We don’t have birds in Kenny, which is Kensington Liverpool, if yer don’t know, L7. Pigeons maybe, flying rats. But even they don’t nest, cos as me dar says, the crackheads’d nick the eggs for floggin down Kwik Save. Only messin like.
The real reason is we don’t have gardens. Yards and jiggers yeh, but no gardens. Not like Nanna’s, with a lawn and trees for the birds to feed from, and even bird feeders and a bath. Honest, she loved them birds. It’s a wonder she didn’t get me granddad to fit them a Jacuzzi.
Me granddad, by the way, is someone I’ve always known I had, like. But until this day I’m telling yer about, he’d only ever existed to me in the same way as God. Meaning, Nanna’d talk a lorrabout him but yeh’d never see him. Which is why I don’t mind telling yer, visiting on this day I were so dead nervous. Before Nanna went in hospital, I was too young to wonder why it was she always came to us, and in all my born days we never once’d called round her house. This is my first time.
And then me dar, he only goes and does one. Me and Mam get out the car, and, he’s, See yez in a couple of hours, Chrissy. I’m like, Yeh, right. Whatever. All the way up this great long drive to an house so big you’d think the queen lives in it, and all I got running through me head, Me Dar’s scarpered! Me Dar who twatted that crackhead just for trying the door to his Bimmer when he’d seen I left me Gameboy on the backseat. I mean, it’s not Nanna he’s afraid of, so it must be Granddad.
Me granddad who when he opens the door, Fucking hell! the size of the feller. He needs an house this big. He could be God. I mean, he’s that angry looking. And he’s got this big flowing mane of white hair. No beard like, but a great square chin broader than his forehead, which me mam has a bit too, but don’t tell her I said that. She’ll have me.
Hello, Dar, she says all breathless and trembly. How are yer? and, This is Errol, presenting me like a shield. A human bleedin shield. He don’t say nuttin, Granddad don’t. Just like God. And he works his eyes all over yer, cold like he’s thinking maybe of eating yer. Then this great big Godly breath he takes. I’m like, Aghhh . . .! He’s gonna blow us tumbling down the drive all the way back to Kenny! But no, he just turns around, heading back down the hall, and we’s sposed to follow. It’s all right, Errol, Mam says, like she’s not messin her kecks in her own way. She is. I can tell. And only pushes me in after him, saying, Nanna’s here.
Which, fair play, that’s right. It’s true. But she’s in this what’s called a conservatory. Which means even with the doors wide-open, it’s stifling cos it’s all window, and the sun’s beating down like it would if you were in a really hot country like the jungle or somewhere. And, Oh my God, she’s carked it! Honest, I swear. I nearly mess mesself. It’s like, you know, what’s she doing out of hospital if she’s brown bread? She’s stretched out on a lounger, attached to this digi-box and a great torpedo. And Mam, me own mam, steering me over to her. I’m like, No, Mam, no! Don’t make me . . . so Nanna’s eyes spring open, which I know should be, Phew! like. Only now I’ve got to kiss her. I mean, she takes the mask off. But even so. Kissing someone who’s just woke from the dead, it’s not very nice, is it. Even if she is your nanna.
She’s weary, she says, just dead weary, and, You’ve met your granddad, then? But he himself still don’t say nuttin. So telling me turn around to face him, Nanna asks, Do you not think he looks like our Kevin, Bill? Kevin being me mam’s brother. Which is barmy cos if I look like anyone it’s me dar. Mam and Uncle Kevin are redheads. Can you imagine me with red hair? Red hair and blue eyes! That really would be the worst of both worlds. So Granddad says, No, Fran, I look more like Mary bleedin Poppins than he looks like our Kev. Which I think is funny like. Cos it’s gorra be true.
But Nanna, she don’t think it funny. Dead cold, she says, Well, I expect you’ll be wanting to catch up with our Chrissy, Bill. Which I spose when you think about it, they are father and daughter and they’ve not seen each other since I was born. Or maybe even since I was nuttin but a twinkle in Dar’s eye. But no. They’re like two kids who’ve been caught scrapping and get sent to Mr Swan’s office, which nobody wants. Even Robert McKenzie, who really is scared of no one, and especially Anita Hardwick. So then Nanna says, Go on! Me and Errol got some catching up to do.
I’m like, Oh. That so?
Then, when we’re alone it’s, How are yer, Errol? How’s school? which is nuttin more than you’d expect, but followed by, How’s that Anita fucking Hardfacebitch with the tongue I’ll pull out her head for her should I ever hear any of this shite she’s giving you?
I mean, she don’t say that exactly. She wouldn’t cos she’s me nanna, but that’s what she means. I know cos, well, she’s me nanna. She don’t like no one giving me grief. Noreven me mam or dar. Which is why, as far as I’m concerned, she was always welcome round our house. It’s why I told her all about Anita Hardwick in the first place. I couldn’t tell Dar those things Anita’s been saying now, could I. And Mam’d only go tell Dar. So who else but Nanna?
I weren’t expecting that, though. With all that’s happened since then, Nanna in hospital, us visiting Formby, knowing I were gonna meet Granddad, and all, I even forgot I had told Nanna. I don’t know what to say. Cos if anything, the situation’s worse. Anita’s gone and palled up with Robert McKenzie.
So I say, Is that thing gonna blow up? And Nanna says, No. I am gonna die, but not cos me oxygen tank blows up. Which that now, I most definitely weren’t expecting. I mean, when Mam first told me that Nanna was in hospital, I did ask if she were gonna die then, cos our Barnesy when he went to the vets did. I thought the doctors might wanna give Nanna an injection. But Mam said, Of course Nanna’s not gonna die! like I’d said something really bad, worse even than calling Anita Hardface a bitch which apparently is much worse even than fucking or shite.
What Nanna says is, Didn’t they tell yer? and tutts and shakes her head. I don’t know what to say. It happens, Errol, she says, when we get old. Then she has this mega coughing fit, so I’m like, Oh, God! I do believe in Yer really, even if I have never seen Yer. Don’t let me nanna die now! I’ll go to church and everything.
But this is what her mask and torpedo’s for, to help her breathe. Though I’ve still got to find her a tissue to wipe her mouth when she’s done. And her voice is all shot to pieces. Even more than usual, I mean. Cos even when she’s not dying she talks like two bits of sandpaper rubbing up against each other. Ciggies that is, Dar says.
But then she wants to show me something, and it’s, Pass me slippers, Errol, which, honest, they’re horrible. Manchester City blue, which I spose is better than Everton blue but not much, and fluffy. And what’s worse, Nanna can’t bend over to put them on. That means me helping. Actually touching her feet. And I’m not messin with yer now. They’re as blue as her slippers, and that cold and that clammy. She shouldn’t even be on her feet. But we’re off on this mega long walk down the garden path. Not that it’s far. That’s just how slow and doddery she’s got, needing me for a walking stick.
We park ourselves on these posh white chairs around a posh white table, and I’m like, Thank God for that! Then, Flippin eck! A bird. Is that all? We coulda seen it from the conservatory. What’s a glass wall for if not seeing through? But Nanna’s, Do you know what kind of a bird? Which of course I don’t. Why would I? One with wings and a beak on.
A thrush, she says, A song thrush. Watch now.
I’m like, Wicked. Yeh, it’s flown into the shed. Big deal.
Then when it’s gone again, it’s, Go and have a look. Careful now. Quiet, cos his wife’s in there, and, when I’m out again, Did you see her?
I say, Yeh, cos you know, you’ve gorra when it’s yer nanna and she’s dying. But Nanna’s all, What did yer notice about her? I didn’t notice nuttin. So then it’s, Go and get your granddad. What? Me? No! Why should I? But, Don’t make me breathless, she says. Go and get your granddad. He won’t eat you.
What if he does, though? I don’t care he said something funny about Mary Poppins. I don’t know who Mary Poppins is. She might be his last night’s tea for all I know. And he’s in the kitchen. So, from the doorway I don’t tell him, I tell me Mam, Nanna wants yer.
Granddad, he don’t want me poking around his shed for this nest. Back out in the garden you can tell. He just stands there, shaking his head at Nanna, like, Not a good idea, Fran. It’s me mam who’s gorra fart around finding the bucket for me to stand on. The nest’s up on a shelf, like. Ah, she says, Look Errol. The mammy’s sitting on her eggs.
What Nanna says is, Do you know what kind of a bird that is, Errol? and I do. You see it on your Chrimbo cards.
Exactly, she says. A robin.
What Anita Hardface says is, it’s all right being one thing or the other. But if you’re half-cast, as she calls it, you don’t get the best of both worlds. Cos the best is about keeping things as they’re supposed to be, which is pure. If God meant us to be all jumbled, then He wouldn’t have made us different in the first place, would He? Your mam and dar now, if they’re gonna go messin with the ways of God, then they can’t have no respect for Him. They got no values, and they got no self-respect. And this is fact, she says. Most mixed marriages end in divorce. And kids from broken homes are most likely to wind up scallies. It’s a statistic.
What Nanna said was, Well, in that case, you’ll have nuttin to worry about, Errol, cos your mam and dar aren’t married, are they. It was a kinda joke, but not a very funny one, cos I know she wishes they were married. And all it gets me thinking is this. Like Anita Hardface, does Nanna believe Mam and Dar are living in sin? Cos Anita says you got no hope if yer mam and dar are mixed race and living in sin. Is that me, then? Little No Hope Errol Lewis.
At least at school it used to be the case that I were the only one who weren’t afraid of Robert McKenzie. It’s true! I wasn’t. Robert’s got biceps like grapefruit, which if yer don’t know, they’re bigger even than a big orange, grapefruit. He’d scrap with anyone. Even boys from secondary school. He has. We’s seen him. So she’s not stupid, Anita, saying he’s okay cos his mam and dar are black and married. She knows she don’t have to like him. He’s just dead handy to have on side. Cos who’s gonna touch yer if Robert McKenzie thinks you’re his best pal?
So, anyway, in the boys’ carzy, I tell Robert about this thrush and robin having chicks. Ordinarily, Robert thinks wood don’t grow on trees. So like Gran explained to me, I tell him really simple like, how species don’t ordinarily cross. But when they do, exactly for that reason, it’s really special like. I don’t crack on about signs from God and messages like she did. He’d think I were soft, and I would be. But he does get to wondering what kind of mega-monster King Kong and Godzilla’d make if they shagged. I know how stupid that is. Godzilla’s not a bleedin orang-utan, is she. It’s not a lizard this robin’s supposed to have had chicks with. But I don’t go there. Robert’s happy, and if Robert’s happy, I’m happy. Honest, it’s like the old days.
Except back in the playground he only goes shooting off his mouth to you know who. I am gobsmacked. You’d used to think Anita were scared of catching black just by being in the same room as Robert. Or me, for that matter. The two of them’s closer than Marks and fucking Spencer these days. Bringing her whole scoffin posse with her, it’s, Your nanna must have a slate missing, Errol. She’ll be saying eagles mate with budgerigars next. And what’s sadder, she says, I’ll believe her. Everyone laughing at me nanna for being some barm pot and me a binhead.
Even Dar says it can’t be true. Different species of bird do not have babies together. What must have happened, he says, was the daddy robin got killed or something, or done one. And maybe the daddy thrush’s missus did the same. The thrush was already programmed to raise his chicks, so he just moved in on lonely Mrs Robin to lend an hand with hers. They don’t cross breed.
Clayton Lister lives in Northumberland, England. This story is from his collection, The Cracked Objective Lens; he also has a novel living in his laptop, Tom Thumb's Chunky Blues. Both await re-housing to somewhere grander.