Quite a Mouthful

A Cape Cod lobster diver was this week swallowed and then spat out by a humpback whale…

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Deep In the icy waters of the North Atlantic, in schools of whales – where whales go to school – they teach the young the old myths.

They tell of the Humphead Whale, first of their kind, whose pride at being largest of the mammals was so great that it blew a hole in the top of his head. They tell of the Banshee Whale, whose mate left her with the dismissive expression “there are plenty more fish in the sea” and whose mournful keening was the origin of whale song. They tell of the Summoning Rock, a huge monolith near Greenland of which it is said that if you knock three times upon it with your forehead, you will see stars.

And they tell the myth of Vamtu, the whale who is said to have swallowed a demon.

The terrifying legend tells of Vamtu’s struggles as the creature wriggled and jiggled and tiggled inside her, and of her desperate hawking attempts to get rid of it for three days and three nights before she finally managed to cough it out onto a nearby shore. They call the creature ‘Jonah’, from the whale word for ‘bleurgh’.

The story has passed into everyday parlance. Yawning youngsters are told to “close their mouth before they catch a jonah”. An upset stomach is called “a touch of the jonahs”. Witnessing the state of the sea around a whale with an upset stomach is “enough to make you jonah”.

Alvis was thinking about none of this as he fished the sea off Cape Cod, absentmindedly hoovering up krill, when suddenly his mouth filled with something sleek and rubbery.

His first thought was that he had swallowed a condom – sadly, all too common an occurrence these days, but the length of it startled him, and its sudden movement horrified him.

Alvis’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. The myth was true. He had swallowed a jonah.

His mouth had opened, but he quickly realised that this was doing no good. The jonah was struggling to stay upright on his tongue, like a toddler on a bouncy castle, and was unable to reach the opening.

Alvis had to get him out of his system. There were two directions in which this could go.

Having quickly dismissed Option Number Two Alvis closed his mouth, flipped his mighty tail into the air, and dived. He could hear a cry of terror echoing in the cavern of his mouth as he did so. He went down fifty feet, turned, and launched himself at the sky. He broke the surface, arched his back and let himself fall backwards. The sea’s surface Heimliched him as he hit the water, and the jonah was torpedoed out, covered head to foot in a wet-suit and whale-spit.

The jonah hit the water, sank beneath it, then surfaced. He looked around wildly and then at Alvis. As their eyes met Alvis knew that they were both thinking the same thing.

Nobody’s ever going to believe me.

 

 

 

Fallen Leaves

Being the eldest brother gives you certain rights, and one of the most important is the right to do things while forbidding your siblings to do the same, on the basis that it’s too dangerous.

So when 14 year-old Tommy spotted the tree the first thing he did was start to climb it, and the second to tell the others not to follow him. 12 year-old Steve sighed, staring wistfully up into the branches and contemplating the lot of the middle child.

Ben said nothing. He was nine, and just happy to be out with his big brothers.

Tommy was well into the higher branches when he suddenly stopped, staring hard at the bark. He took his phone from his back pocket, a process that involved a brief wobbling airplane impersonation with his arms, and took a photo. He scampered down the trunk and dropped from the lowest branch to the grass below, stumbling slightly upon landing and pretending, like an Olympic gymnast, that he had done it on purpose.

“Have a look at this,” he said.

“No thanks,” said Steve grumpily, “I’ve seen a tree before.”

Tommy punched his arm. “No, seriously,” he said. “Take a look.”

His brothers peered at the photo on the screen. The names ‘Debra Miller’ and “Frank Greene’ had been carved into the bark. Between the two names was a heart with an arrow through it.

“So this woman shot this guy through the heart?” asked Ben.

“No,” said Tommy. “He was her boyfriend, he wasn’t a vampire.”

Ben shrugged. “Big deal,” he said.

Steve’s eyes suddenly widened. “It IS a big deal,” he said, “because Debra Miller is Granny.”

“Exactly,” said Tommy.

Ben laughed. “Granny couldn’t climb that tree,” he said, “because she’s ancient.”

“We’re not saying,” said Steve patiently, “that she climbed it yesterday.”

“And anyway, her name is Granny Roberts,” continued Ben.

“Because Grandad was Jim Roberts,” said Tommy. “Her name was Miller before she got married.”

“Are we going to show her?” asked Steve.

“We can’t,” said Ben. “She won’t be able to climb the tree because –“

“He means,” said Tommy, “are we going to show her the photo.”

“And are we?”

“You bet,” said Tommy.

The boys ran to their Granny’s house, with Ben chanting “Frank and Granny in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” the whole way. Tommy pushed open the back door. As always, Granny was knitting in an armchair beside the stove. She was a prodigious knitter, though not an especially skilled one, and the boys had grown up wearing five-foot long jumpers, two-foot long scarves and beanie hats so tight that their brains ached.

A cardigan was slowly emerging from the flashing needles, and already Steve could see that one of the sleeves was going to be longer than the other.

Granny stood up and smiled. “Here’s my wonderful young men,” she said.

Tommy and Steve felt suddenly unsure, as if they were trespassing. Ben did not.

“Tommy took a photo in the woods,” he said. Tommy glared at him.

“Wonderful,” said Granny. “Is it a deer?”

“Er, no,” stammered Tommy. He put his phone on the table and stepped back. Granny stared at the photo for a long time.

“I’d forgotten all about this,” she whispered. She looked up at the boys, eyes glistening. “The tree near the old well, right?” she said.

“Yes,” said Steve. “You climbed up a really long way.”

“Well, perhaps the tree was smaller then,” smiled Granny. “That would have been, well, nineteen sixty-seven.”

“So you were seventeen,” said Tommy.

“Yes,” said Granny. “And what a time to be seventeen! The Beatles, flower power, free – well, it was a great time.”

“And this Frank was your … boyfriend?” asked Steve warily.

“Yes,” said Granny. “Of course, that was before I met your Grandad.” She could sense all three boys relax slightly.

“And when Grandad came you liked him better, right?” said Ben.

Granny smiled tightly. “I loved your Grandad more than any man I ever met,” she said, “but I didn’t meet him until after Frank was sent to Vietnam.”

“Where’s that?” asked Steve.

“Back then it wasn’t a ‘where’, it was more of a ‘what’,” said Granny. “And what a bloody what it was,” she muttered. She stared into a far distance, a thousand lives away, where better people had made better choices, then looked up and smiled brightly at the boys, who were horrified to see a tear run down her cheek.

“We didn’t mean to upset you,” said Ben.

“Oh, my darlings, you haven’t upset me at all,” Granny laughed. “You’ve reminded me that I was young once, and old people should be reminded that more often.”

Her phone beeped, startling her. “I’ve texted you the picture,” said Tommy quietly. She took his hands and looked into his eyes. “Thank you,” she said simply.

Tommy nodded to the other two. “We’d better go,” he said. Granny hugged each of them, tightly.

“I’m glad we reminded you about the beetles,” said Ben, as they left.

Granny stood for a long time looking at the photo. Then Debra went and took a locket from deep inside a kitchen drawer. From the small picture inside, above the uniform, Tommy’s eyes looked back at her.

“Here’s my wonderful young man,” she whispered.

 

 

Tin Cans in the Backyard

Alabama has lifted its 27-year ban on yoga in public schools…

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When he was thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

That’s because yoga is harder than it looks.

It began the summer that Dill came to us, and one hot, lazy afternoon when he bet Jem that he couldn’t invent a silly pose. Jem got down on all fours and arched his back. He said he was calling it the Downward Dog, though I said why not just call it the Normal Dog, a downward dog should be lying flat out with a quick brown fox jumping over you.

Jem ignored that and told Dill it was his turn. Dill also got onto all fours, with his back stiff and horizontal.

“Shoot, that’s just a press-up,” said Jem, “without the press and the up.”

“It ain’t,” said Dill. “I call it the, um, Plank.”

“The Um Plank?” I said. The others laughed.

We played all afternoon. We called it ‘yoga’, because that was the funniest word we could think of, and with each pose we would say “um” as we were doing it, then roll around laughing. Our neighbours came and watched, because there was no hurry, there was nowhere to go in Maycomb.

Even in the Radley Place we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Aunt Alexandra was not impressed by our yoga. She told Atticus that if God had wanted us to stand on one leg he would have given us, well, one leg. Atticus asked her what God’s attitude was to holding a coffee cup in one hand, and it was at times like that that I thought that my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

Next day Jem, while attempting something he called the Ballet Giraffe, fell and broke his arm. Neighbours sniffed “I told you so,” the Maycomb Chronicle wrote a sharp editorial, and Sheriff Heck Tate said that anyone seen practicing yoga would be arrested.

Atticus argued our case, but lost, and yoga was done. Rumours grew that some people had secretly loved what we had been doing and had started practicing it in the privacy of their parlours. Occasionally when passing a house you might hear a wail, or a crash that sounded an awful lot like someone toppling from a Tree Pose onto a sideboard full of china, but no-one would ever admit to anything.

Then one night, on the way home from the school Halloween pageant, I was attacked by Bob Ewell.

I screamed and was struggling desperately when I saw a stranger race across the park. He wrapped both legs behind his own neck, thrust himself forward onto his hands and somersaulted toward us. His legs unwrapped, locked themselves instead around the neck of Ewell, and the stranger twisted in mid-air.

There was a snapping sound, and Ewell fell to the ground.

I looked into the eyes of Boo Radley.

My scream had attracted attention, and as Boo unwrapped his legs and stood, Sheriff Tate ran towards us. He looked at the scene for a long time.

“Practicin’ yoga,” he said eventually.

Boo bowed his head.

“Yep, I reckon that was it,” said the sheriff. “Ewell was illegally practicin’ yoga when he fatally injured himself attemptin’ the -” he looked down at the body.

“Corpse position,” I said.

“Looks like he’d got pretty good at it,” said Sheriff Heck Tate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in the Name

Two new characters, Mr Calm and Little Miss Brave, are being added to the Mr Men universe as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year…

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Mr Calm was very calm.

He would calmly patch up Mr Bump, calmly listen to Mr Chatterbox, calmly help Mr Forgetful look for his car-keys with his calm but utterly unhelpful catchphrase, ‘where did you see them last?’.

He was calm when his first girlfriend, Little Miss Late, arrived two hours late for their first date and remained calm even when he realised that her name had nothing to do with her tardiness but was because she was a zombie.

His current girlfriend was Little Miss Brave.

Little Miss Brave was very brave. She bravely challenged and beat Mr Strong in an arm-wrestling contest, bravely slapped Mr Tickle when he surprised her while she was having a bath, and bravely shopped for Mr Sneeze, who had found that even Amazon wouldn’t sell to him during the pandemic.

She was also brave about being referred to as ‘Little Miss’, about living in the ‘Mr Men’ universe, and about getting paid twenty per cent less than her boyfriend.

The couple had a child (yes, even though she wasn’t Mrs Calm, the world has moved on in fifty years), Wee Master Stoic, who would shrug as escaping balloons disappeared over the tree-tops and would refuse the lollipop after measles injections.

One evening they were at home. Little Miss Brave was calmly making sourdough, which she found relaxed her, and Mr Calm was bravely planning to eat it, because, much as he loved her, she was not Little Miss Star Baker. They didn’t hear the front door being jimmied open, didn’t hear the footsteps across the hallway, didn’t hear the muffled swear-word as a soft shoe stepped onto a piece of Lego.

Into the kitchen stepped Mr Robber.

Mr Robber was a robber. Nominative determinism is big in the Mr Men universe.

He wore an eye-mask and a beanie hat and carried a limp sack on which, had he been on his way home instead of his way out, you could have read the word ‘Swag’.

He also had a knife.

“Give me all your money,” he snarled. “And jewellery.”

Little Miss Brave snorted. “You should have brought a smaller bag,” she said.

“Shut up!” shouted Mr Robber.

“You don’t have to be so angry, you know,” said Mr Calm. “Have you ever tried mindfulness?”

“What?”

“just try becoming aware of your breathing.”

Mr Robber helplessly found himself listening to his breath, then holding it without meaning to, then trying to stop doing that. His knife lowered, just a fraction.

Little Miss Brave hit him in the face with her rolling-pin.

She hit him again, hard across the wrist, causing him to drop the knife. Mr Calm picked it up then held the kitchen door open as Little Miss Brave grabbed a fistful of collar and trouser and hurled Mr Robber out into the night.

“Yippee-kay-yay, mother-”

“Now, dear,” said Mr Calm.

Run to Seed

Ugg (image from me)

The fish weren’t biting.

Not only that, but the mammoths were too mammoth, the sloths weren’t slothful and even the hares were evading the snares.

Ugg hadn’t caught anything for over a week now.

Ogga looked on as he stared despondently into his breakfast bowl, which she had filled with oats. She had meant no implied criticism in this, yet she knew that to him every gritty mouthful would taste of failure.

Ogga (image also from me)

And not much else, she had to admit. She sadly watched his face contort as he tried to work down a first spoonful that had sucked his mouth dry of all saliva. He looked up at her. His hollow-eyed, soul-dead expression nearly broke her heart.

“It’s a bit dry,” he mumbled, through a small spray of grains. He stood and walked to the pot over the fire, took a ladleful of water from it, and poured it into the bowl. He stirred it absently as he walked back to the table.

“Careful,” said Ogga urgently, “that water’s boil-”

She stopped, and the two gazed in horror at the bubbling gloop that was forming in the bowl. They watched as it grew, as it turned a sullen gray, as it sent tendrils over the side. Ugg dropped the bowl, which rolled around on its edge before settling.

“We should warn the village,” said Ogga. “It’s going to devour us all.”

“No, look,” said Ugg. “It’s stopped.”

Sure enough, the substance had ceased expanding and now seethed balefully, like an angry brain.

“What will we do with it?” asked Ogga. “Pebble-dash the cave?”

Ugg stared at it for a long time. “I’m going to eat it,” he said quietly.

“Oh, please don’t,” groaned Ogga. She snatched up the bowl and held it upside down. None of the glop poured out.

“Imagine what that will do to your insides,” she said flatly. “You’re going to fossilize yourself from the inside out.”

“What it will do to my insides,” said Ugg, ” is fill them. It’s still just grains and water.”

He took the bowl from Ogga and stuck his spoon into it, trying to ignore the sucking sound as it forced its way in. He dug out a small amount, lifted the spoon and slurped the ooze into his mouth. Ogga watched, open-mouthed, as his closed mouth worked it down.

“What’s it like?” she breathed.

Ugg swallowed. “It needs salt,” he said.

“Salt?”

“Yes. Or sugar. Or honey. Or fruit. Or cowpat. Anything, really, because it tastes of nothing.”

“Never mind,” said a relieved Ogga, reaching for the bowl. “Here, I’ll get you some more oats.”

To her surprise, Ugg pressed the bowl to his chest. “I didn’t say i didn’t like it,” he said.

He ate the rest, in silence, then trudged off hunting. Ogga was left with the task of trying to clean the bowl. In the end she buried it in the woods, and made another one.

Ugg returned five hours later. On his spear were skewered three salmon, strapped to his back were the carcasses of two deer, and he was dragging, for his first time ever, a sabre-tooth tiger.

“Where did you get all them?” gasped Ogga.

“I caught them,” said Ugg proudly.

“Well, we can certainly eat well now,” said Ogga. “No more grains for you.”

“No,” said Ugg. “It’s the grains that did it. I just felt so strong and full of, well, full, mostly. I felt invincible, possibly because I reckoned I could be gored in the stomach and not be harmed. It really is the Breakfast of, of, of people who win things. From now on I’m going to get my oats every day.”

Ogga looked into his beaming face. My Ugg is back, she thought. She took his arm in hers and smiled.

“You certainly will,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Class is Permanent

The sofa was violet.

It had a built-in footstool, a vibrating setting, and a wine-bottle holder in each arm-rest. It was wide enough to accommodate a family of five, or perhaps just two people sprawled under open pizza-boxes, watching Netflix. It was utterly hideous.

“We’ll take it,” said Queen Carrie.

King Boris sighed.

He had been King for over a year now, having staged a bloodless coup over the bloodless Queen of May. He had freed his country from the yoke of its oppressor, which had wanted awful things like crime-fighting co-operation, free movement of its subjects and the chance to sell stuff to each other. King Boris had thought that this would make him the most powerful person in the land.

He now realised he was not even the most powerful person in his household.

It had been at Queen Carrie’s Lady Macbeth-like urging that he had made his thrust for power in the first place. She had since got rid of his closest advisor, Dominic of Barnard, whose much-vaunted vision had failed to see that coming. She now made all the important decisions, so while he was left to ponder how to sell brown sauce and Yorkshire pudding to remote Pacific islands, she had taken charge of decorating the castle.

The first thing she did was move them into their next-door neighbour’s, on the basis that their own wasn’t big enough. She then asked for a decorating budget, was given one, and tossed it.

History will ask did she have good taste. History will then remember that she had voluntarily gone out with Boris.

The bathroom was taupe, a colour and a word that exists only in interior design. The bath-taps were cherubs, gushing water from their mouths as if they were vomiting very politely. The cistern was modelled on a Vegas slot-machine. It was flushed by pulling the long lever at the side, causing three poop emojis to fill the little windows. The toilet paper had “The BBC” printed on it.

There was no mirror. You do not get hair like Boris’s if you have a mirror.

The main bedroom had flock wallpaper. In other words it had sheep on it, which King Boris could count on nights when he couldn’t sleep.

The kitchen was fully equipped, in that it had a phone that connected directly with the staff.

The sitting room had a glitterball, a ninety-inch TV and a statue of a nymph who had apparently decided to robe herself only from the waist down. It had an Alexa, though she had been so confused by Boris’s muttered ramblings that she now just wept gently. On one wall was a portrait of the historical giant on whom King Boris had famously modelled himself, Baloo the Bear.

It seemed that the room now also had a violet sofa. Boris decided it was time to speak up.

“I say,” he said. “We don’t have the money for all this.”

“Then get it,” said Queen Carrie. “Ask your friends.”

“I can’t do that,” said Boris. “I’d be breaking the rules.”

Carrie stared at him in genuine astonishment. Boris blushed.

“Er, well,” he stammered, “it’s just, er, we’re spending all this money, while the people, well, you know, the lockdown, the closures -”

“Let them eat Greggs,” said Carrie Antoinette.

 

 

 

 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Way to Fill an Afternoon

Back in the days before photography, the self-portrait was regarded as the ultimate test for an artist, his or her showstopper challenge. At the bottom of the aesthetic ladder was the bowl of fruit. Next came the view of the countryside, then the scene from the bible, then the thirty-foot long depiction of some battle. The final rung was to be able to accurately represent something that the artist had only ever seen in a mirror.

The mirror played an important part back then. This explains why the artist-come-models are always looking off to one side. It may also explain why none of them are ever wearing clothing with words on them like Adidas, or Abercrombie and Fitch.

The self-portrait was a test not just of one’s artistic ability, but also of one’s integrity, the visual equivalent of today’s Linked-In profile. The artist had to fight the urge to make themselves a bit more handsome, a bit taller, a bit less fat. You may think that they would also have to fight false modesty, the urge to make themselves look hideous, but in fact they were unlikely to do this anyway. Art for art’s sake is a beautiful concept, but in the real world artists have to eat and they knew that there is a limited market for paintings in which the subject looks like the runner-up in a face-punching contest.

Most importantly of all, the self-portrait had to convey a sense of the tortured soul within. There are no known works in which the artist is smiling, or eating a giant bowl of ice-cream. No-one wanted to hint, in any way, that painting for a living might in fact be fun. Thus in every picture the eyes stare glumly back at you, the face is gaunt, the pallor is pallid. Munch’s self-portrait, for example, shows him slack-jawed and wide-eyed in misery, though luckily for him he was such a bad artist that no-one realised it was supposed to be a self-portrait, and to his surprise it was hailed as a masterful depiction of the awfulness of existence.

There are no known nude self-portraits. The modern selfie generation should reflect upon this.

And They’re Always Glad You Came

A 5,000 year old brewery has been discovered in Egypt…

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It was Friday evening in Alexandria, so the small sandstone building was full. Above its front door was a sign in hieroglyph, the Ancient Egyptian word for ’emoji’. What it read was ‘eye, cobra, dung beetle’. What it said was The Light House.

The Light House of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, not – as history believes – because it was a lighthouse (a pedantic error similar to believing that Mars Bars come from Mars), but because it was a pub, and if that doesn’t sound all that wonderful you should bear in mind that Babylon’s contribution to the list was basically shrubbery.

The pub’s clientele on this Friday evening could have been drawn from any bar, in any time. Some sat alone, staring into a distance a thousand lives away, where they had made better choices and had jobs that didn’t require liquid amnesia at the end of the week. A small group were loudly bragging about their wins and bemoaning their losses in that day’s camel races. Two men at the far end of the bar were playing Pool, a game that involved lobbying stones, from a distance, into a bucket of water. Others were engaged in lively and intelligent conversation.

Well, conversation…

“I’m telling you, they’re square,” said Taafeef. “Like any other building.”

“Then why do they look pointy?” asked Sethos.

“Because the top is further away,” said Taafeef. “It’s like looking down a road and watching it get narrower.”

From the corner, Ammon looked up over his Daily Papyrus. “They look pointy because they are pointy,” he said, before he could stop himself.

Ammon tried every week to stay out of these conversations, and every week found himself dragged in. He believed, though he would never admit it, that he was cleverer than the others, because he had medical training, and was the town’s undertaker and embalmer.

He didn’t know that the others referred to him as the Mummy’s Boy.

“Really?” said Taafeef. “And how do they build them?”

Ammon hesitated, but only for a second. “Triangular bricks,” he said.

Taafeef stared at him, then nodded grudgingly.

“But what’s the point?” asked Sethos, “if you’ll pardon the pun.”

After a moment unfilled with laughter Ammon said. “The architect wanted them that way.”

“Which architect?” asked Taafeef.

“Ptoblerone,” said Ammon. “One of the new guys.”

Taafeef snorted. “Too much modern architecture going on these days, if you ask me,” he said. “Look at that Sphinx.”

“Exactly,” said Sethos. “Like, why doesn’t she have a face?”

“No idea,” said Taafeef. The two looked again at Ammon, who gave up and put away his paper. “Apparently it’s to represent the the inscrutability and mystery of women,” he said.

“Well, I can’t argue with the sentiment,” said Sethos, “but I reckon people will look at it in years to come and just reckon that her nose fell off.”

The conversation weaved its way across the rest of the evening, covering such topics as how many frogs constituted a plague, whether you could jam a barge sideways across the Nile, and where the Moses basket got its name from.

Closing time arrived. Ammon stood to leave, and swayed. This was because the local beer was brewed with dates, dried scorpion and Dead Sea brine, and was strong enough to make you worship cats.

Braheem the owner stared at him suspiciously. “How are you getting home?” he asked.

“Got my camel outside,” said Ammon, and burped.

“I don’t think you’re fit to ride it,” said Braheem. He pointed to a line marked out in chalk along the floor. “Walk along that for me.”

Ammon walked calmly along the line, one foot in front of the other. He reached the end, looked defiantly at Braheem, and left. The others heard a loud heaving grunt as he hauled himself up onto his camel, then a wail and a loud thump as he toppled off the other side.

“I’m going to have to come up with a better drunk test,” said Braheem.

Lonesome Highway

O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond. (Traditional Scottish song, 1841)

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The coach stopped, at long, long last.

The driver climbed down from his seat, pulling with him a small set of three steps. He placed these at the door of the coach and knocked.

“Loch Lomond, lassie,” he said.

Lorna opened the door, gasping at the cold air that stung her face, then gasping at the cold air with which the gasp had filled her lungs. She tightened the string of her bonnet and inched gingerly down the steps. First one foot, then the other sank into the snow. A huge snowflake settled softly on one eyelash then melted, filling her eye with icy water. She blinked, waited until she could see again, then looked around.

They were at the top of a hill.

“Where’s the Loch?” asked Lorna.

The driver pointed down the hill. Far below Lorna could see the dull glint of water.

“How do I get down there?” she asked.

The driver pointed to a steep set of stone steps cut into the hillside, plunging downwards like a masonry waterfall.

“I can’t walk down there,” said Lorna.

“Aye, it’s no’ gonna be easy,” said the driver, climbing back back onto the coach. “You shouldae taken the low road.”

“No kidding,” muttered Lorna.

-oO0Oo-

It had been Kenneth’s idea. You take the high road, he’d said, and I’ll take the low road.

“But doesn’t that mean that you’ll be in Scotland before me?” Lorna had said.

Aye, Kenneth had replied. He was a man of few words.

Kenneth was a poet, a songwriter, a dreamer. This was why Lorna had fallen in love with him. He explained that he wanted to arrive at Loch Lomond first, so that he could spend a few days writing in the inn before Lorna arrived. She could then tell him of her journey through Scotland’s highlands, and he would turn her tales into beautiful words.

Lorna had thought it was the loveliest idea she had ever heard.

-oO0Oo-

This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, thought Lorna.

It was two hours since she had begun her descent, sideways step after sideways step like an Egyptian descending into a tomb. It was no longer snowing. Instead it was raining sullenly. This had turned the snow on the steps to slush, soaking the hem of her dress, which was now damp as far as her knees.

I’m drowning by osmosis, thought Lorna.

Still, she was almost at the bottom. She looked out at the lake ahead of her. The surface was dull grey, the wind lashing angry lines of water across it. A small flotilla of gulls rocked on the surface, heads hunched tight to their bodies. The inn was small and old, exposed on the lake shore, and even from two hundred yards away Lorna was sure she could hear the draughts whistling through the windows and under the doors.

She shuddered, then shook herself. Could be worse, she thought determinedly, stepping off the last stone step onto the road. And onto a patch of ice.

Both feet slipped from under her. Her bottom hit the ground with a force that made her brain hurt. Her overnight bag burst open, dumping her best nightdress into a puddle. Her sodden bonnet settled on her head like the cover on a farmers’ market jam.

Lorna burst into tears.

She wept for her aches, for her sodden state, for her life. She wept at how she had come to fall for Kenneth and his ridiculous ideas. She realised that it was always her who had the difficult role, while he just wrote about it. She remembered, with a shiver, that he was currently working on the first imaginings of a song that would involve having to walk five hundred miles, and then walk five hundred more.

I’m daft, thought Lorna.

“You’re daft,” said a voice, “lying there in the road like that.”

Lorna lifted the front of her bonnet and looked up. A young man was looking down at her, a concerned expression on his face. “Are you alright, miss?”

“Yes”, she said. “I’m sorry, I just -”

The man held out his hand, and she took it and stood. Together they started to gather the scattered former contents of her bag. The man reached to pick up her nightdress and, to Lorna’s inner delight, blushed as he handed it to her.

“Well, er,” he said. “Can I walk you to where you’re staying?”

“I’m just staying at that inn,” said Lorna, pointing. She noticed the man’s face change, ever so slightly.

“Er, that’s no’ a very suitable place for a lassie on her own,” said the man.

“Why do you think I’m on my own?” asked Lorna, feeling suddenly spinsterish.

“If you had a beau,” said the man, “he wouldnae let you travel alone.”

He’s right, thought Lorna angrily. How could Kenneth let me travel alone, just so he could get some stupid inspiration?

“Well,” she said, “where do you suggest?”

“Mrs Malone has a wee guesthouse just up the road,” he said. “Will I show you where it is?”

Lorna looked hesitantly at the inn. He won’t care if I don’t arrive, she realised. He’ll probably just write a song about it.

She turned to the man and smiled.

“Will ye go, lassie?” he asked.

She nodded. “Go,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Especially For You

I wrote this two weeks ago, and upon opening my blog this morning I discovered that I’d forgotten to hit publish….

Our Inkslingers writing group has re-started its Saturday sessions after the Christmas break. We had to write to the picture prompt (again taken from Simon’s Happy But Scrappy series,a collection of artwork and writing by users and residents of the Dublin Simon Community) , or to the sentence. Or both…

After a lifetime of trying various get-rich schemes, Peter McKenna had stumbled upon the simplicity of winning fifteen million euro on the Lottery. His joy at this was tempered by nagging annoyance at how much of his life had been wasted working, since Peter was the type to find negativity in all situations, the kind who sees sunshine merely as an absence of clouds filled with possible silver linings.

He quickly recovered, though, and decided that all of the village would see the trappings of his wealth. The grandest house, the newest car, the greatest folly. Local tradesmen were summoned to assist.

It was Joe the stonemason who stood before him now, his blueprint flappingly unfurled across a garden table, fighting him like a playful baby during a nappy change. “I designed it with you in mind,” he told a doubtful Peter.

“How so?” asked Peter, who was aware of his unpopularity in the village, so had an image of a stairway up to a gallows poking at the back of his mind.

“It’s what you do if you’re a rich man,” said Joe. “It’s a staircase leading nowhere just for show.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Peter. “How much will it cost?”

Joe planned to build it from discarded gravestones, ones where he had made an error in the deceased’s name or date of demise, even the one where he had carved “Sleeping with the Angles”. The consequent zero material cost and a few hours labour on a Saturday meant that he would make a decent profit by charging five hundred euro. He knew Peter, though.

“Four thousand euro,” he said. He watched Peter’s chest fill with pride.

“Done,” said Peter.

“Indeed,” said Joe.