ahm sure ahm right: he hesitated, sorta. As if he wantit it tae last longer. Or ahm ah wrang?
That’s the kinda partin thoughts women like Regula like. The note tae leave them oan. Tae keep them happy.
It wis jist me thinkin them but. An’ up aheid in the shadows wis Buddy in his tarted-up Toyota fuckin Celica, the sound system turned right up, nae doot, the heatin an’ aw, probably. An’ here’s me, on ma fuckin tod, freezin ma arse aff oan a drafty corner, useless cunt that ah am. Ahv nae music eether.
Hey, Goalie, whit’s up? Whit ye daein, still here? Ye tryin tae catch yir fuckin death or whit? ah said tae masel, then took aff hame. On ma tod, as usual.
* * * *
Aw that shite meant ahd tae leave ma work an hoor an’ a hawf early an’ aw. Sorry, but nae cunt’s goney pay me fur that time, ur they? An’ goin back in thenoo, tae show ma face like, is fuckin pointless. So ah jist leave it jist.
Ah hitch-hike tae Olten insteid. Olten’s a sad toon, a really sad toon. It’s a bit better than the Fog but cos in Olten naw ivry cunt knows me. It disnae bother me if a toon’s sad. Oan the contrary. Toons ur like stories, the sad yins urnae always the worst.
Eftir aboot hawf an hoor, a Renault finally stops tae gi’e me a lift. Guy looks like a teacher. Later but, when ahv been talkin tae him a bit, it turns oot he isnae. He’s a rep furra watch-makin company in the French-speakin pairt. Someone who says he occasionally gi’es folk lifts cos it’s borin aye bein oan yir ain in the car.
Ah kin take ye as faur as Rothrist. Then ah hiv tae take the motorway.
Great. Merci buccups. As faur as Rothrist is magic. Then ah’ll take it fae there.
It’s guid craic, listenin tae a French-speaker tryin tae speak German.
In Rothrist, ah wait ten minutes, max, then a jeep gi’es me a lift, a Cherokee. The woman drivin it his quite a few jewels oan her fingers an’ is pickin her daughter up fae ballet in Olten. Wisnae much aulder than me, her in the Cherokee, mibbe even younger. She babbled oan a bit, ah wisnae listenin but, wis jist givin it ‘aye’ aw the time an’ thinkin ma ain thoughts. When ah looked at her, ye see, wi aw her expensive jewellery an’ her fine claes, ah realised ahm auld enough tae hiv daughters an’ aw that wid go tae ballet an’ hiv tae be taxied to an’ fro. An’ that ahd mibbe then hiv a jeep like this an’ aw an’ a very smart wife who’d hiv time tae chauffeur oor daughters aroon an’ tae give lifts tae hitch-hikers an’ who wid babble oan as much as this yin did. The thought ae aw that wisnae pleasant but.
Ye kin let me oot here. That’s perfect.
Ahm naw allowed tae stop here. It’s nae waitin ivrywhere. Whit’s that aw aboot? Soon aw car drivers’ll be allowed tae dae is pay fines an’ taxes. An’ godknows: the polis hiv better things tae dae. Jist think ae whit ye see oan TV. But naw but: it’s only ivver the drivers they’re eftir.
Yeah, naw ah jist meant: fae here oan in, ye kin drap me aff anywhere. Great, thanks a lot, ta very much, bye.
Where she drapped me aff, they’re aw oot even this early in the evenin. Women fae here. Women fae countries further east: Austria, Russia an’ the like. Women fae Africa.
Women fae ah-don’t-know-where.
Course, it disnae matter sae much whether yir fae here, or elsewhere, dependin oan yir joab. Yir foreign anyhoo. Ahv known mair than wan woman who’s been active in this business. Ah dont want tae go oan aboot it. If yir oan drugs, there’s stuff yir prepared tae dae. Course, they’re naw aw addicts. A few dae it fur ither reasons. There’s nae shortage ae reasons. There’s nae shortage ae guys eether that’ll pay money even tae get a sniff ae a woman. The joab widnae exist itherwise. Ye shouldnae judge that kinda thing. Presumably that’s honest an’ aw. An’ there’s mibbe even worse ways ae bein honest. Whit ah want tae say but is: suddenly yir oan this street in Olten an’ ye see the women an’ ye see the limos that pull up an’ a woman gets in or disnae, an’ it gets ye thinkin, thinkin aboot aw the women yiv hid an’ the wans ye hivnae an’ the wans yir nivver fuckin goney. Then ye think ae the women who’ve tellt ye aboot bein oan the street. An’ then ye clock aw the things that kin happen in an evenin oan a patch like this. An’ then ye wish ye’d nivver left yir hame village an’ it wis still yir childhood an’ ivrythin wis still the wey it aye used tae be when yir maw sang ye tae sleep or yir faither tellt ye a bedtime story an’ then turned the light oot, an’ ivrythin ye knew aboot life, the hale fuckin loat, still fitted in yir heid still, yir beddin smelt ae fresh soap an’ mibbe a bit ae you an’ fuck-aw else.
Olten his better bits than this. Ah got masel away fae there. Ah went tae play pinball wi some ae the cash ahd saved oan the train ticket.
Nae idea whit like it is fur ither folk, see me but: ah kin pit a two-franc bit in, then keep playin till ma wrists faw aff. Staun me in front ae any machine an’ eftir the first three baws ahv it sussed an’ ah’ll guarantee ye that wi the second three ah’ll win a free go.
Ma favourites ur the auld machines that talk tae ye. Hit Gate One! Hit the Multiball Target! Well Done, Player One! Go for the Jackpot!
Wi they yins, ah aye imagine a wee man inside, a cute wee dwarf sittin there who kin speak dead-good English an’ who likes ye an’ wants tae help ye, jist cos he dis.
There’s nae cunt tae help me but. Nae wee cunt an’ nae big cunt eether. Naw even me masel kin help me.
Ah take the train hame an’ at the station in the Fog, ah hiv a few mair beers wi the jerks who ur aye sittin there, hivin a beer an’ waitin fur time tae pass. They’re probably quite happy at that cos, sooner or later, time always dis pass.
By the time ah hit the sheets, ahm feelin guid-taereally-guid again.
* * * *
Ye see, Regula, when schoolboys play fitba – ah mean: when they really play, pick teams first an’ that – naebody normally wants tae go in goal. Normal wee boys want tae score goals, naw stop them. That’s jist the way it is. In the nature ae things. Even when it comes tae real players, the wans who make it big, wans ye see on TV, the forwards ur normally much richer an’ much mair famous than the goalkeepers. That his its ain logic. A goal is always a goal. When a goalie makes a save but, ye cannae aye tell if the baw wid’ve gone in otherwise, or naw. Ye kin nivver tell fur sure, actually, whether a goalkeeper’s really guid or jist plain guid or mibbe naw sae guid. That’s how ivry fitballer, if he his any choice, prefers tae be up front. The wans that want it even mair badly, totally badly, but ur weans. As a wean, ye make sure you yirsel ur playin in a position that’ll let ye pit as many baws as possible in the net. An’ d’ye know how? Cos weans, wi’oot knowin it, ur the world’s maist stupidest optimists.
Naw, take it fae me, Regi: optimism is a children’s illness. Like the measles. An’ a keeper’s summit like insurance. If yir blinded by optimism an’ countin oan hivin nuthin but guid luck, ye dont need insurance. An’ that’s how, when weans play fitba, nae cunt wants tae go in goal. An’ wance, when we’d an important game, against the Italians fae the gasworks, nae cunt wantit tae be the goalie again so we pit wee Balsiger – the poorest an’ maist-harassed wee guy roon oor way – in goal.
But ah dont want tae be in goal!
Zip it, Balsiger, an’ jist get in!
But ahm naw very guid in goal.
Yir even worse oot. Now git in goal or ye kin go straight hame!
We got hammered. Oan the way hame, someone said the goalie wis tae blame. Wi a better goalie, we’d hiv won by a few clear goals, they said. The goalie wis worse than useless, they said, the guy shid be fired intae ooter space etc. Where’d he get tae anyhoo, the damn goalie, ma friends suddenly asked. How? ah asked back. We shid teach him a lesson he’ll nivver forget, they reckoned. They got themsels aw worked up. Someone hid the idea ae sendin oot a search party. When they found him, he’d get a right guid hidin.
Ah kidnae see the sense in that at aw cos, tae me, it wisnae at aw clear we’d lost cos ae the keeper. An’ anyhow: we’d forced the wee guy tae go in goal. That’s how a sudden need fur justice came over me an’ ah started givin it: it wisnae wee Balsiger’s fault. It wis awready too late but. Wance that kinda group dynamic kicks in, there’s nae reversin it. Apart fae me, they wur aw determined tae gi’e wee Balsiger a hidin. So ah stepped forward an’ said:
Ahm yir goalie, lads. If yir hell bent on gi’in a goalie a hammerin, oan ye come. Ahm yir goalie, ya bunch ae fuckin yella-bellies!
Naw yir naw, naw yir naw, they said, an’ ah must be bloody bonkers. Ahd awready decided but ah wis takin Balsiger’s thrashin. It wis time tae speed things up. Ah lashed oot at ma team-mates, givin it: Mon then, mon then, ya fuckin yella-bellies. Yis only want tae batter Balsiger cos yir aw fuckin yella-bellies. Fuckin yella-bellies is whit yis ur. Want a goalie? Here, yis hiv a goalie. Ahm yir goalie! Ahm yir goalie! Ah went oan an’ oan at them, punchin them noo an’ knockin them over. Soon, ahd provoked them sae much, they set upon me, right enough, first wi their fists an’ then their feet. Wis that it? ah asked when ma nose started bleedin. They wur a bunch ae fuckin pansies, ah tellt them. Ahd nivver seen such a crowd ae sissies, their
punches didnae even hurt. That spurred them oan even mair, of course. Me an’ aw but: ah wis aw fired up. They hit oot at me again, harder an’ harder, rougher an’ rougher, mair an’ mair brutal they wur gettin. Ah went doon on the grun. They kept goin till ah kid hardly breathe. Shortly before the lights went oot, before ah fainted, ah wis croakin, apparently: Ahm yir goalie! Ahm yir … Then ivrythin went dark an’ eftir that, aw ah know is: ah woke up at hame, in ma ain bed. Ma faither wis goin ballistic an’ ma maw wis sayin she worried aboot me: whit wid become of me.
Regula looks at me. That wonderful amazed look she his only a very rare time. Ah cannae believe it, she says.
Naw, Regula, take it fae me. Take it fae me. Aw that exists. Plenty ae other stuff an’ aw. Ye can believe it awright.
Oor two heids wur really close. She wis still lookin at me that same way. Ahd the impression, nearly, she wis lookin in ma face fur traces ae that fight twenty year ago. Ah inched closer, pit ma hauns oan her cheeks an’ kissed her oan the mooth. It wisnae lust. It wis direct but. An’ the crucial thing wis: Regula kissed me back, long an’ slow. Tenderly. Properly. Finally.