The smell is so bad you can almost see it, rising dirty yellow from the pores of the city, hot with summer and the busy friction of decay. People pick their way through the stench, handkerchiefs to noses.
Plastic bags pile up in back lanes and street corners, spilling maggot-ridden scraps and wet newspapers, bones and old bottles. Dogs nose about in the daytime, but at night there are rats, hundreds of them, bloated and fearless. You can hear them rutting and squabbling all over town. Bored youths roam the alleyways, clubbing them to death for fun.
This is Glasgow, 1973, and the bin men have been on strike for weeks.
I’m lying on my bed, smoking too much and burning inside like I’m going to flare up and they’ll maybe find me later, a pair of shoes and a pile of ash. Spontaneous combustion. I’ve got a black eye. It’s purple and raw and swollen and if I close the good one I can see the world through a fog of angry red squiggles and it’s pure shite so it is. The whole stinking world throbs with pain.
And just yesterday I thought I was in love.
It felt really good. We’d been out on the town. Me and Sally. A wee bit dancin’, a couple of drinks, and we were walking to Buchanan Street to catch the late bus home. She’d been quiet all night but I was talking ten to the dozen. A load of nothing I can tell you, but I was in love. My guard was down.
So I didn’t see it coming when we walked past an alleyway and a squealing rodent belted out in front of us in a wild panic. It was big and black and greasy, and that was bad enough. But then we saw that it was followed closely by some bug-eyed bampot heaving a big club. Ratty dodged around us and Sal let out a scream as the club came down, just missing my foot but making me hop anyway. I nearly pulled her over as the lucky rodent scampered away.
She looked at me, disgusted.
I looked at Mr. Bampot. “Go an’ eat something your own size, pal”, I told him, pretending to be brave. But he saw right through me, because he turned round and his fist connected with my face and I connected with the garbage. Then he buggered off back down the alley to pursue his wee hobby. As I lay in the muck and felt wet slime trickle down my neck I noted two things. The knowing gleam of a rodent’s eyes in the darkness, and the click of Sally’s heels as she ran off up the road. A few minutes later she passed me in a taxi. She was laughing, I swear it. The rat.
Yesterday I thought I was in love, but she thought I was just a tosser. And that’s what really hurts.