Author(s): Charles Barron
Copyright holder(s): Charles Barron
Evie Duncan is 60. She is a little bit stiff, but her mind is as lively – and wicked – as ever. She speaks with an Aberdeen accent, though often adopting other accents to suit the stories she tells. Her main companion, in her widowhood, is her cat, Tutankhamen.
In Act One she is dressed for indoors, but fairly smartly. In Act Two she is ready to go out; so she is in shoes and her best down-the-town clothes, though not – at first - in a coat.
Evie has a fairly broad Aberdeen accent, typical of her generation and background. But she has a range of voices and accents which she enjoys adopting in her stories.
A room in Evie’s house. It can be as detailed and realistic as the director wishes, but the minimum requirements are a table, with cloth, stage right. There is a chair above it, which Evie uses often, and another, tucked under the stage right end of the table. On the left is a comfortable chair, with arms, where Evie relaxes. Close to it there lies a cat basket in which a black cat is asleep, throughout the play. There is a saucer for milk beside it.
It is the present day.
(It is late evening. The room is warmly lit. Tutankhamen is asleep in his basket by the armchair; the table bears a cloth but is otherwise empty. Evie enters with a tray on which there are a teapot, in a cosy, a tea-strainer, a cup and saucer, a large milk-jug and a plate with two biscuits. She lays the tray on the table and goes off, returning immediately, carrying two envelopes. One looks as if it may contain a birthday card; the other is brown and official-looking. She lays these carefully on the table, by the tray.)
EVIE Just half-an-hour or so and we’ll be able to open the envelopes, Toots. I’m having a wee fly cup. Would you like een? (She takes the milk jug to Tutankhamen’s saucer.) Ach, you hinna touched fit you’ve got. (She returns to the table.) Well, please yoursel’ if you’d raither sleep. (Sits.) You’ll need to waken up at twelve, fitever. I canna be expected to do aathing mysel’. (She pours herself a cup of tea during the next speech. She is careful about putting the milk in first and she uses a strainer.) You’d be up seen enough if I was opening a tin of salmon for my denner. (Pause.) I micht have that the morn. Fit div you think? A wee celebration? A wee tin o’ salmon atween’s. Just to mark the day? (Pause.)
Of course, there mightna be ony cause to celebrate. (She leaves the strainer in the cup and picks up the brown envelope.) I should have opened it afore, but a twa-three days surely hasna made muckle difference? I just thocht I’d keep it till the morn. (Pause.) As if being a year auler will make it easier to cope wi’. (She lays it down and picks up the strainer.) Look at fit I’m deeing, Toots. I’m using my strainer, but I made the tea wi’ a bag. Evie, Evie, you hinna had real tea in the house for years. Fit on earth made me tak’ through a strainer iv noo? (She is quite worried about this behaviour. She gets up to take the strainer out to the kitchen. She pauses at the exit and turns back to speak to Tutankhamen.) Is this fit Terry Wogan ca’s a “senior moment”? I think Addy would jist have said, “You’re getting’ gey dottled, quine.” (She puts on a bit of a male voice for this. She laughs, and exits briefly, returning without the strainer.)
I’ve put it at the back of my orra drawer, so I winna be tempted to pick it up wi’ the teaspoon again. (Pause. She sits and takes a sip of tea.) That’s fine, that. (She takes a biscuit.) It’s nae often I have a cuppie efter 11 o-clock at nicht. Nae wonder you’re refusing to join me. (Takes a bite.) An’ a biscuit, ana! This is sinful, this. (She is delighted with herself. Takes another sip.) That’s een of this new pyramid teabags, Toots. Mrs Swanson up the stair sweers by them. (She takes a connoisseur’s sip, swirling the tea round her mouth for a moment.) Aye. It’s a’ richt. In fact, it mak’s a rare cup of tea, richt enough. But to tell the truth, I canna say that I taste the difference. A decent cup o’ tea’s a decent cup o’ tea, whither it comes fae a pyramid, a wee roon’ baggie or a plain aul’ square een. It’s mair to dee wi’ the wye you mak’ it, than the shape of the baggie. Wouldn’t you say, Toots?
As lang as the pot is heated and the watter is boiling, the only thing that maitters is to get the sweerl richt. (She picks up the pot.) Three this wye. (She swirls the pot three times clockwise.) And three this wye. (She swirls the pot three times anti-clockwise.) Mind, now. This wye first. (Clockwise.) Never this wye. (Anti-clockwise. Pause. She looks at Tutankhamen.)
You just couldna care less, could you, Toots? Fit a rare life you’ve got, an’ nae mistak’. Nae worries aboot makin’ a decent cup o’ tea. (Pause.) And nae worries about little brown envelopes. (She picks up the envelope but throws it down immediately.) I think I’ll come back as a cat, next time. (She gets up and takes her cup with her, to sit on the armchair by Tutankhamen.)
Of course, I’d need to make sure I got a decent body to look after me. Nae a’ cats are as lucky as you, you ken. I’ve spiled ye, a’ your life. Iver since ye walket in that door in front o’ Addy, as if it was you that owned the place an’ nae him. An’ that was that. You jist wouldna leave; I used to shove you ootside the door, in the hopes that you’d wander awa’, but nae sic luck. You jist sat there on the mat, wi’ that snooty look o’ yours, until ye got the chance to sneak back in. Sae I’ve been your slave ever since.
Addy wanted to ca’ you Hitler, mind? Because you took ower the whale place. “’At cat wants mair lebensraum than Hitler ever dreamt o’,” he used to say. But I wouldna ha’e that. “He’s maybe bossy,” I said. “But he’s nae coorse, like yon een.” Na, it was your uppity wyes that decided it in the end. “He’s nae some jumped-up decorator that’s made himsel’ a dictator,” I said. “This lad was born to be superior. Like the pharaohs o’ Egypt.” Sae that’s how you got your name – Tutankhamen. (Sips reflectively.)
I suppose I shouldna ca’ you “Toots” ava’. It’s a bit insulting-like for a pharaoh. Fit’s waur, it mak’s you sound cute an’ cuddly, an’ you’re certainly nae that. (She gets up, with some difficulty, tickles Toots and replaces her cup on the table. She rubs her back.) Michty, I’m getting’ affa stiff. Aul’ age doesna come itsel’. An’ me nae sixty yet. (She looks at her watch.) Nae for anither twenty minutes onywye. (She yawns hugely.) Oh, me. Lang past bedtime, Toots. I should have gone to bed as usual an’ waited till mornin’. I jist felt this een was a wee bit special. It needed to be ushered in. Like New Year. I could never ging to my bed and miss midnicht on Hogmanay. I ken it would still be the new year if I sleepet through 12 o’clock and got up at breakfast time. But it wouldna seem the same. Some wye or ither, you need to be there as the new year’s born or you feel you’ve missed it. (She starts to tidy up the tray.)
I suppose I must have been aboot seven or echt fan I first went first-fittin’, wi’ my ma an’ da. We jist went to my auntie Evelyn, naebody else, but I thocht I was Haemanannie. Richt grown up. My auntie gave me a wee gless o’ ginger wine.” It’ll dee the lassie nae hairm,” she says to my ma. “It’s only eence a year.” (She has a special voice for Evelyn.)
She was richt, Toots. It didna dee me ony hairm. It didna turn me into an alcoholic, as my mither thocht. Michty me, she was affa against drink, my ma. Never had a wee tootie hersel’, an’ never approved o’ Evelyn. Mind you, I dinna think Evelyn ever had mair than one whisky at a time, a’ her life. She was certainly never drunk that I ever heard o’. But to hear Ma cairryin’ on, ye’d have thocht peer Evelyn got through a couple o’ bottles o’ Bells afore denner-time every day. Of course, she was my faither’s sister, nae Ma’s, so she was aff to a bad start there.
An’ it was a’ made waur, because Da sneaked awa’ efter I was born, an’ registered me himsel’, ca’ed efter Auntie Evelyn. Ma never forgave Da, or me, or Evelyn for that. An’ aye thocht she would try to turn me into an alcy like hersel’. The truth o’t is, that that first ginger wine fan I was echt didna affect me – except to gi’e me a real taste for the stuff. It’s the only alcohol I’ve ever had – one gless o’ ginger wine every Hogmanay for the last 50 years or so. (She carries off the tray. We hear her voice from the kitchen.)
But I’m brakin’ oot; I’m gan to the bad; I’m fullfillin’ a’ my mither’s worst fears. (She reappears without the tray but carrying a bottle of Crabbie’s Ginger Wine and a very small tot glass.) I’m awa’ to pour mysel’ a gless, an’ it’s nae even Hogmanay. Weel, you only ha’e a 60th birthday eence in a lifetime. To tell you the truth, Toots, if I min’ richt, I think I maybe had a wee tootie on my 21st birthday ana’. Michty, it’s getting’ to be a habit. I’ll need to be careful nae to let it get oot o’ han’. (Pause.)
Guid sakes, Toots, I canna get a hauds o’ this ava’. (Working it out as she speaks.) That was near 40 year ago, I was 21. And I was jist gan to say, if I’m makin’ a habit o’t, I’d be drinkin’ a toast in anither 40 year – for my 100th birthday. Sae I’m jist half-wye atween 21 an’ 100. I canna believe that, ye ken. My whale adult life – working, mairryin’, ha’ein’ a family, seein’ abody roon’ me dyin’ aff – it’s a’ jist been 40 year.
Nooadays I think o’ mysel’ as nearly at the end o’ my life. Sixty, the aul’ age pension, folk lookin’ at you as if they thocht you were gan to fa’ ower deid in front o’ them. An’ yet a lot o’ women live till 100 nooadays. You read aboot them in the P. & J. a’ the time. The Queen doesna even bother sendin’ oot telegrams ony mair, there’s sae mony folk mak’ it to a hunner. (She’s amazed by a new thought.) I could ha’e as lang in front o’ me, as ahin’ me. But fit am I gan to fill it wi’? Fan I think o’ a’ that I’ve deen to fill up the first 40 year, rinnin’ roon in wee circles to pack it a’ in, maist o’ the time. A’ that years ower again – an’ naething to fill them wi’. (She sinks down on the chair above the table.)
I dinna ken fit to mak’ o’ that at a’, Toots. It’s never struck me afore. I canna jist sit here watching television for the rest o’ my life. I’ll ha’e to mak’ plans. I’ll ha’e to find things to dee. Och, this is affa - I’ve jist let mysel’ ging a’ to pot, without even noticing it. Weel, I’m gan to pull mysel’ thegether, Toots, an’ mak’ good use o’ the next 40 year. You wait an’ see. (A thought.)
Nae that you’ll be there to see, will you? You hinna got onything like 40 year ahead o’ you. I suppose you’ll be lucky to laist anither four-five year? Then you’ll aff an’ leave me like abody else. Sarah, first. She couldna wait to get awa’ as seen’s she finished school. Into a flat wi’ frien’s, an’ them mairriet an’ aff sooth afore she was richt oot o’ her teens. Efter a’ I had deen for her.
An’ then Addy. He’s left me. Och, I ken: weemen expect to live langer than their men but nae to be widowed at 51. Mind you, I was pretty much a bookie’s widow or a clubbie widow afore that. He was niver in. Hame fae work, gobble doon his tea - that I had spent a’ day getting’ ready for ‘im. Then awa’ doon to the club.
I used to say, “You’ll dee onything to keep oot o’ my sicht, min.” And he’d gi’e that squint wee smile o’ his, and shout “Ta, ta,” as he went oot the door. Never a word o’ thanks for spendin’ a’ my days organising his life for ‘im.
An’ ae day, afore ower lang, you’ll awa’ tee an’ leave me really on my ain. Fa will I speak to, then? Mysel’? It’s a bad sign, speakin’ to yoursel’, eh? I’ll maybe need to look roon’ for a new man. Efter a’, it’s been nine year since Addy died. That’s been bad enough. I wouldna want anither 40 year without a man.
But far am I gan to find a man, stuck in the hoose a’ day? The only man I ever see is the postie. (Pause. She smiles wickedly.) Mind you, he’s a bonnie loon. I send for a’ the free samples in the Radio Times and the Evenin’ Express jist so he has to ring the bell wi’ them. Mind you, I’m nae too sure aboot the piercin’. He’s got aboot 12 wee stud things in ae ear, a’ the wye roon. You’d think it would be affa sair to sleep on. (She runs a finger round her ear, to illustrate.) I div like his tattoos, though. He’s got a bonnie unicorn on this airm, and a lang, lang snake that gings a’ the wye roon’ an’ roon’ this een. (She runs a hand in a spiral down the length of her other arm from shoulder to wrist.) You see them in the summer, fan he has his short-sleeved shirt on. (She does a wicked little in-breath and opens her eyes wide in mock excitement.) He tells me he’s got even better eens, but he’d need to ken me a lot better afore he could show them to me. (Delighted.) Cheeky wee limmer.
So, is he a possibility, div you think, Toots? Was he saying that he’d like to get to ken me better? (Pause.) Weel, some men like an aul’er woman. I’ve seen you chasin’ some gey mangy aul’ cats fan you were younger. In fact, I’m near sure that was your ain mither you were on tap o’ mair than eence. So dinna you gi’e me ony hassle aboot eyein’ up the postie.
(She picks up the brown envelope.)
Mind you, I’m nae too sure that I’ve got anither 40 years. An’ you certainly hinna, my wee beastie. You’re 14 noo, so you canna expect much mair. You’ll be gan the wye o’ Addy afore ower lang. (She drops the envelope on to the table.)
He was burnt, of course. Nae that I haud wi’ that kind o’ thing, but he had his hert set on it. I dinna ken fit wye. Except that he never liket the weet. I couldna get him to walk doon to the corner shoppie if the grun was even a wee bittie damp. Sae I suppose he imagined getting’ buried in Nellfield would mean he’d be lying for a’ eternity up to his oxters in sappy dubs. And he didna fancy that. You should have seen him gan to the ootside lavvy in oor first hoose. He used to pit on his wellies, an’ soowester.
Besides, he aye enjoyed a good fire. Fan we moved to this hoose, wi’ nae coal fire in’t, he sulket for three months, gan aboot the place shiverin’ as if he was standin’ at the north pole in his Y-fronts, pittin’ on fower cardigans to sit doon an’ watch television. He disappeared for three hours ae nicht, an’ fan I went oot to look for him, thinkin’ he’d had a hert attack ootside the bookie’s, far do you think he wis, Toots? He’d jined a strike. The scaffies had come oot for mair mony, an’ he jined their picket line jist so’s he could warm his backside at their fire. ‘At’s a funny thing that. Fanever you see folk oot on strike, they’ve got an ile drum wi’ a rare wee bonfire bleezin’ awa’ in’t. Far div they lay their han’s on them? Do the unions keep a stock o’ ile drums ready for the purpose? (She puts on one of her gruff male voices.) “Na, na. Ye canna haud a strike next week. The bus drivers have booked the ile drums.”
The feel thing was, he didna even agree wi’ the scaffies’ strike. He thocht they were owerpaid as it was. (Her Addy voice.) “Fit are they needin’ mair money for? They’re hame for their tea by three o’clock in the efterneen an’ awa’ oot to their second jobs.” But he wasna gan to let political principles get in the wye o’ warmin’ up his backside.
The upshot o’ a’ this was that he widna hear o’ getting’ buried. It was to be the crematorium for him an’ nae odds aboot it. Sae I hadna muckle choice. But it was a richt dilemma for me. As I said to the undertaker wifie … An’ that was a real shock, Toots, I can tell you. A wifie undertaker. I’d pictured mysel’ ha’ein’ a wee news wi’ a nice middle-aged mannie in stripey troosers an’ a sympathetic expression. But fit’s here but a lassie, nae half my age. Affa business-like but maybe nae jist as sympathetic as I would have looket for.
Onywye, I says to her, it’s a real dilemma, isn’t it? I dinna want to let folk think I’m mean, an’ I want to gi’e him a richt send-off, in front o’ his chummies fae the club an’ a’thing. But the thocht o’ spendin’ a’ that siller on a decent coffin and then watchin’ it ging up in a bleeze fan it’s nae mair than days aul’. It gings against the grain, if ye ken fit I mean, I says to her. (A posh young woman voice.) “I think you’ll find, Mrs Duncan, that even our cheapest coffin is elegant and dignified enough to impress Mr Duncan’s friends.”
“Nae them,” says I. “If there’s one thing that lot ken, it’s wood. They’ve worked wi’ it a’ their lives, an’ they can spot chipboard wi’ a plastic veneer on’t fae twa mile awa’. It’ll ha’e to be real wood to impress them. But I canna help feelin’ it’s an affa waste a’ the same.”
Sae I settled for pine, in the end. Real wood, but nae ower price-y. I ken his chummies would be lookin’ for mahogany or teak, but I was drawin’ the line at that. I didna see ony o’ them offerin’ to put their han’s in their pooches to pey for’t.
The service itsel’ was jist fit you would expect o’ onything to dee wi’ Addy – a total disaster. I startet to giggle to mysel’ because the minister ca’ed him … (Posh voice)… “Adam” a’ the wye through. I hadna heard onybody ca’ him that since his mother died. An’ even she only used it fan she was annoyed wi’ him. Sae it sounded to me as if the minister was giein’ him a row. But they a’ thocht I was greetin’, nae laughin’, so that was a’ richt. But then fit happens next, but the curtain got stuck. Ye ken, the wee curtain that comes chuggin’ roon’ the coffin at the end o’ the service? Weel, it came away fine, choogy, choogy, choogy, choog. But then it stopped half wye an’ we could a’ still see the coffin. Somebody ahin me said, as lood as you like … (Change of voice) … “He’s changed his mind. He’s nae gan.” That wouldna’ve surprised me; he never kent fit he wanted, peer Addy. (Comfortably.) Nae till I tellt him.
But it wasna him, it was just a technical hitch, like they say. So the minister finished up real quick and got us a’ oot so that they could try an’ fix it afore the next funeral. I hope they didna ha’e to get a man fae Archibald’s in; that would cost them a bonnie penny.
It left me wonderin’ fit does happen efter the wee curtain closes. Does the coffin roll awa’ doon a chute, straight into the furnace? Or div they a’ get piled up until there’s enough to mak’ it worthwhile to licht the gas aneeth ‘em? Or div they jist coup him oot into the fire, an’ save the coffin for the undertaker to use again? In a funny wye, I wouldna mind that. It wouldna seem sic a waste o’ a good coffin.
An’ then, to top a’, while abody was filin’ oot to shak’ han’s wi’ me, did they nae pit on a tape o’ Frank Sinatra singing I Did It My Way. Apparently, so my nice wee undertaker wifie said to me, it’s the maist requested song at cremations nooadays. Me, I didna even ken they took requests. Onywye, I turned back to see if the coffin was deein’ a jig ahin the curtain because if there was one song that Addy hated it was Frank Sinatra gi’ein’ it lalldy wi’ I Did It My Way. It jist used to drive him mental somewye or ither. Fanever it came on the television, he used to say … (Addy voice.) “If I ever meet ‘at mannie Sinatra, I’ll gi’e him “dee it my wye”: I’ll ram the microphone right up his backside.” Sorry, Toots, you didna want to hear that, but he could be real orra sometimes, could Addy. (Pause. A little sadness.) I wonder if he got his chance? Did him an’ Frank end up in the same place, I wonder? It’s a shame that was the last thing he heard on earth afore the fire-y got him. (She cheers up again at a new memory.)
Nae that Addy was finished creatin’ havoc here on earth, even efter he was burnt. A couple o’ weeks efter the funeral I got this phone call fae the undertaker wifie. Affa genteel and oozin’ wi’ sympathy. (Undertaker wifie’s voice.) “Had I recovered sufficiently from my great loss to cope with paying the bill now? And also, Mr Duncan’s ashes were ready for collection if I’d care to drop by.”
Weel, I hadna thocht aboot it. I suppose I jist imagined a’ the ashes mixed up thegether in a great big ashpan underneath the furnace. It never occurred to me that they would manage to keep each een separate. Maybe they div burn them one at a time efter a’? I’d heard aboot folk scatterin’ the ashes ower their man’s favourite golf course an’ things like that but I had jist assumed that that was something you had to ask for, special like. But no. Apparently, they haud on to them for abody. So I says I’d ging roon’ one efterneen and collect them
Ye ken this, Toots, I think I’ve seen ower mony films in my life because I keep picturing things the wrang wye. I was expecting a wee urn kin’ o’ thing. Ye ken, like een o’ thon cups you get for boolin’. Wi’ a lid on’t. I kind o’ fancied it would sit on the mantelpiece beside the brass egg cup my sister Rose brocht back fae Blairgowrie.
But na, it was a plastic boxie, like you micht keep your sandwiches in. It had a wee label on it wi’ Addy’s name on’t, so’s you didna ging awa’ hame wi’ the wrang man in your shoppin’ bag. So I sign’s the receipt and she han’s ower the boxie to me. Weel, I dinna ken if I was a’ thoombs that day, or if she was thinkin’ aboot fit she’d get for her man’s tea, but somewye or ither it slippet oot atween wir han’s and crash bang doon it lands on the grun’. It coups ower, the lid flees aff and oot skells Addy, a’ ower the fleer.
Weel, I didna ken fit to dee – whether to laugh or greet. The wifie had nae doubts aboot fit she wanted to dee – she was a’ for drappin’ deed on the spot an’ getting’ hersel’ an emergency appointment at Hazleheid Crematorium. But we baith ended up deein’ naething. We jist stood frozen, starin’ doon at the scatterin’ o’ ashes. We micht be there yet, nine year later, but there was anither undertaker there. A real een – strippet troosers, mornin’ coat an’ a face like Boris Karloff. Withoot a word he gets a wee brush an’ a dustpan fae ahin the coonter, gets doon on his knees, a’ solemn an’ religious, as if he was gan to say a prayer. An’ maybe he wis, inside himsel’. An’ he sweeps up Addy, alang wi’ a fair collection o’ deed flees an’ a couple o’ tabbies. I wouldna’ve believed it was possible to brush a fleer wi’ sae muckle reverence. It made you feel a’ holy inside. (Pause.) Onywye, that was Addy, back in the box and he’s through there in the bottom o’ the press because I canna think o’ fit else to dee wi’ him.
Mind you, there must be mair dirt aff the fleer than Addy’s ashes in it, but it doesna seem richt jist to pit it oot to the scaffies. Nae efter a’ the nesty things he’s said aboot them.
Nae that he had it in for scaffies in particular. Na, Addy hadna much tae say for onybody really. He was aye grumblin’ aboot somebody that he thocht had let him doon in some wye. Bookies, doctors, bus drivers, teachers. I dinna ken fa’ a’. Noo, I’ve aye been fine pleased wi’ the wye folk have dealt wi’ me. Weel, I hinna muckle experience o’ bookies, but certainly a’ the rest have looked efter me jist fine. Especially teachers. You’ve nae idea fit you’ve missed by nae gan to school, Toots. I loved my school. Broomhill. Oh, it was rare. Ye ken fit I liked best? A really dark, weet day. Like you get in November. We’d walk through the street, a’ dressed up in wellies an’ mackintoshes. Then we’d see the school, lookin’ a’ warm and bricht, wi’ the lights shining oot through the windows. Inside, it would be kind o’ secret and safe, wi’ the windows a’ black, an’ the rain lashin’ against them. You would jist want to bide there forever, an’ nae ging oot into the rain again. (She sighs nostalgically.)
Mental arithmetic. That was my favourite. Especially fan the teacher would fire oot questions as fast as she could an’ we had to pit wir han’s up wi’ the answers. I’d be half oot my seat, snappin’ awa’. (She stretches her arm up eagerly, snapping her fingers, reliving the moment.) Aye first up; an’ she had to ask me, because that was the rule. First een wi’ their han’ up got to answer. But she’d wait, you see, until near abody had their han’s up. An’ she’d be watchin’, to see fa’ was slow. An’ then, fan there was maybe jist Henry Tough an’ Sandy Russell without their han’s up, then she’d let me answer.
Or sometimes she’d ging roon’ the class, askin’ us a’ in turn. That was so as ither folk got a chance to answer as weel as me. But I would still pit my han’ up every time, to show I had got their answers afore they did. Of course, if they got it wrang, she would ask me.
Oh, aye. I enjoyed Mental Arithmetic. (She uses a teacher’s voice for the questions and her own for the answers. She does it at great speed.) Nine sevens? 63. Six eights? 48. Five sixes? 30. Nine fours? 36. Eight eights? 64. (Slower.) An’ spellin’. I liked that ana’, especially the lang words. (Chanting) Mississippi. m-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. Constantinople. c-o-n-s-t-a-n-t-i-n-o-p-l-e. Anti-disestablishmentarianism. (Aside.) I never kent fit that meant. I often wondered, but I never found oot. But, boy, I could spell it. (Chanting) a-n-t-i-d-i-s-e-s-t-a-b-l-i-s-h-m-e-n-t-a-r-i-a-n-i-s-m. We a’ kent that that was the langest word in the English language. So I felt that if I could spell that, I could spell onything.
Every Friday we got places. A’ the marks we’d scored for readin’, an’ writin’, an’ spellin’ an’ Mental Arithmetic during the week were added up, an’ we got new places to sit at, in the class. The best eens sat in the back row, then the nae so good, a’ the wye doon to Henry Tough an’ Sandy Russell at the bottom. They were aye at the bottom, richt at the front, under Miss McCorkindale’s nose. Which was a peety for her, because they baith o’ them smelt tae high heaven. Especially Henry. He used to kich his breeks every Thursday. Regular as clockwork, Henry was. I used to wonder if he only did it once a week or if he managed to get hame in time a’ the ither days.
(Smugly) I was aye in the back row. Usually at the richt han’ end. The “top spot”. We got a badge to wear a’ week, if we were the top boy or girl. Oh, she kent fit she was deein’, did Corkie. It made us keen to dee wir work, the hope o’ getting that badge at the end o’ the week. Weel, the twa-three o’s that stood a chance o’ it, like. Maist o’ them didna tak’ much interest. But at least they sat quiet. There was nae nonsense wi’ Corkie. She kept the rouch loons in line, a’ richt.
It was aye quines that were in the back row. Loons hinna got the application, as Miss McCorkindale used to say. (Using Miss McCorkindale’s voice) “Apply yourselves, boys and girls, and anything is possible. Even one of you could become a Hollywood film star or fly to the moon, if you just apply yourself well enough.”
Weel, surely neen o’s did apply wirsel’s affa hard, because I hinna noticed onybody fae oor class playing golf on the moon, or even appearin’ on Grampian, never min’ Hollywood. Nae that I would thank you for a job in Hollywood. It’s full o’ Americans. An’ I jist canna thole Americans.
But my chummie – Jean Chalmers – she richt fancied hersel’ as a film star. She was een o’ the quines that was usually in the tap three in the class; sometimes she beat me an’ sometimes I beat her for the Top Girl badge, but we were aye quite jocose aboot it. As lang as it wisna Ella Findlater that got it. We couldna stick her.
Aye, Jean was a’ for growin’ up to be a film star, wi’ a fur coat an’ a Rolls Royce. I think it was the fur coat she was efter, really. She aye felt the caul’, Jeanie. She was affa thin, you see, an’ I think the caul’ weather could get through to her bones easier than wi’ ither folk. Onywye, it was aye her dream to get to Hollywood because she kent it was aye warm an’ sunny there. An’ bein’ a film star she’d get to wear a fur coat a’ the time. It never occurred to her that she’d ha’e to learn to act an’ a’ that kin’ o’ thing. She was jist gan to be discovered by Sam Goldwyn, an’ whisked aff to America wi’ a contract and a mink. Though I never figured oot fit wye Sam Goldwyn would be walkin’ doon Holburn Street an’ bumpin’ into Jean.
She didna ging to Hollywood. She went to Ruthrieston School, like maist ither folk. Nae me, though. (Smugly.) I went to the Central for three years. That’s fit wye I ended up servin’ in Reid and Pearson’s. You see? (She taps her forehead.) Mental Arithmetic. I was coontin’ oot the customer’s change afore the till had even added up the bill. So I didna see muckle o’ Jean efter that. But I did bump into her ae day, och, lang efter we’d baith got mairriet an’ had family an’ a’thing. We stood for a filie, ootside Woolies, newsin’ awa’. Fa we’d mairriet, an’ foo mony kids we’d had. But seen there was naething much mair to say. So I min’s her aboot wintin’ to be a film star wi’ a fur coat. (Using Jean’s voice.) “Weel,” she says, “I could near have made mysel’ a fur coat, richt enough. For a filie, I worket at the poulterer’s in the New Market. My job was skinnin’ rabbits. On a busy Friday, I’d be up to my oxters in fur!”
I was surprised to hear she’d ended up in the New Market, her o’ a’ folk. It’s a caul’ hole, thon place. (She shivers a little.) It’s getting’ a bittie nippy in here, noo. I shouldna’ve let the fire ging oot at its usual time, fan I was plannin’ to sit up late. An’, michty, look at the time. It’s gone twelve an’ you never tellt me, Toots. (She opens the bottle of Crabbie’s.) I should have had this deen afore noo. (She pours a glass.) ‘At’s it, noo. Nae ower muckle, eh? I dinna want to ging to my bed bleezin’, just because it’s my birthday. An’ a wee drappie for you. (She crosses to Toots and pours some wine into his milk.) Ye can toast me in the mornin’ fan you waken up. (She lifts her glass very formally.)
Here’s to me. Happy 60th birthday. (She takes a tiny sip.) Ooh, that’s strong, that. (She has another, longer sip.) It warms you up, though. I canna say, Toots, that I feel ony different, noo that I’m an auld age pensioner. It maybe tak’s time to click in. (Pause.) I’d better nae put it aff ony langer. (She picks up both envelopes.) Which een first? The thing is, I ken fa they’re fae, but I dinna ken fit this een says. (She drops the brown one.) And fit’s mair – I dinna want to ken. (A sip.)
On the ither hand, I ken exactly fit this een says. (She holds the white envelope, obviously containing a card, but makes no attempt to open it. She adopts a voice for Sarah – rather English.) “Happy birthday, Mother. Must make more effort to see each other this year.” That’ll be the same effort she’s made every year for the last twenty. Na, I maun be fair, Toots. It’s only nineteen year. Ever since she got mairriet. And she did come up for the funeral. So it’s only nine year since she last made the effort. Maybe she’s waiting for me to ging doon to England? Can you see me, wi’ you tucked under one airm, an’ a suitcase under the ither, struggling on to a train at the Jint Station and findin’ my wye to them? Hoo mony changes are there atween Aiberdeen an’ Worcester, d’you suppose?
Besides, they’ve never sent me an invitation to visit them. I’m nae gan far I’m nae wanted. Onywye, Toots, I dinna ken if I could bide in the same hoose as an Englishman. They’re near as bad’s Americans. (She opens the envelope and removes a card. She glances, with a sour face, at the picture on the front and then reads from the inside.)
“Happy birthday, Mother.” (Pause. Bitterly.) “From the four of us.” That’s new. The bairns used to send their ain. They’re economising, surely. That’ll be his idea and she’ll jist ha’e gan alang wi’ it. Jist like her Da. (Reads again.) “We really must make an effort to meet up soon.” (She sets the card up on the table.) Aye. (Pause.) Mind you. It’s a card. Better een than neen. I’m jist an aul’ misery. Plenty o’ folk have naebody to send them even one card. And I’ve got twa. (She picks up the brown envelope. Lays it down. Pours another Crabbie’s.) I’ll pey for this in the mornin’. I’ll ha’e a hangover. (Pause.) Fancy waitin’ till I’m an aul’ age pensioner to ha’e my first hangover. (She drinks. Slowly and deliberately she lays down the glass and picks up the brown envelope. She opens it and draws out a letter. She reads it slowly.)
Fit’ll we dee wi’ you, then Toots? Will we ask Mrs Swanson to look efter you? I dinna like bein’ beholden to folk, but I canna think fit else to dee. I can hardly ask Sarah to pop up fae Worcester to empty oot your litter tray. She wouldna thank me for that. And nor would Toby. He winna pay her rail fare to visit me at Christmas, so he certainly wouldna think it was worth it jist to empty oot your doin’s. (She looks at the letter again.) “Exploratory.” In ither words, they’ve nae idea fit’s wrang but if they poke aboot inside me they’ll maybe stumble across something. (Pause. A long sigh.) That’s a fine start to my aul’ age. Hospital. I wish noo I’d opened it as seen’s it came, instead o’ spilin’ my birthday wi’ it. (She sits, suddenly. Very near tears.) The 17th. A week on Thursday. Better gi’e mysel’ a birthday present o’ a new nightie. I could maybe even get een fae Marks, since it’s a special occasion. Believe me, Toots, you dinna get a mannie lifting your nightie an’ explorin’ you every day. Nae at my age. (She pulls out a scrap of hankie and blows her nose, briefly.) Ach, I’m jist feelin’ sorry for mysel’. That’s the drink, you see. Mak’s you maudlin. Jist pull yoursel’ thegither, quine. (She stands.)
I’ll jist wash oot my gless and my cuppie, an’ get to my bed. That’s the best place for an aul’ body like me.
(She pulls herself together, gathers up her glass and bottle and makes for the exit. Just before she disappears, she speaks.)
Good night, Toots.
(She goes and the lights fade for the Interval.)
End of Act One
(Nothing seems to have changed, but it is six months later. The birthday card and letter have gone, together with their envelopes. Evie’s coat lies ready over the back of the armchair. Evie enters, in outdoor clothes and carrying the same bottle of Crabbie’s and the same glass. She is brisk and business-like.)
EVIE Look at this, Toots. The last thing left in the press – my bottle o’ Crabbie’s. Never been touched since that wee tootie we had on my birthday. It surely canna be to Mrs Swanson’s taste, because she’s ta’en a’thing else. I tellt her to clear oot the lot but she’s turned up her nose at my peer ginger wine. (She takes off the top.) She’s mair o’ a sweet sherry wifie, I think. (She sniffs the wine.) Smells a’ richt. It wouldna ging aff in six months, would it? (Pause.) Six months! Fa would have thocht so much could change in six months? If you had said to me that nicht, “Happy birthday, Evie. And in six month’s time your whole life will be turned upside down”, I wouldna’ve believed you. “You’re havering, wee man,” I would have said, and blamed it a’ on the Crabbie’s in your milk. And you dinna ken just hoo changed your life is aboot to be. (Pause.) Ah, weel. Nae pint in wastin’ it. (She pours herself a glass and then tips the rest of the wine into Tutankhamen’s bowl as she speaks.)
‘At’s us aboot ready. The fridge is empty and switched aff. There’s naething to eat or drink left in the place. My baggie’s at the door for the taxi man. The rubbish is in the wheelie bin. So … (She sits at the easy chair.) I’ll tak’ my time to finish this, wash oot the gless, an’ pit it awa’ in the cupboard. (Pause.) And then I’ll tak’ you up to Mrs Swanson. I’ll pit the wine bottle in the bin as I ging oot to the taxi. And that’ll be me. (Pause. She is cheerful about all this, as if she were about to go on holiday.) You’ll enjoy yoursel’ fine. You’ll be spoiled rotten again like enough. I think you were sorry to come hame efter that week I had in hospital. My “ex-plor-a-tory” visit. Fit an experience that was. Believe you me, you had the best o’ it. You were waited on hand an’ foot by Mrs Swanson, but I was being squeezed and poked by every Tom, Dick and Harry in the ARI. I think abody fae the consultant to the cleaner had a teedle at me. (She laughs as a memory delights her.) Nae to mention the Chaplain! Oh, me.
I could see him, workin’ his wye along the beds, layin’ doon the law to every patient. An’ I thocht to mysel’, “There’s nae a lot o’ laughs wi’ this mannie, onywye. The weemen a’ looket gye solemn fan he was speakin’ to them, an’ kin’ o’ anxious fan he left. I wondered jist fit he was sayin’ to them, to ha’e sic an effect. Then he reached the wifie next to me, and I could hear fit he was sayin’. I could understand then. He was een o’ yon real miserable ministers, nae tryin’ to cheer you up wi’ a wee joke, or lyin’ to you aboot foo weel you were lookin’ an’ hoo seen you’d be gan hame. That’s fit hospital chaplains are for, I aye thocht. To mak’ you feel better when the doctors canna. They should be chosen because they’re good liars and ken a lot o’ good jokes. But nae this een. (Assuming an unctuous Minister’s voice.) “Prepare yourself, my dear, for whatever the Lord may have in store for you. And if your time in this vale of tears is to be short, profit from that fact by reflecting on the life to come.”
By the time he’d finished wi’ the lassie in the next bed, I was ready for the undertaker mysel’ – an’ I was only in for a wee “ex-plor-a-tory” do. And then he was leanin’ ower me, an’ I can see the name badge on him. “Jings, minister,” I says, “I used to ken a loon wi’ the same name as you.” (She adopts the voice again throughout the sequence.)
“But it is indeed me, Evie. Henry Tough.”
It was jist as weel I wisna in for a weak hert, or I would ha’e drapped deed richt then and there. “Fit on earth are you deein’ here?” I says. Thinkin’ to myself, “Henry Tough a minister? Hoo did that happen, ava’? Henry had mair feet than brain cells.”
“I recognised you at once, Evie, and wondered if you would remember me. Did you ever glance down from your exalted spot at the head of the class and notice poor little me, often near the foot?”
‘Often’? Ayewis, mair like. An’ ‘Near the fit’? Fa was he kiddin’? An’ I never had to “glance doon” to ken he was there. I could smell him.
“I turned out to be a late developer,” he says. “Went to college in my twenties; got the call in my thirties; and here I am. Bringing succour to the suffering.”
Mair like bringing suffering to us suckers, as far as I could see. On he went, tellin’ me a lot of sanctimonious dribble-drabble in this smug new voice o’ his. Nae traces o’ Ruthrieston aboot it noo. Eventually he says, “And you can draw comfort from knowing that Addy is waiting for you in heaven.” I nearly said, “If Addy’s there, I’m nae gan.” But I held it back. I could see it would seem a bit disrespectful. It’s nae that I didna like Addy, as you ken. It’s jist that I’ve come to enjoy nae ha’ein’ to look efter him a’ the time. An’ I’ve nae intention o’ rinnin’ efter ‘im ever again, in heaven or hell or anywye else.
But I said naething. An’ Henry drones on for anither half-hoor. I was getting’ fower times as lang as onybody else, fit wi’ bein’ an aul’ freen’, I suppose. Lucky me. It was makin’ my blood bile, the wye he was gan on, a’ pious an’ uppity, an’ treatin’ me as if I was the ignorant een, noo, an’ him the lord high an’ mighty. In the end, I made on I’d fan asleep an’ he gave up. He stopped speakin’ an’ crept awa’ doon the ward. Jist as he got to the door, I cried oot, so’s abody could hear, “Div you still kich your breeks every Thursday efterneen?” (Pause.) I hinna seen him since.
Of course, you ken a’ aboot hospitals, Toots. Mind fan you had your operation a couple o’ years ago? That was a rare place. I was real worried aboot takin’ you because I’d been in cat shelters an’ places like ‘at an’ gey disgustin’ they were – dark an’ dirty an’ smelly. But the pets’ hospital was a different kettle o’ fish a’ thegether. A richt comfy body at Reception made a real fuss o’ you, askin’ your name first an’ then mine. She kept tellin’ you you’d be a’ richt an’ you’d naething to worry aboot. Of course, that was a’ meant to reassure me, nae you, because she could see I was the mair nervous o’ the twa.
You had a clean, cheery cage to yersel’ an’ the surgeon explained a’thing till’s really weel. He even showed you your x-rays, didn’t he? An’ a’ thon lovely machines, the very latest state of the art surgical equipment. Then, efter the operation, naething was too much trouble for them. You’d lovely meat at every meal. I could have eaten it masel’ nae bother. An’ sic a fuss they made o’ you! You must ha’ got mair claps an’ cuddles that week than you ever got fae me in your life. Aye, a rare place-y it was. Nae peer aul’ cats left lyin’ for ‘oors on a trolley in a corridor, there.
Nae such luck for me, fan I went in for my ex-plor-a-tion. Yon place jist wasna clean! A woman used to come in, in the mornin’, wi’ a muckle great mop thing. She pushed a’ the dirt up to one end o’ the ward. Then next morning, she pushed it a’ back again.
I said to een o’ the nurses, get me a feathery duster an’ a bottly o’ bleach an’ I’ll seen set this place to rights. But she jist lauched. The beds were that close thegither you didna ken if you were clawin’ your ain itchy bits or the wifie in the next bed’s. (Posh voice.) No such problem for you, in a private ward of your own. (Own voice.) This nurse was that fat she couldna get in atween the beds ava’. She used to mak’ us crawl doon to the fit o’ wir beds to get oor pulse ta’en. Nae wonder it was aye fast, efter a’ the effort o’ getting’ oot fae under the blankets and haulin’ oor wye doon to her.
Ye ken, I aye thocht I’d like to be a nurse. Weel, nae jist a nurse, but a Matron. That was aye my ambition. Except I dinna think they have sic a thing these days. Mair’s the peety. That’s exactly fit they need – a wifie that kens hoo things should be deen and is nae feart to mak’ a fuss until they’re deen richt. I would have been good at that. I can jist see me gan roon the wards, pointin’ oot the sheets that werena straight enough, and the windows that werena richt cleaned and the corners o’ the wards far the cleaners hadna teen enough trouble reddin’ them oot.
And the food ye get in hospitals nooadays! Some quine in an orange overall an’ a face like Anne Robinson, slaps doon this plate o’ something white an’ wobbly. “Is that my soup gan solid or my macaroni gan sloppy?” I asks her. (Sour voice.) “Search me. I only serve the stuff. I dinna mak’ it,” she says, a’ sniffy-like. “I bet you dinna eat it either,” I says. An’ she gings, “That’s been specially chosen for you by the dietician.” “Weel, I ken fit my cat would say if the dietician chose this for him,” I say. But she walks awa’ in a huff.
A doctor asked me ae day foo I was getting’ on. So I tellt him. Weel, they shouldna ask, if they dinna want an answer. “Next time, I’m gan in to the animal hospital for my operation,” I said. “ They treat their patients like human beings.” He lauched. I’ll say that for him – he was een o’ the cheerier lot. An’ then he says, “Well, you might see me there. I’m thinking of moving to animal surgery. Over there, they treat their staff like human beings.”
Fae fit I hear, you dinna ging to hospital these days to get better; you ging to catch something. Nae wonder the waiting lists are so lang. The folk at the heid o’ the queue are feart to ging in. Politicians have made a richt sotter o’ things, Toots. Fit wye should you get better treatment than me in a hospital? I ken it cost me a wee fortune for your operation. But fan you think o’t, we’ve a’ been peyin’ a great big fortune in taxes for wir ain ex-plor-a-tions an’ operations. You’ll jist need to hope that the government doesna tak’ ower the runnin’ o’ pets’ hospitals ana’ or you’ll be done for.
Fae a’ I hear, they’ve done the same wi’schools as they have wi’ hospitals. I dinna think there was sic a thing as an Education Minister fan I was at the school, or if there was we never heard a peep oot o’ him. An’ we got on jist fine. The teachers got on wi’ teachin’ us to read an’ write an’ coont. An’ the jannie got on wi’ skelpin’ Henry Tough roon the lug fan he gi’ed onybody ony cheek. I suppose we have the jannie to thank for Henry bein’ a minister. Miss McCorkindale certainly never bothered her heid wi’ him efter she discovered fit he was like. So the jannie’s skelps maybe kept ‘im fae gan to the dogs a’ thegither.
(She empties her glass and takes it off. We hear her still talking while she is off stage.)
I’ll jist rinse this oot. I’ll need to wash oot your bowl as weel, afore I tak’ you up the stair. So drink up now, if you’re wantin’ it. (She returns and stands by the table.) I’ll pit this bottle oot on the mat an’ then I’ll min’ to tak’ it oot to the bin fan I come doon fae Mrs Swanson’s. (She crosses to the bowl.) You’re nae sikkin’ ony? I could’ve suppet that wee drappie mysel’, ye ken. Instead o’ sharin’ it wi’ you. (She takes the bowl off for washing, but again she keeps talking, raising her voice slightly, so that Toots can still hear her.)
You lucky craiturs in the pets’ hospital didna ha’e to put up wi’ somebody like Henry Tough, either, did you? Nae chaplains for cats. Is that because folk think they dinna ging to heaven? Or because cats a’ ging to heaven, good or bad, because God prefers animals to human beings? (She’s back in, drying the bowl.) He certainly gi’es you an easier life than he gi’es us, on earth. (Pause.) I wonder fit God thinks o’ somebody like Henry Tough speakin’ for ‘im? The man would pit you aff religion a’ thegither, even though he doesna smell ony mair. I’ve aye preferred to speak direct to God mysel’, without ony help fae ministers. I think God has a better chance o’ understandin’ me that wye.
I’ve aye tellt Him straight oot fit I expect fae ‘im, an’ I’ve never hidden my feelin’s fan He gets something wrang. Like noo. This is nae fit I had in mind ava’ an’ I jist dinna see fit His plan is. But I’ve tellt Him that, an’ He’s had plenty o’ time to change His mind but He’s paid nae attention. So He’s obviously determined to ging ahead wi’ it. But I can be thrawn, ana’, so I hinna finished wi’ ‘im yet. I’ve a lot mair to say on the subject, but it’ll maybe ha’e to wait noo till I get a chance to tell ‘im face to face. Jist as lang’s I’m nae keepit ower busy chasin’ efter Addy. I think, you see, that God an’ me’ll get on like a hoose on fire. We’re the same kin’ o’ folk – straight-forward, doon-to-earth and we like to get oor ain wye.
I can see us ha’ein’ a spat or twa afore we sort oot fa does fit; but efter a’, we have the rest o’ eternity to reach a working compromise, so things’ll be a’ richt in the hinner end, I expect. But will I be seein’ you there, een o’ these days, Toots? That’s the big question, eh?
I wonder if they would have operated on me if I’d been a cat? Doctors are so scared o’ folk dyin’ on the operating table an’ suin’ them, that they jist say you’re inoperable an’ send you hame till it’s time for Roxburghe Hoose. (Pause.) Weel, we’ve had six month to get used to the idea, you an’ me. An’ noo it’s jist the last few weeks to pit up wi’. That’ll be the hard bittie, though, especially withoot you. We’ve been thegither 14 year. (Long pause.) You’d think they’d let you keep your cattie wi’ you, till the end. (Silence. She bites her lip, determined not to cry. Pulls herself together.) Ach, if abody got to tak’ their pets wi’ them, fit would happen fan the patients died? The place would be over-run wi’ animals wi’ nae owners, an’ that would never dee.
Na, na. You’ll be better aff up the stair. Better than you think. You’ll be spoiled rotten. You winna even notice I’m nae there. As lang’s there’s somebody to open your tinnie, you’ll be as happy as Larry. Fa’ever he was. (Pause.) Sae you’ve outlived me, efter a’. But you’ll need to mak’ sure that you dinna outlive Mrs Swanson because there’s naebody left to tak’ you on efter she’s awa’. Unless Sarah tak’s a fancy to you. (Wrily.) Aye, Toby micht see some advantages in that. We never thocht o’ that, Toots, did we? It doesna bear thinkin’ aboot. Bein’ looket efter by Toby; I woudna wish that on Henry Tough, never mind you. Sae you’ll jist need to mak’ sure’n die aff afore Mrs Swanson. I never like to speak ill o’ onybody, but if there’s a meaner man alive than Toby Wilkins, I wouldna like to meet ‘im.
Fan I got the result o’ my wee ex-plor-a-tion, I thocht I’d better let Sarah ken. Sae I asket Mrs Swanson if I could use her phone. It didna seem richt, to pit something like that in a letter. Too abrupt. Fooever gently you introduced the subject, you could never be sure that her e’e wouldna jump forard to the crucial words too seen. So, I phoned her and broke it till her. (She puts on an exaggeratedly English voice for Sarah.) “Oh, Ma,” she says. “Just six months? Will I come up?” An’ then I hears him in the background, spierin’ at her fit it was a’ aboot an’ fit wye she micht want to spend a’ that money on a rail fare. Then back she comes, “Do you really want me up there, Ma?” As if I’d asked her till, in the first place. I could see fit was gan on, a’ richt. Toby was makin’ sure she didna waste his good siller. So I says, “Na, na. I’ve got by without sicht or soon’ o’ you for nine years, I think I’ll manage for anither six months.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” she says. And then a wee prickle o’ conscience: “Of course,” she says, “we’ll come up for the … you know, when it’s all over.”
“You’ll ha’e till,” says I. “You’ve to mak’ sure I’m buried in my ain lair in Nellfield Cemetery. If there’s ony sign that they’re thinkin’ o’ burnin’ me, you’ll ha’e to stan’ ready to throw yoursel’ atween me an’ the furnace doors.”
But she never lached. That’s fae Addy again, you see. Nae sense o’ humour.
“An’ if you want to use it, ever,” I said, “there’ll still be one space in the grave. It was meant for your faither but I forgot foo squeamish he was aboot getting’ buried. If you feel the same wye yoursel’, you could maybe pop Toby intill’t fan his time comes.” I was jist bein’ coorse, to get my ain back, but she took it a’ seriously. “I don’t think he’d like to be buried in Scotland,” she says. “Ah,” says I, “but we learnt a poem at Broomhill that went, there’d be some corner o’ a foreign field, that’d be forever England. Would he nae like to think he’d colonised a bittie o’ Nellfield?”
So that was the end o’ that conversation. The only time I ever spoke to my dochter on the phone. Weel, weel. (Pause. She looks round the room.) Jist a few minutes till the taxi. I’ll pit this outside the door. (She takes the bottle off. We may hear the front door of the flat open and close. She’s back in a few seconds, but she is finding it hard to control her feelings now. Still no tears, but a heavy weight lies on her shoulders.) I think that’s a’thing. (In silence she picks up the basket and lays it on the table.)
Near thirty year I’ve bade in this hoose. Never expected then we’d own it one day, but there you go. Life’s a funny thing. (She puts on her coat and then straightens the cushion or antimacassar. She crosses to the table where she adjusts the chairs at the table.) That’s us as ready as we can be. Ower to Sarah noo. She’s coming up next week. Eence they heard aboot me moving into Roxburghe Hoose, Toby’s mind started workin’, and suddenly it was necessary for Sarah to visit her peer aul’ mither. And she’s got a’ her orders fae ‘im, a’ written oot, she tells me, so that she winna forget. She’s nae to bring in een o’ thon Hoose Clearance firms. Na, na. She’s to advertise a’thing, bit by bit, in the free advertisements, of course. That wye, Toby says, “she’ll maximise the income”.
So, I finally had to gee mysel’ up and dee something aboot Addy, oot in the bottom o’ the press. Nine year he’s lain there, makin’ a nuisance o’ himsel’, getting’ in the road every time I tak’ oot the hoover. But I could hardly leave ‘im for Sarah to sell aff wi’ the rest o’ the furniture an’ fittin’s, could I? So I did the decent thing, an’ put him far he was happiest. He never spent muckle time in the hoose, but fan he was here, far did he spend maist time? On the lavvy. (Pause.) So I’ve coupet his ashes doon the toilet and flushed them awa’. Ta, ta, Addy.
Sarah’ll be on the spot, tee, to mak’ sure we get the best price for the hoose itsel’. She’ll show folk roon’ it an’ nae doubt tell them a’ aboot her peer mither, dwindlin’ awa’ oot at the hospice. Wi’ ony luck, if she does a’thing Toby’s tellt her, she’ll ha’e the place sellt an’ the money in the bank afore I turn up my taes. Efter that, a’ she’ll ha’e to dee is get me happet up comfortable in Nellfield an’ then she can pop roon’ to the solicitors to settle the estate. You see, Toby’s been on the Internet, checkin’ up on hoose prices in Aiberdeen, an’ he got quite a shock. It seems my wee ex-cooncil flat is worth near as muckle as their fancy three-bedroom semi-detached in Worcester. An’ very welcome it’ll be, he thinks to himsel’.
Folk ca’ us grippy. They dinna ken my son-in-law. I’m nae sure if they’re a’ the same in Worcester, or if he’s something special. I’m inclined to think that folk that canna pronounce the name o’ their ain toon richt, hinna got muckle gan for them. Fitever’s wrang wi’ Wor-chest-er, onywye? Ye ken this, Toots? Fan he found oot Sarah was expectin’ twins, he was hoppin’ mad. She tellt me hersel’ in a letter. She had thocht he might be a bittie worried aboot it, copin’ wi’ twa bairnies at the same time. Weel, you would, wouldn’t you, specially your first time? But nae him. He was jist plain furious wi’ her, as if she’d chosen to ha’e twa deliberately. An’ she hidna. Onywye, twins is nae on her side o’ the family. We’ve never been bothered wi’ sic a thing.
Fit was worryin’ him was the expense o’ it. Twa o’ a’thing, ye see. Oh, he’d been plannin’ to ha’e twa bairns richt enough – but properly. Echteen months apart, or so. Then the second een inherits a’ its cla’es an’ toys an’ a’thing fae the first een. So you save a’ that expense. But noo Sarah had spiled it a’ by makin’ him pay for twa o’ a’thing. An’ fit was worse, they widna get the good o’ them, because there’d nae be anither bairn to pass them on till. He sulked aboot it for weeks apparently. Then he took it oot on the peer bairns. He went an’ registered their names as Morgan an’ Jude.
Sarah wrote to me an’ said, “We’ve chosen names. Morgan and Jude. Do you like them?” I wrote straight back: “I div like the names you’ve picked for your dogs. But fit are you gan to ca’ the bairns?” That was the end o’ wir letter-writin’. So I never learned much aboot their growin’ up. Even noo that they’re sixteen, I can never min’ which een’s the quine and which is the loon. Morgan or Jude. They did send me Christmas cards and birthday cards and sometimes they put in a wee note saying “I’ve been picket for the school fitba’ team. Love, Morgan” or “I’ve broken an airm at my ballet class. Love, Jude” but nooadays you canna even be sure that that tells you which eens the loon. An’ I’ve never met them, to find oot for mysel’. You canna expect your son-in-law to fork oot for fower fares a’ the wye fae Worcester to Aiberdeen.
An’ I dinna suppose for one minute that they’ll come up to see me buried. It’ll jist be Sarah on her ain. An’ maybe nae even her if I tak’ too lang aboot it. Eence the hoose is sellt, she winna want to hing aboot Aiberdeen ower lang an’ she’d ha’e naewye to bide efter the new folk move in. So she micht jist ging hame to Worcester and wait. She could aye arrange the details o’ the funeral aforehand and then jist trigger it aff wi’ a phone call to the undertaker.
That micht be best. I can picture the twa o’ them sittin’ there, waitin’ to hear fae my solicitor. Toby’ll be laying doon the law aboot fit the inheritance is to be spent on. She winna get a word in edgewise. You micht think that Sarah should ha’e the main say on fit to dee wi’ money comin’ fae her mither. But she’s never had enough to say for hersel’. Ever since she was a bairn she’s depended on ither folk to mak’ up her mind for her. First it was me; an’ noo it’s Toby. So he’ll be decidin’ fit he’ll spend my money on. She’s aye said he wanted to paint the hoose because it’s a kin’ o’ fyachy yellow, but they couldna afford it. Sae he’ll be plannin’ that, likely. I dinna ken fit colour will appeal to Toby. (Sarcastically.) Sky-blue pink wi’ tartan maginty dots.
(She is leaning over the basket.)
Ah, but I hinna been idle this last six months, have I, Toots?. I’ve been to see the solicitor mysel’. (Proudly.) An’ I’ve made a will. So, fan they div hear fae the solicitor, he’ll ha’e to brak’ the bad news that there’s nae inheritance for them efter’n a’. (Very slowly, savouring every word.) Because her feel aul’ mither here has left the whale jing-bang to smelly aul’ Toots. (Smiling widely, she pats Toots, picks up the basket and walks firmly off-stage.)
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Evie. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 3 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1347.
"Evie." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 3 December 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1347.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Evie," accessed 3 December 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1347.
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