Rob McClure Smith has published his short fiction in Gettysburg Review, Chelsea, StoryQuarterly, Barcelona Review, Warwick Review, Chapman, Gutter and many other magazines. He was a previous winner of the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award. This short story is based on actual events related to Sir Percy Sillitoe’s breaking up of the Glasgow razor gangs in the 1930s.
You can read the first part of Rob’s story for Alt Hist for free below. If you would like to read more please order the first issue of Alt Hist.
Easter Parade, 1930
by Rob McClure Smith
So, says Milroy, five of the eight weans slept in wheelie beds and makeshifts and the recess. The other bairns shared the big bed wi’ the parents. So it’s mid-winter and tae save oan trips tae the cludge there’s this big pail at the heid of the bed. This Friday night the pair come hame drunk, crawl intae bed and git doon tae business, if ye ken whit ah mean. So, the mither wakes up oan Saturday mornin’ and looks doon and sees the six month baby got pushed oot the bed when they wur aboot the deed the night afore and has taken a header intae the pail. It wid huv been funny, except but the wean drooned.
What did the parents do? Cumberland asks.
Gave the corpse a quick scrub wi’ carbolic soap, and dressed it in its Sunday duds afore they sent oot for the doctor. That yin wrote natural causes oan the certificate, but he knew fine. Ah believe it wis death by misadventure masel.
A gale of laughter, and quiet settles again in the back of the ambulance. Without, another dreich Spring day, and the men harken to thick jaups of rain dinging on the roof, the windborne plaint of the flutes and ruff of drums coming closer. Not one of them could quit gauping. The nerves. They need the cludgie and no one can go.
That’s the Papish Goat that is.
Any fags? Can ah cadge a Woodbine off of a person?
Was that a true story about the baby? Cumberland asks, thoughtful.
Aye, the most of Milroy’s yarns ur true, says Hepburn.
Cumberland leans back, girns and stretches stiff legs out before him.
It’s a strange city this right enough. I’ll give you that.
The others regard Cumberland with curiosity, the big Sassenach sharing his impressions of Glasgow. An outsider’s perspective is of interest. ‘To see oorselves as ithers see us’ is not always welcome, but usually of interest.
I was over Garngad way yesterday. That what it’s called?
The men nod, no one calling him on his mispronunciation.
Robinson was showing me some old shebeens there. So, we come down this old cobbled street and I notice a broke-down milkman’s charabanc parked outside a dairy and I swear I thought there was a monkey in the other seat. I remember thinking, ‘Ah, the driver has a little monkey with him.’ But then as I get closer I realize that it isn’t a monkey at all. It’s a woman. It was a little woman looked just like a monkey.
Mibbe ye jist need specs, offers Hepburn.
Yes, says Cumberland. A chimpy type woman it was.
Silence again, rain pelting yet, spattering liquid percussion dull thudding the metal roof, and all sitting thoughtful now imagining the chimp-woman.
It must be hard tae look like a monkey, offers Hepburn. Unless yir a monkey.
Milroy looks out the vizzy-hole the engineer drilled in the back door. He peruses the length of Norman Street.
Hepburn taps Cumberland’s knee, interrupting his yawning.
Bull Bowman, the leader of the Conks, is a tall heavyset fella wi’ a wee baby face and a big scar oan the temple. Says he got it in a pitched battle wi’ the Billy Boys, but it wis jist his big brither struck him wi’ a hatchet when he wis four gave him that striped face.
Cumberland looks at Hepburn, bemused.
They wur jist wee boys, explains Hepburn. It wis an accident. Ye ken how wee boys ur. He’s a corrie-fister, so mind yirsel if he takes a swing.
Little boys don’t play with hatchets in Sheffield.
Mibbe it’s a Glesga thing, the hatchets. Hepburn gets to his feet, ducks his head aneath the roof. Slide ower and let me see oot that peep a minute, Milroy.
Tell me we’re going to get started soon now, Cumberland says.
Patience, says Hepburn. This is hawk-studyin. When we hit, the claws go deep.
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