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The Paint Job
By J R B Kerr

It was on the way home that Andy told me about his mad idea for getting a few gambling tokens. The previous week he had been knocking on doors in the suburb of Alloway, just outside Ayr. This should have been a prime spot for selling windows but the people were old, conservative and set in their ways. I had often looked up the gravel driveways and imagined a world of pure Grey, of oatcakes and piped tobacco, golf clubs and matching knitwear, another life away from our swirling pit of degeneracy. Andy and his team of banditos had been unleashed in this staid and placid world with predictably no success, when a kindly, middle-aged woman came out from the safety of her kitchen after spotting the Home Improvement logo on the side of the van. She wanted to know if our company did any painting and decorating, clearly showing that she hadn’t quite grasped the nature of home improvement companies or for that matter the nature of its marketing departments.

“Here, D’you ever watch that Carol Smilie thing “ I asked, looking out at the manure smelling Fenwick moors as we drove along the A77 back towards Ayr. “It’s a program about decorating. Have you seen it?” Andy was concentrating on the road and only replied something unintelligible about women’s underwear and visible panty lines. I decided to leave it alone and we nervously rolled up to the house still dressed in our cheap suits, looking like a couple of part time loan sharks auditioning for a bad gangster movie. I was desperately trying to think of that awful TV makeover show to get an idea of what to say but my mind was a complete blank. The old dear introduced us to her friends who were all drinking tea in the back garden and told us that she wanted her living room painted and her kitchen door repainted as well. “This is our interior design expert madam,” Andy oozed, instantly turning on his evil charisma. I had no idea what the hell I was going to say? I hoped to God that she didn’t ask me any questions. The old dear just looked at me and smiled. I could see the group of women drinking tea in the garden. I knew that I would never get past them alive convinced that they would corner me and attack with biscuits and scones. Andy saved me from this carnage and ushered the woman into the kitchen to talk about the price.

“Right. Lets go!” he beamed and led me out passed the tea drinkers to the safety of the van. He said that we could do the job for a hundred and fifty quid, which I later found out from a real painter and decorator was about three times the going rate. We were saddled up and were now on our way to the DIY store to pick up materials for which the old dear had given us the cash in advance, surely a dead giveaway that we were a couple of cowboys. There’s something undeniably nauseating about the size of these place, acres of space split into zones. There are long lanes with great shelves either side, stacked 20 feet high and jam packed with nuts and bolts. There are gardens with trees and plants of every colour and description and even whole rooms neatly arranged like miniature houses turned inside out. Something happens to people wandering around these huge labyrinths, you notice a glazed empty look in their eyes, nobody speaks and all you can hear is muffled noise coming from overhead speakers. I looked around lost and grabbed the first apron I saw. I asked everything I could possibly think of to do with painting, but he was speaking a different language and I could only hear it in fragments “gloss… finishes…colours and quick drying emulsion”. He explained that we would need “brushes, poles, rollers, dust sheets, overalls, thinners, ladders” and all sorts of other things that I cannot remember. He leaned against a great rack stacked floor to ceiling with door handles, sucked in his teeth and said it would take around three hundred quid to get started. We sent him away with the thirty quid that the old dear had given us.

Back to the Old Dear’s and all I could think about was getting this thing done and going catching a race before the bookies closed. We dropped into Andy’s and got a couple of old tracksuits in place of overalls and changed in the back of the van.

She was on her own and getting ready to leave to pick up her husband when she pointed to the tubs of paint and asked what we had bought. Andy gestured to me. “I thought that the matt finish would bring out the features in the room”, I blurted out, franticly racking my brains trying to remember what the lanky chap at the store had said. She picked up one of the tubs and turning it round I could see the letters VINYL emblazoned on the front. “Yes, that’s right madam” emulating Andy’s tones as best I could. “It’s the new vinyl–matt finishes that everyone is using these days” and an awkward silence began as Andy pretended to look out of the window. The chime of a wall clock suddenly grabbed the old dear’s attention and she made her way out of the door with a cheery wave. She hadn’t even noticed my blunder at all and both of us finally let out our breath as we heard the sound of the kitchen door closing.

I took a look around the room. It was a pretty small affair, about ten feet square with an alcove that housed an unused coal fireplace. The sofa and chairs were worn and the carpet was a horrible pea green colour with a complicated pattern on it. The whole room looked faded, dusty and old with lots of yellowed ornaments, vases and old wooden clocks. There was a wooden model ship that had seen better days, fake walnut ashtray stand in the corner and a really hideous looking white rug that looked as if it had recently been removed from the back of a polar bear. Because we had no dustsheets we had to move all of the clutter out on to the lawn with the neighbouring curtains twitching at this weird display.

We worked quickly and at about quarter to four and we were nearly done, just had to move all the furniture back in and wait on the old dear and hubby to get our money and we were off to the bookies to catch the last race. We got the last of the stuff in, rolled the carpet back into place and Andy was arranging the furniture when I realized that speckles of white had appeared on the carpet all around.

The job was a complete disaster and most self-respecting and law abiding people would have apologized and offered some form of reparation, not us. Before they couple had time to look properly Andy asked for the money all but snatching it from the old dear’s purse. The cash was split in the van, but by the time we had got to the bookies shop we had missed the last race. Dejected and tired I used the toilet to get changed, cleaning most of the paint off. I was totally gutted and worse, when I got home I didn’t even have the money. Pausing, I rewound and replayed the preceding events in slo-mo and realized that I’d changed out of Andy’s tracksuit and forgot to take the money out of the pocket.

The Paint Job
By J R B Kerr