Bartholomew Angel Diaz
Photograph by Alice Zoo, Story by Alan McCormick
Bartholomew Angel Diaz, B.A.D. to most, but not to you. Just kneel or curtsey, whatever you feel like doing, and call me Barty. I have five fruit machines, unpacked, legit and ready to go. Yours for a song if you’re Frank Sinatra, but for you, my tuneless friend: ten, no less, no more. And because I’m an angel, a real one, mind, I’ll have Larry the Lamb deliver and install them tomorrow.
This was Barty’s shtick, mornings started with a deal or they didn’t start at all.
This particular one wasn’t going so well. Why would anyone buy five fruit machines when the arcades are all closing down? Bookies have the market cornered!
They should stick to the dogs and horses; coffee with a bet, I ask you; and those stupid midget blue pens that never work: fleecing the working class in plain view in the high street; corporate muggers!
Sometimes Barty could sound old-school socialist but he’s never even voted.
What’s the point? One robs you if you’re rich and the other robs you if you’re poor. Keep your money under your bed like my old Nan did and don’t say nothing to no one about it. Zilch, or they’ll steal your money and your bed!
Once Barty had been a boxing promoter in the days of three channel TV, ten million tuning in for the big fight on a Saturday night. He knew Jarvis, the two Barries, Gerald ‘The Gent’, ‘Our ‘Enry’, Mister Wong (from Hong Kong), and all the gym owners along the Old Kent Road. On the wall in his lounge, there’s a photograph of him standing between John Conteh – Fairbanks ‘tache, matinee idol looks, I told him he should have gone into films! – and Alan Minter – brave as a lion, God rest his soul, another one that died way before his time.
Those days are long gone. Arcades were more lucrative – all the characters had either died or gone gaga, so what was I to do? – and without a morning deal once again, Barty is slumped on the sofa, sporting his old promoter dressing gown, rust more than gold now, nursing a cold mug of tea – five sugars, and why not, it’s my life and sometimes it needs sweetening, okay!
After Brenda had died, ten spoons wouldn’t have been enough to sweeten anything – a Princess when I met her, a Goddess when she died. Life!
Larry the Lamb is at the front door: Barty, are you there? Let me in, it’s Larry.
I know it’s you: you’re the only fool who visits. Now wait there, whilst I find my stick.
You’re not going to beat me with it, are you?
Don’t be a numb-nuts, just wait!
Barty manoeuvres himself – and Barty himself will tell you, it’s not a pretty sight – off the sofa and finds his stick and starts slowly towards the door.
Are you carving a stick or what?
And Barty makes a sudden beeline to the toilet before he gets to the door.
When it’s opened, Larry steps in: Jesus, Barty, it’s colder in here than outside.
Is it? I haven’t been outside for a while.
Still in the old gown! I take it there was no buyer for the fruit machines, then.
You take it right.
I’ll make us some tea.
Every time. I know!
A few minutes later, Larry arrives in the lounge with a tray, two teas and a freshly opened variety pack of biscuits.
Don’t forget the custard creams are mine!
Think I’d ever dare get in the way of you and your custard creams? But the bourbons have my name on them.
You’re welcome, taste nothing like chocolate.
So, how are you doing?
Better if I could get rid of the fruit machines.
Not a good time, Barty. Might be best to give up on that one or you’ll never get going with the day.
Give up? You don’t know Bartholomew Angel Diaz.
I’ve known you for sixty years, you old fool.
Less of the old!
Thing is, I may be a lot younger than you, most of us are, let’s face it, but I’m seventy-eight and Judy says –
Judy? What’s Judy saying now?
She says I’m seventy-eight, and not even a young seventy-eight at that, and I should be slowing down –
Slow down anymore and you’ll come to a standstill –
And I shouldn’t be picking up fruit machines, fetching and carrying.
Well, she can fuck right off.
I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.
Well, she can fu –
Barty! Judy’s right, and anyway I’m due to go in and have my pacemaker adjusted next week.
Tell them to speed it up a bit, you’re sounding half dead.
I am half dead.
Well, there you go. Here, pass me another biscuit – the ones with jam in the middle.
Wait, wasn’t that the name we gave Roger Rabbit?
Mabutt! It was Roger Mabbutt, and we called him ‘dodger’ because he could dodge a punch.
But not the taxman, eh?
Have you thought about what we talked about last time?
Go and heat up my tea in the micro will you, all your talking has made it go cold.
I told you: bring up the ‘z’ word again, and you won’t be welcome here anymore.
Barty, you keep falling!
I keep getting up.
Yes, you do.
Haven’t been counted out yet.
I’m only trying to help.
Don’t bother, scuttle off back to Judy for all I care.
Judy happens to like you, you silly sod.
Well, I don’t like her.
I’ll sort your tea.
No, Larry, hurry back like a good little sheep.
Okay, I will, but I’m going to heat up your tea first!
And so, as usual, Larry the Lamb’s visit to his old friend ends in an argument but next Friday morning – pacemaker permitting – he’ll be knocking on Barty’s door, this time with a suspicious-looking zimmer shaped package, and he’ll know better than to stick around whilst Barty opens it.
Alan McCormick lives with his family in Wicklow. He’s a trustee and former writer in residence for InterAct Stroke Support. His writing has won prizes and been widely published, including in Best British Short Stories, Popshot, Confingo, The Bridport and Fish Prize anthologies; and online at 3:AM, Words for the Wild, Fictive Dream, Found Polaroids, Dead Drunk Dublin and Époque Press. ‘Dogsbodies and Scumsters’, his story collection with illustrations by Jonny Voss, was long-listed for the Edge Hill Prize. His short memoir piece, ‘Monty Modlyn’, is included in the anthology ‘A Wild and Precious Life’, published this May.
You can find him online here - www.alanmccormickwriting.wordpress.com
Alice Zoo is a photographer and writer based in London. She is interested in the processes by which people construct meaning for themselves, often in the form of ritual, celebration, and recounted memory. Her work has been commissioned by publications including BBC News, The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, and The New Yorker, and has been exhibited internationally: in the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward 2016, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition in 2018, the Royal Photographic Society International Photography Exhibition in 2018 & 2019, the Creative Review Photography Annual in 2019, and the Photo Vogue Festival in 2020. You can find her here @alice.zoo