Thy Neighbour's Wife
Author(s): Eddie Bruce
Copyright holder(s): Eddie Bruce
This document contains language which some may find offensive
But "I'm keepin' the bairns" - how daft was that? Jean was eight, right enough (aye, and a gie stubborn eight, at that), but wee Douglas was still in nappies, for God's sake. And right away there was young Hugh’s mother adding insult to injury by using her spare key to get in and set the fire every night before he got back from work. Then Jessie, who looked after the youngsters, having her sly dig about men taking their wives for granted. A clannish lot, the women. But that's life; you make your bed and you lie in it…whiles with nothing but a wee dram for company, that and the consolation that Alice would be missing him and fretting about her offspring.
His parents were rubbing their hands; hadn’t they warned him this would happen? Couldn't he have found a Scots lass like everybody else? 'Never trusted that Alice with her hoity-toity accent' - 'No dad, she’s just English; it’s how they speak down there.’
So he got a caravan, planted it outside their retirement cottage near the coast and let them spoil the wee ones while he got a job driving beer and lemonade to pubs and shops around the country. The enforced celibacy was hard to bear though. A well meaning work mate arranged a blind date for him at a staff dance, but he made his excuses during a slow foxtrot when she launched into a tirade against her runaway husband - lucky sod. Suffocating amongst family arguments, moral judgements and claustrophobic domesticity, he remembered why he’d left home at sixteen. Then, a few months later, it became obvious Alice wasn't going to demand custody of the children - the bitch! 'What kind of mother could do that,' he raved, picturing her smirk of satisfaction. He left his job and contacted Social Services.
Situated two miles from Buckie on the Shellfield Estates, the three-bedroom house allocated by the council was one of eight semis isolated from the everyday world by fields, forests and the lack of a bus service. In less than two months he had redecorated the place after a fashion, dug over the garden and stocked up on winter fuel by thinning out the nearby wood, before accepting the fact that he was neither frugal nor shameless enough to be a stay-at-home father living on single parent handouts. He wasn't cut out for martyrdom either. Besides, flattered and gratified though he was by her attention, Wendy next door was taking the 'love thy neighbour' thing a wee bit too far and 'no' was a word that never entered his head where seductive young women were concerned, whatever the dangers. So the local vacancy for a dustcart driver seemed to be the answer to a potentially compromising situation.
He watched the strange car driving carefully through the slush on Forresters Row, past the holier-than-thou Thorntons at number one, the scruffy old wine-guzzling Grahams at number two and the snobby moralising Morrisons with their perfect kids at number three. It slowed outside the home of Glaikit Sally, the witless young widow who had a special relationship with the rent man amongst others, but the vehicle drove on past Wendy's place before slithering to a halt at Greg's gate. Aware that debt collectors usually travelled in pairs, he opened the door at the first knocking.
The burly council foreman refused his offer of a drink. "The job’s yours, if you want it," he said, with a philanthropic grin.
"That’s..eh…grand! I canna believe it. I didna expect…I mean there must’ve been ither drivers…"
"Oh aye, at least six, but I ken every one o’ them - that's the trouble; but I dinna ken you, so you'd better nae let me doon. Can ye start on Monday?"
Smiling, Greg watched his new boss's old Rover negotiate the narrow space between the parked grocer’s van and the bank of snow left by the plough. Wendy looked his way and nodded as she emerged from the mobile shop carrying two shopping bags and Shane, the youngest of her five children. Greg checked his watch. Murdo was sleeping upstairs and Jean's school bus wasn't due for an hour.
He brought a jug of water and two glasses from the kitchen, chuckling now at the twinge of guilt he felt about Wendy. It wasn't shame about shagging a neighbour's wife - he'd worried about it but granted himself absolution early on in the relationship since Bill, her husband, was more of a stranger to his family than Greg had ever been. Aye, and there's a difference between working long hours and just drinking every night and coming home late and legless. Greg marvelled that Bill was ever sober long enough to have sex, far less father five children. Wendy's only notion of revenge was to get drunk at weddings and staff functions and handbag any woman Bill spoke to for more than a minute, even if it meant, as it did on one occasion, spending a night in the cells. Greg hadn't mentioned the job application to Wendy and that bothered him.
"I couldna get Shane to go doon, so I put a wee drap whisky in the feed. He'll be a'richt sharin' Douglas's bed." Having sneaked in the back door, Wendy strode through the living room like a force ten gale, slamming the half bottle, twenty Players and some change on the coffee table as she headed for the stairs, young Shane hanging limp over her shoulder like a soft toy. "Better lock the door, eh?"
"Aye." Grinning and shaking his head slowly, Greg obeyed the request then returned to the couch to pour two liberal measures of the cheap Scotch, which he diluted with water. He couldn't fathom the woman; only in her mid-twenties with a model figure, five undisciplined children, a compulsion for laundering that tended to wear out washing machines and irons, a marriage in name only and an affinity with feral cats.
"He's nae Bill's ye ken." Wendy was behind the couch, massaging Greg's neck.
Greg felt the unexpected strength of her hands as she kneaded his muscles. "Eh? Who?" he asked, reaching for his drink.
"Shane. He was an accident when Bill's brither George stayed wi' us on a week's leave fae the oil rigs." She came round and sat beside him, downed half her glass in one gulp then ran a hand up his thigh as she turned to kiss him. "Are ye shocked?"
"Aye, a wee bit."
"Well, can ye blame me? I get miserable an' lonely wi' the kids maistly at school an' a man that winna come hame till the pubs shut."
He looked into the misty grey/blueness of her eyes, aware of an unbearable sadness there, wanting to commiserate yet unable to find adequate words. It was as if she'd guessed his plan to find work, was upping the stakes, challenging him, strengthening a bond that was built on little more than sexual desire and boredom. He kissed her and held her close, buying time.
Her sigh was one of resignation. "Ye had a visitor," she murmured, gently pushing him away and fumbling with his belt.
"Aye." They finished their whiskies and he refilled the glasses, feeling his heartbeat quicken and the familiar warm adrenaline rush envelop him.
Wendy seemed to sense that the blouse-buttons-and-bra-strap preliminary was the point of no return for Greg. "Well?" she teased, "Who was it? I'm waitin'."
He hurried through the ritual of draining the last of the Scotch, moving the table and scattering cushions on the hearth rug. "For God's sake, lass - later!" he said, glancing at the clock and pulling her none too gently from the couch. Their lips met during the undressing frenzy igniting a whisky-fuelled lust that had never flagged in intensity.
They were on their second cigarette when he told her.
"A scaffy!" Wendy's gibe lacked the necessary humour.
"It said HGV Refuse Collection Vehicle Driver in the 'paper, but aye, a scaffy. Pride's for them that can afford it. I'll be hame every nicht aboot five…"
"Does that mean…"
"I dinna ken lass. It's been grand…I mean, you're the only thing that's kept me sane the past few months, but it couldna last, could it? I'm jist nae used tae being idle; I need a livin' wage…an' it's nae as if I'm leavin' Forresters Row."
"You bastard Greg! Ye might've said…"
"I'm sorry Wendy."
She left the room, returning minutes later with an agitated Shane in her arms. "Sorry? Is that a' ye can say?" she asked, her face the personification of injured pride. "Maybe your wife's nae as daft as I thought."
By Friday the Social Services had been as good as their word, arranging childminding services for Douglas and Jean. The supervisor sounded like a newspaper reporter announcing an exclusive. "We've found someone that fits the bill admirably. She is a neighbour of yours and has young children of her own. In fact I believe she already gets on well with Jean and Douglas. Wendy MacFarlane?"
With the children around when he came home at night Greg found it easy enough to avoid being alone with Wendy. She in turn seemed to welcome the chance to earn money of her own, not to mention cash payments for covering his 'darts nights' at the Red Lion. Some mornings when he dropped the children off even grumpy Bill MacFarlane would acknowledge him - between belches as he breakfasted on cans of lager.
He'd almost forgotten what it was like to pay bills on time, buy decent clothes for the children and stock up the booze cupboard for weekend sustenance. He also picked up some nearly new discarded furniture on his rounds as well as assorted bicycles in good working order. The local fishermen were having a good prawn season, earning good money but spending it badly.
Jean and Douglas had settled fine; maybe the wee lass missed her mother but she was deep that one and never spoke about it. Besides, she had plenty pals to play with now and Douglas, well he just grew and grew with seldom a sulk or tantrum. The scarcity of single parent fathers in the district meant that people gave him funny looks, or it least it felt like that, so he acted nonchalant, even when he wanted to shout 'you don't know the half of it!' Still, that might have been one reason why the landlady's daughter at the Red Lion never went further than a goodnight snog. Small town people can be small minded.
Just the same, and even with a good few drams in him on a Saturday, whenever he lusted after Wendy's warm and willing body he pictured the five unruly bairns that would surely be part of the deal and counted his blessings. He now had 'something to do' and two fine children to love, but the 'something to hope for' disappeared when Alice first became pregnant and never looked like coming back.
It had been a good day for scran. He and the other two crew members had cashed in their stash of non-ferrous metals then had a dram or two to celebrate. Late getting back to Wendy's, he handed her a half bottle of Scotch by way of apology, then watched warily as she poured herself a large one, knocking it back in one gulp. Being Friday night, they exchanged the usual pleasantries about the children, then she handed him Douglas's toys together with the clothes she'd washed for him. "See ye Monday then," she said loudly, then in a whisper accompanied by a wink as he picked up Douglas and Jean preceded him through the door, "or sooner, maybe."
Greg jerked his head round. "Whit….?"
"Bills coming hame early. I'm nae puttin' up wi' ony mair o' his nonsense. I've money o' my ain noo an' he'll have tae pull his weight - or else!"
The words echoed in his head long after the children were fed, washed and put to bed. Unable to concentrate, he turned off the television, poured himself a large Scotch and played a Country and Western tape, all the while expecting to hear the scrape of the back door as it brushed over the loose lino. The third, even the fourth dram did nothing to still the unease, the excitement that was a confusion of worry and desire as he recalled her words. '…or sooner, maybe.' The girl was talking in riddles. It must've been the whisky making her randy. By midnight he felt as drained as the bottle as he poured the last big dram and took it upstairs with him. He slept fitfully.
"Dad! Dad. There's somebody at the door! Wake up!"
The voice was like part of a muddled dream until he felt the grip of Jean's little hand shaking his shoulder and heard a loud tapping somewhere in the distance. "God, whit time is it?" he growled as Jean switched on his bedside lamp, blinding him momentarily. He rubbed his eyes and shivered. The alarm clock said six-thirty. "Aye, you go back tae bed quine, it's too early tae get up yet."
The knocking became more persistent. From his bedroom window he could vaguely make out her shape in the early morning light, occasionally stepping back from the front door and looking up at his room. A dark object on the ground resembled a suitcase. His brain in turmoil, Greg was shaking now, thankful for the comfort of the leftover dram within reach, but his progress downstairs was delayed by visions of impending doom.
"God, whit kept ye loon?" Wendy swept past him into the living room carrying her case. "I need tae use your 'phone."
"Help yersel'," he mumbled, "I need the toilet."
She was replacing the receiver when he returned to comfort her. "Whit's wrang lass?" he asked, eyeing her luggage nervously and holding her close to avoid facing her, one part of him scared and the other part responding to the body contact.
Wendy just stood there. "Oh, we had a blazin' row last night an' he went oot an' got drunk, as usual. I blame his mither, he never did a hand's turn at hame. I've left him snorin' his heed aff."
"Left him? Aye, but movin' in wi' me winna help things, lass. Whit aboot the bairns? We'd be overrun."
"He can learn the hard way, jist like you had tae."
But Greg's interest in Wendy was purely physical now, his hand was on her buttocks, massaging gently. "We can speak aboot it upstairs lass; the bed's fine an' warm. Jist for a wee while, eh?"
She giggled as she pulled back a little, her hand sliding down to his groin. "You men are a' the same, jist interested in sex an' drink." As she spoke she cupped her hand and squeezed quite hard causing Greg to mouth an obscenity. "Sorry aboot that," she said.
"C'mon," he whispered, pulling her towards the hallway. "It'll soon be daylight an' the bairns'll be up."
But Wendy pushed him away, grabbed her luggage and ran to open the front door, revealing a car parked by the gate with its sidelights on. She turned briefly, smiling. "Freedom," she sighed, "I can jist aboot taste it!"
She was halfway down the path when Greg reached the doorway. "Whit aboot the bairns?" he pleaded, "when'll ye be back? Whit aboot Monday?"
As the vehicle pulled away she blew him a kiss.
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Thy Neighbour's Wife. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 3 March 2024, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=726.
"Thy Neighbour's Wife." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 3 March 2024. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=726.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Thy Neighbour's Wife," accessed 3 March 2024, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=726.
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