A Different Ending

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Her mother in Kolkata always used to look at the sky, rainy season or not and dictate what the family had to wear for university or school. When they went to the Botanical Gardens in the city near the Hugli River the necessity of cooking the right foods and correct shoes was a must. And her Grandma’s samosas were just perfection.

Daksha is out for a walk. It is an expedition for her. When the weather is right, here in Fife she will venture from their bungalow round to the small row of shops that are on the edge of the industrial estate. The expanse of window factories and workshops starts as their small town finishes.

The covering of the sari across her head will do. It is December but mild. The wild misery of the rain whipping across the country and kingdom have stopped. Today, Sunday it is quiet. The boys-their grown-up sons are busy with the cars in the driveway and her husband is working in Edinburgh. The animal laboratory has an important-and rushed job for the Department of Agriculture.

The small field near the roundabout that she walks near to get round for her walk sometimes has deer in it. Once a kestrel sat making its own film while young rabbits ventured beyond their mother’s control. She thought it must be young as the beak was overly yellow, she thought so anyway. A biologist, she was not an ornithologist.

‘Was.’ It is the past tense, she thought, as she carefully crosses over the road that bent round toward the first corner in the estate.

A stint in Penn State University teaching and the lectureship in Poland. Yes, she thinks she has been luck. And family. Above all, family.

The anomaly of an atypical carcinoid, this would kill her. Not a benign tumour but one as aggressive as the fighting at Partition that had killed her army father.

The twilight of this unusually warm December could allow her to walk slowly. Though sometimes she still got a strange look from the various garbed gym visitors who jogged, ran or drove past her as she went on the walk.

One time a nice young girl had asked if she was okay. The pain that day had been terrible. The operation had been a total failure. Private hospital or not. The operation had taken place in Edinburgh. Proficient-they had not been. Like cancer, respect and reality sometimes did not go hand in hand.

 

**

The circuit has been completed. Daksha is tired and her elegant movement is more stilted and almost a limp might be seen if someone was watching her.

The walk back into Coaltown is a short one. The wall of their garden can be seen as she turns the corner onto the straight road into the village.

Two women-obviously ‘Power Walking’ come toward her and pass vigourously without talking.

The gritty surface of the old pavement sounds out her steps back to home. In the field she sees the wild cherry tree at the back. It is heavy with berries. The sodden earth in the field beyond is churned by the small Shetland ponies.

Her sons moan every time she mentions the ‘poor wee ponies’.

The street lamps are lit by an invisible hand as she is some twenty metres from her gate.

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Attract, sustain and prompt..

Some of the traits we learnt when studying advertising.

 

A Prime Minister

Emoted tears about a broken Union.

 

A Scottish Labour Leader Hope Full

Apologises for a political Party sclerotic

without relevant principle or hubris.

 

Do all the above with no shred

Of moral purpose or

real change.

 

Enough

an end to posturing.

An end

To tribalism and a socialist movement emaciated-

skinned so much

only a skeletal smile can gleam out

for the requisite television interviews.

*Pledges

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The Prime Minister will banish child poverty

He will also accomplish the following:

A flattening of the Cairngorms

This as a part of a satellite London (boom) building program.

 

AND

The North Sea will be emptied

This will allow proper fracking operations to take place;

Prison will also be abolished

Ex-prisoners (not MPs out after incarceration)

Will build the Wembley-sized extraction pipes.

 

In a bid for international approval-

From the Madrid establishment-not Catalonia

The possession of non-Shakespearean literature

As of Monday next will be judged as suspect.

 

A final edict on any mention of the ‘poor’ as ‘poor’

Lies in putative form with the Adam Smith Institute.

 

* At the Conservative Party Conference

 

Three Months Later-a Short Story

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Warsaw

‘Her name was Mariatta. Thin, always in a floral dress. And she always smells like heaven. Ah wished I hadn’t met her but I did.

The job that started it all was in Linlithgow and we had to through most of Edinburgh first. There was a whole lot of pipes to pick up for the job.’

Big Tam, the joker, the centre-half, the reliable eldest brother was in tears. His boss didn’t know what to do.

It was Saturday and his best friend, had met him, here in the pub.

‘I went into the deli-first Polish one I’d been in to grab something to eat. Well, it was something went inside. I felt a queer feeling in ma gut. When I got back from the Polish deli Wee Davie went fucking mental in the van. We were late and this was a big job. He had promised the Boss there would be no messing about. Like the time they had a five-a-side with the French tourists near the Salisbury Crags. The restaurant we were refurbishing was paying a lot to get us here all weekend.

“What were you bloody daein for twenty minutes in there-rewriting the New fucking Testament?” Wee Davie said to me.’

Tam’s boss had one hand on his shoulder. The sunlight in the empty bar caught some dust as the barman gave the tables a clean and polish. The vacuous drivel of some football commentators gave out to the empty pub.

 

‘Three months later I made an excuse to myself to go back. I couldn’t get her smile and smell away from me.’ Tam continued his story.

‘Dot was wondering what was wrong with me. I wasn’t touching her. She thinks I’m going through something like when my wee brother got killed in Spain on holiday.

Her father-Mariatta’s father had died in Warsaw. His physiotherapy business had only been sold a year before he got bowel cancer. She’s was an only child and she got a lot in his will. So she came her-invested in the delicatessen in Portobello.’

Tam’s friend wondered where this was going to end. He kent Dot well and the wee one was his Godson. The tearing inside Big Tam seemed to draw the sadness of the wind swept November street through from the walls.

‘I just don’t know, Martin-I don’t’ Tam’s massive right hand fore-knuckle dabbed lightly at the side of his eyes.

Address

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This was years ago. The blood on the pub carpet will have long dried. The broken cues will have been binned and Martin (not his real name) is maybe happy somewhere in the world.

**

The holidays offered the pretence of more pay and perhaps some tips. The Grassmarket, back then, was not yet part-gentrified or given to continental style outdoor cafes. The return of the Scottish Parliament was but an ember in a devout heather-hugging Nationalist’s heart-fire while Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Greater England had from Imperial Westminster taken to imposing the Poll Tax.

We: Martin and I worked in the Grassmarket part of Edinburgh’s smoke-filled bars and sometimes worked in the same one. The businessman, (later) politician and small-time crime boss had two pubs. The one further away from Princes’ Street was nearer the Men’s Hostel. Sometime there were problems with men who had the drinking disease.

My pub was small and songs like the Highland Drover or Wha’ll Be King But Charlie would be belted out while barrack troops from the Castle or weary office workers would drink on or up.

The customers seemed to be hated. The small man who was the owner was only interested in the large folded sentries of money in his pocket.

This one time a customer got paint on a new leather jacket. There were no signs put out; his protests were halted as the manager threw him onto the pavement. The owner-Robert or Rab, as staff and minions called him, watched with a smile that was nothing to do with humour. The crease of it happened below the pale, chubby cheeks.

A thin trickle of blood started running down from the customer’s fringe as got up from the greasy rain covering the pavement outside. Easily done. He was on his own and the small girl friend his money had ensured this Friday night stood behind as he banged on the window and headed down the road that headed past the bottom of the castle.

**

Only later would Martin fill me in about the scams, relationships and dodgy deals that the owner would be up to. While the manager, John, who ran both pubs was a thin wasp of a man whose sneer never seemed to put off the determined drinkers of Edinburgh. Busy arranging the storing of smuggled cigarettes and booze along with the more high-tariff items he would snap and hurl abuse at us or whoever was on. Even on a quiet evening it was the same drill.

John, with his pale features and thin lips, forever in a snake-like line at the end of his narrow head would ghost up behind you as you grabbed change for a round of twelve drinks-knowing you were at least two pence off your actual total. This as the pools of Special and orchestra of glasses built up on the bar itself and the small wooden tables in the bar.

Too close. He would ask why you weren’t smiling or happy as a line of customers waved notes or swore at the pushing in this, one of the smallest pubs on the Grassmarket.

**

The Christmas rush of parties and drunk workers building up to Christmas Eve was a chance for at least some tips we could pocket as our wages would be docked for spilling drinks or customer ‘complaints’.

Martin who had been in rugby before his knee got smashed got away with a lot. He could come in late or hung over and ride the crap that would come at him when cleaning the classes or the beer lines.

It was then that it happened and it was when he was in the other pub. It’s a Mexican or whatever now while my pub is still there minus the cloud of smoke killing the customers over Snake Bite or their chosen poison.

It was late and it was just into the day of Christmas Eve when he ran in. The detritus of the night was being collected into one stinking pile while the stale smell was slowly going as the chill air came in from the wedged open door.

‘It’s a mess. They came in and hell..Not a table left up and they, they left him…’ Martin had said as he barged in the door with a face that looked like I did when I cut open my foot.

No one was about, Don, the old bartender was in the cellar. A close friend of the manager and owner he was best left alone.

We ran back and the blood, glass and body of the man were all there. About half a cue was on the road while the rest-broken in bits were inside.

‘I’ll call the police-see to him but dinnae move his head.’ Martin said as he went to the end of the bar.

The man was breathing so slowly and the cut on his head seemed unreal but for the smell and run of blood that soaked into his jumper and jeans. The bent shape of him would have been comical in another life.

A mirror advertising the McEwan beer was cracked into slivers radiating out from a silver bruised heart.

**

Later when we could speak and after the statements had been taken we had a whisky and the sun would be up soon. Rolls at the Leith bakery were an option.

After a week at university it was the weekend shift.

‘Flying solo, mate.’ Martin said as I wandered in, freezing; it was safer not bring a coat.

‘I got a visit, same guys and it was the next night.’ He said.

He had withdrawn his statement from the police. It was simple. They knew. His address. His name.

A few weeks later I was out. Daft how only later you wonder. And that snivelling shape of a manager. I was lucky as the customer who lost a £200 pound coat was in some ways.

Four

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            Four

First Know Yourself, Then Know Others.

On all paths they are the indecent or decent* humans

Focus on your sorting, your fighting each day

So as to become what is right, best.

Then what ever hell, act or word given out

It can be met, silenced or ended.

*..’There are only two races of ‘men’, decent men and indecent’; Man’s Search for Meaning, Part One, “Experiences in a Concentration Camp”, Viktor Frankl; the founder of logotherapy in the above also says, ‘I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.’