from How Late It Was, How Late

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Alright?

Just find this damn bloody button … The doors shut on him. They opened again. Fucking bastard, muttered the guy. The doors shut.

Sammy waited a wee minute then wandered. A door opened. He called: Hullo?

Yes? said a man with a polite voice.

I’m looking for Sightloss.

Is it both eyes?

Yeh.

It’s just along to the end of this corridor and turn to your left; ye cant miss it.

Great, ta … When he got there he found the door handle and went on in.

Sit there please.

Whereabouts?

I’m just about to show ye.

Sorry.

It sounded like a boy about 18 or 19. He took Sammy by the wrist then guided his hand onto the ledge of a soft chair and telt him to sit down. Sammy sat down and sank away back and feet came off the ground, he grabbed for the chair’s arms, dropped the stick and pushed himself forwards, connected his heels to the floor.

Ye got yer appointment card?

Sammy gave him it and hear him keying in on a computer.

So ye’re registering for Dysfunctional Benefit on account of Sightloss: and it’s both eyes?

Yeh.

The boy hit the computer keyboard and went on doing it after every question and answer. Is it congenital? he said.

Naw.

Was it a spontaneous occurrence or did ye get any advance warning? Naw.

Have ye got a history of eye-trouble?

Naw.

Ye’ve never had trouble with yer eyes?

Nope.

None whatsoever?

No that I can remember. Mind you, I was aye a wee bit skelly—I was never any good at darts—couldnay hit the board never mind a bed! But I mean I never needed glasses, and it didnay affect other things, playing football or whatever.

Aw so ye play a sport … football?

Well, I used to.

But no now?

Sammy smiled: Naw.

Did you stop because of yer Sightloss?

What? naw—I just stopped.

Who did ye play for last?

Who did ye play for last?

A couple of teams.

Who at the end?

Ye wouldnay know them it was a club in England.

An English team?

Aye.

What was their name.

Ye wouldnay know them. I think they’ve disbanded.

Ye’ve still got to tell us, unless if ye dont remember.

D’ye no remember?

It was in the Essex Provincial League.

Who?

Northfleet Amateurs.

How long were you with them?

Eh about eh four or five months.

How long ago was that?

Eh, ten years. Eleven in fact.

And did ye ever undergo a full medical with them?

Eh aye, suppose I did.

Were ye unemployed when ye were with them?

Were ye unemployed when ye were with them?

Sammy sniffed: On and off.

Were ye registering at the Job Centre?

On and off, yeh.

Were ye in receipt of any gratuities or benefits from the football club while ye were registering?

Nope.

None at all?

Naw it was strictly amateur.

And was it full-function employment ye registered for?

Yeh.

Ye’re a construction worker to trade?

Well no to trade, I’m a labourer—semi skilled.

When ye were in prison did ye register for general work?

Yeh.

Ye were never restricted to light duties caused through physical dysfunction or physical disability?

Naw.

Nor any medical incapacity?

Nope.

What was yer last job?

Community Work Provision.

And before that?

Oh christ now ye’re talking … Eh … it was down in London; 11 year ago.

And did ye leave because the job finished?

Well the job finished, I was laid off.

It was not because of physical dysfunctioning or physical disability?

Naw.

When did ye last claim sickness benefit?

No for ages.

When?

Oh christ it must have been eh 11 or 12 years ago.

And ye arent working at present?

Nope.

But ye are registered?

Yeh.

Full function?

Yeh well I mean aye but no now, I’ll be re-registered.

When do ye say ye lost yer sight?

Last week, Monday or Tuesday—Tuesday I think.

Are ye saying something caused the dysfunction. Or else did it just happen?

Well something must have caused it.

What do ye think?

Eh …

Will I put ‘don’t know’?

Eh, aye.

Ye were in police custody at the time?

That’s right.

And have ye seen a doctor yet?

Nope.

Has the dysfunction been diagnosed by any medical authority?

No yet.

Have ye raised a civil claim for compensation in respect of the dysfunction?

Naw.

Never at any time?

Never at any time?

Naw.

Now the boy battered away on the keyboard without talking; then eventually he said: Heh the Essex Provincial’s quite a good league int it? fair standard?

No bad. It was when I was there anyway, couple of ex-seniors and that. I didnay think ye would have heard of it.

Aye. Ye never play up here?

When I was boy.

Who for?

Och a couple of teams. Sammy sniffed D’ye play yerself like?

Yeh. The department’s got a side. But I play with another team as well.

Good.

The Churches League.

Aw christ aye, the auld Churches League! It used to be as hard as nails.

Still is!

Sammy chuckled.

Ye know ye’ve been in a game.

Ah well that’s the right way son. As long as ye enjoy it, know what I mean, as long as ye enjoy it. Christ I used to live for the game myself. If I had took my chances … The scouts were up and aw that. I blew it.

What happened?

I just blew it. I was silly. What about yerself?

Well I’ve had a couple of trials.

Have ye?

It’s no came to anything yet. There’s a Junior club after me the now but I think I’m gony hang on a couple of months.

Ah well good, aye, ye must be showing promise. Dont give up whatever ye do.

Aw naw, it’s cool, I’ll go to the end of the season.

Just make sure ye enjoy it, that’s the main thing. I miss playing the game myself.

There’s guys your age still playing.

Aw I know.

Just a pity about yer eyes.

Ach my own stupidity son a wee altercation with the sodjers; they gave me a doing. Sammy shrugged. One of these things; I was silly and so were they.

They gave ye a doing?

Aye.

And ye’re saying ye were silly?

The boy started hitting the keyboard again.

What’re ye writing that down? said Sammy.

Yeh.

Well I’d prefer ye no to.

I’ve got to but Mister Samuels.

How?

Cause it’s material.

We’re required to do it.

Sammy sniffed. Ye no got a delete button?

Yeh but no for this operation. If the custom doesnt want something in they’re supposed to not say it. Once it’s in it cannay come out. I dont have the authority; I’m just a Preliminary Officer. I’m no allowed to adjudicate on something where it’s material.

Ye didnay write down the football stuff.

Well that isnay material.

Now is there anything else ye want to say?

Eh?

Sammy scratched his chin; he found the stick and used it to get himself up off the chair. He heard the boy getting up and coming round towards him:

I’ll guide ye through to the IMO’s office, he said. Want to take my arm?

What?

He lifted Sammy’s hand and placed it on his wrist. Sammy was tense as fuck but managed to stop himself applying pressure. The boy’s wrist was thin; Sammy could have snapped it with one quick chop. Now the boy moved forwards and Sammy went with him. It felt weird. He hadnay walked like this with anybody afore. The funny thing was how he seemed in control of himself but at the same time he wasnay cause he was getting led, and yet it was his own hand that held the grip and no other way about. It took him a wee minute to remember he was angry. His stick knocked against the door. The boy opened it and guided him through it, and then to a chair. Just sit down here, he said, it’ll no be long.

Ye okay now?

Sammy had took away his hand; now he lowered himself onto the chair, preparing for the slope.

Ye okay now Mister Samuels?

Sammy sniffed. There was fuck all to say. He wasnay even angry any longer. It was just best the boy went away now, that he got to fuck out the road.

He laid the stick on the floor then sat back, folding his arms. He heard the boy leave.

It was his own fucking stupit fault anyway man know what I mean ye blab, ye just blab.

Hell with it. He could have done with a smoke mind you. Ye would think they would lay on a smokers’ room. Probably they had one for the staff. Ach well fuck it man ye do without, he started humming a song, then stopped. There was fuck all sounds, nothing, the last room had been quiet but here he couldnay hear a thing. Maybe there was naybody here, maybe he was alone. And there had to be stuff lying about. It was an office, know what I’m saying, there had to be. All kinds of bits and pieces. He felt for his stick then reached with it to check the space round where he was sitting: it knocked against things; furniture.

Stupit even thinking about it. Sure as fuck, as soon as he got up and started groping about the fucking door would bust open. With his luck man know what I’m talking about a fucking certainty. Best relaxing, just let it go. What would there by anyway! pencils and fucking pens or something.

Plus the video would be running fuck sake ye kidding.

Sammy yawned. Aw jees man he was tired; everything was an effort. He yawned again; the trouble was this chair, it was so fucking corny; it started off it wasnay but then ye got used to it; ye began by sitting up but gradually ye were just about flat out and lying cause of the slope. Ye felt like kicking off the shoes. Another yawn. Jesus christ. It was just so warm, it felt like they had the central heating turned up full blast.

He actually had good reason to be tired, so a couple of minutes’ shut-eye, a wee doze, it wouldnay go amiss. There was fuck all could happened to him; it’s no as if he was on the edge of a cliff and might roll ower, it was just an office, it was just people.

Which was the fucking problem so ye had to be alert, alert.

Alert as fuck man ye had to be. He sat up, sat forwards, his elbows on his thighs and he breathed out then in, and again, and again. Fresh fucking oxygen. Cause it was all just to make ye fall asleep. That was what it was about; it was a fucking move man the DSS, all so’s yer fucking brains stopped working, so ye couldnay think, in case ye were sorting out some sort of plan. So ye had to stay alert at all costs. All yer senses ye need them all; ready for anything man know what I’m saying. Sammy once read this book about bats; they have this incredible sense of hearing, it’s sonic or somefuckingthing like they’ve developed their own radar, compensating the blindness. Then too christ almighty that army programme he saw on the telly about this blind guy could stand on one side of a wall and know what was happening on the other, he could actually pick up what was going on in a different room, whereabouts people were standing and all that—like one of these cunts that can bend forks. Except that was amateur night at the Palladium compared to what this blind guy was doing, it was like he had developed some sort of different sense-organ all the gether. Right enough it was congenital. So it maybe wasnay possible for the likes of Sammy. Probably ye had to be a baby; that first few hours ye were led kicking and screaming yer way into the world. Cause all weans are blind at birth. Sammy could mind seeing wee Peter in the hospital cot and worrying if everything was gony work out okay cause ye wouldnay know till later on. Ye saw their eyes but how did ye know they were gony fucking work I mean ye see a shop full of shoes and nayn of them are fucking walking. These things, all these different things.

Are you Mister Samuels?

Yeh. Sammy jerked his head; he hadnay heard her approach.

Then could ye kindly step forward please.

She must have been close. A whiff of perfume or something, fresh soap maybe; this sensation of total and absolute fucking cleanliness man ye could imagine her, blouse parted at the neck, the top two buttons open, hints of sweet mystery, then the smart skirt and jacket, the jewellery, and then that what’s-the-word fucking eh—class or something who knows, style, he was up from the chair: follow that swish; every whim, baby, on ye go. Whereabouts? he said.

Ye’ll find a seat to your left, just in between the desks.

Sammy tapped the stick as he went. He bumped into something. More like a table than a desk, he worked his way roundabout it. Another table, or else a desk. The way his stick tapped ye couldnay tell. He stopped a wee minute.

Just forward now to your left, she said, between the desks.

Christ almighty how far to the left was she talking about? He poked the stick about till he found the space, and moved forwards, it was a tight squeeze and his left knee banged into something.

The chair’s in front of ye now, just sit down.

It was an ordinary chair thank fuck cause he forgot to check it out. He sat straight to give his spine a rest, kept his hand on the stick.

You’re asserting sightloss in both eyes eh Mister Samuels?

That’s right. Sammy turned his head; her voice seemed to be coming from somewhere along to the side.

What does it comprise?

Eh, just I cannay see. He tried to shift the chair but it was stuck to the floor.

What precisely d’ye mean, everything?

Yeh.

Ye cant see anything at all?

No. Sammy shifted again; her voice was definitely coming from somewhere else now and ye got the feeling she was moving about.

And ye say this happened without prior warning?

Yeh.

No signs of progressive deterioration?

Naw I mean it was just like I says to the boy there, I woke up and that was that.

There was a silence for a wee bit and now when she spoke her voice was coming from nearer the direction he was facing: And this was during the time ye were custody of the police?

That’s right.

You’re asserting ye were subject to a physical beating by members of the police department?

What?

What d’ye say?

They gave ye a doing?

They gave me a doing?

That’s what’s entered here.

Well I dont like the way it sounds.

I’m only reading out what ye told the Preliminary Officer; he entered the phrase in quotation marks to indicate these were yer own very words. Was he mistaken in this do you feel?

Look I cannay remember what I said exactly; as far as know I just telt him I lost my sight last Monday or Tuesday, I woke up and it was away.

Are ye denying these were the words used?

I dont know, I cannay remember: I didnay use physical beating but I know that.

Sammy gripped the stick.

She carried on talking: What’s entered here is the phrase ’they gave me a doing’, and it’s entered expressly as a quotation. But it’s a colloquialism and not everyone who deals with yer claim will understand what it means. I felt that was fair to use physical beating by way of an exposition but if you would prefer something else … is there anything else ye can think of?

It was a fight.

Pardon?

Look, what does it say?

They gave ye a doing.

Can I change it?

No, I’m sorry, but ye can add to it for purposes of clarification; if ye wish to clarify what you mean then ye can do.

Sammy rubbed at his chin, moving the flesh at the jawbone. He should have shaved, it was a mistake no to. He sniffed then said: They were using physical restraints.

She tapped this into the computer and spoke at the same time:

Yer own words always remain entered anyway Mister Samuels. Do ye wish to add anything further.

Naw just leave it.

Fine. Now there are two bands of dysfunction; those with a cause that is available to verification, and those that remain under the heading pseudo-spontaneous. The former band may entitle the customer to Dysfunctional Benefit but those in the latter may not. But both bands entitle the customer to a reassessment of his or her physical criteria in respect of full-function job registration, given the dysfunction is established.

He reached into his pocket for the tobacco, but stopped.

Now Mister Samuels I see ye are not seeking compensation.

That’s right.

Mmm.

When she spoke now she carried on tapping the keyboard: The fact that ye’re not seeking compensation in respect of alleged physical restraints may be registered by some as an inconsistency, I just wonder if ye’re aware of that.

Look I’m saying I go the dysfunction cause of the physical restraints, it wasnay spontaneous I mean I didnay just lose it cause of nothing, it was something, whatever it was I dont know but it was something. So I’ve got to register that. I mean that’s all I’m doing, registering it here like I’m supposed to; I’m no being cheeky, if I’m entitled to benefit then I’m entitled to benefit. If I’m no I’m no. Know what I mean, that’s all I’m saying.

Yes well the police department is empowered to restrain the customer Mister Samuels and certainly if the customer is then in receipt of a dysfunction, and this dysfunction is shown to be an effect of the restraints applied then the customer is entitled to submit an application to this department in respect of Dysfunctional Benefit and if it is approved then the benefit is awarded,

Aye well that’s all I’m saying miss it was restraints, they were doing restraints and I wound up blind I mean I agree with that. Sammy reached for his tobacco but stopped.

I would point out the inconsistency however Mister Samuels: on the one hand you say that is the case; on the other hand I can imagine some saying, well if it’s true why is he not taking any action?

Why is he not taking any action?

Aye but I am taking action, I’m coming here to get a benefit.

They would tend to assume that one who receives a physical dysfunction at the hands of another, on the balance of probability, would take action against this other for due recompence.

Sammy smiled and shook his head. Look miss what I’m saying is the polis didnay intend to make me lose my sight I mean if they went at me with a blade and then dug out my eyes then I’d be straight in for compensation, know what I mean, but they didnay, they gave me physical restraints, and I wound up with a dysfunction. If it was intentional, if they had done it intentional, well fair enough—compensation, I would be in for it immediately; no danger. Okay? I’m no being cheeky, I appreciate what ye’re telling me,

She went at it on the computer for a while.

I just want to leave it the way it is, muttered Sammy and he glanced at his wrist but had fuck all watch on and he couldnay have seen it even if he had. Fucking smoke man they dont even let ye have a fucking smoke.

Ye must understand also Mister Samuels that if as you suggest the alleged dysfunction is an effect of physical restraints and is established as such then the secondary factor arises in respect of those restraints, and this secondary factor may become primary, why were those restraints being exercised …

Ye want to know like?

Ye want to know about the restraints?

No I dont want to know Mister Samuels but ye must understand that it would tend to cast doubt on the question of causation; you could find yerself in the invidious situation where it is argued, on the balance of probability, that it was you yerself that caused the alleged dysfunction, that you were the primary cause.

Sammy knew that was coming. He fucking knew it. Obvious as fuck. He bit on the skin at the corner of his left thumb.

Would ye like to add something?

It was aye the same. He folded his arms.

Mister Samuels?

Aye?

Do ye have anything to add?

Sammy sat forwards on the chair and gripped his knees: I’m saying there was physical restraints, right? and the upshot was I went blind, I got sightloss: that’s what I’m saying.

What is there something wrong in that?

It’s not a question of wrongness we’re only filling out an application.

You’re saying I should go after compensation?

I beg yer pardon Mister Samuels I’m not saying anything of the sort.

Well what then? I mean the way you’re talking I’d be as well no even bothering. I mean basically that’s what ye’re saying, dont bother, that’s what ye’re telling christ almighty, I’m no eh I mean—come on; here I am I mean I’m blind, I know it wasnay the polis’s fault they’re only doing their bloody job, how did they know what would happened they didnay, they didnay know, I’m no blaming them, no that way, it wasnay bloody intentional I mean I admit that christ … Sammy shook his head, then he was aware of the keyboard. Are ye putting that down?

I beg yer pardon?

Christ almighty. Sorry … Look miss I didnay know ye were gony write all that down, I mean …

Is there something you’d like withdrawn? Are you asking that I withdraw something?

I dont even know what I said.

Well if ye wish to add something …

Sammy sniffed. He rubbed his eyes. They were itchy. He wasnay gony lose his temper. He shouldnay lose his temper anyway cause it was his own fault, as per fucking usual. If he was gony get angry then he should kick fuck out himself cause he was the fucking idiot, fucking him, naybody else. He reached into his pocket and brought out the tobacco. He turned the packet over, twiddled it between his fingers. He took a short breath, then a longer yin. It was a case of screwing the nut. It was his belly just, the ribcage. A case of relaxing, relaxing. Ye let it go, ye just let it go. He listened to the keyboard. It was fucking pointless. So ye leave it.

Sammy smiled, he shook his head.

Maybe I didnt love you

just as much as I should have

maybe I didnt see you

just as often as I could have

Fuck them. Fuck them. He sighed and leant back on the chair; he should have fucking went to sleep, he shouldnay have woke up either neither he should. Fuck them.

She was talking, fuck her. Fuck ye hen. Sammy lifted the stick then got himself on to his feet. Bla bla bla.

The Medical Benefits Office of the Police Department has its own procedures Mister Samuels.

Is that a fact?

Sammy stood for a moment then he said: Can I take a form away with me and fill it in myself?

Ye can yes; but ye do realise there is a stipulated period of time in claims like these: you assert the dysfunction took place on Tuesday last?

Tuesday aye.

Then ye’ve eight more days excluding Sundays. I must also advise ye that even should you fill in a new form the present one remains on file as part of the scheduled evidence.

Can ye no just scrub it.

No. I can however withdraw yer application.

Well ye might as well I mean I’m as well just bloody chucking it.

Eh?

Mister Samuels if ye feel that you have sightloss then it is in yer own interest to register it in respect of the physical criteria required for full-function job registration.

Aye.

What happens if you are sent on Community Work Provision under the current terms of contract? If ye cant see then ye’ll prove incapable of fulfilling these terms. I strongly advise ye to register just now.

Aye but …

It’s only a matter of registering the dysfunction, in your case sightloss; if it is established then the physical criteria in respect of job registration will alter accordingly.

I know what ye’re saying.

This means you become available for certain types of work and only those types of work. Some jobs demand the capacity of sightloss dysfunction; others dont.

Right.

So do ye consider this a thing ye might want to do?

Yeh.

The argument now becomes purely medical. Their authorities will request reports.

Fine.

You’ll still be asked to attend the PDMBO in person, I should advise ye of that, but it’s a formality in respect of the onset question. The Police department’s medical authorities must determine a date on which ye received yer dysfunction. Obviously if ye assert ye became in receipt of this while in custody of their own officers then they become obliged to seek a fuller clarification. It’s always a formality in claims of this nature.

Aye. Sammy sniffed. Ye see miss I’m no actually sure when I got the sightloss, it might have been earlier, it might have been last Saturday, in fact I think it was last Saturday.

I thought you said it was Tuesday?

Yeh but it might have been Saturday.

Are ye sure?

Well I’m no positive.

But it might have been?

The more I think about it, aye, cause that day’s went totally out of my memory I mean it’s a blank, so I think maybe that’ll be it, that’ll be how it happened.

And that was before ye got taken into police custody?

Aye, yeh.

And do ye have a certificate from an authorised medical practitioner? She was tapping into the computer while she spoke.

No yet, I’m making an appointment the morrow morning. I hope to see the doctor on Monday.

Well ye should provide the department with a copy of the medical report as soon as possible.

That’s what I was gony do.

Fine.

Sammy sniffed. So is that my claim for Dysfunctional Benefit scrubbed now?

Well I’m afraid not, it is withdrawn though.

How d’ye mean like it stays on the computer?

Yes, but it’s filed as a withdrawn claim.

See if I change my mind …

What about Mister Samuels?

Well I dont know yet, but if I do I mean if I do change my mind … What happens then?

That depends, on what ye were changing yer mind about. These situations are particular.

Right.

Do ye have anything in mind?

Naw no really.

Again I advise you on the stipulated periods Mister Samuels, if ye assert the dysfunction occurred on the Saturday rather than the Tuesday then yer application period is reduced to five days.

Right, thanks.

Could ye sign here please? She put a pen into his hand and guided it to what felt like a wee machine; she held his index finger to a spot inside it. Just here, she said.

The smell of her perfume. Sammy said: This could be anything I’m signing! And he smiled. I’m just kidding.

No ye’re quite right Mister Samuels, I should have mentioned, this is a statutory disclaimer to state that ye’ve come here and explained the situation to the best of yer ability in the full awareness that any knowingly false statements can result in the withdrawal of any or all allowances from any or all sections of this department of state; and that any action taken by this department of state will neither preclude nor negate a further action that may be contemplated by any other department of state.

Sammy signed; then there was a ripping noise and she put a piece of paper into his hand. Yer receipt, she said, it acknowledges yer claim for re-registration.

He put it in his pocket then got his stick. For some fucking reason he gave her a cheerio before leaving. When he reached the door he thought he heard her heels clipping away. Maybe going for her lunch. He could imagine her walking across the floor. Sammy knew this kind of woman. Totally beautiful in a weird way; didnay matter what like she was, her build, nothing. Dead sexual as well. Sometimes they wear these smart suits, their blouses are low-cut and they’re beautiful and ye’re at a total disadvantage; even her voice caws the feet from under ye. Ye meet them everywhere too in these official capacities, that’s the best of it—worst I should say. Who’s that woman actress with the husky voice? she gives ye a look and ye cannay come back from it; everywhere she goes she reduces men to silence. Sometimes they have her playing the main part in detective movies. Even without the gun but, a square go man, ye’d still be in trouble. Course sometimes it’s a different type of woman all the gether.

Okay; so that was him fuckt.

 

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