Nanny Anna’s council house in Dalmuir had three bedrooms, but the stairs were a bit much. She mostly slept in the living room on the red, leather couch or dozed in the matching chair near the back window. Her fringe was the colour of silver birch which she chopped almost straight across with a fine pair of scissors and her broad face radiated laughter lines.
She got up from the couch after a nap and tottered along into the kitchen in her loose fitting, blue and white, flower-patterned dress, gaudy glass beads bouncing against her breasts and reached for the end of a loaf to break up on the work surface. When she was cold she’d put a jacket on. She liked quality and not quantity. Didn’t like the dry heat and though it bad for her bones, which were warping with age. She had a shawl embroidered in bright colours draped heavy over her shoulders and it changed the way she stood on the doorstep, her feet a little firmer. The back door was wedged open for her creatures and to let the world in.
She liked to feed pigeons, robins and any other passing bird or critter. She had a particular fondness for glossy crows.
‘Smart, smart, birds,’ she spoke aloud to her wee mutt, Chad, who still tried to follow her around on the mosaic tiles of the wooden floors like a weathered mop with a beady gaze, pink tongue, and doggy bad breath. Had long conversations with Chad on her lap, to which he offered no objections other than a contented growl from the back of his throat. ‘Look at their eyes and the way they look at yeh.’
Spiders, now that was a different story. Some of that old feistiness returned. ‘I used to stamp on them,’ she grimaced and gave a throaty laugh. ‘You know, and I know, I’m an old hippy at heart, but you’ve just got to look at them to know.’
‘Spiders – wrang planet!’
She whistled as she fed the birds. She said it confused them that she could speak their language, but it confused her neighbours more because it reaffirmed her belief that she was completely cracked.
A council worker from pest control came to see her. He’d a report of neighbour kindly told her that she’d seen rats in her garden hut.
‘So whit,’ she showed him the door. ‘They’re aw god’s creatures and as long as they’re no in the house, they’re daeing nae harm.’
A robin hopped into the kitchen behind her. ‘Ferocious birds,’ she pressed her lips together as she pondered. ‘They fight to the death.’ But this one cocked its head and looked up at her. Then it scarpered and flew away as the weathered and warped wood of the back gate made a scrapping noise on the grey slabs as it pushed open.
Nanny Anna looked around to see her great-granddaughter standing at the back door, sobbing in that adolescent way as if the world was newly broken and frightening the birds away. ‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ a smile formed on her lips. ‘But come in the noo and gie me a squeeze.’
Kirsten flew in the door. She was pretty and a ballsy five-foot-one on her tiptoes and hugged Nanny Anna tight, burying her head in her shoulder in a way that she used to when she was wee. Her long and straight blonde hair was washed through with the kind of blue favoured by old women that prepared Sunday lunch on a Saturday. Curled eyelashes fluttered and followed the fashion of being bound together like high-stepping spider’s legs. Bright, blue-green eyes, the same colour as Nanny Anna’s, needed no enhancement. Her denims were slung low as a gunslinger on her hips and a flash of stomach could be seen as she held on
‘I’ve brought a bag,’ Kirsten breathed in Nanny Anna, but let go of her to indicate the black, leather, holdall on the doorstep. ‘I’ve naewhere else to go.’
‘Whit about your ain house?’
Kirsten started crying. ‘My mum doesnae understand me.’
Nanny Anna started laughing, which wasn’t the response she’d expected. ‘That’s true. She doesnae understand herself. And I should know as I brought her up. And she certainly doesnae understand me. So you’re in good company.’
Kirsten’s eyes shone with tears. ‘I was hoping I could stay.’ Her mouth hung open. Then she pouted.
‘Would you look at that,’ Nanny Anna looked over her shoulder at a sparrow bathing and batting its wings in the heavy concrete birdbath, beside the stone statue of Buddha covered in birdshit and plants growing out of the cracks in the slabs. ‘That reminds me of when I was in a wee island in Greece.’
Chad yelped and Kirsten swooped down and picked him up, hugging him close to her chest and turning her head away as he tried to lick her chin. ‘You were never in Greece, Nanny Anna,’ Kirsten laughed, the idea seemed so preposterous. ‘You’ve ne’er been outside Clydebank.’
‘Oh, is that right,’ Nanny Anna played along. ‘I suppose it couldnae have been me then that took a strip of 500 LSD tablets to use as spending money when I fancied a change of scenery and some sunshine and was much the same age as you, younger, sixteen?’
The kettle boiled and switched off. Nanny Anna stepped around Kirsty and picked up a mug from the draining board. The T-bags were in an open box beside the kettle. She didn’t have to lift the kettle, had a gadget where she tipped it with one finger and poured boiling hot water. She felt her great-granddaughter staring.
‘LSD,’ there was a catch in Kirsten’s voice. ‘Isn’t that, like, illegal?’
Nanny Anna’s body shook with laughter. ‘Lysergic Acid, it’s not a dirty, dirty, drug like amphetamine or heroin. It opens up your mind. But it’s always been illegal for that very reason, but for God’s sake don’t tell your mother. We don’t want her to have a hissing fit and a heart attack.’
‘She’d probably turn you in,’ Kirsten snorted with laughter. ‘Even now.’
‘The world is full of spiders and surprises… Then there’s your mother.’