by Nick Hornby
They never told me what it was, and they never told me why they might need someone like me. I probably wouldn’t have taken the fucking job if they had, to tell you the truth. Anyway. If I’d been clever, I would have asked them on the first day, because looking back on it now, I had a few clues to be going on with: we were all sat around in this staff-room type place, being given all the do’s and don’ts, and it never occurred to me that I was just about the only male under sixty they’d hired. There were a few middle-aged women, and a lot of gits, semi-retired, ex-Army types, but there was only one bloke of around my age, and he was tiny—little African geezer, Geoffrey, who looked like he’d run a mile if anything went off. But sometimes I forget what I look like, if you know what I mean. I was sitting there listening to what this woman was saying about flash photography and how close people were allowed to get and all that, and I was more like a head than a body, sort of thing, because if you’re listening to what someone’s saying that’s what you are, isn’t it? A head. A brain, not a body. But the point of me—the point of me here, in this place, for this job—is that I’m six two and fifteen stone. It’s not just that, either, but I look…well, handy, I suppose. I look like I can take care of myself, what with the tattoos and the shaved head and all that. But sometimes I forget. I don’t forget when I’m eyeballing some little shitbag outside a club, some nineteen-year-old in a two-hundred quid jacket who’s trying to impress his bird by giving me some mouth; but when I’m watching something on TV, like a documentary or something, or when I’m putting the kids to bed, or when I’m reading, I don’t think, you know, fucking hell I’m big. Anyway, listening to this woman, I forgot, so when she told me I’d be in the Southern Fried Chicken Wing looking after numberg 49, I never asked her "Why me? Why do you need a big bloke in the Southern?" I just trotted off, like a berk. I never thought for a moment that I was on some sort of special mission.
I took this job because I promised Lisa I’d give up the night work at the club. It wasn’t so much the hours—ten til three Monday to Thursday, ten til five Friday and Saturday, club closed on Sunday. OK, they fucked the weekends up, and I never saw the kids in the morning, but I could pick them up from school, give them their tea, and Lisa didn’t have to worry about childcare or anything. She works in a dentist’s office near Harley Street, decent job, nice boss, good pay, normal hours, and with me being off all day, we could manage. I mean, it wasn’t ideal, ‘cos I never really saw her—by the time the kids were down and we’d had something to eat, it was time for me to put the monkey suit on and go out. But we both sort of knew it was just a phase, and I’d do something else eventually, although fuck knows what. Never really thought about that. She asks me sometimes what I’d do if I had the choice, and I always tell her I’d be Tiger Woods—millions of dollars a week, afternoons knocking a golf ball around in places like Spain and Florida, gorgeous blonde girlfriends (except I never mention that bit). And she says, No, seriously, and I say, I am being serious, and she says, No, you’ve got to be realistic. So I say, well what’s the point of this game, then? You’re asking me what I’d do if I had the choice, and I tell you, and then you tell me I haven’t got the fucking choice. So what am I supposed to say? And she says, but you’re too old to be a professional golfer—and she’s right, I’m 38 now—and you smoke too much. (Like you can’t play fucking golf if you smoke.) Choose something else. And I say, OK, then, I’ll be fucking Richard Branson. And she says, well you can’t just start out by being Richard Branson. You have to do something first. And I say, OK, I’ll be a bouncer first. And she gives up. I know she means well, and I know she’s trying to get me to think about my life, and about getting older and all that, but the truth is, I’m thirty-eight, I’ve got no trade and no qualifications, and I’m lucky to get a job headbutting cokeheads outside a club. She’s great, Lisa, and if you think about it, even her asking the question shows that she loves me and thinks the world of me, because she really does think I’ve got choices, and someone else is going to have as much faith in me as she does. She wants me to say, oh, I’d like to run a DIY shop, or I’d like to be an accountant, and the next day she’d come back with loads of leaflets, but I don’t want to run a DIY shop, and I don’t want to be an accountant. I know what my talent is: my talent is being big, and I’m making the most of it. If anyone asks her what I do, she says I’m a security consultant, but if I’m around when she says it, I laugh and say I’m a bouncer. I don’t know what she’d say now. Probably that I’m an art expert. You watch. Giver her two weeks and she’ll be on at me to write Antiques Roadshow. I don’t know what world she lives in sometimes. I think it’s something to do with the dentist’s. She meets all these people, and they’re loaded, and as thick as me, half of them, and she gets confused about what’s possible and what’s not.
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