Prologue – Christmas in Edinburgh 2010
She died like this – with her shoes on and nylons wrinkling at the knee. The glass she was holding fell to the floor, the last of its contents trickling out with the last of her breath. The liquid glinted in the moonlight, winking a last goodnight before seeping away too – down through the fibres of the carpet, down through the rough and dusty floorboards, down to the ceiling of the flat below. It evaporated as it went, leaving nothing but a stain. And that smell. Whisky. The water of life. But not for her. Not any more.
In a drawer she left a Brazil nut with the Ten Commandments etched in its shell. On a mantelpiece a ridge of dust where once a photograph had stood. In a wardrobe she left an emerald dress, sequins scattered along the hem. On a blue plate an orange, full of holes now like her bones and her brain.
Everything was faded. Tea towels in drawers. Nets at the windows. The newspaper wrapped around her middle underneath her clothes. In the bathroom ice grew on the wrong side of the glass. In the crockery cupboard none of the plates matched any of the bowls. Outside, the street was faded too and the faces of the passers-by all gone to ash in the unrelenting cold. Inside, her fridge contained a single tin of peas.
Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name. What was that name? Lost, along with everything else she’d ever owned.
She hoped then, as the liquid seeped away, that she had not cursed God too often. For somebody had to say it, didn’t they? Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Otherwise where would she be as they lowered her deep into the earth, or lit her up with those blue jets of gas? She knew she’d prefer it, that blaze of hot air. But still, as her breath trickled out, she did wonder if she might not deserve the damp embrace of heavy Edinburgh clay.