Totemic — Jay Merill

Mah Gran in Aberdeen she wis a psychic. Th’ neighbours wur always round. Gran was gey old and she hud this big blue teapot and a’body sat doon. Thay a’ drank up their cups o’ cuppa quick so they could have their tea leaves read. Wanted tae ken who thay wur and where thay wur; wanted to know what was lying in wait for thaim. The auld folks tellt me tae drink some tea too and when Gran looked in ma cup she said there wis a house near the bottom so I’d be leaving hame, and an extra bit of leaf stuck to the rim which meant it would be happening quicker than a wink. Ah wis twenty one an’ had never been away, so was excited yit afraid. When I peeked in I saw this capital T half way doon the cup.

Ah knew why there was the T an’ aw. Wis because of something that ah once did. Ah caught a toad in mah palm when I wis a wean and folded ma fingers over to keep it out of sight. Went on the bus with it, coudnae open my hand because the toad may not like the bus and the folks on the bus thay may not like the toad. Gran said I wis a funny laddie when we got back in and wanted tae know what ah was keeping hidden away. So ah opened my haun and the toadie jumpt out. High in the air it gaed, crash-landing in the sink. An Gran she hollered.

Important things they come tae you in threes. That’s how you notice thaim and you know they’re meant to be. That’s whit Gran says anyway. The second toad jumpt across my path. I wis on my bike and nearly clipped it, and the third wis in the wall of the shed where the stanes hud crumbled up. Ah cleared some away, saw this plump warty thing crouching there and pulled it out. Wis warm and leathery to the touch and sprayed its liquid all over mah haun. That’s when ah knew I was in danger; ah was tainted and wid ne’er be free.

Came up tae London when Gran died a sudden as ah wis an orphan an there wis nobody else. Gran wasn’t really mah gran, just the yin that teuk care o’ me. Had mah bag and money stolen the minute I walked out of King’s Cross station though luckily got a temp job in a hotel in Argyll Square. But temp is temp and does nae last forever. Found one or two other jobs but they were temporary too. Ah wis out on the street just like that one day when ah coudnae find another. But still tried as hard as ah could, telling masell I’d ne’er give in. Ah tramped round all the other hotels, posh and tatty ones alike. Nothing doing. Ah wis out of luck.

Since when, I’ve bin doon like ye wouldn’t hawp if you haven’t been homeless yerself. Months hae gaen by. Have sunk lower an’ lower. Ah look like shite. Na good clothes left and so who wid take me on? There’s more folk than they need for the jobs already and poor sods like me will ne’er git a keek in. It’s the pits. Mirror in gents’ toilet on the station is where ah view masell. A’m a sight worth seein, ah can tell ye. Hair’s gone matted, what’s left of it, face is mottled from the rain. Eyes bulging out fae fear. Once you get this way how you ever gonna pull yourself up again? Stands to reason it’ll never happen. Is as clear as day whit ah look like noo: A varmint trapped inside a haun that seeing a chink o’ light appear leaps up n falls. A wee wretch just escaping from the wheels of a bike. A dry boak you’ll see crouching in a pile of rubble, grey n wrinkled as thay come. Just in a year or so the change haes come aboot. I’ve morphed into this cratur that nobody’d wish to cast their eyes upon. Wrecked and shattered. A shrunken parody of what I used tae be. Ah see a toad as clear as any tea leaf in the cup. Guess what, it’s me!

Jay Merill has fiction appearing soon or recently published in 3AM Magazine, Anomalous Press, Apeiron Review, Citron Review, Corium, Eunoia Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, Galway Review, Literary Orphans, Litro, Prague Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork and Wigleaf. She has 2 short story collections published by Salt, was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. Jay lives in London and is currently Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.