by Ann-Marie Swift
a mug of strong builders tea
He went down so easy, said Jason. Must have been pissed. A big bloke like him doesn’t fall so easy. There was a paving stone behind him, he might have slipped back on that. And being pissed, he’d have slipped easy.
Jason’s crying a little, bright blue eyes, redrimmed with tears and fear.
I thought he’d come back up and hit me, says Jason. Christ knows, it was him that wanted the fight. I don’t fight.
Big hands, in his lap now, big hands covered with cuts and bruises. They look like a fighter’s hands to Alicia, the policewoman sitting opposite him. But what does she know, she’s only been in the job a few weeks.
I’m a scaffolder, he says. It’s rough work. Some of them boys like a pint and a bit of a ruck, but I’m not like them. I have a cup of tea and go home to my bird. We’ve got two kids. They’re my world. I don’t do the boozing. I’ve seen what it does.
He looks down at the hands, a couple of stray freckles in among the cuts and bruises. A mark where he pulled a splinter out the other day. The rough planks of wood you use on the scaffolding. They ought to wear gloves, but nobody does. Slows you down. It’s dangerous work, but then you can get hurt anywhere.
His hands, back on the table, look strange, as if they belong to someone else. They’ve been acting out of character.
I’ve never hit anyone before. I don’t go in for that. He’d been on and bloody on at me for years. Ever since me and Stephanie got together. He couldn’t bear that. It was her choice though, weren’t it? He didn’t want her when he was with her, treated her rotten, and then he didn’t want anyone else to have her. Serves him right, he didn’t deserve her.
I mean, he adds, it serves him right that she left.
A little silence hangs in the air.
He looks back down at his hands. The police woman opposite him, a slight Asian-looking slip of a girl, is taking notes though the whole thing is being recorded. He can’t look her in the eye, she’s so fresh and innocent, big dark eyes, soft as an animal. He finds himself talking to the table.
He was on at you? Alicia asks. She’s heard about the no comment interviews. This one couldn’t be more different. The words fall out of him, as if he’d been saving it all up.
Phoned me, Jason tells her. Phoned me at home, phoned me on the mobile. Sent me text messages. Emailed me. I told Steph about some of them, couldn’t tell her about all of them. She’d have told her dad and he’d have gone crazy. He’d of killed him
Jason slaps his hand over his mouth, realises how bad this sounds. Beads of sweat on his forehead where he’s trying not to cry. Alicia wonders if it’s the same for men, the pain across the front of your head when you’re trying not to cry.
Takes his hand away, takes a breath.
I didn’t want him dead, he says, I didn’t even want to hit him. I’d have put up with it for ever, rather than hit him. All he was, was jealous.
What changed, Alicia asks. What made you stop putting up with it?
Jason takes a breath. He’s a burly bloke, pale and gingery, blue eyes, heavy round the shoulders. Lovely rosy cheeks, weather-beaten skin. He should have been a farmer.
He leans forward to her. She can smell fresh sweat.
It was the last one that got to me, he says. Before, he always used to say stuff to me, said how stupid I was, how thick I was, how much I didn’t deserve Steph. I let it run off me. Steph’s dad said I should have it out with him. But you know what, Dick was right, to call me thick. I couldn’t ever have been a teacher like him. I can’t hardly spell. I can just about keep the books straight. Steph’s dad gives me a hand.
The young policewoman gives him a puzzled look. I’m a scaffolder, he says, got my own team. We do all right. I have to pay them, keep the books straight, get my taxes in. You know.
She doesn’t, really. She nods anyway.
I’m lucky to be with Steph. She’s a lovely girl. Dick used to say all those things, go on at me all the time, about how thick I was and I didn’t deserve her. And I just thought, yeah mate, you’re dead right.
Another quick intake of breath on the word, dead.
I’d listen to him going on, on the phone, and I’d think, well mate, who’s laughing now? Me with Steph and the kids or you with your pints of beer, no job and your crap house?
I thought you said he was a teacher?
Was, says Jason. Got the sack, or whatever they get. Drunk all the time. After she kicked him out he drank more, just did nothing but drink. Tell you the truth, I was sorry for his bird, his new bird.
A silence falls. Alicia is pondering what a woman would see in a drunk ex-teacher but is aware that this isn’t a pertinent question to ask. Though maybe he’s lying about how much this man Dick was drinking. She takes a breath and asks the question.
Dick’s new girlfriend? Who’d want to go out with a guy like that? Drunk all the time?
Jason raises his eyes. A wry smile. She notes his lips are dry and cracked. Kissable all the same. She moves her thinking back to the question.
Christine? She was glad of him. If you’d been around here longer you’d know about it.
He doesn’t look as though he’s going to say anything more, but then he does.
Last bloke was a bastard when he was with her and a bastard when he wasn’t. Half the time he was in prison, the other half he was hitting her. If you’d of been around you’d most likely know him. In and out of the police station. Broke her arm once. Hit the kid, Christine’s kid. Broke a rib. She was happy with Dick, didn’t mind his drinking, he never hit the kid, hardly ever hit Chrissy.
It seems like a game of snakes and ladders to Alicia, still single, hoping to meet the right man, somewhere, sometime soon. Dick slides down, meets Christine on the way up. Jason’s been going up, might have to slither right back down again, depending on what happened, what really happened with Dick.
So what happened?
He looks bewildered for a moment. She’s thrown him. She can see the schoolkid Jason once was, the cloud across his face when he’s forgotten what it is he’s supposed to be doing.
Oh, yeah. Well, he said he’d go to the police.
Dick was going to go to the police? Alicia puts her pen down. She isn’t sure she’s heard right. He was harassing you night and day, and then he said he’d go to the police? What was he going to do? Turn himself in for harassment?
It’s Jason’s turn to look baffled. No, he says. One of the kids is his. The eldest of Steph’s kids, our Emily, that’s his kid. Steph lets her go over to Dick’s place weekends. She doesn’t have to, she’d get custody if she wanted it. We were going to stop it. Em gets bored there, they don’t do anything with her. She just sits and watches telly. Comes back full of sweets and smelling of smoke.
Right. Alicia is straining now to follow Jason’s thread.
He said he’d tell the police I’d been fiddling with her. Or Social Services, I dunno. So, I had to go and sort it out.