The flames huv died doon an receded when ah look in the metal dustbin. Ah’d punctured holes in it the previous summer tae make a wee incinerator fur aw the deid twigs an leaves an other combustible material ah came acroass in the gairden. There’s plenty ay that, believe you me.
There’s no much mare than ash an embers noo, smoulderin away at the bottom ay the thing. It glows rid hoat when ah blow intae it, sendin grey ash swirlin roon the interior, afore risin upwards wae the smoke an away, kerried aff by the breeze. No afore coverin ma face wae the bloody stuff in the process, mind you. Ah knew it wis gonae happen. Empirical knowledge. It in nae waiy dissuaded me fae gien it a lung fae ay air aw the same. Hud tae be sure, ye see.
Scoopin up an airm fae ay the deid leaves ah’ve raked up, ah fling them intae the fire. Thick, white smoke comes chuffin oot ay it like the funnel oan the bloody Waverley Steamer. Ah batter in another haun fae fur good measure an get ma barra tae gether up mare shite ah’ve stowed doon by the shed.
Mrs McClymont fae across the back ay me’s getherin in her washin tuttin tae hersel. Ah gie her a wee wave as ah set aboot shovellin mare refuse intae the barra. Ah suspect the tuttin’s fur ma benefit, ah doubt the earthy musk ay burnin leaves is the fragrance she wis hopin fur in her laundry. Greetin faced bloody wummin.
A man’s a right tae huv a wee, controlled fire in his gairden for purposes ay regeneration. Get rid ay the auld, encourage the new tae bud an blossom. Aw the nutrients in the deid foliage ur released when its broken doon, as ye burn it, making excellent fertiliser tae be used tae stimulate new growth. Bloody simple enough.
The unrelentin smoke tumbles oot ay the bin, rollin oot like white watter, in some gravity defyin, frothy deluge as ah approach wae the barra. Ah coup the deid brambles ah’ve gethered next tae it, an sit doon oan ma bench. It’s needin a bit ay attention. A sand doon an a new coat ay varnish. It wis Jeanie’s favourite place in the world. Oan this bench, in this gairden. Bloody smoke. Ma eyes ur watterin.
Ah grab a bundle ay the branches an bind them tightly the gither wae some string, forcin them intae the bin. The flames rise quickly, crackin an snappin the brittle, bound cuttins until they spring apart, the string burnin away in the heat.
The blaze roars in the bin, tearin through the bracken insatiably an fur a minute, ah’m beholden tae it; hypnotised, watchin the flames dance an spit wee burnin embers ay ash intae the evenin sky.
‘Room fur a wee wan oan there?’ ah hear fae behind me. Ah squint ma eyes in the encroachin gloamin ay the day tae see. ‘Daniel! C’mere ma boay. Of course there’s room. There’s always room wae yer auld Granda.’ It took me a second tae adjust tae the light. Ah thoat fur a second, just a wee moment in time that it wis his faither; ma son, John. ‘Christ son, yer awfy like yer Da. Ah hud tae take a second look there.’ ah sais. He sits doon next tae me.
‘Ma Da, eh? There’s a blast fae the past.’ he sais. Ah kin smell the drink aff him an his face looks swollen, oan the right side, grazed, wae speckles ay dried blood.
‘Whit happened tae yer face? ah sais.
‘Just a daft fight.’
‘Did ye start it?’
‘Did ye finish it, then?’
‘Aye, it wis finished awright.’ he sais, shufflin, kind ay awkwardly in his seat.
‘As long as it wisnae your fault son. A fair fight’s a fair fight.’ His face glows orange in the light fae the fire, the accompanying shadows movin across his features. There’s a sadness there. Ah recognise it. Ah’d seen it afore in his faither. Christ, ah’d seen it in me. Ah put ma airm roon his shoulder an pull him close tae me. ‘We worry aboot ye ye know, yer mother an me. Yer aw we’ve goat.’
‘Ah wish ah could remember him. Ah mean, mare than ah dae’ he sais, efter a silence, breaking up a twig he hud in his haun an flingin the wee pieces intae the flames.
It’s been a long time since he’s mentioned him. He wis just a boay when the Polis came tae the door that night; only just beginnin tae know him.
The last ay the sun, sinks away, ahent the rooftoaps tae the West as ah go ben the hoose tae make us baith a cup ay tea. Vast streaks ay crimson an orange splash the clouds above as ah look back at him, loast in his ain thoats, ardent in the light fae the fire.
‘Whit wis he like, ma Da?’ he sais tae me as ah haun him his mug. This day wis always oan the cairds; the day when he’d want tae know aw aboot his faither. It’s only right. He’d asked wance or twice when he wis wee an we’d telt him, Jeanie an I; telt him that he wis a good man, a fine man an that he loved him mare than anythin in the world, an that God hud needed him tae go up tae heaven tae help him an he’d see him again wan day -- the kind ay stuff ye tell a wean. He’s no a wean anymare though, that’s the thing.
‘Yer da wis born in nineteen sixty wan. July the twinty-second, it wis. It wis a great summer. We’d just been gied the keys tae the hoose, yer Granny an me, the year afore. She wis so excited at becoming a mammy that she painted his room hersel. In her bloody state!
Aye, she wis a headstrong wummin, yer Granny. Wance she’d set her mind oan somethin, she’d see it through, an hell mend anybody that goat in her waiy.
So we hud oor wee hoose an a baby oan the waiy. Then the day came. When the Foreman came tae tell me she’d went intae labour ah near faintit. He’d tae get me a nip ay whisky tae settle ma nerves an then ah wis off.
Ah goat ma push bike an peddled aw the waiy tae the Rottenrow fae Parkheid like the bloody clappers.
The midwife sais it wis wan ay the fastest examples ay labour she’d dealt wae in some time. It didnae stop her fae gien me the daggers fur no bein there sooner, right enough, but things were different back then. The time word hud goat tae me at work an ah’d made ma waiy there, it wis aw oer. It didnae matter. No really, because when ah saw him lyin there in yer Granny’s airms, nothin else mattered. Nothin in the world except this wee tiny thing lookin back at me. Ah did well tae haud back the tears. Better than ah’m dain the noo anywaiy.’ Daniel hauns me a tissue fae his pocket. Bloody stupit auld bugger. ‘Its awright Granda, ye were sayin. . .’ he sais tae me.
‘Aye, of course son. It’s just been a long time since ah spoke tae anybody aboot this. It aw comes back.’ he nods an ah know he understauns. ‘So that wis us, soon yer Granny wis allowed tae come hame wae the baby an that’s whit she did.
It wisnae always easy. Ah’d be lyin if ah sais different, but then, it wisnae easy for anybody in they days but ah took work oer in Scotstoun in the shipyerds, where there wis plenty ay overtime so’s ah could provide aw the things a man should.
He wis a wee toerag, yer auld man. Always oot playin wae his pals an comin hame manky black. His bloody erse wis hingin oot troosers maist ay the time. Yer Granny wis furever clippin his ear for the state he came hame in. Ah telt her tae leave him be, “There’d be somethin wrang if he didnae come hame like that, ye cannae wrap them in cotton wool.” ah sais.
He wis a good boay though, ah’ll tell ye. Did yer Mammy tell ye he could’ve been a professional fitba player? Hud trials fur Rangers, so he did. Wan ay their scouts watched him play at under fifteen’s. Never happened in the end. He went awright, hud a good trial by aw accounts but nothin ever came ay it. Ah suspect it wis his second name. Back then ye hud barriers tae entry fur every profession wae a name like Coyle, no just fitba.
No long efter, he startit gettin intae the drugs. The wacky baccy at first. Christ, they were aw dain it. You’re no intae aw that shite, in’t ye no son?’
‘Naw Granda, no me. Ah just like a pint wae the boays at the weekend, ye know that.’ Daniel sais.
‘Aye. That’s whit ah thoat. Sorry son, just hud tae ask, ye know? Where wis ah then? Aw aye, the drugs. Well, efter a while it wis the hard stuff. Bloody heroin! Ah don’t know where we went wrang wae him.’ ah feel the tears wellin in ma eyes an ah try tae stoap masel, ye know, fur the boay, but it’s a struggle.
‘Ye awright Granda? Ye want another cup ay tea or somethin?’ he sais tae me, but it’s awright. Sometimes, every so oaften, the pent up emotion that ye tie in a knot an bury somewhere deep inside ye, comes tae the surface. Just tae remind ye that it’s there, that yer human; that people that meant so much tae ye, still dae, even if it’s only memories. ‘Aye well, don’t waste yer tears oan a junkie bastart like him.’ he sais, wae a fervant, caustic hostility ah’ve never seen in him; Christ, ah’ve rarely seen it in anybody.
‘That’s ma son you’re talkin aboot. Your Da! He wisnae aw bad ye know! He’d turnt a coarner. When he met yer Ma an they hud you, he squared himsel up. He wis a workin man, like me! It wis years later it happened. Nineteen eighty-nine. A relapse they cry it, when they go back tae it efter years ay sobriety. He wis dain so bloody well an aw.’
‘Aye? Well he went an fucked everythin right up, din’t he? Just like he always did.’
‘It’s no as straight forward as that.’ ah sais, snappin back at him.
‘Seems straight forward enough tae me. He goes oot wan night efter bein oan the straight an narra fur years, leavin his wife an wean in the hoose an proceeds tae get full ay smack. Predictably, he overdoses an dies, leavin us tae fend fur oorsel. . .’
‘He never bloody overdosed! Yer faither kilt himsel Daniel!’ ah interject, cuttin him aff, ‘Jumped oot ay the veranda oan the ninth flair ay the high flats.’ ah continue. He looks at me, dumbfounded. Ah didnae mean fur him tae hear it like this.
‘But ma Ma sais it wis the drugs that done him. That’s aw she ever sais. Refuses, point blank, tae talk aboot it. Whit did she mean by that, eh?’
‘They did a toxicology report, a post-mortem, an he wis as high as a kite again apparently. Efter aw they years he bloody threw it aw awaiy gettin full ay that shite again. Who knows where his heid wis at, whit it dis tae them. He probably thoat there wisnae any point anymare, that he’d let everybody doon.’
‘So, tae lighten the blow he thoat he’d relieve us ay his existence, is that it? He wis a selfish junkie prick. A coward! Whit kind ay man dis that tae his wife an wean, eh?’
‘Who knows son. Who knows whit it dis tae ye. Yer Granny never believed it, sais he widnae huv done it but how did she know? God rest her, how dis anybody know? He always hud a sadness tae him, yer Da, ah don’t know, a dark cloud hingin oer him. Ah didnae want tae believe it but sometimes . . . sometimes ye just huv tae accept things fur whit they ur. Just remember, he loved ye son, he wis a good man.’
‘A good man? He loved me, eh? Some fuckin Da he wis! Fuck him!’ he sais an he’s greetin again, only this time he’s no hidin the fact. He looks at me an ah see him as he really is; as we aw ur really, when ye get doon tae it; a fragile wee wean.
‘Ye don’t know whit he wis gaun through son. Nane ay us dae. By the time the polis goat there, the flat wis empty. A bloody hovel, it wis. Drug paraphernalia lyin aw oer the place.
They managed tae track doon two other people who were there. Witnesses. They baith sais the same thing, that they seen John - yer Da, oan the veranda, starin oot wan minute, an the next, he wis gone. He’d nae chance fae that height.’
The fire’s died doon as ah look in the bin, pokin the contents again wae the broom haunel. Just a pile ay grey ash an dyin embers, some ay which rise up intae the night sky afore they extinguish, snuffed oot, gone, elucidatin it aw somehow.
He stauns up an looks at me, the boay. He sais nothin though, insteid reachin fur another bundle ay the deciduous foliage ah’d bound, flingin it in the bin. Efter a few seconds it roars back tae life again, an we sit fur a while in silence, watchin the flames dance.