Authors: Kevin Brooks
t's hard to know where to start with this. I suppose I could tell you all about where I was born, what it was like when Mum was still around, what happened when I was a little kid, all that kind of stuff, but it's not really relevant. Or maybe it is. I don't know. Most of it I can't remember, anyway. It's all just bits and pieces of things, things that may or may not have happened â scraps of images, vague feelings, faded photographs of nameless people and forgotten places â that kind of thing.
Anyway, let's get the name out of the way first.
Martyn with a Y, Pig with an I and one G.
Yeah, I know. Don't worry about it. It doesn't bother me any more. I'm used to it. Mind you, there was a time when nothing else seemed to matter. My name made my life unbearable. Martyn Pig. Why? Why did I have to put up with it? The startled looks, the sneers and sniggers, the snorts, the never-ending pig jokes, day in, day out, over and over again. Why? Why me? Why couldn't I have a
name? Keith Watson, Darren Jones â something like that. Why was I lumbered with a name that turned heads, a name that got me noticed? A
And it wasn't just the name-calling I had to worry about, either, it was everything. Every time I had to tell someone my name I'd start to feel ill. Physically ill. Sweaty hands, the shakes, bellyache. I lived for years with the constant dread of having to announce myself.
âYes. Martyn with a Y, Pig with an I and one G.'
Unless you've got an odd name yourself you wouldn't know what it's like. You wouldn't understand. They say that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. Oh yeah? Well, whoever thought that one up was an idiot. An idiot with an ordinary name, probably. Words
. Porky, Piggy, Pigman, Oink, Bacon, Stinky, Snorter, Porker, Grunt ...
I blamed my dad. It was his name. I asked him once if he'd ever thought of changing it.
âChanging what?' he'd muttered, without looking up from his newspaper.
âOur name. Pig.'
He reached for his beer and said nothing.
âNothing. It doesn't matter.'
It took me a long time to realise that the best way to deal with name-calling is to simply ignore it. It's not easy, but I've found that if you let people do or think what they want and don't let your feelings get too mixed up in it, then after a while they usually get bored and leave you alone.
It worked for me, anyway. I still have to put up with curious looks whenever I give my name. New teachers, librarians, doctors, dentists, newsagents, they all do it: narrow their eyes, frown, look to one side â is he joking? And then the embarrassment when they realise I'm not. But I can cope with that. Like I said, I'm used to it. You can get used to just about anything given enough time.
At least I don't get called Porky any more. Well ... not very often.
This â what I'm going to tell you about â it all happened just over a year ago. It was the week before Christmas. Or Xmas, as Dad called it. Exmas. It was the week before Exmas. A Wednesday.
I was in the kitchen filling a plastic bin-liner with empty beer bottles and Dad was leaning in the doorway, smoking a cigarette, watching me through bloodshot eyes.
âDon't you go takin' 'em to the bottle bank,' he said.
âBloody emviroment this, emviroment that ... if anyone wants to use my empty bottles again they'll have to pay for 'em. I don't get 'em for nothing, you know.'
âWhy should I give 'em away? What's the emviroment ever done for me?'
âBloody bottle banks ...'
He paused to puff on his cigarette. I thought of telling him that there's no such thing as the
but I couldn't be bothered. I filled the bin-liner, tied it, and started on another. Dad was gazing at his reflection in the glass door, rubbing at the bags under his eyes. He could have been quite a handsome man if it wasn't for the drink. Handsome in a short, thuggish kind of way. Five foot seven, tough-guy mouth, squarish jaw, oily black hair. He could have looked like one of those bad guys in films â the ones the ladies can't help falling in love with, even though they know they're bad â but he didn't. He looked like what he was: a drunk. Fat little belly, florid skin, yellowed eyes, sagging cheeks and a big fat neck. Old and worn out at forty.
He leaned over the sink, coughed, spat, and flicked ash down the plughole. âThat bloody woman's coming Friday.'
âThat bloody woman' was my Aunty Jean. Dad's older sister. A terrible woman. Think of the worst person you know, then double it, and you'll be halfway to Aunty Jean. I can hardly bear to describe her, to tell you the truth. Furious is the first word that comes to mind. Mad, ugly and furious. An angular woman, cold and hard, with crispy blue hair and a face that makes you shudder. I don't know what colour her eyes are, but they look as if they never close. They have about as much warmth as two depthless pools. Her mouth is thin and pillar-box red, like something drawn by a disturbed child. And she walks faster than most people run. She moves like a huntress, quick and quiet, homing in on her prey. I used to have nightmares about her. I still do.
She always came over the week before Christmas. I don't know what for. All she ever did was sit around moaning about everything for about three hours. And when she wasn't moaning about everything she was swishing around the house running her fingers through the dust, checking in the cupboards, frowning at the state of the windows, tutting at everything.
, William, how can you
Everyone else called my dad Billy, but Aunty Jean always called him by his full name, pronouncing it with a
emphasis on the first syllable â
-yam â that made him flinch whenever she said it. He detested her. Hated her. He was scared stiff of the woman. What he'd do, he'd hide all his bottles before she came round. Up in the loft, mostly. It took him ages. Up and down the ladder, arms full of clinking bottles, his face getting redder and redder by the minute, muttering under his breath all the time, âBloody woman, bloody woman, bloody woman, bloody woman ...'
Normally he didn't care what anyone thought about his drinking, but with Aunty Jean it was different. You see, when Mum left us â this was years ago â Aunty Jean tried to get custody of me. She wanted me to live with her, not with Dad. God knows why, she never liked me. But then she liked Dad even less, blamed him for the divorce and everything, said that he'd driven Mum to the âbrink of despair' and that she wasn't going to âstand by and let him ruin an innocent young boy's life too'. Which was all a load of rubbish. She didn't give a hoot for my innocent life, she just wanted to kick Dad while he was down, kick him where it hurts, leave him with nothing. She despised him as much as he despised her. I don't know why. Some kind of brother/sister thing, I suppose. Anyway, her plan was to expose Dad as a drunkard. She reckoned the authorities would decide in her favour once they knew of Dad's wicked, drunken ways. They'd never allow me to live with a boozer. But she reckoned without Dad. His need for me was greater than hers. Without me, he was just a drunk. But with me, he was a drunk with responsibilities, a drunk with child benefit, a drunk with someone to clear up the sick.
After he was given notice that Aunty Jean had applied for custody he didn't so much as look at a bottle for two months or more. Not a drop. Not a sniff. It was remarkable. He shaved, washed, wore a suit, he even smiled now and then. I almost grew to like him. Aunty Jean's custody case was dead in the water. She didn't stand a chance. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Mr William Pig was the
The day I was officially assigned to Dad's loving care, he went out drinking and didn't come back for three days. When he did come back â unshaven, white-eyed, stinking â he slouched into the kitchen where I was making some tea, leaned down at me, grinning like a madman, and slurred right into my face: âRemember me?'
Then he stumbled over to the sink and threw up.
So that's why he hid the bottles. He didn't want to give Aunty Jean any excuse for re-opening the custody debate. It wasn't so much the thought of losing me that worried him, it was the thought of staying off the drink for another two months.
âBloody woman,' he muttered again as I started on the empty beer cans, stamping them down into flattened discs, filling up another bin-liner. âShe's coming at four,' he went on, âday after tomorrow, so make sure the place is cleaned up.'
âYeah,' I said, wiping stale beer from the palms of my hands and reaching for another black bag. Dad watched for a while longer, then turned and slouched off into the front room.
Christmas meant nothing to us. It was just a couple of weeks off school for me and a good excuse for Dad to drink, not that he ever needed one. There was no festive spirit, no goodwill to all men, no robins, no holly â just cold, rainy days with nothing much to do.
I spent most of that Wednesday afternoon in town. Dad had given me some money â four dirty fivers â and told me to âget some stuff in for Exmas: turkey, spuds, presents ... sprouts, stuff like that'. It was too early to get the food in, Christmas was still a week away, but I wasn't going to argue. If he wanted me to go shopping, I'd go shopping. It gave me something to do.