I pushed my glasses high to rest on my forehead and stared across the road. I saw her outside the paper shop on Dunbarton Road, recognised her by her walk, the lie of her back, the truth of her dyed hair, still red as a memorial plastic poppy.
‘Liar, liar, pants on fire,’ we used to scream at each other, when we were growing up, nearby.
Her clothing was no longer hand-downs, but pick-and-mix of cheap nylon and her coat the bright colour a child would have picked.
No traffic on the road that early on a Sunday morning. I crossed quickly to cut her off and have a gab with her. Her dull eyes glittered when they looked through me. Her face, once sweet as honey, twitched beyond her control. The darkness of her open mouth revealed nothing of where she had gone, or the faded grandeur of a strange beauty she once possessed. The blurred edges of destruction, so-long ago being consumed by her, by me, by us.
She stunk of cigarettes and booze. And for the first time in years the need for a drink reached inside me and twisted my guts.
‘Jeannie,’ I said, touching her hand as she stumbled past, ‘it’s me’.
The jigsaw feeling of skin slapping on skin didn’t grow old.
‘Oh, aye,’ she said, focussing on my face. ‘It’s you, you’ve got fat as fuck and you’re baldy.’
‘Aye,’ I said, falling into the way I used to talk. ‘I’m here for my ma’s funeral.’
‘Oh, aye,’ she said, and then after a wee while, angled her head and licked her pale lips, ‘you havenae got a wee fag, have you, Tommy?’
‘Nah,’ I shook my head. ‘Don’t smoke anymair and my name’s no Tommy, for-fucksake. It’s Alec.’
For a moment she was still as a stalking cat in the rain. And I thought she was going to ask about my mum’s passing, or about what happened to us. No blood on the walls. No sound of the neighbour’s shouting voices and the tides of emotions that spilled from her into me and back again. The banging doors. Endless nights turning into days, weeks, years -aggro.
‘That figures,’ she wheezed, squeezing past me. ‘You always were a selfish cunt.’
I caught up with her in two steps and grabbed her thin wrist. ‘I cannae dae this again Jeannie.’
A couple of cheeky-faced kids came out of the shop, laughing. I ducked my face to the side and let go of her, checking up and down the street, as she rubbed her hand.
‘You want to go for a wee drink, Jeannie?’
My body ticked like a clock as I flung a big arm around her, guided and half-carried her hunch-shouldered across the road. The blue Orion was parked with the doors unlocked and the keys still in the ignition barrel. We were soon moving.