'Four Below Zero' by Peter Burns

There's only four of us, tonight, at the riverside, drinking. Big Geo toasts wee Davie, holding the cheap wine out towards the water before passing it along. And whatever thoughts, memories, regrets we have concerning wee Davie we must keep them to ourselves. Because Big Geo ain’t in the mood, and no one wants to deal with that.

I see the need is in his eyes now, the kind that’ll burn right through this four below zero night and roast him alive, unless he scores the only shit that can extinguish it. He said he was on the streets six months before he took his first hit, him and wee Davie together. I'm nearing five. I shiver and take a long pull from the green bottle.

'I’m freezing,' Baby Gee says.

I pass her the wine.

'This’ll warm you up.' And it'll make you forget, I nearly add, but I don't, because it's a lie. This isn’t the stuff for that.

Wee Davie found Baby Gee scrounging at the bus station while he was working on people’s pockets.

‘I couldn’t just leave her there,’ he told Big Geo. ‘You know the kinda creeps that hang around that place. And she’s not just ripe — she’s like the only fresh fruit in a barrel of rottin’ ones.’

She said she was thirteen and called Georgina. We laughed at her name. Big Geo said he used to be George, before he was Big Geo, so she was now Baby Gee. And I loved him, then. In giving her a new name he was giving her a new family.

This last fortnight we’ve been laughing at pictures of her pinned along the pedestrian precincts.

‘It’s your own walk of fame,’ Cheryl said, and Baby Gee pushed her head deeper into her hoodie. Yet, none of us could ever turn her in.

‘I’m pregnant,’ she had said, first time I spoke to her. ‘I’ve stopped bleeding.’

‘When?’ I said.

‘Last week.’

‘Nah! Need to wait a couple of months. I don’t always bleed every four weeks. Sometimes stress can—’

‘Four weeks?’ she said. ‘I bled every night after he finished. Now, I don’t.’

Baby Gee splutters on the wine. I put my arm around her and pull her in tight. She smiles up at me, and when I see the colour of her teeth I know her face will become twisted and bitter looking in the months to come, and she’ll beg us all to stop calling her Baby Gee.

I have to prod Cheryl before she sees the bottle. Poor Cheryl. She’s become even more of a husk since wee Davie died. Who’ll get smack for her now? Big Geo?

Every man for themselves there, he always says.

Across the river the girls are starting to line up, with their short skirts and their thigh high boots, their low expectations and their great, great needs. And I know that's in front of me as well. That road is mine for the taking.

And soon.


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