© Copyright 2023 by Pamela Scott
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Paul's funeral, I
thought about the old woman.
She lived at the end of the street where I grew up in one of the told tenement buildings. She stood at her living room window and spied on her neighbours. She creeped out me and my friend and we’d pull faces up at her window. She'd lean out to yell down at us and we'd run off.
I used to call her Crazy Cat Lady. She had a house full of strays and the smell of cat urine always lingered around her. She treated her cats like babies, and she treated them like children. She’d take them for walks in the park and dress them in little jackets she knitted herself. She tried to give me a kitten once for my birthday but it had fleas and Dad wouldn't let me bring it into the house.
I went to school in the next street, so I passed her house every day. I walked to school with my best friend Lily. At the top of the road, we'd grab each other's hand and run past her house as fast as we could. She always hung out her window and yelled at us to 'be careful', 'take our time' and 'watch what we were doing'. We'd stick our tongues out as we sped past her window and burst into giggles as she shouted after us.
Dad picked me up from school every day. He took care of me. Mum died when I was a baby. Dad said she’d been ill for a long time, but I don't know what with. I don't remember her. I’ve got pictures of her but no memories. Dad worked as a foreman on a building site. He'd leave the site to pick me up from school, take me home, cook my dinner and then go back to work. Our neighbour Pauline looked after me. I’d be asleep in bed when he came home and he’d left for work by the time I got up in the morning. He made breakfast for me every day and I just needed to heat it up.
Every day the old woman would find something to say to Dad and me. She'd hang right out of her window and watch us walk home. Lily and her Dad were with us most days. She'd find something to yell down at us. 'Watch this', 'watch that', 'be careful', 'mind your step', 'mind you don't get hurt' or ‘there’s danger everywhere.’ Dad and Lily's Dad used to mutter 'prophet of doom' under their breaths and giggle.
remember one day Dad and
Lily's Dad waited for us as usual. The site closed early for the day
because a delivery was late or something so they'd waited for us for
some time. They were eating pizza and gave some to Lily and me. Dad
let me climb up on his shoulder so I could pretend he was a horse. Lily
wanted to pretend as well so her Dad lifted her onto his
shoulder. I dug my heels into my Dad's neck and made horse noises. He
giggled and pretended to gallop along the street. I wriggled,
jumped up and down and dug my heels into his neck. I started to call
him piggy and made 'Oink' noises and he got mad. He yelled at me,
picked me off his shoulders and put me down on the ground so hard I
hurt my toe.
The old woman had watched us since we left the school and that was her cue to lean out the window and start to yell at my Dad. She gave him into a row because he yelled at me and thumped me onto the ground like that. She got him to talk about that time in college when he took part in a demonstration for animal rights, and someone called him a pig and threw red paint at him. She said dangers lurked around every corner and we needed to be more careful. I stood next to Lilly and felt embarrassed that the old woman yelled at my Dad and mad at because she interfered. Dad was cheeky to her. He rolled his eyes and made faces at Lilly's Dad and sniggered. Dad told her to stop being so depressing, lifted me back onto his shoulder and walked away.
I looked back at her and wondered why she was so sad all the time until we got to the end of the street. Lily and her Dad said goodbye and turned the corner into their street. Dad took me home. I asked Dad why the old woman was so sad and wanted to ruin everyone's fun. He said she was lonely and just wanted to talk to somebody. She’d a family once but lost her husband and sons in a war.
After that day, the old woman started to hang around outside my school. She'd try and talk to the kids through the fence and would just stand on the pavement outside and suck mints when the teacher's asked her not to bother us. I pretended I didn't know who she was. The rest of the class laughed at her and teased her, and I didn't want them to know she stayed in the same street. I'd laugh and make fun with them. Her eyes went all big and sad when we teased and I pretended not to notice. She wasn’t anyone to me. She was only a nutty old woman who lived at the end of my street with her cats. She always talked about death and how the day of judgement would come and we’d need to be prepared and how the world could hurt us and how we could walk over the top of a land mine and not even know. The school said they'd call the police unless she left and she stopped coming around.
She was found dead a few months later in a house full of cats. She'd choked on some food and there had been no one to help her. She'd tried to pull the phone towards her when her heart stopped. The phone had been found disconnected beside her. Lily told me about it. Her Dad read it in the paper.
My Dad died when I was ten. We lived in a different city by then and Dad had a new job in a petrol station. He wasn't tired so much and we had more money to spare. A customer found him collapsed beneath a hydraulic lift when he came to pick up his car. The lift crushed his ribs, and he drowned in his own blood. Our neighbour, Betty came to get me from school and told me what happened. The world didn’t make sense after that. Dad had been my hero. He took care of me. He protected me from things that could hurt me. He’d been a brave knight, a valiant warrior, and a soldier. He’d been unstoppable. I’d been his little guy. He knew where to find pixies, elves fairies, and other magical creatures. He told the best stories. He read a magic poem to me every night so I could have a peaceful sleep and the monster in my closet couldn't get me. My mind couldn't accept he wasn't coming back. In my world, this wasn't possible. Dad was magic and would live forever. I didn't want to know the world where the story had a different ending.
Aunt Sarah, Dad’s sister looked after me and we lived on a big farm in the country. Aunt Sarah was nice enough and we got on okay. She never told me stories though and hated it when I got in the way. She'd yell and sulk and I'd scurry away. I learned not to cross her path if I could avoid her. She let me live with her because I was family and she wanted to do right by her brother, but she didn't like children. I was just an inconvenience. I used to wander by myself and play in the woods. I'd go under a big Oak Tree to talk to Dad. Sometimes I thought he could hear me.
I stayed on at school because I wanted Dad to be proud of me. He looked after me alone for so long with no help from anyone and I wanted him to know he did a good job. My lessons came easy to me, and I was top of every class and passed my exams with the best grades. I'd take my trophies and certificates into the woods, sit under the Oak Tree and show them to Dad. I got into University and moved into the Student Dorms. Aunt Sarah was glad to be rid of me at last.
I studied English and decided to become a teacher. In my senior year, I fell in love with an older man called Iain and started to tutor other students who’d fallen behind. I got okay money for it and didn't need to get an awful part-job job as a waitress or anything like that. I did well in all my exams.
I kept a photo of Dad beside my bed and would talk to him every night. The photo was taken on a fishing trip a few months before he died, and we looked happy. I told Dad about school and how I loved Iain.
In my senior year, I went to my first anti-war protest. I drank too much and smoked pot. Iain was with me. We got into a fight with a group of young soldiers and one of them punched me in the face. We got arrested.
I got my Teaching Certificate and landed a job at my old Primary School.
I married Iain and we moved back to the street where I grew up.
I taught school for a long time. English mostly though I helped out when some of the other teachers weren't around. Iain was a doctor and opened his own practice in town. I gave birth to a son, and we named him Paul, after my father. Things were great for a while. We were a happy family. I loved my job and Iain loved the surgery. Paul grew up and was full of laughter and smiles. Things didn’t work out with Iain, and we split up. I raised Paul alone.
Then another war broke out. I thought the war wouldn't touch us at first because it happened so far away. The war spread across the world as these things can. British troops got sent in and the war wasn't so distant, so apart from my world anymore when Paul joined the Army and got sent to the front.
I started to be scared all the time. I got afraid to watch the news in case his face ended up splashed all over the screen. I lay awake all night afraid to close my eyes in case the enemy shot me in my sleep. I kept all the lights off. I never left the house and got one of my neighbours to bring me food. I got massive padlocks fitted on every door in the house. The streets seemed to be chaotic outside. People rioted, broke into stores and houses to take what they fancied. They hit, fought, and killed each other. It wasn’t safe to go out.
Paul got killed in action and I never got to see him again. Now I’m alone and I can’t sleep at night. Every noise gets me to cower under the bed. I think I’ll move somewhere else. They said on the news that Edinburgh’s been declared a safe zone. I’ve got enough money to pay for a little flat where I can hide until the war is over and the bullets stop.
A noise outside my window startled me and I looked outside. I could see two young mothers and their sons playing in the street. The women gave the boys a piggyback. I felt a lump in my throat. They don’t know what the worlds like and how the world’s teeth and can bite you with anytime it wants. They could be shot where they stand and never see the bullet coming.
I opened the window and leaned out.