With no telly to watch, Tony changes quickly into his jammies, and because of the cold dives under the covers of bed. He sleeps clutching his book of Grimm’s fairy tales and wakes, shivering, with a crick on his neck, rain battering his bedroom window. The thirty-watt bulb is dissolved by daylight into an afterglow. In his dream Rapunzel’s ethereal singing voice summons him to the dark tower. When he shouts up for her to lower her hair Angela looks down at him, her head shaven. ‘Run,’ she screams, blood and water floods from her mouth. He doesn’t know how he discerns the two elements, apart from the muddy colour, it’s not one thing or the other, but a combination of both. The answer is like the way his cock stands to attention, because he needs to pee, but he is in a tizzy about meeting Jaz again. Knowing his da is in the next room allows him to break the spell, tiptoe to the front door, open it, and scramble down the stairs to the landing below barefoot.
He’s not sure of the time when he climbs the stairs, but he is sure his feet are freezing, and he is impatient to warm them by the banked-coal fire. Sunday breakfast is usually a fry, potato scones mopping up greasy loose ends. His mouth salivates chewing on the meals of memory. A long lazy day, climbs into his head, an antidote to school, stretches ahead, his da sitting in his chair, and him sitting opposite, but a sinking feeling in his stomach washes through his body. His feet echo in the lobby. The fragrance of ham, the spit of sausages and eggs, doesn’t come out to meet him and his mouth feels full of cotton wool. The living room an empty space and the fire untended. Da’s bed not been slept in. A moan escapes from his mouth. He knows all the way to his toes something bad has happened, like the time his mum had died.
Waiting takes a long time. He flits between standing at the window and lying in his bed and bracing himself against the front door like a tuning fork. Hunger comes in waves and he gulps water from the cold-water tap. His ears become attuned to the flow of the traffic outside, the telly and radios waves travelling through the walls from other houses and other lives. He develops antennae for doors opening and closing in the close and the beat of feet on the stairs and landing. Once his heart races in his chest sure his da is tromping with his heavy tread up the stairs, but the feet stalled at the landing below and he hears the milkman asking for money, and in the gap Tony hears his own breathing. When the milkman chaps his door and his hand spiders in to look through the letterbox, he’s ready and hides in the room, and the note with ‘amount outstanding,’ underlined in pen three times flutters to the floor. An unlucky charm. Much later, when the building settles with the creaks and groans to the darkness and to sleeping bodies enclosed in sandstone and mortar, he climbs into his da’s bed, his sad bed, with his comics and his Grimm’s fairy tales and waits for his da to come home.
On Monday morning he sleeps in. The building is alive with noise and he looks at the clock on the mantelpiece and he works out he’s got fifteen minutes to get dressed and to get to school or he’ll be late and get the belt. He dashes to his room and gets dressed and does everything in regular order before leaving. No cornflakes and no milk and no money for snacks he puts a teabag in a cup and fills it with sugar and runs the cold tap and gulps the mix. He flies down the stairs hoping he’ll not catch up with Pizza Face, because he’s going the long way to school, through the scary tunnel and underneath the railway into Dalmuir Park. He doesn’t want his best pal asking him daft questions, but there’s something he thought of and has to do.
The sound of his feet slapping on the pavement, running in the wrong direction, away from school, in a world of adults and uniforms and movement and the headlights of passing cars is the only company he needs. He races past the high flats. His feet echo and ring on the slope, off walls running slimy and green from water and smelling of pee, he enters the dark tunnel. It is a long passage to be alone in, railway sleepers, metal lines and trains thundering above his head. He grows accustomed to the gloom by shouting ‘Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaad’ marvelling at the explosion of sound. The luminous light is a salve and he bursts out of the tunnel into green grass, ordered park benches and the smell of earth. His breathing grows ragged and a tall man hurrying a child along makes Tony duck his head down as they pass. He is sweating, but the man doesn’t notice him. It’s not far to the Edwardian drinking fountain, a cupola, wrought-iron green, with a white bird with outstretched wings on the top, a monument to municipal parks with its slate-grey step and for those not yet big enough, like Tony, to reach, the silver taps and take a mouthful of refreshing cold water. But this isn’t why he’s here. There’s another monument he needs to see and it’s a few steps away, a granite rock by the stream, dedicated to an eighteen-year old man, Robert Currie who had tried to save a wee boy from getting knocked down by a train. He used to pass it with his da, when they used to feed the ducks. It’s a magic stone his da used to say, because it’s not often somebody does something for nothing, expects nothing and dies because he has to. And he used to hold him up and let him rub the tub of the stone, so some of that courage could rub off on him. On them.
He has never felt so agitated, not even when his mum died. He holds his hand on top of the stone and cries with his eyes shut. ‘Please God,’ he says, unsure what to say next, his body buckling and he sits down a small bundle cuddling himself.
Lightning cracks the dark skies, the thunder louder. Fat raindrops cascade down. A woman passes him running blindly, her brolly turned inside out, clothes soaked, hair pasted to her head, lips livid. Her eyes are tense and lowered, as if she sees Tony but doesn’t want to acknowledge that she’s seen him. She hurries on in worn sandals, the manicured edges of the lawns trimmed, a straight road, juggling a tight smile.