Breakfast time, and my dad, Mick, sat at the table crunching his Frosties and slurping milk. He marked a line on the box. The Frosties were his, and never shared with anyone. We had porridge.
‘Pleeease can I go?’ I leaned in between him and his spoon.
‘Whit in hell’s name are ye wantin tae go there fur?’ he said.
Tony the Tiger grinned at me from the box, his red ‘kerchief tied at a cute angle – ‘They’re G.r.r.r.e.a.t!’ said Tony. Mick wasn’t grinning. He wasn’t bouncy like Tony either. I looked at mum. She raised a perfectly tweezered eyebrow.
‘But all the girls in my class go,’ I whined. Mick hated whining.
‘Sho?’ he slurred, his mouth bulging with Frosties.
‘Fiona Anderson goes.’ I folded my arms, the way my nana did when she was making a point.
‘Good fur bloody her!’
‘They made pom-poms last week.’
Mum shuffled in her chair and hid behind the Dundee Courier.
‘Bloody pom-poms! What feckin use are they?’ I ducked a spray of Frosties pulp as it hit the tangerine zig-zag wallpaper.
‘She only wants to join the Girls Brigade, Mick,’ said mum sleepily, not lifting her eyes from the newspaper. The only sound was the bar on the electric fire buzzing away like a wasp.
‘Holy Wullies the bloody lot o them.’ He slammed the door on his way out.
Mum shook her head and tutted. I stuck out my bottom lip and squeezed my eyes shut till I heard the rattle of padlocks and the rusty iron door scrape open at the back of the house. That would be him under a car-bonnet until tea time.
‘I know,’ mum crooned. ‘We’ll just keep workin on him...and you madam, you need tae learn when tae hud yer tongue.’
Tony the Tiger smirked at me from the front of the big cardboard box. I poked his eye with my fork. If Mick didn’t let me go, I’d gob into his Frosties packet and run away - then he’d be sorry. Fiona Anderson was lucky - she had a nice dad, a big brother and a piano that she never even played.
Mum switched on the wireless and started doing the twist.
‘Next Thursday is Halloween. They’re dookin for apples at the Girls Brigade,’ I said.
‘That’s nice dear. Apples are good for yer teeth. When I was a wee girl, we had scones on strings, slathered in treacle.’ She lit a fag. She always had one after Mick went out. I kicked the leg of his chair till there was a bash in the toe of my sandal. She bent low mid twist, the fag dangling from her lips, and scudded my legs hard. She then took a long draw and blew the smoke at the ceiling where it spiralled up to settle in the yellow corners of the room. The place always smelled of damp, and the wallpaper curled loose at the seams. Mick pasted down the edges every so often. Days later, it just sprung loose again. The scullery ceiling was flecked with mildew, spiders ran wild everywhere, and - we had a mouse.
The Andersons didn’t have one of them!
I cleared the breakfast stuff from the table, and rattled cups in the scullery sink before heading back to the living room.
‘Fiona said you get badges for knittin and bible readin at the Girl’s Brigade,’ I said. Mum sighed and shook her head. ‘Why can’t I go?’
‘We’ll see. He’ll be in soon enough. Manky wi oil and happy as Larry.’ She tightened the ribbon on my pigtail. ‘...and we’re havin sausage an onion casserole for tea.’ She winked.
Later, the back door blew open and I heard Mick at the sink rubbing his hands with swarfega- green frog-spawny stuff that stank. The grey lather stretched to his elbows. I hovered by the kitchen door and watched his back. He turned around, grinned, and waved his smelly hands in my face before he eased himself out of his overalls, and groaned into the chair by the fire.
‘It’s bloody cauld in yon garage,’ he said, as he eyed the latest wallpaper seam to become unstuck. Mum switched on the TV for Doctor Who. She’d brushed her hair and put on a coat of red lipstick.
‘I’m just away ben the scullery tae check oan the sausage casserole,’ she said, brushing the dark hairs on his fore-arm as she passed his chair.
I sat on the fireside rug at his feet, my back leaning into his legs. Every so often he’d nudge me with his knee. When the Cybermen came on, I’d always squeal and hide behind a cushion, but I stayed quiet through the whole episode. Mum brought him a mug of tea and a digestive biscuit. He wiggled his feet in front of the fire.
‘So, lady, what’s wi this Girl Scout nonsense?’ he said.
‘It’s the Girls Brigade.’
‘It’ll mean goin tae the Kirk I suppose?’ He shook his head as if the prospect was hopeless. Mick didn’t believe in God, or Jesus even. ‘It’ll no work, if yer mither’s tae get up early oan a Sunday mornin.’
I stared at the TV and nibbled the soft skin at the side of my nails.
‘Plus, how were ye plannin tae get there, eh?’
‘Fiona Anderson’s dad said he’d give me a lift.’ I sniffed. ‘He’s got a nice blue car.’
He thought about this, as he rubbed the soles of his socks together, sending up wee puffs of steam. In the scullery onions sizzled and mum whistled along to the Doctor Who theme tune.
‘Maybe me an him could dae week aboot. How does that sound?’
I couldn’t answer him – all I could think of was how I’d manage to remove the gob from his Frosties packet.