Short Story: Tam's Granny
Tam was always afraid of ghosts, but he didn’t want to hide from them.
He felt safe if he was with his Granny in front of the TV. The first time he saw a film that scared him, it wasn’t about ghosts, it was about a werewolf. It was an American TV movie called The Moon of the Wolf, shown in Scotland a couple years after it was made in the early 1970s. Tam was seven. He and his Granny watched it on the black and white TV in the kitchen of their tenement flat, sitting on the couch under the pulley where the laundry hung drying.
Afterwards, Tam and his Granny slept together in the bed in an alcove in the kitchen. You could see the TV from the bed, but Tam only watched it from the bed when he was ill. As he lay next to his sleeping Granny, Tam thought about the film he’d seen. He imagined a werewolf in the midden in the back of the tenement, pushing the bins over, howling, then climbing the stairs to the flat and pounding on the door until it collapsed. Unlike the woman in the film, Tam’s Granny didn’t have a gun or silver bullets, but he knew the werewolf would have to get past her before it could touch him. Since Tam always went to bed first, he lay on the side that was against the wall, and his granny lay between him and the room and the world.
He lived with his Granny and Granda, but his Granda didn’t sleep with his Granny, and Tam had never known them to share a bed. Even before Tam moved in with them when he was five, his Granda slept in the bedroom and his Granny slept in the kitchen.
They had one child, Tam’s Mum, who lived in another flat in the same building with Tam’s Dad and Tam’s younger brothers. Every flat in the building only had one bedroom and a kitchen, so when the third boy was born Tam’s Granny had told his Mum she’d take the eldest.
Tam didn’t see his Granda much. During the day he’d be at work, and at night he’d be in the pub or at his Masonic Lodge. In between, he’d eat the meal Tam’s Granny cooked. There was no table, so he’d eat sitting in his armchair in the kitchen, with his plate on his lap, and he’d read the Glasgow Evening Times while he ate. Then he’d go out, and Tam and his Granny would watch TV. She liked comedy programmes like The Goodies and The Dick Emery Show, and music programmes like The Black and White Minstrel Show and Cilla. She’d put Tam to bed before his Granda got home. Tam would fall asleep listening to their voices as they talked quietly, smelling the cigarettes they were smoking. He could tell which smoke was his Granny’s and which was his Granda’s.
After Tam saw the werewolf film, he wanted to see more like that. Werewolves, vampires, and, especially, ghosts. He never knew if his Granny liked them, but she always watched them with him because he was scared to watch them alone. They were on late, but his Granny would let him stay up. His Granda would come home and find the two of them watching a Hammer film, and he’d tell his wife that she shouldn’t be letting the boy watch that rubbish, and she’d answer that it was nothing to worry about. He’d get a cup of tea and go to his room for the night.
Tam’s Granny got ill. The doctor told her to stop smoking, but she couldn’t, and then the doctor told Tam’s Granda that it didn’t matter if she stopped smoking or not because there was nothing that could be done for her. He told Tam’s Mum and Dad, but he didn’t tell Tam’s Granny.
She was too sick to share the bed anymore, so Tam got moved back to his Mum and Dad’s flat two floors up. He slept in the bed in the kitchen with his brothers, and his Mum and Dad slept in the bedroom.
He still spent as much time as he was allowed with his Granny. She was in bed most of the time now, and she’d watch TV from the bed, and Tam would sit on a chair or on the edge of the bed and watch it with her until she got too tired, and then he’d go back to his Mum and Dad’s. It would take a long time for him to get to sleep there, because his Mum and Dad would shout at each other for hours every night. Often his Mum would smash cups and glasses against the wall.
His Dad worked Monday till Friday, eight till five. Friday was payday, and all that day Tam’s Mum would worry if her husband was going to come home and give her money for food and cigarettes and booze, or if he would disappear into the pubs and other people’s flats until Sunday afternoon or evening. Tam liked it when he did that, because there would be no shouting, and his Mum wouldn’t have enough money to get drunk, and his Granny and Granda would give them food. His Granda would say his Dad was “a no-use-er.” His Granny was now too weak to say anything.
Tam’s Granny had just breathed out, and it hurt, and now she was trying to breathe in again, but she couldn’t and she never did.
They didn’t let Tam’s Mum go to the funeral, because she was so drunk she wet the chair she was sitting on. Tam was glad, because he saw her watching a film in which a crying relative jumped into the grave, on top of the coffin, and he knew his Mum was thinking about doing that so people would look at her.
After the funeral, Tam’s Granda told him he would be moving back into his flat. “That’s what your Granny would have wanted.”
He slept in his Granny’s bed that night. The sheets hadn’t been changed since she’d died, and not for a long time before. At first the smell made his eyes water. As he lay there, he heard his Granda come into the kitchen. He pretended to be asleep, but he knew his Granda knew he was pretending. His Granda got down on his knees and clasped his hands and prayed. Tam knew he wanted him to see him doing that so he would tell people.
His Granda got up off his knees and went to his room.
The sheets didn’t get changed. Tam didn’t watch horror films anymore, because nobody would watch them with him. His Mum would come in the evenings and cook for his Granda, and then they’d drink and smoke and watch TV while Tam read comics. Tam would go to bed, and sometimes he’d still be awake when his Granda said, “Well, you better get home to that no-use-er.” His Granda would walk out to the hallway with his Mum, and they’d talk in low voices for a while before she left.
At school, Tam’s teacher made fun of him for being dirty and smelly, and she encouraged the other kids to make fun of him too. Some of them already did, but others felt sorry for him because they knew his Granny had died. The teacher, Mrs. Strachan, told him to wash himself at the sink in the classroom, and the whole class laughed while he did.
“They’re all laughing at you, Thomas,” Mrs. Strachan said with a big, bright smile. That made them laugh louder and longer.
At lunchtime, Tam climbed over the school gate. As he did, he said, “Up, up and away!” like he’d heard Superman say on TV, but he couldn’t fly.
A week later, the truant officer knocked on the door of Tam’s Mum and Dad’s flat, but his Dad was at work and his Mum was drunk, so she didn’t come to the door. It was a few more days before a letter arrived letting them know that he hadn’t been going to school, and threatening to make them bring him to a Children’s Panel.
He stood in the kitchen that night while his Mum and his Granda shouted at him. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t look at them.
“Look at us when we’re talking to you,” his Granda said.
Tam looked at him, but he didn’t say anything.
“I’ll tell you something,” his Granda said. “Do you know what’ll happen if you don’t start behaving yourself?”
Tam looked at him.
“Your Granny’ll come back from Heaven and visit you. That’ll sort you out.”
Tam started to cry.
“Aye, you’re scared now, eh?” his Granda said. “You better be. She’s watching, and she’ll come back.”
“She already has,” Tam sobbed.
“What was that?”
“Granny already came back to see me. She knows what you and Mum are doing. She wants me to tell everybody. Granny sees what you do to Mum in the hall at night before she goes home, when Mum says, ‘Noooo, dooon’t,’ and you do it anyway. Granny sees that, and she tells me.”
His Granda just stood there. His Mum screamed.
Tam’s Granda went into the shop to get the Evening Times, as he always did after work. “The Times, and 10 Embassy Plain,” he said to the man behind the counter, who ignored him. He said it again, and the man looked right through him.
He walked out of the shop. Nobody spoke to him as he walked along the street.
In his kitchen, he found Tam watching TV.
“Nobody’ll look at me, Tam. It’s like I’m a bloody ghost.”
“You are,” Tam said. “Granny came and got you.”
First published in *NorthWords Now*