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So I thought I’d cheer her up, take her mind off things, you know, lighten up the old load, no more ‘n that. I’m good at it, see, making people feel better, always have been, can’t tell you why—it’s just the way I am, the way it’s always been. People see me coming, they smile, can’t help themselves—however bad their day’s going, they see me and before they know it I’ve said something to make ‘em laugh, and the whole world feels as if it’s turned a corner—know what I mean?—found its bounce again, stopped raining all those dead cats and dogs and that. Little ray of sunshine, that’s me, little silver lining, Mr. Happy Tooth, or, as my dear old mum used to call me when I’d tell her to keep her pecker up coz it could be worse, Pollyanna Pete. Funny, that, don’t you think? She was a card, my mum, always coining a phrase, coming up with the winning number, nailing it on the bull’s head, and of course my name was Pete, still is, as I expect you saw from my file, Peter really, if I’m being formal, though not Pollyanna, I’m glad to say, ha ha. Now that would be one for the books, wouldn’t it, if she’d actually christened me Pollyanna, like that song, you know the one, about a man who’s mum named him, what was it, Mary or Ann or something—no, I lie, it was Sue, or was it his dad, one of them anyway, and it made him famous, if I remember right, Johnny Cash, wasn’t it, the man in black, and we all used to sing along to the juke box in the Hare and Whippet when we’d had a few on a Friday night, knew all the words, didn’t we, blimey? But she didn’t, my mum, didn’t really call me Pollyanna, even though she might’ve done, being one of life’s natural jokers, like mother like son, you might say, specially if she’d known when I was born that I’d turn out to be such a live wire, a bright spark to those in need, or I try to be, not that I’m famous, course I’m not, not nationally like the big names are, like Johnny Cash, though quite a lot of folk in my old neighbourhood, specially down the boozer, the Hare and Whippet—did I say?—at the corner of Dock Lane, if you know it, well, a lot of them would know who I was if you were to ask, which isn’t exactly fame, but it’s nice to be known in your own little pond, isn’t it? Nice to be a big fish in your own back yard. Ouch, that hurts, no, no, sorry, don’t mind me, I know you’re only doing your job. You’ll have to excuse me rambling on like this, only it takes my mind off, you know, the stitches going in, because I’m really quite upset, which I don’t suppose you can tell, seeing as I’m a smiling sort of person, sitting here docile as a lamb, something I’ve always been able to do when the world’s throwing sticks and stones, me being a forgiving and generally optimistic sort of a bloke, even in the face of life’s travails, which you must admit I’ve certainly been in today, though perhaps “face” is an unfortunate word to use, given the circumstances, so let’s just say in the midst of life’s troubles and those are bad enough, as I’m sure you can see with one glance, whoops, what am I saying, one glance, when any fool can see, there you are with both eyes on the prize, giving it all you got, which I have to say I’m extremely grateful for, even if I’ve always been allergic to needles, and I won’t ask you whether there’s going to be a scar because I’m not a vain type of a person, though I’ve always been considered reasonable-looking in my own way, quite a dandiprat, if not exactly one of God’s TV heroes, something, to be honest, I’ve always been grateful for, not being one to put myself forward in the street or anything, excepting, as I might’ve told you, that I will step up when it’s a case of help thy neighbour as thyself, though I can’t say today’s little episode helped thyself, meaning me, very much, at all, and not even the neighbour in the end, though how was I to know that when I opened my big mouth and she didn’t give me so much as a hint that I was out of line, not so much as a nod or a wink, not that winking’s been much up her alley recently, poor little cow. Down in the mouth don’t begin to describe it, not a smile for anyone, not a Wotcha Pete! or a wave in passing, not for weeks, and everyone beginning to say it looks like the black dog’s going to carry her off for good, like she might pop her own clogs, if you catch my drift, which is not something a self-respecting friend can just stand by and let happen, not that we’re exactly friends or anything, I wouldn’t want to imply that, but certainly neighbours, acquaintances, smile at each other in Tesco’s kind of thing, nice girl she is, too, if a mite plain, went to school with my cousin Greg’s youngest, known her since she was four or five, not me, I mean, my cousin Greg, a really decent girl, he says, good for his Lila when she was going through her wild stage, which is a bit of a joke, if you ask me, coz when has Lila not been going through a wild stage, but I know what Greg means, like when she was fourteen, fifteen, and hanging round the chippy after school with no knickers on, pardon my French, something she doesn’t do these days, though I wouldn’t swear on a bible she’s a reformed character neither, even if she does wear a white overall and work in that big fishmonger’s by the Boxing Gym. I got to know her when she married that bloke she met at the job centre, not Lila, her friend, the girl I was telling you about, went to the wedding with Greg and his missus, only she’s not really a girl any more, not since she lost her looks, hardly surprising, given all the trouble and strife she’s been through, specially lately, and no one to cheer her up but me, which I felt in honour bound to do, being as it didn’t look as if anyone else was exactly concerned she might be taking a one-way ferry ticket across the river Sharon, and why she married him I’ll never know, coz don’t tell me he was trying to get a job when she met him, more like trying to get the paperwork straight to prove he wasn’t fit to get a job, which doesn’t take much skill these days, though it might take a bit of know-how, which clearly this Terry bloke had because he never lifted a day’s work, as far as I know, not before nor after he put one up the spout, married her, then disappeared from her life like a cloud of bad gas, and that’s been over ten years now, which is a tough thought to get the old brain-box around, as it seems only yesterday I was shaking her hand at the wedding and telling Greg and his missus that no good would come of it, and the fact I was right gives me no joy, no joy at all, let me tell you, though anyone could’ve predicted Terry wasn’t one to stick around for a life of domestic nigging and nagging. Are you nearly done, by the way, Doc? Coz I haven’t got all day to lie around and talk to you, you know, pleasure though it is to meet you an’ that—I got things I need to be doing, people I should be calling, let them know where I am and what happened, though come to think of it, as it happened in the Hare, I suppose most of them know by now, probably already telling the story, nice flippin’ joke to pass around, I don’t think—my old mum must be turning in her grave. I can hear them now—you’ll never guess the pickle old Pete got hisself into—blood everywhere, had to call the pollies and an ambulance, not seen so much excitement since the Gunners went down 1-4 to United and Les Wiggins’ terrier bit Maisie Mitchell on the bum. Oh, I know, I know how it’s going to be, I won’t live it down for a year, maybe for never, might have to go and drink in the King’s Armpit, but how was I to know? I mean come on, be fair, how was I to know? I’m not one to gossip, and if I was one to gossip I wouldn’t be gossiping about my cousin Greg’s daughter’s friend who married a loser and had a kid who turned out just like his dad and did a runner soon as he could, and God knows where he is now and everyone looking for him, only I didn’t know that, didn’t know the kid was missing, I mean, and I’ll tell you something—if I had known, I might not’ve cared as much as I should, and that’s the sober truth coz I knew the scuzz that kid hung out with, and let me tell you, they’re the nastiest bunch of little knifers this side of Buckingham Palace, you take my word for it. Ouch, that hurt, sorry, Doc, sorry, I know you’re only doing your job, only I’ll be glad when you’re finished your little bit of sewing, to tell you the truth. I feel quite shaken up by this whole thing, quite knocked off the old rails, and I’ll be straight with you, I wish I’d never stuck my flipping neck out and tried to cheer her up in the first place, only seeing her sitting there on that bar stool with a half-drunk bottle of cat-piss lager and her eyes all red and emptied out, I just couldn’t ignore the poor little bitch, I mean, what decent human being could settle to full appreciation of his pint of Newkie with that heap of misery perched up there like a dying budgie and no one saying so much as a cheer up, love? So I thought I’d just make nice, spin a little small talk, offer a bit of jolly, which cross my heart and hope to die was all I was meaning to do when just in passing, I said, quite innocent and casual-like, “Didn’t I see your Jason down by the market yesterday?”, something I might well’ve asked in the normal run of things, the kid being one of those you’d see anywhere but where he was supposed to be, like in school or where have you, and I expect I had seen him at the market several times, only just not perhaps yesterday, but this was no more than chit-chat, remember, no more than a bit of human interest, being neighbourly, doing unto others, etc., etc. So like I said, I says to her, “Didn’t I see your Jason down by the market yesterday?”, and just for a minute, I think, Blimey, Pete, old son, you’ve done it—you’ve made her day, coz you should’ve seen her face, like I’d switched on all the lights in Wembley Stadium at once. Electric, it was, magic, moment of sheer joy—just call me Harry Potter—well, I was quite pleased with myself coz like I said, it’s my mission in life to make people perk up, and there she was, mega bloody perked. Jesus. Clueless bleedin’ Samaritan. Never do that again, will I? She thought, see, that I really had seen her kid yesterday. Well she would, I suppose. Asked me exactly where, exactly when, asked had I spoken to him, what did he look like, was he okay, could I take her there, he’d been gone for four months, she couldn’t believe it, it was a miracle, on and on and on, and me standing there with a pint in my hand, feeling a right proper Charlie, I can tell you, her crying and begging me an’ that, and I had to stop her—well, I had to, didn’t I?—I’d dug myself into a right old hole, a giant bloody bear-pit, if you want to know, with all the sharpened knives pointing right back up at me. So of course I had to go for the Olympic record in back-pedaling—said I must’ve been mistaken, barking up the wrong tree—it must’ve been someone else’s kid I’d seen—I hadn’t meant yesterday—I didn’t know Jason was missing. “Sorry,” I said, “Sorry, missus, way out of line,” or something like that, coz I really hadn’t meant any harm, you know, just making small bananas, trying to cheer her up, like I said, good old Pollyanna Pete, total stupid arse. And that was it. She picked up her bottle of lager and broke it over my head. You know the rest. Blood everywhere. Beer everywhere. Glass everywhere. I tell you, I’ve never been so surprised in my life, could’ve knocked me down with a feather, well, what am I saying, course I was knocked down, only not exactly with a feather—what? You’re done? Well, why didn’t you say so, Doc? I got things to do, people to see, can’t stay here chattering to you all night, pleasure though it’s been to have such a Christian conversation after what happened, if you’ll pardon the expression, as I can see from your headgear that you’re probably not a Christian, but what I say is . . .