At the top of the Cressie Stairs, just before Angela crosses the road to go to school, she bends away, follows the black train of crows in the sky above, cawing, ‘it’s dirty, dirty,’ and jeering with their corvine laugh. Over and over in her stomach the words tumble and she opens her mouth wide to let them out and tears fall. ‘I’m never goin’ back,’ she says aloud. ‘I’ll run away and Mum’ll be sorry.’
Squalling wind whips the trees and it rains copper and gold leaves, which scrunch under her shoes. She keeps walking, head down, school bag hitting her knee, not sure where she was going but finds herself in Dalmuir Park. The railway station is below her and the metal lines sing and the overhead lines sparkle lightening as a train speeds along the track. She recognises the swings and roundabout and tucks her hands into her pocket to keep them warm, trying to work out how she’s walked so far and came back to where she started. The dark tenement windows glisten and her forehead furrows as she peers along the rows trying to pick out the rectangle of glass through which her mum might be watching her. She waves and doesn’t seem the least surprised to see Bruno on the path near the railway line and tunnel waving back at her. She runs down the hill, glad to see him.
Bruno seems just as delighted to see her. ‘You doggin’ school, as well?’
‘No’, I’m running away.’
He hiccups a laugh with his crooked smile. ‘You’ll no’get very far. You need sandwiches and juice and a stick to beat away mad wolves.’ Sucks in his breath as he ponders, tilts his head and gawks into the blackness under the bushes and trees screening the railway track fence that seperates it from the park. ‘We could get you a stick in there. But it needs to be a big wan.’
‘My da, I mean, Jaz, has got a gun.’
Bruno nods, eyes glistening and leans forward. ‘That’s even better. I could show you how to shoot.’ He shuts one eye, cocks his hand and sights his fingers at a bench half way up the hill. ‘Pow. Pow.’ Then he grows serious. ‘Where does he keep it?’
She shivers, lets her schoolbag drop and sticks her hands under her ochters to warm them. ‘In the cupboard. Under the washin’.’
‘Em,’ Bruno weighs up their options. ‘I could tell your mum that you’d been hit by a massive truck and she needs to come right away. And then you could sneak inside and get the gun?’
Angela treats her near fatal demise and the deception it entails with equanimity. ‘But whit about Jaz?’ she asks.
‘Your da? Doesn’t he go to work?’
‘No.’ Angela shakes her head. ‘He just lies about all day telling everybody whit to do, and hurtin’ them when they don’t. And then he goes the pub, comes back drunk and batters everybody. That’s all he ever does.’
Bruno hesitates. ‘Where is he noo?’
‘He’s in the house. Back from his holidays to Ireland.’
Bruno darts away and picks up a dark coloured hazelwood stick. ‘If you ever get attacked by a wolf you know what to dae.’ He whips off his duffel and wraps it around his left arm, pantomimes hitting a wolf on the head, swooshing and breaking its forelegs and then comments on his masterful final stroke, ‘you poke both its eye oot as a lesson for messin’ with you.’
‘Whit do you do next?’ Angela asks, breathless with all the swooshing, hitting and killing.
‘Well,’ Bruno shrugs off any suggestion of retreat, but in a melancholy tone suggests, ‘there’s probably a pack of them. And you cannae kill them all. So you need to run away and hide up a tree and light a fire.’
‘Maybe you should come with me,’ Angela suggests.
Bruno hands her the stick to hold as he unwraps his jacket from his forearm and puts it on. He takes his time, yanking his jacket across, covering over the v-neck of his school jumper, and not meeting Angela’s eyes. ‘I will, one day.’ He bites his lower lip and straightens up, ‘but not right now’. He cocks his head as if listening and brightens immediately. ‘But I could teach you how to drink from a stream and catch fish and light a fire without matches.’
‘I’m cold,’ Angela says, shivering. The stick drops from her fingers to the ground and lies on the frosty grass.
Footfall echo and man wrapped in a scarf and long coat wearing a flat cap walks out of the tunnel into the park, his breath a cloudy plume in front his face. Bruno and Angela step sidewise and backwards, even though the man doesn’t seem to see them and there’s plenty of room on the path.
Bruno unbuttons the toggles, takes off his coat and drapes it over Angela’s shoulders, smoothing it over her back like a cloak, brushing it down and pulling the oversized hood up. He looks at a face like a dandelion clock ‘Whit you runnin’ away for anyway? You’ve got a mum and da.’
‘He hurts me,’ Angela lisps, suddenly shy.
A slight twinge and two green sparks as her eyelids flutter, fall downwards. Inside the hood she sniffs, chokes on tears, and shivers in grief and her fingers open and close on circles of fear knotting her stomach and part of her flies away. Bruno steps on a twig which snaps. He kneels, wraps his arms around her, rooting her to the spot, brushing her shoulder and back. Making cooing noises.
‘It’s alright,’ he says, his eyes closed. ‘It’s alright. Someone hurt me there too.’
He waits until her body become softer and the tears subside before playing a trick on her and trumpeting a fart sound in her ear. His nostrils flare and quivering with pleasure and her laughter he picks her up by the hood and holds her dangling in the air.
‘Look, whit I caught!’ He lets her down gently, waits until she gets her feet. ‘You look like a wee goldfish.’ His hand falls on her head and rubs her blonde hair with a kind of awkward adult delicacy. ‘You’ll be alright.’
‘But I’m so cold,’ Angela says.
Bruno pulls her arm towards him and the tunnel. ‘That’s easy sorted. I’ll take you back to school. It’s always boiling in there.’
Angela let herself be guided, hitched to his side as they walked together, holding hands and she snuggles into him. He tries a funny whistle as they went through the tunnel, to scare away the ghosts. In the distance the Cressie Stairs and they don’t speak until the school is in sight and across the road. When they get to the school gates he unpicks his coat from her shoulders and puts it on and pats her head. ‘In you go,’ he says, shivering. ‘No harm done.’
She trots forward toward the side door, but stops and shouts back. ‘Whit about you?’
He shakes his head. Snorts with laughter. ‘Nah, nobody cares about me.’