Reflection

Eyes diverted,
repulsed
by the grotesque image
before me

Longing,
to cut the shame away,
to bleach the sight from my eyes,
to be invisible

No words
will convince me,
for I see reflected
in your face
the horror that you see
in me

My head stays low
as the weight of disgust
hangs heavy
on my shoulders

Sickened
by the reflections
I see.

The Man with the Handbag

Kurt first saw Rodriguez in the semi-shade of the lobby. He was standing, next to a high table decked out with a vase of orchids, resplendent in his loosely fitting dark suit. Beneath the suit he wore a plain open necked shirt that set off his Mediterranean tan. His distant air occasionally broke as he looked expectantly at another arrival, coming through the glass revolving doors, only to resume his muse.

Eventually, he straightened when, from the dazzling sunshine, a large shabbily dressed man arrived, carrying a large handbag. The fat man brushed past him as though he wasn’t there and made his way to the cool of the electrically fanned bar, where he ordered a beer. The dark suit followed him and sat two stools away, showing no sign of recognition.

“What you want?” said the barman.

“Whisky, rocks.”

Kurt watched as the Rodriguez laid a newspaper flat on the stool between himself and the handbag while looking at the mirror, behind the bar. He continued to observe from the wicker chair behind the aspidistra and saw the fat man slide a package from inside his bag to underneath the paper.

Rodriguez finished his drink, left five dollars on the bar and carefully picked up the newspaper, concealing the merchandise. Kurt nodded to Juan, who was carefully concealed by the door. Juan quickly walked out of the bar ahead of Rodriguez.

Kurt approached the bar and sat next to the still sweating fat man. He looked at him in the mirror. He then turned and spoke.

“Not so bad was it?” said Kurt.

The fat man started to shake. Kurt took the handbag.

“Come with us now. Your part is done.”

 

A car was waiting outside. Kurt helped the fat man in and thrust the handbag at his chest. He looked up at Kurt in a combination of apology and self pity.

“I’ll be straight with you,” Kurt said. “Drug dealing is not a healthy pursuit, especially round here. You’re lucky that I’m more interested in your Spanish friend. When you get to the airport, make sure you get on the plane. If we see you back here you’ll not live long and I promise you that those last moments will be very painful.”

The fat man winced as Kurt stubbed his cigarette on his chubby hand. Kurt slammed the door on him as Juan drove off. Kurt stood and warmed in the sun, until he saw the car take the right fork to the airport, then went back inside.

Back at his table the waiter brought another large beer as Kurt dialed the mobile number.

“Digame,” came the answer.

“Oiga, se tiene?”

“Si pero hablo ingles.”

“Okay, you know what to do next?”

“Déjà vu?”

“Yes, but let’s stick to English, your French is as bad as my Spanish.”

 

Kurt saw Rodriguez for the second time that day, as he stumbled into the hallway from the glass revolving door. He was sweating profusely and dressed in grubby whites. He brushed past the cool well dressed man standing in the shade of the orchids. He went straight to the bar and ordered a beer.

The man followed him and sat on the barstool two away from him. Kurt’s aspidistra was still playing its part and Juan was back in position by the door.

The stranger looked at Rodriguez then back at the barman.

“What you want?” said the barman.

“Vodka, Absolut.”

“Absolutely,” said the barman smiling.

He took his vodka in a single shot and laid his newspaper on the seat between them. Rodriguez responded by placing a package under it.

The stranger rose, gathered the newspaper with the package, paid his bill and made for the door. Juan followed him and once he saw him enter his car, he ran back towards Kurt nodding. As Rodriguez joined him, Kurt pressed the button on the transmitter in his briefcase. The explosion from the street momentarily rocked the building.

 

The inter-island flight departed with three passengers but arrived with two. The fat man had been helped from the plane in mid flight.  His last minutes were not painful, but they were petrifying as he flew freefall into the blue water below.

 

As Juan, with Rodriguez beside him, negotiated the back street away from the hotel, the sound of police cars cut through the heavy night air.

“Okay?” said Juan.

“Okay, but probably a bit too strong. You’ve to learn though my friend. Vamanos.”

Kurt, in the back of the open topped car, lit his first cigar of the day.

Juan accelerated the car up a hillside road.

 

Guards waived them through large gates to a white mansion dominating the ridge above. Juan pulled the car to a stop in front of stairs and Kurt got out.

“That was a good start for you. Prepare our equipment for tomorrow,” said Kurt as he closed the door.

“Si senor,” said Juan smiling. He and Rodriguez drove off towards the adjacent outbuildings.

Kurt ascended the steep stairs and entered the door at the top, which took him into a large lounge with an impressive view of the island coastline. There taking in the panorama was a lone white suited figure sat in a luxurious brown leather recliner. Kurt went right up to him. The figure hardly moved as he studied the shoreline with binoculars.

“I heard an explosion,” said the figure lowering the glasses.

“Yes sir. All is done,” said Kurt stiffly.

“Then that was the Russian. You need to be less dramatic in your disposal. We don’t really need the attention.”

“It’s not often and I wanted to teach Juan how.” Kurt winced.

“Yes, a good beginning. And the man with the handbag?”

“Sleeping with the fishes.”

“Good, good.” The figure nodded.

 

Kurt retired from the lounge, descended the stairs and walked to the outbuildings.

The lone figure resumed his observations and watched as a pelican swooped from the rocks into the sea below. He lifted his head to the horizon.

“Number One,” he said to the sinking moon.

The Day in a Life

“…four thousand holes … And though the holes were rather small,” the radio alarm starts in a whisper and increases in volume until Joey stirs. He reaches over and stops it before the crescendo exponentially ascends and disturbs his beautiful, booze soaked, Brenda, who is sleeping off Thursday’s hen night.

He gets out of bed and drags a comb across his head.  He finds his way upstairs and has a smoke. But his dream is disturbed as he switches on the TV on to hear, “Cumbernauld has just been named the most dismal town in Scotland.”

The TV reporter continues, “This is an embarrassing double for the town after winning the unwanted Plook on the Plinth award five years ago.”  Then Joey’s own ghostly face stares back at him from the screen and he remembers that it wasn’t a dream.  The bingo hall under-manager watches himself being presented with the award. He wishes that he’d straightened his tie.

He turns away, spies the trophy on the mantelpiece and frowns.

He goes through to the kitchen, scratches his head, loads the toaster and boils the kettle. The paper comes through the letter box and Joey picks it up to read with his breakfast. He goes from front page to the feature.

‘God! They have my photo too,’ he thinks.

A local is also quoted saying, “Cumbernauld is an overly brutal concrete jungle, with no sense of human scale or creation of a place that humans can inhabit. Access is abysmal unless by car and not integrated with the surrounding residential areas at all.  Come on people we can do better than this.”

Relief slowly comes to Joey. ‘He could still walk down the street. Maybe?’ he thinks.

He goes to the back of the paper and starts to rummage through the sports pages, as Brenda rushes in.

“Oh boy, have you read the news today,” she says, as she grasps the paper from Joey’s hands and continues. “What tube accepted that?”

Joey says nothing.  After all there is not much to say.

He remembers, ‘All that has happened is that I chased out the last punter and shut up shop, and as is usual for a Thursday, I had a few glasses in the Black Bull. I followed that by a few more at Jumping Jax. And then all at once this female, jumps out and thrusts the award into my hands. Nothing more than that!’

In her towelling housecoat and puppy dog slippers, Buxom Brenda turns from the front page to the feature.

She jumps back exclaiming, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”  She is stamping the floor and staring at the paper. But not for long as she wheels round, eyeballs Joey and continues, “What have you done? You daft bastard! What have you done?”

“I can’t go out! What will my friends say? I can’t go out! You daft bastard! What have you done?“ says the distraught, makeup-less Brenda and under her fortnightly tan she turns red.

“Nothing, I just, ahem, came out of the Bingo and she, ahem, handed it to me, then took my picture.” Joey says sheepishly.

“Well you better just get down the road right now and give them it back or you’ll answer to me big time.”

“I’m just going.”

Joey grabs the plaque from the fireplace, slides quickly down the stairs into the bedroom and changes.  He is out the front door before his Brenda is again on his case.

‘She’s not so beautiful this morning,’ he realises.

In the town where fame was Gregory’s Girl, our local hero rushes down the street where no pavements are.  He dives across the junction but he doesn’t notice that the lights have changed.  In seconds flat, a car hits him.  A crowd of people turn away. They’d seen his face before but no one is really sure if he is from the bingo hall.  They’d seen the photograph.

Joey was not a lucky man.  Like Cumbernauld, he didn’t make the grade.

 

the zone

some days I want to be alone;

just by myself,

in lush green fields,

or on high hills.

there I am without a phone;

no IT demand

and absent friends

to distract me.

life is very clear in monotone;

in single mind,

my ideas flow,

together bind.

to encompass I return home;

putting it down,

into my focus,

it all becomes

a phrase, a story; once unknown.

Airchie

“Here we are now,” says the driver as he pulls up at the cottage. He puts on the handbrake and switches off the engine of the furniture van.

“There you are!” shouts Fraser smiling between his red rosy cheeks, polished by the scudding winds that feed the foothills of the Grampians. “I’d given you up. Come away in. This is your home now.”

And so it is that in this early spring day the Frasers, now in their working clothes, settle into the cottage. And it doesn’t take long for the brood to get to know the rich land where the Bervie runs and the small hills behind. Here, long ago, the painted men looked south towards Finavon Hill, where they fought the Romans. But now, the children roam about all over the place, even as far as Drumlithie and the sweetie shop.

The next morning is sunny as the eldest Fraser son, in his kaki shorts and red Ladybird jumper, saunters up to the farm can and knocks at the rustic door.

“Who are you then?” the wrinkled old women quizzes as she opens the door in her black woven shawl.

“Archibald,” he offers sheepishly. “We’ve just moved into Lodge Cottage and I’ve been sent for milk.”

“Oh you are, are you. Just stand there,” she says shutting the door in his face. He is left standing like a fool, sparking away at the cobbles with his tackety boots. In about five minutes she is back and thrusts the heavy milk can into his hands.

“And where did ye come from?” the farmers wife says, staring at him with her dark brown eyes and clearing her nose onto the shawl.

“Rhynie. Up north.”

 

“Rhynie is it!   More foreigners!”  She again slams the door in his face.

Airchie turns away and faces the reeking, steaming herd peering out over the wall of the byre. “And what are you all looking at?” he shouts over to them.

Struggling with the can he sets off down the track and back towards the cottage and his mum.

Despite the coming summer rays lightening the hue of the red clay as the parks dry out, the school at Drumlithie is not any warmer. The dominie is a real sourpuss. Miss Bain, a product of the fishing folk of Crovie, is never ever described as a bundle of laughs. Straight-laced, plain, with a bun at the back of her head and a face like a flitting, she dims even the brightest light around. And so it was for Archibald: the dreamer.

Miss Bain kept telling the class to use their imagination, but she often caught him staring out the window and forming in his mind: the tractor zooming round a park like a Ferrari at Monte Carlo; the corn stacks marching in rows together towards the battle to come. She then took great pleasure in extracting the leather belt from inside the shoulder of her colourless twin set and belting him across the hand as hard and as often as she could.

‘She can be really coorse for a church goer,’ he thought.

Thwack, twack.

“Archibald Fraser, you will always be a disappointment. You mark my words,” she ranted.

Thwack.

After a time it didn’t matter. His window on the world held more for him than Miss Bain’s uninspiring recant of prescribed dogma ever would.

At Stonehaven, the Mackie Academy and more of the same. The windows at the Academy are brilliant, the large sixties construction gives unframed views of the sea, the land and hosts of clouds gathering over the Howe, like gods in their chariots racing each other.

Mr Souter tries to teach him maths, but it is a no hoper. He goes on and on at him, gives him lots of homework, but Airchie’s dad could make nothing of it. And for a time Souter persists. But as most of the class are much the same, he gives up trying and regales them with stories of his travels across Europe, in previous summers. Archibald likes the one about Italy and how Mr Souter got his last supper in Milan. And that about sums up his education:  no sums at all.

Nevertheless, his dad has great plans for him: no farm for his good looking, black haired first born son. So he sends him to Aberdeen for a job on the buses. Airchie arrives for the exam: the prerequisite to a career of travel round the city streets, with glittering mansions and not so shiny council estates.

“If your mother gets on the bus at Holburn Junction and wants to go to Summerhill what would you charge her?” asks the balding, overweight desk clerk three storeys above the Castlegate.

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing?”

“My mum doesn’t stay in Summerhill and always walks when in town.”

“God!   Well, what’s the charge for five six-penny tickets then?”

“Five and six?”

And so he is quickly back out on Marishal Street. On the way home the light strikes him; he will start working on his own.

In the following week, he ferrets around and gets a wood pile together behind the cottage. He borrows the old van and sets out around Stonehaven selling firewood door to door. The housewives take to the six foot handsome hawker and sales take off. Soon he has his own pick-up truck and is selling coal as well.

Archibald Fraser is always looking for the new opportunity and spies another at the harbour. He buys another vehicle: a smart white van. His wee brother Fred, with his round happy glow, is now Freddie the Fishman as he develops their round all over Kincardine.

More chances are taken, he branches out into constructing modules for the rigs and after twenty good years Archibald is a rich man. At the peak of his success, he is invited to speak at the Rotary in Aberdeen.

He pulls up outside the Caledonian Hotel in his Merc and as he opens the door he spies Miss Bain limping along the pavement. He approaches her and she looks up into his still rugged good looks.

“Miss Bain do you remember me?” he asks. She takes a long look at him and the car. Her face is older, but it doesn’t crack.

“Yes, I know you. You were the dunce at Drumlithie,” she says taking in the Merc. “I suppose that you think your Airchie.”

“Yes, I am,” he smiles. “Airchie Fraser.”   He turns and walks up the grey granite steps to the revolving doors of Aberdeen’s premier hotel.

The Rotary lunch is in the dining room, just off the American Bar. The whisky is welcome as he prepares his notes. The lunch is fine too. And his speech goes down a treat. He feels at home. An older but familiar figure approaches him.

“Airchie Fraser. Remember me?” says the refugee from Stonehaven.

“Aye fine. You used to be Mr Souter at the Academy.”

“I’m still Souter, but now I’m retired. That was some speech you gave. I couldn’t help wondering what you would have done had you stuck in at the sums.”

“That’s easy,” says Airchie. “I’d have been a conductor on the buses.”