The Outlaw Jim McGraw

Author: Anna Russell / Labels:

No man is an outlaw when his life is begun
Jim McGraw was born just somebody's son
But his mean ol' daddy made the boy grow tough
Mad at the world for not giving him enough

Only one thing could thaw Jim's icy soul
A gal named Maggie with hair of coal
And eyes made of sky, so it was said
But to the Sheriff she was wed

One night in the bar, the Bug Juice pourin'
Jim's sense of injustice got all a' roarin'
The Sheriff was foolin' with a two bit whore
Jim's six shooter blew him straight out the door

'I'm the big, bad outlaw Jim McGraw
Meanest son of a gun y'all ever saw
But I did it for Maggie 'n' I'd do it again
The Outlaw Jim McGraw is my name.'

Maggie wept when she heard the news
Teardrops spilling on her shoes
But a pocket of her heart that she kept well hid
Thought it the sweetest thing any man ever did

Jim had to get runnin', and went for his steed
But found only cut rope, the beast had been freed
He heard the mob, began to panic
He hollered out, his voice turned manic

'I'm the big, bad outlaw Jim McGraw
Meanest son of a gun y'all ever saw
But I did it for Maggie 'n' I'd do it again
The outlaw Jim McGraw is my name.'

To the Deputy the news had been delivered
A man tired of being called lily-livered
While the mob went left, the Dep' turned right
Faced Jim McGraw in the dead of night

While Jim was dreaming of Maggie's fair face
The Deputy pulled his rifle out of its case
And gunned Jim down, right down to Hell
Maggie's name on his lips as he fell

Maggie rushed to the body in the mud
Tried in vain to stem the blood
Her eyes of sky opened and cried
And in her arms, Jim McGraw died.

And twice grieved Maggie, so sweet and fair
Heard a voice surround the air

'I'm the big, bad outlaw Jim McGraw
Meanest son of a gun y'all ever saw
But I did it for Maggie and I'd do it again
The Outlaw Jim McGraw is my name.'

A Bheil A Gháidhlig Agaibh?

Author: Anna Russell / Labels: ,

A bheil a Gháidhlig agaibh?
Do you speak Gaelic?
Speckles of it only, generic
chit-chit. Not enough,
not nearly enough.
Translations are always tricky,
hear it again, hear it literally:
A bheil a Gháidhlig agaibh?
Do you have the Gaelic?
Yes, oh yes.
It flows through my veins, sings
up past the bent grasses, bellows
from the peat bogs, flutters past my ear
as the sídhe sprinkle it on my skin.
This land knows her mistress, will answer
no other commands - and why should she?
She has suffered for this, has earned the right
to her pride. She will retain her integrity though
fewer and fewer can speak with her
as time passes and apathy remains.
This strange tongue of my ancestors, impenetrable
to folk from other places, is beautiful to me.
When I speak the little I can, it nestles on the
roof of my mouth and sits like Home on my tongue.
A bheil a Gháidhlig agaibh?
Not enough, not nearly enough.
Tha mi ag ionnsachadh.
I'm learning.

Mr. Elbows

Author: Anna Russell / Labels: ,

My father is dead, I should get the armrest. The space my feet should be in is encroached upon by the luggage of the mother and child opposite. Not even a “Do you mind?” first. Hunched knees and a dead father should make that armrest mine.
I can’t make out what he’s reading. He’s bent back the cover to spill the book’s innards, casing concealed. Whatever it is, it seems to require rest for his elbows and half of his arms.
In lieu of the position I want, I hang towards the window and survey scenery I’ve seen so many times before it no longer registers. A tree’s a tree.
Mr Elbows shifts again and what is left of the armrest is swallowed by his forearm. I try nudging my own, smaller arm into some nook, but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

When the phonecall came, I was dyeing my hair. Sunset red. I wanted a change. My mother was indecipherable. I knew my dad was dead, nothing else could be awful enough to throttle my mother’s words that way. I left the receiver lying beside the rest of the phone then washed off the hair dye. It had been on for a while. Once I’d dried my hair and got dressed, I decided to have some toast. On discovering the butter had run out, I pulled every plate from the cupboard and smashed each one against the kitchen walls. When the woman downstairs banged on the ceiling, I went to her door and slapped her when she answered. Then I booked my train ticket home.

Mr Elbows gets up to go to the toilet. I slide down in the hard seat and casually allow my arm to land on the armrest. Bliss. Even not being able to unfold my legs past ninety degrees seems bearable now. Then Luggage Mother’s child somehow manages to catapult her teddy bear in my direction. It lands at my feet. Right side. Armrest side. I see Mr Elbows swaying towards his seat. Luggage Mother’s child’s lip begins to shudder in a way that can only mean noise is coming. Luggage Mother looks at me. I try to grab the teddy with my left hand, but the angle is wrong. I’m going to have to use my right one. I peel it off the armrest and swiftly swoop up the stuffed bear, handing it to the grateful mother, then… he’s back in his seat, arm on the armrest. Bastard.

I never imagined my father as the suicidal type. He always seemed perfectly happy to me. Still, it’s not like I’m shocked by it. I’ve got secrets of my own, I understand. He needed something and he took control. I almost admire him for it. Almost. It’s worse for my mother. She’s not the suicidal type. Not even the hidden kind, like my father obviously is. Was. She just doesn’t think like that. Suicide requires a certain imagination. The thought projections that will conjure up images of a life so unbearable that the only way up is the way out. My mother is too literal for all that. So she’ll live with this until she dies a natural death, whatever one of those is. She’ll live with the knowledge her husband chose to leave her and never said goodbye, reading his note over and over because the proof that he did this is the only comfort that’s left.
He took some pills. Her death will be much slower.

Mr Elbows has fallen asleep. A triangle has been formed by the top of his arm, the back of the seat and the tiny piece of armrest he hasn’t claimed. It’s a bewitching little niche. I don’t even care that my arm would end up touching his if I put it there. Gently does it, just slide right in and he won’t even notice. He grunts, turns his head and slams his arm into the back of the chair, almost catching my skin on his way. The triangle is gone. Damn it.

I had a friend at school whose brother murdered someone. I worked with a man whose mother had a sex-change operation and became Dennis instead of Denise. There was the family I read about in the newspaper who ran a jewel smuggling operation with their neighbours none the wiser till the son got caught at customs with diamonds in his boxer shorts.
My family doesn’t even have a belligerent old auntie to talk about. I used to be embarrassed to take friends home for tea. The sheer normalcy of life in our house seemed wrong. No drunken rows, no criminal records. Not even a weird birthmark between us. It wasn’t shame I felt exactly, more a sense of exclusion. Myriad missed opportunities to share in knowing smirks and head-nods when conversations about family came up. Our level of normal wasn’t normal at all.
Well, we’re normal now alright. My place amongst the smirkers and nodders has been assured. Alcoholic mother? My dad killed himself. I win.

Now I’m crying. Now. On the bloody train. Not a single tear this far, and then they decide to all come at once while I have nowhere to put my right elbow.
I try putting my hands over my face and pretending to rub tired eyes, but it’s not very convincing and Luggage Mother is looking dangerously close to asking me if I’m okay. I don’t trust myself to say excuse me so I stand and look at Mr Elbows until he gets up to let me pass.
The toilet stinks. There is no lid on the loo seat so I prop myself in the corner between the sink and the window and try not to inhale too much. I cry till it hurts. Hurts more. My father would have hugged me if he’d seen me.
I have no idea how much time passes. The train jerks to a halt and my leg bashes against the toilet. I make my way back to my seat in time to notice this is my stop.
Mr Elbows and Luggage Mother are pulling on coats and shunting cases. They must be getting off here. My coat is crumpled on my seat. I knew I’d regret sitting on it instead of putting it in the overhead compartment.
Mr Elbows helps Luggage Mother with her cases and they leave the train. My stop. I should be getting off here. But there is space under the table for my feet now. The armrest is free. One more stop to the end of the line.
I sit back down and put my feet up on the empty seat opposite. Then I sprawl my right arm across the armrest. Nobody else gets on. Nobody can take this armrest from me, not for one whole stop. I close my eyes and the train pulls away. I’ve never seen the scenery here before. I might open my eyes for it. But my arm is staying where it is.

The Perfect Tear

Author: Anna Russell / Labels:

My father stands in the kithchen
His fingertips dusted with creosote stains -
The council hasn't done the fence
So he has taken on the task himself
And, oh, how I love that smell
That intoxicating aroma of cut grass and wood protector.

He and my mother have argued about money,
I heard them.
Hush-hush rasps of comfortable disdain
Seeping through the heating vent
They would be horrified if they knew.

His father fought for this country you know,
His mother worked instead of mothering
And he, utterly unaware of his role as my Superman
Believes he is failing.
This is his Kryptonite.

He is the Scottish Working Class Male,
Hands calloused from providing,
Maybe not cars and holidays and designer clothes

His arms are full of embraces
He is not sure how to give
(Later, I will learn to ask and will be rewarded every time
With a sarcastic comment, to mask the schmaltz
And then, the only hug that kills the Bogeyman.)

I go to my Secret Box Of Treasures
And remove all that I have saved in my six years -
Two pounds and twenty six pence (count it)
This will save the day and pay the bills
And then my father will be happy.

I fold the shiny fortune in white paper
On which I write a note
(Plees tak this muney, I luv you Daddy)
And make my way to the kitchen
Where I place it in his hands, bursting with pride.

And my father does something I have never seen him do before
He runs to the bathroom so I won't see, but I catch it -
The saltwater diamond on his right cheek
Glistening as it catches the light,
Is perfect in its beauty.

Anna Russell