Friday, April 10, 2009

I’m No Holdin’ You Back, Am I?

The great story telling ability of Erin Cree is shown in this Scottish short story about a little Glaswegian lady with a big attitude. 

It was mid-day when a curly-permed woman of retirement age entered the cafe and placed an order for a pot of tea. Slight in build and swamped in a knee-length, silver anorak, her features advertised her dissatisfaction with life’s turmoil.

 As I served her, she removed her coat revealing a coordinating ensemble of grey Primark separates and took a seat. She resembled an animated black and white photograph. I think she would have blended entirely into insignificance, against the tea-room’s monochromatic décor, if not for a liberal application of fuchsia lipstick which framed her yellow teeth and bled into her smoker’s pucker.

Apart from a few comments about the weather, she didn’t really strike up a conversation until I made to leave for my own lunch. It became obvious she liked to pass the time of day with anyone willing to listen and I was allocated that reluctant honour.

Ripping open three sachets of sugar and emptied them into her tea cup, she paused before she sampled the beverage. “You know hen, I didn’t ken this place existed till the day.” Her eyes peered up at me through folds of sagging skin and I watched with fascination as her garish lips appeared to move independently against the backdrop of her ashen complexion. They reminded me of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, without the grin.

“Really?” I tried to keep my facial expression intent and interested but she must have caught the look of puzzlement in my face.

“The café; I’ve no been in here afore,” Placing her cup on the table, the rim of the white porcelain now stained pink, her hand hovered once more over the sugar bowl. “Oh I’ve come to Stra’ven a couple of times right enough, but I huvn’y managed across the road in that big square where the bus parks. The traffic’s comin’ at you fae awe directions; I nearly kilt ma’self the last time.”

The Common Green, a large square surrounded by shops has a central parking bay with car access at a main junction and two minor roads and sits in the heart of Strathaven. Traffic normally travels at a snail’s pace. Although I tried not to judge, I wondered why she had difficulty with the simple procedure of crossing the road, knowing as I do, that the traffic circles the central parking area one way only; in the normal clockwise direction governed by the rule of driving on the left.

 She must have read my mind.

Her strong Glasgow twang increased in volume. “It’s because I dinny drive a car, hen. I dinny know anything aboot cars or roads or anything. That’s why I find it so difficult to cross the road.” She decided her tea could use another sugar.

“Oh dear, that must be a problem for you?” I nodded in agreement to the logic of her statement, while pondering her fortune in managing to negotiate the traffic this time and our fortune that she had no inclination to sit behind a wheel.

“Aye you’re right it is, but that’s no the least of ma troubles, I’ve been bothered wae blood pressure since I wis in ma 30’s. And that’s no yesterday.” I’m sure I spotted a look of hopefully contradiction. “It gives me these awfy bouts of dizziness now an’ again. If I wis tae tell you awe aboot ma illnesses I’d be here awe day. You’re no busy are you?”

 “Not at the moment,” my voice warbled slightly “although I’m just about to take a break.”  Glancing at my prepared lunch, I prayed I wasn’t about to receive her complete medical history. Even though my upper body faced her, my right foot started pointing hopefully towards the doorway. I forced my renegade foot back in line and gave her my undivided attention. Good customer service was crucial in the waitressing business. The café was quiet; I wasn’t busy, just hungry.

“Where is it you come from?” I redirected the conversation to a more benign topic, keeping tabs on my turncoat foot.

“Stonehoose hen, but I originally come fae Glesga’” she sipped on her sugar ladened tea. I hoped diabetes wasn’t one of her medical conditions.

“I’m here to see the Doctor.” She glanced at her watch. “My appointment’s at hauf past 12.”

Stonehouse is a village about three miles outside Strathaven, although smaller, it has a variety of local amenities; including its own GP’s surgery.

“You’re far travelled to see a Doctor, surely?” As soon as the words were out my mouth I knew I would regret asking.

“Aye your right hen, and me with ma trouble crossin’ roads an’ awe. I’m never oot the Doctor’s as well. What wae ma blood pressure an’ noo this cholesterol thingy.” She slurped another mouthful of tea and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand transferring a fuchsia pink streak.

“Doctor’s,” her pursed lips almost disappeared as she scowled “they’re no worth the bother. I’ve been on water tablets fur years and noo they huv stopped them. JUST LIKE THAT.” Teeth snarling through fuchsia lips, she slammed her fist on the table as if to emphasize her displeasure. “They say I don’t need them anymore, and what do they know aboot it, I ask you? I’m the one wae the blood pressure, no them.”

I swallowed as I nodded in what I hoped was a reassuring fashion. My feet took an involuntary step back.

“Doctor’s, they’re all craze.” Her steely glare bored into mine and her left index finger made contact with her temple in a derogatory manner. “I’ve hud it up to here wae this carry on, I can tell you. I’ll have somethin’ to say if they don’t give me ma tablets this time.”

She slumped back in her chair. “Although I’d better be careful what I say and no go in with awe guns blazin’.”  Starring into middle space as she spoke, she bit on her lower lip.

“Well, I can’t complaint about any of the Stra’ven Doctor’s, I’m sure everything will be fine.” I smiled reassuringly but she seemed lost in her own thoughts.

“Aye I hope so hen,” she eventually replied “cause I’ve hud to change surgeries three times already, in the past year. The bugger’s in the Stonehoose and Larkhall surgeries will no take me back.”

She downed the remaining dregs from her cup and swiftly donned her coat. “Well thanks hen, but I’m goin’ to go now.” She examined her wrist watch and sighed loudly.  “I really canny spend awe day talkin’ to you.”

Her sprightly image disappeared through café door.

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