issue 48: May - June 2005 

 | author bio

Luara Hird: I Am Gone (image based on photo of Liverpool - sorry!)I Am Gone
Laura Hird

THE ACCIDENT WAS a fortnight ago and I haven’t been able to leave her side since. Apart from some new dirty plates on the carpet, Sue hasn’t moved anything. The flat’s exactly as it was when I left that morning. Perhaps by keeping things the way they were she can pretend nothing’s happened. She’s seen nobody since the funeral and is still acting almost as if she’s only just found out. There is solace in her grief though.
       Any time in the past I’ve seen her upset like this I just couldn’t handle it. I’d get so wound up I’d have to lock myself in the spare room till she calmed down. Over the past two weeks though I’ve studied every tear, relishing them almost. If she doesn’t cry for a while I start to worry she’s getting over it. Before, her hysterics would have driven me out the door; now, I thrive on them. They justify me being here. They are all that justifies me being here.
       Each night I sit on the end of Sue’s bed and watch her sleep. I can recall everything we ever did together, every taste, smell, touch, stroke, argument, cuddle with total clarity. Just by bringing an incident to mind I can happily replay it in Sensurround as she sleeps.
       When she’s awake it’s even better. All the crappy TV programmes she either wouldn’t let me watch or slagged so much I went off them, she now views religiously - Home and Away, Blind Date, This Morning. If truth be told though, she still doesn’t actually watch them. They are just on at high volume while she gawps at the walls, or sobs over photos and letters whilst devouring packet after packet of Hobnobs.
       For the first few days the phone didn’t stop ringing. I had to watch her sitting, dumbstruck, listening to all these people who’d been avoiding us for years pretending they were sorry. Even that bastard Grant had the nerve to phone. Sue and I first met just after he dumped her. It was easier to make her see the light when he’d already switched it off. It was during his last call that she pulled the phone out the wall, much to my delight. She only plugged it back in last night.
       I’m lying on the bed watching a chink of sunlight through the curtain snowtip the dark mountain of her face. The slow crescendo of the bus engines outside heralds the morning rush hour but the room retains its silence. I’m back to the day I put the note in Sue’s drawer at college. When she went out shopping and didn’t come back to the halls of residence till nine that night. Then she came to my room and started giving me all that just-want-you-as-a-friend, don’t-talk-about-it-itmakes-me-uncomfortable rubbish. Her hair was pulled up in a band and she had on her Aran cardigan and Cockburn Street Market hippy skirt. There was that strong smell of Shalimar that seemed to pervade everywhere she went. For an hour I let her try and talk her way out of my life, then I just started necking her. She loved it, just like I’d told her she would.
       I’m getting to the best bit of this glorious thought when the bloody phone starts ringing. It’s only 8.45 so it must be her mother. Nobody else would be selfish enough to phone at this ridiculous hour. I watch Sue’s face come to life as she fumbles about in confusion then lunges blindly through to the living room. Five sharp yes’s, each about a minute apart, then a clutter of OKs, two numbers (ten and thirty), and a couple of whining rights and I sense that we are going to see her mother this morning.
       Sue rather thoughtfully switches on the TV before skulking off to the bathroom. I decide I’ll just watch a bit of Chain Letters till she switches on the taps then I’ll go and watch her wash. The taps aren’t switched on though. Instead I hear several thunderous farts followed by such a seeming volume of skitters I fear she’ll need a plumber. This comes as a bit of a shock as I’ve only heard her pass wind once before when she was choked with the flu and bending over for a hanky. That was little more than a sigh in comparison. We never fell into that letting-it-all-out-shows-you’re-comfortable-together lark that so many of our friends got into just prior to their sex lives breaking down irretrievably. The toilet was a place we both went to spray air freshener.
       My illusion of her remains unshattered. When she emerges from the toilet, still unwashed, not giving a fuck because of me, I forget about it. If only I could speak to her. It’s stupid but Kilroy’s on the other side and it’s annoying not being able to watch it. It’s lack of control over stupid little things like this that are irritating, like they were the most important things about being alive.
       As I sit on the bunker watching her make a cup of tea I notice a photo of us on the fridge. The one outside the hostel in Amsterdam with the guy that wore the nappy with the teddy-bear and dummy. Where did she dig that up? We went there for a week about three years ago but had to come back after two days because we were so paranoid. I’m so touched she’s put the photo there though, it sort of makes me realise she really did love me.
       As she finishes her tea and starts climbing into her trainers I begin worrying about seeing her mother. Mrs Todd never acknowledged we were a couple. She was forever trying to fix Sue up with one man or another in front of me. She probably hoped I’d just disappear. There’s no way out of it now though. If I don’t go wherever Sue goes that’ll be it, that’s the deal. It’s probably some kind of test to discover just how inseparable we really are. A morning with her mother will certainly be that.
       As Sue opens the door to the flat, the neighbour is loitering with intent outside as if she’s maybe been waiting there several days.
       ‘I was awfie vexed to hear about your friend, dear.’
‘Thanks Mrs Anderson,’ mumbles Sue, trying to squeeze past her.
       Old hypocrite. It was she who informed the whole stair we were a couple. Not that I minded anybody knowing but she must have been listening to us through the wall. There’s no other way she could have known. It’s not as if we walked about in combat gear and when we had sex it was always embarrassingly quiet. She must have been earwigging twenty-four hours a day.
       The old vulture blocks the way, wanting some further scraps of information to regale the rest of the neighbours with; an exclusive of some sort.
       ‘It said in the paper she didn’t suffer. That must be a comfort to you.’
       Sue is still trying to escape, flustered by her sudden false concern.
       ‘Is that what you want to hear? That doesn’t comfort me in the slightest, you know?’
       As the neighbour’s jaw drops, Sue pushes past and makes her getaway. I’m so pleased with her. As I follow, I punch the old cow in the tit but sadly she doesn’t notice.
       We walk down through the Links. Being invisible is cool as I could walk about with my finger up my nose and a splayed beaver and nobody would notice. I’ve never felt so safe. My only concern is that we get separated somehow because I know if I lose her that’ll be it. Since there’s only people walking dogs and a few students cagily sunbathing around a joint this doesn’t seem likely. I’m slightly annoyed that I can’t go into our favourite baker and buy a box of gorgeous french pastries - but annoyed in a Prozacked, what-the-fuck sort of way.
       Sue stops to look in the baker’s window. Is she thinking the same thing? For her too it’ll be silly wee things like this that are hardest to take. Her skin looks jaundiced through lack of daylight. I notice a hint of crow’s feet cracking beside her eyes, which I’m sure she didn’t have before. They make her look even better.
       As we walk down past the Methodist shop I get this strange feeling that I’m being watched. I begin checking the faces of the people around us and I realise that every now and again I’m getting a little knowing smile. Some of these people are like me, I sense, but seem to manage holding conversations with their mortal companions, people I thought were just talking to themselves before. We pass about six of them on this one stretch of pavement. How can they communicate? Will I be able to eventually? Just as we cross the road next to Woolworths, Sue suddenly turns and looks right through me.
       ‘What?’ she says cautiously, then immediately looks embarrassed and carries on across the road at speed. I run, shouting after her, but either she can’t hear me any more or didn’t really hear me in the first place.
       Surely I’ll be able to talk to her soon though, that has to be why I’m lingering like this. She has to know there’s more to dying than a banquet for the maggots. I have to tell her I’m waiting, not to worry.
       I feel an overwhelming rush of pity for Sue and take her hand. It lies limp in my grasp but I keep holding on to it as we turn into her mother’s street. Mrs Todd is so off with me at the best of times I’m worried what she might say about me now I’m out the picture. Surely out of respect, at least till they get the headstone up, she won’t be too unpleasant:
       When she opens the door I’m taken aback. She looks , even more haggard than Sue. Though smartly dressed and clean-looking as usual, her face has a now-familiar magnolia pallor and the undercarriages of her eyes have darkened with worry. The two women embrace tightly for what seems like ages. It looks completely natural but I know it is a first time for them both. Sue was forever complaining about it. That Mrs Todd should finally choose to do it now, about me, in public, shocks me to such an extent that I’m soon in tears myself. Stepping towards the huddle I extend an arm towards each of them but they disperse instantaneously and hurry into the house. I only just make it into the hall before the front door is closed. God, that was close. Another second and I’d have lost her.
       Sue follows her mother into the kitchen. They’re both in tears but struggling to go through the usual motions. Sue is offered and declines tea, coffee, a wee cup of cocoa, a nice biscuit, a little sandwich, a super Lean Cuisine, a bit of last night’s stew microwaved, a look at her sister’s wedding video, a candlewick for the bed (could this be a final acceptance that we slept together?), a wee drinkie and her old room back before her mother finally starts to wind down. On the way through to the living room Mrs Todd suddenly goes completely gaga, wailing in a really bizarre, uninhibited way, rocking on the spot like Arthur Fowler when he stole the Xmas Club money. Could this possibly be about me? Did this woman actually like me despite everything?
       Sue holds her and slowly calms her down. They stand gently exchanging the role of comforter until they have pulled each other together sufficiently to make it through to the settee. I watch them watching each other, not speaking but saying lots. The closer I look the more similar they seem to be, like mirror images.
       ‘The last week’s been like a really long, horrible day. Sorry I’ve not phoned. It’s not even hit me yet, properly, you know. I know it’s not. I just feel so angry.’
       Mrs Todd kisses her daughter’s fingers. She’s honestly not usually like this, she never has been.
       ‘She’ll be watching over you somewhere, dear. I think your dad watches over me. Just light a little candle in your heart for her and keep it burning. She won’t go away if you want her there.’
       Why was she never like this before? What an absolute dear. I feel like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. It goes on like this for about an hour as I listen on absolutely gobsmacked. She has me in tears about a dozen times with all these brilliant wee anecdotes about things she’d remembered and I hadn’t.
       By the time we leave, Sue and Mrs Todd are both glowing slightly having seemed to resolve a lifetime of petty squabbles and loose ends. It’s sad it takes something so extreme for people to sort things out. When we get to the front door Mrs Todd produces a candlewick bursting out of a Sainsbury’s bag.
       ‘You’ll need a wee extra something to keep you warm at night now.’
       Sue chews at her bottom lip to stop it trembling as she kisses her mum goodbye.
       ‘If you see wee Shona tell her she can come back now. I sent her out to play so we could have a wee while alone together. I’m looking after her for Alison.’
       ‘I will, mum. Look, thanks. You’ve been great.’
       Tears drip off Sue’s chin as we walk down the street, leaving her mother standing on the path, huddled alone, looking small and helpless.
       It’s almost unbearable not being able to discuss how incredibly nice her mother’s being about us, finally. And when they cuddled it looked so strange but so normal at the same time. Who can Sue tell about it though? Who’d really understand what a big deal it was except me? Fuck.
       We give Mrs Todd’s scarecrow silhouette a final wave as we turn into Grove Street. Sue’s sister’s wee girl is sitting on the pavement, scraping cartoon faces onto the slabs with a stone. She’s so in her own little world she doesn’t realise there’s anyone there.
       ‘Hiya Shona, what’re you drawing, you wee vandal?’
       As the child looks at Sue, then me, her face takes on an exaggerated expression of fear and confusion. A terrified scream fills the street. Sue’s down on her haunches, trying to calm her down.
       ‘What’s the matter, Shona? What is it, pal? Has someone hurt you?’
       The wee girl wrenches herself away, petrified, and runs round the corner screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘Scary man. Scary man.’
       Sue’s off after the frightened little thing with me in tow. When Shona realises we’re behind her it makes her worse. What the fuck am I going to do? I know she can see me. She’s never believed I was female. Maybe Sue and me being a couple confused her. My short hair and flat-as-a-pancake chest probably didn’t help either. I remember going on a downer when she said to me, the first time we met, lknow you ie a man. I can see through your wee mask. She was only about four at the time but no amount of coaxing has ever managed to convince her otherwise.
       Why can’t we just go back to the flat? Shona mustn’t see me again. She’s already probably scarred for life. Sue is right behind as we reach the gate. Shona kicks and bangs at her granny’s door, shrieking, trembling, absolutely crapping herself.
       Squeezing past a baffled-looking Mrs Todd she escapes up the hall, still screaming about the bad man. Sneaking in behind them I slip behind the curtain in the living room. Eventually mother and daughter manage to coax the child through to find out what the hell is wrong with her.
       ‘Someone must have had a go at her. I turned the corner and she was just sitting there, hysterical, going on about a scary man. It must have just happened.’
       The phone is pinged and dialled as Mrs Todd takes control of the situation.
       ‘Billy, it’s mum. Get round here as quick as you can. Someone’s just tried to snatch Shona. He must still be nearby.’
       Sue’s brother Billy lives just round in Morrison Street. We used to buy our blow off him and he’s as rough as the dog’s bollocks. Can this really be happening? I can’t even explain, I just have to stand and watch.
       They sit Shona down on the settee, facing the chink in the curtain I’m staring through. Mrs Todd tries first.
       ‘Where was the scary man, Shona? You can tell granny. What did he try to do to you?’
       Nodding her head wildly she keeps on crying, eyeing Sue with utmost suspicion.
       ‘Aye c’mon, Shona, it’ll be OK. Just tell us who it was. Was it someone you know?’
       The child can’t seem to decide whether to trust Sue or not.
       ‘The scary man was there. He was coming to take me away. Dinnae let him get me, granny, please. Dinnae let him get me.’
       The doorbell goes and Mrs Todd lets Billy in. His eyes are wild and watery and he looks ready to kill or maim. ‘What’s going on? Who was it? I’ll kill the bastard. What’s he done to her, eh, what’s he fucking done to her?’
       Sue shrugs at him as he collapses on the floor in front of his beloved niece.
       ‘C’mon, pal. Uncle Billy’ll get him for you, dinnae you worry, darling. Just tell me who it was. Was it that dirty old bastard that looks like the Dunblane man at number thirty-three?’
       Shona doesn’t know what to say.
       ‘You won’t get into trouble. You’ve got to tell us though, we can’t let him get you. Did he try and touch you? Did he try and do something dirty to you? The baldy man with the glasses?’
       Sue gasps and her eyes bulge slightly.
       ‘Oh God, Billy, I think you’re right. She was just outside his door when I found her. He’d probably just let her go.’
‘Was it? Was it the bad man?’
       ‘Yes, the bad man, the bad man. Dinnae let him get me,’ she keeps repeating.
       ‘Fucking right!’ roars Billy and barges out the house. Poor Mrs Todd is hyperventilating into a cupped hand. Her skin is now the colour of concrete and she keeps muttering to herself, ‘It’s all my fault. Why did I make her go out?
What was I thinking? What have I done, Susan? What have I done?’
       Sue tries to phone her sister at work. They seem to shunt her about for ages before she finally gets through.
       ‘Alison, thank God. You have to come to mum’s, there’s been a bit of trouble ... no, no, it’s all right now ... yes, she’s fine ... yes ... really ... here . . .’ and she beckons to Shona ‘. . . it’s mummy. Come and speak to mummy.’
       The child edges over reluctantly and takes the large receiver in her tiny hand.
       ‘Mummy, mummy, the scary man was there. He’d come back to get me.’
       Sue quickly retrieves the phone and relays the incident in slightly less alarmist tones before her sister has a nervous breakdown.
       Clicking the phone back down she looks at her mother who is still mumbling away to herself with her head in her hands, ‘Why did I let her outside? He could have killed her.’
       Sue gives her a squeeze. ‘Don’t worry, mum. The main thing is she’s safe now. Alison’ll be about an hour. I’ll wait till Billy gets back then I’ll have to go. I’m not up to a big family crisis at the moment.’
       They have another cuddle then Mrs Todd trembles off to make a cup of tea. When she returns the atmosphere of anticipation is so strong that neither of them seem able to even speak. How can this be happening? Shona sits watching Scooby Doo, stroking the dachshund draught-excluder’s ears. Fifteen minutes pass in this suspended animation till the front door goes and all three seem to levitate off their seats. Billy comes tanking into the room, breathing heavily with a small gash in his cheek, gleaming with sweat.
       Mrs Todd notices the blood and starts fussing.
‘What happened? Did he attack you as well? What’s he done to your face?’
       Billy puts his fingers to the wound then checks the blood on his hand.
       ‘The bastard came at me with a pen. Fucking psycho.’
       He isn’t exactly haemorrhaging but he certainly acts like he is. My God, he’s attacked some poor unsuspecting wee man who just twenty minutes ago was probably feeding his budgie and looking forward to the midweek lottery draw.
       Mrs Todd’s whole body is trembling as she hovers hopelessly beside her son.
       ‘What happened? Did you hit him? Have you hurt him?’ Billy grins proudly down at his freshly grazed knuckles. ‘What did he say? Did he admit it? Maybe we should get the police,’ suggests Sue, a little timeously. Billy’s eyes widen in disbelief.
       ‘Not now, you cannae. I’ve sorted the bastard. It’s the only way, mum. Emergency justice it’s called, there was a thing about it on a programme about Muslims the other night.’
       Mrs Todd sits down again, trying to take it all in. ‘What did he say? Did he tell you what happened?’
       ‘Of course not. He denied it. Who’s going to admit to something like that? I had to start hitting him to stop his lies.’ My God, he’s almost foaming at the mouth. I want to run round to number thirty-three and check the poor wee man’s all right but I can’t leave Sue. How can I cause so much trouble when I’m not even here?
       Billy is spitting his words out, savouring this moment of glory. What must the poor man have thought? What if he’s seriously injured him? What if he’s killed the poor bugger? What if I get lumbered with his eternal spirit for being the cause of it all? Shona stares up at her uncle with a look of utter infatuation on her face. Can she even remember what all this is about? Billy gets down on one knee in front of her like Superman before he fell off the horse. ‘You’re going to be fine now sweetheart. Uncle Billy’s scared away the scary man. If he ever even looks at you again tell one of us right away, OK, it’s important.’
       Shona strokes his scarred cheek. Sue and her mother sit in stunned silence as if it’s just starting to sink in. The phone starts ringing and this time all four of them jump.
       Mrs Todd answers it with the back of her hand melodramatically brushing her forehead. Listening with a look of dread, she quickly gives a little smile of relief.
       ‘Oh Grant, thank God it’s only you. . .’
       Grant! Sue looks momentarily startled when she hears the name.
       ‘. . . no, we’re just having a bit of a crisis here at the moment ... no, she’s all right. She’s here just now ... yes ... yes ... sorry, I forgot to tell her ... here, I’ll let you speak to her . . .’
       Sue waves her hands about in front of her, not wanting the phone. Mrs Todd tells her not to be silly and makes her take it. What does that bastard want? What’s he phoning her mother for, it’s been three years.
       Sue reluctantly takes the phone and says his name, then there’s a long silence as she listens to him ramble on. What the hell is he saying to her? Hoi, she smiled there, what’s she playing at? Come on, here. Pull yourself together, woman.
       ‘Maybe another time Grant. We’re really in the middle of something at the moment. Give me a quick tinkle at the flat tonight ... yes, it’s plugged in again,’ and there’s another little giggle as she puts down the phone.
       Give me a quick tinkle? How can she even speak to the guy after the way he’s treated her? How can she be so friendly towards him? And when did he get all pally with her mother? She better not see him, she better not fucking see him!
       Billy’s gone through to the kitchen to clean his wound with Shona still following him like a limpet. Sue’s getting her things together, plumping up the carrier bag which is overstuffed with the candlewick. Mrs Todd is looking a semitone calmer following the distraction of the phone call.
       ‘He’s nice, that Grant,’ she smiles at Sue with a hopeful look on her face I well remember. What a traitor! What happened to all the candles-in-the-heart stuff?
       ‘You just don’t know him well enough, mum.’
‘I forgot to tell you he’d been trying to get in touch. He was really worried. He phoned here several times. Seems quite keen?’
       ‘Mum! Not now, please,’ and she gets up and puts her coat on. ‘I really want to get back. Phone me as soon as you hear anything,’ then she points through to the kitchen and whispers, ‘He’s going to be in the jail the morrow.’
       Mrs Todd looks convinced, but tries to be positive nonethe-less.
       ‘Not at all, dear. The man can’t go to the police after what he’s done. I’ve read what they do to people like him in prison.’
       Sue looks impatient.
‘If he did do anything, mum. What if it was someone else?’
       This is obviously the first time Mrs Todd has contemplated this and she bites at her thumb instensely. Sue squeezes her shoulder.
       ‘Ocht, it probably was, she was right outside his door. We can only wait and see. I hate leaving you but I’m really not up to this, mum. It was only two weeks ago.’ Mrs Todd scrunches up her chin in solidarity then shouts to Billy and his number one fan thát Sue’s leaving.
       Running outside I hide behind a car. I’m terrified the wee girl will see me and start up again. They’re only about ten feet away at the end of the path. Sue is clutching Shona’s hand. As she bends down to give her a kiss, the child grips on to her lapels.
       ‘Auntie Sue. Is Karen really gone now?’ Sue forces a thin-lipped smile.
       ‘I’m afraid so. She’s died and she won’t be coming back again.’
       The wee girl looks aghast. ‘What, did Billy kill her?’
       All three of them have a little laugh. ‘No, silly, her car was in an accident with a big lorry. She’s in heaven now though, you don’t need to get upset.’
       In some cryptic way this seems to satisfy Shona so they say their goodbyes and we leave. Waiting, crouched behind the car until they all go back in the house, I bolt after Sue the instant the door shuts. She seems a little less defeated now, not quite as wounded-looking as she did. The idea that the last hour’s excitement has managed to take her mind off me a bit makes me gladsad. She hesitates for a second as we pass number thirty-three, then scurries off towards Tollcross.
       My desire to communicate with her is more intense than ever. If Shona could see me so clearly why can’t anybody else? Will it be the same with other children? I can’t believe I was mistaken for a bloke, even after death. It has seriously dunted that feeling of well-being I was hoping would be eternal.
       Watching Sue walk up the street, I feel incredibly protective towards her. No matter how difficult it gets, I have to stay with her, look after her. I have to stifle the creeping resentment I’m beginning to feel about her having a whole separate life without me.
       Damn it. She’s cutting up Grove Street which means we won’t pass that section of pavement again. Running ahead I gesture pointlessly, try to bar her way, make her turn around. She blusters onwards in ignorance, snorting loudly in the empty street. Then there’s a loud gargle at the back of her throat. Casting a wary eye around her she lobs phlegm into the gutter and continues with a demure Sunday school smile. I’m still too busy trying to entice her round to the Twilight Zone to try and speak to her to worry about how gross this is. ‘Oh come on, Sue, I can’t go there without you,’ I scream at her but she cuts behind the Cameo and I just have to follow her, shaking with frustration.
       As she dawdles across Home Street in a dream, a van swerves to avoid her. The driver glowers through the window, beeping so excessively that Sue gets a terrible fright and almost stumbles in front of a bus. I feel guiltily disappointed when she eventually makes it safely to the other side.
       She buys two bottles of Chardonnay and sixty Silk Cut in the off licence, which pleases me. Sue stopped smoking six months ago so it suggests she’s cracking under the strain. It sounds selfish but how else do I know she really wants me here?
       As we cut up Melville Drive I hear children’s voices. A man is pushing two young girls on the swings, they are screaming to go higher. Instinctively I worry about them seeing me, then I start to think it would probably be better if they did. Give Sue some sense that I might be here. Surely that would be better than having another helpless pensioner battered senseless. As we approach them I wave my arms, jumping up and down,
       ‘Hello, hello, over there . ..’ The two wee girls are too engrossed in their quests to go higher to notice. Just as we pass though, one of them glances at me briefly but seems decidedly uninterested and is soon concentrating on the swing again. Maybe I just look perfectly normal to them, because they don’t know me. I give up.
       When we get home it feels so safe. Sue leans back on the door to close it and gazes along the hall into the living room. She looks almost apprehensive to go in, like she’d forgotten until now. How can I let her know I’m here, not to give up? Eventually she grudgingly throws her jacket on the hall carpet and goes through to the kitchen to open the wine. Drinking alone was never her forte, it makes her maudlin. Maybe she’s planning on getting deliberately lachrymose to punish herself for not thinking about me for a while. Can’t it just be natural? Going through to the living room with the bottle, she puts our Suzanne Vega tape on. Oh God, she’s really having to force it, I know she is. A few gulps of wine and a puff of Silk Cut is all it takes to get her howling again. Her sorrow is so obviously genuine I feel rotten for thinking she had to bring it on manually. It’s such a painful, heartbreaking noise she’s making. If only there was some way I could let her know I was with her. Push a penny up a door or something. Isn’t that what they do? Kneeling at her feet I put my head on her lap and tell her I love her over and over again. She forces back the wine, lighting up cigarettes, taking a few puffs then stubbing them out. She still does that. It used to drive me mad.
       As I sit there, singing along to the tape I gradually feel the alcohol starting to relax her tensed up little body. This is nice. This I can handle. If she could just stay in for the rest of her life things would be fine. But the phone rings and Sue’s face takes on that other-worldly look again. I know immediately it’s Mrs Todd as the word police is included in Sue’s opening sentence. It doesn’t sound like Billy’s been locked up yet but most of her side of the conversation is limited to uh huhs and well-keep-me-posteds. Surely they’ll lock him up over this one. We all know he’s going to end up there eventually. It’s just a matter of when. I ask you, beating the crap out a helpless old man, what a macho arsehole!
       Sue is still trying to wind down the conversation with her mother when the doorbell goes. Who the hell is this now? Surely not Alison and the wee girl, God no. Maybe she’s come round to pay her last respects and get the truth out of Sue about this scary man. I dive through to the bedroom and hide under the bed as Sue says her goodbyes to her mother. I’ll be safe here till I decide how to play this. Then I hear the door open and a male voice, not Billy though. ‘Grant!’ Sue exclaims. As do I. What the fuck is he doing here?
       ‘What’s going on, Sue? I’ve been up to ninety since I spoke to you, what’s happened?’
       I’m up from under the bed and in the hall beside them to see what sort of a fight she puts up to keep him out. By the time I get there he’s already barged in and walking towards the living room. Sue follows him helplessly, gesturing towards the door, in other words she puts up no real fight whatsoever.
       This is the first time I’ve ever seen the bastard in the flesh. It strikes me how unnattractive he is. After all the shit Sue put up with I thought he might at least be reasonably dishy but he’s gruesome, like Lyle Lovett only uglier. He pushes his way into the living room and throws himself down on the couch like they’ve been married for years.
       ‘Grant, please. I don’t want to see you. I would have answered the phone if I’d wanted to. Please go.’
       Plug doesn’t listen to a word.
       ‘Look, tell me what’s going on. I’ve just been round to your mum’s and she wouldn’t tell me. I thought you’d tried to top yourself.’
       ‘Naw, you know what I mean. With the Karen thing and that. I know how much you loved her.’
       Oh no, not him now.
       ‘I thought you didn’t believe it. I thought you thought I just did it to try and turn you on.’
       ‘Dinnae. I understand, I know you think I don’t but I do. What’s happened though, tell me, Sue. Your old dear’s in a right state.’
       Sue’s still standing in front of him gesturing towards the door.
       ‘Please, Grant, honestly. I’ve had enough today. I can’t handle being with you, I don’t want to have to handle it.’ Grant fumbles inside his jacket and proffers a half bottle of Grouse, trying to look boyish and failing by about forty years.
       ‘Let’s just have a little drink. I just want to know you’re all right, I’ve been worried about you. I have,’ and he pauses to ponder what a wonderfully sensitive guy he is. I stare intently at the glass ashtray, willing it to jump off the table and bang him in the mouth. Get rid of him, Sue, get rid of the bastard!
       ‘I can’t, Grant. I just can’t,’ she says flatly, already exhausted by her own protests.
       ‘Just one tiny drink. Just to put my mind at rest, please, for me. I won’t molest you, honest.’
       Sue stomps over to the unit, yanks it open and pulls out two glasses.
       ‘There!’ she snaps, slamming them down on the coffee table in front of him.
       He pats the cushion on the settee beside him.
       ‘Come and sit here. Don’t be silly, love.’
       My heart is going 190 to the dozen. How could she? How could she let this happen? He’ll think he’s on a promise now, dirty fucking bastard.
       Sue edges into the far corner of the settee, legs clenched with hands squeezed tightly between them, as far from him . as possible. I sit down on the floor on the other side of the coffee table. What can I do? Even if he grabs her I won’t be able to do anything. Grant hands her a huge measure and they clink glasses. He stares into her eyes, bottom lip out, slimy as fuck.
       ‘Are you still my pal? Eh? You dinnae hate me, do you?’ Sue tries to avoid his helpless puppy look and stares into her drink.
       ‘Are you? Are you still my pal?’ and he touches the side of her chin, trying to get her to look at him, so he can try and hypnotise her with his smarm. I bang his glass but it doesn’t budge. I punch the bastard in the face but he just continues looming towards her.
       ‘You know I am, Grant. I just can’t see you any more. It’s nothing to do with Karen, it’s me. I’m just not strong enough.’
       ‘God, Sue, nobody’s expecting you to be strong at the moment. It’ll take time.’
       ‘Not that kind of strong. You don’t understand,’ and she - puts the glass down. ‘Really, Grant. You should go before it’s too late.’
       ‘What? Are you going to axe me? What do you mean, before it’s too late? Before you give in to me, is that what you mean?’
       Crawling under the table, I try to knock it over on them.
       Then I just go on a spree, sweeping my arm along the cluttered fireplace, kicking things, but especially kicking that bastard. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what I mean. A fortnight ago I was sitting here with Karen, you know. Now she’s gone and I’m sitting here with you. She’ll be turning in her grave, she hated you.’
       ‘I never even met the woman.’
       ‘She knew what you were like. She was the only person I told.’
       ‘What I was like, what I was like! I’ve changed, I told you.’
       ‘Don’t, Grant. Karen was so pleased. She really thought she’d made me see the light. Now look at us. She’d be horrified.’
       He still hasn’t budged but at least she’s standing up to him. Just get him out now, tell the bastard you’ll call the police if he won’t go. What if I have a breakdown with all this? Do they have lithium on this side?
       ‘We’re not doing anything wrong. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it.’
       ‘But I can’t help it.’
       ‘If she really loved you she wouldn’t want you to feel unhappy like this, don’t you think?’
       ‘She’d want me to grieve for her though, not just splash some water on my face and forget it ever happened.’
       ‘I’m not going to tell you what to think, Sue. You have to deal with it your own way, I’m not going to lecture you. If you want to talk to me then you can, if you don’t then you know I’m here if you change your mind. I’m not going to force anything. If you just want me as a friend, that’s OK. I missed you, that’s all. I’m worried about you. I’m really really sorry about Karen and everything, I know the pair of you had something. . .’
       ‘G rant?’
       He looks relieved his crawling has been curtailed as his vocabulary of concern was no doubt almost depleted. When their eyes meet she looks down, ashamed, at her lap.
       ‘What, what is it?’
       ‘Will you hold me?’
       My only solace is in the stiff, awkwardness of their initial embrace but then it just seems to go on and on and she’s rubbing her arms up and down his back and his foul face is polluting her hair and whispering sweet somethings in her ear. OK, Sue, enough’s enough. You’ve had plenty cuddles for one day. Stop it, just stop it. She’s letting out this low, moaning sound but I don’t see any tears. Then suddenly they’re fucking kissing. Did she kiss him first? I’m sure she did. She did.
       Jackets and blouses are sweeping onto the floor. Belt buckles are rattling. It’s happening about four feet away from me but I’m not really taking it in. This is just not happening. His arse is bared now, right in front of me, four feet away, so close I can almost smell it, but I can’t, I can’t really. This is not happening. He’s trying to get it into her, muttering obscenities in a horrible growly gremlin-type voice. Sue’s grabbing at him like she can’t wait, panting out his name like something out of one of the porn films he probably watches. Sue is grunting her head off as Grant’s buttocks jab between her thighs. ‘Cunt, cunt, right up your fucking cunt, aw baby, aw baby, fucking baby.’ The most hellish sounds imaginable and so loud, so fucking loud.

© Laura Hird

This electronic version of  "I Am Gone" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author and publisher. It appears in the author´s collection Nail and Other Stories, Reble Inc.  Book ordering available through Canongate,  amazon.co.uk

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author bio

Laura HirdLaura Hird lives and works in Edinburgh. With her short story collection Nail and Other Stories (Rebel Inc, 1997; short-listed for the Saltire Society Literary Awards 1998), she was swiftly recognised as one of the hottest literary talents on the Scottish scene. Her novel Born Free (Rebel Inc., 1999) was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread First Novel Award. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines in both Britain and abroad. She is currently at work on a second short-story collection, Hope and Other Stories, due out by Canongate in April 2006, as well as a book about her relationship with her mother, featuring letters her mother wrote to her over the years. Click here to vist her excellent website - a must for all literary and film buffs.

ee interview with Laura Hird.
      See also three previous stories by Laura Hird in TBR:
The Happening (issue 35)
       Of Cats and Women (issue 31)
      Routes (issue 5)


issue 48: May - June 2005 

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