Respect by Zack Wilson

July 8, 2008

No one knew James Tattoo’s real surname. He’d never told anyone. We all knew he’d been in prison because he liked to tell us all how he’d got there.

            James had had a young son at the time who was apparently very keen on birdwatching. James had bought him a little spotters’ guide, one of those little hardback books called summat like ‘Birds of Britain’. The kid took it into school for one of those ‘show and tell’ days and a bigger boy took it off him and threw it over a fence into the canal. James’s lad went home crying and James took it badly. He went round to see the bigger boy’s dad.

            He knocked on the dad’s door and the dad answered. He was apparently a large chap who said he couldn’t care less about bullying or bird books. James knocked him down and tied him up with fishing line and gaffer taped his gob. Then he put him in the boot of his car and drove him round the East Midlands for six hours before dumping him in a lay-by near Long Eaton. When the coppers asked James why he’d done it he said it was because he’d wanted the cunt to apologise and mean it. James did six years for that I’m told, but other offences might have been taken into consideration.

            Maybe prison was where he’d got all his tattoos. He certainly had some strange designs. Some religious icons and lines of Chinese characters, all manner of beautifully drawn wildlife, including a hovering kestrel on his left bicep with ‘Lenny’ written under it in copperplate that he said was a tribute to his son. Lenny had died of Leukaemia whilst James was inside.

            We got to see all his tattoos when he turned up to the pub one day in a dress. It was a Sunday and he spent the entire day in the pub wearing it until he passed out on one of the new settees and Stewart, the landlord, tenderly covered him with a blanket. It had been a long and tiring day.

            I didn’t dare ask him why he was wearing the dress. No one else seemed particularly interested, especially not after they’d seen James ask Vince for the money he owed him.

            Vince owed him a couple of hundred quid. I think he’d had a few wraps of chang on tick and hadn’t quite got round to paying. James, still in the dress, a nice pastel blue thing with a tasteful floral pattern that hung down far enough to kiss his kneecaps, took Vince out in the car park and got him in a savage headlock. We all watched through the pub window as he repeatedly tried to put Vince’s head through the back fence, Vince’s slightly obscured face growing redder with each failed attempt. Eventually, when James had had enough and got bored, he let Vince go and trot off to a cashpoint.

            James came back into the pub with the happy air of a hill-walker who’d just conquered a moderate summit. I asked him why he’d banged Vince’s head against the fence so many times, was it because Vince had taken liberties?

            “No mate,” he explained, “it’s just that I’ve ‘eadbutted an ‘ole in that fence easy before now and I can’t work out why Vince’s head didn’t go through in one.” He looked genuinely baffled. James, despite his slim build, was a strong man by anyone’s standards and should have been able to get Vince’s head through the fence easily. I didn’t like to point out that there was a brick wall behind the fence at the height Vince’s head had been at. I kept schtum about that and accepted the pint of Strongbow James offered.

            I knew James was strong because we’d tested it. One Sunday there was an old plastic dustbin outside the pub, the old fashioned type that they used to use before wheelie bins were everywhere.

            Anyway, this one was left over in the pub car park after some event from the night before. It was filled almost to the top with cement and had a vertical tube in the middle of it. It had been used as a base for a pole for a light or summat. Someone had forgotten about it when they were clearing up and it had got left behind.

            So it was sat in the car park and as afternoon darkened in to evening we decided to amuse ourselves with it. Everyone threw a couple of quid into the bucket Stewart uses for raffles and suchlike and the idea was that whoever could lift the bin highest won the money in the bucket.

            Everyone lined up outside to have a go, even the lasses had a go for a laugh. Everyone except me and James had had a turn and no one had been able to lift it, not even the Slovak with the unpronounceable name who’d been in the French Foreign Legion.

            James took his turn and he thought he was the last to go. He strained and his face went all red and screwed up and chimpy as he lifted but after two or three seconds he managed to lift the bin about an inch off the floor. Everyone was cheering and clapping, and Stew had a big laughing smile on his face as he handed the bucket to James.

            “Hang on a second!” I piped up, “I’ve not had a go yet.”

            There were cynical mutters and good natured sneers, but I’m used to being underestimated. They were all forgetting that I do a lot of heavy lifting at work and before I’d moved down to Ashby I used to play Rugby League. James already had one hand on the bucket as he, along with everyone else, turned to face me. There was an expectant rising moan from the crowd, a kind of ‘woooohhhrrrrr’ that started low and got louder as I grasped the puny handles on the sides of the bin of cement and lifted. It was bloody heavy, and Christ knows what my face looked like as I lifted it but I managed to get it an inch or so off the ground and then with a final massive heave that nearly made me vomit I raised it another three or four inches and felt it bang against my shins before I had to drop it. The crowd gave a big cheer and I shook my arms, trying to loosen the killing pain from my elbow and shoulder joints.

            James didn’t seem to like being beaten. He grabbed the bucket of cash by its handle, clamping it in both of his strong hands. I put a hand on the handle but he wouldn’t let go. I tugged it and he responded by banging his chest into mine and staring straight into my eyes from close range. He was a good three inches shorter than me but the unguarded rage in his eyes was terrifying. I held his gaze for a few seconds and then he threw a half-hearted headbutt, more of a challenge than an assault. I caught it on my forehead and rode the momentum. Then I pushed back. Our foreheads were locked together as the focal point for a bizarre pushing dance for several seconds before James pulled away laughing and let me take the bucket. I gave it back to Stew and feeling like the Milky Bar Kid in one of them adverts announced to the crowd, “The money’s going behind t’bar! Drinks for everyone courtesy of me and James!” There was a big cheer after that and everyone filed back into the pub talking and laughing.

            James had his arm round my shoulders and we had a right good session that night. Since then, he buys me a drink every time I see him and he was good to my sister too. After her accident he paid for her and her boyfriend to have a weekend in an hotel in Devon, gave them five hundred quid spending money too. I didn’t ask where the money came from. It was a touching gesture after all.

            Respect, I suppose, is what it’s all about. Mutual respect. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone do a Sudoku as fast as he can and he nearly cried when I gave him that Bumper Book of Puzzles the reception girl at work gave me. Sometimes lifting heavy weights does teach you things.

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4 Responses to “Respect by Zack Wilson”

  1. Brilliant, Zack! I feel like I haven’t read you in far too long, but well worth the wait!

  2. Matt said

    Great to read some new stuff Zack. Real life and real compassion for those who live it, without ever dipping into the voyeuristic/patronising/sensationalist/self-mythologising shite that lesser writers often do when tackling such subject matter. As usual with your work, I had no idea which way this was going or who I was going to be cheering on until the very end. Top stuff.

  3. your wit & charm was read
    with respectful awe!

    muchly enjoyed!

    ox,
    me

  4. Razorgirl said

    brilliant! I love that he gave the money to the bar, being the only possible way to save the other man’s face! great writing Zack…

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