Katy Hastie


The brown coins spill onto the navy sleeping bag. My rehearsed gratitude at this offering far outweighs their poorly concealed disgust, but old hag’s curses are powerless against their forced joviality. They don’t want to see my wrinkles like mountain ranges, my winter-tree wild grey hair and my dirty fingernails clawing at their coins. The money is a prayer for mutual myopia that I answer with another warm gulp from my bottle.

Like an unspoken ritual, each tourist emerges from Waverley Station and stands transfixed by the last winter sun of the year, watching it set over shortbread-tin Edinburgh; the “Hog-money” experience all wrapped up in a tight tartan bow. No one notices the hot piss evaporating from my blankets as I struggle to get up from the pavement. My seashell-brittle bones creak and my feet tingle with needles. I roll a fag as soon as I limp onto Princes Street. Everyone loves to see an old lady puffing away. Gives the fools hope. Makes them feel invincible. Look at them, screaming on the Ferris wheel. Up and down, round and round, they dance with neon ribbons. How they love the safety of being scared, cloak themselves in the luxury of bright lights and fireworks.

Don’t you know who I am?

I drink deep from my potions, extinguish my fag on an icy fingertip and then howl for my wolf. He awakens behind the Walter Scott monument and pads to my side. His grey fur ripples like a storm cloud and his sharp white teeth glisten into a grin. I leap aboard, grasp a tuft of fur in each hand, and we bound towards the Royal Mile. Those who stare incredulous as we leap up the staircases, do you still not know me?

I am Cailleach Bheura, Celtic goddess of storm, Fomorian warrior of cold, killer of lambs and maker of whirlpools. You may have forgotten me, the hideous hag, the black sow lurking in the darkness, but I have not forgotten you.

My wolf leaps from the castle into the ends of the sunset and the force heaves the heavy lid of darkness down over the horizon. With a howl I summon the stormy western winds to Arthur’s Seat. They rumble there, eager to shoot the first cold blasts. I drag dark sodden clouds across the city spires to smother the moon, the stars, the streetlights, the fairground. All light yields to me. The white hairs on my chin prickle, my crow’s feet tighten. I let my dark cloaks flap across the rooftops and free my wiry hair from its plats ready for battle.

Feeling the tug of the gathering winds, I shake out the clouds like a fresh bed sheet, sending gales gushing down streets. Building strength, I suck in great mouthfuls of Arctic air to blast merciless winds down onto the crowds, scattering them like stalks of wheat. Screaming, I fill the sky with cold needles of rain and send them crashing in a relentless tumult to the earth. Spinning in the wind, they puncture the tiny living, varnish the cobbles with an icy sheen and darken the tweed-grey granite. I gather the full force of the speeding air and throw it down upon the city, whipping hair, soaking skin, sucking the uncertain off their feet. I smash the boards down from Princes Street Gardens, rattle the scaffold from the stage, snap the bare winter branches and ping the bulbs from the wires. I let my nails scrape along Princes Street, pulling out trees like teeth. I tug the cars across streets, slam them into walls and watch the occupants scurry in terror. I lash out at the policeman trying to direct the hordes, tear his hat from his head and the shouts from his mouth. His cries drift upwards to me. “All cancelled. All off. All of it. Go home!” After one final purge lashes the retreating revellers, I let the wind drop to a stoic coldness.

My wolf lands us under a great archway in the Cowgate. Exhausted, I hop off and watch his silver eyes and swishing tail dissolve into the darkness. I let my oldness melt from my form. The wrinkles drip down my face and the dry husk of my hair crumples and falls to the ground. I emerge anew, a flower from the thaw. My young limbs step out from the melted detritus.

As the church bells ring and fireworks pop, my new eyes unseal to the Grassmarket filled with embracing strangers covered in streamers and balloons. Is it the end they are celebrating? Or the beginning? You must have one to have the other, and to celebrate at all you need both. I have none. Every year I live to old age to be reborn in youth. I know eternal life, but I can’t treasure this instant.

To fill this nothingness I claw at the sensations around me and my envious eyes rest on a group of revellers dressed as gangsters and film stars. The enticing sound of drunken laughter echoes in the street as they enter a doorway.

As quickly as I decide upon a costume, I feel blue peacock feathers brush the air above my head. Suitably attired as a showgirl, I sashay towards the party like a metronome, my heels clicking in time. Inside, relieved, flattered and marvelled at, I let champagne tickle my throat, while I freeze a tuxedoed youth with an early spring kiss.