Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sweet Charity

I check the sheet in my hand and stop in front of a scratched, dirty, white plastic door. This is my fourth time round the territory, only a handful of houses left where I haven't had an answer. There's a doorbell, but I rap on the fake leaded glass panel. Area like this, charvas with mortgages, there's more chance of Lord Lucan opening the door than of the doorbell working. More chance of watching Pollyanna blow the Pope than of them giving money to charity, no matter how good the cause. But hell, I only get paid if the fuckers sign up, so I plaster a smile on my face and think a happy thought.

The door opens and a tattooed, shaven-headed fuckwit peers out.

'Hiya, y'alright, mate? I'm Dan. I'm here because…'

He checks out my ID badge and clocks the laminated presenter with the charity's name on it. The door slams in my face and my happy thought is hanging by a fucking thread.

Charity. Who the hell gives a damn about charity?

I walk on down the street in a fine drizzle, the sort of rain you hardly notice until you're soaked to the skin. Getting soaked to the skin is a regular hazard in this job. Either that or you get baked alive. My body looks like a patchwork quilt, white with patches of red and tan, depending on how the sun has caught me on different days.

The houses are terraced, the doors opening straight onto the street, no long paths or driveways to walk up and I'm glad of that. My shoes are pinching. I need new shoes. Better shoes. Although if I could afford new and better shoes I wouldn't be doing this shitty job in the first place. I pop a couple of painkillers and march on. Last door somebody signs up, happy to make a monthly donation through the bank, and I get to write both my name and hers on a form. I tuck my copies of the paperwork in my folder and pass her ones over with a tired smile. Days like today won't ever make me rich. Days like today, I'm grateful if I break even.

Next day I'm somewhere different. The kind of neighbourhood where all the doorbells work and none of the streets have a door numbered '13'. Fuckers! The more money they have, the nastier they are and the less likely they are to part with it. Not only that, but I have to limp all the way up a damn path to get told to fuck off. Give me a council estate any day. Pick your way through the dog turds, fight through the tidal wave of grubby truanting kids and stinking three-legged mongrels, and you'll find some really good people. Warm-hearted and generous. Never steal off their neighbours. If only the fuckers had bank accounts, I'd be living like a prince.

I've been doing this job almost three weeks now. Last week, first day out on my own, I rang the bell on this big, heavy, wooden door. Heard it clanging all the way through the house, no way anyone home could have missed that racket. The houses had long driveways, double garages and big gardens. It was a good area, juicy as fuck. I was just walking away, figuring the occupants to be at work, when the door swung open. I turned back and once I got an eyeful of the blonde in the bikini, the smile I gave her was genuine.

'Hi, I'm Dan,' I said, jogging back to the open door. I was still light on my feet then, still able to move easily.

'Stacey. I was sunbathing in the back garden,' she told me. Looked at me from under her lashes, gave me the eye. Played with her hair and tugged at the bathing suit, gave me the signals. I was trying to act professional, trying to talk about old people and how they need our help if they're going to stay independent and live in their own homes and she was spilling out of her top, playing with her belly-button ring, giving me a glimpse of a cheeky tattoo. Looking at me looking at her and liking it, looking at the all-too-visible signs of how much I appreciated what I could see, asking me to please come in and would I mind putting some suntan lotion on the bits she can't reach for herself?

Christ, I couldn't help myself. She led me inside like a puppy on a leash and kept me there for the best part of an hour, picture of her in a long white dress and some young gun in a morning suit grinning down at us the whole time. I must have done okay, because when we were through she signed up for twenty pounds a month. My hands were shaking so much I could barely fill in the form. I could do with a woman like that every day.

We're doing a children's charity now. Presenter's got a picture on it of some kid with tears running down his face. Must have really made the little spud cry, I can see snot glistening in his nostrils. Snot. That's not going to make anyone reach for their bank card. Christ, why don't these people think things through? Fucking shitty job.

Seven hours of pounding pavements later and my feet feel like lumps of liver, my legs will hardly move anymore and my back aches like a bastard. Eight o'clock. I pop a couple more painkillers. Half an hour to go and I'm torn. It's been a shit day and I just want it to be over, but I need to make two more sales to make it all worthwhile.

I look at the windows of the houses, warm glow visible through the curtains drawn against the dank, dark night and I want to be inside, sitting on some fucker's couch signing up three brothers and their mother while their slutty little sister uses her eyeliner to write her phone number on the back of my hand. Half an hour of comfort, a payday worth having, and the promise of a bit of dirty, sticky fun

Images of Caz flit through my mind. We're kind of an item, on a strictly casual, no-ties basis. She's a pain in the arse, off her fucking head, but a good fuck. Mind you, so she should be, the practise she gets. Then I get that itch again and I make a mental note to go to the clinic. I'm sure Caz has given me a dose, fucking skanky bitch. Her knees have different postcodes, they're so far apart most of the time. She's fucked more men then Kate Moss, although in fairness, she doesn't insist they can all play the guitar.

I worry about some of the women who do this job, going alone into a house with some guy, could be anyone. A lot of them are students doing this as a summer job, nice kids, and they're putting themselves at risk. Some sleazy fuckers out there. Some of them have hit on me, men with soft voices, hairy arms and pressing needs. Christ, never mind the girls, there's been times I've been worried about being in houses with people; the mad ones, the ones with too much testosterone, too many voices in their heads offering them advice. Scary fuckers.

Next morning, I drag my sorry arse out of bed and limp downstairs. Christ! It's only Wednesday and I'm already on insoles and two pairs of socks. It doesn't seem to matter what I put on my feet, they ache constantly. I go to bed and they ache. I get up and they ache. I stand still and they ache. I walk around and they ache. Are you getting this? My fucking feet ache.

Early evening and I've been on this doorstep ten minutes already. Ten fucking minutes being witty, likeable, entertaining and positive, despite the pain in my feet and my back, pain that no amount of paracetamol can kill any more. Now that the form's out and the chips are down, the fucker tells me that he doesn't have a bank account. Stood there in his designer jeans and poncy loafers lying through his fucking teeth. This is just sport to him, like baiting Jehovah's Witnesses. But we're not like Jehovah's Witnesses. We're trying to pay the rent, put food on the table, buy some thicker socks and better insoles. He's laughing at me, pretending to be disappointed that after all the time I've spent with him, he can't sign up. I want to punch his whitened teeth down his tanned fucking throat, the time-wasting bastard, but I smile, shrug and make like it's no big deal. I don't make a single sale all day, don't earn a penny. Ten hours straight and it actually costs me money. Fuckers!

By the time I get back to the office, I can hardly walk. Inside my shoes, my feet feel wet. I sneak a quick look and see dark stains on my socks. Blood. Blood that's soaked through two pairs of socks. No wonder I can hardly fucking walk. I drop off my paperwork, make my excuses and cut loose. Normally I'd be there another hour finishing up and doing the shit we do, but not tonight.

Outside, I pull out my mobile and call a taxi. I can't afford it, but I can't take another step either. I collapse into the back seat when it pulls up and decide there and then that I'm taking tomorrow off. Immediately I feel better. When I get in, I'm going to pour myself a whisky and fill a bowl with warm water to soak my feet. I'll clean them up and put antiseptic cream and fresh plasters on them, then I'll have another whisky. I'll set the alarm for ten, ring in sick, then sleep until four or five. Then I'll get up, watch TV, get dressed and go out for dinner. I haven't eaten dinner since I started the job. And I'll decide if I'm just taking a day off or if I just quit that shitty job for good. I'm almost asleep when the cab pulls up outside my place. I drag myself awake, pay the driver and fall out into the night.

A guy materialises in front of me. Says my name. He doesn't look like he belongs in these parts, so I ask him who wants to know. He's vaguely familiar and I wonder if I owe him money. He replies with his fists. He's good, quick and hard as fucking nails. I try to defend myself, but I'm tired and outclassed. In no time, I'm on the ground curled into a ball while the fucker plays football with my kidneys. While he kicks the shit out of me, he tells me about his beautiful blonde bride and how she got this itch, and how she passed it on to him, and how she finally confessed that she'd been unable to fight off the guy from the charity. The way he tells it, I'm a fucking low life, a disease ridden skunk who raped his wife then forced her to sign a pledge form. That's about as far from the truth as it's possible to get, but there's no point telling him that. He must know what a sex-crazy slag she is, else he'd have gone to the police. Truth is, he can't know what happened for sure, but since he can't bear to beat up on her, he's tracked me down. Fucking forms.

I think about Caz and wonder which of them, Caz or the blonde, has actually given me the clap. Doesn't really matter. We all have it now anyway, along with this guy; the guy from the picture, the one wearing the morning suit. Finally he gets bored kicking me. Maybe his fucking feet ache. Anyway, he stops and I lie there mostly dead and unable to move. He stomps off over the road and fucks off in his car, but not before he works up a good one and hawks it at me, just so I can be sure what he thinks of me.

Much later I'm soaking in the bath, hot water making the abraded parts of me sting. I ache all over. I'll be black and blue from head to toe. Fucker!

Next day I don't even call in. I just don't go. I figure I won't go back. My phone is switched off so I can evade the texts and calls I'll undoubtedly be getting from the crew. I've stiffened up so bad from the job and the beating that I can hardly move. I know I should try at least to get to the clap clinic, but it feels like too much effort.

I stare unseeing at the TV, managing to ignore the prick getting excited about some old dear's collection of ugly ornaments that he plans to sell for gazillions at a car boot sale. I want to be left alone. I want Caz to come and cheer me up. I want to kick the shit out of the blonde's husband. I want to kick the shit out of the blonde. I want a proper job. I want to win the lottery. I want…

Someone raps on the door. Slowly, painfully, I ease myself out of the chair and limp down the hall. I open the door to the rear view of some young lad just on his way back down the path. He stops when he hears the door and swings round, jogs back, big grin on his face, clutching a presenter showing a kid's face running with tears, snot glistening in his nostrils. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

'Hi,' he says. 'I'm Philip. I'm just here because…'

I slam the door in his fucking face.

***

This story first appeared in Darkest Before the Dawn in 2009.

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