Now listen. Once upon a time there was a snow leopard and he lived far away in the majestic beauty of the Himalayas with all their snowy peaks and rushing waters. He was a solitary soul. He ate by himself, slept by himself and walked by himself. He wasn’t what you’d call a party animal.
But, oh was he beautiful and mysterious. His coat was as thick as a shag pile rug and as soft as a cardigan. And his tail was like a plumy rope. And he padded through the secret places of his kingdom without a care.
Everybody wanted to know him. ‘What does he do?’ They asked. ‘We want to know all about him.’ Photographers camped in leaky hide-outs for months to get a single, clear shot, and TV documentary makers roamed the snowy peaks and whispered in awe about his beauty and strength. But they only caught useless glimpses of him, and they never saw him do anything.
And all the expensive executives in all the newspapers and TV channels wailed and rended their Vivienne Westwood tweed suits in despair. Because, after all, prime time footage of a snow leopard doing something would boost the ratings, like, well, significantly.
And there was at this time, a desperate struggling journalist, who thought to himself, ‘How hard can it be to get an interview with a snow leopard? Does he have a publicist? Or an agent? Or a security code on his front door? No. He does not even have a front door. I’ll show those documentary makers.’
And so the cunning man dressed up in a snow leopard suit and set off with his notebook and his pen and a teeny tiny tape recorder. And he travelled many, many miles and at last came to a still pool in the foothills of the Himalayas where the snow leopard was looking at his reflection, and twitching his plumy tail.
And the journalist sat down beside him and asked the snow leopard all sorts of questions about his favourite music and what he liked to eat for breakfast, and other such questions that showbiz reporters use to mock the majesty of kings.
And the snow leopard, who was a polite animal, answered them. And then he laid a weighty silken paw on the journalist’s back. ‘You have the loveliest fur,’ said the snow leopard.
‘Thanks,’ squeaked the journalist. Because, really, that paw was heavy.
‘And the plumiest tail. Plumier, even, than mine.’
‘Nice of you to say so.’
‘I’ve been a bit lonely, lately,’ said the snow leopard. ‘Marry me, and let us shimmer through the undergrowth together. I will show you how to tease a TV crew, and demoralise a documentary maker. And we will have such fun.’
‘Um,’ said the journalist. And he took off his fake, snow leopard head. ‘I have something to tell you.’
And the snow leopard looked at the journalist’s sweaty face (it had been very hot in the suit) and at his notebook and his biro and his teeny tiny tape recorder, and then he ate him.
Because that’s what snow leopards do.
Picture courtesy of http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2015/02/02/05/31/snow-leopard-620518_640.jpg via Creative Commons
This is a story for Tara, who asked to hear about the adventures of Mr Muscle, and so now I will tell you the story of him and his high deeds. Far, far away and long ago Mr Muscle was famed for his bright soul and his clean mind. He rode a plumy white horse and ventured into the lands ruled by a Dirty Durty Knight. Everywhere he went he sang like a meadow pipit and all the maids would come out to sigh over his love spots, and all the thrusting young men would admire his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.
The maids loved him because he would go into their houses and, with one flash of his smile, all their pots would shine, and with one keen stare, the vegetables would cut themselves up and go into the pan, which meant the girls could spend much more time reading and singing and playing football with the young men.
But the young men weren’t so keen on this. Because the girls sometimes beat them at football, and laughed cruelly at the young men’s ineptness in the penalty box.
‘We must do something,’ said one young Man. ‘We must stop these girls from having so much time to practise their ball skills. They beat us 3-2 last week.’
‘It’s all the fault of that Mr Muscle,’ the other young men shouted. ‘He must leave this land, and take his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse with him.’
But Mr Muscle wouldn’t go. ‘The girls all love me,’ he said. ‘And besides, they’re brilliant at football. Did you see that goal that Princess Mellicent scored last week? From the half-way line? It was on Match of the Day.’
And so the young men narrowed their eyes, and turned their backs on the shiny Muscle Man and his brilliant smile and his plumy horse, and went to see the Dirty Durty Knight, who was known far and wide for his black-hearted, dastard magic, and generally mysogynistic behaviour.
And the Dirty Durty Knight lolled on his stained chair, and picked his fingernails and listened to the woes of the thrusting young men.
‘Yes, I will help you,’ he said. ‘I hate Mr Muscle. I hate cleanliness, and I can’t stand that feller’s shiny teeth. I can reduce him to a pasty mess. But you won’t like it.’
‘Do it,’ said the men.
And so the Dirty Durty Knight tempted Mr Muscle to clean his scummy, cobwebbed castle, and Mr Muscle strode through every revolting room and sprang up and down every slimy step in his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse, smiling and smiling until his cheeks hurt. And everything that he smiled at shone in return; even the Dirty Durty Knight’s fingernails. And at last, when the castle was glowing like a flushed pearl in the sunset, the Dirty Durty Knight asked an exhausted Mr Muscle to sit down to a dish of tea.
‘And there will be cake too,’ said the Dirty Durty Knight. ‘Which hasn’t got my thumbprints on it anymore, now that you’ve smiled at it.’
‘Oh rather,’ said Mr Muscle, ‘I love cake.’ And the poor, innocent, handsome lump downed his tea and ate his cake, which the Dirty Durty Knight had poisoned. And before Mr Muscle could say ‘Bang!’ he was gone, turned into goo, the whole shiny lot of him; sliding off his chair into a silent silver puddle on the floor.
‘That’ll teach you for smiling willy nilly in my house,’ snarled the Dirty Durty Knight, and he scooped the goo into a spray bottle, and flipped the lid to ‘off ’.
Loud was the wailing of the young girls at the news. And the rending of the garments and the heaping of the ashes upon their heads was terrible to behold. For now, instead of getting Mr Muscle’s favours for free, the young women found they had to pay £2.99 a pop (or £9.76 for the washroom cleaner, available on ebay).
And they had to go out to the corporate jungle to earn the money to afford his services; and the thrusting young men were left to play football by themselves and, on odd occasions, even to do a spot of cleaning.
The Dirty Durty Knight had been right. The young men didn’t like it at all. They missed the girls with their careless hair and their silky ball skills. But Mr Muscle was gone forever, along with his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.
And what happened to the plumy horse? The Dirty Durty Knight painted him black and rode miserably about the countryside, not wanting to go home. He had not managed to scoop up all of Mr Muscle, you see, and his dirty, durty, days were over. His castle and his fingernails were doomed to be forever clean, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Picture courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_of_the_Swan via Creative Commons
Time passes and life stirs in the mud.
Her body lifts. An arm, a leg; they squelch back into place;
A bright eye bobs from a blackbird’s nest, sucked into its socket.
Blood raises like a curtain; and swerves back to the pump.
She flaps uncertainly.
And reaches for the sun once more.
‘I love you!’ she cries.
And every window opens as she goes by.
They stare at her from shops and homes and buses.
Past trees and granite soldiers,
And grimy paper swirling in the wind,
She loops and circles.
New love giving new life.
‘I love you! I love you! she cries once more.
And, as if by some unrealistic miracle, he springs out of nowhere, catches her and says, “I’m not entirely indifferent to you myself”.
I wrote this in response to the suggestions I had for I love you! which I posted on Saturday. The last line is by Peter Wells at Counting Ducks
Picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2357/2511306490_3173996d85_b.
I love you!
She shouted, as she jumped out of a window on the 44th floor.
I love you!
Tumbling and cartwheeling through the pale air;
Legs like knitting needles in angora clouds.
I love you!
Past crouching silent couples, sofa bound, watching telly in the gloom.
I love you!
Past business suits and pie charts
And spotty waiters serving canapes.
Past wedding couples pushing knives into a cake;
And red-nosed men standing sweating, drinking at a wake.
Past doctors giving bad news,
And smartly hopeful interviews.
I love you! I love you!
Swinging down, coat flying, buttons straining, panting, laughing, crying.
A toddler holds Lego in her hand and looks as love flies,
And ploughs into the ground, and dies.
Picture via Creative Commons, via:
Once upon a time there were three little pigs. They went to see their bank manager. ‘We are a tripartite alliance of small independent bacon producers who are seeking empowerment as individual entrepreneurs,’ they told her. ‘We’d like to access suitable funding for materials relevant to ensuring our independent well being.’
The bank manager, Mrs W. Olf, snappily dressed all in pure new wool, happily lent them the dosh. ‘It’s a guaranteed investment,’ she grinned.
The first little pig, sorry, small independent bacon producer, constructed a sustainable dwelling from locally sourced straw. The second constructed a hutment from FSC certified wood with a zero carbon footprint. The third called B&Q and had bricks delivered.
‘What are you doing?’ iterated the former two parties of the first part.
‘I’m building a house, my porky little brothers,’ replied the latter, who had not participated in the regular vocabulary trainings facilitated by their HR department. ‘What does it look like?’
‘But there are no framework conditions for using this building material,’ exclaimed the first two. ‘There is no collective agreement for brick dwellings.’
‘I don’t do collective agreements,’ said their brother. ‘I’m a pig. And so are you.’
Notwithstanding this unexpected problem in the building area, at some point, Mrs W. Olf arrived and signalled her intention to reorganise the straw house and conduct a personal take-over of the occupier’s assets.
‘It’s Mrs Wolf!’ cried the first pig, running to his brother’s house. ‘Let me in!’
‘No, that’s Mrs W. Olf,’’ said the second little pig. ‘You’ll have to complete these forms, before I…’
But it was too late, Mrs Wolf had blown down the first house and was already coming up the garden path of the second.
The two pigs exited through a back window, as Mrs Wolf blew down the second house.
‘‘Why didn’t you realise the possibility of making your house stronger?’ said the first pig.
‘I didn’t know there was going to be such a significant outcome,’ panted the second, as they both ran to the third pig’s sturdy brick house.
‘Facilitate our entry!’ they shouted at their brother. ‘Mrs Wolf wants to reorganise us into a suitable breakfast repast!’
But the third pig held the door tight. ‘You can only come in if you talk normally,’ he said.
The two brothers looked at each other in horrified amazement. ‘You mean, give up all the phrases that facilitate our ability to communicate indefinitely without ever having to – ’
‘I’m coming to gitcha, pigs!’ snarled the wolf, who was now at the gate.
‘But we’ve spent years consolidating our knowledge pathways,’ argued the first pig.
‘Let’s have an information event,’ said the second.
But just at that moment Mrs Wolf made one mighty bound and ate them both up. Just like that.
Which goes to show jargon will only take you so far, but a good wool suit is a killer outfit.
Picture courtesy of Wikipedia, Japan, via Creative Commons at: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%89%E5%8C%B9%E3%81%AE%E5%AD%90%E8%B1%9A
London is lovely in autumn. There are just too many people in summer and the pavements are sweaty and the Tube is suffocating, but when the leaves start to fall there’s a kind of quietness, even in the busy parts. And standing at the crossing outside Euston there was a clean laundry smell from the people around me, and I was feeling pretty content, and then I saw the No 10 sailing past, while I was stuck in the middle of the road with the pedestrian lights on red.
Plus ca bloody change, as they say in Walthamstow.
And then the lights changed, and the bus pulled in at the stop up the road, and I ran for it, and some doddery old couple were holding it up wanting to know if it went to Kamchatka or wherever and I made it. And I went upstairs and somebody smoked and I fell into a dream, aahhhh….no, that was John Lennon. And nobody is allowed to smoke upstairs now on a bus. So I just stared out of the window and we turned into Gower Street and there was a girl sitting on a trunk in the middle of the pavement, and an old guy with a big box, walking along as though it weighed nothing, and a young lad, obviously his son, carrying the same kind of box, and hurrying along trying to keep up, and I realised that it’s that time of year, when university is starting again, and then out of the other window I saw a blue plaque saying that this was the place where anaesthetic was used for the very first time. And I realised I was short on ideas for a blog post, so I got my phone out, and started clicking away like a demented tourist.
This is Gower Street. Fascinating, huh?
It’s part of Bloomsbury and, in the past, famous for its intellectuals. Its full of university buildings, and the British Museum is really close. But if you’re going to Kensington, like me, you stay on the bus and at the top, you hang a right past the amazing umbrella shop, which I couldn’t take a picture of, on account of somebody’s head being in the way, and you’re on New Oxford Street, coming up to the junction with the Tottenham Court Road, and the whole place is being torn down and rebuilt and it’s a mess. Makes you think what it might have looked like in the Blitz. But without the bodies.
And then you’re on Oxford Street, and there’s not much to say about it, really. If you manage to look down Argyll Street (unlike me, because the bus was too fast) where the tube station is, you’ll see Liberty’s, which used to be an utterly brilliant department store, where ladies up from the counties came for lunch and to wander about the wondrous fabric department. The carpet section was fantastic. A man there once showed me hand-made rugs from Afghanistan decorated with Kalashnikovs all round the border. Now it’s all been updated, (although the actual building is still worth a look); the carpets are in a cupboard somewhere, the cafe’s gone downhill, and there’s only three things for sale at a million pounds each.
Still, there’s Selfridges right at the bottom. The guy who founded it, Harry Gordon Selfridge, lavished the fortune he made from it on showgirls and ended up destitute but, hey, at least he had a good time, and the shop is thriving.
At the bottom of Oxford Street you turn left on to Park Lane, with its swanky hotels on the left, and Hyde Park on the right. After a while you go past the Hilton, which doesn’t look too swanky at all. And is chiefly memorable to me, for the time a mate of mine went out to report on some twit who had attempted to parachute from one of the balconies and landed rather messily. She found one of his hands on the pavement.
Then you turn right round the bottom end of the park, with the back garden of Buckingham Palace on your left, and get ready to turn on to Knightsbridge.
You go past Knightsbridge barracks on the right, but I didn’t bother taking a picture because it’s just a brick wall really. This is where the guards keep their horses; they exercise them in park early every morning. Years ago, I used to go riding in the park, and I’ll never forget one winter morning a whole troop of soldiers just riding out of the mist by the Serpentine. Spooky.
Nearly there. Glance down to your left as we go past the Brompton Road and you’ll get a glimpse of Harrods, the building with the domed roof, which I like mostly because of its Egyptian themed escalator. Really, it’s like being in the pyramids. Only you can get tea and buns afterwards. And their Food Hall is sublime. But go there only in February, when the tourists are hibernating and Christmas is a dirty word.
After that, you go past Princes Gate, below, where 25 people were taken hostage at the Iranian Embassy (that’s No 16) in 1980. When the attackers killed a man and threw his body out of the embassy the SAS were sent in and they rescued all but one of the remaining hostages, and killed five of the six terrorists. The sixth spent 27 years in jail. The embassy itself was a wreck for years, and didn’t reopen until 1993.
Then it’s the Albert Hall, which the bus just jerked past, so not one of my best.
Anyway, here’s a picture of a green hut in front of Kensington Gardens. You see these huts all over London, and they always look as if they’re trying to pretend they’re not there. They are there. They are private cafes for London’s cab drivers. I’ve often thought Dr Who ought to have one of those instead of a police telephone box. People who try knocking on the doors to ask for a cup of tea, spare change or a lift to Kings Cross, are never seen again.
On to Kensington High Street, and out at the station, which is one of the prettiest stations in London. Piccadilly is the most elegant (it has art deco lamps) but the entrance to Ken High Street is full of light and smells of flowers.
And er, that’s it. Eat your heart out, Henri Cartier Bresson.
They try to be kind to Alice, you know. But she’s an awkward customer. She lived all through the Blitz. Had a stillborn baby the night they hit Wapping.
Her husband was odd though; Tony, he were in one of them Japanese prisoner of war camps. In Burma. When he came home he was as thin as a gipsy’s whippet. You could see right through his hands. He ate a bone, once. At a Rotary dinner. Chomp, chomp, chomp all through the speeches. Like a bloody great dog. Alice just acted as if it were normal.
Tony didn’t live long after that; Alice brought all them children up on her own. They’re all grown up now. Very good jobs; doctors and the like, in Australia. The nurses at the home are lovely. But she’s a difficult one. Never happy unless she’s miserable. And now her family’s here and it’s her birthday dinner. She’s 100. They’ve all come to get her. Her sons have come all that way, and her grandchildren. They’re taking her to a fabulous restaurant.
Alice is at the home watching Bargain Hunt. She watches it every day. ‘Come on, Alice sweetheart. Time to go for your dinner.’
‘Bugger off,’ says Alice.
I was inspired to write this by the short stories on Bruce Goodman’s blog. I like his short, staccato style. I wanted to write it so that the narrator had a specific voice, but to keep him/her separate from the actual story. (If you make the ‘you’ in the third par into an ‘I’ for example, the last par doesn’t work.)
I also wanted to experiment with voice; to break the rules about not using cliche, and to see how far you can write how you speak, without it becoming as confusing as real speech.
Picture courtesy of https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2744/4398104241_0a5ac81a59_z.jpg via Creative Commons
Creeping silent from
her lair – she came to get the
And now she licks her
chops, blinking calmly on the
It’s funny how the most familiar things can really turn out to be really strange, while exotic sounding stuff just falls flat when you have it explained to you.
Look at Madame Zsa Zsa. If I told you she was a retired Hungarian tight-rope walker and former Parisian café owner, you’d think whoa, exotic. But if I then told you that really she played the organ in the kirk every Sunday, and everybody knew her as plain old Jeannie Delvine, then maybe you’d think, ‘Oh, well that’s boring.’
But to me it was Jeannie who was the more interesting person. For a start, I didn’t know her in her tightrope days. I was only eight, after all. But I did see her walk out on the rocks in the Tay to save Bugs from drowning, and she certainly had an assurance in that treacherous, whisky clear water, that I knew I would never have. And she was old then. Not old old, but old to me. Old as in her, what, forties, fifties?
She moved in next door to us on my eighth birthday. It was a blisteringly hot day, and my aunties and granddad were all round the table in the back room. Granddad was wearing his blue suit with a watch chain stretched across his waistcoat. He had taken his jacket off because it was so hot, and he kept wiping his face and the back of his neck with a brown and white striped hankie. We were eating ice cream and raspberry jelly. It was Neapolitan ice cream, three glorious stripes of colour in a damp cardboard box from Mr Menzies the corner grocer. Colin, my brother, had been sent up the drowsing street to get it. And when he came back he was full of the news of our new next door neighbour.
‘She’s got blonde hair,’ he said, handing two threepenny bits in change, to my mother.
‘Aye,’ said my auntie Nellie, looking meaningfully at my other auntie, Maggie. ‘Blonde hair? And did she have one of they short skirts?’
Colin wiped his hands on his shirt front and looked confused. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Just normal. With flowers on and things.’
‘Nellie!’ my mother said gently. ‘Don’t ask him questions like that. Asking him to look at women’s clothes.’
Mum pushed back a limp tendril of hair from her forehead and looked at him. ‘Is she nice?’
‘Oh, aye,’ said Colin. ‘She’s awfy nice. I helped her in with a box and she gave me sixpence.’ He looked at Auntie Susie. ‘She didn’t have a short skirt. She talks funny and she’s quite old.’
‘Old?’ said Auntie Susie, catching a look at herself in the mirror and smiling.
Colin dug into his ice cream. ‘Aye. About the same age as you.’
Jeannie, or Mrs Delvine as I had to call her, had blonde curly hair. It was not, as my mother said, ‘out of a bottle,’ and therefore she was not, as my auntie Nellie would have had it, a Jezebel. If my auntie Nellie had known that Jeannie was once called Madame Zsa Zsa, she definitely would have been a Jezebel. But nobody knew anything about Mrs Delvine. She kept herself to herself, except for the odd smile here and there when you passed her in the street.
With every fresh bit of news about a new person in the village, there would either be a collective nodding by the women standing at the counter waiting to be served in Mr Menzies, or a pursing of their lips. Not that there were many new people coming to our part of Perthshire in 1963. I knew by their discussions that, if you were a stranger, you had to get certain things right. That you had to pass a kind of a test. And not just the one.
Anyway, the women didn’t have much to go on with Mrs Delvine, except, as Colin said, she had a funny edge to her voice. Nobody could quite place it. And then, when Mrs Melville got too much rheumatism in her hands, and couldn’t play the piano in kirk on a Sunday any more, Jeannie went to the minister and volunteered. And she was a fine, fine musician. So that was another test passed. But what all the tests were, was something that I spent a great deal of time pondering. Would I have to take these tests, when I grew up? When I went anywhere new, would people walk behind me, inspecting my hair and my clothes, and thinking my voice was funny? And how many tests were there and what were they for?
I asked, I did ask, about these tests, but my mother would just tell me to stop blathering and go out to play. So I would go, with Bugs Leckie and Anne Sutherland and Margo Menzies, up to the field behind the school where the swings sat in deep muddy puddles, and where the older kids would dare you to lick the snowball bushes. ‘They’re poison they are. They’ll kill you if you swallow a berry. Go on, I dare you…’
Or we would go down to the Tay. Not often, because it was fast and rocky where it went past our village, and when it was in flood it scared me. But on hot summer days, when it lay quiet and brown under the trees, we would venture out on to the rocks and dip our hands in the cool water and try to catch the sticklebacks that flitted in the shadows. But we wouldn’t go right out in the middle. It was dangerous out there. It looked calm enough, but it was deep and cold, even in August, and the wrinkles on the surface let you know there were big currents underneath.
Bigger boys would sometimes dare each other to cross the river by leaping from rock to rock. And sometimes they did, and sometimes they fell in. My cousin Kenneth had drowned there in 1942, when he was just a boy going after his football. And his mother, my auntie Nellie, had never really got over it. Sometimes, she went a bit odd and looked in the kitchen cupboards, calling his name, and then she would have to go to hospital for a while. We never talked about going down to the river, in front of her. But we still went.
Anne and Margo would stay on the steep tussocky bank and make mud pies with an old frying pan, but Bugs and I would go out into the shallows, before it got dangerous. Bugs wasn’t a girl. His real name was Bob. But he had sticky out teeth, and the boys made fun of him because his dad had refused to fight in the war. Peter Menzies, the grocer’s son was the worst. It was him that thought of calling Bob ‘Bugs’. But they all called him a coward.
The war had ended 18 years before, but memories were still strong in the village of some of the men who had gone and who had not come back. Peter’s uncle was one of them.
Bugs’s dad came to the school to get Mr Roberts to stop the bullying, but Mr Roberts wouldn’t have anything to do with him. They stood in the dim brown corridor by the school hall, wee Mr Leckie, with his Sunday jacket on and his hair combed flat, and big tall Mr Roberts with his gown and his dark suit. ‘I will not see you, Mr Leckie,’ intoned Mr Roberts, in that same booming voice that he used in assembly. ‘I will not see a man who refused to smite the Germans.’
Smite the Germans. I was standing by my classroom door. I had been sent out for talking. I had to stand there for five minutes. But I had no way of knowing how long that was. I had no watch. I could not see the clock in the hall. All I could do was look through the glass in the door and hope Miss Thomson would see me and wave me back in. But smite the Germans took me away. I could see Mr Roberts dressed like Goliath in the bible with a big shiny breastplate, and metal shin pads, his sword raised. Smiting the Germans as they came over the purple plains in their tanks and low flying planes. Smiting them.
Was he going to smite Mr Leckie? And what with? I could see Bugs’s dad clasping his hands and then standing almost to attention. ‘My beliefs are my own, Mr Roberts,’ he said quietly. ‘It is not right that my son should suffer for them.’
Mr Roberts twitched his gown and turned away. ‘I will not hear you, Mr Leckie. I will not hear you. Your son is getting an education. And that is more than the Germans would have given him.’ And he opened the door to his room and strode in and shut the door in Mr Leckie’s face. And Mr Leckie turned and looked at me, and I wanted him to open that door and go in after Mr Roberts and give him what for. But he just stood there and put his hands deep in his pockets and turned away. Maybe he was a coward after all.
I wanted to go after him and ask him why he didn’t want to smite Germans, or even smite Mr Roberts, but at that moment my class room door opened and Miss Thomson pulled me inside. I was sent out again, half an hour later, for asking too many questions, so I don’t know why she bothered, really.
So there we were on the rocks, Bugs and I, trying to catch sticklebacks when I asked him if it was true he was a coward.
‘I am not,’ he said. His hair, blue black, fell into his eyes, and he swept it out with a wet hand. ‘I am not a coward.’
‘I was just asking,’ I said.
He got up on his feet. ‘I’m not a coward!’
‘All right,’ I said. ‘I don’t mind. Dinne fash yersel.’
He was standing in the light of the sun coming through the trees, and the light was bouncing off the water on his hair and face and arms. It was like he was covered in diamonds.
‘I’m going to walk across the river,’ he said.
‘Like Jesus?’ I said.
‘On the rocks,’ he said. ‘I’m going to jump between them. And if I make it, you can tell everyone, and I’m not a coward, ok?’
‘But the water’s calm,’ said Margo. ‘Anybody could do it now. Even cowards.’
Bugs looked at her, his pale face flushed bright pink. ‘Would you do it then?’
Margo looked out over the broken line of rocks in the water. ‘No. Because I don’t want to get wet. And anyway, if you fall off you’ll get swept down to the weir, and that’ll be the end of you. There’s currents in there. My mum told me. ’
‘Right,’ said Bugs. ‘I’m going.’ And he turned and there was a moment that I saw on his face, that he really was scared.
‘Bugs,’ I said. ‘Bugs.’
But he leapt for the next rock out. ‘I made it!’ he turned and his face was shining. ‘I made it!’ he shouted. ‘I made it, and I’ll go all the way. You’ll see!’
‘Bugs, come back! You’re not a coward!’ The look on his face was so determined it made me clench my hands. I wished I’d never asked him that terrible question.
But he was too busy looking out at the next rock to listen to me. I shouted again. But it was too late. He had leapt, and he had missed and the water was deep and still and cold there, and Margo and me and Anne screamed. And past us came a flash of yellow on the path by the bushes. It was Mrs Delvine out walking in her Sunday best and she glanced at Bugs sinking in the pool and bobbing up again, his face pale against the dark water.
And as neatly and quickly as if she were bending down to get a dropped hankie, she kicked her shoes off, put her handbag on the bank, and then jumped lightly out on to the rocks. It was easier for her, of course, because she was bigger than us, but there was an assurance and balance that she had, that I had never seen before in anyone I knew. She reminded me of the gymnasts I had seen in the Moscow State Circus on the TV. She just moved from rock to rock as if she was avoiding puddles on the High Street, and when she came to the pool she knelt down, reached out and grabbed Bugs by his hair and then she got an arm under him and pulled him out, and he fell against her, and her lovely suit was dark with water and river muck.
Men had come by then, and women too. Anne had run off to get them. Mrs Leckie was standing shrieking on the bank, ‘My wee boy! My baby!’ Mr Menzies was going out, in his grocer’s white cotton coat, to help Mrs Delvine, but Mr Leckie pushed him back. ‘That’s my son out there,’ he said. ‘I’ll get him, thank you.’ And he went out on the rocks almost as easily as Mrs Delvine, and took Bugs from her, and hugged him, and that was all I saw because my mum had come by then, and I was being dragged willy nilly back home for an early tea and bed and no argument, or it will be the worse for you. And all that long late afternoon and evening I lay in my bedroom and watched the shadows lengthen on the wall and wondered at Mr Leckie saying that, ‘thank you,’ and remembering the way Mr Menzies had blinked and stepped back.
And the next day apparently, Mr Leckie went into Mr Menzies shop, and the women stopped their talking entirely and the men went into the back room and talked for an hour together. And auntie Nellie wanted to go in and see what they were saying, but Mrs Sutherland stopped her. So nobody ever knew what was said. But when Bugs came back to school Peter asked him how he was. So that was all right, because that is the ordinary thing that I wanted to tell you.
Later on, days later, maybe weeks, I can’t remember now, I was round at Mrs Delvine’s because I was having a piano lesson, and there was a picture of her on her piano in a spangly leotard, balancing on a tightrope. Everybody had seen it except me. And exotic as it was, it was given only a minute’s worth of attention by the women waiting to be served in Mr Menzies. ‘Oh yes,’ they said. ‘See that Jeannie Delvine. She used to be a tightrope walker, in Hungary. And then she got arthritis, and her husband, aye, John Delvine, from Glasgow, that she met in the war, he died, poor soul. And then she ran a café in Paris, and it failed and she came here and saved wee Bugs Leckie fae drowning. Fancy that.’
Pictures via CreativeCommons, via pixabay.com and commons.wikimedia.org
Tessa worried about her mother. Eadie was 92 and getting a bit frail. And she lived on her own. True, Eadie lived in a warden-controlled flat, but what good was it if the warden did come round every Tuesday? What would happen if Eadie had an accident on a Wednesday?
‘I’ll be fine,’ said Eadie. ‘Look, there’s a pull cord in every room. If I have an accident I just tug on that, and it alerts Central Control.
‘Central Control?’ echoed Tessa. ‘What, like when they send a rocket to outer space?’
Eadie looked confused. ‘No, it’s a lady called Brenda at the council. I talk to her sometimes when I pull the cord by mistake.’
Tessa felt better. At least the pull cord worked. There was somebody looking out for her mother. But then something else occurred to her, and she said, ‘But what happens if you fall over and you can’t reach the cord? What then?’
‘Tessa, you’re being ridiculous,’ said Eadie. ‘I might be old, but I’m not stupid. I will be fine.’
That night Tessa couldn’t sleep for worrying. Her husband was working a night shift, so she had nobody to confide in. And then the phone rang. Something had to have happened. Why else would the phone ring at 3am? She got up in a hurry to answer it and fell over the dog. She lay for three hours with a broken leg before her husband found her.
image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mission_control_center via creative commons