and I'm still amazed at how quickly we got to 100%. Gibbous is a big fat book, more pages more pledges, you see.
In the shed today is a print-out of Shelley's Queen Mab and Mercutio's speech from Romeo and Juliet, two broken pencils, the largest mug of coffee outside of Starbuck's, a milkmaid's stool and a fold-up camping table. I've been looking through short stories I've written and it surprises me how many of them feature a writer. Write what you know they say. Hmm.... I must have had a very peculiar life.
Anyway, here for your delectation is...
Long before he spoke to me, I used to see him around. Out of the corner of my eye; behind me in queues – in front too. He would be seated at a corner table in a crowded bar. Always too far away to catch his eye. A tiny, slim figure, he reminded me of the jockeys who gabbled praise for their ‘roide’ when interviewed for the telly at Hamilton Park or Ayr. He looked too old for that, of course. I could see the wrinkles easily, every time.
After a while, I started to make an effort. Letting people in front in the queue at the bank, for example. No queue jumping, naturally. I never got closer than five solicitor’s clerks or four builders. It only took a moment. A moment’s eye contact with Jo Ann or Honest Fred and the lilliputian would disappear. I half expected the alarms in Barclay’s to trigger, but there was no puff of smoke. Sometimes I turned my back on the scrum at the bar of the Lucky Charm in Cowcaddens – Wullie usually poured my heavy and a haufie as soon as he saw me: a gentleman’s excuse me with one of the local characters and the little man would be gone. I was no more successful in the Lee, the Station Bar or even the Hielan Jessie.
Several blind dates went spectacularly wrong. Roberta refused to let the third or fourth concessionary in front of us at the GFT’s ticket office. Needless to say, after she left the queue for a short walk to her loft in Renfrew Street, the tiny man had gone. It was a shame, she’d told me how much she’d been looking forward to the Sean Connery retrospective at the Film Theatre. Her expression had been hard to read when I told her we were going to watch Darby O’Gill. Jeanie McCullouch fared no better at the Goya exhibition. After a similar experience she decamped to The Quayside on Paisley Street. After one last attempt to buttonhole my little friend, I steeled myself not to look back. I wasn’t going to miss Duendicitos for anything. No-one had expected the Caprichos or Goya’s manuscript to leave Spain, never mind spend a month at the Kelvingrove.
As I should have expected, when the time came for introductions, it was the little fellow who accosted me. At close quarters his attire was – I shall not equivocate – shabby. As old as he himself appeared, his trousers were no match to his jacket. He affected a wing collar with a windsor-knotted Regimental tie. His shoes seemed relatively well cared for; it was unfortunate that the shine only emphasised the unlikelihood of their ever having been a pair. As luck would have it he stood directly behind me in the queue at the Argyle St Job Centre. Far from taking my place on the plastic chair in front of the DWP Nazi who had informed me there were no vacancies for writers in residence anywhere in Scotland, the man followed me out into the dreich weather.
He smiled at me on the steps as I lit up a Gauloise. Hooky from a friend in the Lucky Charm, I had smoked them ever since I claimed on the Jobseeker’s Allowance form that they were essential for any writer. It was a tiresome joke for me, once the paraphernalia for the ‘Quit Smoking’ initiatives began to pour through my letterbox.
‘Robin Goodman, isn’t it?’
I was quite shocked that his accent was less Cork than Kelso,
‘Yes, yes it is.’
‘They call me a lot of things, but I like to go by Hob.’
He held out a hand, and I gave him a cigarette.
This Jockinese seemed bolted on, as fake as if I myself had attempted a Weegie slur.
‘You didn’t stay for an interview?’
‘Naw, nae point.’
‘No’ lookin’ fae a job as such.’
The scruffy little man smiled widely, showing of sharp if grubby looking teeth.
‘What, then?’ I said.
‘A place tae stay. Ah’m good aboot the hoose.’
I saw what he was hinting at, and masked a shudder with a shiver, for the rain was cold.
‘Come on, I’ll buy you a drink anyway.’
Maybe I could ask him why he’d been following me for months.
It was two in the afternoon. The Lucky Charm was fairly empty. The office workers were back at the grind, beered-up enough to last until five. The wide boys and chancers had moved on to more exciting places involving poles and tables and flat-faced slavs bumping and grinding for tips. I’d been thrown out of one once for looking the girls in the eye. The bouncers gave me a few love taps to send me on my way. I put that event in a short story rejected by the Morningside magazine. It wasn’t for them, they said. I wrote back and agreed. Hob and I took a seat at the bar. I asked what his poison was,
‘No, let me,’ he said.
Brodie brought me over my usual and placed a glass of water in front of my ‘wee friend’. Neither he nor I had spoken a word to the landlord. I told myself I’d seen Hob in the bar often enough.
We – or I - had more than six. More than six pints and I lose count. When I was young I knew that the count would err on the high side. Now I’m not so sure. We tell ourselves whatever makes us feel better in many situations, after all.
So, somehow, Hob moved in. Only at first did I enjoy it. I felt like the Colonel of a Regiment with a particularly efficient and dedicated batman. I drew the line at him shaving me in the mornings. Besides, at that time I had just grown an artful goatee and moustache ensemble, which I would have liked to have made me look like Mark Twain, though most likely it hadn't. He followed me everywhere. All over the flat, down to the Lucky Charm, into the chip shop – everywhere. He would wait outside the Job Centre, it was true, but everywhere else. We were asked to move on by a member of the constabulary from the conveniences at the corner of Argyle Street and Queen Street. My flat had never been so clean: not a speck of dust. The bathtub gleamed, no dried scurf ring denoted the depth of my last soaking. I hated it.
And, throughout all this time, I never saw him lift a finger.
At first, I was effusive in my thanks, out of politeness, if nothing else. For though I did not need to lift a finger myself, I could not work out how he did it. And I began to resent him for it. I even began to miss the dating disasters. The one time I tried speed dating at the library, every woman stood up immediately they realised the presence at my shoulder was not going to leave.
There were provisions in the kitchen, I told myself the Tesco’s van arrived while I was asleep. The meals appeared hot and, if not to Michelin star standard, they would have graced a good gastro pub. I knew that people could work wonders with just a microwave and planning, I’d seen it on the tv, when I still had one. I’d thrown it out of the window onto the pavement, long before Hob arrived. The Police were quite good about it, really. I cleaned up the mess and accepted a caution.
You may think I was rather dull, not to figure it out. I’d been fascinated by domovoi, Heinzelmännchen, Tomte – call them what you like – forever, but believe in them? Do me a favour! But what else was he? I began to plot to give him a new set of clothes. It would have to be a trick, I knew. He never ate, a Mickey was out of the question. Since he always followed me, I could hardly brain him with a bedside lamp. When I engineered a UPS delivery from Moss Bros that he’d have to sign for, I thought I’d cracked it.
A huge grin split Hob’s face as he deposited the parcel at the end of my bed that Friday morning.
‘Ye’ll hae tae dae better than that,’ he laughed.
I took to begging at the side of the road, a hand lettered sign read ‘My brother needs new clothes.’ Hob sat beside me quite unconcerned, even when a woman on her way to Oxfam gave him a bag full of clothes.
Eventually, he took pity on me,
‘Ye need tae check these auld wives’ tales, Robin. It’s got tae be yer ain claes’.
‘Mine would hardly fit ye.’
Did I mention some of the cod-scots had been rubbing off on me? Proximity, I supposed.
‘Ye’d be surprised.’
‘Anyways, ye’d no accept them,’ I said.
‘Ditto,’ he replied.
We exchanged clothes, that night after I had more than six beers. There was a puff of smoke, but he didn’t vanish.
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