The saun formed a miniature landscape between her calves, a malleable world which was utterly under her control. She brought her right leg up to form a humple which spilled over the skin of the other calf in a tickling avalanche of silver. Moving the left foot outwards so it touched the middle of Scott’s calf, she lingered for a moment, before swinging it back in a smooth movement, bunching up the saun intae a miniature dune. There they were - Deirdre’s legs, her legs - creating preserving destroying beneath the burning speur. And she was burning, her skin raised red by the dog-day sun. She knew she ought to rub on mair lotion, but she quite liked the feel of the heat on her skin, much as she liked the touch of Scott. But that wisnae under her control, not like the saun. Scott was something - someone - who had happened to her against her best intentions. Despite herself. It wisnae her fault. No entirely. Partly. OK, partly. You couldnae absolve yersel of all your sins. Some, mibee. Not adultery, though. Not that. It wis wan-o-the-ten. The great cardinals. The errant, roaming wolf, cho breagha and her soul, the deer. Naw, that wisnae accurate. Anyway, who cares about it bein accurate? No-one. Not wan bloody soul on this whole beach. In the whole world …
She rolled onto her side and gazed at Scott. Eyes-closed Scott. Red, Viking hair. Skin white, o-so-white that it’d birn and beal even wi the factor twenty-seven or whatever the hell it wis he had tae cover himsel wi. He would sizzle jist for her, out of ana-miann for her. For passion, he would do anything. Deirdre felt good, having that sort of control. Like she’d never had wi Struan. No. Shut that out. Scott, think only of Scott … his big, boomin laugh, the time they’d met in that shop. A shop meeting. A general store. Unromantic. But she’d almost dropped the eggs and he’d saved the eggs and they’d got talkin, the way one does (does one? she hadnae ever, ever before Scott, so he must’ve been special, cut-out for her. Fated.) So wis Struan, there in his chair. O damn! Back to the shop. The druggies had watched them, there, in the queue wi thur hunched-up shooders, thur shiverin poly bags, thur junkie eyes nivir makin contact wi any other eyes, any other souls. Thur poly bags fulla Goad knows whit and her’s, full of … things they got on holiday. Eggs, bread, the usual. Anyway, they’d got tae talkin, Scott’n her, and on and on they’d talked richt intae the street and doon the street and on and on.
They saw each other iviry second day at the shop. Her’n Scott. The jaggers had lost interest but she hadnae and wan thing’d led tae another. Coffee. Lunch. Dinner. Nardini’s. Billies. Infidelity.
Every summer after that, doon in Ardkirk, her and Struan, husband-and-wife, all Wan like that only he couldnae be could never be, not again. And Scott, there in the shadees, waitin fur her. Waitin. And she, askin. He wis tall, maybe six inches taller than her and she wisnae short, no fur a wumin, that wis the first thing she’d noticed aboot Scott. The presence of him, smeddum behind her. Tall and angular. He wis on his ane. Had split wi his girlfriend, the year before. Didnae talk much aboot her. Didnae like it. She widnae force him, either. People had tae keep some secrets. To preserve the soul. Goad! So profound, fur the beach. Scott brought that out in her. Deirdre raised her hond tae her hair and tossed back the long locks, and she smiled. She didnae really know him. No really. No like … like she knew Struan. You couldnae expect it. Nine years wis nine years, after aw (she’d known him afore that, but that didnae coont. He wis a different man, then). And mair than that, she thought. When you had looked down literally looked down on someone fur that long and when they wur dependent on you like you were their bloody mother or goddess or somehin, ye got tae know them pretty well. Too well. And they got tae know you. Because then there are nae barriers. Nae pretences. Nae wee dignities. An if yer a callous bastart, it’ll come oot. Deirdre wisnae like that. Mibee it would’ve been better if she huid been. But she wisnae. So she loved Struan, but no as a man. But she didnae love him like a wean, either. He wis a kindae a hauf-man, a puppet and a broken wan at that and yet he wis a partae her a part of Deirdre as much as her left airm or her … naw, no her hert. Her hert wis her ane. She stroked her long legs with the palm of her hand. First wan, then the other. She’d always been proud of her legs. She could’ve been a model, someone had once commented. Not Struan. Not Scott. Jist someone. But it wis always her strings bein pulled. Aw the time, it wis her that wis the puppet. Not Struan. Not Scott. But she needed Struan as she needed the dumb, unconscious cells that made up her body. Sometimes she felt like she wis in a play. The beach wis the stage, the sea, the audience. Seethin and swayin. Constantly applauding, urging her on. And she, a shadow-puppet against the flaying sun. It wis always a different excuse, every time. Deirdre had almost begun to pride hersel on the alacrity with which she seemed tae be able tae come up wi yet another explanation. Plausible, always and low, low-key. The ordinary reasons of an aefauld wife. Sometimes, she almost believed them hersel. Almost. She sighed, but the air wis hot, it trapped her breath inside her.
The truth: Struan wis a begowk’d cuckold and she, an adulteress. Scott wis OK. He wisnae commitin ony sin. No really. The sin wis her’s. She smiled, there at his flickerin eyelids wi their well-nigh invisible lashes (the ones she loved tae slaik wi her big fat lips, the tip ae her tongue. She leaned towards his face, smellin his presence ever stronger as she approached and gently kissed his eyes, feeling the globes through the thin skin. He woke. Big blue eyes, the colour of seawater loch. She drowned braw iviry time she looked intae them …
He smiled back at her, in the easy, natural way of a lover. Their lips met in a delicate arc. The arc danced gently outwards, matching the contours of their bodies, the crescent of the beach, the flight of a gull, the bowl of the sky. They needed no explanations. Just the perfect curve of love. The harmony of silence. A child dashed past, spraying saun in their faces. Its mother, billowed after, ruaidhe, fatlegged, apologetic, through the beach.
‘Kids!’ Scott spluttered through the saun.
‘Ah know. Glad a never had ony,’ she concurred, then regretted it. No not havin kids. No that. But sayin it. Sayin it wisnae right. She could’ve had a kid. Before the accident, mibee. But then it would’ve been even mair difficult. Hovin wan invalid tae run after - well, no exactly run but it wis jist as tirin - wis enough fur anyone. Too much. And after, After, Struan hudnae been … hadn’t been able.
She reached across and picked out a small sandwich, and then another. She handed the first to Scott, who immediately began munching, and kept the other for herself. Cheese- and-tomato. She’d always liked cheese. Ever since she wis a wee girl. Occasionally, like when Struan had fallen asleep on the other side of the bed and at last she wis in her ane time (which wis a place ootside ae time), she would begin tae ache deep in the hollow of her womb. An ache where a child oughtae be, her mother would’ve said. Her mother had come fae up north where they worshipped gods ae granite. Stone faces. Her mother’s face. Mother alive. Mother dead. She shut out the image. Pushed it away, away till it wis nuhin, less than nuhin. Pressed her feet down ontae the saun and began tae swallow. Thick, difficult dollops. Stopped. Started. Stopped. Started. Felt the taste of molten cheese slide from the cavern of her mouth, down her throat. Where, hauf-an-hour before, Scott had slid. And Scott’s stream. But nae weans ever came that way, her mother said. She swigged fae the boa’tle. And again. Washed doon the thoughts so they’d sit inside her, right deep doon in her gut’s gut, a place where she could be alone in the unending blackness, awa fae the leamin laughter ae weans. And husbands. And lovers. Sometimes water wis like wine.
Scott’s voice, in amongst the cheese.
‘You want some mair?’
She shook her head.
‘You’ve only had wan.’
He was on his fourth.
‘I’m no hungry.’
He was looking at her, quizzically she thought.
‘No when it’s hot, I don’t feel like eatin.’
But he’d already lost interest and was scouring the beach, his palm shading his eyes.
‘No too busy, today. It’s good that way. Mair space tae breathe.’
‘When Ah wis a boy, Ah used tae come doon here - and tae further alang the coast - we used tae bike it, the lotae us, and spend the day roamin aroon. It wis great. You couldnae do that, now. Too dangerous. Fur kids, I mean. Too many nutters about.’
She wished he would shut up about children. She pointed across the waves.
‘Look at those mountains. They’re blue, just like the sea.’
‘The Blue Bens.’
‘Och. That’s a terrible one!’
She grimaced and dug him in the ribs. He pretended to roll but overdid it and got saun all over his back where it stuck to the lotion like gold dust. She helped him brush it off, and then rubbed some more cream onto the delicate skin where she liked to link her calves.
You know me, he’d said as he’d scooped himself up, You know me.
Naw. She didnae. No really. But it didnae matter cause she wisnae livin wi him and onyway too much knowledge aboot a person brings contempt. Her mother, again.
She knew Struan’s body. His crippled, useless body. Lifting him intae that steel, electric chair. Her guilt wheeled the chair away and dutifully helped lift Struan’s body back out again. Her biceps were turning copper. She’d always had strong muscles. Just as well. Struan’s airms were strong, but his legs …
There wis an album somewhere wi pictures ae him fae way back, before, when he’d been young and tall, though no as tall as Scott. Nine years, gee-or-take a few months (and she had given them). But Deirdre held no pictures in her mind of the two of them, together. He was gazing out to where the waves massed, and became moving slopes. Am muir allaidh.
‘Can ye see Ireland?’ he intoned.
‘Aye. On a clear day …’
‘Aye, aye, ah’ll believe anythin you say.’
‘Can ye no see, wumin? That’s a coastline.’
He pointed wi his supple, couthie airm and drew it along the golden hair of the horizon. For a moment, as she blinked, Deirdre thought she could see a long ship, a wooden, three-tiered bata wi nine times nine times nine sailors guarding a veiled ban-dia on her way tae the Isle of Mull and the well of eternal youth, na fuaran fo na cruachan …
Then it was gone. Along with Dalriada and Don, and the smile of a leaping dog.
‘Naw. That’s jist an island.’
‘Which, then?’ he taunted her.
‘How should ah know? Ah don’t carry a fuckin atlas aroon wi me. Ye great oaf.’
A pause, stretching out along the watermark. The tide had turned, and the sea was beginning to creep in.
‘It could be Ireland.’
‘It’s no Ireland. Don’t be silly. Ireland’s thirty miles away - at least. Ye cannae see Ireland fae here. Ah know. We’ve been comin here fur seven years. It’s jist a legend the Tourist Board makes up. It’s aw wishful thinkin. Lies.’
She was aware of Scott glancing at her and then looking away again towards the waves. Her guilty eye. Regret swept over her. She felt her cheeks flush. Wasn’t this a lie? And Struan? Untruths surrounded, enveloped her. She tried to breathe, but felt suffocated by her own creations. Her faults. Like cancer, the body destroys itself. The unconscious cells become overbearing, think they can be gods, each one a creator, a shouter of words. And Struan wis the dumb cell in her, and she in Struan. And Scott? Scott wisnae in this body, that wis why he wis safe. They were safe. Safe as eggs. Because they didnae know each other. No really. No at all.
She got up. Scott’s shoulders were getting burnt. He winced as she rubbed more lotion onto the already blistering skin.
‘You should put on a tee-shirt.’
‘Och. I’ll be alright.’
She stopped rubbing.
‘Let’s walk,’ she said.
They strolled along by the water’s edge, where the saun wis hard, barely yielding, washed cold by the incoming tide. Deirdre flattened her soles as she trod, so that she might feel the sappie grains push up against the backs of her toes and into the hollow of the arches making the skin tingle and birstle. It wis delicious, almost painful. It made her feel closer tae the earth. She kindae balanced her heid that wis spinnin roon in the palm ae the speuran. Like she wis oot here wi a man who wisnae her man, well he wis but he wisnae, and it made her feel like she wis up in the clouds, naw, nae clouds jist the skire blae adhar and the squawkin seagulls and there her hubby sittin hame in a fuckin wheelchair it wisnae right naw it wisnae but she didnae care she didnae care Deirdre she wis an adulteress jist like Desdemona and she didnae give a whit cause her hond wis in his hond his big muscle fingered hond and her heid wis agin his shooder cause that’s as far up as it reached her heid wi its big braw broon shock e hair hangin lang doon tae her shooders tae his elbow fur Goad’s sake and his rid hair O Goad she loved him so much so bloody much, and she loved Struan tae, but in a different way. Scott wis pointin at her feet.
‘Look at the fushes. I didnae think they came in sae claise tae the shore. Look at them, they’re aw swimmin roon yer tootsies. Mibee they’re piranhas.’
Deirdre leapt sideways, stumbled and landed on her bum richt in the water. Scott wis laughin, killin hisel laughin the big rid bastart so he wis. And she wis tryin tae get up, tae raise hersel on her palms the palms that jis an hour before had stroked the lang lines ae his back his glorious lion’s spine and now, spittin oot salt wa’ar and feelin the cool between her buttocks she wanted tae do it again tae fuck then and there in the wet saun wi the soles ae her feet an the palms ae her honds all over his skin and the tide comin in aroon their gleamin copperin bodies. He helped her up and she punched him gently in the stomach. A lover’s jab. And they hugged, her drippin all over him, she sayin she wantet tae be like this always always forever and he whisperin hissin he loved her he loved her whisperin hissin. And they held hands and gazed intae the clear wa’ar and felt the warm froth run up over their ankles. And Deirdre saw the fush, wee things they were, and harmless as they kissed her feet. Struan had loved her feet. When they’d first met, he would caress them like they were lovers in themselves. Mibee he married her feet. Lookin back, it seemed like a movie. Someone else’s life. No her’s. Struan’s, mibee. She’d tried tae do it wi him. After. But he’d hated it, hated her fur it, because it jist made him frustratet. Couldnae even get it up. Nerve damage. The spine. Lucky he could still go tae the cludgie, the doctors had said. And that wis that. But the problem wis, some wee bit in his brain still wanted it. Needed it. If he thought about it, that wis. And so they made it she made it so that they never ever thought ae it. Never. That way, Struan wis happy. Naw. Not happy. Content. Mibee that wis how priests did it. The only difference wis, they still got erections. Wet dreams. Struan didnae.
‘Are thur ony jellyfush hereabouts?’ she asked.
‘Jellyfush. The see-through wans.’
‘Oh aye. I don’t know. Mibee.’
‘They say thur poisonous.’
‘Ah widnae know.’
‘Aye. They say if you get stung by wan, yer a deid mon.’
‘They say lots a hings.’
Deirdre felt irritation flush through her skin. That wis always his attitude. Shrug off yer troubles, and they willnae matter ony mair. He wis so open, Scott. Aboot everyhin. Except Jainie. His last girlfriend. That wis her name. Jainie. All she knew aboot her. It might’ve been short fur Jane, or Jeanette, or Jennifer or even J-somehin else fur aw she knew. She wance fun a batch e awd photos in a boax. Lang hair. Blonde. No bad lookin - no great - but no bad either. She’d never told Scott she’d found them. No matter how much she’d probed, she’d never been able tae get onyhin oota Scott. That part ae his life had ended, he’d said, and thur’s nae point dredgin it aw up. So easy. Men found it so easy tae shut aaf bits ae themselves, tae partially clothe thur souls. Whereas she … she wis like a bloody jellyfush. Transparent. Here she wis, two-timin her hubby, her poor, crippelt hubby and she couldnae even keep him ootae her thoughts fur wan bloody minute. The discordant music ae her sins walked wi her wherever she went. Aw outa tune. Painful. There they were, sometimes behind her, sometimes in front. She couldnae lose her shaddae. Her anam. It wuid go wi her tae the uaigh. It wuid be there, on her tombstane.
Deirdre MacDonald, nee O’Connell
Never a mother, adulteress
Rest Not In Peace
Adulteress. Funny word. She wondered what it hud tae do wi bein an adult. Mibee it wis a normal condition of adult human beings. Mibee it wisnae evil. No a sin. She chuckled inside, deep in the darkness ae her gut. Naa. That wis too easy. Life wisnae that simple. Naw. You hud tae lie wi yer sins and be fucked by them. On Judgement Day. And before. In this life. It seemed that the judgement began when you were born. She wondered if Struan knew. He must suspect, she’d said tae Scott. He’s no stupit. No that stupit, onyway. Scott had shrugged, as usual. What did it matter if he knew? The knowledge of a cripple. Who cares? There wis a merciless streak runnin through Scott which sometimes frightened her. A sadistic psychopathic streak. And yet, she wis attracted to it as weil. He wis a beast. He had nae morals and wis brutally honest. Except about Jainie. He had nuhin tae do wi Struan. The cripple didnae form part of his past, or his future. He wisnae his wife, for Goad’s sake. She laughed inwardly again and must have smiled as weil because Scott wis lookin at her and asking why wis she smiling, tell him what she wis thinkin. Still smiling, but without returning his look, she shook her head.
‘It must be somehin.’
‘Naw. It wis nuhin … just aboot the fushes. The piranhas.’
Now he threw back his heid and guffawed. That loud, man’s laugh. Comfortably naked.
Goad. She loved him. Wanted no tae huv tae part but couldnae leave naw she couldnae bring hersel tae leave desert maroon her husband even though she hadnae loved him as a husband fur nine long years. And a few damned months as weil. Even though he wis a grumpy auld cripple (auld, before his years) who never said Thankyou and never never said I love you, Deirdre naw no like Scott said it, there, back last summer by the loch the wan in mid-Argyll whur the sun sets tae the soundae clarsach metal. Whur iviry day, Dalriada was bein hewn fae the roaks. Pulled out, screamin. And they’d danced that nicht she’d told Struan she wis aaf wi her pals Ann and Fiona (or wis that a different time, she couldnae remember, no noo wi the wee fushes dancin aboot her taes, Scott’s taes) aye they’d twirled an whooped the ceilidh by the loch and felt really totally Scots and guid an whole no like the fuckin druggies in the shoap wi thur sick plastic an deid eyes and when the people the fat burpin whisky-soaked people, and so wis she a wee dram or two she couldnae deny it, when the folk had gan hame, late it wis, late, they’d made love on the wee smooth stanes by the edge ae the loch and the rug had come in cause they hudnae realised it wis a tidal bloody loch and the wa’ar hud washed all over thur bodies as they fucked and thur whur wrens wrens fur Goad’s sake flyin aroon thur backs but they didnae even notice they didnae even notice cause they wur somwhur else in place, space an time oh fuck he must know he must know he must he must. And how could she go on lyin lookin intae right intae his eyes, crippled blue, and lie. It wisnae his fault, the accident. It wisnae her’s, either. It wis jis fate, fuckin bastart fate. Lovely destiny that had brought Scott tae her. Withoot the accident, withoot Struan’s broken, smashed spine, she wid never huv met Scott. O Goad O Goad O Goad. She wis damned. She knew it. A wave washed over her knee, dissolving her lower leg and she wanted tae wade oot intae the sea an droon hersel like the alltan droons in the allt and the allt droons in the abhainn and the abhainn, the bellowin, roarin bras-shruth pours itsel like Scott poured himsel intae her, intae the sea, Lord, intae the sea. And she walked out and let the freezin wa’ar slip over her thighs the wans which had clasped Scott’s waist aye the sex wis still clingin tae the skin even there in the deep blue ocean. She let it slide up her body like a lover aye like Scott she pulled him in up over the lips ae her cunt O Goad the cunt that wis the cause ae aw this sorrow and joy. Up over her waist, her midriff, nipples, shooders. Shiverin a wee bit mair but then it wis gone an it wis warm the sea, the ocean an the wee fushes were warm as they swam aroon her an kissed her skin wi thur warm lips an they grew bigger an bigger amongst the kelp till she saw they wur roin aye mermaids and mermen wi great lang tails an they wur smilin at Deirdre, her the adulteress, but they didnae care didnae judge. They wur like Scott, lover Scott, smilin an shruggin and sayin it disnae maiter, it disnae maiter in a hundred years we’ll all be deid. And waves slaiked his face her face breathin in the wa’ar and coughin the saut oot through her neb. And Scott wis shakin her, wa’ar flyin aff his airms, an he wis spittin wa’ar oot his mooth like he wis an allt ae love flowin intae the sea. Intae her. He wis speakin she couldnae hear what he wis sayin he wis openin and closin his beul like a fish bha e mar ron fuck he wis a seal tail-an-aw! And she wis laughin and cryin and cryin an laughin an he wis huggin her tellin her it’s aw richt it’s aw richt his lips wur sayin though she couldnae hear but it wis beyond hearin onyway and his lips wur slaikin hers slaikin they wur and the taste of him in the sea righ nan ron aye it wis aw she needit aw she needit and in that moment that glorious, crystalline moment she knew that Struan knew but didnae want tae admit it an that the love which she and Scott had wis an ode aye an ode tae the grian the burnin gawden orb up there an it wis summer an she wis happy an what the fuck anyway an she reached out and hugged Scott aroon the waist she knew so weil an aw aroon the wee fushes the friendly wee roin smiled and sang the oran of joy and love aye and of ana-miann as weil.
am muir allaidh
bha e mar ron
na fuaran fo na cruachan
the savage sea
he was like a seal
fellows, lads; lovers
the springs beneath the hills
seals (some large seals were believed to be mermaids and mermen)
licked, slobbered on