GORDON M BURNS
Pictish Tower, Abernethy, Scotland
GORDON M BURNS
Dear reader, thank you for downloading Scotfree2. Perhaps you were one of the many who downloaded Scotfree and which case, welcome back. Like Scotfree, this wee book of short stories is inspired by Scotland and the lives of its folk which means, universal themes albeit imbued by half a year of half darkness, half of all-day light, nine months of winter and three months that, once in a decade, might be termed a summer. It is what comes of living at the same latitude as the Hudson Bay and Moscow at the tip of a small island. When writing this forward it was March the thirty-first, Spring, and from a clear blue sky, rain fell. The next day it rained, no fooling, and incase it went unnoticed, decided to resemble sleet with a driving wind flinging it into your face.
Scotfree and Scotfree2 are intended as free introduction to my writing – a brief guide later – and all part of a low-cost, worldwide campaign to promote my novels by using short story freebees. Perhaps not too wise a decision because short stories once had more standing than they do now. The novel, along with the multi-series, reigns today because nothing is worth reading if it is not as thick as a brick, for how’s that going to exercise your arm let alone your mind or leave you wondering why you bothered at the end? Yes, the place of the short story is a bit cloudy today, the reason to write one somewhat foggier. Writers’ groups, as I have found, still value them so long as the stipulation in regards to number of words constituting a short story is adhered to, along with New Times Roman, no indented first paragraph or the editor will stop right there and read no further. Remember to keep the story linear with no more than three characters and absolutely no temporal shifting about with the reader conception of how a story should tick. Also, a jokey narrative in a straightforward structure with a feel good factor kicked into the last line is much appreciated and so, with that in mind, read on and find out how much of that went right over my head.
Like a daily sketchpad, I use the short story format as a way of sketching out characters, themes and plots for possible use in my novels. From Scotfree, the story Childhood Petrichor, initially written for a local competition in which it gained second place (but I suspect there were only two entries) gave rise to the novel Waitress – more on that book later. The short story with a long title, Reading Couplets of Iambic Pentameter, has provided an outline of the characters and themes for my present working project, a novel entitled All in a Minute Seen – a bit of a nasty going-ons in St Andrews. Some stories evolve from a desire to match the monthly theme of a Perthshire’s Writers Club evening where, limited to seven hundred and fifty words, truncated tales trundle out as an exercise. An example is One Amongst Us. A reader having read Scotfree will find the story has a striking resemblance to Nick-Nacks on the Washing line. The latter tale, written for a club night, fitted into the required word count but required development beyond the word limit. This I did it for the club’s annual show event, A Pocketful of Perthshire, only to have it knocked back as being too long and lacking in feel-good factor for a family event and so, that red-facer gave rise to the story included in this book, Fran Delanzo’s Model. Some stories I write for fun, as was The Striker.
All that, dear reader, is as maybe but you are meant to enjoy the tales I write and through them reflect upon the nature of humanity; themes developed in my novels. Covering various genres, these novels reflect modern dilemmas in relation to mores set by societal pressures, religion and sexuality no matter what the time and setting. If Historical settings interest you, dip into the series The Torc. Set in the Pictish Dark Ages, the story follows the life of Arianwyn and her struggles through a misogynistic world to prove her worth. For a novel set in modern times The Calgarian Reel is a love story set in Orkney and Calgary. In the tale, the male character had the odd notion of writing a novel to impress the woman he loves who never rated him in their youthful Orcadian days. Unfortunately, this backfires on him for the novel (Stoneset Odds), written in a flush of passion, does not on seem to bear resemblance to the way things were back in Orkney and much about the writing is suspect as English was never his forte. If you like Crime and Passion set in Edwardian times, read Ossian then visit Pitlochry and follow in their footsteps. Written for the young adult reader and adults alike, Pilgrimers, is a Sci-Fi tale set at the end of the universe in which the main protagonists, reincarnated time travellers from The Torc, take on malevolence intent to destroy humanity’s hope. All good adventure, enjoyable to write and, if I say it myself, to read, an an opinion not likely to alter unless you tell me why – gordonmburns.com – will show how you can. My personal favourite novel is Waitress. Set in the Highlands in a Victorian Spa Town, Lucy is a single mother, struggling to cope in Scotland today. Falling through her own form of looking glass, the oddball characters and surrealistic settings she encounters present more challenges beyond the hopelessness of life on a sink estate somewhere near Inverness. Keep in mind that the novel has some experimental gimmickry stuff involving emoticons to help with time-place shifts that, on post-publication reflection might not be required, and you should enjoy the fantasy nature of the tale. Alternatively, you might suggest becoming my editor and wouldn’t that be nice?
Enough, just you enjoy Scotfree2.
Disclaimer : This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
©Cover design by G M Burns April 2016
Published by Gordon Moncrieff Burns at Shakespir
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.
Lost Knowledge to Break Bread
‘So, sir, where’s the man?’ Asked Tom noting the shop door still shut.
‘Young woman with a pram passed by here,’ Dave began, ‘said he’d gone to Austria.’
‘Austria?’ Dave questioned the doubt in Tom’s voice.’
‘Austria? Don’t you mean Australia?’
‘No – Austria.’
All winters in early January are dismal-dark and the news, looking forward or looking back, depressing. Each winter tries its best to differ from the ones before but the dread intent is still the same. Accordingly, January could be cracking-cold and ermined-cranreuch, a lyrical term now long forgotten and replaced with frosty-freezing brassy-cold. Lately weather forecasting has replaced the weather with your weather, therefore it is personally your fault and Frank’s for giving his name to the storm that you conjured up a storm that is about to cause upset, structural damage and death. This year these storms have been further anthropomorphised my the Met Office by giving them names so that from what you learnt from Eva and f your own experience of Frank, you just know a storm by that name is going to be a bugger. Seemingly, Eva and Frank’s sexual preference – but probably only Frank’s – jumped upon and exposed only because we had not the sense to notice the gales in the past. Silly us for going down the shops in our goonies and baffies and not detecting that said dressing gown, whipped off by the snell wind, and slippers, drenched by the lashing rain, unsuitable clothing to be wearing outside our homes in any weather. Yet the fact that folk still do nip round the shops dressed in bed clothes, points to the Met’s abject failure in raising awareness of the dangers in buying crisp multipacks in the teeth of Force Ten. All the same, we in Scotland might have noticed if the Met had given those storms really nasty sounding names like Moist Mucus, Smear Squirt, Vicious Vomit, or what everyone calls Frank, an odd orifice. However, even if they did, this would do nothing to alleviate the obvious – January always has and always will come with culling gales. Great depressions suiting the Hogmanay after-mood which, being two or so weeks earlier than the days, natural lengthening, puts the Circadian Reel right off-kilter. January’s jig can schottische wet snow round the ankles, then freeze the fifty shades of snow-slush into grey-streaky perma-ice until one night along comes a balmy-blast, melts the lot and creates a deluge that wrecks havoc. Interior walls of buildings become smear-marked with a tidemark was from a dirty bath as the resulting floods, throughout town and country, scupper early January hopes of communications with work, with school, with any other modern centrally situated infrastructure such as supermarkets where the sell the multipacks of crisps. Therefore, best keep indoors except to pick up the morning paper, for the latest news, at the wee shop round the corner.
‘What you on about Dave?’
‘All that flooding up by Alyth wi’ cars stalked on top o’ each other like copulating beetles, Alex – some folk’s blaming the beavers for that.’
‘What? Copulation?’ Alex asked.
‘No, the actual flood.’
‘Beavers in Alyth?’ Tom questioned. ‘Sure you don’t mean Kirriemuir?’
‘No, Aylth,’ Dave confirmed, ‘though who put beavers there, eh?’
‘Did they no come doun frae Inverness?’ Asked Tom.
Tom gave them a sideways look that managed a nod and a wink to go with it. For something to look at, in hope that what they heard was not what what Tom implied at that time in the morning, they looked at the shop door. It was shut, three lock-bolted.
‘Austria, you say Dave?’
‘Aye, Alex, Lech – seemingly.’
Dave might tire of answering questions only to find the answer itself becoming the question but he knew the folly in such hope as in wishing January had not decided to settle in for a hundred days of wind and rain this year. Both were matters, like most events in his life, he could not alter.
‘Lech? Austria? What’ll he do there?’
‘Ski, the young woman said.’
‘Ski, Dave? Can the Boy-sir ski?’
‘I very much doubt it.’ Tom interrupted attempting to determine the line between fact and fiction for Alex and Dave – a job in life, which, if lost, would leave him lacking justification for his existence. ‘He’ll hae got himself a personal trainer …’ Over the echoing of the words personal (marvelled on) and trainer (questioned) Tom ignored and continued undeterred: ‘and she told him …’
‘She? How’d he manage to get a she?’
‘Och-kik, how would I know, Dave – eh?’ Tom panicked down the narrow road be had opened for himself. ‘Inverness or off the Internet – where’ya think – is that not where you find them these days? But that’s where he possibly is now – Lech – getting personally trained, or so to speak.’
More questions at him inspired imaginative answers pinged back along the lines of … the Internet you say – LudmilaChat what’s that – what’s her name – Ruslana – a Russian name – she’s Ukrainian – then he could have met her in Inverness – what’s she training?
‘Hold it! Ukrainian,’ Dave interrupted. ‘What’s he want with a Ukrainian?’
‘A Ukrainian or an Ukrainian, did you not hear, Tom? It was a she, so I expected he wanted her for a something personal, the lucky sod,’ noted Alex resentfully. ‘So, eh – man amongst us, eh?’ He finished open-endingly.
Shoes, examined as a catalyst to spark this further, looked oh-so wet.
‘Soh-oh! That’ll be the note to follow doh,’ cheeped up Dave suddenly. ‘Julie Andrews,’ he explained cheerfully enough. ‘Uplifting singer, good looking in her time and one I still might like to take on the piste,’ he expanded. However, this time the door could not be glared at by the others and blamed. ‘What?’ He asked bemused. ‘What you all looking at – Sound of Music was set in Austria – no?’ However, he was skating dicey was the ice he felt the others let him glide to a crashing ending. ‘Just saying, her voice’s uplifting.’
‘Oh, aye, voice uplifting, is it? Mair like on the piste, eh? No’ think the young lassie was taking the proverbial pish out of you?’ Asked Tom. Dave took the rise, rode it, but not as far as ridicule and back in case he lost their regard. Tom moved the subject on. ‘Talking of which, how long is it the pub’s been closed do you think?’
‘Eh, three years?’ Replied Dave eager for a change.
‘Three years? Aye, could be,’ Alex offered. ‘Drayman found Sam sitting dead on his toilet, eh, hardly a dignified way to go.’
‘Depends what you were doing,’ said Dave inviting a pause of time for looks around. ‘So-eh, anyway, why’s you asking?’
‘Price of the Courier was thirty-four pence then, huh, feck!’ Tom informed them. ‘And look it at now – one hundred percent increase in three years and you wonder why.’
‘Why what? Is we on about the odds of crapping out of it on the toilet?’
It was but a little toilet humour to chuckle and cough-up on until the shoppie opened fro there was nothing stranger that real life. Alternatively, they could spit out or swallow down the strange notion that an online a one pound bet could net two point one million and might close the only within five miles shop for good. After all, if it were one of them and not the Boy-sir, would they not be finding themselves some Ukrainian trainer for the après ski in Lech?
‘Hmm, odds are against this door opening today.’ Dave noted dryly as the rain turned from steady drizzle to determined washer-totally-perished. ‘Which is all very well and fine, but if he shuts the shop permanently where’ll we buy the Courier? Where will we find out what’s going on.’
‘Think the shop will shut for good, Tom?’ Asked Alex
‘Em, like-em, could he not, um-er, ken, just sell it?’ Dave presented the follow on.
‘Like Sam at the pub tried? The Boy-sir’s been trying to sell up for years but no one is interested – no profit to be made when were so close to the delights of the Co-opie in Fordie and twenty-four hour Tesco’s in town.’
‘All the same just to …’ he tailed off
‘Just the same what, Alex?’
‘Just to abandon us just like that is a bit thoughtless.’
They muttered variously in manners designed to not offend by keeping thoughts all to themselves. The rain streamed off their umbrellas and no matter how much spate ran down the burns here on a spot inhabited for at least one thousand years, they should indeed stay dry. The whole nation would drown before water lapped their feet. Once a burgh but now village, the kirk that weaved it altogether was all but threadbare now and gone was the knowledge of how to break bread together. Expanding so large that the urbanised spread broke free of its hogback-ridge, the community shrunk inwards in the process. The three of them had known a burgh council, two pubs, an hotel, a bakers, a butchers, a general store, a post office, a central cafe, one linen factory, one smiddy, a manufacturer of ladies silken undergarments for Harrods’s, a railway station, two joiners, one of which doubled as an undertakers, and a community that once knitted itself round Frank’s shop but not any more.
‘Right, so no Courier, but-em, what about necessities?’
‘What, trainers Dave? Pick them up off the Internet.’
Dave, never the same since Amy his wife died, pointed out to Tom that he preferred to try before buying and that Frank had sold Fox’s Rocky packs cheaper than Tesco did. They agreed that was so but many still tried on in town before buying online and that most people either nipped in the car along to Fordie or did a weekly shop in town.
‘Maybe he found her in town,’ Alex ventured. ‘There’s a lot of them there now – they shop at Lidls.’
Establishing that it was Ruslana he referred to, Tom told him that the Boy-sir never shopped there, never read the Courier, had no time to go shop-about Inverness therefore, it would be on LudmilaChat he found her but as that was all just his conjecture, went on to tell them to get fibre-optics. Yeah-but, with the pub now shut, they did not know how. Tom explained about tablets. One bought by his daughter for Christmas could have essentials from Tesco’s or Asda’s delivered to your door.
‘Which, as I said to Jane, is fine.’ Tom was getting towards his ending point before walking off alone to face daytime TV. ‘But …’
‘Aye – but what?’
‘No Courier, so no births, acknowledgements and deaths.’
‘So no chance anyone kenning you ever upped and died then?’ Dave asked.
The enormity of that soaked in.
‘We needn’t be standing in the rain’ Alex told them. The wind turned from out the east. ‘Only, I’ve got a got a DVD of it.’
‘It?’ They asked guardedly.
Rain rolled off their canopies as chilling dribbles dripping from ribs to necks. Glancing out the rain was incessant and unchanging.
‘Sound of Music, Julie Andrews – just if you fancy coming round to watch it. Could do something to drink and bite to eat at the same …’
‘Hmm? Musicals b not my thing,’ said Dave.
‘No’ mine either, Alex’ Tom confirmed.
Brollies drifted apart on an unseen front bearing pressure on them. In between the old men a rain-curtain fell the drowning sound of which gave reason not to talk and cause to stray away from a spot where once bread was baked and bought by now no longer broken for how that had come about had been now forgotten because it was January, the season winter where looking back swallowed regret and forward queasy to behold. The locks remained locked upon the door; one ancient a fist required to turn the key and two modern padlocks required in modern times to deter break-ins. It was not until the young woman rolled by like a breath of Spring pushing her pram and child that on seeing her though eyes that watered in the wind, they just could about recall summer.
‘Look, my love,’ Dave spoke to her, ‘mind telling these here what you told me earlier?’
‘About wee Claudia here? The peck to push her up the street in hope to ski down the otherside?’
And with that noted, they exchanged smiles and morning greetings through the wind then realised the papers must be inside the shop for they were not waiting out. Next came sweet sounds to sooth the sorrow and heal the wounds these men inflicted unmindfully on each other, for the Boy-sir’s diesel van came round the bend to drive away their fears.
One Amongst Us
Mary wished she had not the need to hang her smalls and that towel upon the line for all to see but in the situation she was in – fearing recall of places or reviving buzzings of the past – though no fault of her own she did. After making all things clean, she would have rather tumble dried the washing but Nick refused to install one. Happy the man was he to leave sheets stained the whole winter long. Besides, it was her side of the bed that bore the brunt of that and so she learnt to use that towel which, flapping on the washing line, was like a telltale thread of misery foisted on her.
Nick fussed not that the bedroom curtains stayed shut all day. He went fishing although the season not yet started but where he fished, he never told and never brought home decent catch. That which he did drag in was such cast at her face and not for her pleasure. If it were nothing brought, there were Nick’s togs to wash that smelt of summer citrus ruined by spray of caustic skunk. This forced her to go hang the dangle on the line as an announcement to the world she did not know if here the water hard or soft, the temperature too hot for delicates or if that offered, to the pegging, could be deemed Persil-white. Sight her at such times and you would catch her smirking a simper set to dazzle one a blinder. Such a submissive look would cause you doubt and make for worry that here, close to where you live, one amongst us might be a certain fact we blind-eye, for reasons of our own.
Oh, yes Mary would have liked to open windows and air the house but that would only let the shouts out from the walls, land on the neighbour’s ears, accost yours, and give excuse for faces to blush the next time her seen. Windows sealed shut meant that on wet days – like all the winter through – washing steamed the house in damp condensation and corners became mildew-black. She took it into her head to buy a winged heated clothes airer and though not easy, probably her fault, one night she found herself flung upon it, buckling all the bars passed serviceability. Bent well beyond hope of guarantee to be honored, Nick spat at her, grinned a grin that ground her soul beyond hope then stepped out to go fishing.
Light lengthens and cold strengthens, the snow hangs longer on the trees, shiny shimmers sparkle through streams and lures snag the flashes on his spun line. Then back from the river full of spirit, rolled in on a cloud at dark returning – him and his catch. This one so fresh and firm-elastic with eyes agog to spacey spaced-out, slipped here and tail-slapped there, this was a new expectancy of Mary. However, Nick went too far and off little-fishy slid, like right off the plot fist chance got, swam away and left them. Too gutting to be part of that catch broiling, Mary was glad. She went from the room, leaving him floundering where he was, and watched telly. Then later, going back through, tempted to do the wrong thing, she did the right thing and asked where was the fish to gut?
It was a call too glibly smart and so, scales stunned as stars her eyes in bed with tears of sorrow and through this mouthy learnt, he the grapple-gaff and she the one for spiking. Knife under the pillow, she sat up high on the bed board gaping through nights of testing sweats urged on to slice waders, split lines or slash off the point of that which fouled her, and her side of the bed. Offered this by his drunken slumber, she shunned the incorrect thought and yet, in the still moments of the quietness of her heart, knew that blaring boxbeat music over washing cycles, sunglasses on a cloudy day, make-up on to hang the washing just could not keep going on for the years stretched up ahead – but it would. And what choice but to keep it all inside and watch broken cobwebs trail from the ceiling?
However, frosted days grew brighter and rather than give it up, she thought to try a little pinch of hopefulness each day. Here a snowdrop, there the melting sun, it all dripped away as drops in a thaw which did not take forty days for one day for her to take a tumble to herself and demanded they buy a drier. As usual, he had a fist of reasons for that not happening. Seeing them coming, she quickly opened a window to vent the room but Nick still shoved the notion out her. The kidding love-lies flew out the window for evermore as torn tissue round the neighbourhood.
Not long after, she did the thing she should have done long time past, went online and bought one. And, to make room for it, hid Nick’s keys when down the road went he to go do his fishing. Same day service, the machine arrived with a delivery guy who pointed out this model came with green stickers in right places so no danger of sudden unexpected combustion for her. She made him a cuppa, he showed her the dots around the door, on the back plate and, bumping heads and spilling tea, they shared a laugh about the way her hair got in the way. She wiped him dry with a towel then he told her the packaging would be no problem, he would take it all away, she was to forget all such devilling worries and after that it only seemed right to ask his name.
Whilst working out where the drier was to go with James and his know-how smile, Nick arrived back. One glance through the window and sussing the situation, he gave the packaging outside the house a kicking then tried the door and found it stuck. If all else failed he was still in possession of his fishing gear, so he crashed the door a bit, shouted endearments to Mary, dubiously versed in words of a rough-end nature about her past, but got nowhere. He shrugged it off as more fish running elsewhere and turned from a door for which he had no keys. James smiled like a cat had licked the plate spring-clean and offered help to Mary with her predicament in getting the tumbler sited. When she was young, they once had a cat like that which, turning up at the door and taking a liking to staying or seeing the need that he should, sat on her lap purring away. So, she agreed Tommy could help her out.
Later that night when he called back, fitting and commissioning the drier with Tom turned out to be more fun that she had ever imagined possible. Now with Hook-barb the Fisher gone the way of deep and dreadful waters, she cares not a jot that your passing glancing may notice her carefree washing line. Pass by, it will be a good day, a day of longer light with crisp airs from pink-caught mountain snow at dawning. On such a day, you will see her step the green-grass wonder and hear the bleats of lambs wash from the hills. Then Mary, a heart of class of her own passion, hangs nick-knacks on the line ostensibly to freshen them. Bo-peep her, it is done oh-so au-naturale as sighing, her pleasure gasp at blush-pastels dancing. Next, see her smile as blithe the breezes flick kimono hems to her sheer delight. Go with it, block your own doubt, don’t think it nonsences what you hear, the glee that whistles down the wind is her elation. So, laugh with her as frilly cups for balcony eyes billow alongside prancing nude-lace that shapes her joy for the one who came delivering from her sentence of denouncement. It may all seem frivolous to many but it is a beautiful thing to behold and lucky you to see it. So, walk on by and tell everyone you meet what saw you dancing on her washing line.
FRAN DELANZO’S MODEL
You surely shall have heard of the coming exhibition containing that modern piece of art by Fran Delanzo entitled Christ Today? Tut-huh! Hardly a work, I say, to suit hanging here the galleries of this worthy museum considering the lack of comfort on the eye. Many the disputed sigh given that work, yeah? Many the disgusted walk by for few sit and gaze then feel they leave with good feel factor. One wonders why no parental caution or at least notice saying – and from the start expect challenges. That deformed face like a headache cemented in, gaze on the canvas to long and migraines will spilt apart the virtue in you. However, I knew the model hung upon the wall, I knew his story and there was sanctity right in your face.
Bogardo Mac an t-Saoir, Joe, a chiselly fellow brought him up but the countenance of her who gave him birth, Maddie, was more divinely inspired. Blue and purple in birth, if not at Bogardo’s conception, she smiled from her graced face and named him Bogardo. It came to her in a dream. Maddie smiled but the midwife felt moved to leave the room. Professional training kicked in, so she stayed wondering why the name of place near Aberlemno. And looking saw a Pictish cross of knobbed face, ploughed rigs of Angus red over blue-grey clay. A head-on car crash near Stracathro would struggle with to create form less challenging than Bogardo.
A face had he that in the real world could not work. It defied air-brushing or under-carpet-sweeping, the very concept of purgatory more acceptable than to attended that glob, greet it, with it talk to open your heart because no-way would you consider such scrub up to be pure with such surface-level challenge. Imagine the childhood of that hideously demanding creature as one of punishment for the world. Surely, you would proffer, the Virgin Mary would remind him the need of forgiveness from being born a brute into this world that laps up beauty hand and fist?
Chipping away at life, it helped Bogardo not to look into a mirror or cast a glance into a camera for they would only break. Not that he saw anything in himself to render that upset. Shop windows he never avoided, not to see himself but rather, glimpse the diaphanous forms fly by that he ached to reach. Frail beauties, as yourself, trapped in the here and now of others’ opinion, they would never ask him for a prayer, for to do so might burn his image in their souls.
Ach, you get the point Bogardo Mac an t-Saoir, if that how you pronounced, is pig-ugly as some part of a pig not its face. Basically, wrong face in wrong place and definitely for a wrong time. Mind you, cast him back five-six hundred years into Renaissance times and his back-end-of-an-ass would have passed as any number of Madonnas with kippered faces slinking round the Skinnergate flogging urine as face cleanser. His trousers would have been the only giveaway but I digress. Even then, you could not portray him as a sunbeam and certainly no celestial child although, examine those art works discerningly and witness the damnation of an artist’s problem painting a God into a quarter metre length of babe.
Fortunately, Bogardo lives in our darkened times. Fran Delanzo stopped him the in the street because of his unworldly appearance. Beholding that phizzog, she saw a pummelled-puss to which, a punch, a crunching of cartilage would bring improvement and she saw light in the eyes. Here was great detail of anatomy, intense passion, erotic-charge waiting to be moulded, desiring to be shaped in the image of her before him. Fran knew there no forgiveness if not shown others. Write, no way possible for her, tell and she would defile the truth there seen. She painted him in pain, on a cross and the world below as you will see when come the painting here. Then look carefully on the awkward pose lapped weightless in death across his mother, and see how the ugly knot presented for you to untie. In this art, a work beyond corruption of first spark now out there in the cosmos, is morphed-mug of minger-man here on Earth to which, Fran Delanzo managed to testify truth and beauty in his heavenly smile.
Ach, forget it, shudder, go on by, and don’t come in so that by skipping light-hearted in your rebuttal, you will not have to tell the kids – we all live in out real worlds of own wondering where the bright-laugh is above us.
The captain became aware of the tremble through the paper he held. He wondered if he had noticed that before, and what put it there or if his dried-up eyes now quivered some new complication to cover up before cats got out of proverbial bags and set about the pecking pigeons. He dragged this eyes back to at the sergeant as far as the brass buckle on that web-belt which Brasso-gleamed like a Webley target and remembered not only did not like the man, he distrusted him. Always had, as he recalled. Something about the prosaic face more off-putting than goofy Chalky White’s phizzog and all the more disagreeable now the Ulsterman stood planted, jammed-upright in front of him, locked and bolted in the facts immutable that needed some leeway – for sake of all that’s … He thought. ‘Stand at ease, sergeant.’ He ordered affably enough.
Little changed in the NCO’s stance, other than that last-time look he’d previously noted in France when they parted – something between a tight-lip and a sneer. He had not liked it then. He did not appreciate it now set as it was in truth and probity set to challenge.
‘Stand easy, man.’ The captain snapped then watched the sergeant’s right hand slowly float round like a wave upon the waters to join the left and claim the space above his buttocks. ‘So, sergeant, your travels, where did they take you?’ And with the question asked, the captain, accounted his flush to the warmth of the June weather and let all this pass out the window to a trace with his eye a cloud beyond the NCO’s shoulder hanging in a peaceful sky.
Neither of them, the captain mused, had joined the Royal Engineers to be caught up in a war where the front line and the sapper were no strangers but administration upheld the line of fire and neither of them had expected the barbed entanglement that was June in France. In some ways, the French debacle should have been straightforward – now a cock-up best left to Gerry to sort out – but here, beside the Medway, who could tell what flotsam of blunders the tide might wash up along with the reams paper of work cluttered up his desk? It irked the captain to need the sergeant’s help. A man, he knew, of few observations but those he had were voluble in their silence. The English officer toned his face sphinx-like to hear the reply to his question – so, sergeant, where did your travels take you?
‘Bermuda and Palestine, sir.’ The sergeant answered then added – ‘Sure, it’s all in my record.’
It had been an insubordinate answer, the sergeant knew, but a lambeg pulsing at the edge of his brow drumming since Abbeville caused it. That, the picture of the king on the wall he fixed with his eye and the pugnacity held for the man seated with his back to all that portrait held for him. The sergeant saw the captain as a hedger whose intent he stiffly put down as self-interested avarice verified in Picardy. Even so, this judgement brought a run of sweat trickling down the sergeant’s side to childe him. Staring King George directly, he tried to see behind the man in front of him and both stammered prevarications. Behind his back his hands fused together in a moist heat as his mind bluntly tried to figure out why the captain had asked to see him. Pliancy, no strong point in him, he noted the fluttering paper in the officer’s hand and considering all the loses and gains of the past month, wondered how easily feet slipped into dead men’s boots. He felt he had the humour for such shoes.
‘Florencecourt to Enniskillen first, then one weekend in Belfast and sure the way of it brought my travels here, sir. It’s quite a story.’ The sergeant added.
Outside, the solitude of Gillingham suddenly shuddered to the stamp of parade ground boots. The NCO’s brogue troubled the captain more than the oblique nature of his comments, however, petty morality paraded not over Captain Marcham. The sergeant’s piquancy, not meant unpleasantly, told that he need tread careful in such matters requiring a delicate approach. His audibly sighing covered his thought that, yet again, the Wehrmacht had the right tactics – broken in rank, barefoot boot-breaking or shot, they would have solved the problem of this sergeant turning up at Portsmouth as quick as tick a box.
‘Look, I say, there’s a chap sergeant, take a pew.’ The NCO did and weighing the dichotomy of the request in his mind churned the informal ceremony of the officer’s the casual flopped hand towards an upright chair. He decided to sit with sweet reasonableness to the plea – ‘Listen, Bob isn’t it, shall we keep this informal?’
‘If you wish, Captain, sir.’
‘There’s a good fellow.’ Never easy for the Captain with his men, he trawled his brain for a sideline in. ‘So, Belfast, what sent you there, may I ask?’
‘My younger brother, George, was home for the weekend. I had the railway station’s takings for the bank in Enniskillen. George offered to take me in on his motorbike only, the devil that he is, once on and he’s off to Belfast for a lark.’
‘And,’ Leonard toyed for contact, ‘how far’s that to go for a … lark?’
‘Eighty miles.’ With the captain leaning forward across the desk, Bob pressed the chair upright into his back knowing what was expected of him. ‘There was a girl he wanted me to meet.’ The NCO detected an indelicate tremor on the edge of over-familiarity between ranks. ‘A nice girl, sir.’
‘And how nice is a nice girl, Bob, that your brother needed you there?’
‘I’m not sure what your driving, sir, but George wanted me to meet Molly and … well you know.’ The captain’s eyebrows appeared not to know. ‘Look, sir, Molly was what some call Black Irish. You know, Spanish-Jewish descent like de Valera, and George, he’s ten years younger than me, wanted my approval.’
‘Hmm, and did she meet with your approval?’
‘As I said, a nice girl, so yes, I approved. We had a bite to eat with Molly, a couple of drinks and I drove the motorbike back with George snuggling into my back as if I was Molly. Only, before Dungannon, there was an accident, meaning I woke up in hospital minus my front teeth and a railway position at Florencecourt Station and that brought me to the RE.’
‘That’s not on the record, sergeant,’ noted the officer. He saw the man bristle and smiled easy at him. ‘Relax, Bob. Travel, it’s there to broaden the mind, widen horizons, open up opportunities,’ he crooned disarmingly, ‘don’t you find?’
Leonard recorded the confusion shown as a way into his desired focus and casually leaned into the arms of his chair, reached into his pocket. Over the table, Bob rekindled his suspicion of the suave officer and stubbed the need for open pleasantries.
‘A cigarette, Bob?’ The sergeant looked at the packet of Passing Clouds and informed the Captain he did not smoke. ‘No? Mind if I do?’ It was not a question as the match burnt a glowing ember to the tip. The smooth smoke trail entered acrid taints into the NCO’s nose. ‘None of this is for your record, Bob.’
‘None of what?’
‘Your travels,’ the captain exhaled lengthily. ‘There will be no charges concerning how you got here.’ Marcham drew deeply, narrowing his eye to the sting of smoke shaving his face in the still heat of the room. ‘As far as I’m concerned – unless you see it otherwise?’ He exhaled both words and smoke – rapid exhaust taking them back to France …
Events in France quickly followed by the news of the German’s break through and the lightening speed of all this had, at the time, sent the Captain’s Passing Cloud beneath his toe and crushed. Into the company’s two Bedford trucks the officers piled, drove north towards the Channel coast, leaving the NCO with orders to follow on the best they could. After burning all records, Sergeant Johnston abandoned the office equipment and marched the company into Arras. Chalky White dug up three civilian transports and they drove towards Normandy…
‘It turned out Chalky White had travelled around that part of France before the war and what with the general flow, we ended up in St Nazaire.’
‘Only you didn’t, did you, sergeant? Just like you did not abandon ten valuable typewriters and five hundred reams of paper outside Arras. St Nazaire, like Abbeville, never happened. We wouldn’t want any of what happened over there getting out now do we?’
Leaving a pause to let the past month’s evens sink in the dour and dogged face over the desk only served to rise a bilious disdain for a man that should either be dead, a POW or holed up in the Languedoc. However, the mystery he was, the sergeant was there in Kent and the captain could see it how, in the Ulsterman’s attempt to not make large admissions, he would raise more questions, With the NCO’s unwillingness to give ground, suspicion would cast its warily reservation – a position Leonard needed avoiding. He extinguished the cigarette.
‘Lucky for you weren’t on the Lancastria, not that anything happened to the Lancastria, did it Bob? As neither, it or you were not at St Nazaire. And it’s not like Lieutenant Pettigrew was killed ten miles before Dunkirk by a jumpy Royal Berkshire berk with a rifle, now was it?’
‘Couldn’t say, sir, I wasn’t there.’
Bob watched the captain light up again, hiss smoke through his teeth, and slowly let it out. For whatever the officer’s use of that action, it seemed to work. A fury left Marcham and he placed the Passing Cloud balancing on the ashtray lip.
‘So, Bob, how did you manage across the Channel?’
‘We couldn’t get on the Lancastria, it seemed RE didn’t pull rank over infantry. The place was chaotic but I got the men onto a small coastal steamer loading up with French Colonials.’
‘And by Colonials you mean coloureds? Rather an irregular course of action, sergeant, what?’
‘It seemed to me they were men like us just hoping that reccy-plane hadn’t spotted us. But then now how would it, what with that old liner there sitting like a mother duck and, sure now, next thing is, we see Ju 88’s plopping bombs around us like a game of stones and water and you wouldn’t think a ship that size would roll over that quick or that burning bodies could raise saliva or the sight of drowning women and children dry it.’
Silence entered baking the heat of the room acutely. Between the two men a steady blue, twisting smoke rose from the ashtray and covered the ceiling in a haze. After a while, the captain lent forward and snubbed it out. Then bringing the forefinger to scratch the corner of his pencil moustache, he next caressed his fingers tips around an aquiline nose, which seemed to scent the traces of aromas left there. Finally, the captain sat back smiling.
‘You’ll be wondering why I asked you here, Bob, so rightio, I’ll chase to the point as that’s what this is all about, indirectly.’ For this, Leonard needed to stand. Bob felt he should do the same but the officer now filled the room, flapped him down into the seat with an easy-going hand. ‘How’s the young wife Bob?’
‘Fine, I expect.’ Bob, thrown, respected the officer’s right to ask and felt flattered that he knew. ‘She didn’t like Halifax and when I was posted to Orkney, she went back home to Perth.’
‘How we get around in this man’s army, eh Bob? Do you get around?’
‘We,’ continued Bob, ‘have a child now. A boy called Michael.’
‘Managed to slip that in somewhere on your travels did you, Bob?’ Obscurity being a game Leonard also played. ‘But Michael? How does that name sit with your sensitivities?’
‘Kate liked it, so it pleased me.’
‘And how much younger than you is Kate?’
‘Ten years, Sir.’
‘Hmm?’ Leonard cleared his throat out the window at the square-bashers down below. ‘Then you’ll needing to please her to hold on to one so young, what?’
‘I have yet to hold my son.’ Bob evaded the question.
‘Now, if you could listen, Bob.’ It seemed Leonard wished another course of direction. ‘The thing is, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I’m due some leave – got an aunt with a flat in Pimlico I can use – and I’d like to sort things out before that, it wasn’t only Pettigrew we lost at Dunkirk, everything needs careful handling – if you understand.’ The Captain, glancing at the man to ensure the spun line had hooked, met a toneless visage. ‘Look, Bob, I know this may seem incongruous to you, an Ulsterman that’s served in Palestine, but all wars end, as will this one and the world at the other end will be nothing like we expect. It all makes for strange bedfellows. I can see g-g-Georgie there waking up with Adolf and sharing a croissant so, in the meantime, best make use of the confusion like you did in St Nazaire.’ Leonard returned to his seat. ‘Mrs Pettigrew, Jane, a lovely young girl, vulnerable times, have you meet her?’
‘Yes, well, she’s due to visit tomorrow, to meet the company then after I thought, hope, to take her up to London for a spot of dinner.’
‘Does that that come under regulations, sir?’
‘Dinner? It comes under something.’
The NOC stitched his lip.
‘We wouldn’t want any of that affair with Jossette to be mentioned – fortunate Gerry broke through when he did or that might have turned into a sticky wicket.’
‘Why would I mention that, Sir?’
‘Quite so, why would you? Nasty business all round, one needs to judge how far a push becomes a shove. So, we understand where things stand? We would not wish to upset the lieutenant’s young widow. You know how young things are, Bob. Nothing like a war to rile up a cycle of hopeful passions in those that long for bluebirds, white cliffs and one-over Dover – what?’ Amused at his own astuteness, Leonard sat down. ‘Straight to the chase – I need a WO1, Bob. Perhaps you were hoping for pips but now I know of your travels to Belfast and St Nazaire, well, it blots your record somewhat – what? Besides, do you really think your face would fit?’ The captain grinned at the tight lip and sneer trying itself out as a Warrant Officer. ‘Think of the silver lining. Gerry will hear officer in your rank and bang you up in the Officers’ Stalag. And on that note, run along, there’s a chappie, we’ll sort out the promotion thingy when I get back from Pimlico.’
Acting WO1 Johnston stood to attention and saluted stiffly. Given that Operation Pimlico went according to plan – no reason why it would not – that would be as far as Mrs Pettigrew and he would be travelling in this man’s army – soon as trample a Passing Cloud.
READING COUPLETS OF IAMBIC PENTAMETER
So it rains and I see your dripping pains, your wish to fit in here, get dry and show wit. If you want to, come in and swank but here’s the twist from me to thank – I’m the one that does the twisting, born to do it, for years been crushing the likes of you who, smart as you are, will never go very far. You misguided fool, what rises in the pool?
All the same, plainly, it’s not easy rising to where I am and you need to watch you do not get too far up or the drop’s one hell of a way down. Apes, such as I, climbed trees while you scratched for nuts around the scrub. Look up if you want for I hardly care what you might see. I know you do not have the where-for-all to wear them. A cautionary tale to be going along with:
Along with my chums, we accepted the foreign-exchange teacher under our wing. A tasty tottie, not that much older than ourselves, we helped her out as to the local oinky-way of stringing words together. Such neds, we informed her, referred to a car as a minge. Pertaining to her neat-petite drive-around, I said it was an engine with a certain je ne sais quoi, an attempt to speak her language that whirled her head, relaxed comfort in her shoulders so I could ask – how does it perform, how do you freshen the Camembert smell and how many men have managed to fit in said voiture at any one time? She answered all questions candidly – goes very well, how you say le refraîchissant d’air? Oh-oui, pardonnez-moi (she blushed at her own foolishness) and at one time squeezed in? Ha-la to go Londres – c’est cinq pas comprenant me. Naturally mes petits innocents we put her right and told her exactly what minges are, for Mademoiselle Hereforus may proffer oinks contretemps in her Renault Cleo but if she is too soon made glad, too easily impressed by that, then she is but my screen grab. Little petite here-and-ours was like all things we hang to gather dust and wonder why she got all musty. For our class is a very small class, specialised in exchanging quids for quips, witty take-offs so flash as slink-in-before-you-know-it. Aptly named Ingénue found her legs crossing for fear lace dropping in front of sixth form though not to me applying. She blushed the tri-colour knowing that, despite le révolution, she allowed a rise to charm her. I recall her tight-lipped glance at the door. The heart-gasp at my feet dug in the footwell.
Will’t please you sit and look at her, on this my smart phone? Democracy, autoracy or oligarchy, we are rapacious. Vote, rebel, be mendacious but be impressed. Seen enough? Shall I text you more, it only needs a finger pressed?
In Market Street, in Pret A Monger, with winter wearing weary on and sweet Greselle Tweeting as I read … Why there you ask? Ask you can, we were there not seeing you but we Tweeted and you followed.
‘Yah, Marcus,’ a hand flopped an iPhone before me, ‘but should we be Eurosceptic, mean-say – this likes – Farage – one of us?’
And us, who is us? The salient question came from Greselle – chiffon print dress, an Alice, rose-tinctured nose-up caused by a hand constantly volumnising weight into her hair. Also beside to me, Imogene, pure to her name, also Roedean, resembles Amy Winehouse with sophistication sheened right up her snake-entwining legs. Then Grant, lets just say – jaded eyes. In my pocket, a lighter, a tooth pick which, still pointed, I snapped and flicked to him. He looked puzzled why.
‘Marcus?’ Greselle pined, swinging a Sophia Webster my direction returning me online. I rubbed my shin as if hurt. ‘Yah, Heel … Answer the question.’
Asked a question, hear the question as wanted-heard or answer with a question. I prevaricated.
‘Well, yes and no.’
‘Oh, you no-yes. Say-how-is,’ a crossed-leg swung sulky. ‘Brute – mhmm?’
‘No as in white-trash vote for Trump, but yes as in bon viveur doing very well thank you, any side of whatever pond.’
‘Hmm? So-yah-so?’ Greselle finger-flicked further and subject changed. ‘Oh-yah, peng-what – anyone for Davos this Easter?’ Lapping her mobile sorry-sad, she leaned over looking the part but verbalisation is so fork-tongue. ‘Sorry, ask now – you ski, Grant?’
‘Not so you’d notice,’ he told her over a latte gulp like that might help.
Grant, your basic polyethylene plastic sort, would soon get scratched. Greselle would stack him somewhere and slushing down Glen Shee would never be the piste she opened up for him. No doubt he sat thinking – knocked in there when asked, what the chance of further lapping in Switzerland? Darling prosaic-thinker he who should be reading Middle Ages Poetry not Social Anthropology, bolded it out with – could learn, you giving lessons?
One to put on her blog as exuberant crowd funder with alternative ways but nine in ten a flop. Greselle gleamed delighted as nails tinkled drum-tap heartbreaks on her Pret A Monger Star. She uttered a jerky suck-up into her lungs as if caffeine failed in purpose. Hand came down from mouth, swiped phone left, shoe got the cursory glance and finally came the grin – Sophia Webster slipped on and off smoothly enough.
‘How sweet, ’ said like Alice to dormouse. Greselle then confused the situation by reaching over with a there-there as if Grant was Timmy, mingling her sweet perfume
balsamic over his bitter coffee aromas; a nose like a bud-ache tasted, both should recall … someway. ‘Yah, utterly divine, but, mhmm, Grant-darlingzz – not the way Davos works.’
Her tone, raised as if question to the simple, clouded his brow. Jowls drew curtains with enough chink left for us to understand his latte stirring. However, yoink bright enough to be at St Andrew’s, played sport and thought to square-jaw this game he felt good for, as proved five times just last night. He asked just how Davos worked and wearily her head tilted to paint a pointless line across the ceiling. Up went shoulders then down sighed a pity for his effort.
‘I once met Claridge at a shoot,’ I said.
This might seem a random thing to have said but it was not. It was as pointed as the toothpick. Greselle’s rueful grin concurred. Imogene, studying Greselle’s MacBook, comprehended exactly. All the same, Imogene froze me a look as if I had offered her family story to some Who Do You Think Your Are? researcher. That look a wall to me.
‘I liked him. Timely death, what?’ I shrugged closing my book.
Imogene smiled and I saw her, not long from then, as posh-neat intelligentsia, bespoke clothing allowance, corresponding on financial matters for Sky News or Channel 4. Her racial slant assist with that squint pierce for the answer. A block to me.
‘Opportune I say, renting yuk-things, tongues do wag,’ she explained.
Her eyes stayed narrowed returning to the screen where the nose-tip tracked the text. Grant’s eyes dried looking round for the reason his mobile twitched but we gave it no reason to vibrate. We knew he was Wi-Fi, read it, knew all but what he really ached to learn was how we felt about it. He drew a blank for we were at one end of the table and he down there.
‘This much say – thought the old paedo learnt this in Nazi Germany – mezuzah you can screw off but screw down your deviancy or get noticed.’ Dark hair swished by me on the uplift of her nose that left Grant once more finding a need to stir coffee. ‘Sure-yah, you’d say he was only a child then but just how his wife put up with him?’
‘Well …’ My eyes went small. My voice became rich-sweet as Rosh Hashnana honey cake to salve solace and shore her up. ‘She had Martha.’
Grant’s mobile revolved and she saw it for what it is. What it always was in the hands as such as he, so her head fell to my shoulder and her hand ran my hair.
‘Sure-yah, time to go, tutorial, ten,’ Imogene said kissing my cheek. She snapped the Mac lid shut and slid it back with a suggestion just for Greselle. ‘Yep, Gress, repetition – boring-yawn-yah – junk okay?’
‘Oh-pos-yah – show how later, mhmm?’ Imogene flashed her smile untwisting lips of doubt. Then to everyone. ‘Drinks, six, okay-yah?
Okay, ultra-yah and surprising yes but that lacrosse-cocktail set were up to fit a fix for those like Grant who, at that time, had closed his eyes as Immy aired a muah passed his ear. Surely my eyes were open as he woke to smiles all round with him main-casting his game as if on a throne. Oh, such a Davos Seaworth him to think fingers grow again or to be caught thinking that night Greselle would turn Melisandre-kinky for him. Not the first to turn and ask but, however, he stooped on getting up. And me? I never stoop.
Six-thirty, outside the Central chavving roll-ups with pints of hand-pull like we are unimpeachable but February was cold for MaxMara, tweed or cotton and so we stubbed litter for the pavement frieze then proceeded inside. Grant did not smoke so he was dregs down a pint finding it his turn to buy. Girls asked for gin and tonics and when he returned Geselle asked what daddy did?
‘Looking for work just now.’ He was evasive as if expected to loose virginity. Her smile won over his reticence, pants-down. ‘He was a fitter for Tullis in Glenrothes – it’s closing – er – closed.’
He pronounced it as Glenrotheees. Like, yah, so primitively naive. Therefore, he was someone’s son reading how to be a lover and the shock emitted from Griselle’s throat was unbound to any fitter’s ethics. However, it hurt the nouveau-tom and so she purred against him. She apologised this forgive-me straight from Jane, and told him she felt furry-fuzzy, only straight-face did not fall for that with the little witnessed breezing over her lips. Squiffy, she rephrased more accurately, smoothing her hip to his. Drive her home and she would squiggy the front seat; squidge it up incase first home came quicker than expected. Herodias with the wicked smile, she had the whole bar on her platter listening as mouths lipped drinks as so much rancour swallowed and although it was she caught him, gripping pint with knees together, at first Grant was not for driving and neither should she.
‘Yeah-yah-so, haven’t planned to, have I?’ She mewed his face as if she had no claws. ‘Oh, come on, Grant, I know you want to drive my Mini Cooper, you’ve asked me often enough.’ Greselle then explained it graphically on him, pencilling round the outline as I nodded like he should know what Google could turn up.
‘Okay,’ he muttered pushing her hand away from where looks lolled.
‘There now, you’re with us now, what’s your worry, hmm?’
Imogene rubbed his shoulders hunching over a pint. It did not help much and he continued sipping like the taste was apple-sourings from the barrel bottom but his breath smelt just as ours – tainted sexual-arousal.
We finished our drinks and Grant went round to the Scores with Greselle to fetch the car, which left time for Imogene and I to visit Luvian’s for two sauvy-blancs and two sauv-cabs. Time still to make a phone call, as one could not rely on plebs.
Hand at her breastplate mortified but then fingers laddered my lapel as if Harris lapped her toes. My Hebridian memory of dunes and dimples of a smile which, escaping me at that time, in that moment glowed its gloaming.
Wheel-spun at the fountain and in the Mini eyes whirled with a question obviously asked before getting there. Grant asked again – so, this squiffy? Greselle answered by stretching legs into the footwell. Nothing explicit, more suggestive, but enough for a hasty gear-change and we heard the low chunter of an engine strain. Rain splattered the screen and he fumbled for wipers. Greselle backed the door with a mouth-huh wondering where the attention had gone.
‘Did Greselle tell you how it works in Davos?’ I asked. We were turning round by the cathedral having got there via a one-way street while Greselle straightening out her dress. ‘Rent a chalet there and its full of Greselles and Imogenes cooking up and dusting down and getting their skiing free, know what I mean, pillock?’
‘Oh-yah, fuck you too Marcus, wait and see.’ Greselle rolled out all laugh like gold and causing Grant to swerve, Imogene to arm-hug me like the sure furlong ticket-winner but left me wondering why the road so fucking quiet. Next thing blue light and a short-sharp squeal relaxed me as swapping eyes with Imogene, we then find Greselle had joined us in seventh heaven. Knock on the window with reason to suspect. We knew he had the puff to blow.
They took him away and as none of us could safely drive this side of the border, Imogene phoned for a taxi. She smiled her request over the mobile with a breath to bring it quickly. Eyes slanted but glee glistened on watching Greselle curl round me. Breath intoxicating as Solome’s promise, Gress’s kiss stung my throat and caught there as an addiction sought. Second time would never be the same not that it would stop any of us trying. I felt certain pride swell, bound to happen, and Greselle was aware. I told her it was her distraction for the taxi and she smiled the open way her mother has, finger-walked my chest in a way also reminiscent and asked:
‘So, Davos, yah? Easter – your place Marcus?’
The Immie coiled against me with a quick bite at my ear and fixed pouty lips upon the same enquiry. To shelter them or just because I could or because I rubbed my ear, I winged their shoulders. Mummy’s perfume on Immie, the bane of which, the imprint of the moment is, as was more red than green on Gress’s dress.
‘Sorry? Davos?’ I was suave in reassuring someone. ‘Daddy’s place really, I’d need to ask who’s coming.’ Their youthful eyes appealed for hope as lips played smiles for positioning. ‘Let’s just say your place tonight girls – yes?’ I onlined the niggle.
There now, I warned you that nothing changes with the likes of I.
Mind you, at the time, Imogene took a Selfie – naughty capers in South Castle Street. And true, pernicious was the harshness in Greselle’s rummage of advantage taken later. YouTube it. You can’t tell who’s who. Me you ask? Be shocked at that half-flush that dies along the throat, the one whose head she cuts off.
As a game of football for Bas the striker, his yellow carding was the only elation during the whole dull kick about. Add to the fact that it was Tombo’s skiff off a defender’s arm seen as the only goal by the referee. Mind you, as Bas had said, the ref was as blind as a need-specs advert and had not noticed that dangling leg inviting Bas’s blood-rush boot at it. And, at the time of the so-called goal, was so iced by impartiality that he wished some point to the afternoon and as Bas’s booking had not given that, the Ref had let Tombo’s goal stand. Truth was that Bas’s could not care a fart for his heart was not in a game where his brain never down into his feet stuck as it was somewhere in his shorts because although Senga was not there, the ususal-usuals were knee-crimping the pitch edge against a north-east nip from out the Grampians, and along with those lippy, side-line come-ons, was a new spark swaying her oscillations as good as it gets and just asking for a pass.
‘Aye, Bas,’ Shona got the first leg pull in as he left the pitch, ‘no think – scuff it in the net and no ower the bar?’
‘Me an bars, eh, Shona?’ He raised his eyes in mock surprise. ‘Scuffin? Which net are you wantin in?’
‘As if.’ She scissored him a distaff of a spindle in the air with one finger that made him laugh:
‘Ha-ha – try two and away snip your loose-ends, Shona.’
Cold-shouldered by Shona’s frayed edges, he went for the easy pass, the smooth-down by asking if she and the others were going down the Black Bull that night and if they were, was their new friend coming with them?
‘Which new friend’s that then, Bas?’
‘The tanned one wi legs to weave between.’ Bass notes, low reverberations, throaty as his squeeze-eyed scan around to point her out, annoyed Shona. As for the others, turned them into a wing of gulls, a preen of feathers all caught up in gleams of light where, equally indistinguishable from one another, he could not see the one he meant. ‘Yanking me are you, eh, Shona – or hoping to tan her? One of your poppa’s is she? Just bring her along tonight and I’ll glide her home.’
‘See you, Bas …’ She felt his heat that drew the offside from her, saw his striking looks that carried her away despite the strip she wore, knew his nod as the crashing header to undo frail defences but the snell wind fetched the salt tear to her eye. ‘Aye, see you Bas, like there’s a name for you.’
‘Aye,’ he was in quick as a poacher’s instinct, ‘a striker!’ He exhaled victorious.
That night before going out sprayed in a mist of butane parfum, sharp and dry the heady side of cloying, he had another laugh but this time at his mum’s expense. A brownish spider crawled from out the TV corner and she asked him to humanely deal with it. Bad luck to kill a spider, she told him and got him warming up a scoffing at her old Scot’s superstitions. All the same, he took a coaster and slid a notcher over it but not clinically. The soft carpet cushioned the life of it as, outside the coaster’s edge, a leg fluttered in a pain beyond his empathy and he plucked it off. Still pulsing its heartbeat, he placed the leg on Mum’s thigh, causing a shudder and a scream the like of which should have had the neighbours through the wall but for the fact they were there to keep them all apart.
‘Barry!’ She implored the light of her heart. ‘Gonnae no dae thaat? Christ, is that the way yer treatin Senga?’
‘Of course not – not that is, ifin she didnae go bending backwards asking for it.’
The laugh on her and chuckle down on Senga in his mind, he went back to the coaster only to see the spider stepping out from under its sudden mischance. It was unbalanced by the missing leg but, eyes in the back of its head, his motion had it scurrying back to the TV corner. Into the recess, his hand ventured only to find fine viscous filaments coating his hand, which, on wiping them on the tail of his shirt, remained there sticky. The spider was lost into the dark escutcheon of its fine-threaded corner but he satisfied himself in the defilement of the hair-like webs that further stuck unseen to clothing as he wiped the incident off. Referring to the dusty smell noted in the corner, he told his mother to clean in there some day.
‘Job for a man that – shifting telly.’
‘Oh is it?’ He crooned her heart stings with a smile then reached to the coffee table for her purse. ‘Mum, gie us forty.’
Forty pounds was all she had to pay day and he had not paid back last week’s handout, never anything from him but promises and smiles – he’d clean behind the telly later and think of cash machine charge. She handed over forty pounds but told him that she would clean the corner.
‘I couldnae trust no’ to kill the spider, could I Barry?’
‘Kill a spider? Aye, why no?’
When he entered the Black Bull, the place buzzed two drinks ahead of him. He spotted Tombo with Shona and the others over in the usual corner. The look on Shona eyeing Senga sent a rye sniff down the nose and thoughts of spares at weddings. Ordering a drink, he thought about going over and latching himself on Senga only the last time with her it was like – devour him – oven’s warming again – where’s the wedding cake – Ba-as-hmm? That thought caught him on a softie unsure about the risk of going further. So, he pressed it up against the bar, watched Kate pour his pint and eyed his friends through the gantry mirror. He was looking for her, the bronzy one, but she was not there. By the time the pint got to him, the head was flat but Kate gassed it up and he joined the others.
‘Hiya, Senga, you werenae doun the match the day,’ he said settling himself beside her, giving her thigh a pat and a squeeze, looking for reaction in her face. She smiled.
‘Had to be with Maya so that Mum would take her the night.’
‘Oh, aye – so then, how’s Maya?’ He sipped his drink with eyes lipping to where, witch-eye-stitching him, Shona glowered. ‘She at the nursery yet?’
‘When’s the last time you saw Maya?’
‘Took her guising at Halloween – no’ mind?’
‘She was at the Nursery then – you no’ mind?’
‘Oh!’ He sounded surprised.
‘An’ ye forgot her Christmas.’
‘I was deer fencing up by Invergarry.’
‘Aye, so you say.’
‘Aye Bas, but she is your lassie,’ she purred him soft lashes then, seeing the doubting look he gave, brought out claws.’ You ken fine Ah was finished wi’ yon Tombo.’
‘Oh, Ah do, do Ah?’
‘Yes,’ she sighed and gave the Auld Lang Syne. ‘Ye ken Maya likes to call ya Dad.’
He took that in on a nip and then decided:
‘So, whistle it, Senga – right? Maya’s neat, ken, but Bas is fine wi’ me.’
That left him sipping the smug look from Shona. The glass left his lip with a smile. ‘No’ brought yer pal then?’ He asked her.
‘Who’s that then?’
‘Mind I telt ye? The foreign one – legs ye’d wrap aroon yer face, like I would, nae probs.’
She gave him a queer-like look as if the heads and tales of his pound coin did not line up. Fine by him but for the fact, Senga and the pack, concurred with Shona and that he was out the den and there was no dark, leggy bitch to be sniffing. Senga smelt nice, sweet with undertones of woody smoke, but, well-huffed with him by now, she denied and hurt his senses by shimmying closer to Shona. Snippy’s turn to light up her face, Shona suggesting to Senga they should step outside for a smoke although, not meaning that as an open invitation to all, her shoulders drooped when three others joined her and Senga. With those left, banter was questionably and all over the place – played yer cards wrong there, eh, dick-heid? – aye, seen the moon tonight? – what red, think that was the reason? – wasnae red, it was full, ken? – aye, silver-bright, no see it? – no yer day for scoring, geddit?
‘So, eh, what wes talking about here?’ Bas asked.
‘Hae ye seen that moon out there?’ Shona exclaimed ahead of the others returning. It seemed so little time for them to be coming back smelling of a smog caught between hell and back. ‘Youse could read a book by it.’
‘Huh, you read?’ Bas asked, ‘ Christ, youse cannae figure oot the picture on a fag pack.’ The others shifted uneasy in their seats. On the till at Lidl’s, Shona could read bar codes when she saw them. They knew that, he knew that because, in and out of each other’s pockets to see how comfort fitted, some dirt had to stick beneath nails. Fact was or spin to suit him, he saw Maya his and Tombo’s. The girl had all her mother’s looks so both lads made no fuss. Tonight, old feelings flaring for Senga and Bas felt particular about the company she might keep. ‘Aye, right, Shona, ya hure ya. Hey, lads, gonnae check her palms – like make sure she’s no’ turned werewolf as well as fanny stanking.’
Not always sapphic, Shona never given the hint of payment expected and for this she was owed favours. Accoringly, they sidelined Barry leaving him drinking on the edge. Shots followed pints freely enough bought in turn but backs were hard to thank. Time passed in the record of froth rings wearily supped shoulder-hexed. Bending over his mobile he trolled the threads of Shona’s interfacing trying to track down the diaphanous beauty he sought in her likes. It left him cloudier than ever and with only the bar room to engage suddenly from the muddle, hung like a web in a corner unseen, the mystery materialised.
Downing a shot and mojo refreshed, he bar-weaved the easy lob in his head and so open was the goal, he had her arrowed before reaching. Dark skin, hair raven-gloss, coal irises alight in moon-whites, her long silver-shine of legs balanced below a short skirt so tight it cruised her form tighter than tention in his groin. Up close, her neat black top smelt of sweets and floral spray and with that cute scent up his nose, maybe she was younger than first thought – not that he would be holding age or how she smelt against her.
‘Hi, don’t see many of your sort in here?’ It was toe-punt over the bar again.
‘There’s a name for the likes of you,’ she said, forehead-creasing a wee upset.
‘Aw-fugh! Ah’m not like … Like ken … That’s no my way.’
‘No? Go on then, what’s your way – twisted?’ She smiled on par with where’s your leg to stand on. Red-faced he tried again as if foul awarded him.
‘No straight up,’ he fluffed his shot.
‘One more crack and that’s your lot.’
‘Aye, right, sorry, fair enough. Look, can I buy you a drink, that is if you do – drink that is being as your what – Asian?’
‘Fugh me again, eh? Foot and mouth.’
However, it seemed that from now on he could not place a foot wrong as far as she was concerned, and as for mouth:
‘Voddie-coke,’ she emphasised. ‘Get us a voddie-coke – okay?’ She needled him a look like it should be fine, snaked her curves to the bar and gave a puckish grin.
‘Aye, sure … Er, what’s your name?’
It turned out her name was Neith, though he asked if did she mean Leith but no, the name was Neith. Her dad had been Egyptian but not to go there, as her Mum had on a fortnight once in Belek, Anatalya.
‘Aye, so the story goes.’
‘So how long ago was that?’
‘How long ago would you want it to be?’
He knew his answer to that but, other than being smaller in stature than him, it was hard to gauge her age. One way caught glancing down the bar; she probably was under-age to be there. Catching her in a head-tilt angling up a smile at him, then he b
became the schoolboy crushed on teacher.
‘So, why she call you Neith?’
‘Mhm – is that a problem for you?’
‘Then get us another voddie-coke.’
‘You no’ got a bag then?’
‘Yeah,’ she said displaying her black shoulder sling, ‘get us drink then.’ Oval shaped it dandled at her side suspended on a slender shoulder strap. Silver beads on a field of black radiated from a central point in concentric circles. Large enough to hold something weighty making it caress the curve of her hip, it did not seem to hold a purse, so he bought another round.
Knocking that back, it transpired Neith was still at school, Fifth Year, so the wee panic sweat dried on Bas’s back. The thing was, she told him, like Maths was really her thing. There was laughter in her throat, so it was hard for him to follow what she said, other than it was her fault really, but she did not want to fail.
‘Naa, not you,’ he stated no sure what she would fail.
‘For real – you think that?’ Neith asked her voice like an excuse of silliness rippling into giggles. She slipped her drink then let him drink her eyes. ‘Hmm – want to go outside?’
‘Don’t smoke – do you?’
‘Not per se … But you never know – huh-hmm?’
‘Aye, sure-but …. But are youse no’ here wi’ someone?’ A dead faintness took him, a trembling in which her gossamer touch alighing soft on his hand, steadied him. It made her seem older and time vanished. Next, he was outside under the inky sky where, halogen-bright with a ring defused around it, a full moon silvered her undertones of earthiness. If there were stars up there, he would need to app Night Sky because the moon swam within Neith’s eyes and she spun him in smile beyond his ken. Taking a deep breath of cold night air, it hit him like a need for nicotine perfumed by the craving breezed off her.
‘Take me to the park,’ she sighed. The flick of his head set the tone of his question. In reply, teetered on dippy-legs and laughing girly-tunes, she sing-songed in his face. ‘You messed like mega-non-Ronaldo, so you did, and should have been set off. You could have broken that guy’s leg.’
Then the nervous young thing finger-poked his shoulder. Something, he decided, needed shown how the doings done to set her right. The pitch was not far away and he had keys to the changing rooms. He winged his arm around her waist, cloaked her in mature musk and, taking his touch from thereon down, took advantage. She giggled and squealed down the road out of the reach of his hand. Hot on her tail with two steps taken, the third opened the ground and he stumbled. With a steel-like hold, she saved him splaying nose-first on the pavement. Flash before his eyes numbed the seconds as a winding would in which, the strength of her amazed him. Even if she worked those pecs, at the angle that caught the pair of them should have toppled both.
‘Slorry,’ he slurrred then thought to try again but the world span before him or rather he whirled threaded from a wire, blanking out and in beneath the wheeling moon until he found himself prostrate on the damp and cold.
‘Come on silly – what’you like?’ she said helping him up, brushing his shirt tails of something stuck there and sparking electric tingles through his abdomen in a way he appreciated.
Getting his bearings, he was at the park but strange thing was that one goal still had the net dreeped over it. She asked should that be so, and when he told her no, enquired what to do about it. He could not reach but he could hoist her up. Spindrift light on lifting, surprisingly those slender arms shuttled her along the bar snipping the tapes real easy. Silver legs scissored swishing hisses and snippy-snappy sounds near his ear and, micro-tight, the source of silken desire flashed nose height there before him.
‘Ohh-ahh-yah!’ Exstatic was her cry where he went, she spooled him in her legs then simpered: ‘Aw, what-ya like – naughty? Oh-mhm!’ Then she stunned a blow to his face which was a puzzle of just how she could and as the first sting throbbed a warning – airless as threadbare age, salty as blood cornered in his mouth – the next thing he knew for sure was that the net was off the goal. He found himself net-wrapped with her away towards the kit-container and with those tensile arms now loose, suddenly her legs, hips and head whirled in a frenzied dance, wheeked on by a birling squealing so highly pitched it was appealing and set his pulses racing. With the keys to open doors he followed on behind. Gasped him to a stop outside the door, she trapped him there with a hand and breathed liquorice through open lips, a sticky-slip of sweetness through which he could not break.
‘Try this,’ she crooned, her voice as soft as floating threads, and from her bag, she offered him a silver flask. ‘Go on, what’s the harm if it gets it done?’ She said that like she could eat or suck him dry and if she could – so what? – no trauma done on him. All the same, he felt threatened, she was yanking his thread like to break and it was not funny. A ringtone sang in his pocket. Snapping his knee, he took it out and Senga’s face smiled at him from the screen but Neith slipped the phone from him and honeyed in his ear: ‘You know you want to. It has never stopped you in the past or is your name not Bas? He reached for the flask and sipped on his lip the sweet bite of her breath.
Strangely enough, it was Maya that found him in the morning. Netted in a suspension upside down like Frodo waiting Shelob. He had weaved between awareness and blank nothingness all night long. At one point, where it lay on the floor, his phone battery died. At some time he had wet himself, although that would at a point after his mobile lit up on Segna’s face but after Shona’s face brightly beamed the container.
‘Ba-ass, why are you like tha-aat, Bas?’ Maya sweetly sang.
‘Strange thing this – you would believe it, Maya, but no one else,’ he told her. ‘I expect there’s a reason for it. Is your mum nearby? Can you get her for me?’
Her answer to both questions was yes and that last night, after talking to himself, Kate said, he left on his own and Shona had said that knowing him there was a lumber planned somewhere and she hoped he would break his leg.
‘She said that would teach you but, Ba-ass, what’s a lumber?’
‘Ach, ye misheard, Maya. She probably meant a number, and it looks like one’s done on me for a change.’
Maya laughed and gladdened his heart. She turned to fetch help but paused.
‘Aye, Maya, sure why not? Call me Dad if you like.’ And she away squealed, making his day, tiding the loose ends of his life because where Maya is, there are no spider’s webs.