‘Anchored off Syracuse. Everyone fucker below deck drowned. Boom. Gone. That was a hard business. ‘Course – I was sleeping on top, so at least I had a chance. At least I could make a swim for it.’
Frankie’s eyes are so hooded, and the way the light is in the room, it’s almost as if he doesn’t have eyes at all. That, and his habit of moving his bottom jaw from side to side when he’s not talking, makes him seem like a statue chewing over the hard facts of his life.
‘Them kind of things mattered, where you slept and everything. I’ve always been a good sleeper. I could sleep upside down on a washing line. I used to sleep under the truck, so long as the ground was hard enough. Gave you a measure of protection. Here, they said. Frankie. Take these trucks up the coast for us. We drove from Port Said to Damascus. Had a whale of a time. We used to mix it up, course. Well – we was young, mate. We had nothing to lose. We knew we was basically cattled.’
He narrows his dark eyes at me and grinds his teeth.
‘D’you know what I mean? Cattled? That’s cockney slang, mate. Cattle trucked. Fucked.’
He laughs, settles back in the chair.
‘My missus was the brains of the operation. She was in the Waaf. There weren’t nothing she couldn’t do. Ride a motorbike. Shoot down a plane. Unscramble a secret message. I tell you what, I landed on my feet all right the day I met Junie.’
He grinds his teeth again and shifts his position in the chair.
‘She’s in a home now. I don’t see her all that much. Even when I do she don’t recognise me. That’s the dementia for you, mate. Still – I keep her bed made up. That way I reckon there’s a chance she might come back.’