The first short story of the year. This one I intended to lead into something else, but like with a lot of things the story wanted to go elsewhere. I’m very pleased with the result. Considering that I’m having a rough day right now (read: tempted to start a revolution) this actually made me smile whilst editing it. I hope this cheers you up too, if you need it. Thanks- J.C
(PDF Download: everybody wants to go to holyhead)
EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO HOLYHEAD
By James Churchill
‘Ere mate, wanna buy a puppy?’ I had barely managed to avoid being pushed through the door between the train station and the ferry terminal when I found my arm grabbed by the sleaziest and most criminally insane looking man you can possibly imagine- Face sunken and rough, pale and near grey, almost dead, but with green eyes, which were worryingly attractive, that were alive with some kind of glee. I couldn’t work out whether that glee was there out of friendliness or if it were something a whole lot more sinister. I figured the latter. He was barefoot and dressed like your stereotypical flasher; a long coat and what appeared, from my own vantage point, to be no trousers. Here was a man, I knew right off, who was up to something suspect. Even if this stranger hadn’t been dressed like a flasher, hadn’t looked like he was going to give me the sort of thing that ought to be reserved for the bedroom, incognito browsing, and not within my eyesight thank you very much, I might still suspect him by the fact that something beneath his coat was moving. It was accompanied by a pitiable, heartrending whine.
I tried to get away. Having come all this way from Bristol, thinking I needed a hotel when I could have just got on the next Dublin ferry and cursing myself for not looking at the timetable before booking, I was in no mood for strangers like this. He, the stranger, started to let me go but then pulled me back.
‘Sure you don’t wanna buy a puppy mate? Fifty pounds?’
‘Nah. You’re alright,’ I said, pulling away back to the middle of the platform.
Starting to turn for the doors the man flashed me. He was wearing shit stained y-fronts, thank God, but more alarming than any thankfully absent glimpse of genitalia was the shivering, pathetic Chihuahua clinging forlornly to his inside pocket. Bits of its fur were missing and the skin around both of its sad, pleading eyes were black, as though somebody had wantonly taken a boxing glove to its face several times. One of its legs was twisted at an odd angle, as if it had at some point been broken and not repaired properly.
My heart broke for the poor, shivering hound. There was no way I could leave him with the stranger in the shit stained y-fronts, perhaps to be sold to some other sicko who might use him for sport or vomit inducing internet videos where they stuck marijuana cigarettes in his mouth and made him smoke them. I had to, entirely for the sake of the puppy, relieve him of the stranger’s company and any fearful future that might lie ahead.
Fortunately for all involved barring the stranger, Granny Miriam had decided not to let me go to Ireland, alone, without more than a few over-cautionary measures. One of these was a fake chequebook which she had purchased online. It looked exactly like the real thing except that all the account details were fake and anybody who attempted to pay in one of these cheques would set off a police warning alarm somewhere.
‘If anybody tries to scam you and you can’t get away,’ she told me, ‘use the cheque book and run as fast as you can.’ She hadn’t said anything about using it to buy puppies from strangers on station platforms, but I wasn’t going to walk away now that I had seen him.
Something had to be done.
I bought the puppy.
Writing out the fake cheque against the wall I handed it over and with Clarence, I called him Clarence on the spur of the moment, held close to my chest I rushed out into the Holyhead evening. As we crossed a bridge into the centre of town I looked down at Clarence and I could swear he understood that this was a rescue, that I wasn’t somebody who would make him smoke marijuana or use him as a moving target.
‘It’s alright,’ I said to him. He was still shivering. ‘I’m going to find you a vet, yeah?’ His big eyes appeared to thank me and he nuzzled his head into my jacket.
I dared one glance over my shoulder and saw the man with the shit stained underwear had followed us out of the train station. Without knowing where I was going I quickened my step and at the end of the bridge, the other side of a scuzzy underpass, turned left. Left, I thought, looked the more likely direction in which to find a vet. Thanks also to there being more people coming from that direction it seemed a better place for losing the man with the shit-stained underwear.
‘Oh… What a cute puppy,’ a girl across the street cried as we were passing the Woolworths. Seeing that she was coming out of the RSPCA shop I barrelled towards her. She made cooing sounds and started stroking Clarence’s head when I stopped at her side.
‘What’s his name?’
‘Clarence,’ I told her. ‘But I don’t really have time to chat. I need to get him to a vet.’
‘Why? What’s the matter with him?’ I showed her Clarence’s leg and she made terrible tutting sounds.
‘I found him like that. Some guy in the train station was trying to sell him.’ The girl laughed.
‘Oh. That’s Big Flipper! He’s always selling puppies in the train station. I don’t know anybody who actually bought one from him though.’
‘I didn’t. I gave him a fake cheque,’ I said bluntly. The girl looked at me like I was the one who had done something awful, as though it were me who had broken Clarence’s leg or tried to sell him on a station platform.
‘Here he comes now,’ the girl said loudly, before waving to the man in the shit stained underwear, who was again coming up behind me.
Without saying a word I ran as fast as I could down the street, hoping the girl would distract the villain long enough for me to find a vet or a policeman or someone who could help with Clarence. I was less worried about Big Flipper taking me to an abandoned warehouse and slinging me up from a meat hook by the balls than I was about Clarence going back inside his coat pocket, you’ll understand. Clarence was what mattered. Even when gravity was attempting to separate me from my genitals, if Clarence was safe, I could be satisfied.
There were no vets. I found one, but it was closed, abandoned I even think. Lord knows where the police were. After I came to the vets I asked a lady for directions to the nearest police station and she cackled at me with a toothless, frightening smile. One man told me ‘no police matey, no police,’ and moved on. Increasingly desperate, I wandered the streets of Holyhead looking for somebody who could take and look after Clarence, but after two hours (and becoming more worried that Big Flipper… Why was he called Big Flipper?… would find me) I realised that I wasn’t going to find anybody.
Holyhead is the end of the line. Everybody wants to go to Holyhead, but for one reason and one reason alone, to catch a ferry or a train out of there. Nobody is as stupid as I was and books themselves into a run down, crummy hotel for the night. It’s a cruddy, abandoned town at the arse hole of nowhere, only still going because of the ferry to Ireland. There’s no industry, no work, no life, no hope, no purpose to the place. It’s on the edge of collapse and at the edge of collapse nobody cares anymore. That’s how the likes of Big Flipper can get away with attempting to sell puppies on the train station platform. That’s how girls in RSPCA shops can be so blasé about him doing it. That’s why there or no police and nobody who wanted to direct me to the police. I was even suspecting that the local police wouldn’t help me even if I asked them, or rang them.
No other choice, I found the way to my dilapidated hotel and persuaded a reluctant Clarence to hide in my bag (I wasn’t comfortable with it myself) whilst I checked in. The receptionist asked a colleague, aloud, why I looked to be wearing five layers of clothing as I climbed the stairs, but I think I got away with it. It was six layers of clothing, actually.
Once I had the door locked I placed Clarence down on the bed, which he widdled all over. That meant I had to go back to the reception, still wearing six layers of clothing, and tell them that I thought one of their cleaners had been relieving themselves in my room. The receptionist was sceptical, but I took her upstairs and showed her the evidence, which shocked her. She was also concerned about the whimpering from the wardrobe, but she didn’t investigate that and only went to get me some fresh, unwiddled on bedding. I had to fit it myself though.
Not knowing what else to do, I used the room phone to call Granny Miriam.
‘What do you mean… You… Bought… A… Puppy?’ she hissed at me. I could hear the sounds of laughter starting up in the background.
‘Well I didn’t actually buy it… I used the fake cheque.’
‘That was for emergencies, not buying puppies.’ I proceeded to do my best to explain to an increasingly exasperated grandmother, who only paused the conversation to shut the laughter out of the room.
‘You, Marcus Julian Morfasson, are far too soft to know what’s good for you,’ she snapped when I had done. ‘I tell you what I’m going to do… I’m going to call somebody. Stay exactly where you are.’ She hung up and I imagined that far away in Bristol she was screaming and kicking the wastebasket over. Then she’d take it out on the laughter.
I sat on the floor with Clarence, who fell asleep against my crotch and only woke up once in order to take a drink from an ashtray of mineral water, whilst we waited for another phone call from Granny Miriam.
The phone call was not from Granny Miriam. It was from the receptionist. I was able to pick the phone up without waking Clarence.
‘Mr Litton?’ I’d checked in under Granny’s name, as per her instructions. ‘Your uncle is here in reception.’ I thought this unlikely to be Big Flipper come to hang me from a meat hook, but I decided to question the receptionist to make sure.
‘Which uncle?’ My voice woke Clarence and he barked in surprise.
‘Did you just bark?’
‘Yes. Terrible habit,’ I apologised. ‘Which uncle was it?’ Clarence took the opportunity of being awake to limp over to the corner and relieve himself again. I noticed now, from the way of the widdling, that Clarence was actually a she. ‘Which uncle was it?’
‘Uncle Simon, he says.’ Yes! Thank God! A police officer.
I hurried downstairs to find that it wasn’t Uncle Simon but instead a fifty year old man with curly white hair and a disconcerting grin. He obviously thought he was cool, judging by the shades and the leather jacket he was wearing.
‘Marco my boy,’ he beamed in a Scots accent, giving me an unasked for hug. Scottish and hugging was definitely not Uncle Simon. Scouse and withering stare was more Uncle Simon’s style. ‘You’ve grown up a bit since I last saw you. I was just speaking to your granny and she said you were here and I thought… Well, why stay in a crud bucket Caergybi hostel…’
‘We’re a hotel,’ the receptionist objected.
‘Are you really? I’d never have guessed. Anyway… Young Marco… You can come and stay with me for tonight. I’d love to have you.’
‘I’ve got a ferry to catch in the morning,’ I explained.
‘Oh don’t worry about that… I can drive you to the terminal and you won’t have to stay in a…’ The man glanced at the receptionist and smiled, not completing the words ‘crud bucket Caergybi hotel.’
‘I’ll… Go and get my stuff,’ I said so as to cut through the awkward silence that followed.
‘Oh… Before I forget… I brought you an extra suitcase.’ The man produced a pink, plastic wheeley thing from behind him. He laughed towards the receptionist. ‘Silly boy this one. Never takes a bag big enough to pack all his clothes. I bet he checked in here wearing twelve layers.’
‘It was five actually,’ The receptionist squalled.
‘Six,’ I corrected, heading for the stairs with the wheeley pink carry case.
Ten minutes later, it took seven minutes to persuade Clarence back into my bag and she kept limping over to the corner to have another widdle, I was back down in reception and checking out. Fortunately they only kept my ten pound deposit and didn’t charge the full fifty pounds for the night.
‘By the way,’ I said to the receptionist as I was leaving. ‘I think that cleaner might have pissed in the corner as well.’ I left before the receptionist could splutter that I was making it up.
Outside Clarence practically leapt from the bag and into my arms.
‘Oh aren’t you an absolute sweetie!’ the man, who was waiting on the pavement by a pale green Nissan Figaro, squeaked. He took Clarence from me and held her in his arms. Clarence seemed very happy to go along with him, especially as the man was making cooing noises and face nuzzling her.
‘What’s her name?’
‘Clarence,’ I said bluntly. ‘Who are you?’
‘Ah yes. Sorry… Rutherford. Edwin Rutherford.’ With Clarence hooked in one arm he tried to shake my hand.
‘Your granny called me and explained you’d bought this beautiful little darling and didn’t know what to do with her.’
‘And what about where I’m staying?’
‘With me, like I said in there. Don’t worry. We’ve known each other since you were born. Believe it or not I’m your godfather.’
‘Godfather? I don’t have a godfather.’
‘Well… Me and your dad never got around to formally arranging it but it was always a given.’ He finally turned from Clarence and grinned towards the Nissan. ‘I’ll tell you stories if you like, on the way home.’
‘No thanks. You’re alright,’ I said, climbing into the passenger seat, dumping my bags on the back, and taking Clarence from him.
Clarence, Rutherford and I spent the night at Rutherford’s house, overlooking the sea in Rhosneigr. We had drinks of beer, got to know each other a bit, and I found him pleasant, if scatter brained company. He was a solicitor, the family solicitor, the consigliere he said dad had jokingly called him. He spent most of the night on the floor with Clarence and I think they had fallen in love at first sight. I was to leave Clarence with him, at the ferry terminal, the next morning, but I would see them again. After I claimed my inheritance Rutherford and I would meet up regularly and he would always bring Clarence with him. As far as the two of them are concerned that pang of conscience is the greatest thing I ever did.
Personally, I’ve never liked to hang around Holyhead for long, even though I’ve had numerous businesses there over the year, for fear of running into Big Flipper. I hear he’s still around, still up to no good, and each time I get off a train at the end of the line I always worry that I’ll hear the strains of ‘Ere mate, wanna buy a puppy.’ But if, like with Clarence, buying that puppy leads to a better life for either a hound or a solicitor then I won’t hesitate.