Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
a Scots Novella bi Sheena Blackhall
In a lonely place, among leafless branches,
There are images seated in a circle.
There are placid faces and unseeing eyes.
In everlasting silence.
There are words spoken with voices from somewhere else,
Very soft, very distant.
The words are spoken, uttered in vibration,
Around that lonely places
And the desolation listens.
Poems (1935-37) by George Keyt (Sri Lanka’s first modern poet)
Dr Gordon Booth very kindly accepted the task of editing the novella, and I would like to express my gratitude for this. I am indebted also to Les Wheeler of Lochlands for publishing this book and for his ongoing encouragement and support. Thanks likewise must be extended to Thistle Reprographics for printing the material so quickly and professionally.
The short story 'The Yalla Idol' was published in the Xmas edition of the Leopard Magazine, 2006. The lyrics to 'Haughton House' were passed on to me by Stanley Robertson. Another version of the 'Pranny' tale-within-a-tale is told by the storyteller Cathy Low, who learned it in Sri Lanka. Many of the quotes throughout the book I gleaned whilst visiting the island.
The novella 'The Quarry' is dedicated to the late Sir Cyril Lucas CMG, DSc, FRS (1909-2002). From 1948-1970, he was Director of Fisheries Research for Scotland, based at the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen. Later, he also served on the Natural Environment Research Council.
For over 40 years, he was my parents' next door neighbour. After the bells rang in each Hogmanay, he would 'first foot' us. As a sleepy child struggling to stay awake to greet the New Year, I remember a conversation he once had with my father on the subject of the Future.... Dr Lucas argued convincingly that cities would eventually be built under the sea to conserve land.
'Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; and maketh the clouds of his chariot. And walketh upon the wings of the wind. He maketh his angels spirits; and his ministers a flaming fire.'
104.3 Prayer Book 1662
The Quarry: pages 1-42
Part 1 spring 2010
Part 2 summer 2023
Part 3 autumn 2046
Part 4 winter 3000
Dr Shiran Bandara: b.1975
Mrs Lakshmi Bandara: b.1980
Navachitta Bandara (Nava): b.2000
Jed Anderson (Bappy): b.1994
Myra Anderson (Jed’s mother): b.197
Big Tam Laggeran (a drug dealer: Myra’s boy friend)
Neil Duguid (adopted son of Myra Anderson): b.1990
Kieran Anderson (cousin of Jed): b.2000
Jude (a Robertson by birth) and Cammy Anderson (parents of Kieran: b.1960s)
Jenny Sangster: b.2000
Brian Sangster: (Jenny’s twin brother)
Joe Sangster (father of Brian): b.1970
A granite quarry in the town of Meikleburgh
West: Balbutt Estate (the Hen-Hoose)
South-west: a bridle path, St Fittach’s kirk-yard and Fittach Woods
North: Quarrytowers: executive housing and the countryside beyond
South: Fittach Woods and the town centre beyond
East: the sea beach, accessed by a cleft known as The Gap
The Yalla Idol: a short story: pages 43-48
based on a ghostly manifestation reported to the Irish psychic Elliot O’Donnell during a visit to Aberdeen many years previously. The incidents noted in the Aberdeen section of the tale (with one or two additions) are retained in a report in the Aberdeen Journals, lodged in the city’s reference library. The events leading up to Miss Vining’s arrival in the town are pure conjecture on the part of the author
A moment when suddenly,
looking back for the way to the future,
you quiver on the edge of yourself.
All paths panic beneath you,
the motherlode of meaning splits,
gusts east in grits;
the sun throws unmanageable glances
blinding off the choppy water
and spray plumes off, twisting, into empty blue.
Thomas Jones FWBO New Poetry (1947)
The muckle gapin mou o the quarry wis vrocht like a quaich wi a wee thin split doon ae side. It hid bin a quarry since the echteenth century, its steen howked oot an shipped aff tae biggins in Lunnon, tae docks at Sebastopol, tae a Japanee temple –sax million tons o granite ower the centuries, straikit wi tourmaline an beryl. Maist o the stinch grey toun o Meikleburgh hid bin taen frae yon quarry’s intimmers – granite that glistered like siller shot throwe wi fireflauchts o quartz; granite that cud withstaun aathin frae the snell skelp o a doonpish in the year’s back-eyn tae the jeelin seelence o the verra sowel o winter, wi its fite, hairtless wauchts o snaa. Yon slabs an blocks noo reenged the braidth an heicht o the toun, frae its kirks tae its cassies, the verra warp an weft o its marra an smeddum.
Eenoo ‘twis spring an wee skiffins o green lichtit the quarry waas wi buddin saplins an sprootin girse – for the quarry hid lain quaet fur thirty year. Natur wis creepie-crawlin ower the steens, ettlin tae win back her ain. On jaggie cliff-heids, rived like warrior’s scoors alang the quarry’s face, sea-myaavs skirled an skreiched fur maistry o the air. Here an yonner the antrin birk or rodden warssled tae growe, like Bonsais in a michty bowlie –– five hunner fit frae tap tae boddam. ’Twas the deepest man-vrocht hole in the hale o Europe; an at its foun wis a lochan, pit-mirk an weirdie.
Frae the heidmaist tap o the quarry the lochan seemed nae mair nor a pingle-pan, haudin on its glaury bed aa the orra smush an smacherie o humankin, frae Barbie-dalls tae radios an frae computer leads tae fridges –– the scummy, drooned midden o a generation that kent the price o aathin an the warth o nocht. Fowk wad gie muckle siller tae traivel tae whit they cried pop concerts, watchin their eedols strut an birl on the stage, blarin on aboot global puirtith. Syne hame they’d gyang claimin they’d saved the warld, still weirin their groupie t-shirts wuvven in Asian swyte shops. Gin they’d bit luikit, their ain back yairds bred horrors waur nur onythin Africk cud conjure up –– nae Aids, bit heroin; an hooses far bairns hid neen tae bring them up, because thon same fowk wis wastit three-quarters o the day.
Wast o the quarry lay the Balbutt estate, raw upon raw o biggins, mair suited tae battery hens nur fowk, sae caad the Hen-Hoose Estate bi the aff-takkin locals. The Hen-Hoose luikit as tho some quanter Colossus hid upreeted hale streets, cowpit them sidieweys an squaashed the hooses thegither like a bairn’s lego. Here, a rowth o faitherless squallin geats wis raised bi mithers nae muckle aulder nur thirsels. Here, the toun affloadit incomers an asylum seekers, the fremmit, the ootlinned, the ferfochan; patients hickled ooto the psychiatric units inno Care in the Community, a community that cud scarce tak tent o itsel as aye the sunder widened atween rich an puir in the early years o the fire-new, braw millennium.
Tae the North streetched a skyline o lang-shankit cranes like stalkin herons owerluikin the warld, an muckle cement mixers crunchin graivel at ae eyn an spewin it oot at the tither like steeny parritch. Here, the founs o the executive hoosin development tae bi kent as Quarrytowers wis bein delled, far eneuch frae the Hen-Hoose nae tae dunt sales, wi the kintra lyin quaet an bonnie at the back o this braw new veesion fur tap-o-the-reenge hame-awners. Quarrytowers wad perch like an erne abeen the quarry, aa sheer green-tinted glaiss an steel an modernity, heated bi solar panels, a bield agin the gurly gales o sizzens that war tiltin ajee wi global warmin, a Noah’s Ark agin tsunamis gin they sud swipe ashore frae the sea an sweel awaa their Hen-Hoose neebors.
Soothwards lay the mixter-maxter scrub o the Fittach breemy wids, lozent bi picnic neuks – a richt snorrel o roadies rinnin throwe birk an fir, a den fur junkies, luvers, flechy mongrels an fowk fa likit naethin better than tae coont the feathers on a doo’s dowp. Fyles, jist tae see the rikk furl, bairns wad set alicht the breem an rise a boorach o fire engines. Nae jist the sizzens wis shooglie –– aa the bairns wis ooto kilter tae. Some fowk blamed the skweels, ithers the wint o mithers an faithers. Ilkie skweel noo hid its CCTV, an ilkie dominie keepit a wee panic button fur ony stooshie.
Syne cam the flesh an banes o the toun proper, Meikleburgh itsel, wi its parks an its wynds, its auncient university, its high-rise biggins an its heich spires, the steer an bizz o its herbour. Ayont them stuid Meikleburgh’s muckle Marine Research Laboratory –– fur aabody seen the toun’s future in the sea. Nae in concrete an glaiss; nae in the kintra neither. Faith! Coos wis near an endangerit species noo an yowes wis keepit in zoos. Naebody noo wis happit in oo nur ledder.
Aa the wye doon frae the easter lip o the quarry-hole, rivin it like a hare-lip, wis a roch roadie giein easy doungaun fur aa kins o pechin, stoory traffic tae toun an kintra. The sea here wis byordnar close tae the the granite quaich. A bridle path frae the Balbutt primary skweel stravaiged aroon bi the auld kirk-yaird o St. Fittach’s throw the Fittach widdies richt on the croon o the quarry, owerluikin the roadies rinnin intae the verra hairt o Meikleburgh. Ae Setterday foreneen it wis alang this path that Navachitta Bandara biked, haein trystit here wi her friens fin the skweel hid skailed a wikk syne. Her Da hid fleen back tae Sri Lanka fur a medical conference, an hid taen his quinie tae bide wi her gran-minnie at Trincomalee. She wis still mendin frae fit they ca the jet-lag, an the steer o furreign traivel forbye.
Naebody caad her Navachitta; ‘twis aye jist Nava. Ten year auld, a swack, broon, clivver wee quinie, she wis dother tae Dr Shiran Bandara an his wife, Lakshmi. Her faither hid gotten his degree frae Meikleburgh University, bit hid gaen back tae Sri Lanka tae merrie Lakshmi, a nurse, an tae stert a faimily. Syne, fin Nava wis five year aul, a terrorist bomb at the local Buddhist temple caad her faither’s near-haun surgery aa tae smush. Eftir thon, they’d thocht tae bide back in Meikleburgh for thon hid bin the verra name o the tea plantation in Sri Lanks whar their hame hid bin.
A gleg lug an gweed harns hid helpit Nava tae bi quick in the uptak o the local spikk. Faith! In mony wyes she wis mair Scots than the Scots bairns thirsels. The Bandaras war heid o the list fur ane o the upgyangin Quarrytowers apairtments, set tae be aa daen ower the neist twa-three year. Fur the noo, they baad in the Hen-Hoose estate, nearby the surgery itsel. Hoosin in the toun wis scant an, bein asylum-seekin incomers, they’d bin richt gled o baith the Hen-Hoose estate an the wirk.. Maist o their neebors war couthie eneuch, gin their spik cud fyles be gey coorse.
Nava wis weel-likit amangst her fiers; there wis nae pit-on wi her. She hid ony amount o friens. Fower o them wad sune come by. She pit doon her bike amang the grummle an pykit her wye ower roch steens ben the gap tae the wee rim o grun that lookit doun tae the quarry lochan. She wis afore aa the lave tae win at the quarry thon fine spring foreneen. She dowpit doon an started tae skyte chukkies inno the watter. ’Twis jist efter nine an her fowks wadna bode her hame till twal. Her Ma wirkit at her Da’s surgery as a nurse an wis richt gled Nava cud divert hersel. Onywye, a neebor body, Jude Anderson, wis aye at hame Setterdays an the quinie hid the rin o the Anderson’s hoose on sic-like days, an she kent forbye whar tae fin baith parents gin she’d the need o them.
Efter a wheen meenits she cud hear the ithers wheechin doon the bridle path makkin fur the gap tae jyne her. Wee Kieran Anderson wis skirlin “Last een up’s a hairy kipper”. Syne she cud mak oot his blin-fair powe an his skinnymalinkie shanks, aa barkit wi glaur an scurls, fur he wis ay faain. Kieran sat neist Nava in skweel. His cousin Jed wis bikin on ahin him, a brosie laddie fa lived aff Big Mac baps, wi a wame tae suit. Bappy, the ithers cad him: glaikit fyles, bit hairm tae neen. Bappy wis derk as Kieran wis fair, wi a saft, sappy mou an twa eebroos that near ran thegither like a hairy oubit.
Bappy’s mither, Myra Anderson, wis a junkie: a feckless, fite-faced vratchie wi hair like strae a coo hid peed ower – thon yalla-straikit fooshunless-kinna hair connached bi years o peroxide. A human preen cushion, puir Myra hid nae veins left tae makk ony eese o in her airms an legs. She stank o pish, fag dowps, chaip scent an foostie sex, an wadna hae kent ae eyn o a tap frae tither – bit neither wad the tossers, dossers an minkers she trystit wi. Bappy didna bide noo wi Myra. Even Myra didna bide wi the real Myra, fur hauf the time she wis ooto her heid on smack, skoukin aboot the toon, chorin an shaggin an moochin tae feed her habit.
Na, Bappy bedd wi his uncle an aunt, Kieran’s Ma an Da, Jude an Cammy, twa agein hippies fa listened tae Country an Western aa day lang an ran a wee stall in the merket sellin gee-gaws rypit frae boot sales. A Robertson bi birth, Jude wis ane o the traivellin fowk, sae niver weariet o singin sangs an tellin tales – ‘twis as naitral tae her as braithin. She keepit open hoose fur waifs an strays, frae neebors’ bairns tae the antrin body wintin a sofa tae doss upon in times o tribble. Bappy wis niver gart think he wis a frauchte on Jude an Cammy, fur they’d a richt boddomless ladle fur affection. They telt onybody fa speired that Jed’s Ma wis ailin wi M.E. Sae wis she in a wye, fur ’twis aye “Me, Me, Me” wi Myra: niver a thochtie fur Jed. Yet he’d sneak aff tae see her on the sly, kennin fine in his hairt o hairts that the ae thing she could ay dae wad be tae let him doon. She wisna lat ower the yett o her brither’s hoose wi her sunken chikks an her wracked beauty: na, gin she’d bin bonnie aince, noo she luikit an auld, auld carline wi her teeth aa rottit awa, nearer sivintie nur fortie an aye trimmlin fur wint o a fix.
Bappy wis torn atween seein an nae seein his mither Myra. Finiver he wan tae her, bi sniffin her oot like a terrier dug, she’d fin ony excuse tae turn oot his pooches fur siller. Gin Jude an Cammy bocht their nephew a spleet-new pair o trainers, ye’d bi shair his Ma wad pawnd them an hae him shauchlin hame in bauchles. Waur, she’d whiles senn him oot fur her “eerans”: a wrap o poother or mebbe peels frae Big Tam Laggeran, the Mr Fixit o Meikleburgh’s junkie-lan, her current ee-candy an squeeze.
The Anderson cousins flappit doon aside Nava, an jyned her in skytin chukkies ower the watter.
“Are the Sangsters nae comin?” speared Nava. “We need aabody gin we’re tae bigg a boatie.”
“Ay, they’re comin,” quo Kieran. “There’s them noo. They near bide wi us, fyles. Ma says ye’d think they war twins – ye niver see ane wioot the tither. Twa pizz in a pod.”
Jenny an Brian Sangster war baith in Nava’s claiss at Balbutt Skweel. Brian wis ae year aulder nor his sister bit wis epileptic an hid missed muckle lairnin wi bein aff his lessons. Jenny forbye wis anely his hauf-sister, fur Brian’s Ma hid deed in a caur smash efter he’d bin born. His Da, Joe, hid remerriet quick an syne faitherit Jenny. Joe hid sma luck wi weemin tho, fur Jenny’s Ma ran aff wi a larrie driver, leavin baith bairns ahin. Efter yon, Joe Sangster jist makkit dae wi the antrin bidie-in an vrocht aa oors o the day as gaffer wi the lads biggin the Quarrytowers Development. Sae he didna fash hissel muckle wi the bairns’ ploys. Brian an Jenny war mair draggit up nur reared – bit there wis nivver ony dearth o siller tae gie them mait an claes. The rest o his siller wis spent doon the Balbutt Airms.
Ilka Sangster bairn wis fair-heidit, tho Jenny wis bonnie wi’t, an Brian wisnae. He wis peely-wally an pykit, like an ootlinned hen that’s bin bullied bi the lave. In Brian’s case, ’twis Auld Joe fa thocht naethin o batterin Brian blaik, blue an tartan. Gin onybody speired he’d say the loon hid taen anither o’s fits – an fa cud argie wi thon, fur the puir laddie tuik them aften. He’d hae a forewarnin, fyles, syne he’d drap tae the grun as if deid, afore his body wad yark an flail like a pouppet wi its towes bein pued. His ae frien wis his sister, Jenny, fa did her best tae luik oot fur him in a dreich an comfortless warld.
“Did I miss onythin last wikk?” speired Nava.
“Ay, ye did that,” quo Kieran. “A storytellin wifie cam tae the skweel. She telt us she’d bin in Sri Lanka near the time o a tsunami sax year back – Mrs Low, I think she wis caad, frae Braegarr or roonaboots. Nae treat fur us tho! Wi oor Ma bein sib tae the Robertsons, we’re fair oot the door wi stories at hame. Bit we didna hear the wifie; she wis storytellin tae the aulder classes. They likit the story, though, an we heard bits o’t in the playgrun. A story aboot a quine an twa demons – d’ye ken the tale, Nava?”
“My Gran telt me it jist last wikk,’ she lauched. ‘Mynd, it micht be a different ane. Stories cheenge in the tellin, ye ken. Onywye, there wis aince a young lassie cad Pranitha.”
“Caa her Pranny,” quo Kieran, “it’s easier tae myn.”
“Pranny, syne,” Nava stertit aff ance mair, nane pit oot that her friens war cheengin the tale. “An she wisna lang merriet tae a fisherman loon. Noo, he hidna muckle siller an anely a wee hut doon bi the beach, an his mither bedd wi him, an she wis coorse as cat’s dirt. Mair coorse, in fac. She wis that ill-naturit she haimmerit Pranny ilkie day fur onythin an aathin. Gin the soup wis cauld, she throosh her. Gin the sun wis ower hett she throosh her. Gin the win blew she throosh her.”
“Nesty aul bugger,” Brian pit in, wi feelin. ‘I houp a snake bit her.’
“Wheesht!” his sister telt him. “Let Nava get on wi’t.”
“Weel, ae day the auld wife sets aff fur mercat an tells Pranny tae hae the supper on fin she got hame. Sae Pranny biled the rice an gaithered the herbs an spices an veg fur a richt fine curry. It wis hotterin awa ower the fire fin an auld bodach wi his rib-beens powkin oot like a toast rack cam shauchlin inaboot, sikkin a bite. Bein a gweed-hairtit craitur, Pranny gied him a taste. Syne he socht anither, an anither an anither, till there wis naethin left bit the scrapins at the fit o the coggie. The auld bodach thankit her an shauchled awa.
“Nae suner hid he gaen nur the mither-in-law cam hame frae mercat sikkin her supper. Fin Pranny gied her the scrapins o the coggie, she near explodit she wis in sic a bin. She throosh puir Pranny till there wisna a been on her back that didna dirl.”
“I ken the feelin fine,” grumphed Brian Sangster.
“Wheesht!” gurred his sister..
“An syne she kickit the lassie ooto the hut an telt her tae sleep in the jungle aa nicht till she learned mair sense than gie aathin awa tae auld bodachs.”
“Nestie vratch,” quo Jed. Nava gaed on wi her tale.
“Onyroad, she wis waukin alang the jungle pathie fin faa should she see bit the auld bodach wytin fur her. An he telt her tae gyang richt tae the mids o the jungle till she cam tae an eildtrich tree, aa riven an wrinkled like fireflauchts hid twistit an booed it. She wis tae sclim tae the verra tapmaist brainch o yon eidritch tree an steek her moo, fur syne wad cam twa demons, an gweed wad cam oot o ill.
“Weel, Pranny wis terrified o demons, bit the auld bodach seemed a wyce-like craitur, an naethin cud be waur than bidin on the fleer o the jungle wi puggies barin their teeth at ye an parakeets skirlin roon yer lugs an muckle lizards slidderin ooto neuks tae gie ye flegs, sae she waukit on till she fand the eildritch tree, jist as the gloamin gied wye tae nicht, an up the tree she sclimmed, aa the wye tae the tap – nae a meenit ower sune, fur the twa demon sisters cam by an dowpit doon at the foun. Noo, the first yin’s face wis yalla an hir hair wis a heeze o blaik snakes aa hissin an spittin, an her teeth wis reid as bluid. The secunt demon’s face wis green as goor, her hair wis blue an spikit’s a porcupine. Hir nails wis lang an blaik an her een wis pink. There wis slivers rinnin doon their chikks an baith war humphie-backit.”
“They warna affa bonnie then?” speired Jed, bit Jenny Sangster glowered at him.
“‘Far’ll we gyang the nicht, sister?’ say ane.
“‘Tae the beach wi the gowden sans,’ the tither repons.
“An wioot mair adee, the sisters maned: Flee tree, flee; an yon itherwardlie tree ruggit oot its hale reets an flichtered aff till it hing abune a beach, hard by Trincomalee. Syne: Doon, tree, doon, cried the twa sisters, an the oorie tree flyped ower an cam fleetin frae the lift tae the beach like a timmer doo, an sinks its reets inno the san.
“Weel, the demon sisters sclim doon, rin ower the san an sweem aff fur a dook. Fin they war awa, Pranny luikit aboot hir an spied a coconut tree. She’d hid nae supper, myn, an the puir lassie wis fair faimishin, sae doon she sclims an dunts the tree tae gar it drap a nut. An fin she’s staunin there, duntin awa, she jalouses that the san aneth her feet is rael gritty-like. An fin she boos doon? Weel, ‘twas nae san ava! ’Twis gowden stour!
“Pranny fulls ilkae pooch wi the gowd, an back up the oorie tree she sclims wi a coconut in her oxter. Jist as weel, fur aa in a breist, back cam the demons, shakkin aff the sea watter, tae sclim intae their tree efter their dook. Flee, tree, flee, cries the twa, an the tree rugs up its reets an lowps up tae the starnies like a rocket. They aa wheech awa, Pranny’s hair streamin oot ahin. Syne: Doon, tree, doon, they skreich an the tree fleets doon like a balloon an sinks its reets inno the jungle again. An the twa demons are that ferfochan, they faa intae a deep dwam at its foun.”
“Sae Pranny lived happy ivir efter an keepit aa the gowd tae herself?” jaloused Brian.
“The tale’s nae daen!” Nava telt him. “ Pranny gyangs back hame, an the mither-in-law is wytin, wintin tae ken far her brakkfest is fit sud hae bin wytin. Sae Pranny pits her haun in her pooch an takks oot the gowd tae show the auld wife, thinkin she’d be fair awa wi’t.”
“I widna hae gien hir yon gowd. I’d hae spent it,” quo Brian.
“Bit the auld wummin wisnae taen wi’t,” Nava gaed on. “Na, na, she wisna pleased ava. She raged Pranny fur bein a muckle sumph an nae haen took a gourd wi her tae full. Fegs! A poochfu wis naethin ava frae a beach o puir gowd. That verra nicht, she throosh Pranny three times fur luck an telt her tae bide inbye the hoose, afore she set aff fur the jungle an the eildritch tree, cairryin a meikle gourd aneth her airm.
“Up yon tree she sclimmed an aince mair, finiver the meen wis heich, the twa demon titties, the yalla an the green, cam crawlin inno the laichmaist boos an gat newsin, winnerin far they’d gallivant till.
“The yalla deevil-lassie says tae the green ane: ‘Let’s gyang the nicht awa tae the lan o the blae-backit singin whales.’ – bit the step-mither’s set her hairt oni fullin her gourd wi gowd, sae skreichs oot: ‘Deil the bit! Ye maun gae back till the beach o the gowden sans!’
“Syne the twa deevil-lassies see the greedy auld wife heich at the tap o the tree, divn’t they? Sae, Flee tree, flee, they skirl, an the tree wi ae michty pech rugs up its reets an awa like lichtnin they aa wheech till they’re ower the watters o the Indian Ocean, far, far oot in its mids. Birl tree, birl, they baith caa oot. The tree birls like a peerie an cowps the auld greedy wummin an her gourd ooto its tapmaist boos richt inno the braid blae sea, far she lans wi a meikle splash. An she’s there tae this verra day, yon auld wife inside her gourd, paiddlin an paiddlin an paiddlin fur dear life wi niver a sicht o lan, fur yon demons hid cursed her weel an true.”
“An Pranny?” aa the bairns speared.
“As fur Pranny, she spent the gowd maist wyse-like an lived cantie iver efter aside the jungle!”
“Sae ’twis aa richt tae takk a wee suppy gowd,” quo Jed, “bit nae ower muckle?”
“Somethin like thon,” Jenny Sangster agreed. “Like the skweel aye says aboot yon affa rainie wids in Sooth Americay. Gin fowk hidna bin sae greedy, oor climate micht be mair sattled an nae sae gurly, fyles.”
Brian didna care fur the eyn tae thon story tho. He’d hae likit tae see the auld wummin throoshed till she wis blaik-blue an tartan. He wis scunnered, he said, o stories an wintit tae hae an Adventure.
“I fand twa tractor tyres last wikk,” he cried. “Ower here! Ower here!”
They aa raced ben the lochan-side tae heist the tyres ooto their hidiehole. “Lets bigg a boatie! A boatie!”
Fur the neist oor, the five bairns gaithered trock tae bigg their boatie. Kieran socht towe tae wipp the tyres tae a puckle timmer planks an Jed raiked oot a sheet o chipboord that hid drapped frae the Quarrytowers biggin-site inno the quarry. Nava gaffered aabody, proposin wyes tae pu the boat aa thegither, her ae lang blaik pigtail wallopin doon her back. Her Ma aye sent her oot tae play in clean fite socks an patent leather sheen – nae bumshayvilt trainers fur her: she wis ay riggit oot smert’s a new preen.
Three-quarters o an oor mair an the boatie wis fit fur its maiden trip. The wee boorachie teemed their pooches fur proveesions. Nava hid a Mars Bar. Bappy tuik oot a pyoke o crips an a can o Coke. Kieran set doon three bars o chuddy. The Sangsters hid chored a packet o ginger snaps frae the hoose, kennin it wis Setterday an their Da wid be bleezin drunk onywye – like eneuch he’d jalouse he’d etten them aa hissel.
Wi a richt proper notion of the occasion, Bappy ruggit aff the Coke’s ring-pu an poored some drappies ower the wee raft. “‘Fit’ll we christen it? Aa boaties hae names,” he speired.
“We sud caa it the Quarry Quine,” quo Jenny. “Boaties are aye weemin.”
Quine wis the auld Scots wirdie fur Queen, Nava telt them aa. “Thon’s a richt gweed name fur a boatie – the Lady o the Lochan – Far we gaun on the Quarry Quine? Fit’s ower the far shore?”
“I’m fur Americay,” said Bappy. “I’m gaun tae see Gracelan an dolphins an Harley Davidsons.”
“Glesga fur me,” leuch Kieran. “Tae see Celtic win the Cup.”
“We’re fur Tir-nan-Og,” quo the Sangsters, tho neither Jenny nur Brian hid a clue far Tir-nan-Og micht be – bit it soundit weel an they’d heard o the placie in a sang.
It soundit like there’d be pirates an treasure an palm trees an skinklin linns.
“I’m fur Adam’s Peak masel,” quo Nava, fa’d nae fear o heichts. Faith, she’d nae fear o naethin. She’d sclimmed Adam’s Peak in her birthlan o Sri Lanka like a wee goat, jist last month wi her da. Near sib tae the air she wis, at hame in aa the elements.
“Fit kinno a place is Adam’s Peak?” the Sangsters winted tae ken.
Sae Navachitta telt them aboot the Haly Ben. It wis a place o pilgrimage in her calf-kintra. Christians said it wis far Adam landit fin he wis sent oot frae Paradise. Buddhists like Nava caad it Sri Pada, an thocht it wis far the Buddha set his fit on the wye tae Enlightenment. Ithers cad it Samanalakande – Butterflee Ben – far butterflees gaed tae dee, fur it fair heezed wi butterflees, did Adam’s Peak. Fur ower a thoosan years, pilgrims hid trauchled up the coontless man-vrocht steps, strung wi lichts tae guide them on the fower-oor traik till the tap, wi mony deein on the wye tae the summit.
Queer that she’d suddenly myndit on Adam’s Peak at the fit o a dreich Scottish quarry. She fished oot frae her pooch a wee green boxie that she’d gotten frae her grannie last wick – tae haud ony byordinar ferlies, the auld wummin hid telt her.
“OM” she chanted: saft, syne lood, syne looder still.
“Fitivir dis that mean?’ speired the Sangsters. ‘Fit dis it mean?’
“It’s the soun o the universe. Noo I’ve catched an kept it, it’ll bide in the wee box foraye, till somebody couthie an kind like Pranny lats it oot.”
An she flang the box wi a lauch tae the lochan’s foun.
Twis Bappy fa pushed the boatie aff. Syne he lowpit ontilt, makkin eese o brukken paiddles fur oars. The lochan wis cauld an blaik. The trees on the quarry waas luikit like warlock’s cleuks. Abune, the cloods war meers’ tails wheeped bi the snell win that walloped the waves up roch like a dragon’s teeth. O a suddenty. Nava lat oot a skirl o delicht.
“There’s yalla floories ower bi the North, at the cliff’s foun”, quo she. “like frangipani – I can near smell them.”
The ithers follaed her pyntin finger – bit there wis naethin there ava, anely a scrunt o a tree, booin ower the watter like a craggy heron.
“Ye’re haiverin,” quo Brian. A hale year aulder than Nava, an a loon, he thocht that gied him the heich grun in aa maitters o conjecture. “Nae flooers growe in the quarry in the spring; nae at the foun, onyroad.”
Brian hid niver heard o frangipani, likely thon wad be foreign flooers. An fit the sorra wye wad foreign flooers thole the caul o an Meikleburgh spring?
Bit noo the waves turned rocher an threatened tae cowp the ‘Quarry Quine’, sae the rowers turned her roon an heidit back tae the Gap. They didna win tae Adam’s Peak, nor Glesga, nor Tir-nan-Og nor Americay, bit it hid bin fun ettlin till thae placies. The boatie wis beached, the makkshift picnic etten jist far they’d sterted oot frae. There wis still an oor afore dinner-time. They powkit aboot amang the steens a while, syne Nava challenged them aa tae sclimm the easter waa o the quarry, nearest the sea an hard bi the side o the Gap.
O a suddenty the sun cam oot, blearie an blae. They stertit tae sclimm the quarry face bi a wye they’d taen hunners o times afore, far the blastit rock aside the Gap affordit umpteen ledges, like a wheen brukken steppin-steens risin inno the lift – like Adam’s Peak. Despite aa tellins an warnins – frae their ain fowk, frae their teachers, frae aabody ower the age o twinty – niver tae sclimm the quarry’s waas, they aa did it.
Nava tuik the lead, the sun sae heich an bricht it near daizzlit her. Up an up she gaed, leavin the lave weel ahint. Aa hefty hillocks the ithers, bit Nava wis fu o speerit – hardie an spare o flesh. She wis bye the hauf-wye merk noo; anely twa hunner fit left tae sclimm, fin she turned her heid tae see if the yalla floories wis still yonner, doon at the lochan’s side. ’Twis nae mair nor a keek, bit in thon secunt she misfitted a ledge that wis sypin watter ooto a lang crack. Wi a wee skreich she fell, tae laun wi a plowt on her back in the blaik watter, like the Auld Wummin cast doon bi the twa coorse demons o Trincomalee. Bit the wee quinie didna float; fur this wis nae story. The watters closed ticht ower her. Snap! Like a blaik pooch. An didnae open again.
* * * *
Fur days efter Nava deed, the Balbutt wis quaet. Ootside the Doctor’s balcony in the high rise flats o the Hen-Hoose, fite flags flichtered. Wee Jenny Sangster chappit on the door, tho ithers bedd awa, nae kennin richt fit tae say tae the Sri Lankan fowk. Efter aa, they war professionals – an incomers forbye. Bairns, hoosaeiver, dinna see differences in fowk, anely similarities. Jenny Sangster pued daffies fur the Bandaras: yalla eens, like the flooers that Nava claimed tae hae seen frae the Quarry Quine. The doctor an his wife socht her in, an tuik tent o the speirin luik on her physog at the sicht o the flags.
“In our old country, in our faith, white flags are for mourning,” they telt her.
Bappy Anderson bore the brunt o the toun’s rage. Fit eese fur the Andersons tae say that things are nae ay fit they seem? Bappy wis sax year aulder than the ithers – nearhaun seventeen year auld. It maun be his wyte. It wisnae richt, a muckle sumph like him playin wi littlins near hauf his age. A bairn in a man’s skin. Waur, fowk fuspered coorse things. Jed Anderson, Bappy, wis a man-bodie – sae he maun hae a man-bodie’s needs . . . fit the sorra else did he play at wi the littlins? Fur months efter thon he keepit inbye, an Jude an Cammy’s trade in the market tuik a sair dunt – till fowk lost mind o Jed the gowk an some ither ferlie catched the tae o the communal buit.
The toun cooncil pit up warnin signs at the mou o the Gap, tellin fowk nae tae sclimm the sides an tae bide weel back frae the tap. In sax months’ time, vandals hid caad the signs doon. As fur wee Navachitta, in the Buddhist wye she wis brunt. In twa years mair she wis jist a memory tae the lave, as unreal as the yalla frangipani the ithers niver saw – the yalla floors that happ the funeral pyres o far Sri Lanka.
Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?
Dhammapada. Sayings of the Buddha
Heich simmer at Quarrytowers wis a bumbazement o steel an glaiss, cockin up on its hunkers ower a stammygaster o cliff an cloud. The michty sun glisked aff the thoosans o windaes like gowd aff Achilles’ targ – a hunner storeys’ heicht o luxury apairtments. Twis noo the hairtlan o Meikleburgh’s heid bummerie: ile magnates, marine scientists, accoontant moguls an media icons; a far cry frae the near-haun urban slums that war still caad the Hen-Hoose.
Brian Sangster wis twinty-fower year auld, an veesitin his sister Jenny on professional business. He bedd in Sector Sax o Meikleburgh, in a dreich bedsit somewye amang the run-doon mids o the toun, wi the traffic thunnerin by the main street an dossers beggin fur siller at ilkie shoppie door, far even a wauk tae the food-dispenser at the corner wis bladdit bi fear o bruisers doggin ye tae cadge the verra meat frae yer moo. Brian hid an allouance frae the state on twa coonts – disability pyements fur his epilepsy – an an orra-kinno pucklie fur bein Sector 6’s culture cairrier.
Eftir the hinmaist Sars epidemic, the toun hid bin sinderit inno Sectors, warssled oot frae Meikleburgh’s health statistics. Stench owerance wis laid on aa fowk frae areas o the maist dis-health in the maitter o free meevement ben the toun, an smittin oncoms o a sexual natur garred the patient tae hae an electronic tag till weel aince mair. Brakken the curfews brocht fit the papers caad “Draconian penalties”, wi the ill-doers locked inno isolation wards. Likewyse, ilkie Sector hid its ain culture-cairriers, fowk weel-lairnt in the auld makars’ airts o music, storytellin an daunce. Brian wis an offeecial culture-cairrier in the skeels o fiddle, storytellin an sang. Jude Anderson hid hoped tae pass on the traivellers’ lear tae her bairn, Kieran, bit the loon hid nae taste ava fur ony o’t. He’d mair scaldie than traiveller bluid in him, sae she turned tae a littlin fa wad listen – Joe Sangster’s bairnie, Brian, fa wis gleg i the uptak wi baith lugs. Jude gied him her faither’s fiddle an learned him aa his stories, giein him a job fur life, wi airts that siller cudna buy. Bit tho he didnae stairve, his jimp peyments didnae raxx tae fantoosh leevin.
Brian’s sister, Jenny, wis mair sturdy-like nor Brian an niver missed a day at the skweel. She’d won a bursary tae the Queen's 'varsity tae study Fine Airts an Scottis scrievins – an cud hae traivellit the warld wi a degree like thon; bit that wad hae brocht a twinin frae her brither, an the twa bairns war far ower close fur yon. She hid vrocht – an aye vrocht, even efter her merriage – as an interior designer. Thon wis the wye she’d met her husband Neil.
Neil Duguid wis a cannie chiel, an accoontant. Aathin maun add up in his buik: there wis nae scowth fur mistak. The biggest gamble he’d iver taen wis merryin Jenny, ten year his junior, efter a lick-an-a-spit o coortship, his feet scarce skiffin the grun frae their first nicht thegither tae their walk tae the altar. Neil hid bin lanesome, raised in Glesga, syne relocatit tae Meikleburgh wi his company. Forbye, Jenny wis an investment fur his future happiness. He’d bin an adopted wean, reared in Glesga bi a douce professional couple fa’d traivellit tae Meikleburgh tae bi gien him. Thirty-three year back, fin Brian hid bin born, the toun wis thrang wi junkies, single quines fa cud faa wi bairn as easy as keechin yit hidna a hope this side o eternitie o bringin a littlin up free o gear. Some quines keepit the littlins, an syne birled the ongaun cycle o wint an rage an deprivation. Neil, tho, hid bin lifitit frae his mither’s wame, detoxed in the Baby Ward an taen aff tae safety in the Duguids’ cosy hame in the Central Belt.
Neil vrocht fur ane o yon multinational Merchant Bank companies an wirkit frae hame in a room brawly riggit oot as a video-conferencin suite – an data-bank centre forbye. A kinno technological an business warlock, Neil hid taen aa his freens frae business fowk or heicher – diplomats, lawyers, doctors an scientists. Fyles, he enterteened at hame, sae his hame hid tae refleck the status o himself an his company. Wi nae lack o siller in his pooch, he didna scutter wi the usual warssles o hoose-huntin or the tcyauve o a lang-term mortgage – he cud gae richt tae the tap o the merket an tak tae hissel a self-contained executive flat in Quarrytowers, wi a haa, lounge, sun-lounge, kitchie, dinin-room, maister bedroom (wi en-suite shouer an Jacuzzi) an twa single bedrooms wi their ain lavvies aff. Syne, he’d heid-huntit the best interior designer he cud afford – nane ither nor Jenny Sangster. She hung Jack Vettriano an John Bellany in his lounge, wi strippit lichts ower the peintins tae bring oot the subtleties o the owergaein. She stappit his buik-room wi the cream o Scots an warld literature, aathin frae the mediaeval makars tae the latest in Japanee fiction. His table an cheers taen eftir Charles Rennie Macintosh. Faith, there wisnae a stick in the place that didnae reek o siller an pouer.
Jenny hid sleepit wi eleeven chiels in her twinty-three years, nae mony bi the standards o her fiers. She nivver sleepit wi ony loon on the first date. On the secunt date (if she likit them) Jenny wad gar the chiel sit doon an hae the wee spikk aboot Aids testin – nae affa romantic, bit neither wis condoms, an neither wis the thocht o spennin a rowth o years takkin medicine tae timmer up antibodies the Aids virus hid dichtit oot. Aince that wis aa ower (like surveyin a hoose) the laddie wad syne hae the keys tae gain entry tae his bidie-hole.
Fur aa that he wis ten year the aulder, Neil hid anely sleepit wi twa ither quines afore Jenny, haein a taste mair fur the sexual safety o a massage parlour tae the ram-stam fyke o birzzin wi a new pairtner. His firm, hooiver, likit their executives merriet – fur, gin a boat ay dockit at the same shore, there wis less chaunce it wad sail awa tae unkent waters, baith wirkwyse an sexually. An Neil wintit forbye a quine tae enterteen veesitin clients – an syne tae swage him – a lassie near at haun tae skail his spunk in; an, in a year or twa’s time, tae bear his littlins. He hid a greenin fur hert-likin tae, gin he wis honest, fur twis a lanesome darg in his executive eyrie lookin ower the auncient quarry, video-conferencin fowk he cudna touch.
He’d thocht o ettlin the data-banks on the computer, bit afore he’d seriously sterted tae trawl the net fur a life-mate, Jenny Sangster hid wan tae his hoose wi her plans an her designs an yon saft fair hair that swung doon her back like a linn o silk. Syne the scent that yoamed aff her as she cam near garred his intiimers stiffen an heave. Jenny hid faan in wi the flat frae the first an plenished it frae tap tae boddam wi her ain smairt taste. She sae luved her darg, she aye mislikit tae win awa frae her maisterpiece at contrack-eyn. Efter yon keech-hole o a hoose she’d bin trailed up in, ye cudna blame the quine fur sikkin tae rug hersel ooto the glaur. She’d seen Neil Duguid haein a scance at her – yon hungert luik o the bairn wi its neb pressed teetle the sweetie-shop windae. Neil wis nae ill-luikin chiel: derk-haired, sax-fit heich, swippert an wi gweed harns on him. Mony quines wad hae caad him handsome. She’d sleepit wi mony the waur. Forbye she’d daen her research weel – tae fin oot aboot his tastes, his needs, his likins fur plenishin his ain flat. He wis hard-wirkin, ambitious an leal; bit kinno blate wi weemin.
Fin the flat wis aa daen, they hid hauden a wee handsel – the twa o them, cosy-like – an Neil lichtit cannles alang the balcony. Twis a saft, quaet nicht, nae a braith o win. An ootside caterer hid brocht maet an served it. Sax fite lilies in a crystal vawse sat atween them, an music frae aa the warld’s airts wauchtit ower the twa. The cannle flames lowpit ahin their tint-glazed cage an wine in lang-stemmed glaisses refleckit their leam. Jenny gied Neil her final muntin fur the flat, a buik o Scots poetry.
“Read me frae’t,” Neil socht her.
Sae Jenny sat cross-leggit on the goat-skin herth-rug, her hair faain ower the buik as she booed forrit tae read. She’d hopit he’d crave this an she’d fand a poem bi a Alexander Scott – Continent o Venus – tae read a swatch frae.
She lies ablow my body’s lust and love
A country dearly-kent, and yet sae fremd
That she’s at aince thon Tir-nan-Og I’ve dreamed,
The airt I’ve lived in, whaur I mean tae live,
And mair, much mair, a mixter-maxter warld
Whar fact and dream are taigled up and snorled . . .
She myndit o a suddenty on the voyage o the Quarry Quine an Navachitta, the trip tae Tir-nan-Og that she made wi her brither Brian that eyndit sae ill, an her een fulled wi tears. Kennin naethin o the history ahin the twa pearls o watter trimmlin at the lip o her lashes, Neil Duguid jaloused she wis meeved bi the wirds o the poem; sae raxxed his airm aroon her. She beeriet hersel in his breist an pu’d him tae her. They lay thegither a lang fyle, the chiel near etten up bi his ain desires, yet haudin back, seein foo the quine grat sae sair.
Aroon midnicht, she broke her ain rules, sat up, shook herself like a tyke an lauched aff her tears as the ootcam o ower muckle wine an poetry thegither. Syne they hid thir wee spikk aboot Aids, offerin up a finger in turnabout tae test wi a preen-prick, like the spinnle that gart the princess sleep fur a hunner years. Except thon preen-prick telt them in twa meenits, near as sune as the drap o bluid hit the test-paper, that neither o them hid the smit, an love cud bluim.
The waddin wis quick-smert efter yon – nae pynt hingin aff, nae divorces nor ither pairtners tae snorrel things up. Auld Joe Sangster bein her anely close relative ayont Brian, the blythe couple jetted aff tae Bangkok fur a furrin merrege-cum-hinniemeen, wi Brian as best man an Neil pittin in a twa-three conferences at the Thai capital, offerin financial sweetenins tae Asian directors tae jyne his company, sae makkin yet mair global opportunities fur his maisters. Auld Joe anely heard aboot the waddin sixth-haun, throwe a barmaid lassie at the Balbutt Airms fa’d seen the photies in a glossy magazine. Naethin dauntit, he gaed roon tae Quarrytowers tae confront his dother an her new man – tae be stoppit bi the security guairds at the entrance, makkin oot he wadna be welcome there iver. Mrs Duguid hid nae faither, as far as she wis consairned, her faither wis deid.
Sax month frae the merrege, Jenny wis on the road wi bairn an Neil wis ower the meen. Noo his life wis complete. His ain wirk wis gaun weel, his wife wis pregnant, an his brither-in-law Brian wis a culture-cairrier – an they war as fyew as the teeth on a hen, rare fur enterteenin international veesitors wi a ‘whiff o the true Scotia.'
Ae parteeclar nicht, Neil wis hostin a seleck pairty o ten, wi a preesentation at the eyn o it. Brian wis hired tae fiddle tae them an tae spin a fyew traivellers’ tales – the ordnar darg fur a culture-cairrier. In the bygaun, he could hae time wi his pregnant sister Jenny, fa wis stertin tae fin herself gey trauchelt wi the wecht o the bairn in her wame an wad be gled o her brither’s company. The security guaird wis weel accustomed tae this veesitor frae Sector Sax.
“Up ye gyang an gie it laldy”, he leuch. “This pairty’s frae Tokyo. Their culture-cairriers are geishas an makk-on Samurai. I winner fit they’ll makk o ye an yer fiddle?”
Brian waukit ower the gruns o the complex, a lanskip o weel-tendit parterres, foontains an timmer, tae Quarrytowers itsel an the bronze-tinted lift-pod that wheeched him near tae the verra tap, openin oot inno the lobby that led tae his sister’s yett. His brither-in-law Neil answered his chaps. Fyles Neil thocht Brian an Jenny war that close they maun bi jyned at the hoch, in a private wee warld o their ain wi Nae Admittance ower the door. Fyles, Neil wished his wife could widen her wee bourach o freens, an come tae ken there wis mair fowk in the warld bar hissel, his clients an Brian. Tho they’d bin merriet noo a guid fyew months, he still likit tae leuk at her fan she wis sleepin, her fair hair like wheat on the bowster, her lang lashes happin her derk broon een, her skin like milk frae the tap o the joug, an thon wee cruikit smile at ae side o her moo fin she wis dwaumin.
Fin the bairn wis born it wid takk her attention awa frae Brian – fairly that! Brian hid swack hauns, fiddler’s hauns. He did little else bit scrat oot a fyew bars on his fiddle or skreich a pucklie sangs, as Sector Sax’s culture-cairrier. Neil Duguid hid bin byordnar blythe tae fin oot that the epilepsy didna cam frae Joe Sangster’s side o the family; he wintit this bairn fin it wis born tae be perfit, near as dammit. This bairn wis wintit, legal, hid aa its life afore it – a braw life tae: the finest that ony siller cud buy.
“Brian’s here,” Neil cried inbye tae Jenny. She cam throwe tae meet him, brawly riggit oot in Japanee silk. Bit she luikit trauchelt an wabbit.
“I’ll see tae Brian, Neil. You awa ben tae yer guests”
Fin he’d left, she curled her airm throwe her brither’s. “Hurry up an get it ower wi, syne grab a sup tae ett an jyne me on the balcony. I’ve telt Neil I’ve a dirlin heid an nae tae disturb me. The trade delegation’s bidin in the Balmoral Suite doon the stair, sae at least they’ll nae be here aa nicht. They’re fine eneuch chiels, bit I cud be daein wioot aa the steer. I maun be turnin intae a richt milk-coo. I’ll be chaain the cweed neist.”
Brian yarked aff his jaiket an dumped it in the kitchie, takkin a quick snack afore gyaun ben the livin room. Steppin inno the mids o the fowk, he wytit douce-like till his brither-in-law Neil gied a wee spiel aboot culture-cairriers tae the hantle o mystifeed furriners. Syne he opened his instrument case, rubbit his bow wi rosit, heistit his fiddle aneth his chin, duntit his fit three times on the fleer an launched inno a braw selection o reels, jigs an strathspeys that wad hae daen justice tae Neil Gow himsel.
The Japanee pairty smiled an noddit betimes. Neist, Brian set doon his fiddle an telt them, in the braidest o Scots, the tale o an ugsome quine fa cudna fin ony chiel tae merry her, till at the hinnereyn a blin loon cam tae ludge in her hoose, an wis that taen wi foo kind an gweed-hertit she wis that he proposed richt aff. Efter thon, he feenished wi a sang tae the tune o Haughton Hoose, secretly apologisin in his heid tae Jude Anderson fur futtlin her tale doon tae naethin ava, fur fear o wearyin the veesitors ––
She had muckle beets upon her feet
An her legs war unca sma
She’d a tuftie o hair that hung fae her chin
As lang as ony turnip shaw
She’d a squeezt tomatae fur a face
An her hair it luiked like straa
An there’s nae a man wad look at her
There wis nae a man at aa
Till the auld blin man he cam alang
An he ne’er saw her at aa
Bit she fell in love wi the auld blin man
An noo she’s a wife sae braw.
Tae a pirl o clappin, the culture-cairrier booed, laid his fiddle an bow aside, snod in their leather hame, tuik his leave o the fowk, an gaed oot tae his sister far she sat in the warm derk o the balcony on a comfy seat owerluikin the quarry cliffs an the sheer drap doon tae the lochan. Jenny wis dowpit doon inno her reest like a bonnie roon pearl in an oyster shell bit turned tae smile at her brither an waffed at him tae hae pu up a cheer aside her, jist the twa o them, fur the glaiss door tae the lounge wis steekit.
Doon, doon, doon drappit the riven, granite physog o the auld quarry. The lochan ablow wis like the mou o a well haudin its keekin glaiss up tae the lift .
‘Hae ye seen oor Da?’ she speired, thankfu fin he said he hidna.
Auld Joe Sangster wis fifty-three noo, luikin mair like seeventy, still the boozed-up orral he’d ay bin, ’cept noo he wis a boozed-up orral wi a hoast, an ulcer, an a niver-eyndin peenge fur siller. There wis ay some exkeese fur wintin siller – a contract hid bin cancelled at wirk; he’d bin mugged ootside a howf; some nesty breet hid chored it frae his pooch; his car wis brukken doon; the lecky wis due; twis his birthday . . . or it wisna his birthday. Ower mony fowk likit him, Joe wad say – he wis that gweed-hairtit he’d gien awa his wages; syne he’d peenge that sae mony fowk didna like him they didna pye their dues. The hindmaist reason fur tryin tae sook siller frae his nearest an dearest wis the big show-stopper: that efter aa he wis their faither, wis he nae – till daith they did pairt.
Jenny Duguid an Brian Sangster hid decidit lang syne tae cut the towes aathegither an set him adrift on his ain wee sea o booze, blether an keech. Gin he founert an sank – gweed riddance! A bowl o aipples sat on the glaiss coffee table. Brian drew up a cheer an raxxed forrit tae haud up an aipple. The twa smiled tae each ither an leuch. Neil Duguid tuik tent o the lauch, tuik up his buiks an papers an nippit aff tae his study.
Wi Neil ben the hoose an oot the wye, Brian gied the aipple tae his sister. ‘Mynd on Myra Anderson?’ he speired. Jenny keckled. Myra, Bappy Anderson’s bluid-mither, hid bin ane o auld Joe’s flash-in-the-pans. Some pan! Some flash! A junkie an a drooth – a kirn made bi the Earl o Hell as iver wis. Myra hidna bin Auld Joe’s bedmate lang. She wad rype his pooches fur a fix; syne he’d chore it back fur a bottle. As bairns, Jenny an Brian, lyin in the ben room, wad listen tae the maens an skirls that drooths an junkies are liable tae cam oot wi, an wad coorie thegither fur warmth. An fur mair nur warmth.
Ae day, a month or twa efter Nava deed, the bairns hid cam back frae the skweel as usual. There’d bin souns o a stooshie gaun on aa foreneen. Naethin byordinar in thon. The Sangster hoose wis ay fu o ne’er-dae-weels an drap-oots, tattooed, screwed oot o their tree an aff their face wi aathin frae uppers tae dooners tae E, tae smack or tae voddie – an fyles a rumle o them aa. Fegs, they’d even tak a drappie meths gin aathin else wis daen. The fowk in the Hen-Hoose estate war eesed tilt an wad takk the bairnies in till the hale stramash wis ower.
It hid bin a bonnie simmer’s day – weemin war sunbathin oot in their bakkies, getting a Costa tan the Meikleburgh wye, ooto a fake-tan bottle, skytin on each ither’s backs an lauchin atween scoofs o lager or the antrin crunch o crisps. Naebody spied Brian an Jenny treetlin up the road. Fan Brian hid taen a fit at the skweel, an auxiliary quine frae Nigeria, Mrs Ngobo, volunteered tae takk baith bairns hame. Their front door wis ajee. They aa wannert intae the hoose, pykin their wye roon fowk splayed oot on the fleer, een glazed ower, wastit, bucklit, gowchin oot. Jenny’s dallie’s pram wis cowpit on its side, wi Big Tam Laggeran, the dealer, sprauchled ower it. Tho his een war steekit, he wis singin some orra threep o a sang…
Bonnie Mary o Argyle
Sittin stride-legs ower a style . . .
An there, atap the kitchie table, they seen her – Myra Anderson, the human preen- cushion, bluid treetlin frae a wee prick jist abeen her queat. She wis sittin on a cheer upo the table, skirt aroon her waist, nae pants tae her name, stridie-leggit an barin hir fud, like a droont, greyin rotten, tae the fower airts. The table wis coveret wi aipple cores an three drunks that fyles wirkit wi Auld Joe wis takkin bets on fa cud first ding the bull’s-ee wi an aipple core.
Mrs Ngobo bedd in the Hen-Hoose estate as weel. Her family war born-again Christians, “happy-clappies” the neebors cried them – clean-livin, hard-wirkin fowk the Ngobos, fas idea o a stooshie wis hett Gospellin an spikkin in tongues. Mrs Ngobo quaetly backit oot, takkin the bairns wi her. Nae pynt in cryin on the polis. Nae sense bringin tribble tae her ain door as weel. Nae pynt neither in clypin tae the Social, wha wis snaa’d unner wi cases an cudna cope wi fit they hid. She’d seen ower mony neebors, daecent, quaet fowk, terrifeed in their ain hames bi drug-fuelled gangs o halflins. She wis a stinch wee body, wis Mrs Ngobo. In a wird, she hid smeddum; in anither wird, she wis thrawn. She wytit tae get Auld Joe sober an alane – nae easy darg – an telt him plain that gin Myra didna leave, his benefits wad be wheeched frae unner him. She leed a bittie, sayin that the hoosin fowk war watchin; that he’d hae tae pye Cooncil Tax fur Myra an mair unless he got rid o her an her junkie friens an hingers-on.
Brian set the aipple back doon on the table. “Ye’ve cam a lang wye since thon day, Jenny,” quo he. He drappit his voice tae a fusper.
Jenny gied a saft skreich. The unborn bairn wis kickin. Her hauf-brither cuppit the croon o her wame in his swack, fite, fiddler’s fingers.
“We baith ken fine it’s mine,” he fuspered. “Ye sudna hae merriet him, Jenny. It’s ay bin us thegither. Nae fair tae him, nor us.”
“Wheesht!” snappit Jenny, powkin a lang skein o fair hair ahint her lug. “Ye ken weel nae tae spikk o sic maitters. If we choose tae gie oorsels easement – nae ill’s bin daen. Ye ken Neil’s spunk-coont wis low . . . an forbye he’ll be gweed tae the bairn. He’s nae reason tae think it’s nae his.’
“Fit if I’ve passed my tribble ontae the bairn?” he doggedly gaed on. “Fit if it’s nae the perfect wee Duguid he’s hopin fur?”
“We’ll cross thon briggie fan we come til’t,’ she fuspered. ‘Naethin bit the best fur oor littlin. Private skweel, designer claes, furrin holidays – the Hen-Hoose is weel in the past.” Jenny gart her brither luik ower the balcony, doun tae the quarry founs.
“Mind fin thon wis a glaury dubby hole? Mind fin anely the winos an weirdos gaed there? It’s the tap towrist attraction in the hale o Europe noo. There’s even peregrine falcons nestin on the cliffs. They’re makkin documentaries aboot foo the lochan wis dredged, dichtit an muckit-oot; an aboot fit they caa the conceptual thinking ahint this muckle gless box I bide in – some warld-kent architect frae Germany designed the biggin o’t. An you an me, Brian, we’re like yonder quarry – we were aince in the glaur, bit noo I’m on the up-an-up – an ye’re comin wi me!”
A buzzard swung atour the quarry’s face, its shadda faain on the lochan like a derk cross. O a suddenty, the simmer evenin sunlicht jeeled an cweeled.
Wildness and silence disappeared from the countryside, sweetness fell from the air, not because anyone wished them to vanish or fall but because throughways had to floor the meadows with cement to carry the automobiles which advancing technology produced…tropical beaches turned into high-priced slums where thousand-room hotels elbowed each other for glimpses of once-famous surf not because those who loved the beaches wanted them there but because enormous jets could bring a million tourists every year- and therefore did.
Archibald MacLeish: ‘The Great American Frustration’
(in Reflections on Wildness, Windhorse Publ. 2000)
Brian Duguid wis twinty-five year auld, still bidin at hame in Quarrytowers wi his faither, Neil, an his mither, Jenny. His uncle Brian hid deid ten year back, stottin his heid aff concrete in the mids o a fit. He hid aye felt muckle nearhaun tae his uncle than tae his Da, as close as Brian Duguid iver got tae onythin. Twis noo 2046 an Brian hid gotten a job as an organ-broker at the Navachitta Health Centre in the Balbutt Estate –- the auld name ‘Hen-Hoose’ tint aa meanin fin the slums wiz bulldozed bi government decree tae makk wye fur the wirkers’ life-cells.
Like a muckle hinneycaimb, designed tae pleesure near aa a body’s needs, the life-cells war anely gien oot tae fit war cad “economic migrants” o the puirer kind. Onythin o wirth that tuik harns tae dae cud noo bi daen bi plasma screen or computer. Ither unmerried fowk bedd wi their parents – anither directive pit oot bi the government tae stem the sprauchlin smore o hooses that hid near dichtit the kintraside aff the map, an aa the breets an flooers that gaed wi it. Noo ye hid tae pruive there wis naebody ye cud bide wi ava, afore the toun wad grant ye a hame o yer ain. An even thon hid tae be in a skyscraper 20 stories heich or mair. Muckle land wis keepit bi the Cooncil fur Leisure Centres, parklans far younglins micht play. Tae makk eese o them, the toun’s tenants war gart gree tae the antrin joab – myndin the crèche mebbe, or gairdnin, or haunin oot fines tae onybody daft, glaikit, or coorse eneuch tae bladd the winnerfu greenery.
The Director o the Navachitta Health Centre far Brian Duguid vrocht wis Dr Shiran Bandara, an his Personal Assistant wis his wife Lakshmi. He’d caad the Centre efter his dother Nava an efter her daith hid gien aa his virr tae research. Dr Bandara an his wife hid pioneered ART – the “age-reversal treatment” that hid sae cheenged the warld in the 2030s On his ain daily dose, the Director luikit nearer forty nur a chiel in his seventies.
Wi sic a rowth o fowk haein this braw remeid in the Navachitta Centre (biggit on the foun o the auld Fittach wids) wirk wis niver short fur an organ-broker like Brian. The medical loons an quines didna wint tae hae onythin tae dae wi the business o hairstin organs – the buyin an sellin o fowk’s intimmers – fur wi gey fyew o them deein o auld age itsel, an sae muckle o the third warld riddled wi orra smits like a fooshtie cheese wummlin wi maggots, there wis scarce ony bodies fit tae be rypit.
Neil Duguid hid taen Dr Bandara’s induction course three year back. Dr Bandara likit fine tae gie his new staff swatches frae Meikleburgh’s kenspeckle past. His ain calf-kintra o Sri Lanka micht hae hid demons, bit Meikleburgh hid grave-robbers. He wad stert in wi a tale frae the ceevic records. “Dae ony o you like dugs?” he wad speir.
A pucklie hauns micht rise. Syne he’d tell them foo a dug hid gaen fleein ben Sector 7 wi a string o puddens hingin frae its chooks – nae sausages, bit intimmers frae a corp bein dissected in the toun’s anatomy theatre ahint the auncient cathedral. A steer o fowk hid gaithered; a stramash nae cannie set in, an they aa hid merched in a bourach tae the dissectin chaumer an set the haa in a bleeze.
“I would hope we’ve moved on since then,” smiled the good doctor. “But tact is of the essence when dealing with delicate matters such as organ donation, especially a donation from a live donor.”
The brokerage yon day wis byordinar. The director o the Health Centre hid bin in twa minds as tae whether or no tae gie the negotiations tae anither organ-broker, bit Brian hid speceefically socht fur the handlin’ o’t. Brian wis gweed at’s darg, like a terrier; he cud read fowk like a buik an play on them like a fiddle. The donor wis tae be Jed Anderson, a fifty-twa year auld frae the Culture Unit an the recipient wis tae be Brian’s ain faither, Neil.
’Twis the same Jed Anderson, itherwise kent as Bappy, that hid gotten the wyte fur trystin Dr Bandara’s dother, Navachitta, tae play in the quarry. It hid gien the doctor a stammygaster fin he’d trawled ben his computers an DNA data-banks sikkin a match fur Neil Duguid senior. There wis nae mistakkin the data: Neil Duguid’s kidneys war awa tae smush, an Jed Anderson wis the maist nearhaun match. Neil wis a gweed faither tae Brian – fair doted on him – an niver aince jaloused, that the littlin wis sired bi his brither-in-law, Brian Sangster. Thon wad hae bin a thing ower scunnersome tae dwal on – his ain wife beddin her brither – an nae fur a meenit did he think it.
Neil hid gotten a gey begeck fin a match wis fand sae quick. His adoptive faither, Pat Duguid, wis heid o the Crime an Punishment Depairtment at Holyrood – Dr Bandara’s age-reversal treatment wis expensive, bit sae wis trainin new dugs tae perform auld tricks. Pat Duguid wis a pouerfu chiel an cud easy makk things gang missin – he'd made Neil’s birth records gang agley wi a supposed computer virus. The virus hooseaiver, hidna wirmed its wye up tae Dr Bandara’s databanks at Meikleburgh,. Pat Duguid’s warst dree wis that Neil wad find his birth-mither gin the day cam that he wad ettle tae sikk her oot – he wis terrifeed this littlin he’d raised as his ain wad faa in wi his birth-mither’s friens, the scum o Meikleburgh, the dealers an junkies an chores that trawled the sewers, fur the pooshion they shot up their veins sookit ooto them aa sense o richt an wrang.
Neil Duguid hid cam back tae Meikleburgh as a student, kennin anely the bare fac that he’d bin born there. In his teenage years he’d ettled tae fin oot aboot his naitral parents, bit wis telt aboot the computer virus that hid pit paid tae aa records fur the year o his birth. He’d nae notion that puir deid Myra Anderson hid bin his birth-mither or that his faither cud hae bin ony ain o her herbour clients. He’d nae notion neither that Bappy, the prospective donor o the life-giein kidney, wis his ain hauf-brither. True, ye cud growe kidneys noo frae a body’s ain DNA, like growin a plant frae a seed or seedling. Dr Bandara kent – fit Brian Duguid didna – that Jed Anderson wis aboot as close as ye cud get fur a leevin donor, bein sib tae the host body itsel. The doctor saw nae need tae fyle the watters bi sharin sic maitters wi Brian. Deed, ’twas better that he didna, fur Brian wad takk ill wi acquirin a new hauf-uncle, maist o aa ane as saft in the heid as Jed. An fit eese wad it serve tae let Neil Duguid ken fit kinno a mither hid drappit him? A bittie o Dr Bandara still gied a grue, kennin his bonnie young dother hid deed in the quarry an a sumph like Jed Anderson still gaed aboot, giein naethin ava tae the common weel. Bit thon wis karma – the weird fowk dreed.
Organ transplantation wis big business noo. The tests war inno three pairts: bluid-matchin, tissuetype-matchin an cross-matchin. Organs liftit frae a corp warna near as guid as eens taen frae a leevin donor. It gied a hale new meanin tae the auld spikk, “close in bluid” – keepin aathin in the faimly.
A chiel wi bluid group O cud tak a kidney frae an O-group donor – an baith Neil Duguid an Jed Anderson war bluid group O. The tissue-matchin on the computer database wis near as dammit perfeck. Tissue-matchin cudnae hae bin better neither, speecially as Jed wis a leevin donor. The cross-match tests, taen frae the health profiles o baith cheils frae Dr Bandara’s computers war favourable fur transplantation tae gyang forrit. Aa that remained noo wis fur Jed tae gree.
Brian hid contactit his granfaither, Pat, tae see gin the polis computers could raik up onythin ava tae makk eese o in persuadin Bappy Anderson tae pairt wi a kidney. He wis a clivver chiel, auld Pat. Terrorism, murder, bairn-rape hid aa bin near stampit oot unner Pat Duguid’s watch. Onybody wi news o terrorists wis gien a series o rewards o their ain chusin. Wi the spreid o the age-reversal drugs limited tae fowk in key joabs, police informers wad aften sikk hale body makkowers. Ithers micht sikk oot cloned kinsmen or weemin (tho they hid a life expectancy o ten years anely tae conserve resources) tae replace luved anes fa hid deed.
Ony felon guilty o the maist serious crimes wis sentenced tae “twinnin”. Fowk in the twinty-first century war far ower ceevilised tae impose the daith penalty, or the dreidfu floggins the airmy an navy dished oot langsyne. Gin a criminal wis tae bi “twinned”, he or she wis transportit back in time tae share the same sentence o a witch, a murderer, or a mutineer in the time o Jamie the Saxth – sae relievin twinty-first century fowk o cairryin oot the degradin darg o torture an capital punishment. Lesser crimes war dealt wi bi “chippin”. A wife-beater wad be gien a chip implant tae inflict pain on himself sud it monitor an upgaun in his rage-levels. Sud it nae pick up on these, ’twis programmed tae mak repon tae his wife’s skirls fur help. Curfews war enforced on gangs o halflins bi electronic taggin. Efter the specifeed oor o the nicht, they sud aa be in their ain hames – itherwise the pain factor wad stert electronically. Crime hid dwined winnerfu since Pat Duguid tuik ower at Holyrood. Polis frae America an Russia war ower in Scotia the noo luikin at fit wis cad the DPBC model – Duguid’s Population Behavioural Control.
Ayont the fack that Jed Anderson hid bin at the quarry the day that Navachitta deed, Pat Duguid cud fin naethin amiss, nae as muckle’s a warnin fur speedin ben the nicht-sky in a flicht car. His repon tae his grandson wis that he maun luik mair near-haun fur a wye tae perswad the sumph tae gyang unner the surgeon’s knife.
His mither, Jenny, supplied the answer. They hid pit their harns thegither the nicht afore ower the maitter o Jed. Neil Duguid hid bin in his bedroom, haein his enin dialysis.
“Efter Nava hid deed it tuik a lang fyle fur auld fowk’s ill-will agin Jed tae dee doon. They cudnae takk it in that Bappy wis jist the same age – in his heid – as me an yer uncle Brian: a body-like cheil wi a feel’s harns. An he’ll nae be keen tae hae surgery. Mynd, his Auntie Jude his traiveller bluid in her, an sic fowk tak a scunner at the thocht o their ain flesh bein taen bi anither,” she telt Brian, wha hauf-myndit that in his culture-classes at the skweel he’d bin telt o the traiveller’s fear o the Burkers – the body-snatchers fa thocht naethin o smoorin a traiveller fur the anatomists, gin local corpses war in short supply. His mither wisnae stumpit tho.
“Fan we launched the Quarry Quine thon day, Jed wintit tae gyang tae America. He socht tae see Gracelan an dolphins an Harley Davidsons. Thon’s the anely thing that micht persuade him. Ye ken foo fikey it is tae win a visa tae America eftir yon eco-riots ten years syne – they jalouse onybody nae born in the States is an ill-daein terrorist. Sae ’twad be richt hard fur Jed, fur his uncle Cammy wis shot bi the state sodjers in yon stramash.”
“But Cammy wis anely there sellin freendship bracelets an Elvis CDs,” quo Brian, fa hid heard the story ower an ower, the eco-riots haein brocht in mony a gey Draconian meisur frae the Government, tae limit the wye fowks freely stravaiged aroon the kintra. Ye’d near tae seek permeesion noo tae veesit Steenhive, let alane Steenhenge.
“Aye, bit the American embassy disnae see it thon wye. They’ll tar him wi the same brush as the eco-anarchists. Tryst him awa frae Jude gin ye can. Since Jude’s loon Kieran jyned the Human Nutrition Unit in Embro, an Cammy wis shot at the Fittach wids, Bappy’s aa the kin she’s got left. Tell him he owes it tae Dr Bandara, tae makk up fur Nava’s daith. Tell him fowk’ll think he’s a hero. Tell him ye’ll gie him a visa tae veesit the USA – aye, him an Jude as weel, if thon’s fit it takks, wi eneuch siller in their pooches tae buy ten Harley Davidsons. Tell him onythin, bit be swippert aboot it. Yer faither’s failin, an canna haud on muckle langer.’
Brian needit nae persuadin tae help keep his faither frae daith. His ain name hid jist bin placed on the bridal queue. The morph-screens in yon days wad identifee a wumman tae pair wi fur recreational sex an nest-biggin. His spunk wad be hairstit efter his waddin tae wyle oot impurities, as wad his wife’s eggs. Gin the prognosis o their jynin thegither wisnae guid, the fertileezed eggs wad be aborted. If ‘twis braw, their offspring wad gae intil the hatchery alang wi the lave o the human embryos.
The loon hid bin pitten aa wye through his merriege prenticeship. He’d daen bairn psychology, an role-play fur fitiver man-wumman warssles micht pit in a face; he cud dae spreidsheets in domestic accoonts; an he kent aa the richt peels tae swallae fur his nutritional needs. Naebody noo ett auld-farrand food onless ’twis a speecial event – forbye those fowk fa kent nae better. Computers cud decern tae a hair fit wis needit nutritionally, an dalt yon oot ilkie morn tae their human maisters.
Quarrytowers wis a listit biggin noo – historic – an Brian’s hame wad be a life-cell inno yon hinneycaimb. He’d hae his ain flicht-car an wad gae daffin in the Stranlowper Development, a muckle R. & R. toun aneth the North Sea. Bit, til his faither wis hale, he’d be kent as ane o the kin-carers, an wad be keepit at hame till his faither aither deed or wis his auld sel. As it stude, ’twis anely because o Neil Duguid’s eese tae the toun, throwe his faither Pat, that they war lat bide on at Quarrytowers – hoose space bein sae scant in a warld far fowk was gey slaw tae dee. Jenny an Neil wad itherwyse hae bin resattled in a “gloamin” hinneycaimb, on doses o age-reversal serum, watchin the oor glaiss that bare ran ava . . .
Neist mornin Brian tuik the sky-train straucht tae Sector 8, the Balbutt Estate, far Jude an Jed Anderson baith wirkit in the culture-carrier unit that hid pyed the wages o his uncle Brian forbye. He likit the sky-train. It gart him feel some-like an erne wheechin ben the warld twinty storeys up abeen the grun, atap the railwye struts that luikit like yon auld hydro pylons aneth the furlin ribbon o steel an glaiss that wis the route. Syne he glided doon the lift-pod tae the grun, trampin ben tae Sector 8 ahin a lang snake o Japanee towrists. They shauchled forrit tae be socht bi the guairds fur bombs, syne bocht their tickets an gaed intil the culture-fest cad “Meikleburgh Langsyne”. The Andersons, baith auntie an nevoy, baith vrocht in the Fishin Ha’ section. Ye cud smell it lang afore ye saw it.
Three weemin vrocht thegither in a crew, stappin a thoosan herrin inno ilkie barrel. Twa weemin guttit; the ither een pangit the herrin stappin them thegither bi size. Aawye abune wis skurries, skirlin an skitterin, their yalla beaks grabblin the fish guts fit drappit frae the gutters’ knives. The weemin wir booed ower a heeze o fish, knives flashin bricht in the cauld sun. Ootower the loodspikkers cam a fishin lilt, wi a wee bit spik frae some nameless culture-cairrier –
"This sang wis aince heard in 'Singin The Fishin', ane o a Radio-Ballad series, makkit fur the BBC atween 1957 an 1964 bi Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker. It lats ye ken fit the darg wis like in the Nor-East coast fin the herrin fishin wis at its heicht. The sang wis first broadcast on the BBC Hame Service on 16 August, 1960. Syne it won the Prix d'Italia an eftir yon ’twis transmittit tae echtie-sax kintras. Wheesht! Hark noo till Ewan MacColl giein us, ‘Cam aa ye Fisher-Lassies’ as ye tak sicht o the quines booin ower the fish"
As the strains o the sang waucht roon his lugs, the transplant-broker pykit his wye ben fish-guts an scurrie-keech, speirin as he gaed alang far micht Jude Anderson be – kennin that farivir she wis, Jed wadna be far ahint.
Come a' ye fisher lassies, it's come awa' wi' me,
Fae Gamrie an Cairnbulg an Inverallochie,
Fae Buckie an fae Aberdeen an a' the kintra roon,
We're awa tae gut the herrin, we're awa tae Yarmouth toon.
“Is Jude Anderson guttin here?” he speared o a lassie packin ten tae the dizzen
“Is thon the auld traiveller wummin?”
“Ay, that’ll be her.”
“Speir farrer ben the quay.”
Rise early in the mornin wi' yer bundlie in yer haun,
Be at the station early or ye’'ll surely hae to staun;
Tak plenty tae eat an a kettlie fur yer tea,
Or ye'll mebbe dee o hunger on the wye tae Yarmouth quay.
A scurrie wi a braid wing-span an murder in its een dookit low aroon his lugs an skreiched like a banshee as it furled aff ower the eelie watter o the herbour.
The journey it's a lang ane, it takks a day or twa;
An fin ye reach yer ludgins, soon asleep ye’ll faa.
Bit ye’ll rise at five wi' the sleep still in yer ee,
Yer awa tae fin the guttin yairds alang frae Yarmouth quay.
A fleet o rooshty fishin boaties bobbit at anchor. The lift wis the colour o a deed salmon, grey wi the antrin straik o yalla far the sun strove tae blink ben. As fur the quayside itsel, it wis cauld, it wis raw an it wis clorty.
It's early in the mornin an late intil the nicht,
Yer hauns is aa chappit an they luik an unco sicht,
An ye greet like a bairn fin ye steep them in the bree,
An ye wish ye war a thoosan mile awa frae Yarmouth quay.
Niver did ony lood-spikker blast oot a truer wird. Brian fairly wished himsel hyne awa frae Meikleburgh’s Culture-unit guttin yairds. He wis a pernickety kinno cheil, dentie in his mainners, mair eased tae computer darg nor tae doonricht scunnerin soss. The guff aff the herbour wis laithsome; the souns an the sliddery guts o the fish aa garred him near tae cowk. He plytered on, by lauchin gutters an fish porters. The sang gaed on, ringin oot in the cantiest o wyes, as tho guttin fish wis like a wee ploy fowk did that jist happent tae pye – as if they likit staunin up tae their hurdies in fish bree, scales an guff:
There's coopers an there’s curers an there’s buyers, canny chiels;
There’s lassies at the picklin an ithers at the creels;
An ye’'ll wish aa the fish hid bin left intil the sea
Bi the time ye’ve feenished guttin herrin on the Yarmouth quay.
Bi noo Brian hid fand Jude Anderson. Unlike his ain mither an faither, fowk like the Andersons waurna gien the age-reversal serum. Culture-cairriers war easy culled frae the fey an feckless. Jude Anderson wis near echty, still swack, bit nut-broon an wrinkled like a taed. She wis dowpit doon atap an auld fish box, wyvin a net wi a bane shuttle – back an forrit, forrit an back – her nieves somelike a labster’s cleuks, aa reid an big jyntit. She wis riggit oot in the lang skirts an apron o a Nor-East fish wife.
“A bonnie sang,” quo Brian, dowpin doon aside her.
“They didna sing sangs like thon, the auld fowk,” she telt him, meanin, he jaloused, in the hyne-awa days. “Na, the auld fowk waur gey releegious. ’Twis hymns they sang at the guttin. Gin ye’ve some siller ye’re nae needin, an a fylie tae spare, I cud tell ye a richt tale or twa. I hae a rowth o sea tales in me.”
Brian quickly cheenged tack. “I’m sure they’re braw tales, fegs ay! Bit I’m here on ither maitters aathegither – ane tae yer better, ay! It’s aboot yer nevoy, Jed. Bappy, as fowk caa him fyles.”
The auld wummin gied a nod o her heid tae far her nevoy vrocht eidently. Jed wis loadin the herrin inno the nutrition larries. The fish the gutters rived apairt war speecially bred in fish-ferms fur the eese o the Culture-unit, herrin haein near deed oot wi aa the global pollution. The nutrition larries cairriet aff fish an corn frae the fishin an fermin units in Sector 8 tae hae their proteins an vitamins an carbohydrates extractit an modifeed, alangside the maet produced in the ordnar wye, in muckle genetic-modifaction fish an crop fairms ained bi the state an run frae Embro.
“Jed,” she skreiched in a thin vyce. ‘There’s a loon here wints a news wi ye.”
Jed trailed ower, a rael naitral, aa riggit oot in the tackety buits an claes o the guttin days. He’d three days’ stibble ower his chooks an a brukken neb far somebody hid gien him a skelp wi a beer bottle lang syne – jist fur bein Jed. Noo fifty-twa year auld an as glaikit’s the day he wis born, he wis easy-led an easier made a feel o. The gutters, tho, luikit oot fur Jed, as they’d luik oot fur a bairn or fur a bird wi a brukken wing. Maist o them hidna bin born fin Navachitta deed.
The loon cam ower tae Brian an his aunt, tuik aff his bunnet, respectfu-like, an stude wringin it in his hauns like it wis a cloot fu o watter.
“Sit doon Jed,” the auld wummin telt him. “Let’s hear fit the chiel here’s wintin.”
This wisnae the wye Brian hid socht tae broach the subjeck – nae wi the auld wummin there an the traiveller’s weel-kent skeer o surgeons an knives. He thocht quick an syne leed.
“Farrer ben the beach, they tell me, there’s the spars o a slave-ship that cam up fyles fan the sans shift.”
“An fit if there is?” speired the auld wummin.
“They tell me that Jed kens far aboot yon slave-ship sits in the watter.”
“They tell ye a gey lot, I’m thinkin,” quo the auld wummin. As yet, she hidna speired fa “they” micht be, nor yet the name o the cheil that stude afore her.
“I think ye ken my mither. Jenny Sangster, as wis,” he tried, makkin the “auld friens” ploy. “She merriet a chiel frae Embro wye. An she telt me the Andersons ken mair aboot local history than aa the profeesors hereabouts iver forgot.”
’Twis a lang shot, bit it wirked. Jude Anderson wis flattered. ’Twis wide-kent Jenny Sangster hid merriet far hyne abeen her Sector.
“I wad takk ye masel,” she wheezled, “bit I canna traivel far noo on fit. Jed’ll show ye. He kens. An ye’ll be sure an pye him weel, an takk care o him fin he’s wi ye? He’s a trustin nature, Jed; an it lands him intil tribble, fyles.’
Brian agreed, an socht clearance wi the heid-bummer o the Culture-unit an the heid-quine o Sector 8 tae lat Jed oot fur a hauf-day – “Nae a meenit langer!”. Fowk traivelled atween the Sectors o the toun, bit reasons maun ay be gien on the pass Syne he telt auld Jude he’d pye her nevoy fur ony recordin or filmin he micht dae.
Sae Jed an Brian gaed fur a wauk bi the beach, throwe the crack in the quarry that still ran doon frae its lip, the better tae sweeten him up an wirk on his needs an fears. As they dandered frae the yetts o the Culture-cairriers’ Sector alang frae the herbour, syne roon an up tae the beach far the slave-ship lay, Jed began tae cam oot wi a speil he hid larned ower his years in the Fishin Unit. ’Twis fit he thocht the fremmit cheil wantit tae hear an sae he rattled it aff like a parrot:
“Fishin fowk in the auld days war affa supersteeshous. They war fair tribbled bi aathin o ill-omen. Gin a fisherman saw a blaik cat on the road tae his boatie, or an ill-faured wummin, or a meenister; or if onybody spakk the name o a grumphie, the boatie wadna sail that day. Gin onybody speired o a fisherman far he wis gyaun, he wadna sail. He micht faa in wi a reid-heided body, or a flat-fittit body, a dug, a hare, or a rabbit. Aa thon wad bring ill-luck on his heid. His wife wadnae caimb her hair efter gloamin fin he wis at sea. An on New Year’s Day, pucklies o fisherfowk gaed doon tae the stran an poored a howpie o sea-watter inno a jug, likewise liftin some dulse. At hame they spirkit the sea-watter roon the fire an hung the dulse abeen the door.”
Jed spakk aa this wioot draain braith: it hid bin dinned inno him bi Auld Jude alang wi the antrin sang an tale, tae gie him a sma livin in tips frae towrists or veesitin politeecians. Brian Duguid hidna listened tae a wird o’t, tho he noddit an smiled aa the fyle. They warna far frae the wrack o the slave-ship noo. He kent fine far it wis, fur his uncle Brian hid aince shown him. (He’d nae idea that his uncle hid really bin his faither – his mither hid seen nae gain in sharin thon wi him.) The air wachtin aff o the sea wis cauld an sautie. The waves cam creepie-crawlin up ower the san like a mither o pearl satin sark that a wummin micht weir neist her breists. The sicht gied a lowp tae his manhood. Yon sea wis a wife richt eneuch, cheengefu, vengefu, maisterfu. Betimes quaet; betimes gurly. Aywyes sleekit fin she met the strand; a richt tease, rinnin forrit as if blithe tae see ye, syne sookin awa back gin ye tried tae tryst wi her. ’Twis time he wis merriet, he thocht. Bit gettin his faither weel again wis the first rung on the merrital laidder.
“Is’t hyne awa, yon wrack?” speired Brian, brakkin inno the whine o Bappy’s claik, tho he kent fu weel it wis anely roon the neist neuk.
“Na, nae far. We’re jist aboot there. This slave-ship cairriet aff hunners o toun bairns frae Meikleburgh afore it gaed doon in a storm anyont the herbour bar. ’Twis washed back ontil the shore bit aa its cargae o littlins – an the crew an skipper forbye, wis aa drooned.
“Foo auld war the littlins? An far war they gaun?”
“They war gaun till Americay tae be selt at auction bi slave-maisters yonner. They war kidnapped maistly, tho some fowk selt their ain littlins tae the slavers fur a hauf- croon. Gangs o tarry-breeks stravaiged throwe the toun an liftit bairns playin alane, or wheeched them aff fin their parents waurna luikin. There wis a hoose nearhaun till the herbour far a piper droont their skirls till the ship cud catch the tide. Cooncillors kent aboot it an got siller frae’t. It aa stoppit tho fin a loon cam back, riggit oot as a Reid Indian, feathers an aa, tae sue the Council. Hunners mair jist vainished tho.”
Syne Bappy sterted a lament fur the tint bairns – a sang he’d larned frae Auld Jude an ithers amang the traiveller fowk:
Creepin frae the shoreline
Up crooked wynd an lane;
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties,
They takk the laigh road hame
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties,
Their kistit banes lie cauld;
Atlantic waves sair pairtin
The New Warld frae the Auld
A-seekin o their bairnhood
Afore they war waylaid
Near herbour or bi schooner
The slavers’ sleekit trade.
Bit oh! The hames that murned them
Are nocht bit stoor an win;
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties,
An nane tae lat them in.’
Afore them, as they turned the neuk, the tapmaist spars o the auld slave-ship raise eildtrich-like frae the sans.
“Ten year auld, ye say maist o them were?” quo Brian. “Ten year auld? Nae age ava, jist. Ten year auld. There maun hae bin a wheen sair hairts in thon times, greetin fur tint littlins.”
That muckle sumph, Bappy, upheezed his bunnet wi reverence an noddit. Efter aa, yon wrack wis a grave as weel’s a landmerk.
“We cud see it better frae a heicher place, could we nae? We cud sclimm up the side o the Gap an luik doon frae the quarry tap?” proposed Brian, addin as a sweetener,”an I cud pye ye ootwith fit I’m giein the Sector’s heidman fur yer half-day’s darg.”
They turned aff the beach thegither, shakkin aff crummles o san, syne wyted fur a brakk in the traffic an crossed the busy intersector road. The Gap stude far it aye hid bin, sliced an skewed like a hare’s lip. They sclimmed in quaetness, pechin fyles, tho Jed made lichter wark o it than Brian, for aa that he wis nearhaun twice his age, an heavy-built wi’t. Jed, tho, frae langsyne, kent aa the ins an oots o the quarry.
“Bit shairly they waurna the anely ten year auld bairns tae dee hereabouts?” said Brian tae Jed. “Wis there nae a daith in the quarry hereaboots? Some wee Sri Lankan quinie? Fowk said there wis a teenage loon wi her should hae luikit efter her. Saxteen or siventeen year auld he wis, so I heard, auld eneuch tae ken better than let a littlin try tae sclimm an unchancy place like this.”
Aneth them, the quarry lochan luikit grey as leid. A muckle blaik cloud rowed ower the lift an twa-three jet-blaik shags on the cliff aneth rankled their tarry feathers like weird weemin.
“Yon loon wis me,” Bappy blooterit oot. ‘’Twis my wyte. I dinna ken fit I wis thinkin on, lattin her dae’t. I’d gie onythin tae makk up fur thon day. Bit ye canna gie back a life that’s tint.”
They stude thegither a meenit, lattin the thocht sattle, Bappy myndin on thon braw spring day lang years ahint an on the wye the lochan swallaed the lassie hale, an Brian thinkin on his faither, an on his chaunces o winnin the fecht.
“Na, bit ye cud help save a life,” quo Brian, makkin oot he’d jist thocht o this ploy. ‘Ye ken that Navachitta’s Da an Ma rin the Health Centre an the Research base? Weel, ma ain faither is ane o their biggest financial backers, an ma faither needs a kidney transplant. In the ordinar wye o things, we wadnae think o makkin eese o onybody like yersel – nae offence, Jed, bit yer nae the healthiest-luikin o speecimens, nor the youngest, neither – bit I’ve taen a likin tae ye an I can weel jalouse ye’d fair like tae makk up fur Navachitta Bandara’s daith.’
“Ma auntie wad niver alloo yon. Traivellers hae a byordnar fear o the surgeon’s knife.”
“Ay, bit it’s yer auntie I’m thinkin o as weel. I funcie she’d like fine tae veesit furran lans afore she dees. I’d bet she’d etle tae see Paris, or Rome, or Americay, or the Pyramids o Egypt.”
“Americay! Americay!” cried Jed. “Oh, wad we nae like thon! I’ve ay winted tae gie her somethin fur takkin me in as a littlin. I cud see Gracelan an Florida an dolphins! An I cud hae a Harley Davidson an veesit aa the Cultural Sectors in Texas . . . I’ve ayewyes hankered eftir seein the USA!’
“Weel, noo ye can, min. Bit ye mauna bladd it bi tellin her. She wadna let ye dae it. Na, she’d pit her fit doon. An ye’re a grown loon noo. Ye ken yer ain mind. It’s nae richt her orderin ye aboot like as ye war feel. An we could hae’t daen quick smert, nae bother ava. Fin we gyang back I can tell the fowk yonner we need a twa, three wikks taa makk a richt documentary aboot the slave times an yon ship wrack. They’ll be nane the wiser. Syne we’ll buik ye intil the Transplant Ward neist wikk – efter a twa-three wee tests, tae makk siccar ye’re up tae’t. An efter thon? Weel, far dae I stert? Ye’d hae eneuch siller an mair tae takk auld Jude an yersel aa roon the States. Ye’ll hae saved ma ain faither’s life; an ye’ll hae saved Dr Bandara’s research project, fur wioot ma faither’s fundin it wad be sair strugglin. Ye’ll hae daen a richt fine thing, Jed Anderson. Fowk’ll respeck ye fur it!”
Fur sae mony years, Jed Anderson hid bin an ootlinn, kent as yon glaikit sumph fa’d let a wee quine dee. Fur sae mony years he’d bin a sair wecht aroon his auntie’s craig, tho she’d niver hae girned aboot it.
“I’ll dae it!” quo he.
Twa wikks later, Neil Duguid lay in the neist room tae Bappy Anderson. Bappy wis in a side room, the brawest siller cud buy. Brian Duguid didna wint him tellin aabody the ins an oots o their transplant contract. Gin Bappy deed, Auld Jude wad get sae mony thoosan as lang as she lived – an gien her age, thon wadna rype the bank. Gin the operation gaed weel, he’d hae a muckle nest egg tae fund himself an his aunt aroon the warld. As aabody thocht he wis makkin a documentary, he hid tae bide bi himsel withoot ony veesitors. Brian hid gien him films o Gracelan an Elvis an dolphins –eneuch tae scunner a body – onless that body wis Bappy, fa loued Elvis as if he wis the Messiah incarnate.
Neil Duguid, on the ither haun, hid nae want o veesitors – His wife Jenny, his loon Brian, executives frae his company an his ain faither, Pat. He cudna believe foo chancie he’d bin tae be gien a kidney sae faist efter his kidneys gaed tae smush. Some fowk hid wyted years.
“The lawyer-fowk hae bin in tae draa up ma will,” he telt Brian. “I hinna telt yer mither: she’d anely fash hersel. Baith o ye get aathin shared atween ye. In fac, I hid a wird wi the Hoosin Unit doon at Holyrood. They’re greeable tae cheenge the rules this aince, fur aa ma services in fundin medical research. Fin I div dee, ye’ll hae, as they pit it, a ‘special dispensation’ nae tae leave Quarrytowers fur the wirkers’ life-cells – ye can bide on in the penthoose suite wi yer mither an wife an faimly, gin ye hae ain bi then. Fooiver maitters turn oot, ye’ll nae hae tae shift. Dr Bandara tells me I micht need a rowth o nursin efter this is aa ower. Yer mither micht luik young, bit age serum disna mend aathin. Maist o’t will fa on yer ain showders. I ken ye’ll nae grudge it nir lat me doon.”
This wis a hale new kettle o fish fur his son tae takk on boord. He felt the stert o an aura comin on sae steppit ooto the ward an intae the fite an chrome corridor tae takk his anti-epilepsy peels, sweelin them doon wi spring watter frae a plastic dispenser. The aura advanced, syne receded. The fit didna cam on. He hidna really thocht afore aboot options like thon – life wi his faither lippen tae him, girny an dweeble; life withoot his faither; nae the life-cell he’d thocht he’d be bidin in, bit the tap o the merket Quarrytowers suite he lued. True, his mither wad be wi him, bit he’d ay bin closer tae her than tae his Da.
His mither, Jenny, hid bin telt bi the doctors that, efter the operation, Brian wis the named carer. An Neil Duguid hid mair medical complications than maist. The drugs that his unkent mither hid taen fin he wis in the wyme, hid sappit his system frae the stert. The Age-serum suppressed the maist o’t, bit he wis in fur a roch fylie – an micht need a fair bittie nursin, mair nur maist.
Fur better or wirse, Jenny thocht noo wis the time tae tell Brian fa his birth-faither wis. She wis weariet o keepin the secret fur sae lang, fearin that gin she didna tell him noo she niver wid, kennin that sud Brian iver need medical help himself, he’d need tae ken his richt genetic history.
Her man Neil wis driftin aff tae sleep, the pre-med. drug makkin him dwaumy, near ready tae gyang unner the knife. Jenny grippit his haun as they hurled him awa in the trolley, an syne gaed tae sikk oot her loon.
They sat in the hospital café, steerin their coffee thegither. “Yer Da says ye needit yer peels. Did they wirk? Are ye aa richt noo?”
Brian noddit. His mither wis luikin trauchelt. A patient wis dowpit inno a wheelcheer at the neist table, luikin like daith warmed up. Wi a grue, Brian kent his Da wad luik like thon. He’d niver haen tae nurse onybody afore. There’d be liftin him – an he cud thole thon. Bit he hid niver seen his faither nyaakit afore. There wad be orra guffs an pain. He wisna sure foo he’d takk tae either.
“Brian,” said Jenny, “I’ve somethin tae tell ye – somethin I shoulda telt ye langsyne. Bit ye maun ken noo. Ye need tae ken fur the future. We dinna ay hae oor health – as we’ve larned wi yer Da. Medicine’s winnerfu, bit it’s nae magic. There’s nae an easy wye o telling ye this. Yer Da’s nae yer rael Da. Yer richt da wis yer uncle Brian.”
In some wyes, it wisnae unkent – like he’d ay kent deep doon, bit cudna think that his Ma an her brither hid slept thegither.
“Dis Da . . Dis Neil . . . ken?”
“Na. He disna ken. He niver suspectit aince. He’s still yer Da; he’ll ay be yer Da. He brocht ye up as his an he lues ye. Naethin’s cheenged, nae really. An ye’re ay my ain bairn, nae maitter foo auld ye are. I wad wauk throwe fire an flood afore I’d see a hair o yer heid hairmed.”
Brian steered his coffee again wi the ae haun. Wi the tither, he tuik his mither’s airm an smiled at her.
“Ye pick yer times, Ma. Ye pick yer times.”
“‘Bit we’re aa richt noo ye ken. We’re aa richt, are we no, ma loon?”
“Ay, Ma, we’re solid. Safe as hooses . . “
Bit inbye, his thochts war quicksan. Like bitties o a brukken jigsaw, things made sense noo. The epilepsy – an the wye his uncle spent sae muckle time wi him. He didna blame his Ma – aabody kent fit his granda Sangster wis: a bully, a drooth, an orral – bit as fur Neil Duguid, the chiel fa’d raised him, it wis like somebody’d opened a yett an let the cauld air inno his hairt. It jeeled o a suddenty, like the Bens o Braegarr in a drift. He kent noo that Neil hid niver meant onythin tae him, nae really: they’d gaen throwe the motions, thon wis aa. He kent tae, that the chiel really lued him. Bit fit if he iver fand oot the truith o the maitter? Fit wid his weel-heeled faither think o them then? His mither hid said she’d niver breath a wird – bit she’d telt him eenoo. Gin she iver (God perish the thocht) takk dementia, as puckles o aulder fowk on the Age Serum did, wad guilt lat it slip tae his Da? Neil Duguid wis a guid man; bit he wis nae sanct. Fit man forgies that coorsest o aathin, finnin oot his wife brocht a gorblie inno the nest that shouldna hae bin there – an incestuous gorblie forby.
The transplant operation wis gaein aheid eenoo. It wis a quaet day in the organ unit an there wis jist ae theatre in use. Brian tuik his mither oot tae the lush hospital gairdens unner a muckle glaiss reef like a giant bubble. He left her sittin readin magazines, sayin he’d some loose eyns at wirk. He’d didna really hae a plan. Fate tuik ower; an he dreed the weird she gied him. Waukin ben the corridor ootbye the theatre, his thochts racin, he spied in a wee side-chaumer the operatin theatre computer. An here, his early medical trainin raise up, like a whale frae the deep. He’d anely gaen hauf-wye tae be a doctor – hid divertit inno organ-brokerage insteid: mair siller intilt an nae lang oors o study. The anaesthetist sat ootbye in thon wee room monitorin the levels o baith patients. The patients war held in ajynin cubicles as the organ transplant teams baith hairstit the kidney frae ane an prepared the ither patient tae takk it. Advances in hygiene meant nae chaunce o contamination, sae transplant teams cud perform aside each ither. Gin they war hairstin pairts frae a cadaver, a hale raw o recipients cud at eence be gien new corneas, bowels, harns an hairts.
Syne the anaesthetist raise tae gyang fur a pee. Like as a pilot cud hae a sleep or a daunder, an anaesthetist cud stravaig aboot as weel wi the computer gaein ontae automatic. Brian Duguid cudna hae planned it as weel if he’d tried. It wis the fykiest pynt o the operation. Jist ae wee surge o pouer: an inflood o data frae a virus, say, cud bring doon the hale system. He sat doon at the computer an socht ane. The hospital gaed pit-mirk in a glisk.
On the abyss of the five senses, where a flat-sided steep frowns over the present world, I saw a mighty devil folded in black clouds. (William Blake)
It is hard to live in the world
And hard to live out of it.
It is hard to be one among many . . .
Dhammapada: Sayings of the Buddha
In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the rubbish from a cave’s mouth. . . In the third chamber was an Eagle, with wings and feathers of air; he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite. Around were numbers of eagle like men, who built palaces in the immense cliffs..
William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
It wis noo inno the year 3000. Hale centuries hid fleen past sin the Wars o the Northerners an the Sooth-moothers. The equatorial divide nae langer hid ony meanin, fur aa the airts war ayeweys cauld: ’twis ayeweys winter – wi nae sizzens nur nae trees. There wis nae day nur nae nicht; anely an iverlaistin gloam, far whyles the starnies micht keek oot an whyles they wadna. The warld wis aye weeted bi a fine smaar – a mixter-maxter o smirr an haar, thon purple smog that drappit blue-green rain in smoodrachs o wersh mochieness.
On the grun, flicht cars lay like smashed licht bulbs. Skyscrapers stude as hale as the day the gut-gas gralloched humankind wi its pyson. The yae survivors efter the Wars hid bin the Strand-lowpers fae the sea-touns aneth the oceans – wi eneuch oxygen factories tae keep them gyaun till their genetic engineers cud graft the embryos o humankind wi the DNA o lizards an birds. At the hinnereyn, the result o aa their darg hid bin the Septiles an Skreichmakkers: the yae twa species tae crawl ooto the dubs an plyter throwe a global confrontation tae connach aa global confrontations.
The hinmaist consul-general o Meikleburgh hid bin Brian Duguid. The final DNA tae be fused wi the twa species, lizard an common gull, hid bin taen frae the heid scientist, Dr Shiran Bandara, hunners o years syne, tho ’twisna kent foo stable it wad be, as he’d bin a clone hissel. Ilkie man-lizard wis tae be kent thereaifter as a Septile, an ilkie Septile wad weir the doctor’s physog an cairry his genes tae indwell the lan o Aquas aneth the ocean. Ilkie man-gull wis tae be caad a Skreichmakker; they tae wad cairry the donor’s physog an genes, tae bide in the warld o Los, heich abeen grun. That wye, the gweed scientist jaloused, the twa species micht gie help tae the ither, an nae fecht ower the lave o the planet Yird.
The guid doctor hid gien nae thocht tae the fell coorseness o the consul-general Brian Duguid. He hid bocht aff aa the guairds, wi the promise o ten years’ supply o oxygen, tae swap Bandara’s DNA wi his ain. He’d bocht aff ithers syne, tae lift Bandara an hid gien orders fur the Doctor tae be pit tae daith as a clone – sae nae langer fit tae bide inno the warld’s life-cycle. Aathin in the kintra o Caledonia wid noo cairry the same human genes – those o Brian Duguid – wha noo caad hissel Lazarus Duguid.
There wis nae suretie that the Septiles could thole the lan, tho they’d bin fashioned tae win oot in watter as weel as on shore. Anely a hide as teuch as a crocodile’s could thole the breenge fur meat up onno the birsslin shore an syne back tae the sauftie o watter. The hinmaist scientist in chairge o the experiment (afore man in his ain makk disappeared aathegither) wis Dr Tammas Laggeran. Aneth his heidship, the Septiles fared brawly inno the hatchery, ettin aathin, fooshtie or no. Gin a fier deed, its ain kin wad cannibalise it, makkin guid eese o its beens fur a nest. Lazarus Duguid hissel hid deed afore the projeck wis daen, sae niver saa his descendents colonise baith sea an lan.
In thon airlie days, gin the Septiles grew tae adulthood, pucklies ran aff frae the laboratories inno the whales’ skeletons aneth the sea tae bigg colonies yonner. They’d the face o a cheil bit the scales o a reptile. Septiles war gleg on the uptakk an vrocht muckle stoor-sookers that trawled the glaur ooto the founs o the quarry hole. Aathin fand deed on the lan gaed throwe a snorrel o pipes tae be reprocessed as mait. They turned on their ain maisters an ett them, sae dichtin humankind frae aff the face o the Yird. Watter wis their element: frae their kinrick o Aquas they ruled ilka lochan an burn an stank an ocean ower aa the planet.
The Skreichmakkers bore a chiel’s physog wi the body o a skurrie. They likewyse wan aff, bein as sleekit as their ain sire – an biggit nests in Quarrytowers, an ither airts like yon, aa ower the globe. Skreichmakkers delled the grun fur human pairts. They cam wi the upper limbs o men, nerra airms that powkit aneth their wings, an a human physog, thatched an framed wi feathers, drawn oot tae a pyntit beak. Whyles, they wad fin hale populations o human banes atween the scrumps o granite an smachrie – an these they howkit oot, biggin lang conveyor belts far skulls an rig-banes an ribs dirded alang tae mills that caad them tae crocanation. The Skreichmakkers syne fed this bree tae their littlins.
Ower time the Septiles focht agin the Skreichmakkers, fur spikk atween the twa species wis wintin. Septiles hid the auncient spikk o their forefolk, the human vyce-box bedded doon inno the lizard’s thrapple. Tho Skreichmakkers hid human faces aside frae the beaks, they cud anely skirl like scurries frae the howe-dumb-deid. Birth an Daith tuik the auld ancestral mools. Naethin wis christened, nur wad, nur beeriet. Aathin wis cannibalised: the leevin ettin the deid. Matin wis nae mair nor a birzz in the bygaun. Baith species war omnivores – aathin wis girst tae the mull, an parentin cud be dane bi either sex – whasaeiver ettled it. The ae laa abeen aa wis that the young o the twa species, whither Septile or Skreichmakker, maun be guairdit frae skaith.
Plant life wis ugsome an raivelled. The fyew bitties that growed war camshachalt, bowsie an tapsalteerie. Genetic engineerin hid seen tilt that, insteid o biggin an Eden, science hid vrocht a charnel hoose o horrors. The heid yins o the Septile an Skreichmakker clans war the maist ill-faured an ill-gaited in yon charnel hoose.
Fower times a year, Skreichmakkers teuk aff tae veesit auld steen circles – tho they cudna min whit wye, fur anely a dwamie memorie minded them that these war airts tae haud in reverence. They trystit yonner at the fower quarters, kent in the auld warld as Beltane, Lammas, Mairtinmas an Yule. They thocht the hale lift micht faa, gin they didna boo doun afore thae auld, auld steens. Syne they’d skreich an skirl an hotter inbye the circles, heezin their roups tae the verra lug o the heevins – yon muckle teem o wullsome that birled aboon them. Siclike, the Septiles gaithered bi the sweltrie waters o the equator tae sweem, an dive, an plan, an pleuter at their leisur.
Inter-galactic aid-wirkers frae ither galaxies whyles dockit at Martian space stances, faur oot frae the Yird, afore makkin fit wis caad aid-relief drappies tae the oceans an the lan. The maist o them cam frae galaxies fund bi the Thai astronomer Sulu, wha’d gien them neems efter the seas o his ain cauf-kintra – Mollucca, Ceram, Tomini, Flores an Java. The Mollucans wirkit lang-term tae lowden the Yird’s pollution. Their ain wee planet wis near deid. They howpit tae colonise the Yird gin they cud stabilise it an war ettlin sair tae inbring the Sizzens aince mair.
The Ceramians and the Tomini were pairt o the Florestii Federation, an socht tae win baith Septiles an Skreichmakkers tae jyne their intergalactic airmies tae bigg their empire, makkin eese o the smeddum an wuddrum o baith the twa o the Yird’s species. Sic bonnie fechters cud makk teerification amang ony faes. They ettled tae fin wyes tae win them roon, the mair tae ceevilise them, fur they war nae better noo nur wud breets, neither tae haud nur tae bind, though they’d keepit aa their forebears’ harns an clivveralitie.
The Javans, on the ither haun, war speeritual craiturs, wha were taen up wi the Yird-fowk fur halie an releegious rizzens. It gart them sair grue that cannibalism, ill-wull an brattle still smuchtered awa in the universe an sae they sent oot their missionaries athort the galaxies tae forder the wyes o pace an guidwull. The Javans could anely sort a planet gin the species aince hid kent pace an guidwull somewhyle in its ain past. Things didna luik weel fur the Yird tho. The Yird-fowk hid brunt an ondang an manglit ilk ither fur hunners an hunners o years – maistlie in the name o releegion. Fowk frae ither planets thocht them a tint cause, better left alane an nae tae bi sortit.
Bit the Javans hid veesited the Yird unner a hap o inveesabilitie. The Septiles an Skreichmakkers war far ower coorse tae receive them wi ony kinno guidwull; an the Javans hid nae wice-like wye o kennin foo tae gang intil yon fowk. The Yird hid anely bin fand bi the ooter galaxies efter the muckle global wars. The speirins o the Javan computers tho hid rakit up thoosans o auld screivins, pentins an eemages frae the Yird’s auncient past – bit fit aa yon wis aboot the Javans hidna nae notion ava! They jaloused that the auld Yird-fowk cud screive an spikk – bit fit yon buiks tellt wis a fair meesterie.
Aa the Javans cu makk oot wis that the Skreichmakkers focht wi the ocean fowk, the Septiles. They learnt frae the Japanee Shinto buiks o twa beins, caad Izanagi an Izanami, brither an sister, wha lay thegither tay cleck the lan, bit syne the sister deed giein birth tae fire. The Javans thocht this maun be richt, as baith Septiles an Skreichmakkers shared kin-like DNA in their human pairts. Syne they fand another tale frae Mesopotamia caad The Descent of Ishtar –
Them fa enter here hae nae mair licht;
Stoor an yird is fit they hae tae ett.
They are riggit oot like birds an claethed wi wings:
Stoor spreeds ower aa the yetts an ower the snibs.
Thon gaed wi the fack that the Yird hid tholed winter for iver an aye. An there wis fire on the grun roon the lan o Los, far the Skreichmakkers bedd in the skyscrapers. An aa the skyscrapers wis happit in stoor..
Nearhaun tae the auncient temple o Edfu Javans hid fand a likeness o Horus, a hawk weirin a croon, a kinno bird-king. Birds wad hae ruled ower humans frae early times, the Javans jaloused. In the Buik o the Deid they fand a bird-like chiel proggin an edder. Birds an edders in Egypt maun aye, they thocht, hae bin faes. Syne in Cairo, they fand sphinxes, centaurs, satyrs an minotaurs, that gart them jalouse men bred wi the breets. Mair wirk wis nott in sikkin oot fit this lore signifeed.
In Sicily, they’d fand a mosaic frae an auncient villa, wi Orpheus an his clarsach surroundit bi breets o aa kinds. Here there seemed tae be little or nae ill-wull. Naebody wis offerin tae fell the breets, nor did the baists gang gyte an turn on thirsels. In Pompei there war eeemages o cupids – wee wingit littlins – an in a buik they fand an eemage o Lacoön, warsslin wi sarpints. There wis anither o a chiel caad Mercury, haudin a staff wi a sarpint wi wings on his heid.
In Venice, at the Palazzo Ducale, the Javans sichted the wingit figure o the archangel Michael wi a claymore in a picter of Hell bi some loon caad Hieronymus Bosch. They thocht that Hell micht hae bin the heidmaist city o Yird, sae dreich wis it. There war mair picters o angels fechtin dragon-baists – they jaloused them tae bi the Skreichmakkers fechtin agin the Septiles.
Javans dellin in Scandinavia fand tales o the eyn o the Yird eftir three het winters hid gien wye tae dreidfae snell an oorie cauld. Ae wolf wad catch the sun an anither the meen. The stars wad dwine an the Midgard Sarpint wad cowp up pyson ower the lift an the sea, leavin nocht bit fire an wilsomeness. An thon wis richt in pairt, fur there hid bin muckle wars that gart the Winter tae cam an, spite o the geelit winters, the Yird’s scruif wis firie an hett. wi neuks hotterin awa in cauldrons o pysonous bree.
In Zimbabwe, they fand the mummifeed corp o a dauncer riggit oot like tae an erne, wi birds’ fedders an heid. The early Yird-fowk maun hae ettled real sair tae cheenge tae birds, thocht the Javans. Aroon the Great Lakes o Americay, they fand tales frae the Iroquois that the lift wis the reef o the Yird, an the airt in atween the hame o the thunner-birds, muckle burdies wi human physogs like the Skreichmakkers. ’Twis the ruffin o their wings fit makkit the thunner an the flichterin o their een vrocht lichtnin.
Syne the Javans fand a picter frae the Sioux tribe o a chiel smoored in fedders. The Sioux held a sun daunce in a roon ludge wi a cottonwid powl at its mids. At its tap wis a fork wi a boorach o willow boughs that fowk caad the thunnerbird’s nest. As they birled aroon they blew throwe eagles’ banes tae makk a fusslin soun like the cheepin o gorblins. Fur a hale fower days an nichts, they birled an chantit awa – sae the Javons larned – wi neither meat nur watter, aywis luikin till the thunnerbirds’ nest. The hinmaist day, pucklies o the dauncers war tethered tae the middle powl bi thongs threidit ben slits cut in their showders – syne they yarked back an fore in the daunce till their flesh brakk free o the ledder whangs, an the thunnerbird wad gie rain tae aa the lan aroon. Birds war maisters even then, the Javons thocht, tho Cherokee Indians hid a daunce-mask o peintit wid fur their ain snake daunce, sae the scaley Septiles ancestors war maisters tee.
In the Mesa Verde o Colorado, the Javans fand hooses vrocht in caves bi the Pueblo Indians, an thocht that they war the forehan o the Skreichmakkers’ skyscraper hooses. Farrer doon in Americay, the sarpint an the burd war fand aawye. In southron pairts, they seen Quetzalcoatl the fedder-sarpint, bringer o graith an gowd, o poetrie an peintin. Quetzalcoatl deed, it wis screivit, at the time fin the Yird endit. The Javans fand this in the Annals o Cuahtitlan, telling foo yon cheil burned hissel alive, cheengin inno the planet Venus, tae heist up plumes like a bird:
Sae it is telt; sae it is said . . fin he hid wan tae the ocean’s strand, the edge o the life-watter, he stude up, grat sair an pit on his halie fedders. Aince riggit oot, he lowpit clean inno the lowe. An fin he brunt (it wis sayed) his stoor raise up – an ilkie kinno bird cud be seen in the lift; an efter he becam aisse, the quetzal’s hairt raise up an gaed inno the lift. Auld bodachs say he becam Venus an tis telt that finiver yon starnie shawed itsel, Quetzalcoatl deed. Frae thon time forrit he wis caad the Lord o the Dawn.
In Easter Island the Javans fand carvins o a man-lizard, a Moai-moko. Aa ower Polynesia, lizards were seen as somethin mair nuir breets. In New Zealand they cam on a marakihau, a man-fish. In France they fand Diana cooried doon wi her airms aroon a stag – an in Ireland a buik o poems aboot a swan caad Leda. In England a bourach o Javan galactic explorers fand a muckle gallery wi picters o breets. There war shelts bi the airtist Stubbs an dugs in scenes o hunts or household gaitherins. There wis a stag bi Landseer an scenes o yowes in parks wi shepherdesses. The Javans didna ken gin the breets war neebors or maisters, nae haein seen onythin o the like afore. The landskip o Yird hid nane o the greens an broons o the picters. The lift o Yird hid langsyne tint yon blue cloudless days fan simmer warmit the seas.
’Twis certain shair that bird-men waurna onythin new. Faith, there war winged chiels aa ower biggins in Britain, an widden ernes staunin inbye the biggins, aneth a cross. The signeeficance o the cross wis tint on the Javan investigators. They likewyse fand a watercolour bi Blake caad Pestilence: Daith o the First-born – an the chiel wis fairly a man-lizard: a Septile. They glowered aawyes at the picture hard. He luikit stap-fu o virr. Aa the fowk aroon him tho war peelie-wallie an dwinin, cheengin inno the smush o grave-yird mools.
They war nearhaun giein up the reenge fur onythin peacefu an speeirtual ava in the Yird’s past an war set tae gang hame an leave the planet tae dree its weird. Ane o the heidmaist Javan scholars hid nae lang syne fand a muckle auld buik. They thocht it statit fack, an it wis fell dowie. The bard hissel, a maker-chiel caad John Milton, maun hae screivit o the last days o human kind afore the ayegaun winter cam:
Ower mony a cauldrife, mony a fiery Alp
Rocks, caves, lochs, muirlan dens an shades o daith
A Mappamoun o Daith which God bi curse
Vrocht ill, fur ill-deeds anely guid
Far aa life dees, daith lives, an natur breeds
Ugsome an quanter, aa misfittit ferlies
Untholable, unspikkable an waur
Than fables yet hae screivit,or fear dreamt up
Gorgons an Hydras, an Chimaeras coorse . . .
. . . the waukrife bird
Sings derklin, an in pitmirk widlan happit
Tunes her nicht-time note. Syne wi the year
Sizzens return: bit nae tae me cams back
Day, or the sweet incam o gloam or morn
Or sicht o springtime flooer, or simmer’s rose
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine
Bit cloud insteid an the aybydan derk
Surrouns me frae the blythesome wyes o men
Cut aff, an sae the buik o kennin fair
Presentit wi a universal blank,
O natur’s warks fur me fair dichtit oot.
The hinmaist team o Javans war noo ready tae gie ower their stravaig tae Meikleburgh. The toun wis far frae a hale ruin, tho thoosans o years hid passed sin the global wars. The muckle smaar hid preservit, nae bladdit it. The Skreichmakkers war o lang-staunin here an hid the upper haun ower the Septiles. The Javans hid richtly thocht that there micht be clues tae the kintra’s past in the founs o the quarry, tho the Septiles hid sookit it gey-near dry o onythin protein-based. ’Twis stertin tae luik as tho the Yird hid ay bin an airt fur War an Hate an Anger. Syne twa Javans pickit up a vibration that they kent fu weel – the verra birr o the cosmos itsel – frae the founs o the quarry! Guidit bi the birr, they sent a probe throwe the bree an fished up a wee green boxie. Back in their hame craft, anchored the tither side o Mars, efter pucklies o tests, they liftit the boxie’s lid an ––
‘OM’ . . cam the lang-deid vyce o Dr Bandara’s quinie, chantin saft; syne lood; syne looder – the mantra she’d catched an keepit, tae bide in yon box foraye, till some bodie kind an wyce-like lowsed it aince mair.
The Yalla Idol
It’s cauld as the auncient kists that lie in the Machar kirkyaird this Nor East Yule. Storm wauchts ower the toon like rikk frae a wolf’s braith. Ilkie tree on the fite brae doon tae the Dee weirs bracelets o frost, and the river itsel rins blaik as the Earl o Hell’s westcoat, liquid ice frae the frozen Bens o Braemar. It’s a cauld that jeels the hairt, that gars fowk turn the heatin up in the hoose. It’s a cauld that cancels cheer, fowk bide at hame, raither than risk a mishanter on snaa plooed roads, wi the bare skite o tarmac settin wheels a-birlin, slidderin aff as if o their ain volition.
On the mantle here, stauns a wee braiss bullock cairt, gien tae ma family fin Queen Victoria reigned, aa that I hae as keepsake o granmither’s fowk, fa traivelled ower the seas frae the cauld Nor East tae manage the warm an weety tea plantations o Ceylon. It’s a curious ferlie, bit nae byordnar bonnie. I speired at my granmither aince, foo we ained nae jewels, fur the East is fair stappit wi jewels….as this is the tale she telt, near as curious as the bullock cairt itsel, in her ain wirds…
‘Hauf o the tea plantations ower in Ceylon war ained bi Scots, an maist o them war Scots frae oor ain Nor East. My uncle Jeems telt me the first hauf o this tale, the lave caused a stooshie a while in the local press.Ye maun judge fur yersel gin the twa haufs makk a hale…Weel, Jeems wis colonial sawbeens in yon far airt, an while he wis bidin yonner he tuik a great interest in the wyes o the local fowk. Maistly, the natives war Buddhist, wi giant sculpturs o Buddha risin straicht up frae the jungle, fifty fit heich an mair, bit a gweed puckle o the clachans war Tamil bi origin, an they war Hindu, prayin tae the Lords Ganesh an Hanuman, wi a skirp o deevilick wirship tae spice up the speeritual bree. They say that the first speerit tae be poored in the coggie lens its flavour tae aathin that follas. The deevilick wirship wis the earliest in thon lan, an it fair bore the sayin oot. Finiver a new idol wis biggit, the Hindu sculptors hid nae fear o their ain creation till the twa een war set in its face….syne the godlin tuik a life o its ain fur gweed or ill. An sae they wad anely pit in the een…be they twa jewels, or peintit, bi luikin in a keekin glaiss, nae tae glower inno the face o the idol fin its pouers war brocht tae life. The een war the hairt an sowel o the idol, fur the een saw aathin, an myned aathin.
Jeems spakk o the wee yalla idol o Ganesh, the elephant God, heich in the knowes o the tea kintra, an the twa green emerald steens that war its een. It wis guairded bi priests fa war servants o the god, their lives gien ower tae the shrine an its protection. Nae furreign body cud win within fifteen fit o’t, anely the faithful war lat richt up tae boo doon an touch the yird in reverence, tae offer rice, or incense, or flooers tae the idol an its keepers. At nicht, twa brosie chiels o monks sat either side o’t, wi a strang threid tae haun like the Thuggees use tae garrot fowk, ae yark cud slit a thrapple as clean’s a blade.
At the eyn o ae monsoon sizzen, an actress cam ower fae England tae entertain the planters at the Hill station, a certain Miss Vining, hired fur a tour o the colonies tae perk up her dwinin finances. She wis a music haa singer, weel pyed fur her jaunt, a poodered, nochtie sangstress, aa heivin brieists an bustle, her dyed blonde hair heaped up on her head like a strae raip. She wis a swatch o the Auld Kintra tae the sonsie Scottish planters, hameseek an beeriet alive fur months on eyn in their bungalows smored bi jungle, ringed bi tea, the anely British neebors hyne aff up snake infestit roads far even elephants laired in the glaury dubs.
Uncle Jeems thocht little o her, he likit the local weemin better than the hame-grown variety, aa pride an greed an vanity mony o the planters’ wives. Bit Miss Vining sang weel eneuch tae please middle aged Scotsmen weariet fur thochts o the Britain they left ahin. He heard her sing at Nuwara Elyia, the gairden city o Asia, far the colonial government re-sattled ilkie year ower Merch an April an Mey, fin he veesited the toun tae deliver an English wife o a stukk bairn. A Japanee legend tells that ae day, Buddha tore oot his ain eelashes tae bide waukened fur meditation…fin they drappit tae the grun,they grew inno tea plants…an a fair lot o eelashes grew roon Nuwara Elyia, mair nur eneuch tae keep a wee English actress in braw frocks an ootins at the feenish o her tour.
He cried inbye his club efter deliverin the bairn. Miss Vining wis jist feenishin her evenin spot on the wee makkshift stage. She flounced aff in a fleerish o lace an blaik buttoned buits, makkin a bee-line fur a stoot, reid-fuskered planter coddlin a bottle o gin aa his lane in a neuk, fa managed an ooto the wye plantation nearhaun tae the Aiberdeen linn, a frien o the ainer o Aiberdeen plantation. Aabody that settled oot yonner renamed their ain bit airt efter their hame toon or clachan…faith, ye cud wheech frae Lonach tae Embro in hauf an oor bi elephant or bullock cairt hurl, nae bother ava.
Efter a cosie supper fur twa, Miss Vining left wi the planter, an the road they tuik ran by the wee yalla idol wi its emerald een, jist the thing tae pit a greedy actress wi a love o jewels intae a birr o excitement. Uncle Jeems heard later she priggit wi the planter tae buy the jewels, fur naethin wad suit bit she wad hae them, bit the chiel warned her weel that they waurna fur sale, an that she’d dae better tae set aa notions like thon clean ooto her heid. Miss Vining, tho, hid ither ideas. There wis a wee Roman Catholic orphanage nearhaun the Aiberdeen linn, an it wis arranged that Miss Vining wad spenn her hinmaist twa wikks there afore settin aff on the trauchelsome journey back tae Britain, wi a fatter purse than she’d cam wi. It wis biggit hard bi the road atween Kandy an Colombo, sae better placed than the planter’s bungalow tae hitch a hurl wi the mail convoy that tuik thon regular path.
The lave o the tale, Uncle Jeems said, wis aa circumstantial. There wis a Hindu quine in thon orphanage, high caste Brahmin, her fowk killt in some bluid lettin atween the deevilick wirshippers an the devotees o Ganesh, a bonnie quinie aroon echt year auld, genteel an fair skinned, learned bi the nuns tae spikk English an smert as a new preen on the uptakk. Miss Vining made a terrible fuss o the craitur while she wis there, speired a lot aboot Hindu customs an even mair aboot the wee yalla idol o Ganesh, wi the glentin emerald een. It hid bin a lang time since the lassie’d bin pettit.
The nuns hid named her Natalie, Miss Vining telt her it wis French an that she should be weirin European claes wi a name like thon. The actress wis gleg wi the needle, it wis sma wirk tae cut doon an auld frock o her ain an pit new ribbons onno a spare wide brimmed bonnet she ained. Foo trickit the craitur wis wi the braw ferlies! Clean turned her heid, the nuns said, ay, they war fair thrang thegither Natalie an Miss Vining thon twa wikks. The day that Miss Vining left, Natalie ran tae the door o the orphanage tae wave her cheeribye. The Sisters shook their heids an said, ‘weel weel, thon wis the warst o spylin the wee charges, it wis aa the harder on them fin they war left ahin..’ Bit Miss Vining sugared the peel, an telt the wee thing tae be sure tae catch her up at Aiberdeen, an they’d niver be pairtit again. The nuns tut-tutted even mair…thon wis coorse, wi Aiberdeen plantation jist twa miles doon the road…they’d tae lock the lassie up tae keep her frae rinnin awa…gin the actress hid really winted her, she’d hae telt the Sisters an sortit oot a kist, an signed the richt papers, socht permission tae takk her tae Britain.….a chaip like thing tae lee tae the bairn sae she micht win awa easier….like pettin a stray dug, syne turning it aff tae fenn fur itsel again.
Three wikks efter, fin Miss Vining wis ridin the high seas fur hame, Natalie gaed missin. The verra neist day her corp wis fand bi a rice fermer, lyin fifty yairds frae the paddy field wi her thrapple cuttit frae lug tae lug like a gruesome smile. Aroon that time, wird got oot that the wee yalla idol’s ee-sockets war teem, nae a trace o the twa green emeralds ava. The priests o the place kent naethin ava o ony Hindu quine they said, tho the tea pickers telt uncle Jeems a weird tale o a bonnie wee Hindu quinie dressed like a European gaun throw the jungle ae nicht near a month back, jist efter derk, cairryin a torch an a bowl o rice tae offer tae the guairdians o the shrine. The priests wad niver hae suspected a wee quinie o daein onythin amiss…they wad hae acceptit the rice, an etten it fur their supper without thinkin. The rice wis droggit, of coorse, an the quinie, her heid clean turned bi Miss Vining’s flattery, hid stown the emeralds an taen them back tae her new-fand frien.
It hid taen the priests a while tae track her doon, fur they hid nae trock ava wi the fite nuns, bit a laundry-wummin fa washed the orphanage sheets telt them aa aboot the actress wi the interest in jewels an their shrne in particlar, an her frien the Brahmin bairnie. The idol’s avengers hid wyted till the quinie wis waukin hame wi mangos frae the fruit seller, yarked her inno the jungle an settled the score wi bluid. Uncle Jeems said nae mair wis heard o the maitter..the British didna tribble thirsels wi local stooshies atween natives, ither than as a statistic tae the veesitin coroner….unnatural daiths bein registered as caused bi wild beasts, snake bites, droonin, suicide or murder. Sae Natalie wis entered inno the log buik, anither statistic o an ill weird.
The secunt pairt o the story,’ ma granmither continued, ‘I didna hear frae yer uncle Jeems. I read it in the Aiberdeen Journals. The White Dove Inn in St Swithin Street tuik in lodgers aa year roon, bit mair so in the Festive Sizzen, an whiles theatricals ludged there as weel. Weel, Miss Vining tuik a room yonner, bit she wisna there a day bit she fell seek wi an orra furreign fever, as coorse a case o malaria that the landlord hid iver seen. She’d the siller in her purse tae pye fur nurses, an bein ower ill tae move, twa war hired, Nurse Emmett an Nurse Mackenzie. Nurse Mackenzie tuik the nicht shift, 9pm tae 9am. The landlord telt her his ludger hid luikit gey peely-wally on arrival…he wadnae hae let the room if he’d kent foo ill she wad grow.
Nurse Mackenzie bathed her patient’s heid wi a weet cloot, syne tuik a wee turn roon the chaumer. The inn hid aik-panelled waas, wi low ceilins. The ae wee windae luikit oot ower a backie fu o coal sheds an fooshtit trock. The chaumer wis cauld, ae wee lowe in the hairth like tae hoast its laist bare a flame in’t, an anely the ae door in an ooto the room itsel. The nurse arranged the medicine bottle wi a grue. It wis a dreich room, an a dreich winter’s nicht. Miss Vining, the patient, wis bonnie gin ye likit yer luiks ooto a peint box, wi blonde curly hair…far ower seek tae spikk…The nurse dowpit doon bi the fire an read a buik, a wee romance, tae while awa the oors.
The first nicht passed aff without misfit. In the mornin, the actress seemed tae be growin better. Nurse Mackenzie cam back on duty on the secunt nicht. The weather wis waur, snaa blawin ben the bywyes like fite haar, the tickin o the clock on the mantle near smored bi the sough o the win howlin ootbye like a banshee. At 10pm she tuik a bit keek frae the buik she’d sterted reading the nicht afore. Wisna thon an unca thing! A wee quinie hid entered the room, wis sittin aside the patient booed ower the bowster…nae sae much as a hello ooto her…Nurse Mackenzie hidnae heard her cam in…faith, the win wis keenin doon the lum sae lood it wis ill tae hear onythin else…hoosaeiver, she pit doon her buik thrawn like an telt the quinie tae leave, that the patient wis far ower ill fur veesitors. As the lassie passed her, she noticed wi a begeck that she wis furreign….eastern, she’d stake her life on’t, bit riggit oot in braw European claes an weirin a wide brimmed bunnet. The nurse pit oot her haun tae touch the bairnie, fa wisna a year ower echt, bit Miss Vining maned an squalloched in the bed, an it nocht aa her healin skills tae bring doon the fever ragin throw the stricken wumman’s bluid.
Neist morning the doctor wisnae weel pleased tae be telt o the veesitor. He ordered the nurse tae let naebody in, tae snib the door.…The smaa fell ben the nicht in thick, cauld flakes till the grun ootbye wis like linen, fite’s a shroud. The wee mantle clock gaed rickety-tick, rickety-tick like a racin hairt as it struck the oors. Midnicht wis passed, Nurse Mackenzie wis doverin ower her buik, her glaisses slidin doon tae the eyn o her neb. Fortyfive meenits by midnicht, a great skreich o wae an grue fulled the chaumer till the verra waas trimmlit….the furreign bairn was back…she wis booin ower Miss Vining….skirl efter skirl tore frae the patient’s thrapple… wi ae breenge, the nurse wis aside her. The quinie raise an turned tae leave, Nurse Mackenzie grabbit the back o the wide-brimmed bunnet….Her hauns gaed clean throw’t, fur it wis thinner than moosewabs, thinner than mist. As the ghaistly bunnet meltit awa tae nocht, the bairnie luikit up in the nurse’s face…The smile afore her wisna set on the lips, bit ower the quinie’s neck far the idol’s preists hid garrotted her…unlike the graceful body, the face wis hauf-etten awa bi the hungered breets o the jungle.
Nurse Emmett arrived in the mornin, an socht the spare key frae the landlord, fur there wis naebody in the room offerin tae let her in. Nurse Mackenzie lay in a neuk in a deid feint. The ghaistly veesior hid vanished. Miss Vining lay sterk on the bed, her een fixed wide in fricht…Fin Nurse Mackenzie recovered her senses wi the aid o a stiff brandy, an the doctor an landlord arrived, the patient’s belangins war searched. There wis naethin ava tae indicate neist o kin…bit twa photies lay at the fit o her kist. Ane wis a theatre poster, showin the actress on stage, weirin twa enormous green earrings, emeralds, the doctor statit. The secunt, was a photie o the bairn, that Nurse Mackenzie swore she hid seen the nicht afore. Scrattit on the back in a spidery scrawl they cud jist makk oot these wirds: Natalie. May god forgive us both.’
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The Quarry. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 25 February 2024, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1617.
"The Quarry." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 25 February 2024. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1617.
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