Putting down roots

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

Lock the door, keys in envelope, envelope through letterbox. Then down the stairs, out of the close, along the street. No trace left behind, no dust, no strands of hair, no lumps of blue tack, no marks nor stains nor any other evidence of anything at all. That’s how it’s supposed to go.

But it’s been thirty minutes since ‘The Time By Which I Was to Vacate the Property’ and I haven’t. Normally I can’t wait to leave at this point. When your stuff’s no longer there, your cushions, and your rugs, and blankets, and plants and photos, when there’s no trail of toys and crushed biscuits underfoot, it looks like your home but it’s not. And that’s just weird. But here I am all the same, an hour after I’d finished the cleaning and could have left. I didn’t plan this or anything. And I never would have imagined doing it. But here I am. All the same. Waiting for the sound of the close door opening and shutting, footsteps on the stairs, the letting agent’s key in the lock.

I took my shoes off, and my socks. It’s easier that way, you see. The floorboards are cold, the heating hasn’t been on in days, but that’s okay. Cold feet, cold floorboards, they connect better. It’s working already, I don’t need to look down to see that it’s working. It feels strange, obviously. Not exactly pleasant, but not exactly unpleasant either.

When they arrive, they’ll open the door, and they’ll see me, they’ll see us, me and the flat, and they’ll not know where one finishes and the other begins. They’ll pause. Thoughts will flood through their brain. They’d need an axe. No. Not them. It would have to be the police that do any chopping, or the fire service. They’d need lawyers, definitely, expensive ones. There would be paper work, there would be attention, it would be everywhere, the news, social media. There would be trouble, and it would be trouble for them. No. Easier to turn around, shut the door, leave it for somebody else to deal with. There will be no eviction today.

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The Man an the Lintie

(Written for the #DareToDream day of action on Thursday 27th October, part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival of Dreams 2016.)

A lintie sits oan a branch o a tree. A man walks up tae the tree. He sees the lintie, an no havin seen a lintie afore, he goes, ‘whit’re you?’ An the lintie says, ‘I’m a lintie’. An the man goes, ‘whit’s a lintie?’ An the lintie says, ‘I sing’. An the man says, ‘but whit’s a lintie?’ An the lintie says ‘I sing.’ ‘Are ye a bird?’, the man says. ‘We’re aw birds’, the lintie says. ‘I’m no’, the man says. The lintie says, ‘whit are you then?’ An the man says, ‘I’m a man’. An the lintie says, ‘whit’s a man?’ An the man takes a shotgun fae affay his shoulder an shoots the lintie deid.

A lintie sits oan a branch o a tree. A man walks up tae the tree. He sees the lintie, an no havin seen a lintie afore, he goes, ‘whit’re you?’ An the lintie says, ‘I’m a lintie’. An the man goes, ‘whit’s a lintie?’ An the lintie says, ‘I sing’. An the man says, ‘but whit’s a lintie?’ An the lintie says ‘I sing.’ ‘Are ye a bird?’, the man says. ‘We’re aw birds’, the lintie says. ‘I’m no’, the man says. The lintie says, ‘whit are you then?’ An the man says, ‘I’m a man’. An the lintie says, ‘whit’s a man?’ An the man takes a shotgun fae affay his shoulder. An the lintie goes, ‘that wis a joke. I’m a man as weel’. An it pulls oot a gun fae under its wing. Points it at the man, pulls the trigger. But it’s jist a wee gun, wi wee sma bullets nae bigger than seeds, an they wee sma bullets barely break through the man’s jaiket. The man laughs an shoots the lintie deid.

A lintie sits oan a branch o a tree. A man walks up tae the tree, sees the lintie, goes ‘whit’re you?’ The lintie says ‘I’m a lintie’. The man says, whit’s a lintie? The lintie laughs. ‘That wis a joke’, it says. ‘I’m a man’. An the lintie pulls oot fae under its wing a gun near twice the size o it. An it shoots the man. An the man faws deid. The lintie laughs, an stumbles back aff the branch. An bein a man noo, an no actually a lintie, it cannae fly, so it faws an breaks its neck.

A lintie sits oan a branch o a tree. It feels something cauld under its wing, diggin in. It brings the cauld thing oot, an wonders at this strange metal contraption, wonders how it came tae be in sic a place as under a lintie’s wing, wonders how it came to be at aw. The lintie doesnae see the man wi the gun below. The man raises his gun an shoots the lintie deid.

A lintie sits oan a branch o a tree. The lintie sings. A man walks up, raises his gun, shoots the lintie deid.

A lintie sings. A man shoo/

The man stops. He listens. He feels like he kens the sang, like he’s heard it afore. Mibbe when he wis a bairn. Mibbe when he wis in his mammy’s belly. The man sits doon oan the grass an closes his een. The sang’s caught him in a place where he’s no used tae feelin things. He’s no used tae this feeling, this feeling is different. Aw he kens is that he doesnae want the sang tae finish. But it does, the lintie finishes its sang. An it sees the man sittin below wi his een closed. The lintie asks the man, ‘are you okay?’ But the man doesnae answer the lintie’s question. Because there’s a question in his heid that’s louder, a question that wisnae there afore.

Whit are you?

‘I dinnae ken’, the man says. Tae the grass. Tae the lintie. Tae the world. Tae hissel. ‘I dinnae ken’.

Lilac

You shouldnae judge someone by their hair. Except that, well, sometimes you can, can’t you?  And this is one of those times. Thin, limp… and what even is that colour, brown? She’s tied it back in this tiny purple hair bobble that she’s knotted round a few times. Any other hair would be bursting to get out, but this hair’s quite content in its lilac elastic prison.

Mum’s nudging me.

What?

Don’t stare, she whispers.

I’m no.

I’m not, she says.

I’m no getting into that battle right now. No, not, dinnae, don’t, fuck, off. Obviously, I dinnae say that to her.

Anyway, it wouldnae matter if I was staring. The woman’s in a world of her ain. She was sat here like that when we got here half an hour ago, she hasnae moved the whole time. No an inch, no a centimetre, no a millimetre. Just looking ahead of her, hands on her lap. She maybe even doesnae ken where she even is. God, I hate these seats. They put you right up against other people, which cannae be hygienic, can it? A bit ironic, ken, given the function of the place.

Mum’s got the clipboard. I told her to give me it, but she said, no. I said, how no? And she said, sorry? And I said, you heard me, and she said, I didn’t get that, and I said, you heard me, and she said, Oh, did you mean why not? Obviously, I said. Because you are fifteen years old, she said. When you are sixteen, you can fill in your own forms, but until then I will fill them in for you.  I tried to grab the clipboard, but she hung on to it and wouldnae let go. She’s stronger than she looks, my mum. I sneak a look down at it just now but I can’t see what she’s written, her hands are in the way. She’s coming into the appointment with me. It wasnae worth arguing on that one.

God, no lookin at the woman is really difficult. How still she is, like silence, it’s creepy. I try to look at the wall, at the posters, at the clock. But it’s no use. I wish I’d brought a book. I wish they had magazines. I wish there werenae ‘No mobile phones’ signs all over the walls. I try to focus on the hair elastic, the colour of it, that stupid lilac, no look at her face or her hair. But it doesnae work. It doesnae work because there is a slug crawling up the back of her head next to her pony tail. It’s a big one, big, black and shiny. It stops and, I swear, it turns its head to look at me, its feelers raised. The weirdest thing is, she doesnae seem to have noticed it, the woman. How can you no notice a slug crawling up your hair? And up your neck, it must have climbed up her neck to get there, how did she no feel it? I look at my lap, look at the wall, look at the clock. My appointment was supposed to be 3.10 and it’s 3.20 now. Any second now, the consultant is going to appear and call my name. They are. They have to. Any second now. Any second…

I say woman. I say woman like she’s older, like she’s in her fifties or something. But when we came in, I saw her face, and there was something in it that said that she was younger. Twenties. Maybe even early twenties.

I’m glad my mum’s here. I look up at her, expecting her to smile back, make some rubbish joke, but she doesnae. She doesnae because she’s staring at the woman’s head, at the slug. Mouth open. No words to say. No that she needs any. Her look says it all.

Seeds

(Originally published as part of Sidling Bears’ 100 Days of Page, and read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014 as part of Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop.)

It was just a wee patch of grass. Smaller than my garden, and that’s saying something. My garden doesn’t have any grass, just stones and plant pots. And it’s tiny, so you can imagine how small this patch of grass was.

I wouldn’t normally have seen it. I don’t normally go down that street. I don’t like it, there are too many cars, they drive so fast, it’s too loud. I can get to the supermarket by a different street, a quiet street, so that’s okay. But that particular day, the quiet street wasn’t quiet. There were two fire engines on the road and an ambulance, and I could see the two cars, what was left of them. I knew it must be two cars, there was too much metal for one.

I turned back. I didn’t want to look at it, I didn’t want the image stuck in my brain. But I had to go to the supermarket. Mum was coming round for tea, I had to get the food in. I didn’t have a choice, it was the street I don’t like or nothing.

I had to check the street sign when I got there. There was only one lane of cars and they were going slowly. On the pavement at the other side, there was a huddle of people peering at something on the road. I’d need to walk by them to get to the shop, but there weren’t too many, so that was okay.

As I got nearer, I saw what they were looking at. Grass. A square of it, surrounded by tarmac, where the cars would normally be. It wasn’t very high, no more than a few inches, but some bits were longer than others and they were all different shades of green.

Mrs Mackay was there. She’d already got her shopping in, her wheely tartan shopping bag was full. ‘What do you think?’, she asked me. ‘It’s grass’, I said. ‘Aye’, she says, ‘I ken. But what’s it doing there?’ ‘Growing’, I said. And she smiled, ‘Aye. So it is.’

The others were taking photos on their phone. My phone doesn’t take photos, and I didn’t have my camera with me, though I was wishing I did. More people arrived, curious to see what it was. They all wanted to get up close, so I let them and went on to the supermarket. When I came back the way with my shopping, there were even more of them, crowded round, on the road now as well. I would have had to push past them to see it again, so I just went home.

I told Justyna, my support worker, about it when she came round. I don’t think she believed me at first, though she didn’t show it. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d believe it, if someone told me. But then she got a text from a friend, who asked if she’d seen it. She wanted to know all about it after that. When she left, she promised to go by and take a photo of it for me on her phone.

I made Spaghetti Carbonara for tea (I know the recipe off by heart), and Mum and I ate it on our laps while we watched the news.

I don’t read the papers. I can read, but it takes so long, it’s hard to keep track of all the information. I don’t know what I’d do without the news on the telly.

Reporting Scotland was the same as usual: a murder in Glasgow, people arguing about wind farms, some councillor getting up to no good. But then the newsreader’s face, which was grim and serious before, turned to a smile and she gave a wee laugh to herself before saying, ‘And finally, in Edinburgh this morning, locals were surprised to discover that a patch of grass had grown overnight in the middle of a busy road…’ They showed the grass, and then a man in a suit who laughed and said that ‘the council were investigating but it was, of course, nothing to worry about’.

That night I had a dream about the grass. About seeds opening and shoots unfurling and pushing up through stone and tarmac to come out into the warmth of the sun.

I woke up early, before six, and went out without having my breakfast or a shower, something I never do. There was no one else in the street. When I got to the grass, I saw that it had grown and was now on both sides of the road. I walked up to it and it came nearly to my knees. I bent down and touched it. I could smell it, it smelt like…

There was a hand on my shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t do that, miss.’ It was a policeman. There was a policewoman behind him, talking into her walkie talkie, I couldn’t hear what she was saying.

‘How no?’, I asked him.

‘We don’t know what it is’, he said.

‘It’s grass.’

‘Can you step back onto the pavement, please.’

‘What else would it be?’

‘Now, please.’

I did what he said, and watched from the pavement as more people arrived. Some of them were police officers, some had video cameras, but some were just normal people. The day before, everyone had crowded round the grass, they were right up close to it, but now everyone was hanging back, standing several feet away from the cordon that had been put up.

At some point (I don’t know when, I wasn’t keeping track of the time), the policeman from before looked my way. I saw him say something to the policewoman and nod at me. I realised that was the time to leave.

It was on the news again that night, and not just the Scottish news. They showed a video of the street taken from up high in a helicopter. You couldn’t see the grass, there was a big white tent around it and there were people, all dressed in white with their faces covered by masks, going in and out.

Then, there was another man in a suit, a different man from the night before and he wasn’t laughing. You see men in suits a lot in the news. The suit says ‘I am important, I know what you don’t, you should listen to me’. This man’s suit looked expensive. He was talking about mutated strains and eco-terrorists. Residents of the surrounding streets had been evacuated, he said, and residents within a mile radius were advised to stay indoors.

I turned the news off after that, I didn’t feel like watching any more.

Mum rang first thing the next morning. She’d heard it on the radio. It was all sorted, they’d fixed it, the street was back to normal. So I could go out, she said, I didn’t have to stay inside.

Later that day, I went out to the supermarket. The quiet street was quiet again. The street where the grass had been was full of cars, fast and busy and loud. I’ve not been back down that street since.

Justyna printed off the photo of the grass she’d taken for me. I stuck it to my bedroom wall with blue-tac, just above my pillow. I haven’t had another dream about the grass. Not yet, anyway.