This is the question people like to ask once they know you write. They ask it in a jokey way, but there’s a seed of truth in there. Why write if you don’t make money? For fun/enjoyment/fulfilment/sanity you say. It doesn’t impress them. Then you tell that last year you made £25 from your writing. That doesn’t impress them either.
Here’s another story I wrote. It was published in FirstWriter Magazine (on-line) issue #28 2015/16. Link to info only
The story is here for your perusal. Hope you enjoy.
The Real Deal Faker
‘Ten special commendations go out to the following entrants (in no particular order)’
The spey wife this time was genuine, as opposed to the charlatan from the previous year who had professed with a raised hand and pulpit-charged voice that my mother would come into a great load of money and possible fame. There had been no money in the offing or any hint of celebrity, even though Ma was poised with a new hairdo and specially bought dress and shoes.
Betty, our decrepit neighbour, had accompanied Ma to this real deal spey wife and back in our kitchen declared, with hand on angina heart, “She was that spot on with so many things you couldnae but believe her, wasn’t she Grace?”
My mother nodded. “Said Betty had lost two bairns and Betty has lost two bairns.”
Betty pursed, “Aye, you cannae come oot with things like that without knowing them to be true.”
Betty’s two ancient miscarriages had deemed the spey wife’s entire predictions gospel, predictions that included Ma absconding from the house.
“Are me and Sammy coming with you?” I quizzed.
“No,” my mother squinted. “She just mentioned me.”
“What will we do?”
“What will you do? You’re twelve, Sammy’s fourteen. You can look after yourselves.”
“What about Dad?”
Ma screwed up her nose. “That man has kept me down for so long, I barely know which way is up. He’s a joy-leacher.”
It seemed that as her emotional compass had been sucked dry by Dad, she was happy to desert us. It was true my father was dour, but he had been known to experience the odd blip and shuffle round the dance floor at a family wedding or grow loud and jokey after a few whiskies. I liked to think he knew how to have a good time, it was just that, unlike some of our friends who drank till gasping, he chose not to.
When he came back from the builder’s yard that evening, he snorted at Ma’s fancies of travelling solo. “And where are you getting the money? You huvnae two beans to rub the gither. Aye, you’re planted fair and square in this hoose and going nowhere. Mind you, if you did, ah’d no have to suffer your cack cooking.” And that was the end of the subject as far as he was concerned.
But Ma followed him round the house. “The spey wife said I was going to travel, meet someone and have a right good time doing so,” she countered. “And I’ll no let you tell me otherwise.”
Perhaps Dad and Ma had once loved each other. Such a time was never spoken of although the wedding photograph showed a tease of happiness. But while Dad had been content to slide into a timetable of work then feet up for a night of watching telly, Ma balked at being sewn into this pattern. After eight years of birthing and weaning two children, she shook out her wings and stepped into a part-time office job where she could pretend to be single and childless.
“She’s no marriage material,” Granny Gray had scoffed.
And even I knew she wasn’t mother material. But still I fretted and pouted at the fact she may leave. How would I survive? Would I be expected to take over her mantle of dinner-maker, house-tidier and general shouting-machine – ordering my brother and father to pick up after their dirty selves? Would Granny Gray step into the fray to assist in these womanly chores? My twelve year old self knew Granny Gray would not. She would continue to enter our abode with a high nose and a judging eye.
“Would you take me to the spey wife, Ma?” I asked after three months of worrying myself into insomnia. I intended to winkle out the specifications of the travelling itinerary and thereby join her.
“I don’t know if she does children. What if it’s bad news?”
“Like you not living past your teenage years?”
I did not ask further. Instead I sleuthed and found myself the next Monday night at the Scout Hall, slipping in with old Mrs Coates whom I had spotted in the queue.
“Would you pay me in if I gave you the money, Mrs Coates?”
“Are you no a bit young for this? Why is your mother no here?” Mrs Coates might have been dancing in front of death’s door, but she was as sharp as a blade.
“I’ve come to find out about my Ma’s travelling plans.” And lo! the tears sprung forth from my eyes and added the necessary sorrow to the story. Mrs Coates patted my hand and assured she would see me all right.
After an initial audience session, in which I was thankfully not chosen, the spey wife took those of us who wished into a private, shadowy room, one by one. I had another go at the weeping routine.
The spey wife laughed. “Aye, I remember your mother. The furthest she’s going is to the edge of town and back again and you don’t need to be psychic to know that.” She sighed. “Look, dry your eyes; I just tell people what they want to hear. Jesus, wouldn’t we all like to escape beyond the edges of this dismal town? I’d love to head for the city and see my name in lights but let’s face it, unless I start predicting lottery numbers, I’m stuck here. But let this be oor wee secret, eh? I’ve a business to earn. And if anyone asks I will deny this conversation.”
A charlatan! She had cheated my mother, Betty and Mrs Coates out of hard saved money.
“Folks feel better after coming to see me,” she said, her eyes narrowing against my face of outrage – outrage that diminished as I walked home and let the idea of making folks better roll around my head. Maybe she was replacing the hope and joy that Dad was sucking out of Ma. Maybe Betty felt uplifted knowing her two dead babies were being cared for in heaven.
Back home, as I hung up my jacket I could sense a change in the air. There was a queer silence; a strange echo to my movements.
“Aye, she’s gone,” loomed Dad from the shadows. “Buggered off with that alcoholic Ecky Broon in Rennie Street.”
“Will you get her back?” My voice seemed normal enough but my mind was birling with, Rennie Street? The last street in town before hitting the fields?
All my fretting had not been in vain. My house was now motherless, wifeless and a lot more hushed. If I creaked my neck I could see the roof of her new abode from my bedroom window; the abode she now resided with Mr Alexander Brown, owner of a dirty wee off-license and himself an abandoner of family. An abode situated at the edge of town just like the spey wife foretold.
After a month of Ma’s flitting to Ecky Brown’s, I decided it was time for her to come home. Dad wasn’t bothering himself with the cleaning which he expected me to do, as if by being born a girl I had left the womb waving a duster. I accepted his many compliments of my cooking over Ma’s, but knew it was nothing to gloat over. As I peeled the tatties, I stared out the window in the direction of where Ma was probably peeling tatties for Ecky the Alky. As far as I was concerned he had borrowed Ma; she was lent out to his house much as a library book would be and that loan was now overdue.
“She’s made her bed,” grumped Dad. “So if my bed is no good enough for her, she can lie in that other one.”
I didn’t like the thought of Ma lying in Ecky Brown’s bed. “Will you not take her back if she was to ask, Dad?”
Quick snap of the newspaper, “I wouldnae take that woman back if she got down on her knees and begged. She nips ma heid day and night.”
The day after, I shouted up to Ma’s bedroom that she shared with Ecky. She thrust open the window to holler, “I wouldnae come back to that house, where I am totally unappreciated, if that man got down on his knees and begged.”
It was clear neither party was prepared to put knee to ground to save their marriage, something that pitched Granny Gray into a brimmingly gleeful state.
“She was always a flibberty gibbet,” she crowed, delighted her prophesy had come true. She was turning over every photograph in the house that contained Ma. “What she doesn’t realise, what she’s never realised, is that your father wants someone like me, but in wife format. That’s all sons want.”
I returned to the spey wife and said, “You were right and you were wrong. My Ma did go to the edge of town, but she’s not come back.” I hoped she could see my temper. Was it possible that by suggestion alone, my mother had subconsciously felt the need to seek out a new life? If so, the culprit was sitting right before me.
“Darlin’, the edge of town is no the end of the earth,” the culprit was saying. “But listen, I’m seeing in my Mind’s Eye she will return. Eventually. After purging things from her system. She needs to get rid of her negativity.”
“What does that actually mean?”
“I can only pass on images my Mind’s Eye sees. I cannae always decipher them.”
This was my family’s welfare at stake, I was in no mood for fey words. “You are a faker.” I said simply.
“Listen you,” she leaned in so I got the full belt of her nicotined breath. “Do you know what it’s like having to deal with folks’ misery and tales of bloody woe day in, day out? It’s a wonder I’m no on pills. I dinnae need the likes of you stoking up ma ire and making oot you’re all high and mighty. If you dinnae like what I’m telling you, dinnae come back.” She folded her arms and pointed her nose door-wards. “Get oot.”
I stomped home, past Ecky Brown’s place where a medic was slamming shut the doors of an ambulance before jumping in the driver’s seat and beedling off.
“Aye, it’s your mother,” drawled Ecky as I approached. He was slouched against his front door looking like a sooked-up husk, as if the whisky had wrung dry his skin of every bit of moisture. “Poisoned, they said.”
“Poisoned?” My heart flipped.
“Chicken wisnae defrosted right. They’ve taken her to get her stomach pumped.” His right hand shook against his hip as if in shock it was empty of a glass.
I looked at the pathetic state of the man, seething at my mother’s poor choice and hollered, “You, Ecky Broon, are a stealer of wives and mothers and it’s time you gave her back! She might be useless but she’s still my Ma!”
Ecky Brown peeled himself from the door jamb. “Aye, whatever; she’s free to go whenever she wants.” And he even added a wee flick of his hand to emphasise his munificence in allowing her to go.
Ma was a captive audience in her hospital bed but unwilling to listen to my list of reasons to return home. It wasn’t till I spilled about Ecky Brown’s reply (modifying my own spectacle of a speech) that she rankled and said, aye, Ecky’s drinking was out of hand and he was cruising toward a collapsed liver or a massive heart attack and she supposed she would return but there would have to certain changes, like having help round the house.
“Would that help be me?” I asked.
“Sammy can lend a hand. And your faither. That galoot just parks his backside on the sofa and does bugger all.”
I considered Dad a hard worker, on his feet all day in the building yard. He was always exhausted when he slopped home. And despite his long hours, he visited Ma each day she was in hospital, mooching his lips and sighing in response to her sermonising.
I visited the spey wife again, after shoving a white flag letter of apology under her door. She beckoned me in with a raised eyebrow and hard eyes, but softened after I told her that once again she had been right – Ma had been purged and restored.
“Would you believe it? Perhaps there’s talent in here after all,” she tapped her head then said brightly, “Would you like to know what’s in store for you, hen?”
“I would not,” I said firmly. I was thirteen now and had learned 1. it was wrong to meddle with folks’ minds and 2. not to underestimate the power of coincidence.
Ma was back and had promised, under oath, never to seek out those claiming a sixth sense. Dad agreed to pay a cleaner for two hours per week which was an outrageous expense and one that horrified Granny Gray, so Ma was doubly pleased. We had returned to our word of comfortable silences and background grumbles – and I could, at last, stop fretting.
A few weeks later the spey wife escaped, freeing herself from the clutches of parochial minds to a city audience who appreciated her newly discovered and unforeseen talents.
Was it a coincidence that on the very same day, Ecky Brown’s booze soaked liver distilled its last whisky and caused him to clamp his pittery heart with a shaky hand and drop dead?
But then, nobody needed a fortune teller to know that was going to happen.