Daddy or Chips

french-fries-1351062_640 It was my granddad’s funeral, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did. I remember the front room, my grandparents’ front room, being full of people, mostly strangers, and it being dark. I thought it was odd to have the curtains drawn and the lights off when it was bright outside, but we did it out of respect, my mum said, ‘though he didn’t deserve it’, I heard her mumble. My grandmother looked old and drawn, quiet, maybe a little confused, maybe she didn’t know everyone either. She sat in her normal chair by the fire, which wasn’t lit. It was strange to see it so dark and cold. It was normally lit even through the summer with each lump of coal being positioned in exactly the right place to ensure it burned properly. My granddad knew about coal.

I remember us all just kind of sitting there in the awkward quiet, or standing if there was no room to sit, staring at the floor not quite knowing what to do or say until one guy, standing with his hands in his pockets, no idea who he was, suddenly said to no-one in particular, ‘You know, I’ll really miss his chips’. The room sighed, parts of it laughed and a smile spread across my face.

His chips were amazing. Potatoes had to be individually selected, peeled and cut properly before being deep fried in an old pan seasoned over decades of use. He really was upset if he caught you cutting potatoes the wrong way, ‘That’ll never make a decent chip’, he’d say, and he’d be right.

He grew his own potatoes of course. Most of the ex-miners in the long row of cottages had a small garden plot at the back where they grew their own vegetables, and perhaps kept the odd chicken. I remember my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, showing me peas in their pods growing in a wee patch of jumbled canes, greenery and damp earth that got under your nails. We city boys didn’t know how to shell peas, obviously, so he showed me how to remove the stem end, peel the stringy fibre and gently prize the pod apart. It took just a second. Inside, the peas were firm, bright, and tasted like no pea had ever tasted to me.

They were great cooked as well, of course, and we had them with chips, and beetroot. We always had beetroot with our chips at Granddad’s. And we wiped our plates clean with buttered bread and laughed at how Granny wasn’t going to have to clean the dishes as we’d wiped up every trace of food.

My uncle pressed a card into my hand and I looked at it, not knowing what it was. My brothers also had one as did my cousin. I was number 4. I kept it tight in my pocket as we walked down to the graveyard, a procession of quiet jumbling feet interspersed with thick accents I could barely understand.

At the graveyard, at the side of the grave where the coffin was already in place resting on a couple of planks of wood, my number was called and I was told to stand near the foot, just to one side. The crumpled bit of paper was handed over to someone and in return I was presented with an end of a bit of rope. I really wasn’t sure what was going on but I worked out, by careful observation, that after the planks were removed the coffin was being lowered into the ground by a few guys using rough, old tattered rope while we, we had nice rope with a big knot and frilly ends. We didn’t hold the weight of my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, but it looked like it was us lowering him into his final resting place.

And then I remember us all walking away from the hole, slowly being filled in behind us. I remember my dad, not usually one for showing any kind of emotion, putting his arm around my mum and she leaning in to him. I remember her saying, ‘I don’t want to cook tonight’, and her turning round to us, me and my brothers, and smiling, saying, ‘Shall we get chips on the way home?’

Pepper

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‘Don’t look at me like that Pepper, it’s not happening.’

‘But you must, I’ve checked all your records and you need to go. I can make an appointment for you right now.’

I looked down at him, his black emotionless eyes staring back up at me, blinking occasionally. Why did they make them blink? He cocked his head slightly, that way he does when he’s trying to understand me.

‘If I want an appointment, I’ll ask for one’, I snapped and turned away, heading upstairs to the viewing platform knowing it would be difficult for him to follow.

‘But my job is..’

‘Your job..’, I turned to him from half-way up the stairs, ‘..is to do as I ask!’

He paused slightly at the force of my voice before clumsily continuing to climb the stairs after me. I reached the top without looking back but I could hear the small motors whirring as a leg carefully positioned a foot, balancing it on the next stair before raising himself slowly on one leg whilst leaning sharply forward, and then standing still, straight up as if to take a breath. The next leg would then follow suit to the next step and a repeat of these tiny actions would eventually bring him to the top of the stairs. In about five minutes or so.

From the viewing platform I gazed out across the Derious Plain. At this time of year the sky was mostly a deep amber with dark streaks heavy with poisonous rain. Dust clouds formed casually, rolled along the uneven surface for a few moments, and just as quickly dissipated. I switched on the audio to hear the outside as, safely cocooned within the bubble of my home, there was silence. The sound of angry wind drowned out Pepper’s fall.

He was right, I couldn’t deny it, I did need to make an appointment. My time here was almost up and I needed to report in with my findings, had I any to report. I just thought that, well, after a year here I would have something. I kept thinking, one more week, I have supplies, there’s no need to call in for a shuttle just yet.

I looked back to the staircase wondering why Pepper hadn’t quite made it to the top yet. I switched off the audio to silence the wind and was surprised I couldn’t hear the gentle whirring of his legs. Instead, I thought I could hear voices from downstairs.

‘Hello, is anyone there? Pepper, is that you?’ I approached the top of the stairs cautiously.

Pepper was lying, in a number of pieces, at the foot of the stairs. I half fell, half stumbled down to examine the carnage. ‘What happened Pepper?’ I picked up a stray leg and stared blankly at it.

He ignored me. He was talking to someone. Base? ‘Is that Base? Put me through, I need to talk to them, we’ll need to get a shuttle out soon and they can fix you up, good as new.’

‘..yes it is very sad’, Pepper was saying, eyes still blinking on his detached head and upper torso. ‘No, there is no need, Officer Jenkins will obviously need no further appointments..’

‘What are you saying Pepper? Pepper?’

‘.. and the body can be picked up at any time. It will be preserved for years..’

‘Pepper? PEPPER! Base, can you hear me? My droid has failed, Base?’

‘I can do that. Yes. Shutting down all life support now.’ His eyes blinked one final time and, attached to its limbless torso, he cocked his head at me, ‘No more appointments Officer Jenkins’.

The Curse

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‘But you can’t mean to go through with it, I mean you can’t, you just can’t. I’m not even sure we’d be able to do anything like that anymore anyway.’

‘You disappoint me little bird, we’re just as powerful as we always were, we just have to be believed in, and believe me, I’m definitely going to do it.’

‘But you’ll get in trouble, they’ll destroy you, vaporise you or something horrid. You, us, we, we can’t go around doing that anymore, in this day and age! It’ll all go terribly wrong!’

‘In this day and age? What is ‘age’ to us? We are immortal! Age is nothing. The Powers That Be are simply guardians.’

‘Guardians? They are our masters! We can’t do that sort of thing anymore, we were told no, no, no, NO!’

‘Ha, timid little thing aren’t you? I have nothing to fear, so if I want to curse that exquisite creature’s cheating husband and turn him into a fish, then I damn well will!’

‘Oh no, don’t tell me, you’ve fallen for the human haven’t you? The one who comes here every day and looks down from that bridge and stares into the foaming waters? You love her! You can’t do that, you can’t love a human! They’re the problem!’

‘Silly little tweeting nonsense! She’s praying to me every morning, that’s why I’ve grown so strong, can’t you see it? It’s her who loves me! She tells me her woes, about her husband who is cheating on her and how she rues the day she married him. Well, I can do something about that for her and turn him into a little fish so one of your little feathered friends can dip into the water, pluck him out, and swallow him whole!’

‘That’s truly, awfully, simply terrible! You just can’t, please don’t even try, you’ll be vaporised, your waters will dry up and where will my dippers catch their food? They have young!’

‘There she is now, standing proud in worship on the highest point of the bridge, praying to me, arms open wide! She loves me.’

‘Why is she climbing onto the wall? Are you doing something?’

‘She just wants a better look at me, to pray to me more deeply, to make me stronger so my curse will be effective immediately. Can’t you hear her? She adores me. She is begging for me to envelop her and care for her as my obedient servant for all time.’

‘Oh, that didn’t seem right. How is that going to help? Can you hear me? I said, how is that going to help?’

‘Stop chattering! You heard her didn’t you? Loud and clear? She wanted me and not him.’

‘But the curse? You were going to curse her husband? Turn him into a fish?’

‘I decided not to do it after all, she sort of cursed him herself as she flew down to my feet so there was no point. It would have been a waste of my powers. However, I’m not quite sure what to do with her now. Now the plans have changed.’

‘Maybe just move her downstream a bit. No-one will suspect a thing.’

The Squirrel

She watches it for a while as it scurries from the base of one tree to the next. It stands up on its hind legs and seems to sniff the air for a moment then continues to rummage around the fallen leaves. Eventually it scurries so close to her legs she feels she could bend down and touch it. Carefully she reaches into her handbag and pulls out her phone, taps in her pass code and then on the camera icon. She slowly raises her arm to point the camera at the squirrel just as it moves off. She has to turn slightly to her right as she swivels to follow it so she can get it in the frame properly. She feels a tap on her left ear.

‘Oh my goodness I’m so sorry’, he says. ‘I was so intent on trying to get a picture of that squirrel I didn’t realise I was so close’.

‘That’s ok’, she says and smiles. ‘I was trying to do the same’, and laughs.

‘I’m Gordon’, he says. ‘My wife used to come here and feed these little blighters all the time when she was alive. I love to come and watch them still’.

‘Mary’, she says. ‘I lost my husband last year. He wasn’t one for parks my Fred’.

The squirrel disappears behind a tree, content.

A Chip off the Old Bookshop

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He watched them for a while as they chatted, pointing to the windows, gesturing with wide arms as though measuring the walls and imagining them different. Occasionally they would glance over conspiratorially as though their presence had somehow managed to remain undecipherable, their secret plans buried and hidden amongst the piles of unsorted books.

‘Can I help you gentlemen?’, he finally asked and put his mug down on the counter, placing a bookmark neatly into the fold of what he had been reading, closing it, and placing it next to his mug.

Startled, the two young men looked at one another and slowly and nervously scuffled towards the counter, as though they had just been summoned by the headmaster.

‘Is there a particular book you are after?’. He looked from one to the other. Both wore almost identical ill-fitting navy-blue suits and, although both lads were quite slim, they seemed to have selected shirts too tight so that their buttons strained allowing glimpses of pale flesh beneath. The jackets were so tight they’d never fasten to cover the strain. And their sleeves were too short. And so were their over-tight trousers. One wore socks with some kind of logo on them. He was facing two boys who couldn’t even dress themselves properly and one was wearing children’s socks. Was this fashion or just pure and simple stupidity? He smiled.

‘I noticed you were in the fiction section’, he leaned over the counter and nodded over to his left. ‘It’s just that the children’s books are over there. Lots of pictures.’ He added and smiled again.

The two navy suits looked a little annoyed, realising they were perhaps being insulted. ‘We’re not here to buy your books old man, we’re here to buy your shop!’, the one with logos spouted.

Unmoved, he picked up his cup and took a sip, ‘I didn’t realise I was selling it’.

Logo Man, clearly the main voice of the navy twins, grew agitated and, now their purpose for visiting the shop was out in the open, vented his invisible boss’s anger. ‘You’re going to have to close sooner or later, you can’t survive here, in this spot, it’s in a prime location and my firm will give you a really good price. You know that, we’ve been sending you proposals for the best part of a year.’

‘I’m not selling.’

‘See you?’, the non-logo man dug into his pocket and brought out a small micro-disk. ‘See this place? See all these books? I can have them all on this tiny little disk, I don’t need your shop, people don’t need your shop, nobody reads books anymore. You’re just wasting everyone’s time and you’re not doing yourself any favours trying to stay open when you know you can’t. You’ll have to close sooner or later.’

Logo Man looked disappointed in his twin. ‘Well, we’ll send some papers through for you to have a look at with our latest offer’, and with that he turned to leave, his companion fumbling with his pockets, following.

Picking up his reading material again, opening it and removing the bookmark, he looked around his shop momentarily before continuing to read from where he had been interrupted, though having time to call after the Navy Twins without looking up to see if it had any effect, ‘I have colouring-in books as well’.

It was a good read this, a really good proposal to enhance the bookshop and put in a small coffee bar at the main front window. It was a surprisingly good idea, considering where the proposal came from, and it should do really well with a bit of work, he could see that. And, it would be one way of finally being allowed to put, ‘& Son’, after the shop name at long last.

The Guild of Assassins

‘So, what’s your thing?’

‘My thing?’ He carried on drinking.

‘Yeah, you know, your thing.’

He stopped drinking for a second and looked at his annoying companion. ‘Five foot seven’.

‘Fuck do you mean, Fife foot Seven?’

‘Well, this guy broke into my flat, stole my TV and my Blu-ray player. I saw his mug shot, you know, with the placards, look right, look left, look straight ahead, height chart next to his head. Five foot Seven he was. So, I figured I’d just go out and kill everyone who was Five foot Seven, they’re all obviously criminals. Got me into the Guild.’

‘Oh right, sensible.’ There was a long pause. ‘With me, it’s curly hair.’

‘Curly hair?’ He raised an eyebrow ever so slightly as he brought his glass to his lips again, scrutinising his new bar friend.

‘It’s no right. See you, see me, take a look around the Guild, we all have straight hair, or bald, but curly hair? Nah, it’s no right, so I kill ‘em.’

‘A lot of women then?’

‘Dinnae be daft, I’m no sick, just guys wi’ curly hair, they deserve all that’s comin’ to them.’

He carried on drinking before his peace was interrupted again.

‘See Tom? Has a thing about sunbeds. He’s decided since he had a bad experience on a sunbed, he was goin’ for everyone beyond a certain tan, if you see what I mean. Carries a fuckin’ colour swatch around wi’ him so he knows if a person is to be a victim or not. I mean, killing people just because of the colour of their skin. Mental eh?’

Silence.

‘A bit like Jimmy and his hatred of everyone who believes you should eat a soft-boiled egg starting from the pointy end. Just a clue there, if he asks, choose the big end.’ He laughed. ‘Might start a war!’

‘And then, that nutter, got into the Guild because his thing was Jews. I mean, how can you even tell if someone is a Jew or not? But there you go, he’s in the Guild and he goes around indiscriminately killing them. He can’t ever tell you why. I put him in the same box as the football killers. All nutters.’

‘And Curly Hair Killers?’

‘That’s no random, I do that for a reason, obviously!’

He put his empty glass down and took another long look at his annoying companion. ‘How tall are you by the way?’

The Tomb

DSCF7466At least it wasn’t raining, as Alana sat on the grassy bank with her knees tight against her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs as she stared at and read the sign one more time. ‘I’ll never remember this nonsense’, she thought as she tried to commit the dates of when the tomb was discovered, who it was that was supposed to have built it, and who, or what, it was supposed to have been for.

She stretched her legs out in front of her and put her arms out to her sides, arching and stretching her back, and stared up to the sky, praying the clouds got no heavier. She then looked around her for a moment, jumped to her feet, straightened her fetching Historic Scotland sweatshirt, tutted at her ridiculous khaki shorts, and stomped her hiking boots around the site yet one more time.

It had been two days now without a single visitor and she was definitely well on the way to being bored. The summer solstice was a four-day festival for the druids and this site would have been heaving a few thousand years ago. But today? Now? Not a single soul. Two more days she had to endure hanging around this miserable place in the vain hope someone would turn up and want a guided tour of the tomb. It was nearly a mile hike from the road just to get here so that prospect was looking just a little thin at the moment.

She found herself back at the sign at the entrance to the field in which the ancient tomb was enclosed. The sign was made of wood, had weathered somewhat and was perched on a pair of rotting poles by a style where you could just make out a rough sheep track that led to the single track road nearly a mile away. At that end of the path, a small brown Historic Scotland sign simply read, ‘Tomb’, and pointed back this way. There had been a small information board at some point in the past at what was loosely described in the manual as a, ‘parking bay for one or two cars’, but it had long gone, probably on someone’s to-do list to repair and return.

Alana read the sign again, trying to remember the information contained on it. She then looked about her, picked up a small stone, and scratched away at one part of the sign. She stood back, smiled to herself, looking very pleased, and lazily plodded around the site one more time, turning the stone over in her hands absent mindedly the whole time. She’d probably get in to trouble for that later.

Two days later, she was going crazy. She had started to talk to herself and, as the rain fell relentlessly, she cursed the absence of any kind of waterproof clothing. Her hair, long in a tight ponytail, was now plastered against her skull. Her sweatshirt clung to her body, her shorts had become torture and her legs shone as water ran down them, into her boots through woollen socks which provided no insulation. Still no visitors came.

At last the sun, hidden behind the storm, began to set on the fourth day of Alana’s task. She headed to the information board and thought about her handiwork, wondering if she should have scratched out the letters U and N from the word ‘Unmanned’ after all. Maybe it wasn’t funny. She took one last look around her, sighed and headed slowly towards the tomb entrance. As the last of the light faded, she disappeared into its darkness until such time that she’d be called again.

The Clock Tower

April2018

The clock tower sat lonely amidst the gathering gloom, the turret thrusting confidently into the grey sky as other nearby buildings and rooftops appeared to baulk at the challenge under the weight of the storm. Bare, lifeless branches from the cluster of surrounding trees clawed at the clock tower, their bony limbs swaying and grasping without success in the capricious breeze.

The clock faces, all four of them, pelted unrelentingly by the rain continued about their business calmly, ticking in unison, one second at a time, treating the elements with a derision bordering on contempt.

Within the tower, protected by the layers of tiles, stone, insulation and cladding stood Ian Donald. In one hand he vigorously clutched hold of a piece of chalk, worn down to no more than a stump. Pale, gaunt, the scent of ill-health about him, he stood staring intently at the wall only inches from his face. The rain rebounding off the tower, the creak of the floorboards, the constant mechanical clunking and whirring of the clock’s cogs and machinery, the scurrying of rats and the erratic fluttering of sheltering pigeons; none of the sounds made the slightest impression upon Ian’s mind.

His mind, every fragment of it, was focused solely on the walls encircling him. What little light had managed to creep in through the clock faces dimly illuminated portions of said walls. Writing. Words. Numbers. Declarations. Formulas. All scrawled maniacally across every spare inch of the damp-stained structure. The chalk quivered in his hand as his eyes, ablaze with fire and fury, darted from side to side, word to word, formula to formula.

‘Bah!!’ his outburst was sudden, the chalk striking harshly off the wooden floor and dissolving into dust. ‘I must get this, I must…I MUST!’

He crouched down, staring piercingly towards a myriad of etchings scrawled slightly above an-equally-as-covered skirting board. His body was still, perched almost in a combative pose, however his eyes once more betrayed the inner torment raging in his mind. The doubt, the despair, the anguish.

A spark of optimism suddenly glimmered in his eye, his hand raised in restrained triumph. A breakthrough of sorts it appeared. He reached out, grasping for the chalk, only to clutch hold of a handful of chalk dust.

‘No no no!’ shouted Ian as his crouched form instantly mutated into a frantic, desperate one as he scrambled in a futile effort to locate more chalk. He caught a glimpse of one of the inverted clock faces as the hour hand lingered tantalisingly close to the hour mark. Desperation became panic. ‘No no no! Time! I need time! We need time! TIME!’

As the last syllable fell from his lips the clock tower filled with the sounds of the hour. Cogs whirred, mechanics shunted into gear, bells peeled. Desolation filled Ian’s skeletal features. The despondency somehow seemed to cut further and further into his pale, crevice-strewn expression.

‘Time’ he muttered disconsolately as he fell back against one of the walls, slumping to a sitting position, ‘I just need more time. Time. That’s all. For the answer. For the true answer. To correct. To…to repent…’ His mumblings drew to a close, segueing into a dry, rasping cough that competed admirably against the increasing ferocity of the storm surrounding the clock tower.

‘Time…’

Sleep followed the final whispered mutter into the ticking, creaking, storm-heavy air. His breathing was laboured, sporadic. Each wheeze sounding more painful and drawn out than the last. Time indeed was what he needed. And ultimately what his body was running short of. With each wheezing, wrenching breath, his time was slipping away.

And as the storm slowly abated and the weak morning sun shone in through the clock faces Ian Donald did indeed run out of time. His body too frail, too deprived of sustenance, too short of life to survive. As he lay slumped on the floor, lifeless and defeated, the sun momentarily lit up the interior of the clock tower. Each cog, each pipe, each bell glimmered gorgeously in the fledgling morning light. And strewn throughout the room, sprawled on the wooden floor, lay corpse after corpse. Rotting, all. Each stripped to the waist, their ruined flesh covered in the same words, numbers and formulas adorning the walls. Only where chalk had sufficed for the latter, crude blood-soaked carvings had fulfilled the duty on the scattered corpses. Close to each body lay empty plastic cups. Signs of their own downfall, of their own folly.

Signs of Ian’s folly. The leader who had convinced them. The one who had walked them along the path of salvation and led them into the arms of redemption on the day of judgment. Or, at least, what Ian had calculated to be the day of judgment. What Ian was convinced, with all his faith, was the day of judgment. Only, when the moment finally arrived, and the other believers had unflinchingly taken their step into ascension, Ian had baulked. Uncertain, unconvinced, without faith. As he watched his fellow believers slump one by one to the floor of the clock tower, accompanied by the crushing realisation that end times were not upon them, he became fixated on time. On its scarcity, on its accuracy. Above all on its relentless, marching, taunting beat.

Time was what had failed him. And yet time was what had continued to mock him. Each tick reminding him of his failure. Each tick accompanying his increasingly starved and emaciated body to its premature end.

As the sun crept higher into the clearing skies, and the branches dripped generously with the remnants of the previous night’s storm, the clock tower stood proudly once more, thrust into the air with all the confidence and nobility it had always had. Ticking. Ticking through rain, through shine. Ticking always. The keeper of time.

Early Retirement

 

When I first started climbing this mountain, I’d only a vague idea where the summit was, and my map was rubbish. I’d heard a few people had climbed it before but I didn’t know any of them personally then, they were just people in story books to be wondered at.

When I began hillwalking way back in the day, my first pair of boots really hurt. I mean, really hurt. I was later to find out that they were just wrong for me: wrong size, cheap leather, rubbish soles, everything designed to torture your feet. I almost gave up before I’d even started.

I went back to the shop to discuss my problems and discovered Goretex. Thank God for Goretex. My subsequent sets of footwear were slippers in comparison and I knocked off the smaller peaks as though on a summer stroll. This one’s been tough though despite the better footwear, and I even managed to get a better map though you might never guess it from the number of wrong turns I’ve taken. Still can’t quite make out the summit with the cloud and mist coming and going.

It’s not as bad as tramping in New Zealand where the maps had a helpful warning, ‘subject to change’, written across the contours. I think even Mt Cook had changed height the year before I was there! Not much fun when the mountains change around you as you try to climb the bloody things. Made it interesting I suppose, more of a challenge.

Back home now though and this bloody climb I started so long ago. Now almost everyone I know has mastered its peak, though most of them got some sort of chairlift to the summit, lucky bastards. I’m going to have to walk all the way on my own, under my own steam, as always.

But maybe not. When I did my mountain leadership course I was always told to know when to turn back. Getting to the top wasn’t more important than you or your party’s safety and, if you enjoyed walking, wherever you got to was going to be enjoyable anyway. And there were usually good views from any height as long as you stopped to look at them.

So I stop on the ridge and have a good look around me. A large bird of prey swoops past, hunting for its young family, paying no attention to me. I can see a small herd of deer down in the glen, absent mindedly grazing, breath just visible in the cool air. It’s quiet, perhaps faint noises from other parties climbing ahead, and below. I neither see them nor care any more if I’m ahead of them or behind.

I think I can see the summit rising above the clouds in the distance, but it’s actually really nice here, right where I am. And besides, my knee’s twitching a bit and the blister on my right heel has burst. It’s been a good climb this far, not many even get onto the ridge far less scramble along to the top. So maybe I should just go back down. After all, I heard there’s a storm coming from down south, snow and blizzards likely. I wouldn’t want to be stuck up there caught up in the middle of that.

 

(Daily Prompt: Not everyone want to stay in it for the long haul.)

Benches

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It was perhaps the 15th bench she’d pointed out as he carefully tried to move her away.

“This one is dedicated to ‘Mr Peterson of Comely Bank’. I wonder who he was and why there’s a bench dedicated to him, it doesn’t say.”

“1917”, Eric pointed out the date just below the inscription. “Perhaps he died during the First World War.”

“Oh that’s too sad”, Moira said, rubbing her nose slightly with her left hand and sniffing gently. She clasped her right hand tighter into Eric’s, intertwining her fingers through his, locking him to her, and pulled herself closer to him so she could lean against his shoulder. “Do you think his wife, or whoever dedicated this bench, came here often to sit? Maybe his sweetheart? Maybe his children? Maybe his grandchildren still come here and sit here and think of him?” Her voice almost pleaded for positive affirmation of her thoughts.

“Unlikely”, Eric said. “Like most of the benches here they’re probably forgotten. You can tell by the state most of them are in. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just some scam by the council to get people to pay for benches so they don’t have to.”

“Oh don’t say that”, Moira exclaimed, “I’m sure that’s not true.” They stood in silence for a moment before Eric managed to start moving further down Prince’s Street towards the Mound, carefully pulling Moira with him. However, they soon stopped again.

Moira was reading another plaque. “See this one, ‘To my dearest Johnny, I will think of you always when the Cherry Blossoms, Your Margie, forever and always.’ Isn’t that so sweet?”

Eric sighed, but imperceptibly. It had taken over half an hour to walk from the West End to this point and at this rate, they were never going to get up the Mound to the High Street where he had a small student flat, only rented of course. You couldn’t buy property in this part of town for love nor money. He still had a little packing to do and could do with an early night.

“Do you think”, Moira was saying, “that you’d like me to dedicate a bench to you when you’re gone?”

Eric stared at her incredulously, “But I’m only going to Stirling!” he exclaimed.

Moira pulled at him using their locked hands, jolting his arm quite suddenly and a little painfully. “No silly, when you’re dead and I’m left all alone in the world, pining after you as a wee old white-haired widow, remembering my famous husband, the bio-chemist Eric McDonald.”

Eric looked up at the castle, now lit up in shades of red, noting how like Stirling Castle it looked. Would he think of this night as he looked at that different castle in the years to come? Would he remember it at all as he ventured out on a new life, a new University, his PhD course, his career, his future? He smiled sadly at Moira who was still staring at the bench. “Come on”, he said, “I’ve got to pack. I need to be away by ten.”