Our Granda’s as old as trees or hills. That’s what he says. Or rivers or stars or history books. He goes way back, he says, back to before clocks and train-timetables and school bells. His face is lined like a map of every place he’s ever been and his skin’s the colour of wood left out in all weathers – the colour of fence posts that are grey and dull and cracked. He has silver spiders in his ears and in his nose, and no hair on the very top of his head. And he smells of milk that’s been left out in the sun and is a little sour, or aftershave that stings and is called both "old" and "spice".
And Granda tells the best stories ever and he tells them over and over, a little bit different with each telling. Mam says his stories are a step further from truth each time he tells them, but Granda swears there ain't no word of a lie in what he says and his voice drops to a hush-hiss-whisper so mam don’t hear him swearing.
I don’t know who to believe – mam, who says there’s just no such thing as mermaids, or Granda who says he danced with one once on the beach at Aberdeen and her name was Muriel, which is a Celtic name that means ‘sea’ and ‘bright’.
‘She just came ashore and stepped out of her fish-tail. Had the most beautiful legs you ever saw. Was a little unsteady on ‘em, so I'd to catch her in case she fell. And she thanked me for being such a gentl’man. Hair like sunlight on a field of late summer grass, eyes as blue as a hurting sky with flecks of amber adrift in ‘em. And she started singing, there on the beach where everyone could see, ‘cept there was only me and Muriel there. Sang so beautifully my feet was dancing all by ‘emselves.’
Granda and me, on the beach at Aberdeen when he first told me, and there weren’t no-one else there but us, and he began singing, his voice all crackle and spit, like listening to one of his old records. Granda dancing then and holding an invisible mermaid in his arms and that much was true.
‘What was she wearing, Granda?’
Granda put a finger across his lips, like it was the greatest secret he was about to tell me, and he winked, said it was just for my ears and I was not to repeat this to my mam or to grandma – ‘She was as naked as the day,’ he said. ‘And her titties were small as lemons and her skin as cold as early mornings, and she was bead-bonny-break-your-heart-
Mam says it’s just a story told by an old man who’s lost his reason, but the thing is I want it to be true and so I stand by the shore looking out to sea sometimes, and I’m looking for a Muriel of my own.