I've been enormously busy juggling things, and unfortunately that means fanfiction was the first thing to be sacrificed once life got too hectic. I'm really close to finishing my Master's now, though, and once I don't have uni obligations anymore I plan to get back into fanfiction writing and finish all the half-written Bread fics I've got floating around.
This one is another spinoff in the ATEOTD universe (surprise, surprise) and will focus on the influence different people had on Shifty's life, but it should bring a few ideas together that will eventually become quite big plot points in the ATEOTD series overall.
I spent a lot of my time in the Bread fandom loathing Shifty (though he doesn't make me sick to my stomach the way Roxy does), but after getting into his head for a couple of fics, I actually found him to be quite a complex and interesting character and fun to write about. So yeah, enjoy me experimenting with the life of the Boswell black sheep, and of course, Joetina things will make an appearance.
Bread belongs to the late, great Carla Lane. And a quote that comes up in this chapter belongs to Mrs Boswell's Slice of Bread, slightly adapted.
NB About Shifty in this universe: There has been a bit of inconsistency in the show about Shifty's family. The overarching idea is that his mother was a 'friendly soul' and he didn't know who his father is. In one episode, however, his parents were married and hated each other too much to divorce each other. Shifty goes by the name Boswell, but is supposed to be related to Granddad. Mrs Boswell's Slice of Bread, which I normally take as canon, claims Shifty was their Aunt Aida's son, making him a direct cousin. However, in episodes of the show, he was far more distantly related to them than that, even admitting he 'wasn't exactly sure' how he was connected to the Boswells, so I'm disregarding the book for this fic. For the purposes of this universe, Shifty's mother is not Aida, and he is related to the Boswells by his mother's relationship with one of their relatives, and therefore not related to them by blood at all. This will be important in later chapters. I know it's not exactly canon, but canon has not given us solid evidence to work with.
I'm also going to address the fact that Joey remembers Shifty when he arrives in series 4 but none of the other Boswell siblings do.
Love, Money and Animals
It takes him four years to return to Liverpool.
Grandad dies not long after the Millennium begins. Shifty puts off going to the funeral, puts off visiting the gravesite to pay his respects, puts off returning to Liverpool at all for as long as possible. In London, it's easier not to be noticed, to commit a little indiscretion every now and again without being immediately caught, to have a little affair now and again without bumping into the scorned lady a few months down the track. Shifty pays through the nose to rent a small flat, funds this taking odd jobs and supplementing his unstable stream of income with Jobseekers money and picks up girls when he feels like it, which is surprisingly easy when he gives Joey's history as his own and lets everyone think he's a wealthy entrepreneur (they needn't stay around long enough to find out otherwise.) Life is good—better, in fact, than it's ever been—and he stays away from home longer and longer, anxious not to allow painful memories of the past to seep in, of Joey, Martina, Celia, Grandad, Auntie Nellie. He can forget them all here, and it isn't until nearly four years later, when it pops into his head one morning that tomorrow would have been Grandad's birthday, that he makes the decision to go.
Well, that and the fact that he's got into a bit of trouble with the Met and would like to lie low, but he brushes that aside. Not every decision in his life is connected somehow to crime. He can, actually, when he wants to be, be a good man.
And so he packs a few essentials, looks up train timetables, works out where the CCTV cameras are and how he might sneak through the barrier without having to buy a ticket, decides to pick up something to read to kill the two and a half hours he could otherwise be panicking. He's really going. He's going back to a city to which he vowed never to return again, to a place where, even if he's less easily recognisable now, there will still be a distinct stain of loathing, an atmosphere of hatred, narrow-eyed glances thrown his way from those who remember him. Whatever reputation he once had (and let's face it, he thinks, it was never all that positive to begin with) has been reduced to a pile of ashes, muck and resentment. He doesn't want to think about it, even as he makes the preparations to face it all. So of course, as one does, he spends a good chunk of that morning pacing the streets and thinking about it.
He's wandering aimlessly around WHSmith, killing time before his train arrives and wondering what he might do if confronted by a Boswell or two when he gets to Liverpool, when he spots it.
It's pretty hard not to. The bloody thing has nearly a whole shelf devoted to it, not to mention the tacky-looking dump bin at the front of the shop, and the cardboard cutout boasting a signing at some future date.
Love, Money and Animals, by Celia Higgins. Bestseller already, or at least anticipated to be, by the amount of copies on display. Shifty picks one up off the shelf without so much as reading the back, perhaps because he's curious, perhaps because Celia's name is on it, perhaps because he's planning a long train journey and needs something to keep his mind occupied. Whatever the reason, he slips it inside his overcoat (he's not paying for a bloody book—he may be trying to rehabilitate himself, but paying for necessities is one thing, paying for someone else's thoughts scribbled down and bound together is quite another) and bears it away with him.
Celia had sworn she'd never publish another book. That that 'one, golden thought' she'd had, back in the early '80s was it. That she had enough royalties from it to live comfortably forever. Something must have made her change her mind. Boredom? Another, even shinier, platinum thought? The need for more money? He doesn't know, he doesn't care, but he is interested enough to flip open the cover, bending it right over backwards and creasing it in two in the process, settling into his seat and reading.
I don't believe in much apart from sex, reads the opening line. Predictable Celia. The whole first paragraph, in fact, is just the sort of drivel Celia spouts every day collected on a page, and it's only when the main character's name is mentioned three pages later that Shifty realises it is supposed to be fiction and not an autobiography after all. Could've fooled him. He's heard of writing from life, but this is ridiculous. Does plagiarising your own existence really constitute literature, he wonders. If so, he could simply make a list of all his stays in prison and see how well that sells.
He reads on.
Celia always was good at complaining, interspersing her grumbles occasionally with a bout of philosophising and calling it 'wisdom,' and this book is no exception. The main character, Romana Biggs (it's a good thing Celia never had children, such is her ability to pick names) is a gregarious, blonde, twice-married animal rights activist who takes a job as a cleaner, encounters a variety of familiarly odd characters and goes on to run an animal shelter, and who complains every few paragraphs to somebody—about her sex life, about the plight of poor little pigeons, about themselves, to their faces. Every scene is something he remembers, remembers Celia telling him about or can deduce must have happened to her, albeit with a couple of names and locations changed. And Shifty is beginning to enjoy this, checking Celia's memories against his own, mocking her ridiculous world views in his head (or sometimes out loud, earning the stares of other passengers), laughing out loud, when, in the middle of Chapter Four, something grabs his attention.
A a weaselly, manipulative car thief named Handy marches into the book and Shifty's mind starts to spin.
Within his first page of existence, Handy has stolen a gold necklace from one lover and given it to our loveable protagonist.
You did. You bitch.
He'd tear this book to shreds right now, burn it, rip it to pieces with his teeth, flush it down the lav, chuck it onto the train track, destroy it in every way possible, only being angry at Celia's decision to use him as fodder for her book is keeping his mind off the journey ahead, off what may happen when he returns to Liverpool and what sort of reception he can expect. And so he forces himself to keep reading. He squints at the page, giving himself a headache, because he's probably long-sighted but in the precious little time he gets between prison stints he has far better things to do than waste his time with opticians, not caring, because the pain of his anger far outstrips any pain behind his eyeballs.
The affable Romana, in a not-so-coincidental twist of fate, moves next door to where Handy is staying with relatives, and a comedic will-they-won't-they-situation ensues. By Chapter Five they're engaged. That's not how it happened, Shifty thinks huffily. There's a lot more willingness on 'Handy's' part, for one thing, to be embroiled with this obnoxious temptress, to let her destroy his life again. He doesn't remember that. He remembers wishing for peace, world-destroying fury at the prospect of oatmeal raisin biscuits, dodging the hands that reached to straighten the tie he never wanted to wear. He didn't ask for Celia. She forced herself upon him. Practically made him propose. Held a gun to his head (or to other, more sensitive parts) until he loved her. She was (and probably still is) a woman, after all. The same as all the rest. Strip a woman to her core and she's grasping, selfish. Look no further than his mother, friendly soul that she was. That friendliness cost Shifty a childhood, and if it takes him his whole life, and if every member of the fairer sex on the planet becomes a casualty in his game, he will avenge himself somehow. Hurt them before they have the satisfaction of hurting him, leave them reeling, leave scot free and with just a smidgeon more confidence knowing there's another one who can never have him and will pine forever.
Or, she'll simply pen a semi-autobiographical novel and drag him through the mud in it.
Is this all he's come to, then? 46 years of life, and what has he to show for any of it? How will he be remembered? As a character in Celia Higgins' grotesque work of 'fiction'. As a smug, nasty, lazy, selfish caricature of himself, probably played by Jack Davenport in some BBC adaptation down the track, despised and treasured by the general public as the character they love to hate.
Well, he supposes he could be remembered as worse. He deserves to be remembered as worse, given what happened with the Boswells, with the money, with not turning up to Grandad's funeral, with Martina, with Joey, especially with…he shuts his eyes and refuses to entertain the notion of the last one. He has no right to complain, not really. But to be defamed at the hands of Celia Higgins, who can't exactly be called a saint, who's just as dysfunctional as he in her own ways, is downright unjust. It's bloody insulting.
My ex had run off with a frosty-faced civil servant, fella number two was living with an Amazonian Swede, number three had married a little lady with titled parents and a face like a fruit bat. And me? I was living next door to the man I loved, who stole Rolls Royces and was never there when you wanted him, and I was doing his cleaning for him. So what did it all mean? I'll tell you. Life is five minutes long, so grab the laughs.
'Heh,' Shifty snorts, but it's not in amusement, or in obedience to the narrator's imperative. It's an ironic sound. Grab the laughs indeed. Well, he's grabbed just about everything else. And then, he reflects, it's usually been grabbed off him again. He's ended up with nothing, save a gaping hole of guilt he's trying to fill with sex and theft and a life far, far away. At least that had plugged the gap, but now he's reopened the wound, is returning to a place he's not welcome, to do something he dreads doing. And instead of being able to brood over that, he's now being spat at by Celia Higgins through a bloody book.
He reads on, just to feed his outrage.
Poor old Handy. I suppose all that stealing and running off was a cry for help, but no-one ever got close enough to help him. He made sure of that. There was always something he was looking for and missing in his life, but nobody knew what it was. Probably not even Handy himself.
Shifty's blood runs cold, then hot. Pity. His mouth turns into a snarl. Adding an outright injury to the existing insult, she's daring to pity him. She's daring to make (true, but no matter) assumptions about him as if she knows him, as if simply being a part of his life for several years and being engaged to him gives her the right to try and get into his mind and heart, and feel sorry for what she finds. Only three people have a place in his heart, and even they wouldn't get away with this. Celia Higgins has, by way of a publication he was probably never meant to read, ripped him right through, exposed his innards…felt sorry for him. Reminded him of the mire of pathetic misery that is his life, and the empty spaces inside him he's always trying to heal, never knowing how.
There was no hope for him, really, I suppose.
Bloody marvellous, what you think of me, Shifty thinks, opening the carriage window and lobbing the book out of it. Bloody marvellous.
Love, Money and Animals lands open on its spine, pages blowing for a split second before the scenery moves forward and it's out of sight.
The train hurtles on, bearing Shifty closer and horrifyingly closer to Liverpool.