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Stories by Peter Logue
Granny Kay


Granny Kay lived five houses up and around the corner from the Tucky shop on Craddock hill, so it wasn't unusual that I'd pay her a visit a time or two on weekends or on play days when we had a holiday from school.

She had a nice house, a two-up, two-down, semi-detached, but Granny Kay's house, built at a particularly odd angle to the road and being an end unit as well, meant that it was afflicted with an overly large allotment. That's what Granny Kay called it an affliction. I looked up the word 'affliction' and found it to mean - a cause of great suffering and distress. I couldn't for the life of me imagine why, for the hedges were always neat and trim and the grass was never higher than the daisies themselves.

I never did see any flowers in Granny Kay's garden, but that wasn't unusual for our town of Glenlockie, although the big privately owned houses on Campbell Street, mum said, had some of the 'most picturesque gardens you'd ever want to see'. Granny Kay's garden might not have been picturesque, but it was certainly nice enough for Craddock Hill, even if it was an 'affliction.

As for the inside of Granny Kay's house. Though I have visited at least once each month since I was, as Granny Kay herself often told me, knee high to a midge. I can't say I have seen much of it, save for the kitchenette.

In all of those visits to 6b Castle Road I had never set foot in her living room, let alone the upper level. Who was to say how fancy her furnishings might have been, or how busted and torn her couch.

I did manage a quick glance through the front window, though, never daring myself any closer than my side of the garden hedge. It's not that I was scared or afraid of being spotted and labeled a nosy parker, it was more a case of respect. You just did not go around staring into people's front rooms.

After all there was nothing to see. I spotted a mirror above the fireplace and an old mantle clock below; otherwise the walls were bare. There was no hint of ornaments of any sort, no pictures, nor family photographs. There was only the clock on the mantle, ticking under a mirror whose reflection held the image of a bare lightbulb suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room. From that day on I wondered if Granny Kay ever ventured from her chair by the oven in the small kitchenette.

Knocking timidly at the heavy wooden door, the large pull-down handle looming just above my forehead, I told myself I would wait for the beckoning call before pulling it down with an inward shove.

I really don't know why I visited Granny Kay, other than the fact that she provided dud matches and, though not very often, an empty bottle, which I could return to the store for thruppence worth of pineapple chunks. Sometimes just sometimes, I'd hope there was no answer from behind that large wooden door.

"Come on in," came the call from beyond the door.

I stepped into the scent of natural gas and stewed tea, and a smell that reminded me of the back of the church on a wet Sunday night; lavender, moth balls and old wool. The smell seemed to be emanating from an old red coat which hung limply from a peg behind the door. It struck me as odd, that old coat, and not merely for the fact that it was hung up in the kitchen to be something mum would call a sight for sore eyes. It was odd in that I had never seen Granny Kay actually wear it.

Come to think on it, I'd never seen Granny Kay out and about anywhere; not anywhere. I'd only ever known her in the confines of her small kitchenette. I had never seen her in town; not in the co-operative supermarket, Munroe's Butchers, nor the fish mongers or Kemp's fruit market. I had never seen her at Mass on a Sunday, either, which in itself was not only very strange, but a mortal sin.

I've asked Mum a time or two if there was ever a Mr. Kay, or any grown up son or daughter who might perhaps live across town and visit only on those days when I was at school, someone who mowed her lawn, trimmed her hedges, cleaned and polished her windows, for surely there was someone, but mum just shook her head and changed the subject.

"Oh, it's yourself, laddie!" Granny Kay chuckled, "Come on in and bide a while."

Granny Kay, as always, sat, arms folded on the padded wooden chair, her slippered feet resting upon a cushion on the opened oven door, nylons rolled about her ankles. I gazed into the oven and took in the row of small blue flame. It was no more than a quarter of an inch high, providing the barest level of comfort to the small dimly lighted kitchenette.

Granny Kay unfolded her arms and gathered a blue, string, knit cardigan about her shoulders. "And how is your dear mother?" she asked, a slight shiver in her voice.

I looked into a face that seemed to be forever smiling, eyes that forever played with my own. If I raised my eyebrows, Granny Kay would raise her eyebrows. If I frowned, Granny Kay would frown. At least that's how it seemed to me. "Fine Misses Kay," I said.

I don't know why I called her Granny Kay, for Granny Kay was not at all my Granny; not at all anyone's Granny so far as I knew, but for as long as I can remember Granny Kay had been Granny Kay by name, unless in her presence, in which case I'd come to understand that one should call her Mrs. Kay. "Mum says if I'm dropping in to see you I've to say she said hello." That was a little white lie. It was true that mum did suggest I say hello on her behalf, but that was as far back as I can remember. Nowadays, when I tell her that I've been to see Granny Kay, mum only nods her head and changes the subject, but I thought it only polite to continue to mention that mum was asking after her.

"You'll tell your mother to come and visit me, won't you?"

"Aye, Mrs. Kay. I will," I said, my eyes moving to the door which barred the entrance to a room that most likely had never heard laughter at Christmas, whose skirting boards had never felt the bump of a misguided Tonka truck, a room whose doors remained tightly shut, undamaged and unmarked by the pen-knives of growing children. Now, as always, it was closed tight, with the addition of a rolled up towel on the floor in front of it to stop draughts. I would mention Granny Kay's request to mum, but I knew mum would never come to visit. Somewhere in the past mum and Granny Kay had been good friends, but for reasons I'll never know, all that had been spoiled.

Lifting my eyes from the rolled up towel I disclosed the sole purpose of my visit. "Have you any dud matches, Mrs. Kay?"

Dud matches were a great source of fun in those days. A couple of boxes of dud matches, a bit of dirt by the curb and two or three of your newest Hot Wheels and an afternoon was never long enough.

Wooden cabins could be built with dud matches, Roads could be constructed. Ranches with Corrals could appear out of nowhere. It didn't matter that the Seventh Cavalry were the good guys, with the German army, as always, being the baddies; a few of Robin Hood's Merry Men making up the shortfall. It didn't matter that the Germans had a Confederate cannon, or that the British army were using a Morris Minor for a tank; somehow it all fell into place with the dud matches and Granny Kay was my only supplier.

Almost as if she had expected my request, Granny Kay turned with a toothless smile and produced three small boxes in the palm of an almost skeletal hand. "You'll be sure and tell your mother to come and visit?"

"Aye. I will," I replied, picking each box carefully from the old woman's hand. "Thanks Mrs. Kay."

She leaned forward then, her double stringed necklace of blue and green glass rasping in front of my face. "You've been bramble picking," she whispered into my ear. Granny Kay sat back, nodding knowingly even before I had answered.

"Aye," I said, "I have."

Her ancient mouth opened with a silent chuckle. "I know fine you have," she said. Leaning forward once more, the necklace rasping in front of my sweater, Granny Kay relayed information that even PC Quigley ought not to know, "You were picking brambles in the quarry!"

I could feel my face redden, even before Granny Kay had rested her old back against the wooden chair. The quarry was a forbidden place, a place mum had often told us to keep away from -- so heaven help us. "Just far enough into the bramble bushes," I said wanly.

"There's no such thing, Peter Gibson. One step too far and over you would go into Dead Man's Pool."

Dead Man's Pool was a deep, dark body of stagnant water at the foot of the sheer cliff face. Not to mock Granny Kay's warning, but just then I thought of how Me and Wiggy and Sticks had often leaned over the edge of the three hundred foot quarry, launching spits onto the skeletal remains of sheep that had not been as careful as us.

"Those skulls are not sheep's," the ever intelligent Sticks one day exclaimed as he whistled a particularly frothy missile into the air. "When's the last time you ever saw a sheep in Glenlockie."

Sticks wiped his nose on the cuff of his sweater, as if to affirm the statement that followed. "Dad says they're Hamish Anderson's unwanted Greyhounds."

Granny Kay was waiting for an answer. Turning from the window I said, "But I wasn't alone."

"Hmm," Granny Kay muttered. "A little bird tells me you were with Wiggy Wiggins and Sticks McGuire." There was a moment of silence while she made a rose with her lips, her gray-blue eyes following my own as I looked towards the window. They followed again as I moved my eyes back to hers. Not that I'd ever utter what thoughts ran through my head, but Granny Kay's eyes were faster than the eyes of Jesus on mum's bedroom wall. The rose made a kissing sound and Granny Kay said, "Do you like to pick brambles, Peter?"

"Aye," I said, "I do."

Granny Kay nodded knowingly, the smiling lips drawn into her toothless jowls. "And do you like rhubarb?"

"Aye," I said, "I do."

"And do you like rhubarb pie?"

"Rhubarb pie?" I exclaimed, bending to scratch at my knee. "I've only ever had rhubarb with a bag of sugar. Mum once made jam with rhubarb, but I don't think I've ever seen a rhubarb pie."

At that, Granny Kay rose from the chair, the string knit shawl slipping from her back as she reached and shut off the oven. "Then come with me, young Peter, and I'll show you a rhubarb pie that's big enough to sit on."

I followed Granny Kay out of the house, my own two feet stomping on slab after slab, crack after crack in perfect unison to the big blue slippers under the old red coat, lavender and mothballs.

"Doesn't your poor mother ever tell you to lift your head?" Granny Kay asked with a nudge.

"Aye," I said, "sometimes."

"Sometimes indeed. And swing your arms while you're at it. My heavens, what a boy!"

We moved quickly along Wallace Street, stopping only a time or two for Granny Kay to have a cheery hello to what she called some of her fellow old fogies. A chortle of laughter to old Mr. Kelly, a promise of tea and a chat to Hazel Joyce and we'd resume our steady pace. I wouldn't say I had a hard time keeping up with her, but Granny Kay managed to have me take a few big steps as we rounded into the Terraced houses of Castle Lane.

"Do you know Mr. Hobson?" Granny Kay asked, as she swung the gate which led into a narrow pathway bordered by zinnias and alyssum

Towards the end of the path stood an old man in brown trousers, a white shirt and, strangely enough, an orange sleeveless cardigan. I knew him, of course. Everyone knew Hobo Hobson. Not for any particularly bad reason though. It was just that, unlike Granny Kay, Hobo was often seen in some of the oddest places. It was not unusual to bump into him at the sandpits or strolling in gypsy's park. Pretty strange, really, for someone to be there and not have a dog to walk. It all made sense though, when Sticks informed us that his dad says old Hobson was a certified tinker.

Right now, Hobo Hobson was hoeing between the flowers, the shiny silver blade turning over dirt that looked like black sawdust. He turned as the latch on the swinging gate chinked back into place. "Lord save us and bless us, Maggie. Have you went and adopted a wee laddie?"

"Oh, away with your nonsense, Jack Hobson. Can you no' see this is Jimmy Gibson's wee fellah."

"Aye. So it is," Hobo said, a mark of incredulity in his voice, "and see how he's grown, so he has."

"I'm after telling him about your rhubarb pie and himself telling me that he's never had a bite of one in his life."

It suddenly dawned on me that Sticks was wrong about Hobo Hobson being a tinker. I was an idiot to believe him in the first place, an idiot to believe him in many of the things he said, like the Greyhounds at the foot of Dead Man's Pool. But when Sticks raps you on the head with a knuckled fist, or cracks you on your forehead with his own, insisting that such and such is so; you sort of tend not to argue the matter.

Right now, if it were possible to hide behind Granny Kay I would do so. But as this was impossible, seeing as I was positioned in front of her, I chose instead to gaze resolutely onto the flower beds, feeling strangely at odds in the company of a man I had taken for a tinker, a man who, as it turned out, not only lived in this nice house, but was also a really good gardener and a baker of rhubarb pies.

Mr. Hobson removed a red cloth from his pocket and began to wipe meticulously on the silver-headed hoe. "Never had a bite of rhubarb pie?" he exclaimed. "Well, we'll have to put that to rights, won't we?"

There are moments in my lifetime that my mind still replays, and one of the most memorable moments was that afternoon in Mr. Hobson's backyard. I had half expected Mr. Hobson's back garden to be half as well kept as his front lawn. What I found was an even more spectacular jungle of flower and vine.

Trellises, affixed to the wall, were festooned with pink clematis and climbing hydrangeas. Hanging baskets spilled yellow and orange nasturtiums and blue lobelia.

"It's a dead brilliant garden," I said.

"Aye," Granny Kay uttered, "He's quite the gardener, is my Jack."

Wooden barrels placed at each corner of the concrete patio were literally overflowing with a mixture of red and white petunias. Towards the end of the patio stood an arch with climbing roses. Through the arch I could see a miniature pool and fountain.

"Mr. Hobson is your friend, isn't he?" I enquired. "I mean, isn't he your special friend?"

Granny Kay laughed uproariously at that, both hands lifting to cover her cheeks. "Heavens bless us, will you listen to the cheeky wee monkey!"

"But he is, isn't he?"

Granny Kay lifted a hand to her mussed hair. "Aye, lad, maybe so, but there's those who might disapprove."

I stepped onto the manicured lawn, noticing that the upper half of the garden boasted every assortment of vegetables, including potatoes, turnip, garden peas, lettuce and rhubarb. "Well, I wouldn't." I said. Just then, Mr. Hobson stepped out of the back door with a pie that was indeed big enough to sit on.


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