Not open yet, mate. Supposed to be open at eleven, but they never are. No bloody thought for us waiting, like. I’ve been here fifteen minutes. Wait ’til you see, one of them wee bastards will show his face and take another twenty minutes getting the shutters off. Won’t even look at us when he walks up. Some wee lad, probably not even old enough to have a drop himself. No frigging thought, these kids.
What time’s it now? Quarter past? Jesus. I’ve things to do, like. I’m supposed to be at the doctor’s this morning. Get my sick line signed. I miss the appointment, I’m fucked. No money for a month. What do I do then? I’ll have nothing to spend here for a bloody start.
Where you going? No, no, by the time you get there, this’ll be open. What you after, anyway?
A bag of ice?
What the fuck for?
Oh, aye. I suppose you won’t be buying nothing else when you’re in, then, eh? You won’t just get a wee bottle of voddie to melt it, eh?
Bollocks, mate. You can buy a bag of ice at the petrol station down there. Look, see there? They sell ice. Why don’t you dander down there and get a bag, eh?
I’ll have myself a bottle of Buckfast, I think, and maybe a few Tennent’s Specials and that’ll be me ’til tonight. Lovely job. You couldn’t beat it with a shitty stick.
What? What you looking at me like that for? Don’t bloody look at me like that. You’re better dressed, son, but that’s all. Takes one to know one, eh?
Here, I’ve never seen you here before, have I? What are you, a late-nighter? Promise yourself you’ll not have any then land in five minutes before closing? Maybe go to a different one every night, so they don’t think it’s getting to be a habit? Don’t worry, son, they know. They can see the shame on you when you go to the counter. Can you look ’em in the eye when you pay for it? When they give you your change?
They know, pal.
So, how long you been on the morning shift?
Listen, mate, you can’t shite talk me. You’re having a day off so a wee drop around lunch sounds nice, eh? Maybe just before lunch. Sure, there’s no harm in that, right? Right? Tell me about it, pal.
Jesus. Same here. Three Christmases ago, out on my arse. Not seen her since. Or the kids.
You miss her?
Same here. Still, I missed her that much, I wouldn’t be waiting here on a Wednesday morning, eh? Eh? If I hated that shitty hostel enough I wouldn’t be here. If I couldn’t stand the looks they give me at the counter, the fucking pity, I wouldn’t be here.
But here I am.
And here you are.
Don’t worry, son, you’ve got it all in front of you…
Stuart Neville has been a musician, a composer, a teacher, a salesman, a film extra, a baker and a hand double for a well known Irish comedian, but is currently a partner in a successful multimedia design business in the wilds of Northern Ireland. His writing has appeared in online magazines such as Electric Spec, as well as local press. His novel Followers, a dark thriller about a former Belfast killer haunted by his victims, is currently seeking a loving home.