In the late bloom of spring, snow scars the Old Kilpatrick hills. Seagulls swoop above Angela’s head, screeching along the bins on Risk Street. A blackbird underneath a fuchsia tucked in beside the wall of The Home, falters in song and is silent as she gets closer. She no longer reaches out a hand to ring the bell. Her visits have become numerous and mundane, part of the landscape. Residents and staff voices no longer fall into a stilted silence when she wanders into the living room. The Home has become familiar to her piece by piece like a jigsaw. The toilets at the top of the stairs. Tony’s room. Toilets at the bottom of the stairs. The dining room where she sometimes eats. Angela’s hair has grown longer and has been raffishly cut, as if by sloping sheering scissors, as she prepares for first days at school and she lifts a hand pushes gold tresses off her forehead. The warmth of the kitchen where she shares treats like hot fudge from the oven that scalds her mouth. The cook doesn’t let anybody into her kitchen but her and Tony, because they’re a great help to her, trying out things. The brightness of her eyes darkens like the shadow on water when she stands still, but blinks rapidly when she speaks about Jaz.
‘Is he yer da?’ the cook asks, before going back to scour the pots, in the sink one last time. A burnt cinnamon smell hangs in the air.
‘No, he’s just somebody she knows.’ Tony is standing beside her in the doorway of the kitchen beside her and answers for her. ‘Like Rumpelstiltskin,’ he adds, shaking his head because he doesn’t really knows what he means, just talking, getting flustered, trying to explain to the cook, to himself, and to Angela their convoluted relationship.
‘He’s not my dad,’ Angela lisps when upset, avoiding the cook’s intense gaze. ‘But we’re gonnae have a little sister or brother soon. And I’ve to help take care of the baby.’ She swells up with the responsibility.
‘Uhu,’ says the cook, drying her hands on a dishcloth. ‘Sometimes we don’t like talking about some things. My dad was a bit like that. He wasn’t much use. I used to say if you can mistake a crocodile in the river for a log then you could mistake my dad for being the head of our family.’
The little girl giggles and as the cook bends down to put a blackened frying pan beneath the sink she rushes over and briefly hugs her warm leg and is hugged back. The cook turns and pats Tony’s shoulder. ‘Better keep an eye on her,’ she laughs, ‘before she gets into some kind of mischief’.
‘I will.’ Tony grins. He follows Angela out into the lobby and as she marches through the dining room and outside.
Wellies keep their feet from getting wet and in duffle coats they’re well wrapped up against the cold, but they wander aimlessly around the back of the house, making tracks as grass peeks through grey slush.
‘Whit’s that?’ asks Angela, pointing to an old-fashioned stand-up-and-beg bike, with high handle-bars leaning against the inshot of storage room at the back of the kitchen. Steam comes out of the vent in the windowless wall swirls above their heads. She pulls the handlebars away from the wall, almost toppling it. ‘It’s a bike.’ There’s a note of awe in her voice. ‘We could…we could, go on it.’ Her blue irises lock on his and for a moment or two she is unsure he wants what she wants. The wheel wobbles as she tries to guide it onto the path at the side of the building and down onto the street.
‘It’s ancient,’ says Tony. ‘And it’s got a flat front tyre.’
‘But it still goes.’
The bike falls sideways as she tries to scramble up onto the saddle. ‘Whit you daeing? It’s broke.’
She ignores him. ‘Help me up onto the saddle. Push me! I’ll guide.’ She grabs the handlebars as he hauls her up, her legs over the metal bar from saddle to front column because she’s too small to sit properly on the saddle. The bike wobbles as she guides it, scrunched up like a jockey, along the path, Tony pushing and trying to keep it from tilting and falling. Her cheeks are apple red and she cries with delight. ‘See, I told you I could go a bike.’ He slows and the bike tilts and falls.
‘Put me back on,’ she demands. ‘I wiz just gettin’ the hang of it.’
‘No, I’m no’ daeing it. It’s just stupid.’
Bruno bounces out of the front door and comes towards them. ‘I wiz lookin’ for you,’ he tells Tony. ‘Whit you daeing.’
‘We’re takin’ shots of goin’ on a bike,’ Angela pipes up.
‘Gee me a shot,’ says Bruno.
‘You need to hold me up on the bar and push me,’ says Angela. ‘Tony’ll show you how to dae it.’ She points imperiously towards where she wants to be wheeled, down the street where deciduous hedges are spun with crumpled gold leaves poking through.
‘Nah, she’s too wee. I want a shot first.’ Bruno’s voice it tetchy. He doesn’t like that Angela takes Tony away from him, but the way his roommate glares at him shuts him.
‘I’m no’ too wee,’ shouts Angela, turning to Tony to help her onto the frame of the bike. It seems obvious to her that she is going to cycle around the world when her legs grow long enough to reach the pedals. And she might as well start now. Tony holds her close as she freewheels down the hill the bike tilted towards his body holding them upright. Her squeals light up the street. When she is cycling around the world she has to think about red Indians, with bows and arrows, galloping after her and trying to grab her from her bike and onto their horse. She’d need to shoot at them and she knows where there’s a gun in the smelly cupboard that she could use. She’s sneaked it out and held it in her hand.
‘Push,’ she tells Tony, who is out of breath, as the Indian war paint fades, and the bike wobbles sideways into the wall at the bottom of the street. She falls on her feet and giggles. ‘Let’s do it again.’
Bruno scrambles to join them and the sun peaks through and holds them in silence. The cook waves from the top of the street as she goes the other way, towards the stairs and up onto Overtoun Road.
Next morning when Tony ambles into the kitchen to help with breakfasts a sour-faced woman in a hairnet turns and screams at him to get out. Tells him it’s off-limits.
‘Where’s the other cook?’ asks Tony, looking past her. ‘The real cook.’
‘How would I know,’ the sour-face woman says. ‘They told me to come here and that’s it. She won’t be back in this dump. That’s all I know. And noo I’m stuck with it.’ She pushes him away by the shoulder. ‘Beat it.’ The kitchen door slams behind him and there are tears in his eyes.