Una and Coll Are Not Friends
I’m not going to sit in here with Coll. They can’t make me, they just can’t, and they say it’s because I’m distracting but that’s not fair because Coll is distracting too, so why should I have to look at him? Shut away in this wee room together, like we’ve got foot-and-mouth or something. It smells like old porridge and permanent marker in here, and everyone else gets to sit in the big airy hall that’s got windows and radiators that actually work. I don’t want to be distracted either, and it’s giving me the boak the way that Coll’s tail-tip twitches like that when he’s thinking. I know that nothing on me is twitching, so I can’t possibly be as distracting as Coll.
Oh god, look at him now. Any normal person would be chewing on a pencil while thinking about that maths problem—and I knew it’s question nine he’s stuck on, because it’s a total doozy—but not Coll. Oh no, he’s sat up straight in his chair, totally motionless except that the tip of his skinny wee tiger-tail is quivering and jittering right at the corner of my eye. He’s tucked it through the hole in the back of his chair and it’s swaying in the air, curling up towards his head.
Miss! I shout out, Miss, he’s putting me off my test! and even though Miss Brodie patters right over she’s not listening to me, she’s—what a cheek!—she’s shushing me, like I’m the one causing a ruckus.
But Miss, I say, it’s Coll, miss, his tail is—
And then I stop talking because Miss Brodie’s jumped back as if I’ve slapped her. I’m not looking at Coll but I can see in my peripheral that he’s leaning back in his chair with a big grin across his chops.
You can’t say that, sputters out Miss Brodie, we never—
And I know what she’s mad about. It’s because no one ever mentions it directly—his freakishness, his malformation, his “special difference”—but I’m sick of having to go to a special room for no reason when I’m meant to be doing my stupid maths exam.
So I look Miss Brodie in the eye and I say exactly what I know she’s thinking: Coll’s a weirdo, miss!
And Miss Brodie’s eyes aren’t looking at me. They’re moving up my forehead, past the top of my head, up-up-up and I know exactly what she sees. She looks at me and she sees a weirdo, just like Coll. She’s put us in here together not just because we’re distracting to everyone else but because she thinks we belong together. She thinks we should be friends because to her we’re the same. But we’re not the same.
I want to reach out and grab Coll’s tail, to shove it right in Miss Brodie’s face so that she can’t pretend she doesn’t see it. Almost without me noticing, my hand sways over towards Coll, but before I can touch him I snatch it back to my desk. I scrape back my chair and I pick up my pen and I throw my test paper at Miss Brodie (even though I know half the answers are total bumf) and I storm out of the room, and the whole time I’m thinking: Coll Bailey, I will never be your friend.
Una Geddes was a right laugh today. Shouting at Miss Brodie then pure storming out of the test room. Nice for me to get a bit of peace to finish off the test, anyway. Question nine was a pain in the arse. I took the long way home so I’d go past Una’s house, just to get a look at what she was up to. I had to walk practically round the whole island—in January, and all, with the snow all crunchy-solid and the sky as gray as your granny’s knitting—but I didn’t see Una.
She used to be all right, Una, when we were kids. I liked that she wasn’t fussed about her antlers. When you’re wee it’s okay because kids just get on with it, but you know what it’s like when you get older. Any little difference gets pounced on and picked apart—and we had some pretty big differences, me and Una. For years I asked my mum to sew special bits on my trews, like wee zip-up pockets in the arse area or a channel of fabric going up my back to tuck it in. It was no good though; I couldn’t sit down properly, and everyone knew it was there anyway. After I while I thought—screw it, everyone knows I’m a freak anyway, so I might as well just get on with things.
But Una, she wasn’t like that. Well, there’s not much you can do to hide bloody great antlers stretched a foot out of the top of your head, but still. She never bothered with that awkward phase. For a while she’d worn these daft knitted things, like hats but missing the top section. Thank god she’d thrown them away. After that, it was like Una was proud of her antlers. She’d wrap colored scarves around them and hang necklaces off the curly ends. All the other girls fussed around her, painting patterns on them with their nail polish and that. She was so friendly, Una. She’d be pals with anyone. Except me, obviously.
Mum! I shout as I open the front door and dump my school bag on the couch. I’ll be in my room!
I thump up the stairs and jump from the doorway onto my bed—I can do some epic leaps, cos my balance is better than most people’s. While I pull off my school tie I soak up the applause, bowing to my imaginary audience.
I put my feet up on the radiator and wonder what Una’s up to right now. I’ve got big plans for the night: beans on toast in front of Corrie, then a Halo marathon with my wee bro. Oh aye, rock and roll. I bet Una doesn’t watch Corrie. Actually, I bet her mum makes her wrap wire round her antlers and stand behind the telly to get a better reception. Nah, that’s harsh. I wouldn’t want her to know I thought things like that about her. But she called me a weirdo, and I’d never call her that.
Everyone thinks we should be friends, me and Una. Because we’re alike. Because we’re different. It’s a shame she’s such a cow.
I don’t really know why I hang around the whisky sheds. They’re unheated, and there’s no one to talk to, and if I get caught my mum will go totally mental. The whisky sheds are these massive low buildings made of dark wood, with tiny wee windows. They’re surrounded by barbed wire and there’s never anyone around. The whisky casks get stacked up in there and left to mature for years and years. They’re sort of creepy, actually, and maybe that’s why I like them.
It’s bloody freezing though, and it’s literally impossible for me to wear a hat. My nan used to knit me special hats—they were more like a band of wool to go around my ears, really—but she died a few years ago, and I don’t like to look at those hats any more. So instead, I just have to hunch up my shoulders in a tragic attempt to keep my ears warm. My toes went numb ages ago and it’s difficult to get my boots into the gaps in the fence, but I manage it. It’s stupid to come here. But you know the worst bit? I can’t stop thinking about that stupid Coll Bailey.
He’s such a pain, and I hate how people think we’re going to be Best Friends Forever and get married and have weird little babies. Ugh.
But I suppose it was just a tiny bit sexy, the way he leaned back in his chair, and when I ran out I could feel his eyes on me, that big grin…
But oh my god, gross, never would I ever. This is Coll Bailey we’re talking about. I creep silently down in between the row of sheds, and then I straighten and walk properly, scrunching my feet through the new snow, because there’s no one here anyway. I’m just getting into that idea—that it’s just me, totally private, alone with my noble thoughts—when I see movement in the very farthest-away shed.
Slowly, the door wheezes open. Not like that fake squeaky sound that doors make on telly, more like a cough that’s been held in for ages. I shouldn’t be here. I should not be here. They’re going to catch me and they’re going to prosecute me and my mum is going to go totally, absolutely, literally mental.
But peeping out from inside the shed, bright against the snow, I see the tip of a tiger tail. And that’s when I explode.
Coll bloody Bailey, what the bloody hell are you doing? Una speaks in this sort of whisper-shriek, like she’s really mad but doesn’t want to make too much noise. I feel like the cold has frozen my jaw solid, but it can’t have because I’ve only just got here and wasn’t really outside in the snow long before sneaking into this shed. It was a bit warmer than outside, but with Una standing in the doorway the temperature seems to have dropped fifty degrees. I didn’t mean to follow her here, exactly, but I was popping to the shop to get a pint of milk for my mum when I spotted Una’s red woolly coat. I just wanted to see what she was up to.
I’m not sure whether I should lean on one of the casks with one elbow, like in a suave Wolverine-from-X-Men sort of way, but I don’t think it’ll look right in my parka and bobble hat.
I traipse across half the island, I say, and this is the thanks I get? Too late, I realize that is not what Wolverine from X-Men would have said.
You bloody well did WHAT, Coll Bailey? whisper-shrieks Una, and she puts her hands on her hips like she’s someone’s mother. She has to let go of the door to do that and it whacks her on the elbow, but she doesn’t flinch. Then she marches towards me, arms akimbo, with a face so angry it could scare off a storm.
She gets right up in my face, all ready to scream at me or bite off my nose or something, and just to stop her I lean in and press my mouth against hers.
Her lips are the warmest, softest things I’ve ever felt.
She jumps, and I count one-two-three, waiting for her to pull away, but she doesn’t. And then, weirdly, she’s smiling. Her lips are still pressed to mine and so it makes me smile too.
I’ve always thought that Una moved more slowly, more gracefully than other girls—maybe because she’s got to carry that extra weight on her neck—and now I see how that grace is in her kissing too.
After some time that feels like forever and also like a millisecond, Una pulls away. Then she pecks her head back towards me and dots a kiss right in the center of my lips.
Tomorrow, she whispers. Here. And then she’s off, striding ankle-deep through the snow. I run to the doorway and catch the door before she slams it, so that I can watch her go. She glances back, and the beginnings of the sunset gleam color into her cheeks.
Coll Bailey, she shouts back over her shoulder as she scales the fence, I will never be your friend.
Kirsty Logan is a writer of fiction and journalism. Her books are The Gracekeepers and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales. She am a writer, book reviewer, and writing mentor for WoMentoring and the Scottish Book Trust. She also writes a column on the X-Files for The Female Gaze. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in print and online, recorded for radio and podcasts, and exhibited in galleries. Kristy lives in Glasgow, where she mostly hangs out with her wife Annie and her rescue dog Rosie
Illustrated by Meghan Murphy