Nanny’s hair smells of chip fat and Elnett hairspray. Papa doesn’t have any hair, but all of him smells of cigarette smoke and newspaper ink. Lying between them in bed, in the flat above the newsagents he runs and the café she runs, they’re talking about tomorrow. They think I’m sleeping. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t swear.
She takes a huge breath. He’s told her to do this because she’s getting herself up to high doh about the marchers tomorrow. I can’t take big breaths here. If I do I taste the smoke, a thick fog that hangs like cloud hammocks when the sun comes through the windows in the morning.
‘Isa, just ignore them. Don’t do it again. Think about the wean.’
She doesn’t answer for a while and I think she’s fallen asleep. It’s never quiet in The Gorbals, but you get used to the trucks and sirens and drunken singing and rain beating its tattoo on the high windows of the tenements. After a while, the Glasgow lullaby eases you to sleep.
But she’s not sleeping. ‘The bastards, P (she never calls him Pat, just ‘P’). Why do they have to come down this street, so close to the chapel?’
I hear Papa scratch the stubble on his chin and I try not to giggle as I remember him giving me a jaggy beardy tickle on the belly after my bath earlier.
He reaches across me and takes her hand. ‘I know they’re bastards, but dragging the jukebox into the street and blasting Elvis to drown out their flutes and drums isn’t a good idea.’
The bed shakes and I realise Nanny’s laughing. Then Papa’s laughing too.
‘Oh, but their faces last year,’ she says.
I can let them know I’m awake now. Pretend their laughter woke me.
Nanny pulls me closer, the static from the bri-nylon sheets making my nightie hug hers as we crackle towards each other. ‘Sorry, hen. We didn’t mean to disturb you.’
Even in the dark, I know Papa’s smiling. He says I’m funny when I tell him I can hear his smiles. ‘Back to sleep, lassie,’ he says.
I don’t want to. I want to hear them talk and swear and laugh about the Orangemen, but it’s so hot pressed in to Nanny and now I’m rubbing Papa’s bald head, making slow circles with my hand.
‘Isa, she’s doing it again,’ he says.
‘I know, but it sends her over and it’s not doing you any harm.’
‘Not doing me any harm? I had a full head of hair before this wee one was born.’
And they’re laughing again but I can’t stay awake ‘cause my eyes are as heavy as the treacle me and Nanny’ll use to make the scones tomorrow.
KAREN JONES is from Glasgow. Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines and e-zines and have been included in print anthologies including Discovering a Comet and more micro fiction, The Wonderful World of Worders, An Earthless Melting Pot, 10 Red, HISSAC 10th Anniversary, Bath Short Story Anthology, Ellipses: One, Bath Flash Fiction Volume Two and Flash Fiction Festival One. She’s been successful in short story and flash competitions including Mslexia, Flash 500, Writers Bureau, The New Writer, HISSAC and Words with Jam. Her story collection, The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories, is available from Amazon.