Short Story: The Granarchists & the Drum


Posted by in July's Magazine

Katy Nixon

Her feet echoed in the stairwell, they still sounded as young as they had sixty years before when she had chased her wee brother out into the street to get her mother’s messages. A mist sat heavily in the air almost reaching the pavement, it should have been light but looking down Duke Street you would never have guessed it was the summer there.  

Pat breathed in the air deeply enjoying the smell of rain. Before turning to walk to work she patted herself down to make sure the pockets on her navy raincoat contained her keys, phone and purse. She had never been bothered with handbags after watching her mother for years lugging her life around with her. 

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As she walked towards the bottom of Easter Road rebellion stirred in her young heart that was buried beneath the convenient disguise of age. All the seagulls saw from the top of tenements was an old woman, hunched at the top of her back, pushing forward with her whole body, driven by the urgency of borrowed time.

Illustration by David Lymburn

The Mecca bingo hall on Manderson Street had always been their meeting place. For covert operations it was an ideal location as Pat had been a cleaner there since the 1990s. She would usher the women in before the place opened. They would sit in the hall beneath bad lighting and the crumbling cornicing of the old State cinema. The women could remember their girlhood through the lens of what had been showing on Saturdays spent out of their mother’s hair watching the matinee, giggling at the boy’s antics and whispering through John Wayne films. 

It felt like a full circle that now they met there undercover every month like Edinburgh witches of the past, hoping to have something to hand down to the women that were behind them. 

Pat stood outside smoking the vape her granddaughter had given her waiting for the other women to arrive.  Reena and Bev came around the corner of Leith Walk, she still saw them as they had been before, like her, feet on the stairs of their lifelong home, echoes of their past remained etched in their faces, they were who they had always been. Pat loved them. 

After they had cautiously entered the building, the women sat around a table with mismatched cups filled with tea. There were three of them, two seats remained empty for Sheila and Mags who were no longer with them but who no doubt on account of not being able to let things go, would still be attending from beyond the grave.

“First things first is when are yi getting better tea bags in Pat?” Pat looked at Reena offended as if her dislike of the tea bags was a personal vendetta against her. She took her vape out of her blue pinny pocket and took a deep draw maintaining eye contact with Reena before saying, “bring your ain…”

As so often with any confrontation between Reena and Pat they remained locked in a standoff and nothing was resolved. The tea bags would probably remain the same, an agreed point of contention. 

“Never mind the tea bags there’s bigger things tae discuss.“

The three women looked at Bev. Her precariously piled hair wobbled as she spoke, the white of it only held in place by a couple of garish bows, the kind you might find on a Christmas tree.

‘The Drum property development. “

‘Bill says it’s no gaun ahead.’

Feet on the stairs of their lifelong home, echoes of their past remained etched in their faces, they were who they had always been

“For noo maybe but the shops are aw gone…” Pat tailed off. She didn’t trust the council. She had seen enough men puffing their chests out in her life to recognise that their words counted for nothing when ego was concerned.

“Well ah brought the recipe with me regardless hen.” Reena reached into her handbag and pulled out a slip of paper. Pat could see the beautiful handwriting from her seat, a lost art form she thought. 

‘It’s no even really a recipe…mair like a formula, even Bev could work it oot.”

“Eh what dae you mean by that?”

“The Leith tart competition? 1995? Mah recipe was meant tae be foolproof!”

“Mah oven was oan it’s way oot! Nothing tae dae with my baking.”

“Ladies!” Pat interjected, her patience wearing thin, “let’s get oan with the matter in hand, so you can get oot of here.”

Reen slowly opened the bit of paper. She placed it in the middle of the table. The women leaned in; it read ‘2lbs to every tonne’. 

“That’s easy enough is it no?”

Pat nodded slowly at Bev and Reena. 

“We should start buying a couple of bags of sugar a week maybe mair… so we’re ready?”

“I goat Jim tae get the balaclavas oot the loft already so they’re ready tae go.”  Reena said as she pulled her coat on clearly hoping to wrap the meeting up.

“This’ll halt everything instantly? We really jist huv to get the sugar in the cement?”

“Aye”, said Pat, ‘”the cement cannae set right. Night before construction starts we need tae be in there.”

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…” Bev sang in her best Julie Andrews voice. 

They laughed and embraced before leaving the bingo hall. Their plan tasted sweeter than the sun that had already burnt away the mist outside.

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