Cloudy going home
Lisa gave me her perfumed hanky to stem the bleeding. But I clutched at my hand when we came out of the door of the pub. The girls had no coats. They danced ahead of me and sheltered from the wind and rain in the litter-filled alcove of the lawyer’s office, red and white business cards coloured the caged window. Lisa held Jane up with an arm around her waist. Her bag acted as a makeshift visor over her forehead, protecting the lower reaches of her wraparound toga from becoming heavy and discoloured. Santa might have been three months short of Christmas, but at least she had the foresight to wear a hat.
Rain soaked through thinning hair to my scalp. The collar of my long tweed coat was up around my neck. It was old-fashioned enough to have once belonged to my da, and come back into fashion again. It was comfortable as a house and kept out any and all weather.
A few folk milled about outside the kebab shop across the road. I held my hand up, hanky fluttering like a bloodied flag, and tried to signal to a Hackney cab. It splashed through the rain, the not-for-hire sign lit. The stocky driver didn’t bother turning his head to check out a potential passenger.
‘Fucker,’ I muttered.
I wandered along the pavement and stood beside them. The dimmed lights from the office at their back made mirrors of the puddles, sunken worlds, where our shadows lurked.
‘You want chips?’ I let go and tested my hand to see if it had stopped bleeding by waving it towards the bright lights of the chippy.
Lisa’s arm dropped, her bag fell to her side. She nudged her pal and gave Jane control of her feet. I held my breath. We watched and waited to see if she would fall. I stood ready to spring and catch her like a B-movie extra thrust onscreen.
‘Pity about the taxi.’ Jane offered a sad smile.
It surprised she’d noticed. I smiled back. My tone was a mixture of talking to puppies and small children. ‘Hope you’re feeling a lot better, pet—better get you up the road.’
‘That’d be nice.’
We stood in silence, as if sharing a prayer.
‘I’ll take chips.’ Lisa broke our reverie. ‘A black-pudding supper.’
I looked past empty doorways and blackened close mouths to see if there was a queue outside. ‘I don’t mind.’ I shrugged. ‘And whit about you, pet? Whit do you want?’
‘If you can afford it, I’d like a roll in chips.’
Jane reached out in consolation and patted my arm.
I harrumphed. ‘I think I can stretch to that.’
Lisa butted in, ‘Is there naewhere else open?’
I blew out my cheeks. ‘You’d need to go up the town…or the Boulie.’
‘We can go to the Boulie.’
‘Nah, nae chance’
A few familiar faces from the pub ambled past, skirting the outside of the wide pavement, and gawped at us, smirking. ‘Goin’ yerself, big man,’ shouted the skinniest runt with a suggestive cackle thrown in.
Lisa seemed galvanised by the remark. She grabbed at Jane’s arm and shook her. ‘We could go to the Boulie, couldn’t we?’ She was trying to make her pal parrot her.
Jane nodded her head. Unconvinced as me.
My hand seemed to have stopped bleeding. I bandaged the wound with the dirty hanky, and dug my hands into my side-pockets to hide it. ‘Whit is you want, the chippy or the Boulie?’
Lisa cut through the Gordian knot with one word, ‘Both’. She added a smile to the mix and added. ‘We could eat the chips on the way to the Boulie’.
‘I didn’t say I was going to nae Boulie.’
‘But you will, won’t you—if Jane goes?’
‘Nah,’ I brushed rain off the top of my head and turned to go. ‘I willnae.’
‘Wait a minute.’ Lisa cupped her hand over her mouth as she whispered in Jane’s ear.
Jane was nodding agreement, but it was Lisa who was spokeswoman.
‘I’ve maybe got a few pals up the Boulie, but still’, she sighed. ‘Jane’s meant to be staying wi’ me.’
I let her stew. ‘And?’
‘Well, she could stay wi’ you!’
She was good, very good. I chuckled. ‘Mind, I came up the Clyde in a banana boat? Why would a young lassie, young enough to be my…’ I was going to say granddaughter but swerved it, with a more diplomatic, ‘daughter…want to stay wi’ me?’
I’d a quick dekko at Jane and her fixed smile, and wondered if there was something not quite right about her. But she was clutching her arms and shivering. The dead don’t always continue being dead and I saw Annie in her thin arms, her too white fingers, and turned-in toes. And I felt myself melting and hoping.
I contradicted what I was saying by growling at Lisa. ‘Can’t she talk for herself?’
‘She can’t go home, dressed like that, or her da will kill her—an’ I’m goin’ to the Boulie, and she’s too pissed. They’ll no’ let her in.’
‘I know it’s no’ Christmas, but she’s got more clothes on that you, pet? And she’s sober-ish, now. The bouncer will let any bird in.’ My voice dropped. ‘And at the very least, she’s no’ flashing her tits—like some.’
‘I’ve not got any tits,’ Jane pipped up and took off her wig, showing a crop of boyish brown hair. ‘But inside I’m a girl.’
‘Jesus-fuck,’ I gasped. ‘To think I nearly…’
‘Nearly what?’ Lisa had a quick look about before she unpicked the fat button on my coat. She arched her shoulder, made a game of it, giggled and wriggled, as she stepped inside the silken lining. Her arm snaked around my back. A flash of heat and she pouted in such a way that she wanted me to kiss her.
I held open the other flap of my coat and Jane, beautiful Jane, who looked so much like Annie, joined us.
She tilted her neck and moued her mouth to also be kissed. I closed my eyes. Her lips tasted dry and sweet, like Annie’s all those years ago.