Checked out and trapped in a dead end job in a dead end town, Vinny lives for the weekend. Until one mindless act of kindness leads to the unlikeliest of business opportunities. Read an extract of Skintown
A river of Thousand Island dressing springs from my Hawaiian burger and plunges earthwards, a swollen pink torrent raging through the middle of my Stone Roses T-shirt. I care not. The seven pints that I have annihilated in order to develop the hunger in the first place are taking care of everything. Chippie Street has burst into song since closing time and I will gladly float along its tune embracing its charms if I can convince any of them to let me. Three hundred and fifty yards of baffled hormones glued together in an orgy of booze and bile and batter. Three chip shops and two Chinese takeaways standing shoulder to shoulder on one small street in one small town on one huge Saturday night.
The next hour will be crucial. This is a naughty boy's final crack at getting his fingers dirty among the neglected and rejected of the last chance saloon.
I don't even like Hawaiian burgers. Only in Ireland can you take a sub-standard beef patty, bung it in a soapy bun, top it off with a slice of tinned pineapple, smother the lot in diluted Marie Rose sauce and get away with calling it a fucking 'Hawaiian' burger. I panic when I get to the front of the queue. I'm in a tiny sweltering cell being crushed against the filthy Formica counter, choking on a thick cloud of steam and grease and vinegar. I can literally feel the starving drunken hordes breathing down the back of my neck so, as my imagination pulls me under and the hordes proceed to jump on my back and stamp on my testicles, I point to the first thing on the menu and accidentally order a sweet meaty tribute to an American-occupied Pacific island.
Post stodge my world is a lamp-lit frightening place eight months pregnant with possibility. There is a knack to making eye contact with the right person in a highly combustible environment. It is an art form. Catching the eye of the wrong girl will end in a showdown with a vodka-soaked chimp who will happily donate his last breath to kicking the education from your brains. It won't necessarily be her boyfriend. It could be some emotional retard who has pined for her for years from the other end of the school bus but has never had the balls to stand up and offer his seat. Now, tonight on this street, demented by alcohol and wild with unrequited lust, he will punch your features flat until she eventually tries to stop him and in doing so sees him for the very first time.
Rule number one is to stay on your feet, and rule number two is to use those feet to run for your fucking life
As I wipe the detritus of al-fresco dining on the arse of my jeans I hear it beginning in the distance. A cheer first, then a bottle breaks, and as a stray girl begins to howl I turn and sprint towards the rising sounds of battle. If it isn't old green eyes it'll be the great big lie. We're hard for religion in these parts, especially after midnight and with a bellyful of lager.
I force myself into the back row of the scrum and spot a figure on the ground through the massed ranks of denim legs. It's bad to go down this early. Rule number one is to stay on your feet, and rule number two is to use those feet to run for your fucking life. As I squabble for a ring-side seat I decipher that tonight's entertainment is a town-versus-country debate. Mark McGullion and the boys from Mount View housing estate have taken it upon themselves to defend the metropolis from this unprovoked agricultural invasion. I recognise from school some of the faces huddled around their fallen comrade. These lads have travelled thirty miles tonight from a village on the border called Belleek, and they are about to get a serious hiding for their troubles. It is inconvenient being different around here, and these boys are certainly inconvneient. Culchies, munchies, bog trotters. Call them what you will they are only country boys with country brogues. When we have gratefully legged it to Glasgow or Liverpool for college or unemployment we will all be inconvenient together. Micks, Paddies, porridge niggers. Irish boys with Irish accents from the far-western corner of our well-trotted little bog of a country.
The swarm of bodies grips me, I am carried forward and my feet momentarily leave the ground. Another surge, but backwards as the fray resumes and the townies push the country reinforcements aside and start kicking at the boy on the ground. Above him his friends fight separate desperate battles in an effort to protect him, but these side-shows are manoeuvred away from the main event and the boy lies fully exposed and alone. His terror shines wet and black, the fully dilated pupils having devoured all of the white from his eyes. He is taking a horrendous beating. McGullion, Rat Kelly and someone I don't know are literally booting his brains out. Six feet like a Lewis gun hammering constantly on his undefended head and shoulders. They stop kicking for a second and as one the crowd breathes in, but then the victors start taking turns to jump on his head and chest instead. Both feet high in the air, then the weight of a fully grown man landing on a ribcage and skull. I stare at my filthy suede desert boots and listen as a hammer slowly beats raw meat, the blows becoming less frequent but more precise. When I glance back at the boy his blood is pissing from his nose and mouth and his petrified eyes have taken on the resignation of a much older man. The crowd, erect and silent, do nothiing but watch and wait for a glimpse of something grey that they have only ever heard of. A girl behind me sobs then gags, and as I turn towards her she vomits at my feet. I want to hold her hair back from her face and tell her not to worry but behind me the dispassionate thud of the mallet reverberates up my spine and into the base of my skull until I can no longer stand it.
'Gully, stop it man. You're going to fucking kill him.'
The crowd parts and I step forward like a shit Moses.
'Leave it, lads. You've already won.'
Unaware of the thoughts as they are formed, I watch powerless as the words pass through my lips and spill onto the pavement with the blood and vomit and the chips.
'Come on, boys. The bastard's not worth it.'
They momentarily step off the trampoline and McGullion glares at me, his face a web of veins fighting each other for oxygen through his tight plastic yellow skin.
'But he's from Belleek!'
I am momentarily relieved for the minorities of Europe that McGullion wasn't alive in the forties.
'He wanted it and he fucking got it.'
A shout goes up behind me from the car park across the road.
'Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!'
The pack splits up and runs for the hills. The Royal Ulster Constabulary tend to drop their customary discrimination when wielding batons in the middle of a crowd. I am left alone eyeballing a psychopath who straddles the body of bloody beaten farmer's son. Nothing is said but his scowl tells me everythiing I need to know about my immediate future or lack thereof. I am a traitor who has let the town down. I am weak and artistic and I probably have a penchant for the cock. The air fills with affronted mechanical growls and as the paddy wagons descend I deliver my farewell.
'Forgive me, mein Führer.'
His face tightens and shrivels as rage sucks the air from his lungs.
'I don't speak Irish, you wanker.'
He turns and runs off towards Mount View, leaving me standing over a vegetable fighting for its life. Three armoured Lan d Rovers pull in at speed and I am suddenly faced with a peculiarly Northern Irish dilemma. If I run I am guilty and if I stay I am guilty and will take a government-sponsored kicking on the house.
I run like fuck.
More about the author
‘We’re in the back of a car belonging to the men our mothers told us to never get in the back of a car of. I close my eyes and wonder how many girls will come to my funeral.’
Vincent Patrick Duffy has already checked out. Trapped between Skintown’s narrow horizons, he chops ribs and chickens in a takeaway, dreaming of escape, joint after freshly rolled joint.
A mindless act of kindness leads to the unlikeliest of business opportunities. Where the government has failed, might the second summer of love and a little pill with a dove on it be the broom to sweep away the hatred and replace it with love, so much love?
Skintown is Vinny’s drink- and drug-fuelled odyssey through fighting, fishing, rioting, romance, reconciliation and acid house. Bristling with a restless energy and drunk on black humour, this superb debut is a wild ride.