Authors: Jenny Telfer Chaplin
While these thoughts had been coursing through her mind,
unbeknown to herself, Kate had been absently touching at the area of her face
which still wore the bruises and healing scar of their fight. Seeing this,
Pearce, for once in a rare outward demonstration of affection, threw his arm
around her shoulder, and pulled his wife close.
“Katie, we’ve had our troubles, our differences ...” he
whispered. “Do you think, my dear ... could we possibly look on this as a new
start? After all, I don’t suppose anybody’s marriage is perfect, is it? It’s
something which has to be worked at day and daily. So ... what do you say,
Katie, lass, can we start again?”
At these words, not least the look in his eyes and his use
of the pet name Katie which she had not heard him call her in many a long day,
Kate blushed and like a newly-wedded girl. With stars in her eyes, she allowed
herself to sink into the deep well of love and affection which she could read
in Pearce’s eyes.
She nodded her assent and, as she reached up to plant a
light kiss on his bearded cheek, she was surprised to find the eyes of young
Daniel watching her every move. A momentary shiver of fear went through her
body, but she at once dismissed it with the positive thought:
No, it can’t be I must just have imagined that look of hate
in Danny’s eyes. No. The children have already forgotten that terrible row. Of
course they have. And that’s a God’s Blessing, if ever there was one.
By half past nine that very same evening, all the bits and
pieces of furniture had been not only transported upstairs, but also arranged
to Kate’s satisfaction, although even she, optimist that she was, had to admit
that scattered over a room-and-kitchen, not to mention a razor-thin strip of
hallway, her belongings now looked even more sparse than had been the case in
the humble single-end. Transport was thanks to a friendly neighbour, Buddy
Robertson, into whose door Pearce had at one point inadvertently crashed with
the brass bedstead. Buddy, who had obviously drink taken, came out on to the
landing in the first instance prepared to do battle with whoever it was who was
banging at his bloody door. However, on seeing Kate, he at once demanded to
know what the hell she thought she was doing in dragging an end of a heavy
bedstead, when there were plenty strong, willing and able men around, ready to
do her bidding. With the exaggerated mannerisms and supreme gallantry of the
gloriously drunk, nothing would do Buddy but that he would at once relieve her
of her burden. And in effect,
’ drunk with
booze or not, her knight in a greasy boiler suit and ragged neckerchief soon
proved his worth. When all the furniture, or what passed for such, was all
finally installed, her saviour left with a courtly, if somewhat unsteady, bow
and again navigated his way back down to his own flat.
Daniel was not impressed with their spacious new eyrie. He
had not forgotten – nor indeed, he vowed, would he ever forget – that black
Saturday. In that moment as he saw his Mammy again apparently being won over by
the ‘Beast of
’ he made a solemn oath to
His own dear, lovely Mammy might have lowered her guard.
But, he, Daniel Robert Kinnon, never. Never would he do likewise. From that day
on, each Saturday in life as the anniversary day came around, he would
deliberately relive the ghastly scene in his mind.
That would be his role in life. And, one day, it was sure,
one day Pearce Claude Kinnon would rue the day he ever lifted his hand to his
long-suffering wife, Kate.
That day would surely come, as certainly as night followed
day, as surely as the dark days of winter burst into spring. Yes, indeed, that
day of reckoning would come.
Hardly had they completed the final adjustment of their furniture,
than there was a strident ringing of the doorbell. Kate and Pearce looked at
each other in amazement, but it was Kate who found her voice first: “Now, who
on earth can that be? Surely not our first visitor before we’ve even got the
kettle on the hob.”
Pearce shrugged his elegant shoulders.
“One person I know it won’t be, and that’s Spud Murphy round
to apologise for his boorish behaviour. Not an ounce of good manners in him,
Kate smoothed down the front of her dress.
“Well, only one way to find out. And that’s to open the
Since neither one of the children nor even Pearce himself
made the slightest move to do so, it was left to Kate to pick her way past the
now-empty tea-chests which still cluttered the kitchen and the tiny hallway.
On opening the door, she was taken aback to be confronted by
a wizened old woman, dressed from head to toe in sombre black. Even more
amazing, the crone carried somewhat precariously, on account of its burden, a
heavy wooden tray. Set out on this, on top of a snow-white cloth with crocheted
edges, was a selection of enamel mugs, a china teapot, a tin of
milk and an assortment of scones and pancakes. As
the tray wobbled and came perilously close to falling at Kate’s feet, she
instinctively put out both hands to grab hold of it. With the tray now steadied
and held safely between them, Kate was at a loss to know how to greet this
stranger standing uninvited on her new doorstep.
The problem was solved for Kate when the other woman opened
her mouth and, in a soft Irish brogue with only a hint of Glaswegian in it,
said: “Hello, Missus. Sorry, but I don’t know your name yet. Anyway, I’m your
next-door neighbour. I live in the wee single-end, just through the wall from
your front room. I’m Mrs Abigail
, but most
folk here call me Granny
Kate, whose own arms were beginning to wilt under the weight
of the heavily laden tray, quickly introduced herself.
“Well, my dear Mistress Kinnon,” the old lady said, “I just
wanted to welcome you to your new home here in Garth Street. And this wee cup
of tea and plate of sweet bites is my way of saying, welcome. I hope that we’ll
be good neighbours to each other in the years to come.”
At this kind and totally unexpected gesture, Kate could feel
a lump in her throat, and she had to gulp a couple of times before she could
trust herself to speak.
“That’s very kind of you, Mistress ... Mistress
Her visitor shook her head and the movement of her body
caused further danger to the tray.
“Ach, my dear, we might as well start as we mean to go on
... just call me Granny. Everybody else does.”
Kate smiled her acknowledgement of this, and gathered the
tray and the now-cooling tea into the safety of her own hands.
“But what are we doing standing out here, talking on the
doorstep? Come in ... Granny, come in.”
Granny needed no second invitation, and once rid of her
burden of the tea-tray, stepped with alacrity into the narrow hallway.
Once Granny had been formally introduced to the children and
to Pearce, Kate was amused to observe their different reactions. Hannah started
to cry, the other children herded together as if against a common enemy, and
Pearce, at his most haughty, looked down his patrician nose at the witch-like
creature standing crouched before him.
Not only seeing this, but also sensing their unspoken
antipathy and indeed fear of the crone, Kate put herself out to be at her most
charming to their visitor:
“Just you sit yourself down, Granny. And you’ll stay and
join us in this feast of goodies which you so generously, and so very
thoughtfully, have provided.”
Over tea, the atmosphere lightened somewhat, especially when
the children and Pearce realised not only had Granny provided the tasty bites,
she had also baked them herself, and especially for the Kinnons, no less, in
honour of them and their removal to their new house.
Conversation was flowing easily and well, up to the point
where Kate suggested that Granny might care to be given the grand-tour of the
The old woman smiled over her one remaining tooth, which so
exactly matched in colour the rest of her ensemble.
“Thank you kindly, Mistress Kinnon ... Kate, but really,
there’s no need for that. You see, I already know this house like the back of
Never one to miss a trick, Pearce was right there with the
“Oh, indeed: And might I ask why that should be the case?”
Granny cackled, so overcome with her own private joke she
began to splutter and cough. It took a mug of cold water and a couple of hefty
slaps on her back before she recovered sufficiently.
“Well, Mr Kinnon, sir, it’s a wee bit delicate ... But the
fact remains that the last tenants, real kindly souls they were from
, they allowed me the free run of their
water-closet, be it day or night.”
This astounding statement was greeted in stunned and total
silence, Then, seeing the horrified look on her husband’s face, Kate decided on
a delaying action.
“And how ... just how do you mean, Granny?”
The old woman sighed, pushed back the stretched
sleeves of her ancient cardigan, then as if
explaining matters to a not very-bright child, said: “Well, it came about like
, the last tenants, and real
decent Irish people, like ourselves, when they got on a bit on in the world,
street-traders they were and making money hand over fist and –”
At this point Pearce, with a frown on his face and a note of
irritation in his voice which declared to the initiated that this was not how
he had envisaged the first day in his grand new home, said: “Yes, yes, Mistress
I rather think that we have now
got the message about what splendid people the previous tenants were. But I
still don’t follow, I’m afraid. What on earth has all this to do with us and
with our water-closet?”
Granny shook her head and
and when she spoke, there was a matching note of asperity in her own voice.
“Sure, and is that not just what I’m trying for to tell you,
Mr Kinnon, sir. When the
made their pile of
money, they got a plumber – ‘twas their cousin from Galway, if I remember right
– anyway they had him fit up their very own water closet out in your hall
the talk of the neighbourhood. The only
one like it– a real nine days wonder, especially when all the rest of the
commonality have to use the communal cludgie out on the stair-head.”
Granny paused for breath and Pearce took the opportunity to
slide in a word.
“But even so, Mistress
I still don’t see that you –”
Granny smiled at Pearce, as at an errant schoolboy.
“Bless you, sir. It’s no great mystery. With nobody ever
locking a door hereabouts and with me getting on in age a wee bit ... the
– lovely people, the pride of the Irish – they
insisted that I treat their water-closet as my very own. No need to stand on
ceremony, no knocking at doors. ‘Come right in, anytime, day or night, Granny.
’Tis what they used to say. No, and
not having a fine old Irish lady like your dear self standing out in a freezing
cold close, waiting her turn for the cludgie. Our home is your home ... ‘twas
what they used to say.”
Her monologue over, Granny then sat, hands folded in her lap
and looked expectantly first at Pearce and then at his wife. If the expression
on Pearce’s face was anything to go by, it would be a cold day in Hell before
he, like the ‘so-good
’, extended a similar
invitation to the almost toothless crone whose sour breath could have felled a
weaker man than Pearce.
Kate bent forward, and smiled.
“Well, Granny, I can’t see any great difficulty. Seems to me
as if you could find your way into this house in the dark. So, just you keep to
your usual routine, my dear. No need to change it on account of us.”
By way of reply, the old woman, with tears in her eyes,
reached up and kissed Kate on the cheek. Kate caught Granny’s withered hand
between her own, and in that moment, it was as if a bond of friendship had been
forged between them. Again Kate smiled.
“Thanks again, Granny, for that lovely surprise tea and
baking. Don’t you trouble yourself about the tray. One of the children will
bring it through to you later.”
Accepting that she might just possibly be on the point of
overstaying her welcome, Granny rose to her feet, all the while her arthritic
knees sounding their clicking castanets.
“Thank you kindly, Kate and you too, sir, for your offer of
help. And it’s been just grand meeting your lovely wee family. Yes. I’ve really
enjoyed my visit.”
The old woman was dragging her twisted, bent body through
the kitchen doorway when the sound of Pearce’s voice stopped her.
His voice rang out like a pistol shot.
. I am so glad
that you enjoyed your visit – for it will be your last.”
Kate drew in her breath, her face ashen, almost as if she
had received a physical blow.
With a wave of his hand, he dismissed that one shocked word
from his wife.
“No, I will not be stopped. I will have my say, Kate. We
have moved here to better ourselves. And if that includes having our own
exclusive water-closet, then that’s our good luck. We are not running a public
lavatory here ... and most certainly not for such as you, Madam.”
The previously garrulous old woman was, for once, struck
dumb, but the offended look on her care-worn face spoke volumes, and none of it
complimentary to her new neighbour. Kate was ashamed, appalled, and bitterly
hurt on the kindly old woman’s behalf. Too stunned by emotion to speak, she
could yet again utter only that single word.