Blasted by Sands

The shakes. The stink. The flies.
Outside was snow. One of the horses skited on the way and near took a tumble. In
here there’s a fire but lacings of frost on the windows.Forty beds reeking and heaving. Devils dancing in between. Waiting for souls.
Now and again they catch one. Young lad two beds along just left feet first. Greetin
woman trailin behind.

They come in with a bowl of soup or a cup of water. My thrapple’s on fire, but I
know better than to take their hellish concoctions.

Once one tried it on with me. Sucked me into the middle like a whirlpool. Up in the
air like a peerie. Birling me by my nightshirt tail. Corner to corner, up and down, side
to side. I grat my teeth and saw it through. Laughed in its face when it let me fall.

Worst is the long night. Nothing to see but the shadows on the wall. Nothing to hear
but girning. Nothing to smell but sweat, piss and boke. Nothing to think on but the
weans and whether I’ve lost my place at the foundry.

Willie could leave the school and Fordyce would give him a start. But a boy’s pay
would never go round four. It would be the poorhouse for the rest.

Still, behind the night is aye the dawn. One day I feel better. I rise and slink oot
when the auld witch’s back’s turned.

Drawn by hearth and family I win home. But the devils are after me yet. They’ve
barred the closemouth against me!

I overcome them by force of will. Up the stair and into the kitchen.

Here! What’s the game? Without asking, they’ve done away with the range. It’s
gonnae be pure Baltic in the winter. And how’re we to cook the dinner?

I’m ponderin on this when Agnes walks in. We smile at wan another. I say “I’m
hame, hen.” I open my arms to her. She crosses to the jawbox at the window. She
turns on the tap and washes her hands.

Is it really Agnes? It’s her height and colouring, but somethin’s off the reel. Is it
another blasted devil? Do they never call it a day?

I reach out, feart it turns and grins on me with its damned mouth.

Agnes lets out a scraich. She chitters and all the hairs on her arm stand up. Then
she’s away out the door, bubblin and bawlin.

I stand by my hearth, trying to make sense of this. A young wife comes in. Behind
hops not-quite- Agnes. She points to the sink. “I was over there when I felt it.”

The woman looks vaguely in my direction. “There’s nothing there, Debbie.” She
carries plates into the bed-recess.

I notice the bed’s away. In its place a table with chairs.
I shout “Wherr’s the lassies’ bed? Wherr are Agnes and Jessie to pit their heids the

They pay me no more heed than if I was the wind up the lum. When they’ve
finished settin the table they dauner oot arm-in- arm.

Fiends or folk, they strut aboot ma hame. As if I’m a bit o dirt in my own kitchen. I
smash a plate on the floor. That brings them pechin ben.

“Was it an earthquake?” asks Agnes…or Debbie…
“I maybe didn’t put it right on the table,” says the wife.
“I’m scared,” says the lassie.
“Nothing to be scared of,” says the wife. She chitters.

By night, I go ben the house. The lobby’s changed. Another room added, though
how they’ve fitted it in atween us and Mrs McGregor’s I don’t know.

In the front room recess sleeps a stranger. A beardy. Hair red as carrots spread
over my bolster. Wife asleep at his back. Christ knows what they’ve been at.
Fornicating in my marriage-bed. Demons the lot of them. I grab him by the thrappie
to heist him out.

He reaches and the place floods with light.
“What’s up, Brian?”
I dance aboot, bawlin “Get oot ma bed, you cursed crew!”
“Don’t know. Something choking me.”
“Just a dream,” sooths the wife.

Here, do they no douse the light, turn their backs and start up their snorin again!

Night after night they stare at a square thing wi movin pictures. I find out how to
make the pictures go away and come back. I push the button in again and again.
They fair run aboot. Squeakin like rats, blaming each other. I knot masel laughin.

Debbie-Agnes has her own box. She does things with it. Batters away on a board
like wan o thae typewritin machines. Pictures and writing appear and disappear.

Ah kid her on a bit. Make the pictures narrow then wide. Shockin pink. Sickly

Don’t think it’s Agnes. More likely a demon. So ah gies it laldy. Put in whole rows o
the one letter or number. Switch the haill contraption off and on.

Make it growl.

She disnae turn a hair. Goes toddlin ben. “My computer’s got a virus.”
Brian and the wife look at her. They look at wan anither.

But where’s ma weans? I’ve bawled till I’m black in the face.

One day they bring in a baldy geezer. Shilpit as a brush. He spots me right away.

“What do you want?” he asks. As if I’m the intruder.
“Get you all to hell out of it! Devils the lot o you!”
“Who’s there?” asks Brian. “What can you see?”
“These people aren’t devils,” says Baldy to me. “They’ve bought this house. They
want to live here in peace. Who are you?”

“I’m Johnny MacPherson! I pay ma rent and nae bugger dares sell this roof fae
ower ma heid!”

They’re gone. Back to the kingdom of Hell.

My home’s ma ain and no ma ain. Crammed with other gear. Big white boxes in the
kitchen. All spotless, though I’ve yet to see yon dame scrubbin like poor Ina used to.

Outside’s different too. The middle door in the landing’s away. Mrs McGregor’s
single end. Instead, ma ain hoose has an extra door, leadin to a bath and a W.C.
Dread tae think whit they’ve done with Mrs McGregor.

But they’ll no get me. I’m too quick. On the roof in one blink, the back court the next.

All grassed over. Midden tidy in a wee biggen. Wherr’s the ash and the mire?
Wherr’s the weans dreeping doon the dyke? Wherr’s the weans?

Night follows day six times but no soul disturbs ma peace.

Then Baldy returns. With him an auld wife. Ninety if she’s a day.
“Johnny, your daughter Agnes has a message for you.”
“No! Never. You’ll no make a clown oota Johnny MacPherson!”
“Paw?” quavers the old dame. “Paw? D’ye hear me?”
“He hears you.”
“Paw? You’re deid, Paw.” She turns to Baldy. “Ah feel that daft yatterin to an empty
“You’re okay. Talk about the family.”

“Efter ye died, Paw, Willie stertit at the foundry and Auntie Beattie took me to be a
help in her hoose. Wherr is it?”
“Over by the freezer.”
“Whit way can you see it and ah cannae?”
“Ah cannae credit ony o this!” I thunder. “Fuckin liars the lotta yese!”
“I don’t think it knows it’s dead,” says Baldy.
“Mind the fever hospital, Paw?”
“Wherr’s ma weans?” Bawlin through glass. I scud a set of knives off the wall. They
both jump sky-high.

“Is that the whole family?” asks Baldy.
“Davie and Jess went to the Quarrier’s Homes. They posted them to Canada for a
fresh start. The boys are passed away now, Paw. Ah lost my ain man, but ah’ve
three weans and five grand-weans and ah’m great-granny to two. And Ah keep in
touch wi Jessie in Winnipeg. She was back ower four times but noo she’s no fit.”

This creature with the clapped-in jaws makin oot she’s Agnes. Agnes with the pinny
and a ribbon in her hair.

Right enough, though.

Ah wonder.

What have they done with the years?

“The presence is fading.” Baldy opens the kitchen door. In troop Brian and the wife.
“I’ve tried to make it understand that it’s dead. With luck you’ll have no more bother.”

“Whatever.” says the wife. “This house is going in the property pages next week.
Negative equity or no negative equity.”

Where to, now, for Johnny?

Follow the old dame home? She’s no my Agnes. No my wee Agnes. If I gie her the
fleg when she’s on her own she could drop deid hersel. Widnae want to be the
death o my ain daughter.

The demons know when they’re on a loser, but. Johnnie MacPherson’s too much
man for them.

I’m free.

Fresh strength.

I turn my face to the clouds. If the tales are true I’ll maybe meet up with poor Ina.
Or there’s the moon and the stars.

For Johnny MacPherson, never in life past Airdrie, the firmament waits.
Mary McCabe
(Published in the Flamingo Book of New Scottish Writing 1998)