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THE SNOWDROPPERS: SILENT NIGHT

BY FRANKIE GAULT


IS IT NO JIST amazing how a word, a sound, a taste or even a touch can trigger a feelin or a memory? In a split second ye’ve stopped whit ye were daein an yer filled wae aw this other stuff. Noo, in ma case it’s happenin right here and now. The exact second when ah put ma hand on this frozen turkey. But it’s definitely happenin, fuckin weird so it is. That ice cold, almost burnin feelin in ma hand has got me slidin intae what ah call another David Byrne moment. It goes something like this: You may find yourself in a large store on Christmas Eve. And you may find yourself at the frozen food counter wearing a long coat. And you may find yourself with a frozen turkey in your hand, slidin it under your coat. And you may ask yourself, well, how the fuck did ah get here? And you may tell yourself it’s because Tam blew the Christmas fuckin Giro, and you may tell yourself it’s because Fitzy didny pay his fuckin fine. Basterts.


More aboot them later. Ma problem right noo is managing tae divert this turkey away fae the checkout tills and out intae the cold night. But ma hand is still on the turkey an ahm still getting these weird feelins aboot ma life. There’s a voice sayin is this whit yer aw aboot an ah canny really say it’s no cos this is aw ahve done. An is this where ma life is headed anaw. Ahm 24 an ahm a jailbird alky waster, too many professions there, bit they aw feed intae each other. Ah suppose the real question is whit dae ah want tae be. Well, right noo ah want tae be drunker than ah am cos this place is roastin an it’s jumpin wae folk an ahm getting aw panicky an nervous. Ah would rather be somewhere else, an wae a drink but it’s Tam’s wife an weans, they’re why ahm here. The easiest thing tae dae wid be tae put the turkey doon, walk oot this place an tell Ped an Fitzy the store detectives were aw over me. They wid wear that no problem cos they were in here jist before me, that wis the plan. Ah think they both got wan cos there’s nae sign ay any incident. Am sure that wan ay they arsehole store detectives is related tae that bastert MacEachran as well. He’ll phone him if he’s seen us in here, an that’s aw we need. At Christmas, in fact make that aw year roon, the very last thing ye need is MacEachran on yer tail.


And ye want tae know something else, ahm fuckin shitin masel. In the past ahve never had a problem wae liftin a tumbler or a pool cue if it wis a fight, but ahve always been a shitebag for shopliftin. Don’t know why. Ah try ma best tae hide it fae the boys but shopliftin has got me goin aw Gloria Gaynor, first ah was afraid ah wis petrified. It’s no even the fact that getting caught would mean the jail. Ah leave the house knowin ma return could be some time in the future. This is the life ah live. Ma previous convictions have been described as both shocking and frightening. In fairness, they’re no counted in numbers anymore, they’re counted in pages. Five the last time ah looked. So if ah get bundled for this there’s nae surprises where ahm goin. Anyway, turkey now secreted safely somewhere about my person, I will now attempt tae exit the store gracefully. Wish me luck while ah negotiate the excited weans, the exhausted and debt-addled adults, the heat, the last minute shoppers, the fuckin tannoy, an the whole fuckin bullshit Christmas scene.


Oh now there’s a face, that’s the very gorgeous Sharon Jackson, sometime of this parish and also one of Glasgow’s finest. Finest shop-lifters that is. She’s probably in training for the January Sales although this place is a wee bit down-market for the bold Sharon. Normally she’d be workin Frasers an Debenhams an the other high end places. She’s fuckin bang tidy as well, so although that blonde wig and rather bulky raincoat disny dae her any favours, it does show how seriously she takes her vocation. We all say she’s got different disguises for different franchises, so we dae. They inside pockets will probably be well filled wae steaks an other last-minute items. Wouldny surprise me if she’s got a list. Sharon is really at the peak of her profession, she is the shop-lifters’ shoplifter, the gold standard. It’s a pity we don’t have awards for these things as she would scoop the lot. Ahm jist gonny follow her doon the aisle an oot the door an ah might even chance a wee word wae her, ye never know. It’s Christmas efter all. Anyway, pay attention Gal, yer nearly there.


‘Scuse me.’


Yer jokin. Yer fuckin jokin. Sharon has stopped right in front ay me as well. She thinks it’s her. Both of us have shat wersel at the same time.


‘Scuse me sir’


Sharon’s gone, it’s me they want.


‘We’ve reason tae believe ye have something on yer person ye were not intendin tae pay for, Sir.’


Am jist watchin Sharon disappear intae the Glasgow night an somewhere deep in ma subconscious ah can hear David Byrne’s voice.


‘Fuck ye talkin aboot, ya dafty?’


‘Would ye like tae come with us sir?’


‘Would I fuck ya perra fuckwits. Ahm in here lookin for tinfoil an yeez hivny got any. Get oot ma fuckin road or ahll tan yer jaws for ye. Gie ye’s a nice Christmas smile.’


But these bumpers must think they’re guardin the Queen’s turkeys cos they grab an erm each an ye know whit happens next. The turkey slides fae beneath ma coat an hits the tiles wae an almost apologetic thump. A couple of weans start pissin themsels and shout on their parents, and ahm weighin up whether tae whack these two half-wits an dae a runner. We’ve hammered the drink for four or five days solid but—ahm fuckin exhausted. Ah canny even bring masel tae gie them a mouthful ay abuse for ruinin ma Christmas. Normally ah wid be tellin them how they’re too stupid for the polis an no stupid enough for the Army, but ma willpower has gone completely. It’s over.


When the polis came tae take me tae the station ah asked them whit CID wis on. Wan ay them jist smirked at me. An that told me wan thing, it must be MacEachran. So am in the holdin cell beside the charge bar waitin on the CID comin, hopin it willny be him but feelin as if this is how it’s meant tae be. That it’s always goin tae be MacEachran an that it’s always goin tae be me. Unless ah change. Ahve spent the last few hours thinkin aboot everythin ahm daein wae masel an where ahm goin. Ah even bumped intae Amanda before hittin the shop an she told me tae get masel cleaned up an come an see her the night. Ah couldny believe she wid even look at me the state ah wis in never mind gie me another chance. She wis wae her Maw but that auld bastert wis able tae let me know exactly whit she thinks aboot me in a single look. It’s amazing how so much hatred an disgust can be gathered together an displayed in a sideways glance using minimal facial muscles. The message wis loud an clear. Aw that seems tae be a million miles away noo though. An how could ah explain tae Amanda that we were tryin tae get a turkey for Sadie an her weans cos Tam blew the Christmas Giro in the bookies an she threw him oot? An how could ah explain that we were hidin in Sadie’s tae start aff wae cos Fitzy owes a fine an the bizzies have been tae his door wae a warrant. Ah mean, fuck spendin yer Yuletide in Barlinnie.


Ah began tae think aboot the randomness of the whole situation, an how it’s left me here, sittin in a polis station on Christmas Eve knowin that ahll probably no see the street again til next summer. An the thing is, ahm getting conflictin messages, but there’s wan thing ahve always said tae masel an that is the things that happen tae me in life are a result of the choices ahve made. An also that ah had the choice tae no go intae the shop. Ah suppose there were many exits where ah could have got off before findin masel where ah am, but here ah am.


The drink is wearin aff me noo as well an ahm shiverin an nervy an hot an cauld an fidgety an aw the time ma brain is tryin tae tell the rest ay me that ahm now in jail again. Anywhere’s bad enough when yer rattlin, but a polis station cell is a special kind of purgatory. Of course, aw this isny helped by the realisation there’s only wan pair of hands on this particular steerin wheel. Aw this is goin through ma heid as ahm tryin tae switch masel tae jail mode. An then ahm brought back tae the present by the metal hatch on ma cell door getting opened and the sound of a familiar voice. MacEachran.


‘Well, well, John McDaid Gallagher. Isn’t Christmas just the most wonderful time of the year?’


Ah jist ignore him.


‘Right let’s get ye up the stairs an we’ll get a statement from ye an then, dependin on what ye say, we’ll mibbe charge ye an let ye oot. Ah mean, it’s Christmas after all.’

That’s him started right away, throwin me a bare hook, a lifeline, tellin me ah might get oot if ah sign a statement. This is classic MacEachran. The chances of me gettin oot this polis station the night are slim. Aye, an when ah say slim ah mean slimmer than Karen fuckin Carpenter. It’s a game. We both know it, but it’s a game, a ritual. We’re both part of the same circus, but he’s the ringmaster an ahm the clown.


So off we went, along the corridor, up the stairs to CID and am sittin at the only desk that disny have its typewriter covered up. There’s even the proverbial angle-poise lamp in an otherwise empty room cos aw the other detectives are on holiday. Another CID guy, unknown tae me, began tae prepare ma statement on his typewriter. Of course, this is another standard MacEachran ploy. Ahve no agreed tae make a statement yet an ah might no, but bastert face has teased me wae the suggestion of charging me an letting me oot the door. He said that tae me immediately, knowin it wid swim aboot ma heid for a while. And as David Byrne said—Well, how did I get here? But the answer is as obvious as snow. So, it’s make ma mind up time.


‘It wisny me that lifted it Mister MacEachran. Talk tae the two store detectives. They’ll gie ye the full story.’


McEachran’s sharp features barely changed, but they changed enough for me tae know he wisny pleased wae me. That pursing ay his lips and an angry blink gave him away. Ahm annoyin him noo.


‘Don’t fuck with us son? This is an open and shut case.’


‘Hiv ye got a camera in that shop? There wis somebody else there, a lassie. When the store detectives shouted she stopped as well, then she turned roon an handed me the turkey. She jist threw it at me because she heard the store detectives shoutin tae stop. Ah wis only in for tinfoil bit there wis nane left, so ahm on ma way back oot an she panics cos she’s lifted something an she thinks she’s caught, so she turns roon and gies it tae me. Ah jist put ma hand oot, natural like.’


When the two detectives looked at each other ma heart jumped. Fuckin hell, they’re thinkin aboot it. Ahve brought a wee element of doubt intae the equation an they’re lookin at each other thinkin it might be plausible. Strike while the iron’s hot Gal, fuckin go for it.


‘Don’t take ma word boss, get a haud ay the two storedies. They’ll back it up.’


MacEachran is now sittin back, silent. His thumb an forefinger pulling at his bottom lip, weighing things up.


‘So why didn’t they jist grab her then, Gal? If it’s as obvious as that, why didn’t they grab her? Ye see there’s words flyin into ma head son, words like straws and clutchin. Ye know whit ahm sayin?


‘Ye’ll need tae ask them that, Mister MacEachran.’


‘So, who was this mystery girl then? Somebody we know? I think you’re lying son, but give me her name an we’ll give her a pull.’


Ah pulled a face instead.


‘What’s wrong Gal, you’ve went all shy on us. That’s not like you son.’


‘Ah don’t know her name, bit she looked a bit iffy, wide as fuck lookin. But pretty as well. Gorgeous in fact.’


While this was going on the other CID wis busy tappin away on his Olivetti an ah realised he hadny said a word during the whole show.


‘Gal, listen son, ye were seen lifting the turkey and putting it inside yer coat. Why did ye think that the store detectives knew tae stop ye? Think aboot it son. One of the women at the cold meat counter saw ye, told her line manager and by the time you wandered doon tae the door there wis a welcoming committee. Now, earlier we told you that if you signed a statement saying you did it then we would let you out, but I really don’t like having my intelligence insulted and to use a seasonal clichÈ here son, you’re skatin on thin ice. It’s make your mind up time. What’s it going to be?’


Basterts. Ah know they’re lyin, ah know an he knows he’s lyin. We both know each of us is lyin, but it’s aw part of the game, we’re aw pieces in the same fuckin jig-saw. Well fuck it, here goes, roll the fuckin dice.


‘Well, that’s fine, Mister MacEachran. That’s you got yer star witness for the trial, then.’


Again, his face betrayed him. The fact there’s now reasonable doubt tae the situation, an the accused is supposed tae get the benefit ay the doubt, has made him angrier. He’s tryin tae hide it, but he’s jist no at that level, yet.


‘Tell you what, Gal, you go back to your cell and think about it son. We’re on all night, so we’re here anyway. It’s up to you whether you stay with us or not. Sign the statement and go home for Christmas or refuse to sign and spend Christmas with us.’


When they took me back doon the stair, ah got a squatch at the clock. Fuck sake, ahm supposed tae be getting masel ready for Amanda’s. Instead, ahm lookin at four days in this fuckin shithole. An why? Because Tam wis stupid in the bookies an Fitzy widny pay his fine. How fuckin unbelievable is that? Then again, somebody, MacEachran for example, would mibbe say that even if Tam wis stupid wae the Giro an even if Fitzy didny pay his fine, it didny mean that ah had tae go an steal a turkey. That ah had a choice tae make an ah made it. Aw this is makin me dizzy though an ahm really sick noo. Ye know, the polis station is probably the worst place in the world tae come aff drink. Anyway, enough feelin sorry for masel. Whit’s ma options? Firstly, we both know ah done it, ahm done bang tae rights but by bringin big Sharon intae the mix ahve managed tae throw some doubt intae their minds. If ah stick wae that story, that she turned roon an handed me the turkey, then ah could mibbe get a not proven at a trial. Long shot, aye, but worth takin a chance. But that also means not signin a statement an lyin in here for four or five days cos it’s Christmas Eve. MacEachran told me he’ll let me oot if ah sign a statement, bit he’s a fuckin lyin bastert. So, it boils doon tae takin four or five days in here an mibbe get a not proven at court or signin a statement an hopin MacEachran lets me oot. Gettin oot means getting a bath an seein Amanda an that’s aw ah really want tae dae, but again that means admitting the charge an hopin MacEachran turns intae Santa. An that also means, wae ma previous, a certain jail sentence whenever the trial comes roon. Fuck. Whit’s that auld sayin again? Aye that’s it. Ahm caught between a rock and a hard-on. Somethin like that.


***


The hatch opened an there’s an unfriendly face at the door.


‘Well, son?’


As soon as they prick store detectives grabbed me ah knew ah wis goin tae jail, ah wisny passin Go, an ah wisny collectin £200. Every wee change of expression, every flicker an movement fae MacEachran’s face has told me the same. Ah don’t have any other moves tae make, though. All ah can dae is hope for wan wee spark of humanity fae fuck-face here. But that’s a long shot, an jist like the old reggae song, long shot kicks the bucket. Anyway, here goes, roll the dice.


Fair enough, show me the statement and I’ll sign it, bit remember, ye said ye were gonny let me oot efter ahve signed.’


‘Good lad, you’ll not regret it.’


So, that’s us aw back up the stair, intae the office an ma statement wis lyin on the table waitin on me.


‘Right son, sit down read it and then sign, then we’ll get you sorted.’


Ah read through it quickly an scribbled ma name at the bottom.


‘There now, how easy was that son? I’ve always said you were the best of your lot, Gal, you know that? Right, let’s go.’


Back through and doon the stairs to the charge bar. The desk Sergeant began writin doon ma details an then charged me wae theft by shop-lifting. Ah turned roon tae see MacEachran, bit the two ay them were gone. There wis only me, another uniform, an a wee older guy who wis probably the turnkey. Ma heart fuckin sank an ah shut ma eyes.


‘Where’s MacEachran?’


‘Oh, they’ve gone for a cup of tea. They said they’ll look in on you later.’


‘Look in on me? That will be fuckin right, he said if ah signed the statement he would let me oot.’


The sergeant jist laughed at me. ‘Izzat right, son? So if it says Ty-Phoo on the side of a bus, then it means you’ll get a cup of tea on it? C’mon you, you know the rules, empty yer pockets.’


The Desk Sergeant and the turnkey led me through tae the cells an ah looked along the row. Ah knew there were fifteen cells on each of three landings. The lights were always dead dim and there wis this constant low hum. Ah looked outside every cell door, but there wisny a pair of shoes tae be seen. The turnkey must have been readin ma mind.


‘Aye, yer right enough son, not wan pair of shoes. Yer on yer own the night.’


As ah took ma shoes aff an left them ootside ma cell, ah realised ah didny really want tae have anybody tae talk tae anyway.


‘I’ll bring ye a wee cuppa later, son, and another blanket if ye need wan.’


Ah jist nodded. Then he shut the door an turned the key, leavin the hatch doon though there wis naebody else in any ay the cells. Ah checked the mattress for stains an pulled it over ma shoulders, then ah lay doon an pulled the blanket over ma heid. Ah must have dozed aff for a while cos ah wis in that wee half-world ye get yersel in sometimes. When yer no awake an no sleepin, either. It’s a great feelin, bit ye know it’s never gonny last. An then it’s that voice again.


‘Gal, GaaalÖ it’s me Santa. I’ve come to wish ye the compliments of the season. Happy Christmas, Gal. Happy Christmas.’


‘Piss off, MacEachran, ya lyin bastard, ye. Gies fuckin peace.’


‘Listen you, ya lyin, thieving wee toerag. Even the dogs in the street knew ye stole the turkey and you knew ye were never getting oot. You’ve admitted a serious crime in a statement in front of two CID officers, and that means you’re going to have to plead guilty, as well. Now, not only is it Christmas Eve, but it’s also a Wednesday, so no court on Christmas Day. None on Boxing Day. That means Thursday and Friday and no courts over the weekend as well, so it looks like you’re here till next Monday at least. Don’t worry though, I’ll get the turnkey to hose ye doon before ye go to court, ya wee fuckin scumbag that ye are. Come on Constable, let’s have a celebratory drink.’


His mask slipped a wee bit wae that outburst. ‘Aye, away an skin a few fuckin goats while yer there anaw.’


‘As long as we keep skinning feral, schemey wee thieves like you, then we’re more than glad. Happy Christmas, ya fuckin wee tramp.’


He slammed the hatch shut an then the both of them fucked off intae the building leavin me on ma todd again. Ah lay back doon, exhausted, as much wae masel an the life ahm leadin. How the fuck am ah gonny change ma life, an is change whit ah really want? Ah didny fancy endin up like wan ay they auld jaikies, bit tae be brutally honest wae masel, aw ah really am right now is a young jaikie. Fuckin hell, ahm a fuckin jaikie at 24. Sake. The answer of course is aw roon me, it’s aw roon toon, it’s everywhere ah go. It’s drink. It’s always drink. If ah really want tae change ma life, ahll need tae stop drinkin. Ahm no mentally strong enough for that yet. Naewhere near it. Mibbe ahll never be, but that’s a big, big part of ma problem. Nae two ways aboot it. Ach we’ll see, ma heids getting sore. Ahve had too much tae think.


Ah wis back in ma half-world again when ah heard a saft thud on ma cell flerr. It wis another blanket, so ah got up tae the hatch an shouted on the turnkey for a drink of water.


‘Ye want a wee cup of tea, son. Kettles ready?’


‘Aye thanks mate, that’s decent of ye. Whit time’s it?’


‘Almost midnight, son. Aye, it’s jist aboot twelve.’


Ah sat back and drank ma tea. It’s funny, how really nice a wee simple thing like a cup of tea is.


‘Ahll plug this wee radio in at the wall here, son, and I’ll keep the sound low. It’ll let ye hear a voice noo and again. Awright?’


‘Thanks, pal. Goodnight.’


Ah lay doon on ma mattress an wondered how everybody else got on. Ped an Fitzy must have got away wae a turkey each so that’s Sadie an her weans looked efter. An Fitzy hisny been lifted for his fine either, or he wid be in here next door tae me. That leaves Amanda. Fuckin hell, ah bet her Maw gave her it tight when ah never showed up. Wonder if she knows ahve been bundled for this. She really should blow me oot for good an ah know ah don’t deserve her, but aw ah can say wae any real honesty is that ah will try ma best. That’s aw ah can dae. Aw here, that radio is daein ma nut in. Aw they shite Christmas songs.


‘Any chance ye can turn it aff, mate. Tae be honest wae ye, ah prefer the quiet.’


‘Are ye sure, son?’


‘Aye, pal, but thanks anyway. G’night mate, hope ye hiv a nice day the morra. You an aw yer family.’


‘Good night tae you as well, son. Good night and good luck.’


© The Snowdroppers: Silent Night, 2023, Frankie Gault

 

Born and raised in Port Glasgow, Frankie Gault made a seamless transition from the local shipyards to the exercise yards of Barlinnie in 1975. He was 17. Spending the next 12 years in and out of various institutions in Scotland and England he eventually realised that “the handle was on the inside of the door all the time. I was locking myself up.”

An alcoholic before he was born, he eventually came to realise that work was, sadly, getting in the way of his drinking life so he finally stopped drinking in 2006. “I started drinking when I was 14 and at the time I thought it was the best thing I had done in my life. I stopped drinking when I was 48 and I also thought it was the best thing I had done in my life.”


Three years later he enrolled in the Creative Writing Programme at Glasgow University where he gained a Dip. HE in 2013. He has been published by Freight Books, thi wurd magazine and The Common Breath. He is currently finishing off his second collection of what he fondly calls his “ragged collection of Giro Vignettes” the first of which will be published shortly.

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