The Dummy Railway

Sid Vicious is under the table, waiting to see if there’s any dropped food. I wait til Nana isn’t looking and I kick him. Right in the belly.

‘That poor dog must be bursting,’ Nana says. ‘Will you no take him out, Janey?’

She asks this every day but I can’t, not any more. It’s Sid’s fault that I found the dead body.

When I first went back to school, Nana had said nobody would know it was me that found Samantha Watson, and to tell them I was off with diarrhoea. I was just going to say sick. But they’d all heard and everybody crowded round.

‘Was it all blood and guts, Janey?

‘Did you shit yourself?’

‘Was the dead woman a nudie?’

I just stood there looking at the ground. Mrs Henderson came out and made them line up. She took my hand and we went in the teachers’ door and she was all nice and kind. But that made it worse and I wished she would just shout like normal.

Now, in the playground, nobody comes near me. Not even any of the Smelly Kellys. But this morning, Lorraine and Jackie run up to me.

‘Janey, look,’ Lorraine says, opening a packet of cheese and onion. There’s a bottle of nail polish in there, ‘It’s Boots No.7, Jackie nicked it off her sister.’

Lorraine used to be my best friend til I stopped talking. Now she’s hanging about with that Jackie. Don’t care.

‘Want us to do your nails?’ she says.

‘Look at mine,’ Jackie says, wiggling Frosted Pink in my face. Wiggling and wiggling til all I can see is Samantha’s nails, broken and filthy like she’d been scrabbling in the dirt to get away. Suddenly, I feel Samantha’s smashed-up hand in mine, cold and heavy.

‘Just, just get lost,’ I shout and push Jackie. Just a toaty shove, I didn’t mean her to fall.

When I get home, Gibby from the 18th floor is outside fixing a motor. He’s always messing with broken stuff. He wipes his filthy hands and walks me to the lifts. Rain leaks into our block, and Gibby has the top floor damp smell.

‘The polis are in with your granny,’ he says. ‘Don’t you let them hassle you, pal. Yous just give me a shout if they start any of their shite.’

Gibby’s OK, Nana used to think he was a bad devil, but then he fixed her radio and wouldn’t take any money.

Two police are here this time. The woman who tells me to call her Carol, and the baldie man who wears ordinary clothes. They’ve got tea but Nana’s not put it in the nice cups. And there’s no biscuits out.

‘Hey, Jane. Good day at school?’ Carol says, ‘You must be excited about going up to big school soon.’

“Big school” You’d think I was six or something, what a diddy.

‘It’s Janey,’ I tell her. Five weeks and still getting my name wrong. She makes out she’s writing it down on her hand with an invisible pencil. Stupid.

‘Love your wedges,’ she says, as if she’s my friend or something. I look at my feet and think about my old shoes crashing to the ground. It was giving me the shivers to wear them, so I chucked them over the balcony, with all the other clothes I was wearing that day. Even my new Wombles t-shirt. Nana picked them up but she missed the pants and some wee boys are still using them for scabby-touch. She wasn’t angry when I told her why I did it but she had to see Big Davie to borrow money for new stuff. He’s got her Family Allowance book.

‘Take your jacket off, sweetheart. They want another word.’ Nana is still in her work overall, a day’s worth of pie-making right down her front. She puts the big light on. It’s usually just for Christmas and looking for her glasses.

Baldie takes out his notebook. Nobody told me his real name but his head is shiny and huge. He probably thinks he’s Kojak or something.

‘Right, hen. One more time, just in case you’ve remembered something.’

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. The wean’s told you everything.’ Nana knows I’m not a wean, I’m nearly twelve, but I see what she’s doing.

‘Details can come back, often weeks later. And our Jane, sorry Janey, is a very clever girl,’ Carol says and gives me the smile again.

That day, at the police station, she had taken me to a wee cubicle to clean up cos I’d wet my pants. I heard her outside talking to a man who wanted to know if the witness was any use. “Doubt it,” Carol had said, “she’s from the Possil flats. Bloody lucky if she can write her own name.”

Baldie drinks his tea. I hear Sid scratching at the kitchen door, desperate to see the visitors and maybe bark to show what a good dog he is. I almost go to him.

‘Start at the point where you go to Martin Gallagher’s door.’ He’s clicking his pen, ready to go. On my knee there’s a scab exactly 37 days old. I pick it just enough for the wee drop of blood to come out. Now I’m ready too.

Martin opened his door. He was in his pyjamas, proper Star Wars ones, not fakes from the market. He gets nice clothes cos his ma works in Woolworths.

‘I can’t come, Janey. We’re going to the Botanics.’

I was really raging cos I got up early, ‘Well, you’re going to miss the Spitfire then.’

The firework was a belter, and we were going to let it off down the Dummy Railway. Martin looked pretty sad when we left, but he gave me some gammon for Sid.

You have to be really careful about going over the railings at the Dummy Railway. The jaggy nettles are murder. Sid gets excited off the lead and was going a bit mad, bouncing about in the weeds. There’s always a weird quietness when you get right down the embankment, like the air is too thick or something.

The plan was supposed to be to set the firework off in Blindman’s Hole. The echoes in that tunnel are loud enough to ache your teeth. A bend in the middle takes all the light away and even if you don’t believe the stuff about ghosts and skeleton bones, you still have to watch for glue sniffers and drunks. I was thinking I’d wait for Martin after all. But I had to get Sid. He’d run on ahead, and was making growly noises behind an itchy-coo bush. Maybe I would pick some to shove down stupid Martin’s stupid pyjamas.

But there was a stink.

‘You better not be rolling in keech again, Sid,’ I said out loud.

I wasn’t scared when I saw her, not at first. She was lying face up and her legs were apart but at weird angles. You could see right away that she was dead. There was a droning sound but I think that was just inside me. I knelt down beside her and a wee bit of broken glass went into my knee.

‘Why did you kneel down, Janey?’ The police always ask this.

‘I don’t know. I just thought…’ I thought she maybe wanted somebody with her, I thought she was maybe lonely. But I don’t say this because it makes me sound a bit mental.

‘This is the point that you touch Samantha’s dress.’

My face goes bright red. ‘There was blood all over her tummy. And–and down there. She had no pants on.’ I feel Nana’s hand on my shoulder. She reaches forward and wipes my knee with her hanky. I’ve gone too far with the scab.

‘And you don’t know how long you waited there?’ Baldie asks. I shrug. Long enough to see a big fat bluebottle crawl out of her mouth.

‘Have you remembered seeing anyone walking near the embankment?’

Again I shrug and Carol makes a sighing noise. I really don’t like Carol.

‘Right, that’s it,’ Nana shouts. ‘Yous already know about the taxi driver who called your mob. So there’s nothing more to be said.’ Nana’s wee and a bit fat but when she’s raging she looks proper hard.

‘Mrs Devine, please. About the taxi, Janey. You absolutely sure it was moving? Talk us through that bit again,’ Baldie says.

‘I don’t–I don’t really remember how I got to the main road.’ It’s like one of those dreams where bits are missing. ‘The taxi nearly hit me. That’s how I know it was moving. The driver got out and shouted at me to get off the effin road,’ – Nana doesn’t stand for swearing unless it’s about Orangemen – ‘but then he was staring at me, and he took my hand and sat me on the pavement. He pulled his taxi in and brought me one of those tartan blankets. He said he was Alex, Taxi Alex, and did something bad happen.’

‘Did he mention the body first? Think hard, hen.’

I close my eyes to remember better. Taxi Alex was chewing Juicy Fruit. He had very red hands and his voice was high, not like a man talking.

‘No,’ I say, ‘it was me that told him about, about…’

‘Did Alex leave you alone at all?’

‘Just for a wee minute. Then he came back and gave me a Wham.’

‘He gave you a what?’

‘It’s a sweetie,’ Nana says, and does a look cos taking sweets is not on.

‘It was for shock, Nana.’

‘This Alex character. Yous looking at him?’ Nana asks. I wonder what she’s meaning but guess it’s not good because her lips are that tight way.

‘We can’t discuss that, Mrs Devine.’ Baldie tugs at his trouser knees. ‘Right, hen, last question. We need to know if you did anything apart from touch the dress. Did you do anything else to Samantha’s body?’

He’s looking right into my face now.

‘No,’ I lie.

Later, Gibby comes to take Sid Vicious for a walk. Nana’s dead grateful and goes to get him a coffee. She hardly ever gives anybody her coffee.

I notice Gibby’s rubbishy tattoo, blue and smudged, near his wrist and I wonder if might be Rangers. He sees me looking.

‘Army,’ he says, holding his big arm out. ‘I seen bodies too, you know. Northern Ireland.’

I wish Nana would hurry up, I don’t want to be talking about this.

‘Do you see her in your dreams? The dead lassie?’ he asks.

I nod, ‘Every night.’

‘Aye, it’s rough right enough. Like having worms living in your belly. Bloody shame it had to be you that found her. All sliced up, that filthy word scrawled on her face.’

‘Take two, son,’ Nana says, passing a plate of biscuits over Sid’s head.

My mouth is filled with sick and I run to the toilet.

I wasn’t scared when I found Samantha, not at first.

‘You’re freezing, so you are,’ I said, patting her hand, ‘but I’m here now, you’ll be ok now.’

Then I saw a word on her forehead. I’d thought it was blood but it was the really bad swear written in red lipstick. I did a wee bit of spit on my hanky, like Nana used to do for sticky cheeks.

‘There, there, wee lamb,’ I said, rubbing and rubbing till only a bit of the C was left.

But then the bluebottle was on her teeth and I screamed. I was running and I was screaming, and I was in the tunnel with the skeleton bones and ghosts.

The police were raging when I said I’d touched her dress, so I never told them about cleaning the word on Samantha’s face. I never told anybody. Only the person who wrote it would know about it.

Only the murderer who is with my Nana, eating custard creams.


— Frances Crawford