Actions

Work Header

Mr Jamieson (Now Face North)

Work Text:

DISCLAIMER: Not mine, and I don’t want’em.  Except for Davie Sneddon.  Scottish
            Television sewed the names in this PE kit.  Some lines by Peter May.

TITLE:      Mr Jamieson (Now Face North)
AUTHOR:     kel
FANDOM:     Take the High Road
PAIRING:    Mr Murdoch/Fergus Jamieson
RATING:     L, H, PG for Wrinklie Nudes.  Blindfolds available on request.
SUMMARY:    Think about direction/wonder why you haven’t before
ARCHIVE:    Yes to Rareslash, Britslash and Fabulae.

SPOILERS:   Ties into 1992 episodes recently aired in Australia (mid-April
            2004).  Mrs Mack can’t stand sharing the Manse with Susan Ross;
            Mr Murdoch has a spare room.  Stand back.
COMMENTS:   For Helen, for the gay tup alert and just *because*.  Entry for the
            Britslash Anniversary Challenge, and (belatedly) the regular April
            challenge on Fabulae.
THANKS TO:  Rie for beta as always; Tracey for support and comments

 

===================

Mr Jamieson (Now Face North)
by kel

===================

 

//... but the Lord moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform... and I... I
believe that this current crisis has moved Mr Murdoch to do something that he’s
been quietly contemplating for some time...//
-- Mrs Mack

 

-- To you, Mr Jamieson!, says Obadiah Arthur Murdoch, session clerk and man in
hell.  Crowned in white and drinkin’ like Jesus himself set the tab.  He downs
the lot, looking like... not like someone else, just not like him.  Differently
him.  Takes me a minute to see why, but he's taken his hat off.

Bye-bye hat.

Things must be bad.  He never takes his bastard hat off.

I get him a double, again, not that he deserves it.  In fact I switch it with
mine.  He's had enough.  Ma hands is shakin’ on the long walk to the bar, on the
long walk back; only for attention.  I don’t give’em the satisfaction.  That's
normal, when I'm on the drink.   When I’m awake.   When I'm with Arthur.   Puir
wee basket; the spectre of Mrs Mary Mack looms over him, suitcase in hand, all
spinach flan and those terrifying, respectable breasts.

-- The thought of that sharing a bath and two.  You lucky man, Murdoch.

He pulls a face, looks round fast, oozing guilt.  What Archie called his bitch
reflex.  Daft bugger, he’s safe here.  She’d never come the public bar, or any
bar for that matter.  No room for God among the bottles.   Shame, she’d fit
right in, the carpet’s the same pattern as her favourite fourteen housedresses.

Sweet felching Christ.  I feel bad for laughing, forever laughing, have to
laugh.   Pity the man, Fergus, for his hour is now, colouring the cottage walls
something *her*.

Can smell paint on Arthur now, clinging with the despair.  I’ll never see it, I
don’t want to know.  She’d rather a rat in her knicker drawer than me pop round
for a visit.

I switch the drinks back, with love, then back again.  Sod him.  I need it more
than he does; with half of it necked I can find ma chair.   Half of his, he’ll
find a spine.  I wish.

-- You gonnae let her move in, the witch! I says, voice more poison than I want.
Doom-ridden with disgust.   But he’s a hard time looking shocked, after this
many rounds.  -- That ...vampire.  She'll see you off, she will.  Be the end of
you, Arthur.

-- 'diah, he says.  – Nnnarfr.  Please.  Don’t think he meant it sad, so I don’t
think I heard it.  Study his glass instead.  Fucking drinks don’t last half as
long as they should.

-- Life won't be your ain.  Not that you've all that of one now...

-- Sweet peony wallpaper...

-- Make a fine wee wifie, you.

-- Please, can’t you, he says, tracing patterns on the table.  – Just for...
Archie always called me Obadiah, he says.  – We danced, did you know that, when
he...  before he...   I’m not looking, but I know his eyes are starting wet.
Bar lights shining in’em; I can see the table, upside-down, shining, shining;
sun on the loch, Arthur’s eyes.  Why I get up the morn’.

--  You next door ...blasting away, that awful, awful music, and Archie... Make
the most, he said...  Oh, I do miss him, Mr Jamieson.

Had to play the damn pipes so I didn't hear'em, see.  Or listen when the dancin’
stopped.  Bad postie, Fergus.  Again and again and aye.  Archie put a smile in
those eyes.  Then came to see me.

To Archie, bless his little blue balls. I don’t say it.  Or maybe I do.

-- Och, stop it, says Obadiah Arthur, to himself.  Or maybe me.

-- Stop it yourself, I says, and give him my drink.  -- See me lettin' you cry
in the Aardnacraig, silly aul’  fool.  So I tousle his hair, what there is of
it; when did he go so white?  White and fine, tidy and short, soft on my
disobedient and shaking fingers.  Like spiderweb in the morning; like snow on
the loch shore, before the dogs and boys and bastard tourists dirty it up.

Beautiful.

I get up, get him another; stumble so our eyes don't meet.  – Nae more for me, I
say, let him nod sanctimoniously to himself while I order.  Let'em all nod.
Good old Fergus.  Pisshead Fergus. -- Fuck'em Fergus, I say, maybe out loud;
fuck'em all.  That Eric looking, sneer on his face.  And I don’t say: I’m paying
your wages, son.  Ever occur I can't afford to booze it up any more, eh?  Five
evenings home for the one here, don’t notice *that*, do you.  And I don’t say:
I’m only here so you know who I am.  Not me without the shot, am I, since the
job’s gone.  See me without the van.  Without my little sack, hur-hur.  Ah, but
he’s a glass in his paws - must be Fergus.

I wish.

Everything aches.  Knees to tip; my fingers hurt... Rheumatics ain’t the only
thing worse since I retired.  Retired, bollocks.  Not wanted.  Bye-bye hat.

Better go like Archie.

But I’ve not to think about that; definitely not, never do, so I squint a bittie
at young Ross-Gifford, grin at him the way that had his father scuttling off
with scowls.  Wasted on Eric, but then what isn’t?   Fucking Eric.  Now there’s
a thought.  I’d like to be fucking Eric.  And he’d like to be upstairs, off his
feet.

– Well Fergus, and that'll be the last, won't it? he says, as stern as he can
with that Fauntleroy face; holding little Lucy and his sentences going up at the
end like a wee girl.  I just smile, wave, another one.    Smile and smile again,
from the eyes.  He doesn’t like that, disnae like me.  But there’s a good two
rounds to be had from him yet.

I keep smiling, he gives ‘em me now.  Hasn’t the balls he was born with.
Assuming he *was*; I'm yet to see proof.   Wouldn’t mind to see proof.

-- In the missus' handbag, are they, I think, laughing, only I've said it aloud.
*Bad* postie, Fergus.  Gets that cheeky wee bitch Emma trying not to laugh, and
the daft man just smiles with puzzle, wrinkly like the babbie puking down his
back.  She's tryin' to burp, he's tryin' to think.  See the resemblance.

Emma’s turned away with a smirk.  She’ll give us another, no charge, when Eric’s
gone.  Shouldn’t get away with that, should I.  But they feel sorry for me,
don’t they.  Lonely old Fergus.  Poor old Fergus.  Smug fucking English
bastards.

Weave my way back, even speed.  -- Beautiful, I say, and put down four glasses.
Did I order four?  Must have.  If you can hold’em and walk at the same time,
you’re nowhere near done.  The chair rocks slightly with my weight, fro, back,
again.  Slow time, a waltz on pub carpet; I can feel the static building up in
my socks.

Arthur’s not listening.

-- Ah said, beautiful.

-- Who?, he says, blearily.

-- The wee one, yon Ross-Gifford whelp, I say, thinking *you*, thinking the way
Eric’s eyes crinkle at the corners.   Or maybe I said it.  I don’t think I said
it.  But he looks at me, Arthur, all pruney and back-taken, that lovely, prissy
little man.  Sad, lovely, lonely little man.   Want tae smack that bastard God
of his.

-- Ah.  Ever want children, Mr Jamieson? , he asks?  -- I never.  I  mean I
thought... well you do, don’t you.  Or did you.  I mean... well, you know what I
mean.

-- Nae fucker knows what *you* mean.

-- Mr Jamieson!

I just look at him, smile, don’t smile; my life, making sense of Murdoch.  To be
shockable, his age.  Breaks me.

– No.

-- Oh, he says, quietly.  – Oh.  And I could nut myself; only got him thinking
Carol’s Mary Jessica.  The strongest bond with Mary Mack, that little lost
godchild; he’ll never tell her away off now.  Idiot fucking postie.

He was Down Under when Archie went; cruising with the aul’ bitch, against his
will and terrified to go.  The pair of them, warm and well and wrapped in safe
complaints: //they’re not like us, Mr Murdoch.  Indeed, Mrs Mack.//  I laughed
at the don’t-leave-me expression on his mug in the taxi; so did Archie.  And
Arthur... Arthur only went and loved it.  Shuffled back like a crumpled king,
all corked wine and koala-bears, horrid wee toys.  A present for Archie and
Archie dead, and the both of us lost ever since.  Me? well there was this
bottle, this very friendly bottle, with Arthur away.  We had some interesting
evenings, me and that bottle and that bottle’s pals. Got on gey well indeed.

No mourning done, that I could see; home too late, the grave already green.  And
a year on he fell to bits, with Mary Jessica gone; he’d a reason to cry and
someone to do it with.  And now *she’s* got him spiked.  The grief in him makes
poison of me.

-- Think man, now’s your chance to try for a litter.  I lean over, pat his hand.
-- Give the mad aul’ bitch one; be good for her, a babbie in the house, someone
to care for.  A wee man to take her mind off yours.

-- That’s not funny.

-- No, I say, laughing.  Smiling to hurt.

-- *She’s* not funny.

-- No.  Smiling hurts me.

-- What am I going to do, Fergus?

I look at him, quiet; his hand cold and held out, his hand in mine first time in
forty years.  I hang on, just a little; whistle low.

-- That’s you had enough.  You never call me Fergus.

Those big, reproachful eyes.  You know, it’s true, what they say about pets.
Pets and owners, mirror job.  Him an’ his dogs, misery fuckin’ creatures.

-- See me home, Jamieson.

-- Mr Jamieson to you.

 

=== * ===

 

It’s a long, cold walk home; moonlight bright as anything, hiding stars over the
loch.

-- Supposed to be raining, tonight, says Arthur, cheered and mischievous in the
clear night air.  -- Drizzle to piddle by twilight, according to the Bee Bee
Ceee.   Beee.  Hee Bee bloody Gee Bee, Mr Jamieson.

-- Didn’t quite catch that, Obadiah.

-- Not what I’ve heard.

I don’t try to fathom his change in mood; let him carry on, giggling at his own
daring till we’re both at it, stumbling and rowdy like kids again.  Archie
between us, holding us up; as it ever was.  Twenty-five if he’s a day.  And
cheeky with it.

I agree, as I have many times these forty, fifty years, that the smug wee
bastards on the wireless should give Arthur a tug.  Or any fucking fool, I say;
there’s not a man in Glendarroch couldn’t put them straight on weather.
Actually there’s a yowe or two I know could do better, and that’s a fact.

Arthur doesn’t want to go home.  And mine’s nothing of the sort, so we take the
long way, up by the church, along the shore, sitting a minute on the bench near
Blair’s store.  Muted light from Isabel’s window behind us, and the soft rumble
of Alun Morgan’s voice.

-- Arguing with that pretty niece of his, I say.  Thinking aloud.

-- I wouldn’t call her pretty, says Arthur, then sits up straight.  Reprimanding
himself; I can see it in his shoulders.  He sighs, folds his hands.  -- A very
troubled child, Mr Jamieson.  A very troubled child indeed.

-- You should talk.

My arm’s gone to sleep.  Round his shoulders.  I don’t think either of us minds.

Arthur puts his kirk voice on.  -- Good place for troubled minds, do you not
think?

-- Causin’ or healin’?

He laughs, softly.

-- I’m... very fond of it, Mr Jamieson, if you don’t mind me saying.  From the
very bones.  It’s... What every home should be.

-- Cold, wet, and pissed on by Gary McDonald?

– Mr *Jamieson*.  I mean it’s ...peaceful.  It’s us, it’s a place of...
of...souls, if you like.

-- Arseholes.

-- Oh, *really*...  A place of ...kindness.  Great emotion.

I can’t look at him.

-- Ah, there’s others to find, I say.  – Common sense.

A heart carries a home, for fire.

-- Maybe so, he says.  – I trust so.  To himself, or maybe to me.  – Tell me, Mr
Jamieson.  Have you ever considered... I mean, if it came to... Could you...

-- Slow down, for God’s sake.  Could take me all night to freeze, and I’ll need
the entertainment.

-- *Moving*, Mr Jamieson, he says, firmly.  -- Could you move.  Leave.  Do you
think you could leave?

-- Glendarroch?  Just pass me the fucking fare, son.  Ye’d not see me for dust.

Meaning not for a million, not for two.  Not on your fucking life.  We’re both
smiling.  He’d say the same.

-- Big world out there, Mr Jamieson.

-- It is that, Mr Murdoch.

//Nice enough place.  But you wouldn’t want to live there//, says the silence
where Archie used to be.

We both laugh; Arthur leans back, warm against my arm.

-- What do you think he would have done?

We both know the answer to that.  But then Archie was different.

-- Leave?  Havers.

-- As you say, Mr Jamieson.  As you say.

 

=== * ===

 

Those BBC bastards could be right.  It’s late now and there’s clouds sauntering
by.  Small but serious; dancing round the moon.  I’m watching clouds, and
Arthur’s smiling at ghosts.

Glendarroch’s full of ‘em, ghosts and men and dead to be.   He’s smiling at the
ones we were, before signing up.  They live here, on clear crisp nights.  Well,
down the bank a bit, maybe.  Under the trees, where the mothers of lassies don’t
let lassies go.

Archie’s ghost is tall and nut-brown, like in the photographs.  Oh yes, we’ve
photographs; the three of us stretched out and cruel on the sand, happy to
Answer The Call. Band of brothers, wasn’t it, our last weekend in Blighty.
Arthur the most outdoors of us all, back then; tiny and compact, the doomed
beginnings of a moustache just visible over brown ribs and his poacher’s burr-
stuck feet.   Me peering up a bloody tree, for some reason; burnt and lean, hot
sand on my back and a hand over my eyes so I couldn’t see Archie, stretched out,
smiling that smile right down the camera.  Down the years.

It’s a little-known fact that Archie was naked, on that sand.  Pebble prints and
scratches, all down his thighs; they held the water after swimming.  You can’t
see that, in the photograph.  Bastard studio in Auchtarne airbrushed in a pair
of shorts the size of Glasgow.  In Case His Mother Saw.

There’s always one.  Me and Archie set flame to their dustbins, a week later.
Arthur doesn’t know.

And then, the war.  And then, and then, and then.  Different sand, different
sun.  And home, which wasn’t, and everything stopped.  Like silence after a
storm when you’ve come to love the thunder.  And we were loved and welcomed and
no bastard would leave us the fuck alone, and the peace was a cold grey hole.
Dead and sightless, world without end.

Until... well.  Until Archie found me and I found Arthur and Arthur found God.
One more thing to hold against the Germans.

He’s lookin’ down at us now, God.  You can feel it.  Him.

-- The things you see when you don’t have a Luger.

Arthur’s not listening; strange smile and his eyes fixed firmly on the moonlight
shards mid-loch.  Dark water, deep water, where our boat went down and we pulled
Mark Ritchie back to shore.  Me and Archie, sixty-odd each and jostling for
turns to hold him up.

Weeeell.  Fine lookin’ man, Mark Ritchie.

-- Getting cold, Mr Jamieson, says Arthur, happily.

-- Aye.

-- Brass monkeys, I dare say.

-- Aye.

There’s a laugh in his voice, as he leans forward; he takes his scarf off, the
one *she* gave him last Christmas, or the fifteen fuckin’ Christmases before
that.  So he doesn’t take poorly, in the weather he’s known all his life.  It’ll
be long woolly underpants this year, wait and see.

-- I don’t suppose, says Arthur, slowly, with a smile I’ve never forgotten.  --
I don’t suppose...

-- What?

-- I’ve the oddest inclination.

-- I wish.

-- Oh... *balls*, man.  Be serious.

And we’re twenty again; my heart’s fit to burst, with the friendship and the
years;  hurts, a good hurt gone bad, but he doesn’t see.  And the world
contracts to Arthur, standing fast, grinning madly at the water and the fact
he’s sworn; his gnarled knuckles and buttons and laughing. – Have ye the nerve
to swim? he says, in the voice of summer schoolyards.   He’s his shirt half off
before he stands, still not looking at me.

-- Eh?

It won’t sink in, even as his shirt falls to the stones and the bench thuds with
his weight, bare arse on the wood and his shoes sailing into the night.

-- Swim, you daft bugger.  One last time, Jamieson... he takes a deep breath,
and howls – One last ffffffffffffffucking time!

At the top of his voice, sweet Jesus;  he’s up and halfway down the shingle
before I’ve stopped laughing.  All-over white, glow white and running.
*Running*.

I ask you.  By the time I’ve told myself it’ll take a year to get ma togs off,
what with the drink and the cold and the rheumatics, I’ve the cold of Hell in my
face, and a very well ruined set of clothes.

And Obadiah, laughing up a storm as his hat drowns quietly in the shallows.

//Kiss him//, says Archie’s ghost, oscillating;  now spiv-suited and lean, now
whitehaired in wellies, with a mug parked on his paunch.  Skiving in any case,
bless him.  //Go on.  One last ffffucking time.//

So I do.  Just on the forehead.  Just gently, with tenderness and terror and my
still-warm hands cupping his face.  He doesn’t seem to mind.

 

=== * ===

 

-- Fuckin’ fool postie.

See me, shouting and giggling, bad as him, as we run home.  Run, *run*, I
mean... sweet Jesus.  I’d forgotten what it felt like.  One of life’s amblers,
me, and him hard-put to muster a shuffle since Archie died.

Down quiet streets, swearing at cobbles and hedges and bikes left heedless;
Arthur half-dressed and barefoot, as we couldn’t find his shoes.  Me, weighed
down; jacket flapping and wet and so, so cold.  We leave a long, strange,
silvery trail behind us, like the loch was chasing us home.  Shame there’s nae
tourists; we’d start a legend or two tonight.

We’re both puffing like trains by the time we get there; I’m the drunkest and
youngest and stupid enough to jump the gate, and go heid-first into the cobbles.
It’s fine, no damage, or if there is I can’t feel a fucking thing.  I only know
I’ve grasped Arthur’s hand because I can see it, and only know I’m upright
because I fall straight over again.

-- *Bad* postie, I say, to the cobbles.  – Roll me south, Obadiah. It’s warmer
on the grass.

-- Quiet now, he says, giggling as much as me.  Hand over ma mouth, he pulls me
up again, to my knees this time.   Strong little bastard, is Arthur.  He’s kept
his coat over his hands, running home; he at least can move his fingers.  I just
watch as he goes through ma pockets for keys.  – Stay.  Right there.

I salute.  -- Yes, Mrs Woodhouse.

-- Just sit up, will you?

-- Sit.  Stay. Goooood postie.

-- *Quiet*, will you.  You’ll wake her.

-- Fuck.  She’s *here*?

I look suitably terrified.  Sets him off again, laughing.

-- Stop that, he tries to whisper, -- or I’ll put you in with her to warm up.

-- Horrors! What would the neighbours say?

-- Serves you both right, is my guess.

Not a trace of the session clerk to be seen, in this wiry, white god; he
couldn’t manage his buttons, after the lake, and shines against my dark, closed
door.  I love him too much to laugh.  Hurts too much.  I couldn’t stop smiling
if I tried.

The tiredness and the booze hits me like shrapnel, all over at once.  // Long
day, says Archie’s ghost. //  -- Long day, long year, long life, I say.  – Too
bloody long.

-- What’s that?

-- Nothing.

I shut my eyes, to stop the tears freezing; when I open them again, the door’s
open, soft orange light spilling out, banishing the white.  Painting him anew;
two shadows behind him, and neither mine.

-- Welcome back, Murdoch, my own.  Sweet Christ above, I’ve missed you.

-- Och, shut up.  Can you walk?

-- Aye.  Just pass me a bus for the knees.

And the lungs, by the feel.  Not to mind.  Just aul’ man pleurisy taking the
dust sheets off for winter.

He has to hold me up, on the way in.  I’m not embarrassed.  Always was strong
for his size, so the tiny walk cobbles-to-parlour’s no trouble.   More room than
I’ve ever needed.

It’s warm, blessed warm.  I left the fire good and strong, in case it was a long
night.  In case I sat up, with a bottle, after the pub; because I planned to sit
up with a bottle, after Arthur left early and sober and wouldn’t come in; after
he bedded down home with ear-plugs and I could blast ma records at the wee
curtain-twitching bitch.  Shows how much I know.

Arthur’s stripped to his waist;  his back to the now roaring flames, skin
flushing, rose on white and proof of God.  Makes me laugh, suddenly: we’d
outdoor lives, the three of us;  two for a living and one for fun.  Fuck I’m
tired.

-- Bad postie.  Pissed postie.  Pissed an’ pale.  How did we all get so bastard
pale, Archie?

-- Archie’s not here, Fergus.   It’s me, Obadiah.  Only me.

-- What only, I say.  – Fuck only.  Only suits me fine.

He starts on ma jacket and shirt, which also suits me fine.  I can’t feel a
thing.  I take the chance to kiss him, proper as I can with a frozen face.  I
must have dozed off, outside; his skin’s hot against mine.  I think he wants to
kiss me back.  Maybe he has; can’t tell just now.  I try and try to open ma
eyes.   Something important I need to say, maybe I say it, maybe I just say
there’s something to be said; mumbling into his shoulder, as he deals with the
belt, and everything else.  No world but the burning of his hands.

-- Get you warmed up, he says, and pulls me close.   Never met such a worrying
man.  I feel better already; his chest against mine’s a bonus.  Forty years
wait, and all I’m fit for is sleep in his arms, standing and all, talking and
all.  He’s saying back, quiet and low.  Swahili, for all I care.  I mean to
listen, but I’m warming, now; starting to fade.  Can’t hang on to anything.

Archie’s back again.  Don’t have to look to know he’s got his arse to the fire,
glowering out under his eyebrows.  -- Jealous, Menzies? I say; for fun.  He’d a
lovely scowl.

//Idiot postie//, he growls, with his not impressed face, the crumpled one for
when people asked him if he hadn’t work to do.  //Wake up, you stupid bastard.
Wake up.  It’s important.//

-- ... you too, you miserable aul’ basket.  But I’ve not the choice.  Remember
that.  No matter what.

-- That’d be miserable aul’ *bastard*, Obadiah.  You’re not home yet.

-- Says you.

Should ask *what* what there is to matter, but it’s too hard just now.  – In the
morning, I say to myself.  Or maybe him.

I think Arthur’s smiling.  It feels like he’s smiling, when he kisses me,
gently, between my closed eyes.  I ignore Archie’s cough.

-- Did you hear me, Fergus?  Will you?

-- Mm.

-- Away now, he says, pulling something warm and scratchy round me; a dressing-
gown I never wear.  It itches ma back, but I could care less, with his chest
warm against me.  I can feel, again.  – Get you to bed, you’ll catch your death.

-- Come with me, Obadiah, I think to say.  And then, and then, and nothing.

-- Awful quiet in here, I say, to the room.  To Archie, only he’s gone.  Good
man.  He’ll be keeping that bastard God busy.  I open my eyes, just to make
sure.

-- That’ll be you not blethering.

-- Bollocks.

-- It is, says Arthur, with a straight face and dancing eyes.   -- You’ve done
it before.  The 30th of July, 1966.  And the 31st.  And a wee bit of August
after that.

-- Shock, pure shock.

-- Shock and a bottle.  Sit down, will you, if you won’t to bed.

-- Can you blame me?  The Krauts was robbed.

-- Bed, Fergus.

He’s doing up buttons now.  Daft bugger.  I can’t be doing with pyjamas.  Can’t
feel ma legs, either.  I let him take the weight and fasten things.

-- Ye’ll stay, Obadiah.

-- Well now.

-- Please.

He smiles, slowly, his arms warm around me as he settles me back in my chair.

-- I will.

A strange, quiet, joyful sound finds its way out of me; a muffled yell of
triumph, or something.  Might be crying, might be laughing like him.  Not quite
laughing.

And he kisses me again.  As proper as he can, sweet and hard with all the skill
of a schoolboy.  Should have known.

-- Sweet mother of God, Obadiah.  Forty fuckin’ years...

--  Now just you calm down, Mr Jamieson, he says, smiling; tucking the gown
round my legs, the creases round his eyes deep and full and meaning the world.
-- You sit here, and... calm down.  I’ll just be a minute, he says.  --
Something I want to do.

-- Makes two of us.  Hurry.

I let him go, finally.  He’s smiling as he walks away, quietly; I hear the door
open, and shut; the front door open, and shut... hear his footsteps on the path
outside, go quiet as he approaches next door.

See me, laughing, with wet eyes. Wet, shut eyes; so heavy, so happy; I’ll just
shut’em for a minute.  -- Just a sec, eh Archie?  He’ll not mind that.

 

=== * ===

 

I wake sore and stiff and still in the chair; pounding in my head and on the
door.  Dreams fade, Alamein sands into sunshine blue and the fire out.  Half
eight, sweet Christ.  There’s no joy in the day at half past eight.

No Arthur.  No Archie.  Just my clothes hung neat in the window, and that
fucking aul’ bitch, thumping fit to burst.  I take my sweet time answering.

-- Will you look at the woman, I don’t say, contenting myself with a thunder
face.

-- For heaven’s sake, Mr Jamieson.  Whatever’s the matter with you?

-- For a moment, I thought I was still dreaming.  Now that I’m awake, I think I
prefer the nightmare.  What are ye doing, banging on a man’s door this time of a
morning?

-- Where is he?

-- Who, I say, as innocent as I can with a headache the size of Altnamarra.

-- Mr Murdoch, of course!, she cries, and tries to shove past.  I stay right
where I am.  Immovable.  – Where is he?  What have you done with him? – She
screws up her eyes, mean and small. --  He didn’t by any chance sneak out to
the... *pub* with you last night, did he?

-- Och, chance’d be a fine thing.  He wouldn’t dare.  //You fat-arsed aul’
cow//, I add, not quite under my breath.  Watching her peer about, frantic.
It’s a fine sight.  She’s not listening.  She never listens.

-- Well, where do you think he is now, then?

-- Try Timbuctoo.  That’s where I’d be if you’d just moved into my house.

I’d slam the door, only she shoves me out of the way.  Barges in, calling his
name.

-- Suit yourself.  Only I’m not exactly decent.

I let my robe hang open, to prove the point.  She shudders and tuts and charges
up the hall.  Quilted and pink, the stuff of nightmare.  Nurse G-G-Gladys by
Cabbage Patch.

-- Dear oh dear.  Lost him already?  I’d call that negligence.

He must be at kip.  I follow to the bedroom and wait for the scream.  Nice
little heart attack would solve all our problems.  I’m right behind her when it
doesn’t come.

There’s no-one there.  No Arthur, no sign.  The bed’s as I left it yesterday.
Cold and empty and Archie perched on the end.  Making faces, watching me age.

She sniffs at the photograph.  It’s a cold, hard pleasure throwing her out, and
a greater speaking my mind.

Which leaves me alone, and old, and tired.  It’s a good hour till I find the
letter; I’ve walked, and waited, and come back home, and Arthur isn’t there.  He
knows me well; there’s a short note.  Tidily among the bottles.

We read it through, Archie and me and a hair of the dog.  Again, and again, and
aye.

-- Well, that’s that, I say, whistling.  -- Strategic withdrawal, Mr Menzies.
Retreat.

//Nah.  Advancing backwards//, says Archie.

-- I never thought he had it in him.

//Shows how much you know. //

-- You put him up to this?

Archie just smiles and disappears.

-- Bastard.

I settle back and watch the fire.  Watch the clouds through the window.  Read it
again.

Count up the fare, and put it away.

I could bawl, but I won’t.  Should go next door, but I won’t.  Instead I doze
off, in this place of souls, *my* souls, and smile.  In time it comes without
anger.  A smile he’d carry with him, in Archie’s kind of gone.  And fair enough.
I’ve his, for a fire.  Always have.

I drift off laughing.  See the aul’ bitch’s face, when they find his shoes by
the loch.

Can’t wait.

 

=== end ===

 

© arjuna, 2004

 

(For the uninitiated: Obadiah Arthur Murdoch vanished from the village of
Glendarroch one lovely winter’s day; he eventually turned up in Edinburgh, alive
and well and running a Church of Scotland bookshop.  Naturally, a – curiously
equanimous – Fergus conducted a cruel and calculated campaign of Mack Torture in
the interim, whispering darkly of Foul Play and Unspeakable Spinster Deeds.)