Had a few days to think about how wronged I’d been by the court system. Off work. Phoned in sick cough, cough, with the flu that needed careful handling. Plenty of fluids dozing in front of the telly. Charlie achieved the pinnacle of celebrity fame by being front page of The Clydebank Post and being filmed by Reporting Scotland speiling ‘No Comment’ on the steps outside the court. With the case flung out, his lawyer had plenty to say, hogging the headlines and bandying about words like indictment of the criminal justice system and how it was…Turned off the telly. Celebrity muppertry never appealed to me. Stuck in my craw, but I was glad to get my humdrum life back. I’d one more thing to do and tried putting it off, hoping I’d develop selective amnesia and forget about it.
Made an effort. Spruced myself up with the casual denim look. Splashed on the Hai Karate with both hands and not just round the glint of a shiny shaved face in a mottled bathroom mirror the size of my fist. If I’d hair, I’d have combed it. Wore new polka-dot boxers.
Ten minute walk. Just as a glass can be half empty or half full, Myra held the front door of her third-floor tenement flat in a way that was definitely half shut. She had on a same-colour dress and belt ensemble, cinched at the waist, bagging her knees. Last to go in the selection box. Even as a kid I hated orange spangles. Sucked on them grudgingly, because there was nothing else. Her grey hair was a brittle palm cockatoo ready to take flight
‘Just wanted to say I’m sorry,’ I said.
She sniffed, considered, ‘for what?’
‘For whit happened to you in court.’
She cocked her head. ‘But it wasn’t your fault.’
‘I know. That doesnae matter. Just wanted to say I was sorry.’
Reached out and gently touched the side of my cheek. ‘What happened to your face?’ she asked.
Forgotten all about it. After a few days it got normal to wince when eating something. Other folk reminded me by asking the same questions over and over. Got bored with it. ‘I got attacked by a few leprechauns. Begorrah, were they not after my bags of gold.’
Quick on the uptake, ‘I always carry a high stool so I can get away from them,’ she said.
After choosing books from the library we used to sit back to back on the grass at the High Park on those long summer days. Her in her cut-down denims and sleeveless striped tank top. Spouted rubbish at each other. First thing that came into our heads. That was how I found out she fancied David Cassidy. Used to tease her mercilessly about it. Tell her he was far too old for her. And anyway she’d a face like a goat. He fancied younger prettier kids. If I was feeling especially brave I’d try and tickle her. But she’d pull away, duck and dive, red faced, saying it was too hot. Knew it was because she really hated, but felt sorry for me.
‘Damn,’ I said. ‘I never thought of that.’
The door eased open a crack. ‘You want to come in for a cuppa?’ Her smile was uncertain and held a childish shyness.
‘Ok,’ I said.
Followed her through to the living room. Wood floors. Easy to keep clean. White-washed walls. Heating was on too high for my liking and sweat ran down my back. Took off my jacket, and didn’t know what to do with it. Plonked it down on the arm of the white leather couch beside me. Seat was comfortable enough. Careful not to disturb the purple patterned cushions. The telly was an empty box squeezed into the corner of the room, reflecting back a dull vision of feet. An unopened packet of Fishermen’s Friends lay on top of it. A nest of glass tables next to the window. Empty vase and family photos, glass on glass. A studio flat. I watched her bustling about in the strip of kitchen.
‘Mind if I open the window a bit?’ I said.
She looked through at me. ‘I’d rather you didn’t—with the sewerage.’
‘It doesn’t smell too bad in here,’ I said.
The sewerage works was a couple of hundred yards across the other side of the canal. On a good day with the wind at your back Castle Street smelled of sewerage. On a bad day it smelled of shite.
Her laughter tingled with the mugs she was holding. She handed me a tea and sat down in matching leather chair opposite. ‘I’ve not got any sugar,’ she looked down at her hands as she sipped her tea.
‘That’s alright you’re sweet enough.’ The joke died on my tongue. Left an awkwardness and uneasy gap between us. Glanced across at the photos. ‘You’re daughter not live with you?’
Shook her head and sighed. ‘No she lives with her boyfriend in Paisley, which is a blessing. We never really got on. Love-hate relationship.’
‘Good cup of tea.’ Wasn’t sure what to say next. ‘Any grandkids?’
‘Not yet. Thank god,’ she said.
‘But Myra, you loved kids. Were always picking up the local waifs and strays. You could never get enough of them. I always imagined you’d have a big family.’ Didn’t add I imagined lots more. That a kiss would have been conquest and hoped the big family would have been with me.
‘It’s not that,’ she said. ‘It’s just that she’s the devil’s spawn.’
Choked on my tea. Almost dropped the cup. Knew from the court she was a bit screwy, but we were having a perfectly normal conversation then she flung in that bombshell. ‘You didn’t get on then?’
‘We got on well enough as long as Ruth got exactly what she wanted. Remember the way Charlie used to be. Everything she wants she gets. Or there is a price to pay.’
‘Whit do you mean?’
She leaned across. ‘Remember when Charlie’s mum died in that house fire?’ Sensor in the perfume holder sprayed out. I jerked back a touch. Felt foolish and tried not to show it in my face.
‘Chip pan fire.’ The thought came unbidden and I blurted it out. ‘I’d a few near things myself. You’re no’ tryin’ to say it wasnae an accident and Charlie killed her?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘But he was certainly capable of it. In the same way my Holly is capable of the same kind of thing, or something similar. They create a spider’s web of thoughts in your head and it’s impossible to escape them. They’ve dark souls pulling everyone into their orbit. They feed on hatred and contempt for others.’
‘Easy Myra,’ I said, ‘sounds like your typical Thatcherite. Only person they trust had blue hair and is over fifty, is in the armed forces or wearing a uniform. There’s no crime against that hen. You should maybe arrange for them to get involved in politics.’
She put carefully down at the side of her chair. ‘You can joke about it all you want. But I’d guess the way Charlie dragged you into play he needs you for something. Nothing comes from nothing. And if I was you I’d be very scared.’