Clyde walkway, city centre by Kirstin Innes
Down here, the river’s not green or bonny blue; it doesn’t flow or trickle or babble like a baby. It moves like meat. Gravy-brown, menstrual brown, iron-full and cutting through your arteries. The heart attack you always knew was pending. We built a city on it.
This is where I come, now. When the mood is on me.
I’ve brought a bottle.
There’s a bunch of flowers tied to the railing today. Same spot, at the deepest point. Another one. I’m not going to read the card, because it’s not there for me, or you. Give the people their privacy.
Two lassies in my usual spot, backs pushed against the arch of the bridge, knees lolling in front of them, fingers knitted in each other’s lap like a dancing hold. They’re just staring straight ahead, but they’re doing it together, a wire carrying the same tune between two black hoods. It sets up a faint electronic pulse in the air around them, warding off strangers, parents, teachers, the boys in the playground calling them lezzies–
You get a lot of the young ones down here, because it’s no-man’s land. Private, empty space up for the taking. That’s what brings all of us here: a public place where you don’t have to deal with the public, and that’s an unspoken peace treaty kept up by everyone who chooses to walk this way. Because no-one’s looking, this has become a place for people to do the things they can’t do anywhere else. Drink. Love. Sleep. Piss. Grieve. Think. Jump.
They should be in school just now, those two.
From the railings – you probably never looked, but there’s a view over all the Glasgows that have been. The old sandstone warehouses, converted into offices. Stark tower blocks built for education in the sixties, their square fresh hope now peeling, desperate-looking. The steel, iron and stone of Victoria’s bridges, the number of them that were needed to tame the river, planted square across and left to gather water stains and guano. The gorgeous bulb of the big mosque, its faces glowing at night. Cheap clapperboard casinos and the locked-up frontiers of late-night burger shacks; the old Ladies Waiting Room, weeds curling out from under its roof, remainder from a time when people tried to take pleasure trips on this brawny water; glassy apartment blocks, fresh, white, designed for aspirational waterfront living, still half-empty. The river just keeps throbbing through as the city changes and changes. It’s necessary to be reminded of that. I need it.
They should be in school, but.
Even the scrubbed-face cyclists, with their health glowing bright as their neon trim on the new cycle track, they’ve come for the quiet of it, using this space to fight their own private battles with their bodies. And aye, there’s that faint menace of the shadows under the bridges, carried in the limbs of the men who hold court here, the ever-leery risk that one of those grizzled faces could bite. But, see your civilised folks with mortgages and jobs, they can bite far harder than a couple of drunks under a bridge, eh. At least here, it’s an honest menace.
‘Whit? Get bent, granny jakey.’
I’ve said it without thinking, youse should be in school. Violating the code, some long-dead part of me forced back up my throat and interfering. And it has consequences, breaking the code. I know it does. The girl who talks, her voice is taking me somewhere else. A posh girl trying to cover it, all forced glottal stops. I can’t see her face for the hood and the dyed snarl of hair over it, but. But. She was one of mine, at some point, two years ago but longer: her accent conjures the smell of a classroom, an authority of movement that came from the curve of my spine, sniggers in the corridors–
Alice. Her name is Alice something. The hot flush of it; what if she recognises me, what if she recognises me–
‘Go on. Beat it.’
She chucks a stone, like I’m a dog, and her wee girlfriend laughs.
It’s fine. It’s fine. I’ll just walk along, find another patch of shadow under the next bridge, pull the jakey cloak tighter round me. Down here, eyes are averted even before they’re close enough to smell the drink and guilt off me. Even if someone who knows me from my new life were to walk down here, some acquaintance, they wouldn’t be able to see through this to the nice plump lady who works in the charity shop, who visits her mum in the home every Friday. Down here I’m one of those frayed-out others even you would back away from, forget as soon as your back’s turned.
Are they whispering, Alice thing and her pal? Just the breeze. It’ll just be the breeze.
Every six months or so a paint-keen local councillor, new in the post, up for the challenge, hangs a banner saying Riverside Development. Council-branded flower pots appear, full of sprays and arrangements too delicate to last. We move on and become something new, or we crumble like an old brick, let the current clog us, wash up dead and greasy in the scurf the next morning. I suppose I should thank you for giving me this place.