Uncle Bob’s Crocodile by Ian McHugh

Denny caught Uncle Bob as he was lurching away, bare-arse naked, from a horrified woman in a blue business suit to accost a kid in a university sweatshirt with his hands full of grocery bags.

“Have you got a ladder, mate?” Uncle Bob asked.

The kid stumbled over his own feet, dropping one of his bags as he tried to back up.

“Uncle Bob! Stop!” Denny said.

The old man stared at him in surprise. He raised his arms in befuddled surrender while Denny wrapped his jacket around Uncle Bob’s waist and tied the sleeves to hold it up.

“Bill?” Uncle Bob’s voice cracked.

“It’s Denny,” said Denny. “Your sister Marjorie’s grandson.”

“Marge?” Uncle Bob’s eyebrows wandered independently upward and then together. “Oh.” His brow cleared. “Dennis. Pauline’s little boy.”

Denny flashed a quick smile. “That’s right. Come on, I’ve got your spare key, let’s get you inside.” He took the old man’s elbow and began to guide him back across the road. Uncle Bob was shivering.

Luka was waiting for them on the footpath outside Bob’s apartment building. One corner of his top lip hitched up in amused distaste. “Looks like you need to deal with this, love,” he said, leaning forward to kiss Denny on the side of his mouth. “I’ll catch you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Denny. Shit, he thought, watching him go. Gary would have laughed. Gary would have been chasing the old man across the road with him and declaring it “great craic!”

“Cold prick,” said Uncle Bob, beside him. “Doesn’t he know I’ve got dementia and PTSD?”

Denny showed him an unhappy look. He had really thought he liked Luka. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, he does. Come on, let’s get you indoors.”

He herded Uncle Bob through the front doors of the apartment building.

“So, how did this happen, anyway?” he said, turning Bob toward the lift. He hit the button for “up.”

Uncle Bob looked shifty. “What?”

“This!” Denny waved a hand up and down to encompass the old man’s fragile, jacket-wrapped modesty. “You running around naked on the street asking people for a ladder, that’s what.”

Uncle Bob pouted. “The door locked behind me. I told you.”

“No, you didn’t. But why were you naked this time?”

“I think better in the raw,” said Bob.

“Right.” There was really no arguing with a statement like that. Denny reflected that he did often find the old man naked at home, particularly when he was in one of his decoding frenzies. It hadn’t occurred to him before that it was a conscious choice. “But why were you thinking outside?”

The lift arrived and he pushed Uncle Bob in.

“Wasn’t,” said Bob. His chin jutted obstinately. “I just popped out to use the power outlet in the hallway. I’d run out.”

“Of wall sockets?”

A nod.

“What’ve you been doing?”

The lift doors opened.

Uncle Bob showed him a sly grin. “I’ll show you.”

Denny followed him along the hallway. “Look, Bob, I enjoy perving at firemen as much as the next guy, but–”

“You should have asked for the ranga’s number, last time,” Bob interrupted. “He was ogling you as much as you were drooling over him.”

“He was not. Anyway, that’s not the point.” Denny stepped carefully over the extension cord that stretched tight from underneath Uncle Bob’s front door to the power point across the hall. “You can’t leave it like that. Someone’ll trip.”

“It’ll have to do for now,” said Bob, waiting by the door.

Denny reached past him to unlock it. “Why ‘have to’?”

Bob pushed inside and Denny followed.

“Oh, Bob.”

Uncle Bob’s living room was usually relatively orderly and ordinary except for the old man’s decoding wall, which was perennially plastered with sheets of blu-tacked photocopy paper, each sheet covered in lines of an elaborate, looping foreign alphabet that Bob referred to as “the secret language.” Denny thought it looked like a child had copied Arabic without ever understanding that the calligraphy made letters and words. Bob’s translations, scribbled underneath, made no more sense, providing instructions on things like how to grow stag heads in flowerpots and the circumstances under which rainbows could be tied in knots.

The latest batch of decoding sheets were still in place, but today the space was crisscrossed with power cords, multiple adaptors, and extension cables. What looked to be every electrical device in the apartment had been assembled on every available surface in a rough circle around the room. Denny stayed by the front door while Uncle Bob picked his way through the tangle.

Denny thought, Maybe I will ask for the redhead’s number this time. Gary would have laughed at this, too. Gary, Gary, Gary. And fuck. “Bob, what’s all this for?”

Uncle Bob pointed at the decoding wall. “I found the pages. We’re going to get Bill.” He grinned, fiercely. “I caught one of ’em, and now we can go.”

“Ah, right. Of course. ” Denny had learned from experience that it was easiest to just humour Bob until you worked out exactly what it was that he was up to.

He let his breath out in a huff. Maybe it was time for Uncle Bob to go into a home, the way Mum wanted.

Uncle Bob and his twin brother Bill had their birthday come up in the draft ballot in 1970 and got shipped off to Vietnam. Uncle Bob came home, Uncle Bill didn’t. Missing in action, presumed dead, was the official verdict. There was a photo on the sideboard, half hidden now by the clock radio from the bedroom, of the two of them just before they shipped off, identical in their army uniforms and tilted slouch hats. On the shelf above, a more recent photo showed Bob with all the family he had left: his sister Marjorie, Denny’s grandma; her daughter, Pauline; and Pauline’s two kids, Denny and his sister Cath. Denny was a triplet for the young men in the picture below, born two generations too late.

“Uncle Bob?”

“Mm?”

“Before we go rescue Uncle Bill–want to put some pants on?”

“Eh?” The old man peered down at himself in surprise. “Oh, right. Good lad.”

Denny looked around the living area as Uncle Bob scuttled away, tracing the spider web of cables.

“So how does all this work, anyway?” he asked. He reached up to touch a power board, dangling from a ceiling hook with six extension cords radiating from it in different directions. The board was warm, but not alarmingly so.

“Electromagnetic field,” said Bob, from the bedroom. “Boosts the domolanguoral resonance. It’s all up on the wall.”

Denny eyed the decoding wall. Yeah. “The what?”

“Domolanguoral.”

“Yes.”

“Resonance.”

“Right,” said Denny, wondering where he should start unplugging things.

His gaze fell on a large trunk with “Air Freight” and “This Way Up” stickers plastered across its sides. The dining table, usually located in the space now occupied by the trunk, was pushed up against a wall and hosted the microwave oven, blender, and an expensive, bladeless fan that Denny wasn’t altogether certain belonged to his uncle.

Uncle Bob scuttled back, a pair of too-large jeans bunched up around his ribs with a canvas belt. He stopped, staring at Denny as if startled to find him there.

“You should have stayed with Gary,” he said.

Denny grunted. The comment was uncomfortably close to his own thoughts. “Gary had to go back to Ireland,” he said. And I should have bloody gone with him. “What does ‘domilongal’ mean?”

“Domolanguoral. Homesick. It’s on the wall.”

Denny looked at him hard. “Bullshit.”

Uncle Bob shrugged, unruffled. “You should call him.”

“It’s too late for that, Bob.” It hurt to say. A lot. Denny stepped aside for Uncle Bob to go past and into the kitchen. “Who’s homesick?”

“I’ve been back to Nam,” Bob called back over his shoulder.

“Oh yeah? Since when?”

“Got back yesterday.”

Denny blinked. This was new. “Bob, I was here last weekend.”

“Don’t be a dickhead. You can get from Sydney to Saigon via Singapore in fourteen hours. I flew out on Tuesday.” Bob came back, carrying a large Styrofoam tray, stuck like a hedgehog with metal cutlery. Copper wire was threaded around the knives, forks and spoons. “I wasn’t there for a holiday, you know.”

Denny eyed the tray. “It’s Ho Chi Minh City, these days,” he said. “What’s that for?”

“Still Saigon to anyone who lives there,” said Uncle Bob, carrying the tray over to the bookshelf, where a couple of wires dangled from a cut-off power cord. “Can’t hook this one up until the last minute, or the Styrofoam melts.”

“What?” Denny grabbed for his arm. “Jesus, Bob, are those live wires?”

Uncle Bob fought him off and set about twisting the bare ends together with a pair of copper wires dangling over the edge of the tray. “Not until I turn the bloody power on,” he said, and added crossly, “I’m not a fucking idiot, you know.”

Denny subsided, watching the fucking idiot closely. “Yeah, well, don’t you be turning anything on until you’ve explained to me what it is you’re trying to do. I don’t want you burning down the bloody building.” His gaze fell on the trunk again. “What were you doing in Vietnam?”

“Well, if you’d bloody read it for yourself–right there on the wall–you’d know, wouldn’t you?” Uncle Bob followed his gaze. “Anyway, I told you. I caught one. It’s in the trunk.”

Denny looked from the trunk to Uncle Bob. “Caught one what?” he said. He had a very, very bad feeling, all of a sudden. “Uncle Bob,” he said, slowly, “is there something alive in that box?”

Bob was bustling back toward the bedroom. “One of the cold-blooded bitches that got Bill. Don’t you pay attention?”

Denny felt a cold fist clench inside his belly. For a moment he couldn’t speak, then, “There’s someone in the box?” Jesus fuck, Bob!” He lunged for the trunk. “What are you thinking?”

“No! Don’t bloody open it!”

Uncle Bob tried to drag Denny away, but Denny held him off with one hand while unlatching the trunk with the other. “Holy shit, Bob,” said Denny, heaving up the lid. “I hope you really are just crazy. Oh, Christ.”

He looked down at a woman’s pale back and round hips. The hair that fell around her shoulders was a peculiar silvery grey.

“Get back!” cried Bob, trying to shove him aside.

Denny stood his ground. “What the fuck, Bob?” he bellowed. “What the actual fuck! Jesus Christ, is that a cattle prod?

Uncle Bob was trying to reach around him, waving the electric prod at the woman now slowly sitting up in the box. Denny slapped the old man’s arm away.

“Get away from her, you mad old bastard.” He turned to the woman in the box.

Denny shrieked and jumped backward.

The creature in the box had the body of a woman, but its face was something else entirely. Its eyes were immense, black in black, filling half its forehead. Where the mouth and nose should have been was just a puckered hole, like the front end of a leech. A serpentine tongue whipped out and back.

Denny’s leg caught on a stretched power cord and he almost went over. “What the hell is that?”

“Told you,” said Bob, poking at the creature with his cattle prod. “Dickhead. It’s one of the bitches that got Bill. Crocodile-woman.”

The thing in the box looked like no kind of crocodile that Denny had ever seen. He pressed his hand to the left of his sternum, wondering if it was possible to pull a heart muscle. His certainly felt like it.

The crocodile-woman didn’t seem to be particularly hurt by the cattle prod, but evidently didn’t like it much. It sank back into the trunk until only its oversized black eyes and the top of its silver hair peeked above the edge.

“And bloody stay there,” Bob told it. To Denny, he added, “Christ, you gave me a bloody heart attack. Wait until I’m ready, will you?”

Denny breathed shallowly, afraid of exacerbating the pain in his chest. “What the . . .”

“Here, hold these.” Uncle Bob thrust two bare-ended cables into Denny’s hands. The other ends were clipped to the sides of the airfreight trunk. “Don’t let them touch once I turn the power on. It’ll fuse together every atom of hydrogen in your body. Probably take out the whole block.”

Denny tore his gaze from the thing in the trunk. “What?”

Uncle Bob was picking his way around the room, flipping on power switches. The crocodile-woman turned its head all the way around to follow him.

The vacuum cleaner roared to life. Bob raised his voice to yell, “Dunno really. It might just turn you inside out.”

The blender added its racket.

What?

Uncle Bob smirked. He pulled a flick knife from his pocket and stabbed the point into the heel of the hand holding the cattle prod. He clenched his fist tight around the handle of the prod and held his arm out so that the blood dripped onto the crocodile-woman. Denny watched in fascinated horror. The crocodile-woman flicked out its forked tongue, smearing the blood across its face.

“Ready?” yelled Bob, standing back in front of him again, one hand on the switch that would turn his cutlery hedgehog live.

No! Bob, stop–”

The old man stabbed his cattle prod into the crocodile-woman’s side. “Here we go!”

Uncle Bob flipped the switch and grabbed Denny’s sleeve.

The world turned marshmallow white, then psychedelic. Denny felt his feet leak up through his head. A mile in front of him, his hands seemed drawn together with the force of continents colliding. He recognised Uncle Bob, tiny beside his giant left fist, trying to pull it away from the right. Oh, right. A woozy memory surfaced. Don’t let the wires touch. Denny heaved on his right hand and, with tectonic heaviness, his arms began to draw apart.

They were standing on a muddy bank. The river in front of Denny’s feet was vast enough that the other bank, covered in forest, was blurred by the distance. It was oppressively hot and the air was so full of humidity that it felt heavy to breathe.

“Get lost!” Uncle Bob was chasing the crocodile-woman into the water with his cattle prod. It backed away reluctantly for a few paces, then sank down beneath the surface. The creature’s silver hair emerged again a few seconds later, out near the middle of the river.

Denny looked around, about to ask how the hell they had arrived there. He froze.

The riverbank was a wide mud flat surrounded on three sides by a sheer, eroded, earth embankment higher than Denny’s head. Crocodiles littered the flat. Several of them had eyes open, watching Bob and Denny.

Uncle Bob tromped between the basking reptiles.

“Bob!” Denny called, hoarsely, trying to be quiet and heard at the same time.

“What?” Uncle Bob stepped over a crocodile.

Denny started to go after him. He stopped, seeing what he had been about to step in. A puddle of what looked like thick, red fruit pulp lay a short distance from his toes. Spotted, red lady beetles were emerging from the puddle as if born from it.

What the hell . . .?

He realized that he was still holding the two bare-ended cables that Bob had handed him. He twisted to follow them down past his feet and along the ground. A metre or so from where he stood, the space around the cables seemed to blur and vibrate. For a vertiginous moment, Denny stood both on the riverbank and in Uncle Bob’s apartment. His stomach rebelled. Denny looked away.

Bob had moved farther away among the crocodiles. They watched him as he passed, but didn’t otherwise react to his presence.

They’re probably cold, thought Denny, panic rising. Just sluggish. They’ll wake up in a second and then we’re dead meat.

“Bob!”

“What?”

“Come back!”

“What? Don’t be daft. He must be here somewhere. Blood calls blood.” He had his hand held out over the crocodiles, like a fortuneteller hovering his palm over a spread of tarot cards. The old man’s face puckered up. “He’s gotta be here. ..”

Movement on the river caught Denny’s eye. A pair of eyes with enormous, spiked lashes had emerged near the shore. They gazed at Denny for a long moment, then blinked, one after the other, and swam away in different directions.

Farther out, several silver-haired heads had broken the surface. The crocodile-women were holding position against the current, their inhumanly large eyes turned toward the bank. A large tree barreled past, somehow missing all of them as it ploughed through the pack. Denny started, he hadn’t realized the current was so strong. The crocodile-women didn’t react to the tree’s passage.

Various other bits of detritus bobbed along on the river surface. The hair stood up on the back of his neck. The tree was moving in the opposite direction to the current. White foam trailed from its waving roots.

What the hell is this place?

“Bob!” It came out as a strangled croak. “How do we get out of here?” He dearly–frantically–hoped that there would be some way to step back into that mirage vision of Bob’s living room.

Uncle Bob had stopped, his extended arm shaking as he held it over the crocodile directly in front of him. His next words were so soft Denny barely caught them: “Found you.”

“Bob?”

Uncle Bob blinked at him, then returned his attention to the crocodile. “Sorry, Bill.” He raised the cattle prod and, before Denny could think to react, rammed it into the animal’s side.

The crocodile convulsed. It lashed its tail, trying to move away. Bob pursued. The crocodile’s movements became more erratic. Denny gave a squeak of horror. The crocodile’s shape had begun to change as it struggled. Its head was getting shorter, its limbs longer. Its tail began to split into two.

The crocodile’s scaly hide softened and smoothed, becoming paler and shifting colour from green-brown to tan. Its jaws opened and, suddenly, it wasn’t a crocodile at all, but a human couple in the missionary position, the man lifting his face away from the woman’s.

Denny gagged. The female partner was a crocodile-woman identical to the one Bob had captured. The creature’s long, black tongue was stretched taught, sliding from the man’s open mouth as he rose–like a worm being pulled from its burrow. The man coughed and the tongue whipped free and into the crocodile-woman’s puckered orifice.

The man sat up. Denny’s legs almost collapsed under him. It was like looking at a mirror.

Uncle Bill looked up at Bob, standing over him with an expression of wonder. Bill frowned at the cattle prod, then looked at Denny.

Mad eyes, Denny thought.

“Bob? Is that you?”

Denny managed a slow shake of his head. “He’s Bob.”

Uncle Bill looked back up at his brother. His eyes went from Bob’s face, to his feet, and back up to his face again. He pushed himself up to stand. Behind him, the crocodile-woman that he had been coupled with got to its knees.

Uncle Bill was the same size as Bob, which made him about half a head shorter than Denny. He stood with the same slouch to his shoulders, something Denny had always assumed was an artifact of Bob’s age.

“Bob? Is that really you?”

Uncle Bob nodded wordlessly.

“Fuck me,” said Uncle Bill, staring at him. “Have I been at it that long?” He looked down at the crocodile-woman and gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Wow.”

Bob caught his arm. “Bill, we’ve come to take you back.” Uncle Bill had fixated on the crocodile-woman. The creature’s tongue flickered out as it looked back up at him. Bill’s penis, flaccid until now, started to grow erect.

Uncle Bob shook his brother’s shoulder. “Bill! Let’s go.”

“Hmm?” Bill tore his gaze away from the crocodile-woman. He frowned at his brother. “What are you doing here, Bob? Isn’t it all over by now?”

“We’ve come to rescue you, Bill.” Uncle Bob’s voice was a whine.

Bill’s frown collapsed into an astonished smirk. “Rescue me? From what?” Denny felt an awful sinking sensation in the pit of his belly. Oh, Bob.

Bob stared at his brother stupidly. His jaw worked, useless for a moment with no sound coming out. He waved a hand, arm jerking like a puppet’s.

“From . . . From this!” said Bob. “From being stuck as half of a bloody crocodile, that’s what!”

Bill looked from Bob to Denny. Denny met the mad stare and held it. He thought he saw understanding dawn. Uncle Bill’s expression softened. “All this time?”

Denny nodded.

Bill swayed back a little. His eyes glistened, suddenly. “Oh, shit.” He took a deep, sharp breath and laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Bob, mate, I don’t want rescuing. I never did. I chose this.”

Uncle Bob’s fists were clenched, his whole body trembling. He glared at a point somewhere in the middle of Bill’s chest.

“I thought you knew,” said Bill.

“Knew?” Bob’s head snapped up. “Knew? Knew that you wanted to spend the rest of fucking eternity with that leech bitch’s tongue down your fucking throat!”

“It ain’t like that,” said Bill, affronted.

“It bloody well looks like it!”

Uncle Bill’s fists went to his hips, the two of them standing nose-to-nose. Denny couldn’t move.

“Well, what do you reckon regular sex looks like?” Bill wanted to know. “A lot bloody different to how it feels!”

Bob caved first, looking away. “It ain’t natural,” he muttered.

“Ain’t natural?” Bill exclaimed. He stood back. “Jesus, Bob! Can you imagine what it’s like to feel like you’re cumming every waking minute of every day?”

“Like Hell,” said Denny, surprising himself as much as them. “It’d be like living Hell.”

Uncle Bill considered him. He lifted his chin and one shoulder–a nod and a shrug at the same time. “Yeah, well, I suppose that’d be right. Look, it’s not really like that either.” He waved a hand, trying to encompass the unencompassable. “It’s not like anything. It’s like bloody ecstasy.”

Bill ducked his head, stooping to try and make his brother meet his gaze. “Bob, this is bloody nirvana, mate. Right here.”

Bob looked at him, finally. There were tears in his eyes. “I thought I was the fucking nutter.”

Bill’s expression hardened. “Maybe you are.”

“You’re coming home, Bill.” Bob started to raise the cattle prod.

“Bob! No!” Denny cried.

Uncle Bob glared at him.

“Bob.” Denny shook his head. “No.”

Uncle Bill hadn’t noticed. He was looking at the crocodile-woman again. A shiver passed through him and he stepped away from Uncle Bob. “You’ve got no idea, Bob. Not a clue what you’d be taking me away from.” He chopped with his hand, cutting the space between him and his brother. “No. I don’t want rescuing.”

He caught the crocodile-woman’s hand and pulled the creature up to its feet.

For a moment, Bob looked as if he wanted to both fall to the ground weeping and beat his brother with the cattle prod. Pulled in two directions, he did neither.

“Bob,” Denny called, softly. His heart broke for the old man. “How do we get out of here?”

“You could stay,” said Bill.

Uncle Bob’s expression twisted. He didn’t answer.

Bill looked at Denny. “You?”

Denny’s eyes slid from his uncle’s glazed, happy face to the creature waiting for him. The crocodile-woman’s tongue flicked out. Its huge, blank eyes stared at him. Denny shuddered.

“I, uh, don’t really swing that way,” he managed.

“Oh?” Uncle Bill absorbed that, then shrugged. “Oh, well, each to their own, eh?”

He stepped toward the crocodile-woman. “You blokes should really give this a try though.” The creature put its arms around his neck. “You just need to close your eyes and get past the gag reflex when the tongue goes down.”

He leaned away from the questing tongue. “Hold on a sec, darling.” He looked back over his shoulder at Bob and Denny. “Thanks for coming back for me, Bob.”

Bob turned around so that his back was to his brother. A brief look of pain touched Bill’s features. His gaze shifted to Denny.

“Look after him, eh?”

“Of course.”

Bill gave him a nod, then turned back to his partner.

He closed his eyes. “Okay, now.”

Denny had to look away as the black tongue pushed between Uncle Bill’s lips. He heard Bill gag. Then Bill and the crocodile-woman were sinking back to the ground, their bodies already beginning to merge. By the time they were lying flat, Bill’s legs had fused together and his torso and arms were melting into the crocodile-woman’s.

Denny shuddered.

“Bob!” he said, sharply enough that the old man looked at him right away. “How do we go home?”

With a visible effort, Uncle Bob gathered his wits. “Just drop one of the cables and the other one’ll pull you back.”

“What about you?”

Uncle Bob blinked at him a couple of times, then appeared to make a decision. His face hardened. “Yeah, right.”

He stomped back to Denny, kicking a couple of crocodiles out of his path on the way. One of them showed him its teeth and he gave it a snout-full of cattle prod.

He gripped Denny’s wrist. “Right.”

Denny took one last look around. Uncle Bill and his woman thing had transformed again, indistinguishable from the other crocodiles. “So these are all men and those . . . things?”

“Reckon so.”

“How many others are missing soldiers?”

Bob shrugged. “Dunno. Not many. Most blokes who tried it got their mates to pull them loose before the silver-haired bitches brought them here.”

“This isn’t Vietnam, is it?”

Uncle Bob shook his head. “Sideways of there, you might say. Nam’s just an easy place for them to go through, I suppose.” He gave Denny’s wrist a squeeze. “Let’s go, eh?”

“Yeah.”

Denny opened his right hand, and let the cable fall.

There was another blur of blinding white and psychedelic madness, and they were standing in the living room of Bob’s apartment.

The Styrofoam block was turning brown around the stems of Bob’s cutlery. Denny switched off the power to it and pulled the plug. The room stank of burnt plastic.

Uncle Bob sank onto the edge of an armchair. Denny picked his way over to the blender and the vacuum cleaner and turned them off. The toaster popped and he unplugged that, too. He untangled a dining chair and carefully lowered himself to sit.

He took a long breath in and let it out slowly.

“Bob?”

“Mm?”

“What the fuck did we just do?”

Bob didn’t answer immediately. He sat with his fists locked between his knees, staring at some point on the ground past his feet. After most of a minute, he unstuck his jaw and said, “Nothing, Denny. Bloody nothing at all.”

Denny heard the catch in his voice. “You did the right thing.”

“Oh yeah?” There were tears in Uncle Bob’s eyes. “How’s that?”

“Everyone thought you were nuts.”

Bob guffawed, bitterly. “Well, of course they fucking did.”

“You were right, though,” said Denny. “About Bill being alive all this time.” A shudder ran down his back. If you could call it that. He didn’t think there was much left of Uncle Bill to bring back.

Bob shrugged, one shouldered. “Waste of bloody time,” he said. “Wasted my bloody life.”

Forty years, thought Denny. More than. And all for nothing. He took in the scribbled pages on the wall. How many more of those had there been, over the years? It hurt thinking about.

“You can still go after him, you know,” said Bob.

Denny shook his head. “Bill wasn’t coming back.”

“Not Bill, dickhead. Bill’s long gone.” Bob looked around at all the cables, then at his decoding wall. He took a deep breath. It turned halfway into a sob. “I’ll forget all this, you know, now that I don’t need it anymore.”

That truth made it hurt even more. Denny couldn’t bring himself to lie or agree. “I’ll remember,” he said.

Uncle Bob nodded. “Gary, I meant. You can get a Euro passport. You should’ve gone with him. Call him.”

Denny put up his hands. It was too much, right now. “Look, enough, all right?” He sighed. “For fuck’s sake! Anyway, Mum’d have you in a home if I left.”

“Reckon she might be doing me a favour,” said Bob. He smirked, but his eyes were red and brimming. “Where else am I going to find a sheila who’s as mad as I am?”

Denny managed to find a laugh in that. “You’ll have to find something else to keep you busy, now.”

Uncle Bob snorted. “Any ideas?”

“Ever tried bowls?” said Denny.

“Pff. Old biddies’ game. Are you going to call him?”

“It’s too late, Bob,” said Denny.

“How do you know?” the old man retorted. They glared at each other. Bob won. “Well?”

“All right! I’ll call him.” Denny tried to get the conversation back on track. “They have barefoot bowls at the club near me on Sundays. Happy hour from four.”

Bob rapped his knuckles against the trunk. “That’s where the dining table’s supposed to be.” He ruminated on that for a while, tongue working behind his lips. Denny felt a little stab in his chest, watching him. Surely he wasn’t forgetting already?

Maybe he was trying to make himself.

Bob shook his head. “Bowls, eh? Like a drink, do they?”

Denny nodded. He swallowed a few times before he could speak. “Yeah. First time I went, the bartender asked me if it was my first time bowling. I asked, couldn’t he tell. He says, ‘Nah, mate, your drinking action looks fine.’”

Uncle Bob chuckled. “Sounds good to me. Is it Sunday today?”

“Saturday,” said Denny. He wiped his eyes and stood. “Let’s get some of this cleared up, and then you can put on a shirt and some shoes and I’ll take you to the pub.”

Bob looked at himself, then felt around the crotch of his pants. “I don’t think I’ve got any undies on, either.”

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