Cross-Bred by Clayton Lister

This is a story so amazing you won’t even believe it. Which Anita Hardwick didn’t, but she wants to give her chin a rest. Me granddad says. Cos who’s she anyway but little Lady de Blobswitch? And what my granddad says goes. Even me dar says, and Dar’s sposed not to be afraid of no one, so that proves it. What it’s all about is this nest me nanna got me over to her big posh house in Formby to see.

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.

Mam and Dar didn’t row when Nanna first died. In fact, I’d say it were almost the opposite. They got on great. The funeral’s what changed things. The night after Nanna died, I could hear Mam crying again. I thought, Oh, God, what now? got up, went downstairs, and didn’t even get sent back to bed. Mam made room for me to snuggle between them on the sofa, and asked what I thought. What I thought was exactly the same as her. Which is, since he and Nanna had always got on, if Dar wanted to pay his respects then he owed it not only to Nanna to go to the funeral but himself too.

What Dar says, sucking all the air out the room and sighing it back out, is, It’s not that simple, Errol. There’s something you gorra understand, son. Some people are bad.

Mam says, Aw, no, Dezzie! But I want to hear it. Who’s bad? Why? And what’s it got to do with Nanna’s funeral?

Some people, he says, are what’s called racist. Meaning, they don’t like you solely on account of the colour of yer skin. Mam’s up and walked over to the window now, like she don’t even wanna be sat on the same sofa as Dar saying this. And yer granddad, he says, Well, he’s one of them people. That, he says, is why he’s not coming to Nanna’s funeral.

Oh, right. Not cos you’re scared of him, then? The words are out me mouth before I know it.

You what? he says.

I’m like, Oh, shite, I’ve done it now.

But me mam rescues us by actually kneeling down, taking hold of me hands and, looking deep into me eyes with her own all tearful, saying, That don’t reflect on you. You’ll be welcome. I don’t want you missing it for nuttin. Your nanna don’t want you missing it. She told me that.

Me, I don’t know what to say. I hate seeing me Mam cry. So, cos it’s true like — and I do mean really, not just cos I made me Dar mad by saying tharabout him being scared of Granddad — I tell him, I want you to come, Dar. I think you should. Nanna’d want you to come.

And he does. Which is great. Really good, I’m thinking. Come the day, he puts on his suit and new black tie. New Police shades. There ain’t no one at this parade gonna be smarter than my Dar. Except me maybe, cos I got a pair of Police too, only mine are fake but yeh’d never know. Mam’s shed a tear even before we leave Kenny, Nanna’d be so proud.

But at the crematorium, which is where a body gets cremated if yer don’t know, or buried maybe, it all just goes to shite. By complete fluke, we arrive at the same time as Nanna’s hearse and Uncle Kev and Granddad’s Limo. Dar gives way, then follows them up the drive. He shouldn’t’ve! Norall the way. He knows he’s gone wrong, cos at the cremmy door he’s got the car in reverse, saying, Shite oh effing shite! But me granddad’s out his car and heaving himself round to ours by now, which takes an age he’s that friggin slow, the size of him, so my dar’s got to wait to be told. In front of everybody. He lowers the window, and Granddad’s right there, bending down into his face.

This is some car, sunshine, he says, which it is. A Bimmer, me dar’s pride and joy. It’s why he pays a fortune to keep it in a garage overnight that’s half-a-mile away. But, Granddad says, It don’t belong here. And he points with his thumb over his shoulder and whistles, high low like, Scram!

Now I gorra be honest. What I think Granddad means by that is, Park in the car park over there like everybody else, yer dickhead. Dar, though, it’s like he goes into shock or something. He’s got us parked now, but don’t get out the car himself. Mam says, You not coming with us, Dezzie? and he don’t even say, No I’m not, Chrissy, no. He won’t even look at her. Just keeps his hands on the steering wheel and eyes dead ahead, till, Right! Suit yerself! she says, then pulls my arm out its socket dragging me across the grass.

And he don’t even wait for us. After the service, everyone’s trekked back outside again to read the cards on the flowers and spark up their ciggies, and everyone knows. They got eyes in their heads. They can see. He’s done one. They’s all asking if me and Mam’s going back to the house, and it’s like, how can we?

Don’t be soft, me Uncle Kevin says. Someone’ll have room for yer. Which they do. One of me nanna’s sisters, who I’m supposed to call Auntie, and her husband. All the way in his powder blue Jag, it’s, Oh, so nice to see yer Chrissy after all this time, and, So glad you could come, and, So nice to meet you, Errol, finally, and, How old are yer now, lad? All I can think is, Oh, no! Cos me Mam might be all smiles like, and, He’s come over all shy, Don’t be shy, Errol. Now there’s gonna be a row.

All afternoon, I am so piggin terrified, cos I do, I hate it when me mam and dar row. I’d rather Dar give me a bollockin or Mam blubbed than they have a barney. Every time, I’m thinking, Oh, God! Is this is it now? The big D-I-V-O-R-C-E. I mean, I know they’re not married or nuttin, but you know. I’ve still got a right to worry. And I don’t like doing it around other people, especially strangers. Yer know what I mean? Even if they are all family.

I never knew I had so many rellos. Nanna’s got brothers and sisters coming out her ears. And they’ve all got children, some of them’s got children, and a couple of them’s even got kids. Which makes them not my second or even third but fourth cousins. Or is it second cousin twice removed? Nobody really knows, and I don’t care. It’s even hotter today than the day we visited Nanna. I don’t want to go outside, though. In the living room, both Mam and Kev are all, Why don’t you go play footy with your cousins? Tell them you and your Dar have got season tickets on the Kop, you’ll be the envy of them.

I don’t friggin care! Me dar’s not here, is he. And what if he don’t come pick us up? What if, even worse than he and me mam having a row, he’s gone for good? He’s not coming back ever. What then?

About me granddad, who’s also sat outside, but at the table on his own like, downing bottle after bottle of ale, Aw don’t worry about him, Kev says. He’s just some miserable old sod who don’t know nuttin about nuttin. Always has been, always will be and everyone knows it. Don’t see any of his family here, do yer? It’s all yer Nanna’s. And d’yer think they’ll be visiting again?

I don’t even care about that, really. Though it is funny to hear Uncle Kev talk about his own dar like that.

So, anyway, all the rellos gone, Kev bets his usual fiver to my oner he can do more keepy ups than me. Which for the first time ever like, I win! But that’s not the point. Point is, where else we gonna sit when we’re done but around the table with Granddad? Me mam’s worried cos he’s so rat-arsed he can hardly lift his head. Kev’s like, Do yer think he’s not like this most nights anyway, Chrissy? He’ll be all right. He’ll have to be, won’t he.

It’s how we, me mam and me, are sposed to get home is what I wanna know. Kev’ll run us. Daft not to, he says. He wasn’t planning on kippin with Wee Willie Winkie. But Mam won’t have it. She says, we gorra wait. We’re Dar’s family. It’s his duty to pick us up.

Me, What if he’s had a crash, though? Not worried really, like. It’s just I know if I say, What if he don’t come back for us never? Me mam’ll go into one.

Her, though, He hasn’t crashed! Like, Don’t be soft, Errol!

Or maybe broken down then, I say, which, if yer can believe it, actually stirs me granddad out of sleep. His head must only weigh about the same as one of those on Easter Island. He lifts it and growls, He’s a grease monkey, i’n’ he?

With me eyes I’m like, Did God just speak? Mam with hers, Don’t be rude! which is great that is.

Anyway, after that he barely lifts his head again even to say t’rah to Kev. And still no sign of Dar. Mam’s texting him loads, and I hate to think what she’s saying. Dezzie, don’t leave us, I wish! Please don’t leave us, who’s gonna take our Errol to Anfield? But I don’t think so. Now that even Kev’s gone you can feel how more and more wound up she’s getting waiting. So that when Dar does text back, I’m like, Aw, thank God for that! Thank you, God! He’s waiting at the bottom of the drive. Her to me, though, You wait there! I’m like, Don’t chase him off again! Can you not just be grateful he’s come back?

But while she’s out front with me dar, Granddad does raise his head again. For your information, he rears up, A grease monkey is a mechanic.

I know, I say. Cos I do. I’m not soft. But then I feel bad. I mean, not really bad but some. And not only cos I’m sure in me heart he were only telling Dar to park in the car park. Or even cos Kev were right, hardly no one spoke to him all day long even though it’s his wife that died. I feel bad cos, well, it’s dead obvious. As bevvied as he is, Granddad’s worried I thought he was being racist, calling Dar a grease monkey.

And I think I say what I say next cos I know now that when he was shaking his head at Nanna that last time we was sitting here, it were only cos he knew what everybody else knows — that different species of bird never have chicks together. I tell him me dar said that. But oh, shite! the look he gives me, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he don’t wanna to know they agree on something.

My problem is, it’s like me mouth’s got a brain of its own — and that brain ain’t no friend of Errol Lewis’s. Everyone says so, from me dar to Mr Swan at school. I just can’t help mesself. I say, Nanna musta been wrong then about it being a sign that it’s all right to be of mixed race parentage. I should stop. I wish I could. His steely eyes are all over me. Before I know it, though, I’m only telling how Anita said Nanna must’ve had a slate missing! I say, I wish I’d never said nuttin to Nanna, cos Anita’s right. Men and women of different races shouldn’t mix. They never stay together. And their kids go bad cos they don’t belong nowhere. They’re nuttin to no one, kids of mixed race. They just get the worst of both worlds.

I think he’s clearing his throat and leaning forward only to bite me head off. Whump! in one great mouthful. He could. Really, I do understand why me dar’s afraid of him. Me, I am literally messin mesself. But jabbing his finger on the table, Well, can you explain this to me? Me granddad rumbles when he speaks. Honest, I can feel his voice rattling me chest. How the very morning, he says, Your grandma died, with me own two eyes I seen them four chicks flying out that shed? And they’ve each got speckled red breasts!

No, I say. Yer messin.

Not messin, he says. Not thrushes, not robins, but thrubins.

That’s funny, that is. Makes me smile, anyway. Or roshes, I say.

Whatever! They were so handsome them little fellers, yer wouldn’t even believe it.

Friggin hell, I say. And do you know what? He don’t even tell me off for me language.

The next thing, me mam’s calling from the conservatory for me to get a move on. Like she didn’t tell me to wait there in the first place! But I let her off that. Granddad gets up with me, slowly like, cos that’s how he does everything. And he walks us both to the front door. Dar’s waiting at the bottom of the drive, and don’t even look our way. Mam says, See yer round then, Dar, like, Guess this is it then. Goodbye. Forever. And to her he just nods kinda sad, like.

To me, though, he says, What I told yer. Best keep it between us. OK?

Don’t get me wrong now. I know why he says it. It’s cos he knows and I know that it’s not true about thrubins or roshes — any more than it’s true about God in Heaven, which is why, really, Dar ain’t scared of Him. But that’s not the point. All right, I say. Yeh.

And then, as I’m walking away, he calls out, And this little Lady de Blobswitch. You tell her to give her chin a rest. You hear?

Mary Poppins, Little Lady de Blobswitch. Who next? But it’s obvious who he means. Mam don’t know, of course. But I do. So I say, Or she’ll have you to answer to?

He’s got to think about that like, and in that moment me mam’s looking from me to him like, What the . . . ? but then he says it. Yeh. Just like that with this great forceful nod of his big head. Yeh. It’s wicked.

It’s most wicked cos me mam’s got to wait till we’re in the Bimmer to ask what it’s all about. And me dar’s there too of course, riled cos they’s just been having a row about it but also sheepish. Cos it’s obvious now. Everyone knows he’s scared of me granddad. But I get to say, Oh, nuttin. Just like that, as if it is nuttin. Granddad’s gonna sort out Anita Hardwick for me, for all this shite she’s been giving me about being of mixed race parentage.

Even they don’t say nuttin about me language. They just look at each other, gobsmacked, until me dar, Well, he says, What your granddad says goes, Errol. He’s being sarcy like, but I don’t care. And I don’t think me mam does either.

Isn’t that amazing, though? I mean, really, who’d have believed it? Noreven me nanna who believed strongly enough in God all them years to go bothering Him every Sunday morning. Please, God, let our Bill be a non-racist good feller and our Errol have the proper family he deserves.

Me mam and dar’ll be getting married next.

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.