Read Raw Ltd
Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland
The Rolling Prose Page
To submit something, send it in the body of an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a few words about yourself. Put Prose Submission in the subject line. Maximum word count initially will be around 1000 words. Pieces substantially longer will not be considered
Copyright remains with the author.
She heard herself screaming. Terrified she jumped from the bed and searched the dark room for a clue as to what had wakened her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a massive shape, felt it lunge for her and she stumbled her way to the bedroom door. “Oh no, not again” Alice thought. This nightmare had been going on for the last month and she always found herself scared and alone with the shady creature of her dreams. Alice was aware that the creature was a figment of her tired mind but it seemed tangible in the darkness.
The last time she had felt it pin her to the bed. Night terrors her doctor called it, brought on by being under some sort of stress. Alice just couldn’t fathom the reason for it.
Slowly as her heart rate and breathing returned to a more normal pattern, Alice made her way to the kitchen and yet another cup of camomile tea. She had even given up her love of builder’s tea in order to cut out the caffeine her doctor felt was a contributing factor. She was even forcing herself to go without her nightly cognac, so disturbed was she about the terrifying sensations she had been experiencing at night.
Slowly the soothing camomile worked its magic as she became more rational in her thoughts. It had seemed very real though, that she could admit to herself. The doctor appeared confident that these terrors would lessen in time, but in her less rational moments Alice thought she might be losing her mind.
When she felt steady enough she climbed back into bed and tried to sleep. Feeling silly she left the lamp on…”coward” she said to herself. But she wouldn’t risk wakening to a dark room again in one night.
In the morning Alice’s usual routine took over. She rationalised that her changing work pattern was at the root of her sleeping difficulties.
The following night Alice was prepared. No late night tipple for her, just the camomile tea. As she slept, her chosen soft music wafted quietly around her. Gradually the window was gently pushed open and a dark, quiet figure slid over the threshold into the room. Slowly it moved towards Alice’s sleeping form and slithered on top of her, pinning her to the bed. It just lay there, doing nothing more.
Alice awakened and sensed that she was being pinned down; she calmed herself with the knowledge that this was explainable. Trying to relax and not panic she kept her eyes tightly shut, but this did feel very real.
She stifled her scream, but still it came out as a kind of a squeak. She became aware of the weight slowly pushing her into the mattress. “Don’t panic” she thought,” this will pass; it’s nothing more than night terrors.”
Eventually she felt the sensation pass and she could relax. “There”, she thought “you managed that ok, nothing to worry about”.
Thankfully, Alice kept her eyes closed, for the creepy, slithering thing slipped off her and disappeared through the still open window.
I am new to this writing lark, currently working as a health visitor, previously as a midwife.
Seeing It Through
From the warm train they come tumbling through the chattering pneumatic carriage doors onto the safety of the platform and gasping the cold north wind they turn in unison to head in one direction, in silence, for this is not a festival nor carnival, and almost in a single file they climb the stairs and spill out onto the pavement and within a few yards converge with the bus travellers, becoming a thick steady stream of dark grey individuals winding through the red brick estate, where exasperated residents never tire of keeking out from behind the net curtains and with a weary sigh note the discarded litter and their tramped-down-snow-covered-turf, and turn with a weary sigh back to their breakfast tea and Jeremy Kyle, while on and on these marching Lowrie characters, blinkered with unflattering hoods, plod towards the imposing shiny bright glass building coming into view. There is no frivolity here, not like last sunny August when new friendships were warming and forming, when carefree males and flirty females found bonding, dress and style more important than curriculum matters, but those days are gone and with newly formed friendships fallen by the wayside, the stayers and the determined will now see it through to the end.
© George Stewart
George Stewart, retired, free to write at last!
Spinner the Spider, the Guardian of the Lock
Spinner was a house spider who lived in a door-lock in Burnhead House, an old cottage in Lochwinnoch. Generations of Spinner's family had lived there for hundreds of years since the property had been built, usually ignored by the human inhabitants of the house. The owner of the house during Spinner's period of occupation was Rory, who lived there and also ran a little Bed and Breakfast. People came from all over the world, and the guests at that time were the Merrycan family. It was a very friendly, happy place and his young son Struan enjoyed helping out during the school summer holidays.
There was a kitchen garden, beautifully cultivated by Struan's friends Matthew and Alexander, along with their parents, Jon and Helen Knight. One day, Struan and Rory wanted to dig up some vegetables, so they went to the side door of the house. It was a 'stable door' which could be opened in two parts, top and bottom. Struan gently pulled the top part open. As usual, there was Spinner the Spider, who froze for a moment, looked at Struan, then scampered sideways into the dark recesses of the door lock.
Struan leaned over and said 'Good Morning, Spinner' , for that was the name he thought would most suit him, into the spider's hiding place. The shy spider reminded Rory and Struan of the time when Scotland's king was inspired by the sheer determination of a similar little fellow.
Struan said, 'Dad, do you think Spinner could be a relative of the very spider that encouraged Robert the Bruce?'
Rory laughed and said 'I'd like to think so! Now, stop 'spinning' out the time and start digging! I've promised the Merrycans some delicious soup, and I can't make it unless you help me gather the vegetables.'
The people of Lochwinnoch usually lived in harmony, but further up the hill, even with beautiful and relaxing views of the loch, village life was not as peaceful as it once had been. A new family, the McSluggers from nearby Millingtown, had been temporarily given a house here because their last house had been damaged by fire 'in mysterious circumstances'. The members of this family were, shall we say, less than popular with their new neighbours, due to their selfishness and noisiness. Bob and Eve McSlugger and their disruptive brat of a son, Shuggie, made their neighbours wish that they would move on again soon.
One day, while Rory and Struan were away fishing at the loch, Shuggie McSlugger pushed open the creaky old black iron garden gate that led into Burnhead House.
The old gate groaned on its ancient hinges and the spooky sound made Shuggie shiver! He sneaked round the house looking in the windows. He had seen an old film on TV about cat burglars and thought he would try it out! He stood on an old sandstone block to peer into the dark interior. Standing on tip-toe, holding on to the window sill with his left hand and shading his eyes with his right, he squashed his forehead, nose and right eye up against the window pane. As he did so he bumped the glass slightly.
On the other side of the glass, only an inch away from Shuggie's face, Spinner the Spider was dozing peacefully. He was sunning himself in a kind of spidery hammock he had woven, suspended from the corners of the window frame and rocking gently in the cooling breeze coming through the air vent. Sudddenly he was rudely awakened by what seemed to him to be a tremendous THUMP!
When he opened his sleepy spidery eyes, the squashed and distorted face of Shuggie McSlugger was flattened against the glass like the underside of a flounder! (This was a flat fish his grandfather had told him about once, after coming back from an accidental trip to the seaside . Grandfather Ziggy had seen an old green fishing net lying against the door, just before the human family went away for a day trip. He had become entangled in it when he had gone to investigate what he imagined to be the exotic handiwork of a martian spider. But that's another story.....)
Spinner didn't like the look of Shuggie at all, and it wasn't just due to the sight of his horribly twisted features: Spiders can sense when someone is up to no good. Just then Shuggie slipped on the stone, let out a yell then disappeared out of sight! As he picked himself up off the warm, dusty patio, Shuggie saw something glint beside the sandstone block. It was a pair of brass keys! With a sly grin, Shuggie picked up the keys, thinking to himself, 'You wee beauty! The secret key-stash!'
Spinner scrambled towards the Stable Door where Shuggie was heading to try the keys. To save time, spinner threw a webline from the window sill to the lock. Like a miniature Tarzan he swooped down and then up, then wriggled into the lock, uncertain what to do next. He heard a tremendous clatter as Shuggie tried the first key in the lock. It wasn't the right one, but Spinner knew that when he tried the other key, Shuggie would be able to enter the house. Then Spinner had a brainwave!
As Shuggie tried the second key into the lock, Spinner wove his strongest web ever and lassoed it around the key just in time. Wrapping as much as possible around the head then the body of the key, he made it bulky and secured it to the inside of the lock . Then he clogged up the lock itself with his amazingly strong floss-like substance. Shuggie tried to turn the key with all his might but he ....just....could....not....make....it.....work! He realised it wasn't going to be easy: the key it seemed to be glued in there. He kept the key gripped firmly between his fingers, in the lock ready for his next attempt. Unnoticed by the malevolent Shuggie, Spinner popped his head out of the lock. This was his big chance to thwart the beastly boy! Spinner sprinted heroically down Shuggie's fingers and over his wrist, spinning his web and throwing it around the sweaty flesh as he ran. Within seconds, the door-handle, lock, key and the perpetrator's puffy hand and wrist were wrapped , double-wrapped and even triple-wrapped by a grey, fluffy but sticky spider's web. A velvety tube now encased Shuggie's hand: it looked just like his arm had been sucked up an elephant's trunk!
When he had stopped panting, Shuggie looked up, just as Spinner disappeared into the lock. It was as if someone had knitted him into a one-armed strait-jacket stuck to the doorhandle! He struggled and shook his arm, but to no avail. He pulled against it but it seemed like the harder he struggled, the tighter became the grip of the webbing! In despair he sat down on the ground and started to wail.
Meanwhile, Rory and Struan were commiserating with each other about the fact that neither had caught any fish for dinner. As they stepped through the half-open iron gate of Burnhead House, Struan stopped abruptly.
'What was that noise?' he said.
'It sounds like a cat,' said Rory.
They followed the pathetic mewling sounds to the far side of the house. Unsure what to expect, they craned their necks around the corner of the wall.
Shuggie was startled when he saw the heads peep simultaneously round the corner, one above the other, like a living totem pole.
'Heeeeelp me!' he howled.
Rory and Struan were amazed when they saw this odd scene. Rory looked closely at the strange material which could bind human flesh to a wooden door. Struan quickly pulled his little digital camera out of his fisherman's knapsack. He might not have caught any fish that day but he was determined to capture this extraordinary sight on camera. Shuggie would not be 'The One That Got Away'!
'So that noise WAS made by a cat , dad,' he chuckled '- a CAT BURGLAR!' Struan snapped away with his camera as his father carefully snipped away at the web with the tiny scissors on his camping knife.
Once Shuggie was freed from his arachnic armlock, Rory said, 'I think I'd better take you home, Master McSlugger, where you can explain to everyone exactly what has been going on here.' After a few moments, Struan reappeared. Shuggie did not utter a single word all the way up the hill in the car.
Twenty minutes later, a tearful Shuggie had confessed all to his parents and rescuers. Struan pulled something from an envelope. He handed Bob and Eve McSlugger a copy of some of the photos he'd taken.
'I thought you might like to see what the front page of the village newspaper will look like next week,' he said.
Mrs McSlugger's face went unusually pale.
The following Friday, the Letterbox News' front page did indeed carry the photographs taken by Struan and a detailed story about the incident. It was the talk of the village! It also mentioned the fact that the McSlugger family had hastily moved back to their own home in Millingtown, since repairs had been rapidly completed. There was even a close-up photograph of Spinner and Struan, posing together at the now-famous side door of Burnhead House. Spinner seemed to be flexing a spidery bicep or six for the camera, while balancing on Struan's outstretched finger.
That evening, Struan unlocked the top part of the 'stable door' and opened it very carefully. Sure enough, there was Spinner. This time, he did not scamper out of sight. He stood pefectly still, looking directly and somehow, it seemed, expectantly at Struan.
'Dad,' said Struan, ' I think spiders really must bring good luck to Scotland. Not only did Spinner's ancestor inspire Robert the Bruce to victory at Bannockburn, Spinner even fought off an invader, all by himself, right here in Lochwinnoch! Surely he should receive a special award for that!' Struan's dad agreed, and walked over to the door to stand beside Struan.
In his best mock-regal voice Rory intoned, ' Valiant spider, for your invaluable service to this family and to the village of Lochwinnoch and in the name of our ancient king, Robert the Bruce, I name thee Sir Spinner, Guardian of the Lock. Arise, Sir Spinner.' That brave little spider hesitated for a moment as Struan leaned over and whispered, 'Goodnight Sir Spinner!'
To this very day, Struan swears that 'Sir' Spinner winked at him and bowed briefly, before scuttling off once again into the dark recesses of the door lock.
I see you are inviting short works of prose, so I thought you might be interested in this short story for children. I wrote it about 5 years ago for my then 9 year-old son. It was meant to be the first in a series, to allow me to tell of my adventures of running the b&b and other aspects of Lochwinnoch life, but so far it's the only one.
The Word Store
The day it opened it was the talk of the town. Business was clearly booming. Mr Chapter and Mr Verse, word practitioners par excellence, were the brains behind the outfit. “Because our store is like a Thesaurus, we owe a lot to Roget,” they said. “We offer words off the peg. Our holdings are considerable and designed to meet any occasion. We are here to serve those who are lost for words.”
Mr Chapter, flushed with success, showed me round the premises. “ When people walk in and see the size and scale of our operation they are speechless. Words fail them. We see it as our job to put those words back into their mouths,” he said.
Inside, it was a bit like a shoe shop. Rows and rows of shelves were lined with boxes which were all of a uniform size. “You will find our words arranged in several different ways,” said Mr Verse. “For example, the stock over there is all arranged in strict alphabetical order. We also do special categories such as proper nouns and loan words.”
“At the back of the store,” Mr Chapter interjected, “we have an extensive collection of words - everything from air and space vehicles to wine bottle sizes and zodiac signs. Our staff are specially trained to know what to look for,”
“We do branding and slogans,” said Mr Verse, “57 varieties of saying the same thing in a slightly different way. You know the kind of thing.”
“Is there anything you don’t do?” I asked.
“Yes,“ said Mr Verse. “You must understand that we are an ethically motivated company and that our credentials are sound. We don’t do jargon, there’s far too much of it being banded about at the moment and we don’t want to encourage it. We don’t do swearing or anything that borders on the impolite. We have no words for hatred or strife. We want our customers to be satisfied with their shopping experience.”
“Is there anything we can help you with, today?” asked Mr Verse.
“Yes, I think there is,” I said. “Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day. I’d like you to find me another word for prize in the context of that which is held most dear.”
Almost immediately he came back into the room with a box marked VALENTINES. “In alphabetical order, I can give you adore, adulate, appreciate, cherish, desire…”
I stopped him before he went any further. “Adore and adulate are over the top and appreciate has lost its value. Cherish has had its day; desire is too risqué. I think I’ll settle for love.”
“By all means,” he said, “being such a personal matter, the choice is entirely up to you.”
I wrote down the three words that every girl longs to hear, took them to the front, and placed them on the belt. The girl at the check-out smiled. “You’ll want them gift-wrapped,” she said.
© Neil Leadbeater
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His latest book, a selection of his Latin American poems, “Librettos for the Black Madonna”, was published by White Adder Press in 2011.
All I ever wanted was to know how he did it. The glass, I mean. He ate it on stage. When I was wee I heard them all talking about him at the funeral. That’s the first day I knew anything other than he was my granda, sitting in his armchair reading the paper, never paying me or my sister any heed. He gave my granny a time of it and I didn’t really like him. Always shouting, Molly, when’s that toast coming, when’s the dinner going to be ready, Molly? My granny ran after him like she was a dog chasing someone’s heels. She put down his tea on the wee table next to the fireplace and he made this grumpy noise and rattled the paper into a fold. He sometimes asked my granny about us, but never said anything directly to Jane or me. What are these lassies up to eh? Are they gonnae leave that mess when they go away? When my mum came for us he never looked much at her either. My mum didn’t care, I’m sure she didn’t; she spent all her time in the kitchen talking to my granny and the two of them tutted when he shouted for something else to eat. My granny never tutted when she was on her own, just ran with the sandwiches or scones, fresh baked out the oven; tea, tea and tea again.
On stage he ate panes of glass and bits of bikes, light bulbs as well. Everyone knew that. After the accident, they told me about the other stuff he ate. It wasn’t just jaggy things; he ate pies. Loads of them, the audience counting them in one by one: twelve, thirteen, fourteen. I wish I had known that at the funeral. I like pies. Granny made cherry ones with a cut out bit of pastry in the shape of a leaf stuck on the top. I watched how she mashed the dough with her hands and then rolled it out on the counter, a cloud of flour falling around her feet. She washed her hands to make them hot or cold for the pastry or when my granda shouted for tea or a piece.
On the day of the funeral, my granny had a black veil over the top of her hat and it came down to just above her eyes. I thought it was a doily and I laughed when I got in the car. My mum skelped me right on the fat bit of my leg and the sting was still there in the chapel. My granny said that my mum should have took me to mass more. My mum held granny’s hand and rubbed my leg where she had slapped me.
After, when they were all in the living room talking about my granda, I was looking for a brillo pad under the sink. I liked guddling and I was allowed to wash up the plates and the teacups, although only one in at a time in the basin, in case they bashed off of each other. One of them had a stain and I knew she used brillo pads to get them off. The smell in the cupboard was always the same and there was a dried up leather cloth for the window cleaning and a grey lumpy one that was a floor cloth. She kept the spare bulbs in there. There were round ones for the big lights and thin ones for the lamps. I had heard them say how he crunched the glass on stage and made the women faint and scream in the audience. I put one to my lips, wondered how it was he did it. I tested it with my teeth and my granny came in the door. She shouted at me, ran towards me, and I bit down.
They had to get me an ambulance. I could hear my granny saying over and over again, it was sugar glass, it was sugar glass, but I didn’t know what she meant and then the man shut the doors. All the way to the Royal Infirmary, I held a towel under my chin to catch the drips. My mum had to explain to them at the hospital what I had been doing and why and they had to get someone to talk to me while my mum waited outside, so they could figure out if she was bad to me. I didn’t say about her skelping my leg in the funeral car. My mouth was stitched black and stringy and I couldn’t say much, just nod or shake my head, no smiling.
When I got home there was lots of cuddling and my granny brought over a box of the bulbs my granda ate on the stage. I could see how people in the theatre would think he was eating a real bulb, the shape and the size were right. But they were thin, brittle and white like rice paper. She broke one, cracking it with her wrinkled fingers – the pieces fell into the cardboard box; the shapes jagged and awkward like the thinnest, palest toffee. She picked a piece up with a licked finger and let me see it melting on her tongue. There was a card in the box and I reached for it. Gordon the Glutton, it said. I never knew my granda’s name until then.
© Catherine Baird
Catherine Baird writes prose, poetry and drama. She is currently the Editor of Valve Literary Journal and her recent work has been published in Gutter Magazine and online literary magazine From Glasgow to Saturn.
The Thing Called a Holiday
I like Jenny’s house. She lives on the second floor. My feet echo when I climb up the stairs to her house. I take off my shoes. I always take off my shoes at Jenny’s house. I like to feel my feet on the furry carpet. The best thing about Jenny’s house is the bathroom. It has no windows and the floorboards creak. I like the sound of the creaky floors, especially when I turn out the light.
I like the dark. In the dark I see shapes and touch noises. There are shapes in Jenny’s bathroom, and there are taps that I drink hot water from. There is a tube in Jenny’s bathroom, just like the one where I live. I open the tube at the top, and squeeze it and paste comes out. Where I live, I squeeze the paste on to a thing called a brush. I wash my teeth with it. There’s a tub in Jenny’s bathroom. It has white stuff in it and when I turn the lid at the top of the tub, holes appear, just like magic. I shake it and sprinkles come out. The sprinkles are white and smell like flowers. The smell reminds me of something and someone I can’t remember?
Jenny has a tin in her bathroom and if you press the button at the top, stuff scooshes out - it’s wet and funny and it makes me giggle. Jenny scooshes it into her hair. I scoosh it in the dark. My favourite shape in the bathroom is a round pot. I take the lid off it. Sometimes I stick my fingers into it and get creamy stuff out. It looks like ice cream, but it doesn’t taste like it!
Jenny has curtains with colours and shapes. White, green, gold, yellow and brown. They move like leaves. I like leaves. Leaves rustle when I run through them and sometimes they crunch under my feet. I like to run through leaves and touch the wind. I like the wind touching my face.… it tickles and laughs. The wind is like shapes. Just like the shapes on Jenny’s curtains. Sometimes when the wind touches my face it rains. Rain is wet. Wet like tears when it touches my face.
I don’t get tears. I did get them once last summer at the end of a thing called a holiday. I don’t know why, but it was as if my face was raining, but it didn’t taste like rain. I tasted the rain on my face. The rain on my face at the end of a thing called a holiday tasted like crisps! I’m not allowed crisps, but one night I got out of my bed in the place that I live and found some in the cupboard - next to the big cupboard that’s locked and has my medicine in it. The crisps tasted like rain. Not the rain that you get sometimes with the wind, but the rain called tears that I had on my face at the end of the thing called a holiday.
I like the thing called a holiday. When I was at the thing called a holiday I had my rabbit with long ears and my ball. My ball is see-through. It has beads in it and when I shake it there’s a rattling noise. I don’t like loud noise, but I like the noise of the beads in the ball - the ball I took along with my rabbit to the thing called a holiday.
The thing called a holiday was fun. It was beside the sea. I like the noise of the sea. The sea has a sparkling noise, just like the chimes at the front door in the place where I live. The sea makes me dance. I danced on the thing called a holiday. I twirled so fast, round and round and touched the sky and kissed the sun! I picked up some shells, some of them have holes in them and if you lick them they taste like crisps and the rain that comes out of your face at the end of the thing called a holiday!
Daddy had rain on his face once. It was the day he gave me a balloon - the day that his face rained. The balloon was silver and shiny and had ribbons on it. The ribbons tickled my face - I was giggling when the ribbons touched my face. Daddy wasn’t giggling. He looked.… funny? I got cake. I like cake, but I couldn’t eat it at first. So I played with my balloon and Daddy made a fire for me on top of the cake. When he finished making a fire on top of the cake, he told me to take a wish, so I let my balloon go and it floated up into the air. I couldn’t find a wish, so I didn’t take one and Daddy told me to blow on the fire on top of the cake.
I like blowing it’s like the wind. I blew like the wind and it was hot at the top of the cake. Daddy kissed me, and I could taste the rain on his face. It tasted like crisps and seashells, not like the rain that comes out with the wind. After Daddy wiped all the rain from his face, he shouted HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTOPHER, YOU ARE TWENTY-ONE NOW! I giggled and ran after my balloon. That was the same day he gave me a spinning top. I like spinning, that’s what I do when I’m not touching the wind and tasting the rain and the shapes in Jenny’s bathroom and going on the thing called a holiday.
© Catherine McDonald
Catherine McDonald was born in Glasgow and, until recently, lived in Portobello, by the sea. She has moved to a leafy suburb of Edinburgh and no longer lives by the sea - She just dreams about it now!
“Well you’ll just flaming well have to,” snapped his wife. “There’s a queue. And you heard what the nurse said. Hold it in for as long as possible, so you get a good thorough clear out ready for when they put the camera up. Give me a look at the Evening Telegraph, if you’re done with it.”
“It’s no use, Sheila. I can’t hold it in any longer.” Sandy clutched his stomach with an agonised expression.
“Well I wish you’d stop having a go at me. I DID use Clingfilm and I DID follow the instructions on the kit. I tried my hardest but it always slipped off, and away it went down the pan before I knew where I was. Honestly, Sheila, it’s not easy catching your own…”
“For god’s sake, Sandy,” said Sheila, seizing the paper and opening it briskly. “Pull yourself together. It’s your own fault. The doctor told you this would happen if you didn’t use the home testing kit, like a normal human being. And I said use Clingfilm over the pan. But oh no. That was far too complicated for the likes of you.”
“I did use Clingfilm! But it kept slipping off.”
“Did you dry the rim?”
“I did. I dried the rim.”
“You can’t have. If you’d dried it, it would have stayed on. I know what I’m talking about. Just take a look in our fridge. And I don’t mean a lager raid when you think I’m watching Doctor’s. Yes, I know all about that. Everything’s Clingfilmed to the hilt.”
“You know fine well what you’re like when it comes to the toilet. Greased lightning after your Oatibix and the second cup of tea. And now look where you are – medical outpatients in a backless gown, waiting for someone to stick a camera up your bum. Typical. And I bet there’s nothing flaming wrong with you - just a touch of common or garden constipation. I’d put money on it.”
“Pathetic. I’m sure you could have managed better than that. Planned it for later in the day or something. But oh no. It had to be first thing.”
“Bert next door managed it with the home kit, and he’s got vertigo and two broken hips. There was nothing wrong with him, either.”
Sheila shook her head and pursed her lips as she watched Sandy hobbling towards the row of three toilets, then turned back to her paper.
“Shut up Sandy. I’m starving – we’ve been waiting three hours and all they’ve got left in the vending machine is a Ginster’s slice. I’m going to have to do a Wordsearch to take my mind off it.”
Sheila gave a satisfied grunt as she delved into her handbag and retrieved a biro and a packet of blackcurrant Soothers. “I forgot I had these.”
“Can I have one? My mouth’s awfully dry.”
“Better not, Sandy. You’re supposed to have an empty stomach.”
“I hardly think a Soother…oh thank the Lord – there’s a cubicle free. I’ll just pop in before that pair of old biddies with the zimmers beat me to it. You just enjoy your Wordsearch, Sheila, while I’m emptying my innards. Oh great, they’ve got stable doors. You’ll know if I’m okay or not because you’ll be able to see my feet. Come in and get me if they turn blue.”
“Is anybody alive in there? I’m desperate!” shouted Marion, peering under the door. “I can see his feet…he’s still on the pan…but they’re turning a bit blue…and there’s an awful smell.”
Five minutes later, there was a commotion outside Sandy’s cubicle. An elderly woman in a backless gown was bending over and tugging furiously at the bottom edge of the door with both hands. Another, even more elderly woman was holding the gaping edges of the gown together with one hand, and hanging on to two zimmer frames with the other, and saying anxiously, “Perhaps he really is dead, Marion. Maybe we should call a nurse.”
“That’s because you’re pulling the wrong way Marion. Against the frame. You could end up bringing the whole lot down. Now I’m getting a nurse. Stop tugging at that door right now.”
Marion gripped the bottom edge of the door with both hands, and pulled hard. “It won’t budge…”
“About time the NHS showed its face. My husband’s locked himself in the cubicle, and he won’t come out,” said Sheila.
“He’s either dead, or very selfish. He’s not the only one who’s had an enema. If he doesn’t come out in thirty seconds, I’m kicking it in.”
“There’s one free here,” called a woman emerging from the next cubicle, “but there’s no toilet paper left. I think the other one’s blocked. Really, I wish you’d stop making such a fuss.”
Sheila rolled up the Telegraph very deliberately and stuck it into her shopper. Then she stood up and marched over to Sandy’s cubicle.
“Scuse me ladies. Leave this to me. I have to put up with this all the time at home. SANDY! Open the door RIGHT now or I swear to you that I will put my foot to it.”
“Excuse me – what’s going on here?” A heavily tattooed male nurse arrived, smelling of cigarette smoke and air freshener.
“I think you could safely say that,” said Sandy, wearily, as he opened the door. “I think I passed out for a minute. What’s all the commotion?”
“We think he might be dead,” added Marion, helpfully.
“It’s not the sigmoidoscopy is it? We’re ready for him. He’s been fully prepped, hasn’t he?”
“SHANGHAI!! Shang - fucking -hai!!” shouted Ed, rubbing his hands together eagerly as he heaved himself forwards on his worn leather recliner. The springs on the recliner twanged and the bluish glow from the forty inch TV lit up the sheen of sweat on his forehead as he seized the remote from his wife and pressed the volume control.
“Ed.” said Kat again, quietly, twiddling with her wedding ring.
“Is everything okay? You feeling okay?”
“For fuck’s sake! Give yourself peace.”
“Eat your crisps and watch the Count. Ted Hankey’s going for Shanghai, for fuck‘s sake.”
“I don’t want any crisps. Can we not talk though? I was just thinking. You know. About what the doctor said. How we’re going to manage with you being off work, and that. Perhaps we‘d better.”
Ed turned towards her with a scornful expression. “Are you out of your mind? I’m watching the fucking darts.”
“NO-O-O! He’s missed the treble. Bastard.” The remote slipped from his hand as Ed threw himself disappointedly back into the recliner. “Pick that up for me, will you?”
Kat folded her arms and crossed her legs. “What’s stopping you?”
“You know fine well what’s stopping me. Anyway, I can’t be arsed.”
“No more can I.”
“The doctor says I’ve not to bend. What with my back and all.”
“Back nothing. You wheel it out when it suits you. Lazy sod.”
Kat got up from the settee, and sighed heavily as she plodded towards the kitchenette, her ill-fitting slippers scuffing a familiar trail along the carpet. “Want a cuppa?”
“What? Oh, alright. I’ll have a coffee. Three sugars, mind, and bung a whisky in it, will you?”
“I wasn’t going to make coffee.”
“Same difference, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so. But the doctor said…”
“Shut up about that fucking doctor. I’ve told you, I’m fine.”
“If you say so.”
“I say so. Now shut it. And get me a fucking Wagon Wheel while you’re at it.”
“Now you’re taking things a bit far, Ed. A Wagon Wheel? Three sugars?”
“Can a man not enjoy himself in his own home nowadays?”
“But Ed. You’re diabetic. And your heart…”
“Now who’s wheeling out the doctor? Two sugars then. And mind - none of that Canderel shit. Cos I‘ll know.”
Kat backtracked swiftly and kicked the remote further beneath Ed’s chair.
“Here! Kat! It’s the final leg, and Ted’s on a finish!”
“My heart bleeds. Get it yourself.”
Ed pursed his lips and continued looking at the television, with narrowed eyes.
“You’ve not half let yourself go, Kat,” he said venomously. “It’s a shame ‘cos you used to be not-bad-looking. It’s funny - you’re hatchet-faced, but you’ve got a right arse on you, as well. It’s like, all the fat’s gone from your face to your arse. How‘d you manage that?”
Kat turned, hand on hip. “Do you want a coffee, or not?”
“Get me the remote. Get me the fucking remote.”
“Get it yourself. Anyway, it’s loud enough. The neighbours‘ll start retaliating and we don‘t want that tit for tat carry on again. Not after the last time. You‘re not the man you were, Ed. Let‘s face it.”
Ed’s hands clenched into fists and his face reddened. “I don’t need reminding,” he muttered, his words drowned by Kat filling the kettle.
The screen went black for a moment and music boomed as Ted Hankey threw his Dracula cape round his shoulders and swept off the stage at Frimley Green. “This is my territory. Be on your way.”
“Class act, Hankey,” said Ed respectfully, passing wind at the same time. The sound was muffled slightly by the booster cushion he was sitting on.
“You’d better not have followed through again. I‘m fed up washing that cushion.”
Kat’s face twisted in disgust.
“I would,” she said.
“I would. Ted Hankey. He’s not a bad looking bloke. So I would. It’s not like I’m getting much at home, is it? Or likely to. ” The kettle was coming to the boil and Kat was waiting for it in the kitchenette, drumming her fingers on top of the fridge and staring through at Ed.
“Well, I’ll tell you something, Kat. Ted Hankey WOULDN’T. Not in a million.” Ed glared at the television and bit his bottom lip.
“You’d be surprised, Ed,” Kat continued, archly. “Ted Hankey might not. He’s a happily married man, after all. And I know you won’t. But you’d be surprised at who might.”
“You’re right. I’d be flabber-fucking-gasted.”
“The doctor might.”
“Oh, come on!” Ed turned towards her, the expression on his face a strange mixture of relief and mockery.
“He groped me when you weren’t looking. You were putting your clothes on behind the screen and he groped me.”
“Fuck off,” blustered Ed. He bent over and felt around beneath his recliner in an attempt to find the remote. He stretched his arm further. “Fuck off,” he grunted.
“I liked it, Ed. He’s not a bad-looking bloke, that doctor. Got a wee look of Ted Hankey, in the right light. I know he shouldn’t have done it but I admit it, I gave him the glad eye and I liked it.” Kat peered through at Ed from the kitchen. He had stopped searching for the remote and was sitting back in his recliner. His face had turned an odd putty-like colour, and his breathing was laboured.
“Alright there, Ed? You managing? Found the remote yet?”
“Get me my pills, will you? And the spray. Quick, Kat. I’m…”
“In a minute. Three sugars, wasn’t it?”
The Red Room
To think, there was a time when this impressive Victorian building overlooking the city was not necessarily thought of for its beauty. What an entrance, with the black and white checked marbled flooring leading up to a grand marble staircase. It looks as if it could be a stairway to heaven! At the top of the stairs there’s the great hall. After you walk through the great hall, this leads onto a labyrinth of long corridors, linked together by one heavy door after another. Each of them are different colours, matching the tiling on the walls ..... green, blue, yellow, brown and then red, leading up to the red room at the foot of the tower.
When I arrived here this morning, the sun was shining, there was dew on the grass and one or two rabbits hopping around. It seemed almost idyllic and what a fabulous view of the city as I turned around to take one last look before going inside. I could have been at the top of the world! As I entered the building, reality set in and I began to wish I could get as far away from here as possible.
It’s very chilly and so quiet. In fact, it’s quite eerie and even more so when these awful voices start up. I wonder if I should open the door and take a look at what’s going on along the corridor? I don’t want to draw attention to myself though. Perhaps it’s best to keep a low profile for now.
I can hear the voices again. I wonder how long the others have been here, and why they have these hysterical outbursts? Maybe they have become institutionalized. I would imagine after a period of time, the pressure of being in here would get to you. Despite the beauty of this place on the outside, on the inside it’s another story. It’s like being trapped inside a great big cell where you could be in danger of just becoming a faceless face at a window. That is if you are lucky enough to have a window.
The voices have stopped! I can hear the silence. Peace at last. It’s maybe a bit too quiet though. Oh! Someone’s at the door.
‘Hi ya! You must be the new ....’
‘Yes, I am. My name’s Sasha.’
‘Oooh .... Very posh! Are ye gonnie be here long?’
‘Well, it depends on ....’
‘Ye dinnae huv tae explain hen!’ A’hm Linda, a share the red room wi Wilma!’
Well, this is a bit of a shock to the system, especially first thing in the morning! That girl certainly doesn’t believe in covering up her modesty. Still, it is trendy these days. Cleavage is everything! So they say – whoever they are. And, no expense spared with her little dotty Karen Millen number, which, I have to say, makes her look like a life-sized version of Minnie Mouse. You’d think that the powers that be in here would adhere to certain codes of practice in relation to dress and behavior.
‘C’moan an a’ll get ye tae meet wi Wilma!
‘Aye, a’ll take yae tae the red room!’
‘But what about ....’
‘Dinnae worry, Sarah!’
‘What did ye say?’
‘Sahsa, my name’s Sasha.’
‘Oh, right . Ah forgoat. C’moan Sash!’
Linda wore a plastic smile so far removed from her chewing gum teeth that I thought her face was in danger of cracking. She introduced me to Wilma. Wilma was small, blonde and not at all bubbly at all. Next to Linda, she seemed like a damp squib. A very unhappy damp squib at that! Suddenly, I had a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Lots of people pass through the red room on their way to the tower. It has two doors. People enter on the left and exit on the right. It looks a bit like some sort of holding bay. There doesn’t appear to be much going on there, except Linda and Wilma’s bickering and their awful screeching. I have to listen to their voices all day long.
Voices, voices, voices all day long. This is driving me mad! I wish it would stop! It’s not good for anyone listening to that all day long, especially when there’s nothing much to do to take your mind off it. You can hear the noise echoing all the way along the corridor, and I’m told you can even hear it at the top of the tower. You’d think someone would put a stop to it.
Wilma’s got her sunglasses on today. I wonder why she wears sunglasses in-doors? Maybe it’s some sort of condition she has? She’s really scary. When she’s not arguing with Linda, she’s in and out the kitchen, clattering dishes and banging the door. She looks so pale – maybe she just needs to get some fresh air. Although, she does eat a lot of that Pot Noodle stuff. She’s got this loud screechy hysterical laughter, especially towards the end of the week. In fact it’s mostly her voice that I hear above everything else, all day long. Her and Linda must have been cooped up in the red room for a very long time.
Fortunately, I don’t actually have that much to do with the girls in the red room. I was warned not to get too involved with them, especially Wilma. ‘Don’t cross her, or she’ll make your life a misery’, was what I was told. Unfortunately, I did and she has. Never mind though, I start another office temp job on Monday.
© Catherine McDonald February 2010
Catherine McDonald was born in Glasgow and lives in Portobello by the sea. She enjoys writing poetry and has appeared on the Rolling Poetry pages at Read RawLtd., (Twice!) ... 940 words is a daring action for this 'Imagist' influenced poet!
He held her tight. He caressed her skin, kissed her and touched her, giving her pleasure she yearned for. He made love to her, although the love was just an illusion. He gave her all his warmth, although it was just a one off gift, not ever to be reciprocated. He gave her oblivion which she needed to stay alive. That was all she wanted from him. A stranger that happened to be there when she needed to forget. And when the morning came there was no longing of the bodies to entwine, nor regret. He touched her sleeping face with soft indifference and left.
Kasia Boreysza 2009
Kasia lives in Glasgow and is a regular attender of The Hidden Lane Cafe where she reads both poetry and prose.