The games people played made his head hurt

Easterhouse, Glasgow (source)

Everything about this boy was about his mother. He lived for her in a way that she had never lived for him. It was as though Mo-Maw was a puppeteer, and she had the tangled, knotted strings of him in her hands. She animated every gesture he made: the timid smile, the thrumming nerves, the anxious biting, the worry, the pleasing, the way he made himself smaller in any room he was in, the watchful way he stood on the edge before committing, and the kindness, the big, big love.
Jodie often marvelled at it, but mostly she hated it: the way he gave Mo-Maw love without thought of reward. Or maybe it was that he heaped and heaped it on in the hopes he would get a fraction of it in return, like his love was some undervalued currency. [...]
Mungo’s capacity for love frustrated her. His loving wasn’t selflessness; he simply couldn’t help it. Mo-Maw needed so little and he produced too much, so that it all seemed a horrible waste. It was a harvest no one had seeded, and it blossomed from a vine no one had tended. It should have withered years ago, like hers had, like Hamish’s had. Yet Mungo had all this love to give and it lay about him like ripened fruit and nobody bothered to gather it up.
(p. 249*)
He was Mo-Maw’s youngest son, but he was also her confidant, her lady’s maid, and errand boy. He was her one flattering mirror, and her teenage diary, her electric blanket, her doormat. He was her best pal, the dog she hardly walked, and her greatest romance. He was her cheer on a dreich morning, the only laughter in her audience.
(p. 250*)
The side of Mungo’s face started twitching again. It had been calm all night, even as he broke the nose of the night watchman.
Hamish studied its familiar twisting and sighed. “Do you hate us, Mungo?”
“No!” It came out in a rushing torrent and it was true. Mungo bit the inside of his lip and added, “But I don’t want to be like you.”
He expected Hamish to clout him. But Hamish only turned away from him and laughed. Mungo took a half-step backwards to avoid any surprise right hook. “It’s funny. Ah thought the same thing about Mo-Maw and look at me. I was an old man at fifteen and a dad at eighteen.”
“Is that why you hate her?”
“I don’t hate her.” Hamish laughed, but it was sour. “Aye, mibbe I do. But don’t we all blame her for somethin’?”
“I don’t blame her. I just try to love her.”
“You’re still young, baw-jaws. Gie it time.”
(p. 107*)

Mrs Campbell started back down the stairs. Jodie reached out to her but the woman shrugged her off. When she was back on her landing, she turned and looked up at the Hamilton siblings. “Ah’ve known you since ye were in nappies, and ah’ve known that selfish mother of yours even longer. If anybody should understand making excuses for the person they love, then it’s you two. Can ye no forgive me that?”
(p. 149*)
His mother was like a carnival magician, she was forever working some sleight of hand, sucking in her paunch, or turning different faces to these men. Jodie had said it was like how McCallum’s the baker kept turning their old wedding cakes in their window when the icing had yellowed in the sunlight. By the time some poor punter sliced into the fruit cake, it’d be too late to complain that it was claggy and unappetizing and soaked in rank old booze.
(p. 262*)
He watched Mo-Maw pick the flatness out of her perm, running her eyes appraisingly up and down the new men, ladling them both equal amounts of charm, until she knew which one liked her soup best.
(p. 322*)
*    *    *    *    *
[...] he knew that drink was a great leveller, it always brought unlikely people together. He had seen that in his own home, how different folk could huddle in solidarity around a carry-out. He thought about all the aunties and uncles that crossed his door and had lain in waste with his mother. People she wouldn’t have sniffed at in the street became like kin when they cashed their unemployment giros and turned them into a quarter-bottle of amber.
(p. 24*)
Mungo realized he hadn’t drunk anything all day, no loch water, no milky tea. He sniffed the can with its familiar yeasty smell. He could feel the men watching him nurse it, but he was wary of the drink. He had seen the awful sadness it contained, just beneath the happy foam. Slowly, he raised the can to his lips, the first sip soothed his parched throat, but the thick oaty taste made the boak in him rise. The men nodded in approval. Mungo found if he took a mouthful of the beer and held it in his mouth before letting it trickle down his throat, then it was less sickening, tasted less like mildew. If he sucked and sloshed it back and forth between the little gaps in his teeth, it lost its bloated heavy feeling and became like stale, sour dishwater.
(p. 57*)
He had been to AA before, but rarely without Jodie. Mo-Maw had tried the Twelve Steps over the years, but her sobriety had always been fleeting and vague. Like a gallus child that thought it could ride a bike without stabilizers, she pronounced herself cured after a few weeks, but soon crashed and skinned her knees on the drink again. She wasted a lot of breath arguing that there was a difference between taking a drink and being a drunk. Jodie had babysat him at the back of enough meetings for him to know that if you were an alcoholic, one or one hundred drinks were the very same thing. Mo-Maw disagreed; sobriety bored her.
(p. 164*)
*    *    *    *    *

Mungo had been working hard at seeing what people really meant. Mo-Maw and his sister, Jodie, were always nagging him about that. Apparently there could be some distance between what a person was saying and what you should be seeing. Jodie said he was gullible. Mo-Maw said she wished she had raised him to be cannier, less of anybody’s fool. It was a funny thing to be a disappointment because you were honest and assumed others might be too. The games people played made his head hurt.
(p. 14*)
Jodie had the peculiar courage of a girl who never expected to be hit by a man – which was strange, because all three siblings had seen their mother suffer at the hands of her boyfriends. There was no man that Jodie would not answer back, and although Mungo admired that about his sister, he thought she put too much faith in the decency of men. This belief, this bravery, gave her a gallus tongue. When they were little, Jodie opened her smart mouth amongst gangs of neds and wrote cheques that Hamish would have to cash later. More than once, Mungo had been chinned by some boy he had never met, and then told to pass it along to his mouthy sister.
(p. 144*)

After this, Mungo was left with the yawning gape of the day in front of him. Sometimes he chewed the windowsill, sometimes he bothered Mrs Campbell. He would chap her door and ask if she needed anything doing. She was a busy woman, happiest when she was being useful, so she mostly always said no. But sometimes, there on her doormat, she would run her fingers through his thick hair. He liked the way her short nails raked his scalp. It took him a few visits to realize that this was what he came for.
(p. 67*)
“When our Graham would come home, when we would sit down at dinnertime, ah would ask him how his day was, and all he would say wis ‘Aye, fine. Aye, no bad. Aye, it was awright.’ So ah would just start wittering on about so-and-so and her new fancy man, or how Mary McClure didnae like the new minister.” Mrs Campbell shuddered as she sighed. “Imagine all that fear and disappointment clogged up in there, and nobody stopped to ask him about it, to ask if he was happy in his life, if he was coping. None of the men could tell ye how they really felt, because if they did, they would weep, and this fuckin’ city is damp enough.”
Mrs Campbell pressed her hanky to her cut. She lifted it away and considered the blood clotting upon it. “And whut did they get for aw their troubles, eh? They got laid off by some suit-wearing snobs in Westminster who couldnae find Glasgow on a map, who didnae give a flyin’ fuck if the men had families to feed. They get telt that they’re the problem wi’ this country, that they’re haudin’ back progress because they’re no afraid of hard work. Then some uppity ginger bitch decides that’s the end of them with a stroke of her fountain pen. Done, finito, kaput.”
(p. 149*)
“Listen son, at ma age love is a nuisance of a thing. What ye want is some easy company on a Tuesday night, a bit of help runnin’ the hoose, and if yer lucky a bit of nookie as long as ye can both lie on yer side while ye’re at it.” Mungo didn’t laugh at the joke. Jocky dropped his dout into his mug. “What ye want is an easy life. There’s nothin’ easy about love.”
(p. 264*)
*    *    *    *    *
Back Courts, Easterhouse, Glasgow, 1990s - source: Cranhill Arts Project

James pedalled into the city, heading downhill, back towards the East End. The Rattray flew through the smirr, it sliced and turned, thin and fast as any whippet. Mungo held his body away from James like before, but now, when he held on to his waist, he used his whole hand and gripped the sharp bone at the top of his hips. He allowed his thumbs to slowly creep up under James’s Fair Isle jumper and brush against the warm skin. It was a nothing that felt like an everything.
(p. 210*)
After battering each other with caman sticks for ninety minutes, the boys were grateful for the lukewarm showers, water that was barely warm enough to return the feeling to their toes and wash the red clay from their legs. James stood under the end jet. He crammed his blue fingers inside his mouth. He tried not to look at Paddy Creek, with his lazy smile and broad, muscular shoulders. He tried to not watch the stream of shampoo as it trickled down his back, and ran between his buttocks. Like the stubborn oose you pick from an acrylic jumper, some unseen static kept pulling his gaze back to the boy. James turned away. He knew if they caught him staring they would have a hundred names for him before he had a name for himself.
(p. 204*)
She spun him and slathered ointment across his kidneys. “We’re aw knocking our bloody pans in, trying to make something of you, trying to make a man of out you. And what are you doing, eh? Carrying on like a daft lovesick lassie. It’s time you toughened up.”
He repeated himself. “I can’t help it.”
Jodie spun him to face her. She shook him hard. “God sake! You have to help it. You can’t be like that and expect to be happy about it.”
(pp. 320-321*) 
He wondered what it was the men had recognized in him. Where was this signal he could not see, the semaphore he had never meant to send? Was it in how his eyes never quite met theirs, how they turned themselves down submissively? Was it in how he stood with his hands limp at his side, his weight on one leg? He wanted to find the signal, and he wanted to end its transmission.
The men had looked at him as though they knew what lay inside his soul, things he still had not even admitted to himself. They knew the inescapable shame of it, how isolated it made him feel, and they had used that to separate him from his home and do as they pleased.
(p. 324*)
*    *    *    *    *
Gallowgate was a born liar. He had learned the skill when he was young, and he had found no better way to make the things he wanted come to him: sympathy, chocolate eggs, an afternoon off school, new Diadora football boots, or a look at the private place on the wee boy next door. For a time there was almost nothing he couldn’t lie his way into. It had started insidiously enough but by the time he was sent down to Barlinnie it had become more than a grease to ease his way in life and was now a facet of his nature. Gallowgate was a born liar; his mother had learned that the hard way.
“Dear God,” she whispered. “Angus, please don’t hurt the boy.”
He didn’t know when she had stopped loving him, but he wanted to find out and go back to a time before it. She had accepted the real truth about his nature now. She had taken Evan’s side, believed his brother’s stories, and then she had called the police. Now, as Gallowgate let the last of the pennies die, he knew the four of them would never sit in a sandpit in a cream and claret caravan on the Saltcoats coast again.
The telephone let out three quick pips. Gallowgate savoured the last of his mother’s sighs. There was a rasp at the bottom of her breath now, a sandpapery sound that said it was too late to stop smoking.

(p. 196*)

He rolled his tongue around his mouth as he thought about what Mungo had asked. “And your earlier question about fightin’ Catholics. It’s about honour, mibbe? Territory? Reputation?” The baby reached out and grabbed Hamish’s pinkie. Hamish smiled sweetly. “Honestly, ah don’t really know. But it’s fuckin’ good fun.”
(p. 255*)
*according to my reader
Douglas Stuart - Young Mungo (Grove Atlantic, 2022)