Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bill Griffiths (Ghost Story 5): Needfire

Ganny sat i’ th’ corner, caad as owt.

Meg cam ower ti show ‘er hor latest drawin’. It woz a pickchor ov an egg, on end, beginnin’ ti brick, an’ a large muscle-man emergin’, leastways hiz heed an’ airm.

Ganny chuckled. It myed hor think o’ the renewal o’ strength – that she needed partickler, hor, at hor age. Meg woz an aud-farrant bairn, she thot, not like hor scatty-brained Mam. She puu’d th’ rug tighter roond hor, an’ leuked toward th’ winder – the fire seemed to gie nae heat, and the sun little leet the day, which meant –

‘How, Ganny,’ sed Albie as he waaked in, huggin’ a canny bundle o’ peat wi’ him. Albie woz Ellen’s man, her daughter, but most times she felt closer to him nor hor. It woz a matter o’ respeck – that gorl had nyen, nae mense at aal!

‘Heor’s some peat’ll keep us waam, eh?’

‘Ye’ve nut ti hoy ower-much on, it’ll aal be te redee later, ye knaa.’

‘Oh, aye. Ye’ll hev ti ax Ellen aboot that noo,’ he sed, gently.

They exchanged a gliff o’ th’ ee.

‘Is it fire-neet?’ axed Meg.

‘Why noo, Mowsie, whee telt thoo?’ said her Dad, ‘Naebody, on’y Aa’m aad enuf ti hilp, Aa am!’

‘Thor’ll be nae clartin’-on the neet; thee Mam’ll nut stand fer it.’

‘Clartin’-on!’ sed Ganny, sounding reet scunner’d. ‘Th’ bairn’ll dee better fer ye than that Ellen. Nae mense at aal!’

‘Noo then, Ganny, ye knaa what Ellen thinks o’ aal this superstishun. It’s hor hyem noo – it’s aal wors – an she’s wark enuf wi’oot us makkin’ mare.’

Ganny changed th’ subjeck. ‘Hev ye sarra the hens, wor Meg?’ Mebbies she leuked fer a werd wi’ Albie in private.

But – ‘Aye. An’ ye knaa, Ganny, the clockers wor aal huddled in a heap, it woz that caad.’

‘Aye caad it is,’ the aud wife agreed.

‘Aa’ll seun hev th’ fire fettled,’ sed Albie, gerring on his knees to kittle the gleamin’ peat. ‘The fire’ll nut born reet, nut the day. Thor’ll be nae heat fra that airt.’

Albie filled th’ kettle an’ set in on the fire.

‘A cuppa’s what ye need. What we aal need. It’s that bitter, ootbye. Are ye nut frozzen, wor Mowsie?’

Mowsie rubbed her hands afore the fire; answer enuf.

‘En Ellen’ll be fetchin’ the supper, jus’ noo…’
Ganny felt her consarn risin’ wi’ this hyemly crack – cud they nut see the fire’d nut tak, the femmer yeller leet o’ th’ deh, aal wrang, aal wrang…

She storred horsell ti’ mak a bonny protest, when Ellen waak’d in.

‘Lo luv’ said Albie, gie’in hor a kiss. ‘Caad ootbye?’

‘As if ye need ask! Meg, where’s your warm socks an’ jumper? Ganny, will you not come nearer the fire?’

She set a pile of shoppin’ doon on th’ kitchen counter, an’ began riddin’ things th’ way she liked them.

‘Mowsie, fetch thee gansy,’ prompted her Dad.

‘Is the tea not mashed yet?’ axed Ellen, openin’ packages an’ stowin’ them aal-wheers.

‘Ah dunno,’ said Albie, ‘it dizzent seem ti want ti’ boil…’

‘It’ll nut,’ commented Ganny, seein’ an openin’. ‘Ellen…’

‘Not now, Granma. I’ve the sausages to defrost.’ Mebbies she knew weel enuf what Ganny would start on aboot, se she myed great business o’ puu’in’ apart the frozzen sticks o’ sausage an’ arrangin’ them i’ the microwave. Then thor woz frozzen beans ti tackle. ‘Albie, haven’t ye finished with the fire yet?’

Thor wos nae gas laid on wheer they lived, se the fire hed ti dee its share o’ ceukin’. Ellen’d nut hev a kitchen range; she hed nae tyest fer aud-farrant ways.

But eftor a bit she hed to admit defeat. ‘These sausages are nut even thawed,’ she said, sittin’ doon wi’ a sigh. ‘Maybe it’s time we moved to somewhere civilised…’

The farm was Ellen’s by reet, but nyen o’ them thot she really wanted rid ov it. It woz a canny livin’, i’ th’ sommer!

‘Aye, an’ gerra farm in Jamaica,’ sed Albie, funnin’.

‘Bishop Aucklan’s canny,’ ventured Ganny.

‘Aye,’ sed Ellen; ‘it’s not your fault were stuck here. If we could only get planning permission for the land…’

‘It’ll sarve fer years yet,’ Albie reassured hor. ‘an’ then Meg’ll graa up an’ finnd a fine young man that’ll dee aal me wark fer us, an’ Aa’ll com n sit i’ th’ neuk wi’ Ganny.’

‘An’ what about me?’ protested Ellen.

‘Whey, ye’ll hev sailed te New York an’ started a consultancy bus’ness.’

‘They do have aeroplanes, now.’

‘An’ ye’ll send us a poke o’ peat nows an’ thens, te show ye’ve nut forgetten us.’

‘I’ll send you tickets to join me, you mad thing. If I could…’
It seemed th’ caad woz getten intiv iverything. The kettle’d nut raise steam, so they settled for waamin’ up some milk an myed a crowdie wi’ breed-crumbs n oatmeal.

It was later that Ganny started getting’ restless, yance Meg hed went ti bed.

“What is it mother?” axed Ellen, not unkindly.

“Me sticks, me sticks,” the aud wife seemed to mutter, then pu’in hersell tegither: “Ellen, hinny, Aa knaa thee an me dizzent agree ower aud matters, but ye mun fetch me sticks fer the need-fire, less’n ye’ll dee the job theesell.”

“Oh mother – you shouldn’t be worrying yourself over these silly superstitions. The sun’ll come up tomorrow. Spring-time’ll return just like always. And a bonny mess we’ll find ourselves in, what with Bush invading Iraq!”

“Bugger President Bush! Aa’m taakin’ of what’s serious, gorl. The sun gans weak; the fire losses its heat – it alwez diz, this back-end o’ th’ year. Even yor ‘lectric’s nae orthly use. That’ hoo it is. An’ alwez it needs wor help, that’s for what we rekindle the fire, to fetch it back again, to strength. Ye mun put the fire oot, an’ hilp me get riddy to start it again. Please.”

“You should be in a museum, really!”

“Oh Albie, insense her ov it, will ye?”

Albie, catched in the middle, picked his werds careful-like. “Weel, me fadder elwiz re-lit the fire aboot this time, but Aa wez nivvor tewed te dee it mesell.”

“Ellen, hinny, humour me – it canna dee ony haam.”

“Why I think it should – at your age! The cold’ld kill you, if we let the fire out. Albie, cannot we mend that electric fire? It’s the cold giving her these fancies. Why, I’m cold myself, just talking about it.”

Albie muttered summat aboot nut bein’ ower good wi’ ‘lectrix. In the end, they fetched extra blankets – fer Ganny wez ower aud to clamber up stairs these days – and myed hor bed as near the fire as they dared.

And wi’ a kiss from Ellen and a hug from Albie, they clamb up ti bed, an’ left the aud wife in th’ on’y heated room i’ th’ hoose.

Ganny could not sleep. A year back, she would’ve handled the matter horsell’, nae problem. But it hed been a sorry year fer hor, an noo she could hardlies waak wivoot hilp. But sit up and get up she did. Forst, she fussed at the fire, nudgin’ the top peat away with the poker, then brikkin up the glowy bits underneath. It’d seun gan oot, that way.

Then wi’ a match, she lit hor candle – poor leet that it woz – an’ myed hor way slaa-ly ower te the kist i’ th’ neuk. Thor she fand hor matrix, hor spindle, an hor bow. The bow torned the spindle in the matrix, te kindle – what? She looked aroond fer cottonwool or the like, but fand nyen. Pyeper hankies ‘ld dee. An wi scissors she cut bits oot o’ hor hankychief. Mare smaa sticks she needed, but myed dee wi’ cereal packets an newspapers.

By when it woz that caad, she woz tempted ti gan strite back ti bed. It woz a shyem Meg wazzint let hilp her; or Ellen horsell. Mebbies a match would be bettor nor aal this carry-on – but ye cud nut be ower-careful when it cam ti matters ov import, like.

Se she settled horsell bi the hearth, takkin time to twist the bow just-se roond the spindle. Weeny bits o’ pyeper she set roond the matrix, an lange twists fer when th’ flame catched. anither piece wood capped the spindle, an it woz time to wark th’ need-fire. But hor elbers woz awful bad, an she felt that dwalmy as she set the bow movin’, she dooted she’d not manage.

Aal she cud dee woz cry oot as she fell ower, torpled aza stot.

It woz Albie hord hor caal oot.

He wakkened Ellen, an tegither they cam doon ti check.

They lifted Ganny back onti the bed, but she wazzint breathin’.

“Oh Mam,” cried Ellen, “ye’d not be telled!”

Meg cam doon, wakkened be the stour. “Is Ganny aareet?” she axed, but Ellen’s sobbing telled hor otherwise.

Poor Ganny!

Meg took up the spindle, an began ti lake wi’ it, roond n roond.

The silly soond o’ wood on wood roused Ellen. “Don’t fool about!” she thundered, an’ clickin’ up the spindle, brokk it in twee haaves, an cast it on the deed fire.

Mowsie Meg gasped.

Thor woz nowt she cud dee ti save them eftor that.

Phew. If that hasn’t completely chilled you, then there is one further Ghost Story from Bill Griffiths next month.

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