Her

Created in a haze
of another world,
you sheltered him
under a thin veil
of love,
no protection
from the grime
of a greater desire

Infected
by your weakness,
an unwanted
legacy remains,
a puzzle unfinished,
never to be
complete

But;
as neglect festers,
so too does love,
for in these times
wishes are granted
and dreams
become reality

Three souls
intertwine,
and from the ruins
of a shattered life,
a family emerges
from the rubble
and life
is renewed.

Farts and Squeaks

An onslaught OF music SOUNDS,
no TIME for rhyTHm or mOVEment
and no symPHony fouNd
within jazZy tinker bellS
jumbling UP like
words wrong-the-way-around YELLS
nOIse,
and order FLATTened in a menTAL cRAze;
that’s no way an Orchestra plays.

To my EArs, poiSED fOR fORm,
I Sit in pAiN,
in vAIn,
as raIN becomes sToRM
and OF a suDden, pEAks;
anoTHer onSLauGht
of farts aNd squeaks.

Once Upon a Time

it sits,
this life,
alone
in the corner,
fragments
of lost dreams,
splintered
by time and reality,
scattered
to the wind

frail
of mind and body,
wasted
on a tidal wave
of fear,
regret

plans
long forgotten,
made when fear
was not known
and time
stretched
endlessly

when hopes
were as high
as confidence
known only
to the young,
life was
eternal

but time
creeps in
like fog,
spreading slowly,
blinding,
suddenly
plans but a memory;
time grown
short

and this life,
so little now,
so lonely,
so scared to believe,
to try,
swept away,
and dreams
are long forgotten.

Launch

Launched into this world
hurled from my mother’s womb,
sent screaming into this place
I raise my voice yet again but now,
control it with measured grace
And I raise a hopeful brow
to those of you who sigh,
lie lazy on vestigial wings
and cry
So I offer here, myself, my soul,
my compositions for all to read,
and comment on, if not a troll
as I offer only what I can,
so no screaming please
and comment not,
if you’re not a fan.

The Launch

‘Just launch it…’
‘I will. I just…’
‘Come on Eillidh, you need to launch it. Just throw it in…’
‘I just need a minute Cara…just give me a moment…please…’

The two girls stand at the edge of the pier, their slender outlines gently imprinted on the calm, idyllic coastal scene. The first hint of the early evening’s shadows begin to invade the cool, crisp, and often, unexpected sunshine of the late Spring day. A frittering, uncertain sunshine. Like an infant taking its first steps, desperate to exude confidence, all the while only a heartbeat, a mis-step, a moment away from defeat. Gentle waves prod at the foot of the brickwork pier below them, respectful of the calm, quiescent air, careful not to intrude upon the measured silence. Across the river the Lothians stand proudly, illustriously, distant. The peaks of the far-off Pentland Hills creeping into the horizon. Another world, another life. To their right the Forth bridges cut through the landscape. Each bridge unique, oozing character. Each offering a varied route of travel, a mode of escape, from the introspective small town life, piercing a hole into the seemingly salubrious, high-rolling, problem-shedding city life.

‘You’re going to have to do it sooner or later Eillidh. The quicker you do it the faster you can walk away. Yeah?’

Cara glances briefly at the object, the focal point, the subject of the conversation, forcefully clutched in her friend’s hand. She follows this up with an unsteady, yet comforting, squeeze of Eillidh’s shoulder. The latter’s hand slowly rises to meet Cara’s, gently caressing it as her gaze remains fixed on some nondescript point on the opposite shoreline. A slight smile, more forlorn than joyful, edges across her lips.

‘Do you remember when we used to come here as kids? To the beach I mean.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Any sunny day. Even some rainy ones. Hiding in the caves-but-not-really-caves further along the coast to keep dry.’
‘That’s right’ smiles Cara.
‘All the way through Primary School,’ Eillidh squeezes her friend’s had before withdrawing her own, letting it hang by her side. Cara taking this as a cue to let go.
‘I honestly can’t remember the last time I even built a sandcastle. Buried someone in the sand. Skimmed a stone, even. No matter how crap I was at it.’
‘Everything seemed…I don’t know…freer then. Easier.’
‘Look Eillidh…you’re still…’ begins Cara meekly before she’s cut off.
‘I had my first kiss there aswell, remember. That English boy, Will, up here visiting his Granny, or Auntie, or someone, I don’t know. Where was he from? Cornwall or something, wasn’t it. God, it was awful. He tasted like cheese and onion Pringles. He wasn’t even eating cheese and onion Pringles.’
‘Yeah, I remember’ replies Cara, now managing to force only the barest hint of a smile.

The light continues to gradually diminish around them, the evening entwining with the daylight, a dusky hue beginning to claim sovereignty over proceedings. Towards the opposite shoreline two birds, seagulls thinks Eillidh, one noticeably larger than the other, suddenly career into the air. The larger of the two confidently cutting through the encroaching shadows, the smaller visibly struggling, ascending and plunging with all the consistency and speed of an unrestrained roller coaster. The larger bird descends time and again, flapping alongside the smaller; in support, in encouragement, in kinship. Until, eventually, the smaller bird finds its stride, its confidence, and propels itself into the air. Gliding gracefully through the landscape, pirouetting over the lush red steel of the railway bridge. The larger bird proudly mirroring its every move, coasting close by as the younger of the two etches its own celebratory path into the coastal expanse.

‘And then the beach parties started’ she says.
‘Well…’
‘Didn’t they?’
‘Well, hardly parties’ answers Cara, ‘more like a group of underagers getting together and smoking and drinking anything we managed to steal from one of our parents’ drink cabinet. If that’s classed as a party then…’
‘Suddenly everything just felt different.’
‘Eillidh…’
‘Like happiness is suddenly something you have to work for, y’know.’
‘Eillidh, listen…’
‘Appearance. Expectations. Responsibilities. Exams. Careers. Plans. Books. Looks. Boys Girls. Everything. Like you’re no longer only making decisions to please yourself and make yourself happy any more. Every little thing you do or don’t do, every little thing you say or don’t say, somehow it suddenly becomes all about pleasing someone, anyone, everyone else. When did that start, tell me that.’
‘I don’t know Eillidh. Look, you did the right thing. You did. It’s not…’
‘And then you end up doing the wrong thing anyway. Making the wrong choice. It’s always about the wrong choices.’
Cara’s voice drops to a whisper. Unsure. Muted. She pulls nervously at her hair, curling it around her index finger, tangling it in the process.
‘Eillidh…’ she begins, ‘you had to do it. Ok? You didn’t have any choice. There wasn’t a right or wrong choice. There was just the only choice. You have to know that. To believe that. You had to get it done. You’re 15 years old, Eillidh. 15! It was the only choice you had.’

Eillidh looks down at the object in her hand. Staring at it. Fearing it. Hating it. She looks up again, indifferently staring across the glistening waves. The skyline above the bridges glows a fiery red, the dying embers, the final flourish of an otherwise fading daylight. She tightens her grasp of the object.

‘I could have waited though.’
‘Eillidh, why say that?’
‘In the first place I mean. I could have waited.’
‘Come on Eillidh, there’s no way you could have known this would happen. No way.’
‘Cara, I could have waited.’ she replies sternly, ‘like you just said, I’m only 15 years old. I didn’t have to do it. Didn’t have to say yes. To agree to it. To let him. Even though I knew…I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.’
‘You just…you only…’
‘You weren’t that stupid were you!’
‘It’s not about being stupid, Eillidh. Like I said, it’s not about being right or wrong. All you did was…’
‘Well, I don’t know. All I know is I could have….I mean, you weren’t…I don’t know. I don’t know.’

Cara looks up at her friend, still gazing blankly into that unspecified spot in the horizon. She gently slips her fingers through Eillidh’s, clasping hold of her quivering hand.

‘You did the right thing. I promise you. School. Your parents. Your own life. It’s still yours to live. You had to do it. You’ve not let anyone down…’
‘I know…’ whispers Eillidh in reply, her voice cracking ever so slightly as she does, ‘I know.’
‘It’s not an ending. It’s just something that’s happened. Something that could have been but isn’t.’
‘Yeah…’
‘So just launch it. Just throw it in, Eillidh. Please.’
‘I will, I just…ok.’
‘Besides, I’m starting to shiver. I told you summer dresses in spring was a shocking idea.’ she forces a trickle of laughter.
‘You did.’ smiles Eillidh, this time tightening her grip on her friend’s hand.

Her attention is drawn to the waves continuing to claw at the foot of the pier below. The gentle lapping of the water against the wall bringing with it an almost serene, hypnotic quality. A distant, echoing seagull screech breaks her repose, calling to her attention the near total darkness now surrounding the two of them.

She squeezes her friend’s hand tightly once again, emphatically even, and then lets go. And with a gentle flick of her wrist she sends the white object flying through the evening air. As Eillidh and Cara turn and walk away the very last fragment of the day’s sunlight briefly enshrines the object in a surreal glow. The white object’s small LED screen, once adorned with the word ‘Pregnant’, glistens under a momentary flash of light, a blinding reflective spark, before it continues its downward trajectory, tumbling towards the shadow-strewn, all-consuming waves.

The Gallows Tree

deadtree

I need to see the sunrise. I have to. To film it, record it, capture it. To let it wash over me. Over this project. It’s the missing part. The missing link. The final solitary jigsaw piece that’s buggered off below the couch into an apparent abyss. I’ve got everything else after all. Filmed it, penned it, recorded it. Every shade, every angle, every mood. Yet this is the one that evades, that taunts. A masterpiece can never be a masterpiece if it’s missing a piece. No matter how small, large or vital that piece may be. That’s simple logic. That’s cutting through the jargon, the artistry, to arrive at the truth. What’s a sunset without a sunrise? An ending without a beginning. A finale without an introduction. Death without birth. A masterpiece need’s it’s purpose, it’s opening. And this is my masterpiece.  My Sistine Chapel. My Citizen Kane. My Mona Lisa. I will become the art, the art will become me. A recognition, admiration, a lasting epitaph. Or, at least, it will be once I get this bloody sunrise captured. That’s why I climb. Why I struggle. Why I falter through the uneven hillside under the shadow of darkness. To reach the outline near the top. The crooked pyre. The contorted monolith. The subject of my masterpiece. The Gallows Tree.

The Auld Gallows Tree to be more precise. There it stands above me. Some twenty yards or so. A dark silhouette framed by the even darker clouds and skies above. A gothic beacon on an otherwise barren hillside. Jagged, wrinkled, pleading almost. A decrepit, skeletal sinner’s hand thrust through the soil, reaching up to the heavens. Even from a distance as close as this the branches seem pencil thin. Intricately drawn outlines traversing their own fragmented and wayward path. A tree I know. One I could draw in my sleep. A tree that knows me. One that’s peered down on me, on my house, what was once my parents’ house, on its isolation at the foot of the hill throughout my life and beyond. To me an eternity. To the tree, nothing more than a brief glint in its long history. A minuscule scratch in its vast tapestry of lines and rings.

A history so expansive, one so varied. Infused with life, death, worship. The tree and the land around it has seen the birth of Pictish Kings, Wicca rituals, battles, both religious and political, fought in its shadow. A sight of pilgrimage for thousands throughout the dark and middle ages. It’s proximity to heaven, within ‘touching distance of the Lord’, affording it its revered status. And, of course, it was the sight of one of the many hundreds of clandestine, yet hugely attended, Covenanters gatherings during the Killing Time. Thousands would flock to the hillside, through a myriad of weather conditions, to listen to Preachers booming their sermons, their doctrine, to the assembled mass of believers. Outlawed, hunted, yet defiant. And the subsequent fallout from this period of history is where the name ‘Gallows Tree’ originated from. Whilst many Covenanters were sent to the infamous mass prison at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in Edinburgh, many others were killed where they worshiped. And so it was that hundreds, if not thousands, were hanged from the very tree they had once seen as a symbol of their salvation, a symbol of their faith. And yet, for all of that, the tree sits on the hillside largely ignored. No brown tourist road sign highlights its existence, its prominence. Not even so much as a crudely-scrawled symbol on a local tourist map. A forgotten feature on a forgotten landscape; tourists and day-trippers directed in their droves towards the nearby neolithic standing stone circle instead.

And so that’s the reason I’m doing this. That’s why I’ve invested so much time, so much effort, in this project. To celebrate its individuality, its isolation, its solitude. Seemingly forgotten, ignored, shunned by all. But no more. This crooked, crippled collection of bark has been there for me. Throughout my life. Watching, peering, whispering comfort. In a scattered rural setting such as this, where next door neighbours can be, and often are, several miles apart, it has been a constant. A companion. Stability. Every morning as a child I’d stare out my bedroom window and it would be there, affixed on the hillside above. Basking in sunlight, wilting under a rainstorm, decadently bathing within a snowy landscape. Every morning there. Grasping at the low hanging clouds. Often slowly revealing itself amid the rolling mist caressing the grassy verge. But always there. I sketched it, time and again. Researched its past, its fables, its ghosts. Wrote about it, wrote to it. Talked to it. Hid my dreams, my worries, my darkest thoughts deep within the scraggly arms of its embrace. I uttered my goodbyes when I set off for pastures new. Shamefully shuffled back to its presence years down the line when pastures new dissipated into nothingness, an ex-wife and a tribe of step children trailing in my wake. A long-term job lost, discarded, scattered into a chasm of indifference. It offered no judgment, no flash of disappointment, no scorn. Just stability. I’ve climbed this hill in school clothes, pyjamas, work clothes. And twice in the last two years I’ve climbed this hill in my Sunday Best straight from the kirkyard, clambering to the tree for solace, for comfort. For answers. Returning to an empty house. To echoes. Memories. And still it watches. Over me. For me. I need it. And it needs me.

The town hall has been booked for an age. The best part of my inheritance gone into hiring its space for six months. They were reluctant to allow me the booking initially. Isn’t it generally artists that usually create art installations such as this? Why for so long? A tree you say? They’ve had to move meetings, coffee mornings, cancel anniversaries, birthdays, wedding parties. It has to be done though. This exhibition, this art installation, demands to be seen. To be witnessed. To be understood. A audio-visual homage to the Gallows Tree. A celebration of its history, its characters, its stories. Its meaning. Shining a light on its existence, its ethereal majesty. Dragging it metaphorically up by its roots from its hillside seclusion and thrusting it into the eyes of the wider population. Forgotten no more. I’ve filmed it day and night, night and day. Every day for months on end. From this angle, from that angle. In every conceivable shade, mood, pose. All weathers, all conditions. Recorded it constantly; cataloguing every sound, every storm, every raindrop, every creak of its branches. Written pages, screeds, tomes on every aspect of the tree. Every historic moment from its past, every character, every death. The hall will be smothered in information; sketches of the tree, photographs, film, branches connecting the stories, the characters. All creaking under the continual, relentless sounds of the tree’s muted entreaties. Every single object cluttering my house, my mind, will be unloaded and presented to the world.

The Tree of Life, that tree in American Gods, the one in Sleepy Hollow, The Giving Tree, all the trees in the Suicide Forest at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan. Trees of fiction, trees of legend, trees of myth. All of them, I repeat, all of them will pale into insignificance in the shadow of the The Gallows Tree once I unveil it to the wider population. Bringing an end to its isolation, an end to the ignorance. All prepared, all waiting, all ready for the curtain call. Or it would be if it wasn’t for this bloody sunrise that I just can’t quite seem to capture right. I’ve captured enough perfect sunsets, enough raging storms, enough exquisitely-picturesque strands of lightning to last an eternity. But the sunrise still eludes me. Any time I think I have it, the camera fails, the light dims, a cloud forces its way into the frame. Any number of factors pollute the waters, the stream of perfection I’m striving for, the one the tree so richly deserves.

So here I stand once more, perched on the hillside. Perched below the tree. Waiting, pleading, begging for the sunrise to creep from the shadows and weave its way through those jagged limbs. To provide me with the beginning, the opening, the introduction I’ve been grasping for all this time. The final piece of the masterpiece. The finishing touch one day before the launch of the installation. The skies above me start to lose their darkness, becoming lighter, penetrable even. Flickers of the morning sun start puncturing the gloom, shards of light dotting the surrounding hills. This is it. The moment. The final I dotted, the last T crossed. I quickly empty the camera from my bag, draping its strap around my neck. Waiting. Poised. Trembling. The weight of history, of relevance, of myself, sparking throughout my tired bones, my gasping veins. Light. Creeping. Finally. Slowly, painfully slowly. Creeping. Creeping. Edging into shot. The perfect shot. The once a day, perfect, film opening, exhibition launching shot. Poised. Ready. Waiting. And…gone. A cloud edging into view a split-second before my finger slams down on the button. Another blurry picture of the tree to add to the collection. The sunrise obscured by cloud, obscured by fate. I sink to my knees, throwing the camera to the ground in the process. My last chance gone. Defeat. Perfection slipping from my grasp. Once more.

I pull my bag closer to me as the clouds scatter every which way, the sun nestling high above the earth, announcing daybreak to the sleep-laden Northern Hemisphere. A familiar battalion of mist begins its march up the hillside, engulfing all in its path, creeping up towards my position beneath the tree. I rummage in my bag, an eerie calmness suffocating me, warding off the emptiness, the anxiety, the darkness. A final cruel placid twist of fate. A sanguine warmth grasped within the flames of failure. A mocking light within a perpetual darkness. The knowledge that this has been planned for. This failure. This eventuality. A shift in focus, a shift in tone. There can be no true ending without a beginning. The ending sought for fallen by the wayside, a new ending required. The Gallows Tree must be seen, must be noticed, must be revered. It’s isolation shattered, it’s solitary vigil brought to an end. I pull the rope out of my bag and push myself up off the ground, glancing down one last time at the empty shell of a house below. Silent. Long ago deserted. Bereft of feeling, of meaning, of life. Letters have been written, instructions detailed. Six months earlier than planned, but planned nonetheless. My epitaph. Carved into the tree, its roots, for all eternity. The tree will have its moment. It will. Its name will step forth into the light once more. I throw the rope around one of the thicker branches protruding from the crooked frame, a tight noose at the other end dangling in the air, swinging gently above the encroaching layer of mist. I move towards the tree, grabbing hold of a lower branch and thrusting myself up. I reach out for the rope, just barely managing to clasp hold of it and wrench it towards me.

I gently loop the noose around my neck with my left hand. My right still clinging hold of the tree.

The tree must be known. Its story must be told.

The ending must have a beginning, yes.

But every story demands an ending.

A finale.

A conclusion.

I let go.

The Launch

Counting down,
I’m lost for words,
I can’t think
what to write

This prompt
has got me beaten,
I’m still waiting
for the light

Every time
I think I’ve got
an idea
or a hunch

I start to write
about The Launch
but it ends up
about Lunch

If a ploughman’s
or a sandwich
could be deemed as
just the job

I could write until
the cows came home
about our
Brand New Blog.

Audrey Hepburn

Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!

‘Audrey!! Shut u…’

Bark! Bark! Bark!

‘AUDREY!!!’

‘Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!

‘SHUT UP! It’s a knock at the door you stupid bloody mutt!!’

whimper

The old man pulled himself out of his armchair and walked across to the door, slowly, achingly, his body wading through a near-impenetrable cloud of smoke. A well-earned cloud of smoke built up throughout the years. The poisonous particles hanging in the air, content and restful, secure in their domain. He halted, resting his arm on the dust-laden couch, and proceeded to viciously cough up a smattering of phlegm.
‘Who is it?’ he manages to spit out in between coughs.
Silence.
‘I said, who is it?’ he shouts.
Again, his question is met with silence.
‘Ah, sod ye!’ he calls. ‘Bloody arseholes! I was just starting to doze!’
He threw his arms up in exasperation, a meaningless gesture to an audience of no-one, and turned to make the long trek back to his armchair. Audrey had by now nestled herself comfortably at the foot of the chair, her eyes beginning to wane under an onslaught of sleep. His chair. Forty years or so he’s had that chair. Each cigarette burn hole, each coffee stain, each pulled and withered thread playing a part in the great tapestry that is the story of this chair. It’s seen numerous royal weddings, countless wars, god knows how many Prime Ministers and First Ministers come and go, royal divorces, and far far far too many Scottish footballing failures, glorious or otherwise, throughout the years. A source of comfort and familiarity through times of strain, of stress, even heartache. All memories. It was his wife that had originally picked it out for him. She’d wanted rid of it in more recent years as its colour faded and material grew worn. Not a chance though, he’d declared. This was his chair. He’d be in this until the end. He’d die in that chair if need be. Besides, he had let her get that new couch. He gradually lowered himself into the chair, his bones creaking all the while. My chair, he thought. Only, it wasn’t his chair. Well, it certainly didn’t feel like it anyway. His eyes narrowed in suspicion, looking round at the chair. Fidgeting, shifting back and forth a couple of times. It felt cold somehow, different. Uneven. Uncomfy. He shook his head, dismissing the notion that any further thought was required around the subject, and picked up his pack of Regal from the coffee table by the side of his chair. He pulled out a cigarette and started to reach into his trouser pocket for his lighter.

Another knock at the door.

‘For god’s sake!’ he roared. ‘WHO IS IT?!’
Once again, silence. Not even a peep from Audrey who lay peacefully beside his chair.
‘Right!’ he spat, pushing himself forcefully out of his chair, discarding the cigarette packet on the table. He marched towards the door, and angrily slid and unhooked the chain. He turned the key, preparing himself for an outpouring of anger at the little buggers playing chap-door-run or the cold calling bastards who haunted the doorsteps of older folk like him. He opened the door.  A middle-aged man stood before him, a red and white striped apron hung from his neck, in his right hand he clutched a pair of scissors and a comb, in his left a bag. A barber. A barber? What was a barber doing at his door?
‘Erm…hello.’ he muttered unsteadily before catching himself. ‘Eh aye, what is it?’
The barber stared at him silently, smiling.
‘Are you deaf son?! I said, what is it?’
Still the barber smiled at him, no word or sound emanating from his lips. The old man looked the stranger up and down. Angry yes but also slightly unnerved. The man before him had slicked back hair and sober clothing more befitting a man of the 1950s, certainly not this day and age.
‘Look son,’ he said. ‘I’ve not ordered any barber, you’ve obviously got the wrong address’
He started to close the door before the barber raised up his left hand to block it, still silent, still smiling.
‘Now look here son’ he said, a touch of aggression creeping into his voice. ‘I didn’t order any bloody barber, I’m not needing a haircut. Or…maybe…maybe I did. I cannae mind. My memory’s not been the best since….well, my memory’s not the best these days, let’s leave it at that.’
The barber smiled at the old man, brushing past him as he walked into the living room.
The old man, incredulous, turned, ready to launch a verbal volley at the stranger. Only to see him calmly laying out a towel next to his armchair, carefully arranging his hairdressing utensils on the table as he whistled away to himself. That tune, thought the old man. I know that tune. He couldn’t quite place it. The barber stood next to the chair, politely holding his out arm out in invitation, beckoning the old man to take a seat.
‘Seriously son, I don’t remember asking for this. My hair’s been getting a bit long these days aye but I’m ok, I don’t mind it.’
Still the barber stood, smiling, ushering the old man towards his chair. They stood staring at one another for a good ten seconds or so. The old man struggling to do the logical arithmetic in his head; the barber cheerfully whistling that familiar tune.
Bugger it, thought the old man. He probably did need his hair cut anyway. And it wasn’t half convenient that barbers came to your house now. Not that he’d heard of such a thing, mind you. He warily made his way across to his chair and tentatively sat down. As soon as he landed on the chair, the barber immediately sprung into action; snipping, combing and spraying with an almost manic cheerfulness. Constantly whistling that same tune. Saying not a word. The old man sat paralysed in a baffled cluelessness. Trying to piece together the situation. Minutes passed. He was about to broach the subject of when the booking was made when the barber stepped in front of him holding a mirror, shifting it from side to side and behind the head in that skillful, practiced way that all hairdressers seem adept at. He was slightly stunned when he saw the hair peering back at him from the mirror. It looked immaculate. A perfect side parting was joined by a healthy crop of slicked back hair not unlike Sean Connery in the early Bond films he thought, or the barber’s own hair in fact. And most startlingly of all it was black. Not the tired collection of greys that had nestled upon his head all these years. The barber stood, repeating the mirror move time and again, awaiting acknowledgement.
‘Aye son’ said the old man. ‘That’s brilliant’
The barber nodded, whipped away the mirror and speedily started gathering up his tools and materials.
The old man stepped towards the mantelpiece, his eyes fixed on his haircut, almost in a daze of disbelief. After a few seconds he came to.

‘Eh…look son, how much am I due you? To be honest I’m a bit short just now and forgot about this altogether. Give me a minute though and I’ll…’
His speech was halted by the door banging shut. The barber was gone. The old man looked left then right in nothing more than shock. He looked down at Audrey. She continued to sleep peacefully at the foot of his chair. He scrambled towards the door before yanking it open and peering outside, looking up and down the landing for any sign of the barber. He was gone. Away. Vanished. The old man touched his chin in bewilderment, slowly edging back inside, wondering how the barber had made such a quick getaway and why he hadn’t taken any payment from him. Closing the door and sliding the chain back on he made a quick, darting check of the flat with his eyes; no, nothing taken.
‘Well that was bloody strange’ he said out loud. He walked back to his chair, feeling slightly lighter and somehow sturdier than previously, and sat down, gently caressing his hair with his left hand, careful not to disturb the gelled work of art atop his head. His right hand reached automatically for his pack of Regal.

He had barely managed to lift the lid of the packet before another knock at the door resounded through the flat.
‘For f…..’ he started.
He glanced down at Audrey. Still asleep. He threw his pack of Regal onto the chair and walked towards the door, once more going through the unchaining and unlocking sequence. As the door swung open a man stood before him, silent, smiling, not at all unlike the barber.
‘Aye?’ said the old man.
Silence.
‘Jesus, not this again. Look son, what is it?’
Silence. Infuriating, uneasy silence.
The old man was about to suggest where the man could away and sod off to when the visitor held up a suitbag, a black pinstriped suit peering out through the mottled and faded plastic. He was holding it out, waiting for the old man to grasp it by the coat hanger peeking out of the top.
‘What’s this?’ asked the old man, warily reaching out his hand.
As soon as he laid his fingers on the cold wire hanger, the stranger widened his smile with an almost false elasticity, rigidly turned sideways and set off down the landing.
‘Hey! Where are you off to?! Ho!’
The old man started to give chase but the stranger, if anything, quickened his pace.
‘Why?….Who?…Wh….ah sod it!’ said the old man as he stuttered to a halt, a thousand unanswered questions dripping off him as turned to go back into the flat.

He lay the suitbag on the couch, peering down at it with a healthy mixture of curiosity and cynicism. He bent down without incident – strange, he thought, for a man who had been accompanied in his daily travels and goings-on by a crick in his back for the last thirty years or so of his life – and gently unzipped the bag. He held the suit up before him. There was a fleeting familiarity to it but he couldn’t quite place it. Not a speck of dust lay on the suit yet it had an older quality to it. He checked the measurements. It was his size right enough. He instinctively lifted up one side of the jacket and checked the inside, an old never-forgotten tick undoubtedly brought on by his old man’s incessant need to label all his clothing – living in a slum with five brothers in Glasgow’s East side as a youngster would do that to a man. He froze. A.C. The label said A.C!? His father’s initials. It even had that slighty shaky, self-aware edge to the handwriting. He shook his head.
‘Don’t be so bloody stupid!’ he declared to himself out loud.
It could be anything. It could be the name of the company, for instance, he thought. In fact there’s a tailors down at the old shops down the way. Aye, he decided. Alex Cowan’s Suits. That was it. Robert Cowan’s Suits? No. No, it was definitely Alex, he tried to convince himself. See, that’s it, a coincidence, nothing more than coincidence. Still, he thought, it does look bloody familiar. And the question still stood, why had it been sent here? To him? Who had sent it? He derided his memory once more.
‘It’s a good suit though,’ he murmured. ‘Don’t you think so Audrey?’
His question was greeted by a snore and a gentle twitch of her tail.
‘Aye, you’re right, I may aswell give it a try before they figure out the mix up. No harm done.’
He slowly undressed down to his shirt and boxers before gradually pulling on the suit trousers, using his own belt to fasten them around his waist. A nice fit, he thought. He picked up the jacket, slipping his arms in one at a time, before buttoning it up. Again, a good fit. It felt comfortable. More than that, it felt like he’d worn it previously. That familiar feeling gnawing at him in waves and yet, he still couldn’t quite grasp why. He patted down the jacket with the back of his hands and turned to look in the mirror. The slightest of smiles cracked at the corner of his mouth. Suitably impressed he thought, almost as pleased with his appearance as he was by his pun. His gaze drifted up towards his haircut and back down to the suit. There was a youthfulness about his appearance, one that seemed to seep into his bones. He felt younger. Felt vibrant. Felt…his thought was cut short but yet another knock at the door.

‘Flowers!? Naw, naw son.’
The delivery man smiled back at the old man, that now-staple vacant stare gazing straight ahead.
‘And chocolates!? I’ve not eaten chocolate in about ten years! What would I be wanting those for? Eh?’
Not a word or sound in return.
‘Look son, who’s behind all this? It’s taking the piss now.’

‘Do none of you buggers talk anymore?’

‘Bloody hell!’ he growled as he snatched the flowers and box of chocolates from the delivery man’s hand.
‘Right you wait there. Ok! You bloody well wait there. I’ll pay one of you sods today if it’s the last thing  I do.’ he said as he turned and walked back into his flat. He placed the flowers and chocolates on the couch absent-mindedly, trying to think where he’d left his wallet. He spied it on the sideboard behind the couch. He started to make his way over when another knock at the door came.
‘What the f….the door’s already bloody open!?’ he shouted.
He spun round and headed to the door.
‘Look pal, I don’t know what….who the bloody hell are you?! Where’s the other boy went to?’
A new delivery man stood in front of him. Again, his hair was slicked back in that late 50‘s/early 60‘s style. An apron hung down from his waist, a tea-towel slung haphazardly over his shoulder. A chef, by the looks of things. He had a plate in each hand. On each plate sat a substantially sized battered fish, a handful of chips, a scattering of peas and a generous dollop of tomato sauce. The old man gaped in awe at the plates. They were hot, no doubt about that, steam was rising from both meals. This had long since passed bizarre, he thought, we were now officially in the realms of batshit lunacy. He glanced back up at the man’s face. Smiling, vacant, silent. Like all before.
‘Silent treatment from you aswell son aye?’
Predictably, the chef continued to smile.
‘Aye well good. Just you do that. Only I certainly didnae bloody well order any food. I’ve had my tea already and I’ve not needed two of anything for years now. So, with respect son, just bugger off please.’
The chef pushed past him firmly, not a flicker of recognition for the words spoken to him or the old man he stepped past. The old man stumbled slightly, once more aghast at the ignorance on show. Something inside told him not to bother protesting though. Deaf ears were all the protests would meet. The chef stepped up to the coffee table in the middle of the room, speedily cleared the table of all items and debris, shifted both plates onto his left hand, pulled a cloth from his back pocket with his right and wiped the table. The old man looked on in open-mouthed wonder. The chef then pulled a red and white checkered tablecloth from his pocket, smoothing it out as he laid it on the table and placed both plates down next to each other. He quickly added a pair of fork and knives next to each before gently sprinkling salt and vinegar over both plates – the condiment jars also suddenly appearing out of the seemingly unending pocket supply. The chef stood up, briefly admiring his handywork. The old man felt compelled to say something, anything. To query, to wonder what the bloody hell. But then the door rapped yet again.
‘This is bloody stupid!’ he declared.
He turned around, readying himself for the next onslaught of strangeness, when two smiling strangers brushed past him as they walked into the flat, each carrying one end of a large box. Without even a hint of recognition for either the old man or the chef, who was by now making his way out of the flat, they carried the object towards the mantelpiece, laying it down on the floor. They started to unpack the box, pulling out equipment and objects of all different sizes with a studied mechanism. The old man turned and looked towards his sleeping dog.
‘I give up Audrey, I bloody well give up’
He wandered over to his front door, still sitting open, and looked out. The landing was cloaked in silence. Nothing hinted at the madness he had been subjected to within the last…10 minutes? 20 minutes? Half an hour? Time seemed to have slipped his grasp. He stood for a few seconds, trying to reason his thoughts with the events. Useless. He turned around, slightly startled yet again, as the two newest strangers walked past him on their way out. Collecting himself he began to think about shouting out at them as they left, instead throwing his arms up in exasperation. He looked up, amazed by the sight in front of him. His mantelpiece was gone, replaced by a large projector screen. He looked left. The projector, antiquated but obviously robust, lay on the sideboard, a film reel attached to it.
‘Not a clue,’ he announced to himself. ‘Not a sodding clue.’
He closed the front door behind him. He glanced from left to right and back again. He looked down at his suit, subconsciously smoothing it down with one hand, the other hand gently caressing his hair once again. He felt a nervousness rise slowly within him. Why? he thought. Aye, this sequence of events would be enough to send anyone doolally but it wasn’t that. The nervousness was different somehow. A sweat started forming on his brow.
‘I need a seat’ he decided. ‘That’s all.’
He felt slightly faint, concluding that the couch, being the closest seat to him, would suffice. He slowly turned around, picking up the flowers and chocolates, as he started to lower himself onto couch. Before being stopped in his tracks, yet again, by another knock at the door. This time gentler than all the rest.
‘For god’s sake!’
Flowers and chocolate in hand, he slowly walked to the door.

‘Annie!’
The old man stumbled slightly, shock racing through his veins, as his wife of nearly 50 years stood before him. Wearing a yellow and white polka dot dress, a yellow hairband topping off the ensemble. Smiling, silent; the usual drill. Only, she looked far younger than he remembered, a youthful colour infused her demeanour. She looked as gorgeous as the day he first met her.
‘Annie…’ he stuttered. ‘What the, what are you…what…’
His arms outstretched in bafflement. She smiled bashfully and took the flowers and chocolates from him, gently, yet nervously, kissing him on the cheek as she did so. He’d forgotten he even had them in his hand. As he stood, rooted to the spot, adrift in a sea of uncertainty, she silently locked her soft, warm hand with his and walked into the room, nudging the front door shut in the process. He followed in a trance, enraptured by her beauty, her elegance, her poise.

She led him to the couch and sat down, gesturing for him to do the same. She smiled and rubbed her hands in glee as she spotted the feast before them, steam still spewing forth from the plates. She picked up her fork and knife and cut a bit of the fish, spearing a chip with her fork and dipping it into the tomato sauce. Smiling all the while. As she lifted the forkful to her mouth she caught sight of the old man’s unfaltering stare. She simply smiled wider and nodded towards his plate. He cautiously lifted up his fork and knife from the table, under the control of her smile more so than his own senses, and started pushing the food about his plate, picking up a chip with his hand. He bit down, a searingly hot blast rippling through his mouth. The chip dropped from his mouth as he exclaimed a mixture of ‘ooyahs and ows’. He looked up through the pain to see her laughing. No, you’d call that giggling, he thought. Her wrist held up against her mouth as she tried to stifle the laugh, her shoulders dancing up and down in a betrayal of her efforts. Something resembling deja-vu flashed through his mind, it was all so bloody familiar, he thought. This meal, that rogue chip, that giggle. He wiped his mouth with a napkin, looking up with something approaching a smile as her laugh died down. They sat and ate in silence. Not an uncomfortable silence, no. A warm, content, happy silence. They both finished their meals at the same time, her coupling her knife and fork together on the plate, him straddling both across his in a haphazard manner. Without warning she leaned over and corrected his fork and knife, pushing them together on his plate, playfully flashing him a smile as she sat back up. He looked down at his plate with a smidgen of incredulity. And then laughed softly.
‘Fifty years of this’ he said. ‘Too late to learn now eh.’
She smiled and shuffled towards him. He felt his nerves inexplicably jangle. A sensation once more cut short as another knock at the door came. Only this time he didn’t even have time to muster up a new cry of outrage as the door flew open and a young man and woman, both barely out of their teens, burst in – the man dressed in what seemed to be an old-time cinema usher’s outfit and the woman in a waitress’ pinny. The woman picked up both plates without a word, quickly wiped the table, and exited the room. The man suddenly produced a box of popcorn and two paper Coca-Cola cups from behind his back, placing both on the table. He tipped his hat to both of them and then exited as swiftly as he’d come in, flicking the light switch off  and closing the door as he stepped out of the flat. The old man spun round, looking towards the door, the room now shrouded in darkness. He was about to raise himself from the couch when he felt her loop her arm around his and lean into him affectionately. He glanced down at her, mildly shocked, as she smiled up at him. Just then a whirring sound reverberated around the room, startling them out of their all-to-brief romantic repose. A light flickered on the large projector screen in front of them before a burst of colour shakily invaded the screen. That well-known snow-peaked mountain flashed up, an upside down horseshoe of white stars lying over it, surrounding the words ‘A Paramount Picture’.

Fifth Avenue, New York. He’d seen this scene before. He’d seen that yellow cab before. In fact, this was, yes, this is…there she is. Those famous sunglasses, the black silk gloves, the perfect hair tied up in a bun, the small brown bag with the danish in it, the coffee in her other hand. Gazing in the windows at Tiffany’s jewellery store. Having her breakfast. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn.  God, she was beautiful. The pinnacle Hollywood starlet. He looked on open-mouthed. He felt a nudge in his side and looked down to see her cheekily smiling up at him. She’d always playfully teased him about Audrey Hepburn. How she was his ‘true love’ through all these years. She’d even named the bloody dog after her, after all. He smiled half-heartedly, trying to shake off his sudden embarrassment. She sniggered before cuddling into him, sighing in a dreamy fashion. He put his arm around her as he felt a sudden urge to hold onto her protectively, to never let go. He felt his eyes water slightly before turning away, silently admonishing himself for his daft behaviour. They sat and watched the movie, her cuddled into him, picking through the box of popcorn. When Audrey Hepburn started plucking the guitar and singing Moon River in that iconic scene, the old man sat up.
‘That’s the tune, that’s the one the barber was whistling!’ he said.
She looked up at him, smiling almost sleepily and clutching his arm closer. She stepped up off the couch, taking his hand and pulling him from the couch. The projector screen faded to black but if anything, the music grew louder, Hepburn’s dulcet tones serenading the two of them as they held on to each other, swaying to the music in the middle of the room. Her head resting on his shoulder. The old man felt bliss wash over him, the world seemed to merge with the music, slowing to a waltz.

He glanced up, catching sight of the two of them reflected in the television set in the corner of the room. He blinked hard, trying to adjust his eyesight. They were younger, both of them. In their early twenties. Him with the slicked-back hair and wearing the suit borrowed from his old man, her in the yellow and white polka dot dress. And then it all came flooding back to him. The meal in the cafe on Byres Road; the movie at the Grosvenor on Ashton Lane afterwards; the slow-dancing at the music hall after that when Moon River had come on – her request of course. His first date with the love of his life. His first date with Annie.  October 1961. The happiest night of his life. It had always been the happiest night of his life. Yes, they were together almost fifty years and had many a happy night over the years; their wedding, anniversaries, mundane weeknights. But that was the night he knew he’d found her; the one he would spend his life with, the one he would share his world with.

The couple swayed back and forth, their arms entwined, shuffling as one. Moon River resounding around the room, the violins climbing to a crescendo. On the sideboard sat a black and white framed picture of the two of them in their younger years; her with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates in her hand, him wearing a suit clearly one or two sizes too big for him. Both with smiles as wide as the Clyde. On the floor next to the armchair Audrey lay sleeping, her tail occasionally wagging through her doze. Above her sat the old man, his arms dangling down from the chair. Lifeless, cold. The  disparate grey hairs on his head listless. His eyes vacant but open. A content smile etched across his face.