In It To Win
by Writer 3
Ully, pale, shivering, her blue eyes on the man she loved, stood in the doorway of Gino’s Barber Shop on Church Street, Hackney. Across the road Sig was trying to make a deal with Marvin.
Marvin, squat, black, beaming a smile, said: ‘Don’t waste my fucking time.’
Marvin had eight £30 bags.
Sig had £10 and change. His large shoulders slumped.
Marvin looked up at him. ‘Get out of my face.’
Sig trudged back to Ully.
Night broken by stars folded around them.
‘Sorry,’ said Sig.
Ully's blonde head bowed. 'He didn’t have anything?’
‘Not for the money we’ve got.’
She tugged her battered, blue jacket tight. ‘He wouldn’t split a bag?’
‘Not worth his while.’
Sig wrapped his big arms around her small form. ‘There’s still stuff we can do.’
‘But I wanted . . .’ her words ran away from her.
‘I know,’ and they began to walk along Church Street, through the splash of street lights.
They came to a halt outside Prashant’s Super Star Grocery. The sign in the window glowed Beer-Spirits. They looked at the bottles and cans.
‘How much we got?’ asked Ully.
‘Enough,’ said Sig and stepped into the shop.
The alcohol was arranged high price to low price. They stuck to the discounts.
‘Look,’ said Ully and held up three litres of cider. ‘Reduced.’
Sig nodded at the cap. ‘Past its date.’
‘So, what, it’s going to poison us?’
‘Under two quid.’ Sig shrugged. ‘It can poison me for that,’ and Sig lugged the cider and a six pack of beer to the counter
‘How are you, sir?’ asked Prashant.
Sig appeared stunned by the question.
‘He’s okay,’ said Ully her round face on her long neck moving from thing to thing in jerks, like a bird. ‘He’s great.’
Sig counted out money with tattooed hands.
‘Two pounds change,’ said Prashant and handed four fifty pence pieces to Sig who moved the Super Star Grocery bag heavy with alcohol from his right hand to his left.
Sig looked at the coins: ‘Give us a lottery ticket, lucky dip. For tonight.’
‘Mugs game.’ Ully’s blue eyes came to rest on the solid block of Sig. ‘Suckers only.’
‘You got to be in it to win it,’ said Sig.
Prashant printed out the ticket, took back the fifty pence pieces. ‘You’re right,’ he said.
‘Fucking lottery. Tax on the poor.’ Ully worried away at it as they stepped out of the Super Star Grocery.
‘There’ll be one less poor person after the draw,’ said Sig. ‘Why shouldn’t it be me?’
Ully snorted at his idiocy, slipped her arm through his. ‘It shouldn’t be down to luck.’
‘Rich and poor. Everything.’ Ully, slim and pale as a line of coke, leant into her righteous anger.
‘It makes me mad. It’s a sop.’ She beat at that wrongness in the world.
‘A million pound sop,’ laughed Sig.
They turned onto Defoe Road and Ully unlocked the door to their place. They were half renting, half squatting a room above a boarded up garage. The elderly owner was in poor health and not pushing to regularise the arrangement. The room was a mattress on the floor, a spindly legged table, a t.v. and a sofa they had recovered from Defoe Road. It had been abandoned in the middle of the street. Ully had watched Sig drag its imitation leopard skin up the stairs. They had seemed like hunters then. She flopped on the sofa as Sig dug out the remains of a bottle of wine to add to the cider and beer.
‘Anything to eat?’ she asked.
Sig looked at her as though this was a stumper.
Ully groaned, turned her face into the sofa.
‘I’ll find something, Ul.’
He was the only one who called her Ul, to everyone else she was Ully. She had been named after a Baader-Meinhof leader, some nineteen seventies shit that had failed before she was born. The original Ulrika had hanged herself with her bra while in prison. Now that was something to aim at. She remembered her mum with her Che and Rosa Luxemburg posters; when she had been a child she had made up stories of Rosa and Che falling in love, getting married. Mum had stamped on the tales; they didn’t make any sort of sense. Her dad she couldn’t remember, he had run off before her first birthday. So it had just been her and mum and a series of mum’s lovers – mum had insisted on calling them lovers – until she was sixteen and could get out.
Sig managed to locate two bags of crisps. Trying to make up for squandering a pound on the lottery he gave her the choice: cheese and onion or chicken.
Ully took the chicken. Sig looked surprised and as she filled her mouth she wondered if she had told him that she was a vegetarian. But perhaps that had been some other guy. ‘What?’ her mouth crammed with crisps.
‘Nothing,’ and he passed her a can of beer.
They had a routine to their drinking: first beer, then cider, then wine. The familiarity was a comfort. Ully drank the first two cans quickly. Her mum had never been sober much. Sobriety had increased her sense that things, everyone had let her down. Ully had hated that idea, that your life was someone else’s fault. Now, ten years on, curled on an imitation leopard skin sofa, she was scared that she was just like that. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ softly choked out of her.
Sig sat next to her, put his arm around her. ‘Do you want to make a night of it? We’ve got a little left.’ It was a kindness.
‘Yeah.’ She reached for another beer, watched as Sig hunted out the tin-foil, lighter, heroin and toilet roll tube. For a big man he was delicate in his movements.
He tilted the tube to her, keeping the lighter under the foil, the heroin bubbling off its dreams. She breathed in, passed the tube to Sig.
‘A crime,’ he said and inhaled.
The tube went back and forth, refashioning their room riddled with damp and doubt, making it all bearable. Ully laughed, her merriment wrapping up Sig, getting him to his feet. ‘I love you,’ he said. ‘I love you so fucking much.’
She sucked up the last of the heroin.
‘Come here.’ He fell to his knees and she reached for him.
They lay entwined, in their separate, perfect places, knowing that the other would be there when they returned.
Sig sat up. Ully unfurled like a flower. He gathered her into his arms, carried her to the mattress. For him, she was no weight at all.
His big hands were quick with the buttons of her clothes. She slipped her hand into his trousers, worked his erection.
‘My love,’ he whispered.
She remembered mum telling her that love was a piece of politics. Something you could step outside of and understand. She hooked her legs around Sig, pulled him into her. He covered her like a flesh and bone tent, protecting, keeping out the awful weather of their lives. ‘Yes,’ she whispered to him beautifully large inside her.
Afterward, leant up against each other, they finished the cider and the wine.
‘We’re done?’ asked Ully looking at the empties.
‘That’s all, Ul,’ said Sig and they slipped into sleep.
Ully woke. The t.v. was on. Sig was sprawled face down on the floor in front of the gaudiness of a game show. Foil, lighter and tube were by his side. That hadn’t been all, she thought, he had been holding out.
‘Sig.’ She got to her feet. Why couldn’t he be straight with her?
‘We’re all about winning,’ said the t.v.
Sig was lying in a puddle of vomit.
‘No-one goes away a loser.’
She pushed at him. He did not respond. She knelt, touched his cheek.
‘Cars, holidays, big, big prizes.’
He was not breathing. Dead, she thought, but he was not cold as she thought dead people had to be cold.
‘Everyone can win, win, win.’
Dead, just like that – the next thing in her life. She began to cry as she had cried when she realised Rosa had never met Che and her mother, fuck her, had been right; in the unimportant ways she had been right. She lay next to Sig, him naked and dead, her naked and alive. It was the big stuff that mum got wrong. When Ully had walked out she had said: ‘You can’t trust anyone,’ as though that was obvious and Ully walking out to be expected. Ully did not want that to be a truth about her world. But Sig had tricked her, had kept a little heroin back for himself. And that deception had killed him. If he had shared she would have been there to help him when it went wrong. On his own he had died. She sobbed into his shoulder.
The t.v. began to call out lottery numbers. Sig’s ticket lay between him and the t.v. The first three numbers on the screen were on the ticket. Don’t do this to me, she thought, this should be all about Sig. Four right. Despite herself she was getting excited. Five right. Sig dead beside her and she was sweating on a number. Six right.
She grabbed the ticket and stood up. It was Sig’s but taking it was such a little crime. He would want me to have it, she thought, and dressed quickly, pushed her belongings into the Super Star Grocery carrier bag.
Outside the world was veiled with drizzle. The rain ran on her face like tears as she hurried into the new world chance had fashioned for her.
End of In It To Win by Writer 3