Bypass

the traffic walks
along four lanes of grumble
while abandoned coffee cups
in the morning jumble
provide no ups
to moving clocks
and unread signs
on parked cars on flyovers
sit in wait
from where people jump
away from dreams,
down with a thump
amongst bottles and cans,
a spate of papers and foil,
the refusal regime
won’t tidy it all
as a nation of litter louts
continue to shout
about unanswered plans
disappearing with speed,
knowing this is us all along,
stationary,
while the sign over the carriageway reads
visitscotland [dot] com

Advertisements

The Odd Case of Dr Hyde and Mr Jekyll

Written today (13th Nov) for ‘Robert Louis Stevenson Day 2018’

A tentative knock rattled against the thin wooden door. The doctor glanced up from his desk, his eyes peering almost suspiciously over the rims of his spectacles.

‘Enter.’

He announced the command with more than a little gravitas. The cultivated annunciation of one who was entirely sure, if no-one else was, of his place and standing in society – an attribute similarly to be found in many, if not all, denizens of Edinburgh’s New Town as the good doctor was himself.

A slightly haggard looking gentleman shuffled into the room, catching his visibly frayed jacket on the door handle as he did so. His hair was unkempt with a touch of the unwashed about it. A beard; patchy at best, greying throughout. His nose red, the skin of it peeling, whether through illness or alcohol consumption (or both) was yet to be determined. The doctor looked at him, barely expending any effort to conceal his disdain. Where do these vagrants come from, he often mused. This was a fine surgery in a fine part of the city and yet time and again these dishevelled souls slither their way into the premises. Such is life, such is the job, he thought.

‘Yes, yes, come in now. Come in and sit down won’t you.’

The doctor gestured towards the vacant chair at the end of the desk. The man nodded, smiling kindly, demurely even, and moved towards the seat. The doctor turned his head towards his computer screen.

‘Now, what seems to be the trouble Mr erm…Mr….?’

‘Mr Jekyll, sir. Mr John Jekyll.’

‘Yes, ok, now what seems to be the trouble Mr Jek….’ Oh for god’s sake. The thought scythed the remainder of the letters from his tongue. They’ve done this on bloody purpose. I know they have. He looked at the man, a growing rancour alighting his expression.

‘Did they put you up to this? Hmm?’ he prodded towards the door with the pen clutched in his hand.

‘I’m sorry?’ the patient looked puzzled. Wary. Unsure.

‘Come on now, don’t play daft with me now son. Did they put you up to this? Hmm? The ones out there? The comediennes at reception?’

‘Er…’

‘Come on now, spit it out. I’ve got real patients to see, I haven’t got all day for these damned useless japes!’

‘Erm…I…I really don’t…I really don’t know what you’re talking about, doctor…?’

‘Oh for christ’s sake!’ the doctor’s pen rebounded against the desk in a fury and rolled onto the floor. He paid it no heed.

The man trembled slightly. He looked unsure as to whether he should make a move for the door or lift his arms up to shield himself.

‘Still playing dumb, yes? Ok, then let me spell it out for you.’ The doctor stood up. ‘Mr John Jekyll you say, yes? Well Mr Jekyll, I’m Dr Thomas Hyde. So, Mr Jekyll, why don’t you say hello to Dr Hyde? Hmm?’

‘Oh…I…never…’ the patient stammered slightly.

‘Which one was it eh? Catriona? Yes, it’ll be that Catriona, she’s always pulling stunts like this. No, Wendy. It was Wendy wasn’t it? The bloody cheeky bisom should stick to trying to do her job, that’s what she should bloody well do. Don’t you think! Well, no, you wouldn’t. What would you know. Hmm? Ok, well, yes. Laughs and japes and all sorts of larks. Ok, ok. Bloody juveniles!’

‘Wait, so you’re actually called Dr Hyde?’ a flicker of light (something approaching humour) started to appear in the patient’s face. ‘And I’m obviously Mr Jek…’

‘Yes, yes, ok, Hyde and Jekyll. Jekyll and Hyde. Hilarious. Ok. For god’s sake. It’s done with ok. It’s done.’

The man tightened up again. The humour gone from his features. He coughed. A rough, phlegmy cough. It seemed to bring the two of them back to the matter at hand.

‘Right, well then’ said Dr Hyde, ‘what DOES seem to be the trouble in any case Mr Jek…’ he let out an exasperated sigh, ‘…Mr Jekyll…’ the words seem to catch in his throat as he forced them out.

‘Well it’s…you see the thing is…’ his gaze switched over to the other side of the room. ‘That’s quite a nice cabinet you’ve got there. Old is it?’

‘What? What?’ the doctor narrowed his eyes, draped in incredulity, and swung his gaze towards the cabinet. ‘What? Yes. Old. Yes. A Brodie, dates back to the 18th Century in fact, it was…’ What am I regaling this imbecile with historical tales for, he thought. ‘Yes, it’s old.’ He turned back. The man shifted in his chair, only slightly. As if he was correcting himself.

‘Now, like I say,’ began the doctor, his voice becoming terse, ‘I have several other important patients I need to see today so continue, what seems to be the trouble?’

‘Yes, it’s, it’s a nice piece’ the man muttered to himself.

The doctor lifted his glasses with one hand and clawed at his face with the other. The disdain, the exasperation simmering agonisingly close to the surface.

‘Sorry, yes’ continued the man, suddenly in a far clearer, more confident tone, ‘yes, what’s wrong with me you ask? Well, with me? Not much, to be honest. No, Dr Hyde. There’s nothing much the matter with me. It’s not me that you should be worried about.’

‘What?’ snapped the doctor. ‘What nonsense is this? What are you talking about, man? Come on, spit it out. If you’re not unwell then why on earth are you in my surgery?’

‘Well, I’m getting to that Dr Hyde…’ the patient straightened up in his chair. He ran a hand through his hair, tidying its appearance somewhat.

‘Yes, well bloody well get to it then before I…before I….where the bloody hell is that pen!?…yes, before I throw you out the bloody office!’ the doctor’s head swung from side to side as he searched the floor for the pen he dropped only a minute or so earlier.

‘Do you remember my Mother, Dr Hyde?

‘What?! Your Mother? No I don’t damn well remember your Mother, I’m sure I’d remember a Mrs Jekyll, wouldn’t I you bloody fool! Where is that damn pen!?’

‘Mrs Jekyll? Oh no, no, no.’ the patient seemed confident now, relaxed. ‘No, Mrs Jekyll wasn’t her name. Mrs Silver was her name. Mrs Silver, remember? The one with the damaged leg? With the limp? Remember?’

‘What?’ distracted, the doctor continued to search for then pen, hearing only fragments of the man’s story. ‘Mrs Silver? Yes. Mrs Silver. I remember. I saw the pen fall on the floor. There, it fell just there for goodness sake, it…ah’

The doctor looked up and saw the patient holding the pen in his hand.

‘Well pass it over then, why didn’t you say you…wait, Mrs Silver. Yes, I do remember her. Died a few months back, yes?’

‘More like a year, Dr Hyde.’

‘Yes, yes, ok. Sad business all that, yes. Silver. Remarried had she? Different name and all?’ he moved his hand towards the pen but the patient seemed to withdraw it slightly. The doctor raised an eyebrow.

‘Remarried?’ answered the patient. ‘No, no she never remarried. She was never called Jekyll. Neither was I, actually, doctor. Sorry, that should be neither AM I.’

‘Well what the damn…’ uncertainty was creeping into the doctor’s voice.

‘Do you remember the medicine you gave my Mother, Dr Hyde? The stuff you said would ease the pain slightly on her leg? The stuff you sent her off with because you were fed up dealing with her? Do you remember that special potion you gave her?’

‘I’m sorry, what? I…what?’

‘No you won’t will you, Dr Hyde? Old age they said. Old age. But no, that wasn’t it. She was only 72 for god’s sake. That’s not old. Not these days! No, it was that medicine, that potion you gave her. She took a reaction to it. That’s what did for her. You knew. Or at least you should have known. But no, you didn’t and don’t care two bits for the ‘lesser’ of your patients do you? No, unless they’re the landed New Town gentry you don’t care in the slightest.’

‘Sir, I can assure you that whatever you believe…’

‘Don’t interrupt me Doctor, I’ll warn you…’

The doctor stood up, anger coursing through him. That was a step too far. No matter what this wretch incorrectly believed or didn’t believe, there was a level of respect which should and should not be afforded to one in one’s own office and this was far below those standards.

‘Now, you horrible dishevelled figure of a man, whatever your name may be, I demand that you leave this office at once before I call the authorities on you this instant! What you accuse me of is nothing short of slander and I can assure you my highly-respected lawyers would have a field day with the likes of you and your family. So, get out. Out!’

As Dr Hyde stretched his hand towards the door, in the theatrically gravitas-laden way of his, he saw the man he had known as Mr Jekyll jump up from his chair. The movement was quick, almost stealthy. He had barely seen the pen flash past him before it plunged deep into his neck and tore. Tore at his throat, tore at his neck.

His body buckled beneath him as he slumped heavily to the floor. He could taste the pool of bloody swilling below his head on the floor. Could see the scarlet stains besmirching his once-immaculate doctor’s coat.

Darkness encroaching.

Darkness engulfing.

He saw the patient, the once-coined Mr Jekyll, rush quickly out of the room. Bloody footprints marking his trail.

Darkness.

An end, he thought, as he finally slipped away.

An end to the odd case of Dr Hyde and Mr Jekyll.

The Pilgrim’s Way

2304C68A-57C1-448B-B8FE-BEE544589529

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Duncan pulled one boot off carefully. ‘Ow, ow, ow, ow.’ He wriggled his toes and sat back on the bed, grimacing. A voice from the en-suite of the small twin room sounded agitated.

‘What’s wrong now? What on Earth can possibly be wrong now?’

Duncan stared at the en-suite door, which was slightly ajar, while he unlaced his other boot. ‘It’s my feet, they’re fucking sore, what do you think is wrong?’

‘My God, complaining again. Why did you come on this walk? Eh? Eh? Why? You’d done nothing but moan, moan, moan, moan. First it was your shoulders, the bag was too heavy, then your knees coming off that first hill, then the rain, then the cold, and then a million other things and now, with one day to go, your feet!’

Duncan imitated the voice, quietly, ‘then it was this, then it was that, then it was your nagging, then it was you being unbearably happy all the time’. He pulled off the other boot, ‘Ahhhh!’ he exclaimed rubbing his foot gently.

‘I CAN hear you, you know. You shouldn’t have come.’

Duncan sat quietly for a moment before shouting at the en-suite door. ‘Let’s do The Pilgrim’s Way, you said, one last long-distance path before we’re old and decrepit, you said, it’ll be good for our souls, you said. Well my soles are not fucking happy.’

‘It’s meant to be hard, that’s why the Pilgrims did it. It’s not a Pilgrimage otherwise. It’s not a jolly rambler’s outing along a forest path. In 560AD when the first Pilgrims did this route, they would have done it in bare feet. Some did it on their knees you know, as an act of penance to ask God for forgiveness for their sins. You should think of that instead of complaining about your top-of-the-range Gortex boots.’

‘You and your bloody religion’, Duncan spat, ‘I could be home curled up in front of the telly right now instead of nursing two raw, blistered and extremely painful things I used to call feet!’

‘Heathen! I’m going in to the shower now.’

At the sound of the shower, Duncan slowly balanced his weight onto his feet, and stood. ‘God that hurt, and yes, you annoying deity, it IS your fault’, he mumbled out loud. He hobbled over to the window which faced west over a small wooded valley. The sky was turning red. ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, he sighed, ‘Always fucking happy with a red sky’.

‘Toast with scrambled egg and smoked salmon’, Duncan beamed at the bemused waitress the following morning.

‘Is that all it takes to make you happy? Smoked salmon? You should have brought a couple of packs to nibble as Scooby Snacks along the way.’

‘Well’, Duncan laughed, forgetting his feet for a moment, I’m so sick of stodgy porridge and greasy fry-ups floating in pig fat that this will be the best breakfast since that kipper on Day 2. What a lovely surprise. Haven’t had toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon since the girls were small.’

‘Last day. Feeling more positive this morning?’

Duncan smiled softly across the breakfast table, ‘Very positive’, he replied. ‘With only about, what?’

’Ten miles.’

’With only about ten miles to go, we might even be finished by lunchtime. Could be celebrating with a lunchtime pint.’ He laughed. ‘Stop frowning, I’m due a pint.’

Later, as Duncan’s hunger grew once more, what was left of the The Pilgrim’s Way diminished and that lunchtime pint began to look promising. Close to the very end of the route, before leaving the trees and heading into the village that marked the normal finishing end of the footpath, a life-size wooden statue of a monk stood in a small clearing, marking the spot where the particular saint that the pilgrimage had spawned had been martyred.

‘Don’t you feel it? The energy? The power of God in this wood?’

Duncan stared at the wooden effigy. ‘Why is it that religious people are ‘martyred’ and not just murdered like everybody else?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well’, Duncan continued, ‘he was laid upon by a gang of thugs who caved his head in with a big rock for no apparent reason. Why’s that ‘martyred’?’

‘It was assassins who killed him for his religious beliefs.’

‘Says the Church!’ Duncan was starting to get quite agitated. ‘To date there has been no proof that these ‘assassins’ were in the employ of anyone and no reason has ever been given for them being hired by anyone anyway, it says so right here on the plaque, so that simply means he was set upon and mugged, doesn’t it?’

‘Priests wouldn’t have been mugged in that way. It would have been God’s will to have him martyred.’

‘Oh come on now!’ Duncan was starting to shout. ‘You travel from Ireland, walk half way across the country to this Godforsaken place, preach for 20 years, 20 YEARS, and in repayment, your God, your fucking forgiving all-loving God sends a couple of random thugs after you to cave your head in with a rock to make some kind of fucking point? Some gratitude that is. So then, what happens then? The Church makes up some stupid miracles, attributes them to you, canonises you, and suddenly you’ve been ‘martyred’ and fuckwits like me follow some random route that he might have walked, feeding the commercial industry along the route and making this Saint Whatshisname famous, meanwhile trying to feel good about myself as though I were a fucking hero. What a complete waste of time.’

Duncan was now staring at the wooden statue square in the face. ‘Well that’s not how it works’, he shouted, while its blank, unmoving face stared back at him. ‘Other people are more saintly you know, more deserving and if there’s a God, if there’s a fucking God in there,’ he knocked heavily on the wooden skull of the statue which remained stubbornly stoic, ‘IF there’s a God, then what was the cancer all about eh? What was your point in that particular case eh? ‘Cos I’ll remind you of the miracles if you need me to? Bringing up those kids with next to no money. Making sure they were fed, educated, happy. Me! Looked after me though I didn’t deserve it because I’m a drunken waste of space. All those things even when you inflicted that horrible disease, that crippling torture that was endured with a fucking smile every sickening day saying she deserved it, it was your will. Well she didn’t deserve it and you don’t get to make a martyr out of her because you work in mysterious fucking ways’, which is a complete cop out by the way for covering up your lack of existence.’

Alone in the clearing, he sank to his knees in front of the statue which continued to stare blankly ahead, over the top of his woollen bobble hat into the empty distance.

Duncan wept.

The Fairy Glen

A5BB15AC-1CBA-49E9-AB59-47C18AFD9D99

 

‘Ooh’

Amy felt a twinge announce itself from within her kneecap as she crouched down. One of the many twinges, creaks and aches that seemed to be peppering her body as she edged closer towards the dreaded ‘old age’. She used her hands to steady herself against the ground. The grass was mostly dry now. Only the barest remnants of moisture survived from the morning’s thin blanket of frost. Drying out just in time for another night’s worth of chill, she thought as the light began to fade around her. She completed the manoeuvre, allowing her knees to connect with the earth.

She sighed – a sigh skirting on the outer rim of contentment – and took in the view around her. One that had become increasingly familiar, but no less beguiling, with each time she visited this place. The Fairy Glen in the village of Uig, one of the Isle Of Skye’s most well known, or lesser known (depending on which websites or travel guides one chose to peruse), attractions. Around her the almost-geometrically perfect hills rose and fell, weaving up and down the landscape. Trees, almost all shorn of their leaves, added a slightly macabre decoration. Some at the base of the hills, perched precariously on the edges of ponds, others seemingly stopping for a breath after clambering halfway up the very same hills. It was a strange place. One of beauty. One of peace. A place both bewitching and spiritual, depending on what angle your mind chose to approach it from. A thousand versions and distortions of the same image to a thousand different people. By day, throughout all seasons, even now in Winter, sporadic, isolated groups of – what she’d guessed were – tourists would make their way through the long, winding, single track road to arrive at this place. Abandoning their cars, buses, bikes and whatever else on one of many grassy verges to traipse around the sight. To breath in its wonder, its allure, its peace. But for now, it was just her. Amy. Her alone. It always was at this time of the evening. Everyone else likely curled up in the warmth and safety of their holiday accommodation or deep within the frothy firmament of their second or third drink of the evening in one of the island’s many local establishments.

‘And so it begins…’ she murmured to herself, leaning down to pick up a rock in the process. She lifted her head once again, this time taking in the sight spread out on the ground immediately in front of her.

Rocks. Hundreds of them. Scattered out in various poses. Some clustered in formations, others piled on top of each other, depicting, to all intents and purposes, figures – torsos, arms, heads. In the fading light, in this place of basic isolation, the formations, the figures, could trouble a more delicate soul, their gothic outlines and contorted features ready and willing to twist and turn their way into the darker corners of a mind. But not to Amy. She smiled. Pleased. Pleased at the sight. Pleased of her previous night’s work. Almost sorry that she would have to pick each formation, figure and message apart and begin again anew. But that she would. As she did every night. She shook her head, smiling, discarding the foolish thoughts.

‘At it again I see?’

The voice crept out of the evening air as Amy applied the final rock on a new, fragile, figure. She looked up, her hands slowly withdrawing from the rock in question, careful not to knock it from its perch. No-one. She squinted her eyes into the distance, afraid the light was combining with her own failing eyesight. No-one. A different tactic was required, she decided.

‘Hello? Sorry what?’ she announced to no one or direction in particular.

‘I said, at it again I see?’

A man, a tallish man with a full grey head of hair and thick-rimmed glasses, stepped out from behind a nearby ridge, holding on to the crooked branch of lonely tree as he slowly ushered himself down a slight gradient.

Amy smiled.

‘Oh, it’s only you Alasdair.’ She turned her face back down to the rocks at her feet and continued arranging them, physically formulating the vision in her head onto the soil in front of her.

‘Aye, it’s only me, dear. As always.’

His voice was soft. Calm. At one with the pervading atmosphere of the place. He approached her and stood above her, his hands on his hips.

‘Every night this is Amy, every night. Rain, shine or bloody freezing. Always at it.’

‘That I am, yes. You are correct.’

Her answer was solid but not without warmth. Sure but with no lack of kindness.

‘Well, I for one don’t understand it. But that’s just me.’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘you never did, did you?’ she let out a slight laugh as she continued to smile, arranging the rocks in what appeared to be an elongated curve.

‘You’ll spook some people you know that? Yeah, of course, some of the weirder folk will think its creepy in a ‘good’ way and some of the kids with the more vivid imaginations will genuinely think it’s the fairies that are up to this every night, but the others? You’ll be scaring them Amy, ever think about that?’

‘Oh be quiet Alasdair, you silly old man. It’s the same every night.’ Her smile remained etched on her face as she began to place rocks in a crooked V formation conjoined with the ones already in place.

Alasdair held his hands up.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘like I say, I don’t understand it, but that’s just me.’

‘Look,’ said Amy, beginning another long curved line of rocks, ‘I tell you this every night so I’ll tell you again. And whether you understand it this time or not matters not because I’ll just keep repeating it every night you ask, ok? Look, sometimes I think people like the idea that even though you can’t see them, it’s good to know that people or things are happening and going on without your knowledge. That the world is still ticking despite your own troubles.’ She took a slight intake of breath. ‘That even though you can’t see them you know someone is watching out for you. I know I like it. It’s a…well, it’s a nice feeling, ok? It’s comforting to feel.’

As her words fell silent Amy placed the last rock in place and lifted herself slowly from the ground. That twinge called out once again. This time she gritted her teeth, only slightly skewing that omnipresent smile. She looked down at the formation of rocks arranged on the ground in front of her. A love heart. Strong, solid, robust.

‘What do you think then Alasdair?’ she asked, slowly reaching out her hand behind, clutching for his.

But he was gone. She felt a slight sag in her chest but the smile, as always, remained. She glanced up at the horizon, the darkness further encroaching on the surroundings. She padded at her winter coat tamely as she felt the evening’s chill suddenly creep into her bones.

‘Until tomorrow then, my dear’ she whispered hoarsely as she turned and walked back down the uneven hill towards her small red car parked on the winding road below.

Her small red car that she and her late husband had driven up and down the island on mini adventures throughout their many years together.

Her small red car with the picture of a young Amy and a young Alasdair, fresh-faced and newly married, tucked away in the glove compartment, the two of them kneeling together beside a collection of rocks arranged into the shape of love heart at the very same Fairy Glen in the village of Uig thirty some years earlier.