When not sitting down which was most of the time Eve was about five foot eight and with shoulder length black hair. The way she folded herself to get into her wheelchair had a slowness and grace about it. The week I spent listening to her tales of the New York bar-the courts and her Hungarian roots was one that sticks in my mind.

When I was twenty-one and playing rugby these summer holidays from university working as a counsellor in New York state was a hiatus from part-time jobs, tournaments and working to please a girlfriend. Grace had come to our summer camp near Syracuse as part of a group of adults from New York City. When she walked off the buses with the help of one crutch she immediately stood out.

She was from Brooklyn and the languid and soft roll of the vowels on that word and her speech was quite mesmerising. Now with my new knees and a hip to be operated on and replaced I live alone and wonder about the lack of self-pity she showed when we talked. That she is dead from her multiple sclerosis simply makes me annoyed at the boy she confided in.

Eve and I would talk on the porch of the cabin she and I would talk about Scotland’s history, America’s history and the way her life had worked to get here. Her husband had left very quickly after the diagnosis and his law practice had made sure her claim against him was dragging on. She understood but disliked the way they had gone about things. A lawyer herself she had good and bad days.

 The male counsellors in the camp looked after adults and kids depending on the week’s age group. When Eve was there the male adults had some Vietnam veterans in the group. The ex-Marines were hugely independent and almost as big as us sitting down in the wheelchairs. The dignity of them putting with us helping them change their soiled underwear as they couldn’t do it themselves or wash them was something during that week I also have never forgotten.

After one powerful burst of rain from the sky had cleared to allow some sun to ease the humidity and small pools of water in the outfield Eve and I took a walk into the woods. There were two days to go before the bus back to New York arrived. Before then the visit to the theme park and the final camp fire events would plug the time before her group left.

 As we went into the woods on the specially built path the trees seemed to breathe a bit more easily after the deluge of rain from the sky. The wet dirt stuck to her wheelchair wheels. The chat was of the chilli dogs and other newly acquired tastes I had discovered. The calzone and other Italian foods she liked were just being conjured up when the skunk and its two young walked about six feet in front. The black eyes of the adult fixed on us. Eve whose left arm was the weaker grabbed her left leg while the fingers fanned out from the right one just above her right leg. The sniffing on the path in front of us by the group took a long minute before the group went off in to the bushes that were next to the path. Deciding against further expectations of an easy walk we left the possibility of other surprises to another time and returned to the main cabin to have a coffee. The pronunciation of coffee as cwawoffee Eve was the best bit as well as the pouring sugar allied to the box of doughnuts alighted from the camp store.

 It must have been the second last night I saw her in a corner of her cabin’s porch. The light from the lamp was unable to really penetrate this side of the porch. She was sitting in the wheelchair and weeping. The black hair was over her face and she was crying. I thought I knew why then but now I am less sure. It was not self-pity or anger but a release. She would be fine when back amongst any eyes and ears in the next half hour. It was just now she had to let some of it go now.

I don’t remember her leaving the camp to return to the city. And these many years and after seeing those close to you die I understand more and remember that right hand touch mine as we turned away from the family in the woods.

House Martin Over the 18th

On a very warm early September Sunday

He’s down at head height

Soaring and tipping a wing over hallowed grass

The last green on the *Old Course

Signing off above a Japanese head

He writes an elegy for this summer from the Norse gods

Wastes nothing over the itchy curtain

That hides a jacket and joyless wonder of a man

That will brook no Japanese guest or Fifer

On the MEMBER’S ONLY benches in front;

And he will not sear through that glass as he glides

To melt golf’s rule masters privilege

Nor become as a Stuka and rail them on to buses

To estates half an hour away

where cashmere garments and hundreds spent on metal sticks are

As distant as the sun.


*The Old Course-golf course in St Andrews, Fife home of golf.

Outside the Shop

cleaner (2)

The sight of Dan coming toward her barely registered. Her daughter had a meeting today about her grandson at the school. Since the nursery he had made slow progress. Her daughter worried that the program she had been on to come off the drugs had just finished when she got pregnant. It had been a night of anxiety as she asked what she could ask at the school.

Dan slowed near the photo booth next to the now closed supermarket.

The shopping centre wouldn’t give her a new polisher. The council had retaken ownership but there wouldn’t be much change she thought. She was exhausted as she and her hands vibrated and moved in circles to match the polisher’s movement. The new phone shop had had its new sign put up. The black foot prints of the workmen were stubborn and refused a first going over.

‘You always get the good jobs.’ Dan said.
‘That and a few mair.’
‘I think last time..’

At that Dan stooped further from his slow and bent pose. The bright but faded eyes showed panic as he lost his footing and fell on his knees then collapsed onto his right side. The white plastic bag with the library book and teabags fell into the bright maw of the phone job.

Dan’s days in the mine meant she could understand his slow walking and warm chat that he used to cover his need to rest as he headed home toward the north doors of the shopping centre.

As she put the machine off and moved the bag to the wall the young sister of the phone shop manageress came to help. She held his head while the young girl got her phone out and asked if she could phone the ambulance.

The new advert about pressing hard and fast on the chest was in her mind but as opened his thin nylon coat Dan shook his head weakly twice at her.

‘No wi ma lungs, Lal.’ He said.

‘Will he be okay?’ said the young girl.

As the security man arrived Dan eyes closed and she felt him relax as she held the side of his head.

The chat of the security staff went on and they were joined by the manageress who had quickly closed the shop. As they waited she remembered the night her husband had died in the bathroom. He had fallen against the door. It was the same. It was that long and slow build up of pain and tension to something that might always be going to happen.

Ten years since she had started here. She had met Dan the first day. His coat had not changed once in that time.

The tiredness had left her and as they waited listening to the First Aider try to talk to Dan she thought of the phone she had left in the cleaner’s store cupboard.

*mair-more; wi-with; ma-my


The discount supermarket likes its towers of sweets, shampoos and deodorants. The mobility scooter always snags one sweetscraper. With his left missing he can get quite a few collecting tins on the side. He has a different coloured tin for one pences to one pound coins. The small girl notices the red one fall. The one destined for the fives.

After listening to the future of the jars she rejoins her mother at the gardening section.

At Rest

George Best

At Roselawn cemetery in County Antrim he lies
A few *rigs journey up from the thin main road
A small kingdom of past lives and tragedies
Even murder in this part of Ireland
Years since the funeral and thousands of flowers
The tens of thousands lining the roads
Generations since a football genius flourished
Bright in the April cold
He tells us of the houses and streets that Best
Played in and grew up in says
The son has never visited, he knew his sister;
No one is around
Parents and son nearby our feet
As we leave I mind the weave on an Edinburgh pitch

The other visitor then takes his phone out
Taking a picture of this plain grave.




Buffet Night

The t-shirt hangs above a large belly. He is, maybe, around fifteen. He looks awkward but not to himself. It is that and the shorts that are suitable for a pensioner. He stares from under a large fringe. Two siblings feed noisily at the hot serving counter. His father is quiet and utterly absent from things.

His younger brother and sister come round him at sit at the window seat they occupy.




*The Lomond Hills are in Fife-east and west Lomond.

 The heather is a brightest purple

And the white shaved sentinels

Dot the Lomond Hills

Below the sheep the rowan trees

Are bent to a fierce growing wind

Change is coming

Thoughts are held closer as if

The coming cold months would lessen us

In glorious uniform a chaffinch inspects

Our walking to the lime kilns.