Karen isn’t sure how she feels. She looks over the rooftops hoar frost has picked clean of grime and burnished glistening white. Outside the kitchen window spiders’ web sparkle in the early morning light and make a proscenium arch of the rotted wooden frame. Jaz is away and she’s glad and not glad, leaving the lobby light on, and holding tight to Angela late at night in bed. Her little girl takes herself off to school and she’s the whole day ahead of her. All she has is time.
Her eyes feel puffy from crying and she dabs at them with a hanky. Inside her belly the baby kicks and its cold comfort of another life. She is used to being alone. After her mother died in childbirth, her father called her his little princess. Made his likes and dislikes quite plain. She was his to do with what he liked and she was brought into this world to serve him. He was just like Jaz, didn’t like her bringing anybody home, or poking about in their business. Then she got the curse and miscarried and miscarried and then carried to full term. She didn’t hate her father, he simply had a man’s weakness. Few attended his pauper’s funeral. Nobody had cried.
She runs the tap, washes a mug out at the sink and takes one of her tablets, a Valium, to keep her on an even keel. Fog rolls in and makes the buildings disappear, like a conjurer’s trick. Cold settles in and the smell of damp hangs in the air, but with a medicinal tang. A boats horn on the Clyde rolls in, a sadness, looking for a hearer.
Lunch time and she’s not done a lick, not done a dish, or a washing, or brushed crumbs from the carpet. Not put the bed away. Not build a cosy fire up in the range.
Angela doesn’t seem to notice. When she comes in from school she’s chewing on a bar of Highland toffee from the shop downstairs and she’s armed against a sugar shortage with two gobstoppers. She flings her bag behind the living-room door and flops down on the end of the bed. ‘I’m stavin’,’ she says, looking up at her face, taking in the black specks around her eye shadow prickled with tears, mascara that runs and vermillion lips that don’t glow and then over at the telly. She rushes over to plug it in, hitting the side of the set before it flickers into life.
‘Whit did you get at school the day?’ Karen asks.
‘Nothin’, the teacher said I was cheeky.’
Karen laughs and her eyes momentarily glisten. ‘You ur cheeky.’ She searches for her cigarettes and wanders away to get a match.
Her daughter sits on the floor, cross-legged in front of the telly, her mouth falling open as she stares in rapt attention, listing to the story of Jackanory. Blue Peter is a favourite programme and she’s confided in her mum then when she grows up she’s going to get a Blue Peter badge. Angela likes shaggy haired John Noakes best because he’s got Shep, but proclaims Shep isn’t as good as Blodger was.
Karen puts a hand on her shoulder to distract her from Shep’s antics. ‘Whit you wantin’ for dinner?’ she asks.
‘Chips and sweets.’
‘OK,’ Karen says, ‘I’ll just go and get them.’
She wanders through to the kitchen. A wee circular swing mirror near the window allows her to moue her lips and to touch up her makeup.
Back in the living room with the sound of the telly she picks a lilac dress with floral collar out of the wardrobe and tan shoes. Taking a pink-grey, checked, coat from the hangar she hangs it on the wardrobe door and glances at herself again in the square of mottled mirror and wonders where she’s put the blue bangle that would go with it. Then the lights go out and the telly falls silent.
‘Fuck,’ Karen says, under her breathe. Her daughter a silvery silhouette against the window until her eyes adjusts and she becomes more substantial.
‘Och,’ says Angela.
‘Go and see if there’s any shillings left for the meter,’ Karen says.
Her daughter gets up and trudges past her, but she already knows what the answer will be.
‘Nothin,’ Angela says, when she comes back. ‘And I’m hungry.’
Karen needs to get dressed to go out and needs to think, but she can’t think. ‘You’re always hungry. Have a biscuit.’
‘They’re all done.’
‘You’re a greedy wee bastard. That’s it. Get to yer bed. That’ll teach yeh.’
‘But mum, nothin’.’ Karen skelps Angela a crack on the side of the head. ‘Get to yer bed and shut up. If yer teacher had any idea she’d knock some sense into yeh.’
‘I hate you,’ Angela says, backing away from her, but already undressing to dive deep under the covers to be alone and dream of the place under the water.