Kenny’s gym is tucked away on a back lane near St Enoch’s Square. The rest of the building is disused, as far as I’m aware, and the gym spreads out over a vast open space in the cellar. This isn’t a gym of high tech machines and stensils of inspirational quotes. The walls are unfinished cement, the equipment battered and there’s so much testosterone in the air I’ve always been a bit afraid that if I breathe in too deeply, I’ll grow a beard.
Despite the less than salubrious setting, the atmosphere is warm and inclusive, and I’m pleased to see it looks as though nothing has changed. As I arrive, there’s a couple of gigantic guys, more gorilla than men, cheering on a wee lady as she trembles her way through lifting a couple of tins of beans. A mixed group including a few teenaged lassies and a middle aged man wearing an eighties sweatband is working together to flip a huge lorry tyre. A skinny guy with horrific facial scars is doing back squats with a giggling five-year-old on his shoulders.
I pause by the door as a wave of nostalgia hits me. I was in my early twenties when I trained here. I’d long left Agnes’s flat, was living in what I now suspect to be a squat we were being scammed out of rent for in Garnethill. I had two bar jobs and a cleaning job. I’d head to a club or a gaff as soon as I clocked off for the night, dance until dawn then make it here just in time for early morning power yoga. I existed on adrenaline and toast and I loved it. Agnes and I had an uneasy truce at the time, in which we each pretended the other didn’t exist, which meant I could at least have a cup of tea with Gran now and then. Life was good and then I fucked it, but what’s done is done.
‘Hurricane Kirsty in the flesh. How’re you dain’ doll?’ Kenny leans by his office door, his lazy grin so familiar I want to hug him. He’s always called me Hurricane Kirsty. I must have chucked a tantrum in the gym once upon at time that I’ve clean forgotten.
‘How’ve I been doing for ten years?’
‘Ach it’s no’ been that long,’ he chuckles. ‘Ah knew you couldnae stay away forever. Good tae see you, darlin’. You’re lookin’ well.’
I laugh. ‘I am not.’
‘You always were a wee smasher. Are you wantin’ a workout?’
‘I want some fight training.’
‘For fitness?’ His pale blue eyes meet mine with a flicker of concern that makes me glance away with a flash of guilt.
‘Aye,’ I say firmly. ‘And because men piss me off.’
‘Happy days, then. ‘Mon.’
‘How no’ now?’
I shrug. With my wee hangover, a session with Kenny will either kill me or cure me. ‘Fair enough.’
He jogs with me round the perimeter of the gym to warm up, and I severely regret every drop of alcohol I had last night. ‘Do you believe in ghosts, Kenny?’
I had no idea I was going to say that until I did. There’s something about Kenny though, there always has been. You just look at him and you spill your darkest secrets. He’s the only one I’ve ever admitted exactly what I did to Agnes. Harry might have put two and two together, but only Kenny knows.
‘Depends what you mean by ghosts. Give me some big circles with your arms. Open up those shoulders.’
‘Dead people. People who aren’t there any more.’
‘That’s two different things. Hips.’
‘Away tae fuck, what’s that got to do with fighting?’
He just grins, so I roll my eyes and obey.
‘They used to believe that there were women who could see beyond time,’ he says.
Chills dash over me. I concentrate on my squats. I never said anything about time.
‘Aye, they used to believe in dragons and curses and that the world was flat,’ I snap, a bit sharper than I meant to, but Kenny doesn’t seem to notice.
He chuckles. ‘The world isnae flat, that’s true.’
‘You believe in dragons and curses Kenny? What are you smoking these days and where can I get some?’
Kenny leads me onto the mat and without warning, flips me on my back. I lie there winded for a second, and he crouches next to me.
‘I just think it’s awful arrogant of us tae believe we know all there is to know about the universe and folk for tens of thousands of years were just daft,’ he says quietly.
I sit up quickly, force myself to meet his eye. A heavy wall ball thuds off concrete and a load of wee kids cheer. There’s something intense about Kenny’s stare that reminds me he could kill me with his thumb.
‘I never said daft,’ I say. ‘They just didn’t have all the scientific knowledge and instruments and things that we do. They explained things with the information they had at the time.’
Kenny shrugs with a grin that softens the crinkles around his eyes and he looks like old Kenny again. ‘Loads of beliefs and myths and religions don’t go against science. Worship of the natural world is human nature, whether we call it praying to Thor or gawping at the majesty of a thunder storm.’
I nod. I remember what I thought the other night, about how openly Frej accepted the modern world. Dragons and curses are no further from my existence than motorbikes and Ibrox are from his.
‘See, Einstein’s theories proved that all energy in the universe is constant.’
I blink. ‘Since when did you get to be such a brain box?’
‘I’m no’ as daft as I look, darlin’,’ Kenny grins. ‘Studied aw’ this once upon a time. If every particle of energy that ever existed since the beginning of time still exists, then the energy that made up people and animals and all the things that ever happened have to still be here in some form. You with me?’
‘I need a lie down in a darkened room, but more or less.’
‘So if it’s still here, who’s to say you cannae see it?’
‘Why can’t everyone see it?’
Kenny shrugs. ‘Everyone can see stars. Every time we look at a star we time travel. Half of them have been deid millions of years.’
‘But that’s because of the distance. I’ve seen these things on Sauchiehall Street.’
‘Who knows what there is cutting about Sauchiehall Street only some of us can see? It used to be a sacred ground, the hill between the villages of Partick and Cathures. Druids came from all over Scotland to get advice from long-deid ancestors.’
‘Sauchiehall Street is a lot of things, but sacred is a new one.’
Kenny grins that twinkly grin of his. ‘Ach I don’t know, hen, I’m just a wee guy that owns a gym. ‘Mon I’ll teach you to flip me like that.’