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PART OF THE Scots, Whay-hay! ISSUE

‘Ahm gonnae tell you a story.’

BooksfromScotland are big fans of the up-and-coming Chris McQueer. His short story collections Hings and HWFG have given the Scottish literary scene a welcome injection of energy, imagination and gallus gallows humour. We’re delighted to share with you, from HWFG, ‘Hawns’. It’ll have you choking on your pint.

 

Extract taken from HWFG
By Chris McQueer
Published by 404 Ink

 

Hawns

‘Here, pal,’ the woman sitting herself in the corner of the pub shouts to you. ‘C’mere a minute.’

You give her a polite nod and a smile and look back down at your phone. You angle yourself away from her a wee bit. She looks…weird. Skinny, in a black and white stripey top. Lank, greasy hair. She’s middle-aged, maybe a wee bit older. A wee bit twitchy.

‘Can ye no hear me?’

You stare at your phone, hoping if you avoid eye contact she’ll get bored and just leave you alone.

The barman is away to change the barrel. For now, it’s just you and this weird old wifey.

‘Suit yerself. Fuckin ignoramus.’

You look over at her after a couple of minutes of silence. She has her hands under the table, resting on her thighs. She has a pint sitting in front of her. A pint that she’s leaning forward and drinking through a straw.

She catches you looking at her, and sups down her pint, keeping eye contact with you.

‘Goat yer attention noo, eh? C’mere,’ she nods at the empty seat directly in front of her.

You look around the pub. It’s still only you two.

What have you got to lose from going over to talk to this woman? Nothing, really. She’s probably harmless. If anything, you’ll get a good wee story out of it to tell your pals. Maybe you could tweet about it later on. That would get some good numbers.

You walk over to her table. You extend a hand for her to shake before you sit down but she doesn’t reciprocate.

‘Ahm gonnae tell you a story.’

This is going to be good, you think.

‘Couple ae years ago, there wis this team ae surgeons. Scottish they wur. They wurnae joost the best in Scotland; they wur the best in the world. Transplants wis their hing. They could dae anyhin. Livers, hearts, lungs, kidneys. Some say they wur gearin up tae dae full HEID transplant in the near future.

‘But see these surgeons? Ye know the phrase “work hard, play harder”? These cunts wur the very definition ae that. They worked as a team. Five ae thum. Three boays and two lassies. They’d take it in turns, helpin each other oot in the theatre.

“You hawd that an ah’ll get that bit”, “You grab that, ah’ll attach that then she cin sew it aw the gither”, that kind ae hing. They hud this… understandin wi each other. Like fitbaw players ah suppose, guys that have played the gither fur years an years, oan the pitch they know exactly where the other cunts will be withoot even lookin. They could dae anyhin these surgeons.’

You hear the sound of typing on a computer keyboard. The barman has appeared behind the bar once again. He has his laptop out.

‘Here, you listenin?’

You turn back round to face the woman. ‘Aye, sorry.’ She leans forward and takes another long drag from her pint and finishes it. She whistles at the barman the way a farmer would whistle at a sheepdog.

‘Aye, so. These surgeons. Best in the world at surgery. But they wur the best in the world at boozing, shaggin, sniffin gear an poppin pills anaw. They wur paid a fortune, as ye cin imagine, an fuck me, these basturts knew how tae spend it. They wurr oot awwww the time. Naebody at the hospital minded though. These surgeons could hawndle it nae bother at aw.’

The barman plonks another pint down in front of her. He takes the straw from the empty glass and slips into the new one.

‘There ye go, Tracy.’

The woman doesn’t acknowledge him and continues her story.

This team ae surgeons wis due tae perform this pioneering bit ae surgery; Scotland’s first ever double hawn transplant.’

You lean in closer. A double hand transplant? Surely not. You’ve heard about thumbs and fingers being reattached after grisly accidents but an entire hand? TWO entire hands? No chance.

‘A double hand transplant?’ you ask.

‘Aye,’ she says. Taking a sip from her fresh pint.

‘As in not re-attaching someone’s own hands after an accident or something. Attaching hands… from a donor?’

‘Aye that’s wit ah said.’

‘I didn’t know that was a thing.’

‘Aw aye. It’s a hing awrite. It’s kind ae common noo but these surgeons were gonnae be the first people in Scotland tae even attempt it. It wid be good practice, they said, fur when they eventually done the heid transplant. Anywey, the night afore they wur due tae dae the transplant, you know wit they done?’

You shake your head. You’re on the edge of your seat here.

‘They went oot oan the randan of course. That wis thurr tradition. The night afore a big operation they’d go oot fur a few drinks. Always joost a few though. Wis never a fully blown night oot, naw, that came efter the surgery. But that night? Well, it happened tae be thurr Christmas night oot. An they wurnae geein that up fur anyhin.’

You zone out for a minute, not listening to her now. It was her. You know it. She knows that you know it. She was who these surgeons were operating on. It was her who got the double hand transplant and the surgeons fucked it up. She doesn’t want you to see them. That’s why she wouldn’t shake your hand. That’s why her hands haven’t moved from under the table. That’s why she’s drinking her pint through a fucking straw.

‘You listenin ae me?’ she snaps. She’s caught your eyes drifting downwards, trying your best to see her hands through the wooden table.

‘Aye, sorry,’ you say.

She looks you up and down. She looks disgusted but carries on undeterred.

‘The night afore the operation, the surgeons went wild. They were gettin massive bonuses fur this. Line efter line they hoovered up. Lines ae God knows wit. Knockin back the dearest champagne the bar hud. They wur fucked. The operation didnae kick aff until 12pm the next day so it wis awrite, they thought.

‘Wit they didnae realise though wis that they wurnae even gettin hame efter that night. They wid huv tae go straight tae the hospital. Straight intae theatre, cause these greedy basturts joost didnae know when ae say “enough’s enough.”.’

You can tell from her voice she’s getting upset here. Understandably, you think. With a roll of her shoulder, she uses her top to wipe away a tear that’s creeping down towards her cheekbone.

‘So what happened?’ you ask. You know this is clearly a difficult story for her to tell but you need to find out more. She composes herself and carries on.

‘That night, the surgeons left the bar they wur in an then went tae a hoose party in Shawlands. Mair booze, mair drugs. Next hing they knew, it wis nine in the mornin. Wan ae thum realised the time an phoned a taxi. Bundled her pals intae it and told the driver tae take thum ae the hospital. They stoapped at a cafe,’ she laughs. ‘Coffee. As if that wid sober thum up.’

She sucks greedily at her pint. You turn your head to look at the door as she nods towards it. Two burly guys walk in, nod at the woman, and sit at the bar, motioning the barman over to them and engaging in hushed conversation. One of them has a grossly bent-out-of-shape nose.

‘When it wis time fur the operation, they wur still paralytic. Fawwin aboot the place. That poor wummin they operated oan,’ the woman looks down at her hands. ‘She hud nae idea. Put tae sleep afore she could even see the basturts that wurr aboot tae ruin her life.’

‘Was it you?’ You can’t help yourself. The woman looks up at you with a furrowed brow. The men at the bar stop talking.

Then the woman laughs.

‘The wummin that they operated oan wisnae me,’ she leans over the table and makes intense eye contact with you. So intense that it takes a few seconds for you to realise she’s stroking your clasped hands with her fingers.

You pull away in shock and stare at her hands. They slip back under out of sight before you can get a good look at them.

But they look normal, you think. Totally fine.

‘It wis me who done the operation.’ She stares down into her lap. ‘We made a cunt ae it.’ Another tear falls down her face. ‘A right cunt ae it. The operation should’ve took us upwards ae 11 hours. We rattled through it in less than four. Still hawf cut. Still oot wur faces.’ She shakes her head. ‘Still cannae believe we thought we could get away wi that.’

‘What did you do wrong? What happened?’ you ask. You hear one of the men at the bar suck in air through his teeth. The woman takes a breath to compose herself before continuing.

‘We thought we’d huv a laugh,’ she sighs. Clearly still burdened with the guilt of what she did all those years ago.

‘We put the poor lassie’s hawns oan the wrang way.’

‘The wrong way? Like palms up or something?’

‘Mibbe that wid’ve been worse than wit we did. But wit we done wis still terrible. We stuck the right hawn oan her left airm and the left hawn oan her right airm.’

‘Jesus Christ. That… that’s terrible.’

‘Aw ah know that, pal. Ah know that fine well. But that wis only the start ae the bother.’

You feel yourself leaning in close again. That was only the start? Turning up to work, steaming, and putting someone’s hands on the wrong way? How much worse can it get?

‘See, if it wis yer normal, run ae the mill sepsis victim who’d loast her hawns an then hud new wans transplanted oan the wrang way by a team ae highly trained but also highly drunk surgeons, ye could joost gie them a few quid tae no go ae the papers, a grovelling apology and get them fixed, right?’

You can’t believe that doctors could be so callous. You shrug your shoulders. ‘I mean, aye, I suppose.’

‘Well this wisnae yer average sepsis victim. This wummin wis the burd ae this hardman gangster fae Govan. None ae yer small time Paul Ferris type stuff. This cunt wis international. Fucking Pablo Escobar wi a Rangers season ticket.’

The door to the pub opens again. It’s a man and a woman this time. A well turned-out couple. They sit at the bar, a few seats away from the two burly men.

‘He wis stawnin there as soon as we wheeled oot his burd. Aw excited tae see her new hawns. He wanted tae stick an engagement ring oan her fur a wee surprise when she woke up. He sees us aw laughin an jokin, huvin a cerry oan, howlin at oor handiwork. He comes flying err as soon as he sees her. He takes wan look at her hawns an clocks straight away that suhin’s the matter. Clear as day, thurr oan the wrang way.’

‘What did he do?’

‘He went apeshit. Started shoutin aboot how he’d huv the best lawyers in the world sortin this oot. Threatenin tae kill us. Callin us every name under the sun. He grabbed wan ae mah colleagues and battered him til he wis black an blue. Took four ae us AND a couple ae nurses tae get him aff.’

‘He calmed doon eventually. Told us we hud tae fix the mess we’d made there an then.’

‘Did you?’

‘We said we couldnae. It wid take months tae find another suitable donor. They hawns we’d used awready wid be nae good. They widnae be able tae last through another operation, they’d be in tatters. But this cunt wisnae takin naw fur answer.

He told us tae get her ready tae go back in an he’d be back wi a new set ae hawns.’

Under your breath you say, ‘Jesus Christ.’

‘Ah know, pal. That wis oor reaction anaw. That made us sober up awrite. We kept the wummin under anaesthetic fur a few mair oors until we could figure oot a plan, hopin we could huv it aw sorted afore the guy turned back up again.

‘Then he comes stridin intae the operatin theatre, blood oan the collar ae his shirt, cerryin this big ice boax an dumps it mah feet. Ye know wit wis in the boax, eh?’

You nod solemnly.

‘The chances ae this guy findin a suitable donor in only a couple ae oors, never mind removing thurr hawns in a way that wid make them viable fur transplant wis probably a million tae wan.

‘We wurr like that, “It disnae work like that”, tryin ae plead wi the guy. Then he pulls oot a fuckin gun!’ She laughs at this. ‘Ah hud never seen a gun in real life afore, don’t hink any ae us hud. The sight ae that wis enough tae make us comply. So we did it. Another hawn transplant.’

‘Fucking hell,’ you say. You turn round to the bar to look at the other patrons. They’re all looking at you.

‘That lassie died afore she came roon fae the anaesthetic. The guy wis distraught. He ran away, actually ran away, roarin an greetin. It wis a shame, it really wis.’

‘So then what happened?’

‘Nuhin. Fur a long long time. We covered up wit we done. Paid aff the cunts in the mortuary tae say the wummin died oan the operatin table. The shock ae it aw. Wan ae the boays broke her sternum wi a hammer so it looked as if we tried tae resuscitate her.’

Your feel your mouth hanging open.

‘The gangster guy never went tae the polis urr the papers urr anyhin. We thought we’d goat away wi it. A fuckin miracle.’

‘So did you get away with it?’ This is going to go fucking viral when you tweet about it later. Even if it is obviously a wind up.

‘We thought we did. Thought we’d goat aff scot-free fur wan ae the biggest atrocities in medicine ever. Until a couple ae year ago that is. Guess wit happened?’

You shrug your shoulders again. ‘No idea,’ you smirk.

‘Gangster cunt turns up at the hospital wan night. The five ae us stawnin in the car park, huvin a laugh efter a hard day at work, an there he comes. Oot the darkness like fuckin Batman. We very near shat ourselves. Two seconds later a Transit van comes screechin intae the car park. The guy slides open the side door an tells us tae get in. We joost aw look at each other. Ah remember ah joost couldnae process wit wis happenin. Ah wis so sure we’d goat away it. Then he gets his gun oot again.

“In,” he says.’

You raise your eyebrows. Guns? Gangsters? Hand transplants?

This is wild.

‘We aw bundle in. Nae clue wit’s gonnae happen next. We wurr drivin aboot fur ages, eh?’ she shouts over your shoulder. You spin your head round and one of the men sitting at the bar is looking at you. ‘Aye, that’s right,’ he says. Now everybody at the bar is looking at you.

Panic stations now. This is weird. You turn back round.

‘He took us tae a pub, joost like this.’ The woman looks around the room. Then you hear the noise of keys jangling.

The barman locks the door.

‘He made mah colleagues dae this tae me at gunpoint in the cellar ae a fuckin pub.’ The woman lays her hands flat on the table. At the end of her left arm is a very clear right hand. At the end of her right arm is a very clear left hand. Her thumbs point out the way. Her two pinkies meet in the middle.

You almost fall off your chair at the sight of this. Angry, pink scar tissue zig zags across her wrists.

‘Ah’ve been wantin tae get these fixed fur a while noo.’ She drums her fingers on the table. ‘Ah’ve goat the people that can dae it fur me.’ You hear the sound of wooden stools shuffling on the wooden floor. The three men and the woman who came in earlier come over to your table and loom over you.

‘Aw ah’ve been waitin fur is a donor.’

You can’t even say anything.

‘Ah’ll never furget your face, hen.’ She smiles at the other woman. ‘Greetin as ye put that anaesthetic mask oan me, tellin me it was aw gonnae be awrite. Retribution wis the word

he used. That’s the last word ah cin mind afore a went under. Well, the day ah get mah retribution.’

‘It won’t work,’ you say. ‘Surely? I mean how do you know I’m even a match?’

‘We work in a hospital, pal. Well, ah mean, ah don’t, no anymerr. Cannae dae much wi yer hawns oan the wrang wey cin ye?’ the woman laughs. ‘We’ve goat aw yer records. You’re a perfect match, pal.’

‘Please,’ you sob. ‘You can’t do this to me.’

The team of surgeons grab you.

 

HWFG by Chris McQueer is published by 404 Ink, priced £8.99

 

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