Andrew McCallum Crawford
Andrew McCallum Crawford grew up in Grangemouth, an industrial town in East Central Scotland. His work has appeared in Lines Review, The Athens News, Junk Junction, Ink Sweat and Tears, McStorytellers, Weaponizer, the Midwest Literary Magazine and the 'The'. His first novel, 'Drive!', was published in 2010. He lives in Greece.
The House of Hugh Green (April 20, 2011. Issue 27.)
'I'll be wanting a big house,' she said.
It was the answer he'd been hoping for. Their relationship had reached that point, he felt, where it was necessary – a token of his undying commitment – to show her his bankbook. He had seventy five grand lying, the result of a lifetime of monthly deposits.
Her gaze was steady. She tapped the page. 'At least four bedrooms,' she said.
They sipped warm Lambrusco to the accompaniment of The Carpenters. Between refills, they stared silently at each other, Hugh having to get up every five minutes to slap the buzzer on the cooker, which had recently developed a mind of its own. At least they had the place to themselves. Madge was at the bingo.
He tucked the bankbook into his breast pocket. 'Get your coat, Faith,' he said. 'There's something I want to show you.'
The chain link round the compound was choked with weeds. Even though the car windows were shut, there was a definite stink of something flammable.
'Why have we stopped here?' she said.
He skipped round the bonnet and opened her door. They stood on the embankment, the fence bathed in the phosphorescent drone from the adjacent plastics factory. He was using his imagination; once the soil had been turned over and any rogue gas bottles removed, things would be more fragrant. Or less fragrant, depending on how you looked at it. Inside the house, double glazing would take care of the noise and any residual stench.
A cold gust of wind temporarily muted the hum from the factory. Faith hunched down in her coat. 'I can see your mum's from here,' she said. 'And your school.' All Grangeburn's heavy industry was at this end of the town, downwind from the nearest houses. A column of BP tankers rumbled past on their way to the refinery, their gears crunching as they slowed, gradually chuffing to a mighty halt. Hugh craned his neck. There was a blockage at the main gate. He had to shout over the noise of massed airbrakes. 'It's got direct access to the dual carriageway! A couple of minutes to the M9 and the rest of Scotland is on your doorstep!'
He followed her back to the car. She shoved a cassette into the player. The Carpenters. He knew what was on her mind. They'd visited a new estate in Linlithgow a few weeks back and spent most of an afternoon on the edge of the loch looking round the showhouse. He hadn't told her then – he didn't want to spoil the moment – but there was no way he would be blowing his life savings on a clapboard and breezeblock Dovis Executive Detached, even if it did come with a fitted kitchen of your choice and a double garage. They looked as sturdy as stickle bricks when you saw them being put up. No. It was better to build. Deep, solid foundations, and concrete, lots of concrete. A Bespoke Structure. He'd be down every lunchtime to keep an eye on progress.
They were back at the house before the end of the second verse.
'That was a short journey,' Faith huffed as Hugh fumbled to get his key into the front door. A heavy fug of smoke welcomed them in the loby. Madge had had another win at the bingo. Faith went straight up the stair. Hugh dodged into the kitchen. 'All right, mum?' he said.
'Oh, there he is!' smiled Madge, and laid her cigar on the edge of the cooker. 'You go and take the weight off your feet. The chips are nearly floating.'
Hugh noticed that she hadn't mentioned the half empty bottle of wine. In fact, she'd tidied everything away. It must have been a big win. He entered the bedroom just as Faith was climbing into her jogging bottoms. He stood with his back to the window, looking at her. His heart was racing. 'So what do you think?' he said.
She stopped what she was doing, the toe of a white sock sticking out of an elasticated ankle. 'How do you mean?' she said.
God, this was difficult. He reached for the antique clock on the window sill and wound it up, nice and tight. The lopsided tick-Tick tick-Tick, the way it had been for years. 'It's a prime location, Faith,' he said. 'The shops are just a two minute drive, and there's the motorway and that...'
She pulled her sweatshirt over her head and glared at him. 'Hugh,' she said. 'It's a field next to the BP.'
'Aye, I know,' he said. 'But I'll get the contractors onto it and it'll be ready...'
Her face suddenly screwed up. Christ, she looked like a witch. 'Don't fucking kid yourself,' she said.
Madge stuck her head tentatively round the door. 'That's the tea ready,' she said.
'More bloody chips,' Faith muttered, and walked out. The bathroom door closed loudly.
'Is anything the matter?' said Madge.
'No, mum,' said Hugh. She just stood there looking at him. 'I'll be down in a minute. On you go.'
'Are you sure...?'
'Mum,' he said. 'Please.'
The kitchen was moist with the aroma of White Cap cooking fat and Slim Panatellas. The plates were arranged on the draining board. Madge was just ladling the last of the chips out of the pan. 'I'll put it on a tray, son,' she said. 'Do you want to go through to the living room? I've already clicked the telly on for you.'
'No, you're okay, mum,' he said. 'There's something...'
'That's a rare slice of beef ham I got down at Bell Brothers,' she said, and pointed the ladle at a wedge of meat on the side of his plate. 'And there's Willie Low's eggs, the white ones, none of that free range rubbish we had yesterday with the chewy yolks. And link sausage, square sausage, black pudding and a couple of tattie scones...'
'I can see what's on the plate, mum,' he said, sharply. Madge's bottom lip curled. 'I mean, there's no need to tell me,' he added. But it was too late to take it back.
'I know how to feed my laddie,' she said.
'I'm not saying...'
Her head tilted to the side. What did she look like? Her wee sturdy body, and the shock of white hair. The ladle poised over the plate, and the chip pan being gripped in her other hand. He loved her so much. But it was time...
'Where's Faith?' she said.
He knew it was a challenge, but decided to let it go. 'She'll be down in a minute,' he said. 'Look, mum...' Hang on, he thought. She was right. Where was Faith? This was supposed to be a joint announcement.
Footsteps on the stairs.
'I'm buying a house,' he blurted.
Madge dropped the chip pan. Luckily, it bounced off the draining board and landed in the sink, but her cigar had rolled off the cooker onto the floor.
Faith walked in. 'Ooh, cholesterol,' she said. 'And lots of it. I'll have a slice of toast.'
'Well, I say I'm buying a house,' said Hugh, 'but it's the old Calor Gas bottling...'
'But you've already got a house,' said Madge. The ladle was still poised over Hugh's plate. The cigar continued to smoulder on the lino.
'...over the back next to the BP,' said Hugh. '...eh?'
'This is your house, Hugh,' said Madge.
'Aye, but mum, I've been...'
Faith had her head in the fridge. 'I put a loaf of wholemeal bread in here yesterday,' she said.
'I threw it out with all the other rubbish,' said Madge. 'Those eggs you got were a waste of money.'
'...and I think, you know, it's time to flee the nest...'
'Along with that packet of cheese that was stinking the place out.'
'I'd wrapped it in clingfilm.'
'...as I say, flee the nest, I really think...'
'No!' shouted Madge, and rattled the ladle off the front of the grill. A shard of white plastic hit the ceiling, but the buzzer kept buzzing.
'Mum, I'm forty four years old!'
Madge's face, all of it, was trembling. 'There's no need to tell me how old you are,' she said. 'I was present at the birth.'
Faith grabbed a handful of Ryvita from the shelf. She slammed the kitchen door behind her. It was only then that Hugh reached over and shut off the racket coming from the cooker.