What’s going on Johnny?
Come on, whatcha doing? How are ya? Poor Johnny. Touchy Johnny. In this mindset. How you are? Imagine. How’s our John-John doing? How’s he makin out, comin along, doing for himself? How’s he keepin? Fuck. Slung halfways out the window for a haul, cause that’s what this piss-arsed place is come to. Imagine that, tumbling out onto the street for the sake of a stale Number 7 cause where he might pollute his own room. Where he sleeps alone. Poor old Johnny. The vinyl sill busted and gouging into his ribcage. Oh yeah, Johnny could very well settle out on the front step, but that means back and forth the stairs every time and then sat out there, watchin the street … the temptation is too much now aint it? Might get foolish. Might wander off.
Buddy from next door takes his garbage out for tomorrow morning.
How together he is, how on top of it all he must be, hey Johnny? Then he sees a splotch of birdshit on his rig and dont he go over and polish it off with his sleeve! Rather have diseased pigeon shit on the clothes he’s wearing than on the rig he drives. Pigeon shit. That’s what’s in his head too. All their heads. Dont bother askin Johnny what’s going on around him. Who’s screwing who. What the fuck is going on. Carry on little mouse, carry on.
Good night, buddy goes. Good night.
He makes for his door then.
What? What? Johnny shouts down. What did you just say to me? What?
He looks up at Johnny then. Looks right at old John-John, that’s what he does. Looks right fucken at me. You cant fathom the gall.
Excuse me, buddy goes, what?
Right grand about it. Like first he’s tryna be all macho-cool and casual about it, the man, taking out the garbage. But soon as he’s called on it, soon as he’s brought to task, he’s rattled to the core and so instinct kicks in and he figures he might as well pretend he’s better and better off and better for it by tossing in some kinda upper-crust turn of phrase. But our John-John’s on it, dont even bother.
Excuse me, buddy goes.
His hand is on the knob and Johnny can tell buddy thinks he knows a thing or two about the likes of fellas like Johnny, hanging out his window with the splintered vinyl gouging into his liver, lookin like he’s waiting for the fire department to come rescue him. But Johnny dont need no rescuing tonight, no not tonight. He can think of a few that do. But not Johnny, not tonight. But buddy might, yes, he might need a rescuing. Buddy might need the jaws of life to separate him from the sidewalk before all the good nights are said and done this night.
You heard me, I said what? What did you just say to me?
I said good night.
Why, Johnny goes, what for? What’s my night got to do with yours?
I said good night, buddy goes, I was being friendly. We’re neighbours.
Well now Johnny, fancy that. Being friendly. Friendly neighbours. What’s the score little man? Dont know do ya? Ask him Johnny. Betcha he dont know. Playing the role, that’s all. Role-playing. Dress rehearsal, all of it.
You wait right there, Johnny goes, you wait right there.
Cause I’m coming down. I wants to have a little chat with you.
No thanks, he goes, no thanks.
And then buddy’s away off into his house and the door latches behind him right quick. Hear how quick he latched that door? All scruffy rough and tumble with the birdshit on his sleeve and the hefty black boots with a dollar’s worth of steel peeking through the right toe. He looks the part alright, he looks the part. But is he? That’s always the grey zone. That’s always the part you have to crack open. Is he the part or simply tryna look the part? Man or mouse? Mouse or man? Johnny slings the butt end at the back of buddy’s rig and it hits it dead-on the back window and a shower of sparks floats to the ground and one settles into a puddle of grease or oil and stays glowing for a bit and Johnny’s hoping, hoping, praying that something catches fire and blows everything to goddamn smithereens. That lovely rig up in flames, the bonnet landing up near Tulk’s somewhere, bumper all aflame and rocketing in through the windshield of the car behind and then that bastard catching and blowing to bits, burning shrapnel flying into the shanty houses, a scorching fender right in on the kitchen table, right smack flame-smashing mad in the middle of the late-night decaf tea-party chatter and then the widespread panic with the howlin scramble for children and computers and photo albums and dogs and hamsters and these fucken little tarpaper shacks all leant one into the other burning and tumbling right down over the hill into the harbour. And Johnny knows, better than any man out there, Johnny knows that harbour’s gonna catch what with five hundred years of toxic venomous scum and poisonous chemical slop gurgling and spluttering, seething a hundred fathoms deep. You knows there’s something flammable about all that, something explosive. Burn burn burn. Right to the ground, right to the bottom of the harbour. Burn the works. And Johnny with it. Yeah. Cause they can batter to fuck this time around if they thinks Johnny’s going kickin flaming doors in again and crawling around lookin to save grizzled old farts who could very well drop dead tomorrow anyhow. Fucken Charlie, Christ.
Johnny hears buddy mumbling something down there.
Through the walls. Cause that’s the way, that’s the way they got us all jammed in. So we can all hear each other belching and farting through the goddamn walls. Tarpaper shacks with big bloated price tags, all slapped together and clung to the side of the cliff like gulls huddling, cluster-fucked. Waiting. You wouldnt even wanna know the state of this dive Johnny’s set up in. One of old Quinn’s spots and the welfare pays Quinn a fortune to let it rot and crumble around the likes of Johnny, fellas like that. The bad guys.
Mumble mumble down there. Some sorta big talk to his wife or his girlfriend. An oath, a curse. Talkin about Johnny, gotta be. Big talk, nothing he’d say to Johnny’s face. Role-playing. Shag this. Johnny’s down the stairs and out the front hall to the door. He dont even bother to put the sneakers on cause he’s not gonna be using his feet. You gotta be able to dance, dance, dance whenever the mood takes you. That’s the rule, that’s the law. Johnny gives the knuckles a good scrape across the panelling in the porch before he opens the door. Sting and burn, bleed, come on bleed. Clench and release, clench and release. Buddy started it didnt he? Good night, he says. Johnny’s night. Good. Johnny raps on buddy’s door. It’s a new door with a big patterned window to let the light in. Must be nice, letting all that light in. Must be nice to have it all lined up, new doors, taking the garbage out.
Someone passes up the street behind Johnny. It’s one of Shiner’s girls. Lookin no worse for the wear, gotta say. Gotta say. She looks to be jonesing for a little soul food, no question. But she got that sturdy scuff about herself, that kinda dont-fuck-with-me baygirl stride. Sneakers and jeans. Busy busy. There’ll always be money in love, like the fella says. Lotsa burdens needing a lift, egos stroked, arses spanked. Imagine that, paying someone to smack your arse! Johnny’s … fucken … old Pius, he woulda made himself a fortune in his day.
In his day.
Johnny dont know the girl’s name, but he says to her anyhow:
Hey little Susie, hey.
She stops for a second and swivels her head. Heavy drip at the tip of her nose. She must be hurting, yeah, making a beeline for Shiner’s gear. He says to her:
Tell Shiner I needs him to drop down, tell him it’s Johnny. Can you do that for me?
Susie nods and mumbles, totters on up the hill. She’s hurtin now, she’s feelin it.
Quite the package. Somebody’s daughter. Christ knows what kinda wars she’s come through before she landed in Shiner’s lap.
Johnny’s back to the garbage man’s door and raps again, hard this time. Just a nudge, you know, one little bump and you knows the glass is going in onto the porch floor. If that’s the way shit goes down.
Cold sting on the knuckles.
Hey Johnny, is that your phone going off now, up the stairs?
Just your luck, first time you stepped out tonight.
Buddy’s missus comes to the window. No comment from Johnny, but still and all it must be nice. Must be a fine life for some. They got these red lights on in there, nice hanging lamp with a red bulb that looks all cozy and slutty seductive all the one time. Must be nice. Atmosphere. She goes for the handle and then sees it’s not someone she knows and then sorta raises her eyebrows at Johnny.
That’s your phone going off Johnny, listen … Fuck.
I needs to talk to your fella, Johnny goes.
Excerpted from WE’LL ALL BE BURNT IN OUR BEDS SOME NIGHT. Copyright © 2017 by Joel Thomas Hynes. Published by HarperPerennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.