The taxi rumbles away and I resist the urge to wave it down again and tell the grouchy driver to take me right back to the airport.
I could, I tell myself as I stare at the huge house, way bigger than I remembered, looming in front of me. I could get on the next plane going anywhere. I could be sipping a cocktail on a beach, or watching the Northern lights or getting into a lively slanging match with an aggressive Manhattan cyclist long before anyone notices I didn’t show up.
Wind shrieks as it teases trees and whistles through windows and yanks at loose tiles. Branches creak, wheely bids thud and at least one trampoline will be flying merrily across the city. Horizontal rain plasters my hair against the side of my face, drips icy needles down the back of my neck. It’s the kind of storm so ubiquitous to Glasgow that for a strange second I feel a stab of homesickness, before remembering that I’m actually here.
I’ve felt nostalgia for these kinds of storms in Nebraska and Nicaragua, Sydney and Shanghai. I’ve watched their wind and rain batter with ferocity that tried, and failed, to match the particular mischievous destruction of their Glaswegian sisters. I’ve witnessed gales crumble great dams and shatter windows, but I’ve never seen one sprinkle brand new garden furniture across an estate just to be a wee arsehole.
I start to trudge up the muddy path towards the house. I think the path was gravel, once upon a time. A sudden memory flashes. Me, running helter-skelter down this path to greet someone — my dad home from work? Must have been, we never had many visitors. It was a bright summer’s day, light enough that I’d be allowed back out to play after tea, and I was thinking about the make believe game I had going on with Sandra from next door and Lydia from across the road as I scrabbled down the path, the gravel hot and sharp through the soles of my flimsy sandals.
The gravel is long gone now, skittered away over decades of storms like this, and mud squelches, clings to my trainers as I make my way towards the house. Or what’s left of it, at least. The blond sandstone seems mostly intact, as far as I can tell in the darkness, but most of the upstairs windows are gaping, jagged holes, and it looks as though a good bit of the roof has caved in. One of the chimneys sags precariously and, judging by the racket I can hear even over the wind, an army of furious birds has taken up residence in the attic.
Home sweet home.
The garden has been slowly reclaiming the house, thick vines and twisted leaves creeping over walls and windowsills and the pillars of the imposing front entryway, as though trying to pull the house itself back down into the earth. I’d have no chance of getting to the front door without an axe, and I don’t happen to have one in my backpack, so I make my way around the side path towards the back. I have to clamber through an aggressive rhododendron before coming face to face with a gigantic mint plant that —
Not the one I planted with my mum?
I was about six. It was the last summer I lived in this house, and I’d got obsessed with the idea of making mint sweeties from scratch. I must have read a story about kids who had adventures while making their own sweeties and decided that homemade mints were what was standing between me and adventure. I’d banged on and on about it all weekend and finally Mum took me down to a wee greengrocers on Pollokshaws Road. We bought a scraggly mint plant and ceremoniously planted it next to the kitchen door. I faithfully watered it daily, for months and months, until —
Well anyway, it can’t be the same plant. That was thirty years ago, for goodness sake.
A gust of wind splatters me with icy rain as I fumble in the side pocket of my my giant backpack for the keys, even though I can see that the lock is so rusted that precisely zero keys have a snowball’s chance. I step back, steadying myself against a rhododendron branch and aim a sharp kick at the lock. It shatters instantly and the door flies open in a cloud of dust.
Not ideal for security, but at least I’m in.
The pile of beer cans and cigarette ends in one corner suggests I’m not the first person to break in over the decades, though at least the thick layer of dust covering them confirms its been a while. That’s one good thing about creepy abandoned houses. After a while, they become their own Keep Out sign. I bet the local kids tell ghost stories about it, dare each other to cross the threshold as an initiation into the gang of the moment, but nobody will have dared spend a whole night in a long, long time. Until now.
I shove my backpack against the larder door. I can’t hear telltale squeaks or scratches over the storm, but frankly it would be rude if mice hadn’t taken up residence, and ignorance is bliss. Spiderwebs, thick and matted with age, are draped over every shelf like macabre Christmas decorations, and ivy has broken in through a crack in one of the windows and covered the ceiling.
I set about lighting the stove. I brought some kindling in by backpack, but there’s a pile stacked against the side of the stove that appears dry enough to light. Did my mum pile it there, that last morning?
I shake off the thought and root around in the old kitchen drawer for some matches. The stove is ancient enough to be heated by actual fire. If it were in the kind of English country house that has a Range Rover in the drive and a tennis court in the back garden it would probably be called an Aga, but we only ever called it the cooker.
The fire takes, and relief slithers through me as a touch of warmth softens the bite in the air. My sleeping bag is good. I got it in Vancouver a few years back when I was teaching yoga at a fancy studio in Yaletown and was dizzy with disposable cash. It’s designed for Arctic camping and has a hood I can pull tight so just my nose is exposed to the elements. I’ve woken up it like a human boil-in-the-bag in snow-covered Himalayas, so it should see me through a Glasgow night in April.
After a moment’s consideration I spread it on the faded pine kitchen table. It’s not a lot cleaner than the floor but I’ll be fractionally warmer off the ground, and might keep me out of reach of the army of creepy crawlies who have no doubt taken up occupation of the kitchen. I’ve got a bottle of fizzy water, an apple and a granola bar I picked up at Heathrow while changing flights, so all in all, it’s practically the Ritz.
I sit on the table as a deep yawn just about engulfs me and exhaustion claws at my bones. I’m that spacey, surreal level of tired where you’re so far beyond sleep that the idea of closing your eyes seems absurd and I keep jerking as though they’ve re-routed a marathon over my grave. I swing my legs under the kitchen table, watching flames crackle in the heart of the cooker and try not to think about what on earth I’m doing here.
There are no lights. The electricity must have been cut off yonks ago, but I stuffed a few fat church candles in my backpack and now they glow in the darkness, casting dancing shadows over the ivy and the spider webs and it’s strangely cosy.
Or at least it’ll do till cosy gets here. I can almost hear my gran cackle, shaking her head at my idea of a cosy bed for the night. You’re a wan-aff Kirsty, hen. I’ll tell you that for nothing. I should have kept in touch with her. I could have figured out a way, somehow.
Too late now.
Password clue: the smallest unit of measurement.
“You were jist a ******* away!”
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(Don’t worry about the release date, it will come out much earlier but you’re only allowed to move release dates up not back so I set it with loads of spare time to begin with then will update when we’re into the swing of it!!)