Becky has read at Story Shop 2014, the daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today. You can find the short story she read on Tue 12th August 2014 below.
Becky Leach was born and grew up in Edinburgh with an interlude in Glasgow for university. When not writing she plays and teaches fiddle and has recently started working in mental health advocacy. She is a member of National Collective, the artistic and creative campaign for Scottish Independence.
The Short Story she read on the day
a short story by Becky Leach
It was just a wee patch of grass. Smaller than my garden, and that’s saying something. My garden doesn’t have any grass, just stones and plant pots. And it’s tiny, so you can imagine how small this patch of grass was.
I wouldn’t normally have seen it. I don’t normally go down that street. I don’t like it, there are too many cars, they drive so fast, it’s too loud. I can get to the supermarket by a different street, a quiet street, so that’s okay. But that particular day, the quiet street wasn’t quiet. There were two fire engines on the road and an ambulance, and I could see the two cars, what was left of them. I knew it must be two cars, there was too much metal for one.
I turned back. I didn’t want to look at it, I didn’t want the image stuck in my brain. But I had to go to the supermarket. Mum was coming round for tea, I had to get the food in. I didn’t have a choice, it was the street I don’t like or nothing.
I had to check the street sign when I got there. There was only one lane of cars and they were going slowly. On the pavement at the other side, there was a huddle of people peering at something on the road. I’d need to walk by them to get to the shop, but there weren’t too many, so that was okay.
As I got nearer, I saw what they were looking at. Grass. A square of it, surrounded by tarmac, where the cars would normally be. It wasn’t very high, no more than a few inches, but some bits were longer than others and they were all different shades of green.
Mrs Mackay was there. She’d already got her shopping in, her wheelie tartan shopping bag was full. ‘What do you think?’ she asked me. ‘It’s grass’, I said. ‘Aye’, she says, ‘I ken. But what’s it doing there?’ ‘Growing’, I said. And she smiled, ‘Aye. So it is.’
The others were taking photos on their phone. My phone doesn’t take photos, and I didn’t have my camera with me, though I was wishing I did. More people arrived, curious to see what it was. They all wanted to get up close, so I let them and went on to the supermarket. When I came back the way with my shopping, there were even more of them, crowded round, on the road now as well. I would have had to push past them to see it again, so I just went home.
I told Justyna, my support worker, about it when she came round. I don’t think she believed me at first, though she didn’t show it. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d believe it, if someone told me. But then she got a text from a friend, who asked if she’d seen it. She wanted to know all about it after that. When she left, she promised to go by and take a photo of it for me on her phone.
I made Spaghetti Carbonara for tea (I know the recipe off by heart), and Mum and I ate it on our laps while we watched the news.
I don’t read the papers. I can read, but it takes so long, it’s hard to keep track of all the information. I don’t know what I’d do without the news on the telly.
Reporting Scotland was the same as usual: a murder in Glasgow, people arguing about wind farms, some councillor getting up to no good. But then the newsreader’s face, which was grim and serious before, turned to a smile and she gave a wee laugh to herself before saying, ‘And finally, in Edinburgh this morning, locals were surprised to discover that a patch of grass had grown overnight in the middle of a busy road…’ They showed the grass, and then a man in a suit who laughed and said that ‘the council were investigating but it was, of course, nothing to worry about’.
That night I had a dream about the grass. About seeds opening and shoots unfurling and pushing up through stone and tarmac to come out into the warmth of the sun.
I woke up early, before six, and went out without having my breakfast or a shower, something I never do. There was no one else in the street. When I got to the grass, I saw that it had grown and was now on both sides of the road. I walked up to it and it came nearly to my knees. I bent down and touched it. I could smell it, it smelt like…
There was a hand on my shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t do that, miss.’ It was a policeman. There was a policewoman behind him, talking into her walkie talkie, I couldn’t hear what she was saying.
‘How no?’, I asked him.
‘We don’t know what it is’, he said.
‘Can you step back onto the pavement, please.’
‘What else would it be?’
I did what he said, and watched from the pavement as more people arrived. Some of them were police officers, some had video cameras, but some were just normal people. The day before, everyone had crowded round the grass, they were right up close to it, but now everyone was hanging back, standing several feet away from the cordon that had been put up.
At some point (I don’t know when, I wasn’t keeping track of the time), the policeman from before looked my way. I saw him say something to the policewoman and nod at me. I realised that was the time to leave.
It was on the news again that night, and not just the Scottish news. They showed a video of the street taken from up high in a helicopter. You couldn’t see the grass, there was a big white tent around it and there were people, all dressed in white with their faces covered by masks, going in and out.
Then, there was another man in a suit, a different man from the night before and he wasn’t laughing. You see men in suits a lot in the news. The suit says ‘I am important, I know what you don’t, you should listen to me’. This man’s suit looked expensive. He was talking about mutated strains and eco-terrorists. Residents of the surrounding streets had been evacuated, he said, and residents within a mile radius were advised to stay indoors.
I turned the news off after that, I didn’t feel like watching any more.
Mum rang first thing the next morning. She’d heard it on the radio. It was all sorted, they’d fixed it, the street was back to normal. So I could go out, she said, I didn’t have to stay inside.
Later that day, I went out to the supermarket. The quiet street was quiet again. The street where the grass had been was full of cars, fast and busy and loud. I’ve not been back down that street since.
Justyna printed off the photo of the grass she’d taken for me. I stuck it to my bedroom wall with blu-tack, just above my pillow. I haven’t had another dream about the grass. Not yet, anyway.
(c) Becky Leach, 2014
- her home page: www.beckymleach.org