The Finnegans were one of those families that everybody knew. There was about seventeen of them in a two bedroom flat one close along from Agnes’s, and they were always filthy and full of fun. Harry’s sisters had hair down to their bums that would fly out behind them as they chased each other with shrieks and giggles until they were yelled in for tea.
Agnes insisted I wear mine in neat plaits, which is one of the many downsides of being raised by your gran and great-gran. Plaits might have been fine in their days, but I looked a tube in the eighties cutting about like an Enid Blyton character while all my pals had luminous scrunchies. But there was no questioning Agnes. She was fine with having kneecapped half the Gorbals, but a great-granddaughter with messy hair would really blacken her name.
The Finnegan’s dad was a wee quiet man, forever vaguely bemused by his rowdy progeny. He was often to be found wandering about playing an unexpected instrument, like a ukulele or a mouth organ for no apparent reason. I’ve never found it in me to blame him for any of what happened.
Harry and I had been best pals since I knocked his front tooth out in Primary Seven. Neither of us can remember how the fight started, but we both agreed he deserved it, which was a solid basis for friendship. By high school, everyone assumed we were at it, but though he wasn’t a horrible prospect in a gingery, boy next door kind of way, I loved him much too much to ever allow him to go out with someone like me.
We did kiss, once, in a playground late one summer’s night when we were about twelve. We’d had a few Smirnoff Ices and he asked if I wanted to French kiss. I thought he meant on both cheeks like the French do, which seemed a bit strange but aye okay. I turned to go for his cheek, he went in for a winch and long story short he licked my ear. The next morning, I asked my gran if I was supposed to have licked his ear and I thought she was going to burst a gasket laughing. Over the years, Harry and I saw each other through breaks ups and exams, disastrous haircuts, failed driving tests, his dad’s coma.
Harry shakes his head, taking in the sight of me and my Naked Man. ‘You’re never boring, Kirsty, I’ll gie you that.’ He turns to his police pal and nods towards me. ‘This is Kirsty MacIvar.’
Icy daggers slither through me and I’m not sure if I want to gouge his eyes out or burst in to tears. Kirsty MacIvar. Harry Finnegan couldn’t have gone more over to the dark side than if he was breathing heavily through a shiny helmet. One of those MacIvars, his eyes say. So no sudden movements, eh?
His lady pal nods and it might be my imagination but I’m almost certain her fingers stray to her polis battering stick and I feel like growling at her just to see if she cries. Harry, of all people, knows I am not one of those MacIvars. I am so much not one of those MacIvars that I’ve not seen my wee gran in over a decade and now she’s dead and it’s too late and I hate him with the passion of a thousand suns.
‘Who’s your pal?’ he asks with an easy grin, seemingly not feeling any of the fatal daggers I’m trying to shoot him with my eyes.
‘I don’t know,’ I spit.
‘Yous seem fairly well acquainted.‘ Harry’s eyes flick down the man’s naked body and I find myself shifting protectively in front of his willy. Not that it’s my willy to protect or anything, but polis or not, a scrap of human decency wouldn’t go amiss.
‘He needs a hospital. Can yous take him?’
‘Can he not talk for himself?’
‘No, he can’t.’
‘Have you taken a drink this evening?’ asks the woman.
‘None of your fucking business,’ I snap. She flinches and I smile. Score one for me.
Harry rolls his eyes. ‘I think you’d better come along too,’ he says.
‘I’m not hurt.’
‘You’re covered in blood.’
‘It’s not mine.’
‘Then you know we need to have a wee chat with you, don’t you?’
‘I know you farted the first time you got a blow job and no lassie would go near you for years.’
The woman smothers a giggle and Harry reddens. ‘Fucks sake, Kirsty.’
Naked Man slumps suddenly, his knees giving way, and Harry, to his credit, catches him just before he squashes me flat.
‘How about we get your pal to a hospital and then we’ll decide just who’s got the more embarrassing sexual history?’
I don’t want to get in his manky polis car but suddenly the need to sit down overrides everything else and I’m too exhausted to argue further. I clamber in and Harry drags Naked Man, yanking him across my lap so I’m cradling his head and shoulders. His warmth brings a bit of feeling back to my legs and I’m strangely grateful. We’re an odd wee team, Naked Man and me, but it suddenly feels as though it’s us against the world.
I risk a glance at his poor back as the woman starts the car. There’s an ominous looking black crust over a lot of it, like burnt sausage, but the skin I can see around the edges looks surprisingly intact. Maybe he’ll be okay, I think, though what do I care, I don’t even know him.
We don’t talk as the car winds through silent streets. I catch Harry glancing at me in the rear view mirror from time to time, but he wisely leaves me to my thoughts. I’m absentmindedly stroking Naked Guy’s hair as he dozes on my knee. It’s long. Dark golden waves that reach his shoulders and I notice with surprise that woven through it is a series of intricate plaits. Buggering fuckballs, I’ve rescued a hipster.
I can smell smoke, for obvious reasons, and something I reluctantly suspect is charred flesh, but there’s another scent too. Something peaty and rich, as though he’s had a bath in an Islay malt. And a herb, I think, one you’d have with a roast. Bay or sage or sandalwood. He’s slipping in and out of consciousness, but he’s holding on to my knee as though he’s scared to let go and I feel wee rush of the kind of thing you’d feel if you saw a puppy out in the rain.
I’ve got no time for that sort of nonsense. I sigh to shake it off and look out the window. We’re passing a sign for the Clyde Tunnel. We’ll be at the hospital any minute. I’ll discharge my giant human puppy into the hands of medical professionals, say whatever I have to to get Harry and his pal off my back, and then I’ll head back to my sleeping bag on a kitchen table and sleep for a week.