“Who wants to buy kittens, I have got two black and a ginger one with a sticky up ear” my local drug addict John shouted out randomly scaring the old man who was muttering out Korean War stories to his own reflection in the tobacco stained mirror.
It was 1981 in my old bar in The East End of Glasgow. That was a normal Tuesday afternoon.
We got old men who were gnarled and tired of life that wandered in; they would look at me then sit down. Then suddenly shout “Get me a half and half pint and bring it over, I fought in Korea to save your life” Well, far be it for me to question why I was in danger of Koreans invading Shettleston in the 50s and taking over my council scheme, so I would serve him at the table. “Ok Archie? Any requests for the jukebox today?”
I would smile and encourage him to talk and maybe give me a smile back. “Nobody likes you, you talk too much and you annoy me with your singing in the background, why don’t you a have baby to keep you busy? Where is your man, he is fucking quiet and doesn’t bother me at the table, don’t play any shite, in fact why don’t you turn the music off, I fought in Korea for your freedom” he barked at me.
“John’s selling kittens if you want one of them to eat with your beer?” I replied.
He laughed and smiled at me through glazed rheumy eyes. “You’re funny Janey; you do make me laugh sometimes, you should be a comedian” he answered then went back to calling the Tories bastards as he read the newspaper.
John waited at the bar “So, you want a kitten Janey?” he threw an arm round me, jumped back and pulled a tiny trembling kitten from his pocket. Supertramp pounded through the speakers and I reached to turn the volume down as Archie screamed “Korea you bastard” at me, I placated him by getting the music down to barely a beating whisper. John was right there at my face when I came back to the counter.
I looked at his trembling body. The heroin was probably depleted from his shaky veins, his face was snaked with sweat, the once clear blue sparkling eyes were now deadened from behind, and the pupils zooming in and out camera lens style and the smell of his desperation scared me. I seen alcoholics beg for drink, but this was different, what the fuck was heroin and what was it doing to these people? Each morning I would watch a stream of thin juddering bodies with hollow eyes walking across the Green to The Gorbals like a clutch of zombies all quiet but focused on getting to their destination. Later they would come back with a chemical spring in their step.
John was still there begging me for £5 for a few kittens. I took the kittens and put them under my jumper to keep them warm till I could figure out what to do with them. Only a junkie would grab three baby cats and try to sell them, I was worried they would die. The tiny kittens just huddled together on my tummy and I tied my tee shirt at the bottom to stop the falling out.
Archie demanded another whisky to his table and he wanted it now because he fought in Korea for my freedom. I walked across the bar, leant over his table and placed the drink down. The kittens mewed and squirmed under my thin top and Archie recoiled at the sight “Are you now stuffing kittens up your tummy because you can’t have babies? Is this what I fought in Korea for?” He shouted.
“Yes, that’s right I like shoving animals up my jumper and by the way am on the pill I don’t want kids” I laughed and Archie smiled at me “I fought in Korea so those kids out there could just kill themselves with the needle up their arm, the world is fucked Janey” he looked down, grabbed the glass and threw it down his neck.
Outside in the April spring the daffodils swayed their necks and nodded at the tall tenements, the cars sped past, the birds tweeted and people got ready for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, a nation waited for a dream to form._