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BartLessard

The Uses of A Poet — 8 April 2021

by Bart Lessard

For defecation Eliot paces better Than Millay Which is not to say She needs attenuation

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Gang Aft Agley — 11 May 2020

by Bart Lessard

Swim in it, piss in it, leave it to the ducks, no pool had ever been a feature of the Hub. But thanks to drainage choked with gems of Eldorado glass the miracle came due. That morning was a summer one, the blue shorn clean. Two boys had been on the swings nearby, kicking up corners on the turf. One had sly aims in bringing his friend there and was only half on task—as much as half, that was, until he saw the puddle laid broad and deep. Skimming stones, a.k.a. thrawin shite—this was the new regime, though all they had to shy was any slag they could worry up off the tarmac. Tar could not bounce and the dabbles from these flop dives barely echoed off the tower blocks. Loud enough, though, for here were the wee schemies—all of them, a gushing litter birth—come down to aid in the murder of the day. Rafts made of fast food bags were set on fire, and those that Mcbeef had left see-through far outshone the rest. Trolleys from the Extra ran to plumes of water. Souse glass had shown up in the weeds, always welcome for a lob and a shatter. Where resources ran short fists were inevitable, even three bouts. The children were too soft yet, flyweight, to crack bone, and since all were under twelve none but Psycho Hamish carried a chib. “Keep it doon,” from a mother, one at the tables near. Back to talk, fags, a circle facing inward.

“Chaos,” Rab said, and not without a smile. “Chaos.”

But then he came back to why he had come with his new friend. Such a ruckus was never any good for a stakeout. The future timeline was at risk. Thinking fast—up quick for a change—he came back in wellies. A whistle left on the pitch had gone around his neck. This Rab blew, to a shriek and to nothing. Another scrap was underway. Two trolleys overturned in the joust, and on a wrenching crash a third caught air. But his friend stood aside him, and he tried again—double toot, extra shrill, for a penalty. The public eye was on him, or close enough.

“Nae runnin,” Rab said. “An nae fire.” Weegie Scots—off school grounds such was the default.

Just unhorsed, Davy stood up, sleeves draining. “Whit’s at noo?”

“A sayt nae fire an nae runnin by ra pool.”

“Did ye aye! An wha are ye tae say it?”

“A’m ra lifeguard.”

Of course Davy Duncan would be the one to jam the works. But laughs came hard all around, eyes to his friend but not with caution, as before. Rab bent a neck, to no sign.

“Did ye make a face?”

“Chan eil agam ach an tè.”

“Pal, pal, ye must commit. A’m ra smairt talk here, no ye.”

“Tell me about the rabbits, George.”

The friend had two means to poke, both just shown. Catchphrase, accent, dopey register—for Rab these were the worse. At least with Gaelic he could not fault himself. Nobody should expect to get through cluck from the North Atlantic, not in Maryhill.

“Whit fuckin rabbits,” to himself. To the crowd, “Listen aw ay ye. A was ra furst wan here, furst tae see water, and at gies a say. Craic is craic but how long afore ra auld yins notice? They’d shut us doon tight as a boulder’s erse, so they wid.” A sweep to the senga mums facing inward, yet in their envelope of nicotine.

“Cho teann ri de?”

Rab began to lay out pool rules. But the mob’s two up ye was still hooking baws. Eyes began to roam. Time was wasting. Bags to burn, carts to butt.

“Rab!”

Shug, late. On coming close he did a take, and Rab felt better. Shug had been away for a week to see a grandparent in Dundee. Feast yer specky eyes.

“Wha’s ra newbie? A had him fur a grup.”

“Grup?”

“‘Bonk bonk oan ra heid, grup, bonk bonk oan ra heid!’”

“Ra hell ye oan aboot?”

“Aw, at’s from—”

“Star Trek!”

A throaty burr, /r/s in a tumble. Cnut Mag Amlaíb had only just moved from a far and spumy rock. There life was different. Vikings in cable knits doffed hats to ewes. Friday nights saw a wicker man go up. Druids were new money and street signs were in runes. Call it the Isle of Nob. The name, and more, was a guess. Cnut had told little yet, though he had the human speech for broad strokes. He, too, was ten, even two months younger than Rab. Yet he stood a thumb above a meter eighty and weighed more than thirteen stone. None dare have a go, even for the outfit—breeks, hose, and a bluidy woolen gilet, all thirdhand. Like a sheepshagger husbandman from a telly countryside.

“This is Teuchter Cnut,” Rab said.

Bait untaken, as always, but you could see how the hook weighed in the eyes. Shug said, “Good tae meet ye.”

“Star Trek is braw! Ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”

“Ye are Dungeons an Dragons.” Shug caught himself. “A love a twel-sided die.”

“Ootrolls a caber,” said Rab.

“The toss?” Cnut said. “Och, that’s wummin’s work.” Joke and truth were too close a call. Plus nerd shite was not in the script, so Rab struck it. He would have to mind Shug and his reverse Midas touch.

“Hey! Hey Baywatch!” Davey was in the pond. “A’m drownin!” Angel motions for a churn and a go. Stuck to one ankle was a condom, fished out on a kick, flabby and yellow. “Baywatch! A’m fuckin drownin!”

Laughter again—and the weans took up the chant, stomping in the puddle.

“That’ll stick,” Rab said.

But here at last the agenda came into view. The ned dwarf. Led by Rab’s eye, Cnut and Shug watched him, too. The dwarf was local. Cut and colors aside he looked a lot like the best Lannister. Five years back, while in school, he had gone by Noser, and the tale there was cautionary. But that prendre pisse was not au courant. The dugs on lead had brought the change—each a wedge head, fawn and white, big as the man himself. A lone blung hand kept chains taut at two blung collars. Neither dug sped the pace. The dwarf was a big deal. He had graduated from the ranks of the Shawpark Young Team to the network that had no name. Rab had as much from Brace. That a “dinklage” could move up, and not his brother, made for whinges. Brace was away on a DTO. This freed up couch space and the PS4 and made home a wonderland.

The dwarf felt eyes. Rab and Shug found sky and earth. Children of Maryhill were no different from the grups, bonk bonk. They knew not to know.

But not Cnut Mag Amlaíb of the Norsedick clan. No, he lent a stare, and Rab a swat.

“Whit? Wha’s that noo?”

“Sledge. On’t-dae ucking-fae ook-lae.” Cnut had none of the vulgate. Rab put it in the best of teuchter terms. “Ra world behind ra world—ra Unseelie Court.”

Sledge had come to a halt. The wedge heads did the same. His face was wan, eyes pink, and both were on Cnut. A night’s fun—that would explain the late pickup.

“So e’s a drug dealer?”

“No so loud. An naw, e’s no a dealer, unless it’s iron ye want.”

“Snog,” Cnut said.

“‘Snog’?”

“Snog.”

“Fuckin ‘snog’?”

What could be more Nob. Saying snog did not break the stare. That could be trouble. Wee did not enjoy a gawk, muckle should have known.

But Sledge lost interest and the dugs led again. Hedge, rock, paper sack, all per custom, by the community center doors. Sparse leaf could not hide it. The rafters were not as numpty as Rab had feared. In went the free hand, and off went Sledge.

“That bag,” Cnut said. “A wonder whit’s in it.”

“Wan warm can ay Irn-Bru. Sugar Free. Tae make weight.”

Rab heard the irony as he said it. Funny. But his was the only smile.

“That wis specific,” said Shug.

Up came the hoodie, waistband made bare, and Rab basked in the reveal.

“Ye nickt it?” Shug said, eyes on. “Ye nickt a fuckin drop?”

“Too loud,” Rab said. “An anyhow A only found ra cunt.” Wink. “Whoever’s rightful owner cannae be happy but.” Shug whitened to an eerie translucence. “Drop a pair,” Rab said. “It’s ra call tae adventure.”

Cnut was less fretful. “Whit is it?”

Both hands free, hoodie safely down again, Rab made air quotes to nock the syllables. “Ta-ser. Like a phaser, fae ra anorak show ay Shug’s, but wi a tee instead ay ra pee aitch an ye cannae set er tae kill.” The syllables again.

“Tell me about the Rabbits, George.”

“How’m A fuckin George here,” Rab did not ask. Instead, “Mind ye A don’t know why, right enough. A taser’s polis, an rare—no ra style, no at aw. Nor is ra transfer ay black market arms ra most commonplace use ay ra middleman scenario. But taser, aye.”

Shug turned to walk away but stopped cold. Rab and Cnut were distracted by the abrupt appearance of Psycho Hamish. For him such contraband had a scent.

“Ooh, whit goodies huv ye goat therr?”

“Aye, boeys—whit?” Even more abrupt. A sip from the can of Irn-Bru. The dwarf made a face and read the label. “Sugar free?” Left and right the dugs were off chain.

Rab watched himself bolt, and Cnut. Psycho Hamish kicked a leg from under Shug and ran his own way. Rab could marvel at the ingenuity even as he saw the dugs’ scrum onto his nerdiest friend. “Bastard,” he heard Shug say, scarcely a whisper.

No growl, no scream—as boy killers went the wedge heads were first-rate.

Sledge shouted, “Might we no skip ra middle?” The pool party had gone silent and a senga mom aired her grief. For the sprinty gust in his ears Rab heard no more.

Even after he had come to a stop, hunkered at bins on Towie Place, his heart was a bell. “Never felt so alive,” he said to himself, clamping back a panic shite. Cnut was no less out of breath but had enough for a hairy eye. Gaelic came in bursts. Rab understood the pitches if not the words. “Don’t gies that,” he said. “Ye were starin oan like a cow. A waanted ye tae see him, no tae thraw a fuckin searchlight.”

“Whit do ye mean ye waanted me tae see him?”

Very tall and very short should gain a rivalry. Such a scheme to things was only right. Capers would go on for years, neither side with the upper hand until the epic showdown. But Rab only shook his head. Tending to the field was his own calling. No one else could understand. And here came a wedge head—trotting up to haunch before them.

A panting threesome. None moved. Gone cold in the dug breath, Rab drew the taser.

“Naw! E’s a good boy.”

“Ra cunt just ate Shug.”

But Cnut put out a hand. The wedge head took the invite and got close. No red on the muzzle, Rab had to admit, nor guts for garters. Cnut fell to petting, and the dug flagged lickings with a tail.

“It’s oan oor side!” Rab said.

“Fuckin hell,” said the dwarf. “Nae mair dash, all right?”

The taser had gone up in a two-hand grip, the trigger clicking tinnily.

Sledge gave a scoff. “Pal, at wad’s shot already—cartridge is emptit oot—an ye’ll never want yer traces oan it noo, trust us.” Yet catching breath, he held out a hand. And so the prize was surrendered. “A’ll admit, though—ye’ve goat neck oan ye, daein at.”

The first wedge head had gone belly up, and the second had come around the bins for more of the same. Rab had never seen a dug happier than those very two. “Whit’s it fur?” Cnut asked, petting with both hands.

“Funny ye should ask,” Sledge said and on that matter no more. “Yer pal back therr, e had a spill but e’s fine. Maybe a bit kissy yet from ra pups. Rom and Rem here, how they love a wean. Ye shouldnae play wi bastards like at Hamish boey.”

Cnut said, “Ye ever play Doongeons an Dragons?”

Rab felt a blush but Sledge said, “Dungeons an Dragons is pure gallus! A used tae run a tabletop campaign wi me pals. Planescape! But A only play online noo.”

Cnut perked up. “Em em oh are pee gees?”

Sledge shared a platform and a username. No good would come of that. “Ye’re no mad at us?” Rab asked.

“Mate, ye’re only a wean. Young’s a stupit ye graw oot ay.”

Years ahead, deep in the new timeline—and S6—Rab went home from school. On his passing a close a voice said, “Tell me about the rabbits, George”—a voice grown to a boom, all Gaelic shed along with thirdhand woolens. He who spoke was Team and fated to rise in the world behind the world. Rab kept on. By then he knew who George was and all about the rabbits, and he prayed that stupid was not a young he never would.

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Rebuttal — 5 March 2020

by Bart Lessard

Cannot hear the falconer? Can so! What business is it of his, or of yours, Whether my gyre widens at all? Also, the beast had this to pass along: “Whom are you calling rough?”

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Butney Headhunters — 28 November 2021

by Bart Lessard

Where a football trophy might rest on the bedside shelf of another boy of nine—or a geode, or a Wookiee, or a Snaptite fighter jet—Callum now kept the clean upper of a human skull. Awe was due, gobsmack awe, and friends came in to pay. Shug was a floor up in the scheme, Davy two below, and both had sped along on receipt of a selfie, foreground leer, pride at left shoulder. Thanks to friction with the brother Rab ran late, and he hid the limp on entry.

What built in him at the sight was not sportsmanlike. Jealous to a seethe, he said at last, “It’s no real.” Not a glance his way, whether hard or mild.

“That’s Beltran,” Davy said. “Tommothy Beltran. He’s still got the two gold teeth.”

“Lots of cunts have two gold teeth,” Rab said. “Orangeman Geoff has full grills and rocks ’t spell his name besides.”

“But no this pair—fang and fang.” Davy indicated with the two up ye.

“So it’s a grass,” Callum said. Everybody knew of the vanishing act. Solemn nods all around. “He must have crept out of the canal, perished there and bleached. They sank him yet alive.” Were it truth an oversight, Rab knew. Shawpark Young Team was the local task force. Proper in removals, no more passion than for a half litre at the bin. “It was in the rushes where A found him,” Callum went on, “amongst shopping bags.”

Shug asked, “Nae bones,” to get a line.

“No that A saw. Bloody hell—knuckles would have made a good chain, aye.”

“Didnae crawl out then,” Davy said, yet the boffin. “And the water in the canal, it wullnae wash you up like a clamshell. Wave action is at a minimum and tidal forces dunnae apply. Naw, the way A see it a creepypasta was up on the bank, a bottom dweller ’t ate what was left of him, come up for a shite.”

“Creepypasta!” Rab shouted, to surprise. “Out your arse, that’s where you flap it, and up the nearest too. CSI: Wee Schemie Cunt! Encyclopaedo Brown!”

The brawl upset the shelf and in turn the trove. Callum caught long, and in a whited fury, the skull cherished close, he said, “Fuck off, you—all you schemie cunts.”

Boarding the elevator Rab tongued a raw lip. As he nursed at his spite and blood plans took shape. The car found his floor. He was smiling in a tinge when the doors made way again. Had Junkie Stewart not boarded the drop would have been straight.

“Hey big man, big man. Had a bit of barney, aye? Spare us a fiver?”

Rab knew where he could fetch a head. His would be better. His, it would have a jaw, with teeth and a bite to spare.


The brother was Team, a year out from his majority and low of rank. But Brace was in on things, if not so taut at mouth as being in should demand. Three hits of swally and he had been at arias in the maw’s kitchen with two Team prospects. They had told him to bite it off, gone loud for fear of their lives, as though powers heard through wall, floor, and tower block alike. Rab had grown crack at his ninjitsu, listening in from the other room. Soon after, an angry head had poked in to check. Earbuds were up, earbuds playing fools, and from behind a comic book Rab threw on a metronomic bob.

“Gie”—and snatch—to an open view of Brace off for the bog, Immortal Hulk in hand.

So he had the vicinity. This was not a dump. The remains were meant to be found— staged, as the shows said. The brother had been amazed that no one had yet caught scent. Skies had been blue, taps aff and aff again. Rab went armed: colours and a chef’s knife. Surely a muggy week or two was enough to reduce a cunt to bone, but there would be gristle. Domestic cutlery was no less outlaw than a chib, and less sly. Whence the scarf. It could have been anything wrapped up—a flute, a carrot—rooting for the F.C.

The trespass sign by the gap bore the Team tag: ShYT3. Second-string villainy, as Rab saw it, to leave a boast on the fence for the law. Through chainlink and rank shrub he went, shady trash underfoot, into a vault of leaves. Another rankness in mind he began to scent the air. Sight of the bothy, a green tarp on a frame of skids, brought a thrill. A hum rose, flies in the many hundred, and he breached the smell at last, like passing through a blister skin. Just beyond the vegetation lay the channel, the south side walking path. West enders would be out for a jog, and chipper junkies on chipper junkie rounds. Somehow they were unaware of the fumes. Maybe they had lost the nose. The whole bottom of that watercourse was bones, Maryhill and Possil knew, bones in a stack with mud and rubbish, but the flow kept it clean, slow yet steady, in time got out to sea. Wading into the smell—a thickening air—Rab was weighing up the swim. He came to a stop, took two back, thought it through. “Need us a skull.”

A makeshift home will paint a picture of an occupant—rough sleeper, anorak, flasks of Eldorado voided and shed. But no, this cunt had been to a tailor. Not that the cut was so bespoke now. A bloat pulled buttons tight as laces. Rats had worried at his hands, rats or creepypastas, for these had been the only naked meat, now an unfleshed pair of rakes. They lay crossed on a double breast, herringbone tweed, the body in a topcoat. No summerweight getup, no less so for the gunny sack atop the head. It had been cinched up tight—tighter even than the rayon windsor knot.

A muggy week does not reduce a cunt to bone, Rab saw. “Fuck.” Off came the scarf from the knife, to block up mouth and nose. For a better angle he pulled the tarp and let a skid fall out. In he leaned, looked away once the edge was placed, and began a dainty fiddle. The wet whisper was no less regrettable than the reek. Flies crept about his neck and sipped upon his blinking eyes.

Five minutes made for a nick and a sore wrist. Put a back into it, he told himself. On his knees, he bore down, both hands on the stroke. No looking off now, not even as the jostle gave up tenants—both sleeves, both trouser legs. Jumping back Rab gave a shriek. He had a look about to make sure none had heard the girl. Like shadows—gone with a rustle. He looked to his hands. Juices—nasty, like those that had run out from the shell of a pet turtle dead of thirst. He was an older boy now and knew how to commit.

Back to work. A cervical joint gave way easier than he might have thought, not in so many words. Perhaps the neck had been broken in the grip. The wetness was trying, so he doffed the scarf to give himself a wipe. It had not done much in blocking a stink, or so he thought until the nose was left undefended. Flies went spelunking in each nostril. The things he did for honour. Face pinching shut, he tidied up his hands, and the swaddling went on clean side out. He pulled, and a last connection gave way, to a reel of string. Worm, he thought at first as it sagged to dirt. But then he saw that it was spinal tissue. “Turtle!” he said on the revolt, more or less. A shrug and tuck of chin got the retch off.

One more pass, two more deepening heaves, these dry. Done! Neat to the crook of an arm, like a rugger ball up from the scrum. Folded plies kept off the soak. Rab looked down at what would be left. Per local rite he offered up a prayer. “Poor bastard.” One less grass, but in a state of decay all are innocent.

Pure rancid, though. Breath held, looking to his feet, he ran. He would see the deed forever, smell it, a codger in a pub of tomorrow ruing wisdom at a hologram of ale. But first he saw the lawman rear up, a yellow-vested polis of the goddam here and now.

Polis, Rab; Rab, polis. Just beyond, and radiant with open sun, was the gap in the fence. Panic—but no less plainly Rab saw the mind at work. Only a scold being formulated—polis wit, God help us—with no glance to the parcel. This was not a ghoul but a truant, to the officer’s mind, a mere naughty wean.

So Rab said, “There.”

The fright was honest, no less so than the nod back to sin. Sold. The stare broke, the polis looking past. Rab was glad to see range in those eyes: suspicion, focus, puzzlement, focus, surprise, career ambition.

“Stay there,” the polis said. Again ninjitsu came to play. Not a twig underfoot played the clype. You’ll never make DCI, Deppity Hamish, Rab thought between sun and pavement, at a dead run. Next up: find ye an anthill.


Four hours’ search down the Kelvin walk, all to see the light: the city parks were home to no such thing. Rab could visualise a hill, aye, a handsome cone littered with a scrap of ladybirds, but this must have been on the shows. Urban ants were a different sort: crack-dwellers, sugar bowl rapists. No death-mounds, no marches skeletonising a jungle road. Glasgow ants were plain shite. But worms could do the polish.

Off the walk he dug, the mill in sight from the fallen tree if he peeked up. Passersby only saw a wee man playing foxhole. Furrow made, he saw that he should take off the wraps. A head made bare would surrender more quickly. The step was clear—he had done the worse—but reluctance grew. Coming up on eight p.m., two hours to nightfall, and he was full of the smell upon him. Off came the scarf, never to be worn again save by weather. Once he laid bare the strangle cord, tight yet on gray meat, he thought back. The maw would miss the knife, as he did now; the cops at the scene, perhaps not.

Live and learn. Rab pulled in opposite directions at the top of the gunny cloth, to a rip. He caught a flash of face before the waft shut his eyes for him. “Fuckin ammonia?” he said in a choke. Biology was foul indeed. Someday we’d turn ours in for robots. No more deil realm of piss and stink. Eyes off, nose out, he picked up the bottom of the sack. A hard shake would lay it in the dirt. Not seeing the who of it, the former human being, was politeness, he told himself. But as the head slipped out it pulled against the throttle, not loose at all, and Rab felt the weight dangle. He shook and shook but let go. The tease flipped it face up. His palms were on the backfill when he glanced to what was shown. And another hour crept by in cold thought.


His face was a tattle on entry to the homestead. Brace was at the table with a vape pen, hash oil from the scent, slouched in two. Before him was a residue of Bucky in a snifter. Where he had found the snifter is lost to history, but he had poured to the rim.

“Whit’s ra mettur wi ye?”

“A—”

“Get tae fuck!”

Rab did. He felt haunted to the rearmost teeth. But there were other ghosts making home, he saw. Brace’s eyes were cannabinol pink, or he had wept up a lather, or both.

Faces were much on Rab’s mind. To the bath, for soap and lathers of his own, a scrub from quiff to queef. Afterward, on a frown, he shot Glade straight onto his hands. No trace could be left, not on the surface. The smell would have to wear off from deeper.

The afterimage, that would not. Puffed out, a gray slough, but features known to any. The bastard had disappeared back in wintertime. He had been enough of a figure to cut another by his absence. No grass, this—never. In that sunset hour Rab had been forced to play boy detective. Encyclopaedo Brown, the sequel. Poetic justice. What a cunt.

This was not sanitation, but politics. Surely nothing for Shawpark Young Team, least of all for numpty Brace. Even a nine-year-old schemie cunt could see that. As rinks of diarrhoea went, this was a colder one to skate. Not least for the state of the body after six months’ absence. Rancid, but not rancid enough. The gospel of the shows taught Rab the full. To thwart work in the lab, forensic timetables, they had put him in a freezer. Once the stars were right came the thaw. The ShYT3 tag nearby, Brace playing town crier—Rab saw it all. False flag—setup—a deliberate leak. Brace was a patsy, here confirmed by anguish, Bucky, vape. Rab was about to lose the brother.

“And gain a skull!”

The clothes were fire bound, save the tee. His Suspiria shirt was not going back to Gitche Manitou. He’d just have to drop some Woolite on that cunt. He was under the sink for a shopping bag when he heard Brace sob loud and clear.

“Ooh Netty, Netty. Ooh Netty.”

Netty Maclinnick—a jilt. The slag had shown some taste. A sigh, enthroned on the bog lid to ride it out. Rab would pay in lumps if Brace saw him see. Not soon enough, the maw got home from her shift, and Brace was shooed off to the sofa bed.


Grief was in no short supply, but a day of school was the grief he knew best. Off he went at eight a.m., the psychic smell of curdled victim unrelenting. He pouted through maths, looking forward to the exam that would rid him of the farce once and forever. Until then he would have to slum it in genpop. Callum was in the class, and even in the fug and drudgery Rab could not help but notice his rival looked plenty glum.

“It’s gone,” Callum said at lunch. “Tommothy Beltran’s skull. Alas, A knew him well.” Rab made a face. “Ma parents, they found him, and they would nae hear reason. When A told how A got it, where A got it, ma maw even called the polis.”

“No!”

“Aye!” Callum laid boustrophedons in neeps and tatties with a spork. Rab had no thought on his own tray and had skipped even the dry morning toast. “It’s no a grass when it’s your maw. The filth came in and grilled me for hours. They wanted to take me in like a proper villain, but da, he drew the line. They were snappin like mongrels in the living room. There were threats of calls—social workers, Legal Aid, prosecutor, queen’s counsel, Uncle Jay. What a shite show.”

‘They could take the skull without a warrant?”

“Aye—a bastard in a hazmat suit—no just gloves but a suit, head to foot, like some kind of moonbase cunt. He dropped it in an evidence bag, didnae he, Fuck Rogers.”

‘Even though you found it fair and square?”

“Even though A found it fair and square. They waved blacklights in ma room. A’m too young to skeet, the twats. They were there for hours. Impressing upon me how A should nae ‘tamper with evidence.’” His index fingers curled marks onto polis words.

“Did they aye.”

“That ‘interfering with human remains’ is a ‘matter for the courts.’”

“Huh.”

“That ‘hiding material evidence’ made me ‘accessory to the crime.’”

“Hm.”

“In this case a ‘likely homicide.’ Then they left off and went … but ma da, no he.”

‘Aw that’s rough, pal. A’m so sorry.” Inwardly: A’ll rush the schedule.

Recent loss, a sweet spot—sweeter than the thrill of competition. How Callum would boil. And Davy, the sucker-punch bampot, he might as well prepare himself for seppuku.


Overnight had made no dent, not a single worm a-nibble. Now that he had a better grasp on decomp Rab had not foreseen miracles. And he had come better prepared for a transfer: the maw’s dishwashing gloves; rubbish bags, a whole roll; and Brace’s never-once-used football tote. It had been a gift from the maw’s barnacle, a top chap who had hoped to temper the young through sport. Of course he might as well have brought tea to a troop of morlocks in an irradiated sewer complex but the thought had been nice. No scrape at the dirt—Rab was glad for any mask. The truffle quintuple-bagged, he went his merry way. He had also brought a jar of Tiger Balm, pinched from the Extra, to rub camphor at his nose. The shows again, peace be upon them.

There would be no stink at all, but it was best to avoid a busy route. Setting out for the block, the path near the aqueduct in mind, he saw a polis off the walk with a dog on lead—a Belgian Malinois sniffing through the underbrush.

Fifty feet off, yet it gave Rab a stern look. No need to run a fancy—polis dogs took squat time, same as any—until he saw the same again, yellow movements on the far bank. Each nearest dog turned his way, even from across the glassy slide of water. There would be more sniffing out ahead, were the fear correct—the whole Stasi kennel.

Rab doubled back toward the Extra. No more K-9s, but he saw the same picque amongst civilian dogs out for walkies. Black lab, Staffy, cockapoo, puggle, Pom—each gone grass on him. The last, come closest, drew the lead tight enough to hang wash, and it began to yap. “Jockie!” the human anchor said. “Jockie, you’ll stretch your wee neck! Sorry, son, A don’t know what’s got into him. Are you carrying a ham toastie by chance?”

More came out about ham and Pomeranian. Rab heard none of it. He ran the tenements above the Kelvin, imagining the j’accuse from any pet at a window. His nonhuman pals could scent it, but not Rab. Nor even the curse of the canal from the prior day, and that had been from within. Fright was a good reset.

Mention of a toastie even got him in a mind to eat. He had not in more than a day. To the Greggs, then. These sausage rolls will give me the quick energy A need to fetch us home, Rab thought, demolishing the pack on site. He was at a table for two, the football tote snug at his feet, and he went back up for caramel shortbread.


To task. Brace was not at home, and the maw would not be for hours yet. Into a stock pot with the trophy, features down, and water. Rab had seen a stew in his time. Given long enough a simmer would denude the skull and improve the smell along the way.

It did not. Rancid was rancid cooked or raw, he found. All windows open was no help. He thought to add dishwashing liquid, the very essence of cleanliness, and the slurry foamed over. Once that was tended to—heat low, pot sides wiped up and blotted—a residue began to burn. The atmosphere grew hazy as well as foul. Grim, but necessary: Rab bound a hoodie to his face, sleeves back. He added potpourri to the boil—mother’s stash atop the bog—marking whether it made the difference, no, and then, in turn, a cup of salt, no, a liter of bleach, worse, a half of milk, no better, glass cleaner from the unscrewed spray top, fuckin awful, and honey at a drizzle. He was about to reach for straight lye when beefs came in from the windows, neighbours above and below.

“What is that stink?”

“Paulie Boy! Is that bathtub meth again?”

“Who’s frying tripe?”

“Fuck aff!”

Rab’s eyes had gone a fierce red, bloodshot to the stems, and he coughed on every take of air. The windows would stay wide. But neither did he need a city council visit. Best to douse. He turned off the burner and threw a saucepan full of tap water. Steam clouds roiled up, and he waved both hands to thin the air.

“Fuck!”

This was from inside the flat. Here was Brace, uncharacteristically sober, which is to say only mostly drunk or high. Rab did not recognize the brother’s face straight off, for it did not wear its usual malevolence, only a shock.

“Whit ra fuck ur you at in here?” The diction was as usual, but not the tone. Brace had no go for a go in him. A kitchen chair received his blubbery drop.

“Science fair,” Rab said, wincing for the cuff.

None came. Neither did the stare relent. “A’ve been railroaded,” Brace said at last.

“Huh?”

“Set up, ye fuckin muppet. A’d be in jail noo if ra haunds an heid wur still oan.”

“Haunds and heid oan whit?” Rab said, through the glare of seeing all at once.

“Ra haunds went tae ra rats, ma pals telt me, fingerprints wi them, but ra rest, ra whole fuckin heid an dental records, naebidy knows who—”

Here Rab found he had a tell.

Brace saw. He followed the glance to the pot. The suspicion deepened. “Rab?”

“Brace?”

Up at once, the chair upset, to fetch a pair of tongs. Rab could not move, not even as Brace sounded the broth, nor on the gasp of coming face to face.

A full half minute crept by. Brace broke the freeze, made the turn. And then he was on Rab quick as shot, with a hug and a grin and eyes full of tears.

“A’m proud ay ye, wee man. Ye’ll huv me greetin.”

Rab said nothing.

“But here noo,” Brace went on. “It’s only hauf ra joab.”

Rab said nothing.

“Teeth.”

Rab said nothing but saw the joke.

​“It’s awright,” Brace said. “Ye’ve been a gallus, done yer part. A’ll brek up ra jaw maself.” And soon nothing was left to be explained, except to the maw, once she came home to the newest stench, one of many made by two sons on their own.

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Poem — 11 November 2019

by Bart Lessard

Seams of ice atop the branch A snap of powder underfoot Through the door a fireside seat Window looking in Window looking out

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Poem — 5 November 2019

by Bart Lessard

william carlos williams did his best work with a s t e t h o s c o p E

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