Issue 3

Rachel Seiffert
Extract From A Novel-in-Progress

        Graham was seventeen and rubbish at talking to females. Even some he'd known for ages, like his brothers' wives. He'd been out with girls, slept with them, and hardly exchanged a word. Everyone in the band was aware of this inability, so when they were out in the Ulster wilds, it was Graham they dispatched to get the lunch, because it was a girl he'd have to talk to at the burger van. Her cousins were frying and Lindsey was taking the money; getting the cans of juice out of the fridge behind her, and adding up what was owed in her head. They didn't have a till, just a cash box for the takings, but there was a calculator for when things got complicated. Graham was ordering for most of the band, or at least that's what it felt like, and then a couple of them kept changing their minds - to wind him up, Graham knew that - they were chopping and changing between burgers and bacon rolls, calling across from the grass where they'd spread themselves out to rest, so Lindsey gave up on subtracting and started again from scratch. The queue behind Graham was grumbling by this stage, but Lindsey just told them all to watch their manners and got him to go through the order again, roll by roll, burger by burger. She wasn't teasing him either, she knew he was embarrassed, that he was shy, but it didn't seem to matter. He watched her fingers on the buttons, her narrow lips, repeating what he told her; that smile turning up the corners, the pink tip of her tongue and all her freckles, not just on her face and hands, but also down her neck and up her arms. They were all wearing the same T-shirts on the van, oversized with what looked like a lodge number and today's date printed across the top of the chest. They had aprons on too, so the rest was covered, but Lindsey was wearing her T-shirt back to front, and knotted at the side, so when she turned round to get Graham's change, he could see the Red Hand printed on the cloth, and the freckles across her hips too, above her low-slung waistband. After all that, she didn't have enough coins left in the float, and promised to bring it over later, before the speeches were over and they went back up the road.
        Graham watched her while he was eating, from the safer distance of the damp grass on the other side of the field. She was the same with everyone she served, smiling, familiar, and he was gutted, thinking he'd just imagined it, that kindness. He'd been so sure of it, up there at the van, that she fancied him. He fancied her. He tried to work out how old she was; no telling, could be fourteen, could be eighteen; he hoped she wasn't older than him.
        She did come over, when they were making ready to go, and she gave Graham the coins she owed. He had his drum back on already, and his gloves, so he pulled those off to take the money, and then she stayed there standing next to him while the rest of the band assembled. He didn't look at her then, but he was certain again.

        He hadn't gone to Ireland thinking this might happen. He'd gone to play and put away a skinfull, and he did all that, but then he got to fuck her twice as well. The first was out the back of the pub, when it was just getting dark, and he'd already been drinking for a couple of hours. He'd been waiting, sure that she'd come, certain he'd never have the nerve to go and look for her if she didn't, but then there she was. Coming through the bar, and looking for him, he knew she was, because when she saw him she made a bee-line through the crush. Same shirt on, and still knotted, so now he could see the skin on her belly, and it was all he could do to stop himself putting his hands there when she got next to him. One drink later they were out the back and walking. Going past where the empty barrels were stacked, and on, with the sun going down behind their shoulders. They walked the length of a tumbledown wall until it got low enough for them both to climb over, and behind that was a hidden spot with enough grass for her to lie down on.
        Graham shouted out when he pushed himself inside her. He didn't mean to, but it didn't matter. She didn't laugh or anything, he didn't think so. But then after, when it was over, when she stood up and pulled her skirt down, she looked at him, and then he saw it hadn't been that way, not for her. He was still on his knees, and busied himself then with trousers, tucking in his shirt, to cover his shame, gutted again. Too much drunk, he regretted the pints he'd already sunk; but it was done now, all done and over. Lindsey stood a moment, watching, and then she crouched down next to him reaching for her knickers. They'd slipped off her ankles, over her trainers, and she picked them up from where they'd landed.
        'Where you from then?'
        She was looking at him, eyes level with his, and close, knickers bunched in her fist.
        What was wrong with him? Lindsey rolled her eyes, but friendly, Graham thought, like she'd been on the burger van that afternoon. He said:
        'Fae Glasgow.'
        She nodded.
        'You in a juvenile lodge then, Graham? Or a man's?'
        Her eyes were narrowed, and her lips. She'd found out his name from someone. And now she was guessing how old he was, Graham thought. But she was teasing as well, and that nerve was still too raw for him to take courage. He shook his head:
        'I'm no.'
        Lindsey looked at him a second or two before she said.
        'Me either. My Da's Orange enough for the both of us.'
        She pulled at her T-shirt, tugging the lodge number up onto her shoulder to show him, and then shoving it back again. The knot at her waist had gone slack. She undid it, and then re-tied it, tighter, higher up, under her ribs, and she said:
        'I've never been to Glasgow. Is it good there?'
        Graham shrugged, trying not to look at her skin, that strip of it on show again, above her skirt.
        He'd never thought if Glasgow was good or not, he couldn't say, not really. Lindsey had her eyes on him. She said:
        'Better than here.'
        She wasn't asking, but he shrugged again, by way of reply, not wanting to put the place down, because he'd had a fine time, and then she just smiled. Graham looked away, and his eyes landed on the pale scrunch of cloth between her fingers. Lindsey laughed:
        'Bet it is.'
        And then:
        'I've never been anywhere.'
        She stood up and pocketed her knickers. Graham thought she was making to go and that would be it, but then she said:
        'You coming?'
        She put two fingers through his belt loops when they got to the road. She was walking next to him, put it felt like she was pulling, like she was more than willing, and Graham got hard again, and hopeful, so hard that it was painful, and even when she led him up the front path to a house and got her keys out, even though he felt sure this must be her parents' place, and they might be home and demand to know who he was, Graham couldn't think of anything but pushing himself inside her again.
        She shut the door and the house was quiet. Just the last bit of late sun falling through the window onto the carpet, same colour as her hair. The red gold girl, she stood in front of him, and he put his fingers there first, where he wanted to be, and she was wet, not just from what he'd done before, he was sure, because it was different; like she was full and swollen, just like he was. She kissed him, open-eyed, open-mouthed, and she kept her eyes open, unzipping his trousers.

        It was always Lindsey's idea to go to Eric's. Graham wasn't so sure about his uncle, and would have left it at the first visit, or maybe the second, after Stevie was born and they took him up to Possil together in a taxi.
        When he was a boy, Graham used to visit Eric with with his mum. That was not so long after Auntie Franny died, and his uncle was in and out of hospital. Graham knew he wasn't well, even before anyone told him. Eric still lived in his old flat, then, the Maryhill one he'd shared with Franny; it smelled of unwashed clothes, and it made Graham nervy. His uncle would often be teary or angry, or he'd just sit up at the bedroom window while Graham's mum wiped and tidied, and Graham hovered in the lobby. He watched Eric through the open doorway; his face was always wet, his eyes always leaking, and it was like they weren't there for him; on days like that he never even said cheerio when they went home. Graham could remember other times too, when Eric was on the mend. He still had a telly then, and he sat with Graham on Saturday morning visits watching Tiswas. Or sometimes he'd take Graham out while his mum was busy sorting the flat, washing the pans. They'd not go far, just a little way along the canal, to see Eric's brother-in-law, John Joe, who didn't work any more, just kept pigeons. Endurance birds that could fly for hours; he had a loft full of them out by Clydebank, that he kept with an old work friend, another communist, a Geordie who bred the best tipplers this side of the border. John Joe got the train out there every other day, to keep up with his share of the feeding and cleaning and what-have-you. Hard work but worth the commitment, he said, and he told Graham that most Glasgow doo-men kept pouters and croppers, fancy birds. They'd talk up their wee ash hens and pied cocks, but those breeds were just weird lookers to his mind, inferior to his athletes. The trophies they'd won overspilled the cabinet in his living room, and when Eric saw Graham looking, he said that was only a half-share of the honours, the rest were up at the English pal's place, along with the pigeons. Eric had seen them, he'd been out to draw the Clydebank birds any number of times while he was still well enough. His uncle's pictures usually gave Graham the heebies, but not the ones he did at John Joe's. John Joe kept a hen with him in the house; not in a cage, she walked from room to room, like a cat, and hopped up onto his lap. Eric drew the pair of them like that, quick lines on the backs of envelopes while he and John Joe talked, small biro likenesses that Graham would slip into his pockets when he thought Eric was busy with the next. Both men saw him but acted like they hadn't, just keeping on with their talk; John Joe saying the hen was no prize bird herself, but the mother of many; he'd stand her up on the table, putting his face down level, and then she'd peck at his nose, side to side, fast but gentle. Eskimo kisses, John Joe called them, while the beak clack-clacked against his big spectacles, and Eric laughed. Graham liked his uncle when he was like that, but you never knew how long it would last.
        Graham's brothers were all old enough to stay at home alone, and they'd tease him because he had to go over to Eric's with their mum. They called Eric a heidcase, for which their mother slapped their legs. She said family was family, and Graham's dad said they should learn from example and do their duty. But then there were no Maryhill trips for ages because Eric was back in hospital, for a long stay this time, and after that he was rehoused. When Graham asked to stay home instead of going up to the new place, his mum didn't press him.

        Family was family, and Graham did want Lindsey and the baby properly introduced, but then Lindsey decided she liked seeing Eric, and all his strange drawings, and she told Graham she wanted to carry on going over to Possil to see him. She always got Eric talking about his pictures on their visits: she'd walk along the walls, holding her cup of tea and squinting, asking questions. Lindsey knew her bible, far better than Graham, who'd always preferred the singing in church to the readings, when he was a boy and the family still went, every Sunday, almost. Lindsey recognised the stories Eric had put in his pictures, and Graham would watch his uncle getting all fired up with his explanations, excited about having an appreciative audience. Happy, like he'd always been at John Joe's. He and Lindsey would sit up at the table together with the bible, although they didn't need it, as far as Graham could tell. Quoting stories at each other over their mugs of tea, very cosy. Eric would dig out more sketches to show her, different scenes or different versions of the same, pictures he said he wasn't sure of yet, and he'd ask her opinion. He even drew one for her, he had it ready one Sunday afternoon, on the parlour table when they arrived, and Lindsey didn't even stop to get Stevie out of the buggy. He was crying because he'd lost his dummy, but Lindsey just went straight to the bit of paper on the table, and stood there looking at it, like she couldn't hear the baby wailing.
        The picture was of Jephthah's daughter; coming out to greet her father when he came home from battle. It looked to Graham like Lindsey coming out the front door to see her dad, returned from the Walk, in his suit and collarette; his umbrella rolled, and his arms raised, or were they outstretched? It was all there, anyway, the mid-terrace pebble dash and neat square of front garden, just like Graham remembered it, although he'd only been there twice. When he went over to Ireland to get her, and that first time, when Lindsey pulled him up the path and into the house, and there was no-one home, nobody but them, half on the floor, half on the sofa in the front room. The memory set off a lurching feeling inside him, happy, but uneasy: Eric had never been there at all, so how did he know what her dad's house was like? He'd even put in the hills, dark and sodden, up behind the house, and Graham was stung, because he'd thought he was the only one Lindsey had told about those.
        When they'd got the Drumchapel flat, she'd stood Graham in front of the living room window, her hands on either side of his chest, and she'd shown him the view out west, beyond the scheme, to where the higher country beyond Glasgow began. She said you could see hills just like them from her dad's kitchen, and Graham thought she was pleased, from her tone, although she never usually liked to talk about home. So he didn't ask her any more when she fell quiet. His wife (wife!) was still an unknown quantity, and in any case Graham didn't really notice the view so much that morning. He just enjoyed the feel of her hands, and the hard mound of her belly, pressed into the small of his back, that twisting inside it, that was his son, he was sure of it.

        Lindsey knew the story of Jephthah's daughter already, of course she did. But Eric took it upon himself to explain it to Graham, over a cup of tea with a slug of whisky in it, from the half-bottle that Graham and Lindsey had brought with them.
        'It's fae Judges. Jephthah made a bargain wae God. If he could thump the Ammonites, then he'd sacrifice the first thing he saw when he got hame. Trouble was, it wasnae wan a his goats, it was his girl that came out tae greet him. His oanly child.'
        'So he killt her?' Graham couldn't believe what a morbid story Eric had picked to make a picture.
        'He didnae want tae. She tellt him he wis tae keep his promise. His daughter. She doesnae huv a name in the story, now that I think a it. She asked tae go intae the hills wae her pals, anyhow, fer two month. She came back efter that, but. An she held him tae his word.'
        'He killt her?' Graham asked again, the only bit of this sorry tale that mattered to his mind.
        Graham looked at Lindsey, but she just looked pleased with her picture.

        Graham went over to his mum's later that evening, while Lindsey was giving Stevie his bath, and he asked to borrow her bible. She dug it out from the chest of drawers by the sofa, and he could see she wanted to know, but she didn't ask, and he was grateful. He read Judges before he went to bed, standing at the counter in the kitchenette, following the tight lines with the straight edge of the gas bill, folded over, and after he'd found Jephthah's story, he went ranting into the bedroom, where Lindsey was already dozing. Graham could still feel the afternoon's tea with whisky as well, but it wasn't making him sleepy.
        'Bewailin hur virginity?'
        'What now?' Lindsey groaned and pulled the covers over her head, but Graham kept on, bible in hand, at the foot of the bed.
        'Says here the daughter went intae the hills tae bewail hur virginity.'
        She spoke from under the covers.
        'Huv I tae spell it out tae ye, Lindsey?'
        He shouted, and she sat up then, and looked at him, full in the face.
        'Mebbe ye have.'
        Graham blinked. He said:
        'Ye've hud a kid wae me.'
        He wanted to cry, because her eyes were still on him, level and grey, unblinking. She said:
        'I have.'
        Graham tried hard not to raise his voice again.
        'Ye're my wife.'
        It came out shrill and Lindsey lay back down, wordless. Graham was convinced of a hidden, sordid meaning to the picture, and that his uncle had been making a joke at his expense. Or maybe they both had. He stared at Lindsey, willing her to confess, but she only sighed, impatient.
        'Jist a way a sayin she's still a child.'
        His wife turned her back to him.
        'That's aw. She's still a child an she'll never have a life.'
        Her voice was tired. Graham sat down at the foot of the bed. He put the bible on the floor by his feet and rubbed his eyes, hard; rubbed the tears back into them with his knuckles, until his eyes ached, and then he looked at his fists, there in his lap, large and damp and useless. Ham-fisted. That's what his Papa Robert had called him, his mum's dad, Eric's dad too. One afternoon, when it was Graham's turn to check in on the old man after school. The brothers stopped by and made him tea and toast on their way home, or they were meant to, except Graham was the only one who turned up with any regularity, and so he often had to bear the old man's anger at being alone now and neglected, as well as the sheer bloody inconvenience of going up to his flat in the first place. Graham's diligence was rewarded with ham-fisted. Shouted at him when he chipped the lid of the teapot, accidentally, replacing it too hurriedly, too much in a hurry to get off up the road. Papa Robert snatched the pot from him, fierce, and told him he was just like Eric, his own son, bloody useless. Graham stared at the old man's fists, clenched around the handle and spout: solid and pink, they looked to Graham just like meat boiled in brine. The words were there and ready in his mouth, but they wouldn't come out; too hurtful, and he was too much of a coward. He stood in front of his granddad, mute and full of fury. Battling the urge to fling his own ham fists about.
        The old man sat, drank a slurp of his tea – two, three - and then, milder again, he said:
        'Ye huvnae the measure a yer ain strength yet. But ye'll get that, Graham. Given time.'
        He looked at his grandson, like he was sure of him, watching the calm return to him, and then:
        'Ye'll forgive an old man his grief?'
        And Graham nodded, because he did.

        He lay down, on top of the duvet, next to Lindsey. He could see Eric's drawing still, in front of his eyes. Lindsey with her arms open wide. He felt that same mute fullness, not so angry this time, but sore just the same. Time was she'd have had her arms around him, and her legs. He'd not seen the change when it came, but here it was. Her on one side of the bed and him on the other. Graham lay there for the longest time and then he said:
        'It looked jist like ye.'
        Because the girl in the picture was lovely, and a very good likeness. It hurt him to remember, and the thought just fell from of his mouth, there where he lay, his head all heavy on the pillow, and there was some relief too, once it was out. Lindsey stirred a little. Graham thought she might turn over, but she didn't. After a while, she said:
        'But not a bit like my Da.'