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Authors: Michael Cannon

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BOOK: Four New Words for Love
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I don’t know if her shagging drove him to drink or if he’d have got there on his own anyway, but she timed her departure to perfection – just after Kevin’s. She left, Dad
imploded, and any pretence of being a family disappeared with her.

He answered the door before I could put my keys in the lock. Lolly was holding my other hand. We couldn’t get in with him barring the way. From my hesitation he knew something was coming.
He’s never fully sober but he wasn’t drunk. ‘My little Gina...’ He touched my face. I could feel the beginnings of a tremble, like a washing machine that’s about to go
into spin.

‘She’s pregnant.’

He dropped his hand. For a moment nothing about him seemed to change and then, very slowly, he looked like one of those sea-side inflatables at the end of holiday that’s leaked just so
much air, still afloat but you wouldn’t trust your weight to it. And then he turned round and walked back into the living room and turned up the telly. Lolly followed shouting explanations.
‘She knows who he is! She’s not like her mother!’ I bundled her out, grateful and angry at the same time.

I didn’t see him for a week, but heard him come in in the early hours, coughing, flushing the toilet, shouting in his sleep, aggressive static caught up in whatever goes on in the jumble
of that fucked-up imagination. I confronted him early afternoon mid-way from his bed to the toilet, hunched, vulnerable.

‘Is this supposed to be role reversal?’

‘This can wait till the morning.’

‘You haven’t seen the morning since Mum left.
the one who’s pregnant.
the teenager – at least for the next couple of months.
supposed to be the one who misbehaves.
the one carrying the kid.
need support – not another passenger.’

He swayed a bit and sucked in some air. ‘Gina, my Gina...’ He touched my face. His eyes welled with tears and then he stood stock still, a thought struck him and the tears vanished,
as if they’d been turned off at the tap.

‘He’s not a pakki is he?’

I didn’t give him the satisfaction of an answer. He spends three days off the sauce and interviews me, looking like something that lives under a rock. It seems he’s prepared to put
the unknown ethnic background of his grandchild behind him. In itself this is no small thing as he tries to explain to me the change he’s undergone. His liver must have gotten up at a count
of nine while the booze was sent to a neutral corner. He says he has a calling to become a grandfather. We both know the fucked-up job he made of being a dad, although neither of us says so, and he
sees this as a second chance.

‘Well, Dad, here’s a grenade in the guts: there’s absolutely no fucking chance of me staying here with a kid to get the kind of upbringing I got – or didn’t.’
I don’t actually say it but it’s the first thing I think. If I say it now the bottle will come out the neutral corner and knock seven shades of shite out his liver. If this fantasy will
keep him going till he gets some kind of normality, whatever that might mean, where’s the harm? These are conversations I’m having with myself as he sketches out his plan, in fits and
starts, over the next week. He’s going to dry out. He’s going back on the tools. We’ll move – the city is no place for a young one. I get quietly angry. Why did none of this
occur to him before? Why were Lolly and me allowed to smoke fags in decommissioned lift shafts when we should have been doing homework? Why did I have to bribe strangers to sign my report cards?
Did he know anything about my whereabouts, never mind ambitions, between the ages of eleven and nineteen? Does he now? Any recrimination will crush this fantasy so I let it run on. As for moving
from Glasgow, I know that Dad’s internal geography consists of a series of drinking dens, linked by bus routes, with houses and the occasional shop between. Beyond this is an enormous, vague,
threatening place called The Rest of the World, filled with famine, theme parks, unimaginable dangers, fucking wops, fucking spicks, fucking chinks, fucking darkies, fucking pakkis and fuck knows
who else who, even if they spoke the same language, wouldn’t understand his accent. It’s a place you don’t go but, according to Dad, we’re going there with my baby. I think
he’s glimpsed bits and pieces from day-time telly and formed some image of a cottage with ivy, the friendly country parson, Mrs Miniver dropping in with warm scones. If there ever was such a
place, and he went there, the residents’ committee would have him turfed out before he could piss in the bus stop. Everyone has fantasies of some kind. Some can be achieved. Most can’t,
but it’s the fact that they’re just out of reach that tantalises and keeps you going. The distance of the gap in Dad’s case startled me. I could imagine the sense of dislocation
he must have felt, happily wandering round in his mind then opening his eyes. Out goes the cottage with the big-titted dairy maids, in comes the sofa with the burnt fag marks, the fridge sprouting
algae and the final demands for the electric. I don’t know if drink drove him to imagine something impossibly better, or the realisation of the distance drove him to drink. While he ranted he
was eating more or less regularly and I debated with myself the advantages of a staple diet versus the danger of letting the fantasy run. The decision wasn’t mine.

‘You’re wanted at the Social,’ Lolly said.

‘What for?’ he asked.

‘Cause she’s trying to get a place fixed up.’

‘They’re staying with me.’

‘I’m only the messenger.’

‘Actually, Lolly,’ I said, ‘you’re a fucking newspaper.’

‘Gina... My little Gina...’

He welled. Anybody crying in the same hemisphere sets her off. She spoke between pants. She was going for the big one.

‘I’ve caused untold hurt.’ She got that from the re-run of
Crown Court
on afternoon telly.

‘Put a sock in it. The hurt isn’t untold because I’m telling you about it. It’s not difficult to see who’s the brains in this outfit. Dad, you stop too. You were
never going to leave here. You in the countryside? The only plumber in Brigadoon. When you’re on the sauce you can’t change a washer.’ I spread my arms encompassing the sofa, the
scarred table, the flat, the lock ups, the circle that enclosed all those piss-smelling pubs he lives in that burp out drunks at closing. ‘This is all you know. I’m not going far. Me
not being here doesn’t mean you won’t see your grandchild. You can come round. You’re miserable sober. I’d rather my kid had a happy granddad who takes a drink than some
gloomy sober bastard.’

He wiped his eyes. I pressed home the advantage ‘And no, Dad, he’s not a pakki.’

‘Let’s have a cup of tea,’ Lolly said. After he’d gone she said she thought we should give him the benefit of the doubt about trying to dry out.

‘We could give him a nudge. It might make a difference. We could look it up in the phone book and get him to go. One of those groups where all the dipsos get together and tremble, but
don’t say what they drink.’

‘They do say they drink. That’s the whole point. If they admit it to the others then they’ve admitted it to themselves. That’s supposed to be the first step to getting
them off the sauce.’

‘I thought the whole point was to keep it secret.’

‘Keep what secret?’

‘What they drink.’

‘It doesn’t matter what they drink. It could be anything. It’s the end point that’s the point.’

‘I thought it was anonymous.’

‘It’s the alcoholics that are anonymous, not the alcohol. How much stuff have you been smoking lately?’

One thing I lied about was getting a place near him. I’d intended getting as far from Bridgeton as I could. It turned out to be not very far. There’s a reason why housing is readily
available round here. I went down to the Social and threw a crying jag, claiming Dad had turfed me and my unborn child out. He backed me up. I’d scripted it for him: shame on the family...
bastard grandkid... no daughter of mine... Lolly went along to feed him the prompts. There was another reason too. She said it went badly from the start. The social worker was a woman, so pointing
tits at her didn’t work. She seemed to think she was some kind of custodian to the slums she was in charge of, and she wasn’t impressed by a trembling drunk stammering badly rehearsed
lines about the shame of it all. Nothing in Lolly’s armoury worked, and she did cause untold hurt by calling her a hatchet-faced cow who could stick her slum accommodation up her arse.

I went down next day and demanded to see the boss. He was a man. I
in tears. It was a blinding performance. I didn’t find it difficult. I’ve got a whole stock of sad
things I can think about to turn it on at any time. If all else fails I think about Kevin.

It worked. But it turned out that either I’d overestimated my powers of persuasion or the range of available housing stock. I imagined a balancing act: good flat in a crap area or crap
flat in a good area – high ceilings versus good schools. I got a crap flat in a crap area with the disadvantage of being within stumbling distance of Dad. Write down this address on any
employment questionnaire and watch your chances go down the toilet. Local shops have bars on the
There are attempts at what the local rag calls ‘encroaching gentility’.
I live on the fourteenth floor. If I go on to the roof with a telescope I
be able to spot a delicatessen within visible radius. I don’t know what direction gentility is
encroaching from, but it’s running as fast as fuck away from me, Dad, Lolly and everyone else

Of all people it was Dad and his gargling cronies who came up trumps. Pool their resources and I thought all you’d get would be a collection of tumours, but, hats off, they came up with
cutlery, a sofa, saucepans, a radio, a telly and loads of other stuff. The cutlery had GCC stamped on it. Glasgow City Corporation went out of existence before I was born. That was the oldest of
the knocked-off stuff. The sofa gave off cartoon noises when you sat or stood, and unless you knew about it there was a crevasse just off-centre that could lead to sudden intimacy, or spillage. I
got to know its quirks and didn’t mind using it till Lolly said I might have been conceived there.
can scarcely imagine, and that’s saying something, that collision. I get as
far as the two of them approaching one another through a pea-super of mutual fag smoke, then there’s an image of Dad’s hand, with its crescents of nicotine, vibrating like a tuning
fork, touching Mum’s face and the image derails in a hot flush of horror.

Patrick, one of Dad’s cronies with the same grog-blossom nose that seems to be the badge of the gang, turned up one afternoon with towels, still damp and with a stray sock in one of the
folds. He told me it might not be a good idea to visit the laundrette for a couple of weeks. There was no need because the next day Dad, Patrick and another of the gang I don’t know, turned
up with a washing machine. The third man was introduced as Tam, and he made Dad look healthy. It’s obvious they didn’t catch a lot of daylight. They stood squinting in the afternoon
sun, Tam looking like Nosferatu turned vegan, coughing up some kind of resin. Looking down on them from the fourteenth floor unloading the thing he seemed to have surrounded the washing machine
with pats of shining frog spawn. The lift, miraculously, worked that day. Perhaps there is a God. Lolly and me manhandled the machine in and out. The fittings were there. Lolly got on all fours and
plumbed it in while they unashamedly studied her arse, standing around like redundant porters. I produced a can each of the cheap stuff I kept for Dad and they opened them in frothy plumes. They
all agreed that the beer was too warm. Lolly straightened and said they should see about getting me a fridge then. They did that too. On first opening, the washing machine gave up a sock. It would
have been too much to hope for it being the mate of the one delivered with Patrick’s towels. Perhaps there isn’t a God.

The only thing I can guarantee was bought was the Lladro shepherdess, complete with Bo Peep outfit and a bona fide receipt, that Dad delivered in a box. It was hideous. He was so proud of it he
didn’t trust himself to take it out the tissue. God knows I could have used the money instead, but I trotted it out with the lager and the custard creams whenever he came round.

So Lolly and I saw in my twentieth birthday in a council high-rise on a burst sofa surrounded by a load of dodgy gear. I didn’t look pregnant, although I’d had the doctor confirm the
cinema toilet result. It was too much to expect empathy, but what I wasn’t prepared for was Lolly’s non-stop use of the flat. Until then indoor sex depended on someone’s parents
being out, although in summer any dry flat surface will do and she’s got a genius for erotic improvisation. But I felt resentment rise as night after night I could hear her gymnastic climaxes
from the next room. The inside walls feel as if they’re made of compressed egg boxes. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination. My temper snapped when a big show-down I was waiting for
Coronation Street
was blotted out by another supersonic shriek. I banged the wall and shouted to her that I had to see her
I didn’t have long to wait. She normally
packs them off as soon as they’ve served their purpose: post-coital fag, slam of a door, gone. I don’t even know if the same one reappeared or it was a succession of new ones. They all
looked the same anyway.

‘I’m not running a fucking knocking shop. Here’s me, abandoned. That’ll be the baby’s nursery. You’re desecrating it.’

‘Listen to yourself. Abandoned? Who by? Does he even know? Have you tried to tell him? The truth is that you don’t like depending on anyone except the Social and only then because
it’s not a person. You like the idea of being some lonely heroine in a tower even if it’s a fucking dump with a broken lift. It makes you feel different. And what’s so different?
You’re up the stick and unmarried. Look around! Even if you had someone who’d stick around, he’d probably slap you about a bit every time his team lost, like half the poor fucking
cows around here. “Abandoned”? “Nursery”? “Desecrating”? I must’ve stumbled into 1940. Let me know when the all clear sounds.’

BOOK: Four New Words for Love
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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