Short Fiction ~ Stephen Smythe
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 13
Al Pacino was arguing with the check-out guy at the Llanedeyrn Co-op, claiming he’d been short-changed. He'd lost his hair and carried an extra stone or four, but it was unmistakably him.
He spotted me while I was queuing, told the check-out guy it wasn’t over, and lifted me
off my feet. ‘Jimmy,’ he said, squeezing the breath out of me, ‘alrigh or wha?’
We stood on the pavement outside the store and he lit up a giant spliff. My carrier bag
contained the staples of the single man: a thick white sliced, a dozen fish fingers and a six-pack of Stella. It was Saturday, still sunny at seven, the kind of evening which promised so much when me and Al used to knock about as teenagers.
The top three buttons of his sweat-stained shirt were undone, revealing salt ‘n’ pepper hairs and a chunky gold chain. Mirrored sunglasses stuck out of his top pocket and he had a large sovereign ring on his pinky. The stench of Al’s dope competed with the rotten smell of an overflowing bin and his cheap aftershave.
Me and the other lads called him Al Pacino after we’d seen The Godfather half-a-dozen times. We’d pretended to be eighteen so we could get into The Rialto, the local flea-pit. Al’s moniker stuck, even though his real name was Owen. He had black hair, slicked back, and saucer-like brown eyes, mournful and mysterious, as though he knew something we didn’t. When he started going with Suzie Thomas, he boasted he’d made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
He held out his spliff.
He shrugged. ‘It’s up to you, it is.’
His family was from the South Wales Valleys and moved to our Cardiff estate forty-odd
years ago when me and Al were both ten. He was different from us city boys with his sing-song accent and the way he spoke, repeating his words.
We’d lost touch after I crossed the border to go to university. I had a new life, made
He took a deep drag and exhaled. ‘What’s occurring?’
‘Got a flat on Fenway Street.’
‘Bit of a come down for you, Jimmy,’ he said, ‘moving back here.’
A police car flashed by on blue, siren blazing. Al didn’t even glance at it, just kept talking.
‘Heard you had a big house in Bristol.’
‘Wasn’t that big.’ I was light-headed from his smoke. ‘I’m going through a divorce.’
‘Nasty,’ he said. ‘I heard you had kids.’
‘One of each. Grown up.’
‘Tidy.’ He squinted and put on his sunglasses. ‘I wanted kids.’
‘Mind you, I’m a Bampi seven times over.’
‘A grandad?’ I frowned. ‘How come?’
‘Suzie’s boys all have kids,’ he said. ‘Love ’em like they’re my own.’
‘You and Suzie finally got together? That’s worth drinking to.’ I took two Stellas from my
bag and passed him one. We clinked cans. ‘Cheers.’
‘We say iechyd da round here. You’ve been in England too long, you have.’
‘I meant to keep in touch – ’
‘Have I changed much, Jimmy?’ He turned sideways and breathed in.
‘Wish I could say the same for you, boyo.’ He roared with laughter.
I grimaced. ‘The divorce is putting years on me.’
‘We’re not with each other anymore,’ he said. ‘Me and Suzie. She kicked me out last
‘Trust issues,’ he said. ‘Hers, not mine.’
‘My marriage ended unexpectedly,’ I said, ‘for one of us.’
‘The trouble was her first husband,’ he said. ‘Long distance lorry driver. A wench in
in every village.’
‘What’s that got do with you?’
‘Everything,’ he said, swigging his beer. ‘I paid for another man’s sins.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Al.’
‘Suzie broke my heart. She blamed my job.’
‘Surrounded by women all dolled up for a night on the town. Necking Prosecco from the bottle – randy as hell.’ He belched. ‘I feel them undressing me with their eyes, I do. ’
‘What’s your job?’
He pointed across the road to a white Toyota with Dragon Cars in red on the door.
‘Toughest job in the world,’ he said.
‘I was made redundant,’ I said. ‘Company downsized.’
‘Bet you got a big pay-out, Jimmy.’
‘It’s going fast,’ I said ‘With the divorce lawyer – ’
‘Single and minted. Lush.’ He grinned. ‘You got a bit of skirt on the go?’
I looked at the ground. ‘I’m finding it hard to – ’
‘You need a good woman, you do,’ he said, biffing me on the arm. I winced. I’d be bruised
later. I reached into my carrier bag. ‘Fancy another?’
‘Best not,’ he said, flicking away the spliff butt. ‘Lisa will have my tea on the table.’
‘My girlfriend. We’re shacked up.’
`I thought Suzie broke your heart?’
‘We all need somebody, Jimmy. Especially at our age.’
‘I’ve got a cat.’
‘Come on,’ he said, clapping me on the back. ‘I’ll give you a lift to this new flat of yours.’
‘No need,’ I said, ‘it’s only down the road.’
He lobbed his empty beer can. It bounced off the bin and clattered onto the pavement.
‘No problem,’ he said, ‘I’m going that way.’
Inside his car was like an oven. He wound down the windows and told me to fasten my seat belt. ‘Don’t want to get into trouble with the law again,’ he said.
His tyres screeched. We’d no sooner set off than we pulled up outside my flat. ‘Thanks,
‘Two-fifty,’ he said.
‘Two pounds fifty. Minimum fare.’
I laughed nervously, waiting for him to smile.
‘Call it three with a tip.’
He took off his shades and looked at me with those saucer-like eyes. ‘It’s nothing
personal,’ he said. ‘It’s strictly business.’
‘I’ve no cash, Al.’
‘You can owe it me, you can.’
I got out.
He called through the window, ‘I know where you live!’
As I watched Al Pacino drive away, I realised I’d left my carrier bag in his taxi.
Stephen Smythe lives in Manchester, England. He achieved an MA in Creative Writing at Salford University in 2018. His flash fiction was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize in 2017 and longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, 2018. He was runner up for his micro fiction in the Bangor Literary Journal FORTY WORDS competition in 2019 and this year in the same competition his story was Highly Commended. In 2020, he had poems shortlisted and longlisted in The Eighth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition and his five minute play 'Mr Bombastic' was shortlisted in the Todmorden Book Festival Play and a Pint Competition (performance and result held over to 2021). His story 'Granny' received an Honourable Mention in The Strand International Flash Fiction competition -9.