STRAY LEAVES FROM THE TEA BOWL
By Stephen Cashmore
It took more than a few minutes to sink in. Surely, this must be a case of hearing something that had never been said. Was Danny certain of his facts? "Aye, man; it's a hard pill to swallow, but she's finished with Ewen. A good, hard-working Thurso loon - and she's binned him, as she puts it. I knew it was a mistake, flittin' from Wick to here"
"But Danny, you've stayed in Thurso for over thirty years."
"And it dissna matter one single jot. I'm still a stranger - an incomer. Why, a Chinaman would feel more at home here than I do."
There's no reasoning with a man in such a mood, yet sympathy where it's due - he had had a hard knock. Fiona, little Fi-fi, the apple of her father's eye, had broken off a four-year engagement to Ewan, her childhood sweetheart. And why? Best let Danny explain it.
"These bloody contractors! I've seen it happen many, many times, but I never thought it would come knockin' at my door. He's an en-gin-eer, so she tells me. Oh, very good! As if that makes it any better! What it means is he probably knows the right end of a mell from the wrong one - and not much more. That chiel that Jack's lassie got inveigled with - wasn't he an engineer?"
"Well, that's what they say. But then Morag was in love with him."
"Oh, aye. And what was the result of it all? She's going about with it in a pram and he's absconded; gone back down the line, vanished without trace. All he left was a false name and that wee - "
"Careful, Danny, Morag thinks the world of yon wee boygie, and she'll find some decent lad to bring it up as his own, and no-one will be any the wiser."
Danny gave out a groaning sigh. "You're dead right, there. Some local gowk with neeps growin' out o' his lugs. He'll carry the can for another chiel's misdeeds. Ach, they must take us for a right bunch o' bummlers."
Here it became necessary to explain that south of the Ord males have no monopoly on the irresponsible fathering of bairns. "There's folk all over the world that's never even heard of Caithness, whose genes would start jumping if they ever came here, and they'd wonder why in the hell that was. Anyway, what's his name, this young buck of Fiona's?"
"Gaye, if you please. With an Eee. G-a-y-eee. Ashley Gaye. Pity he doesn't take after his name."
"Is he married?"
"Hell, man! You know, I never thought of that. Och, but even if he was, he wouldn't tell her, and Fiona's too beside herself to think anything bad like that about him."
"Well, I've a few friends out by who may be able to fill us in on Mr Ashley Gaye. Give me a few more personal details."
This fresh scheme seemed to restore Danny's shattered faith in human nature. He described a cocksure young Englishman who cruised around in a 4-wheel drive, wore designer everything and - had a mobile phone. "He's got the internet, too. But remember - I'm no' the one to get involved in deceit just for the sake of it. We're schemin' this for Fiona's sake. And Ewen's. Agreed?" Agreed.
A week later Danny received a visit from a man bearing information. "Just as I thought. Well, we'll confront her with the facts. She's upstairs getting clarted up ready to go out with him to that night club. She'll be going nowhere when I tell her - "
"Had on, man. Go canny, like. Here's how we'll set about it . . . ."
Even another woman would have had to admit that Fiona looked a pretty picture as she came down from getting dressed. "Hi-ya. You didn't tell me we had a visitor, dad."
"No Fi-fi, this is more like common sense come calling, than a visitor. And he won't be wanting tea and pancakes. Now before you go gallavantin', just ring this number. No, no, just do as I say for once."
Impelled by a mixture of fear and curiosity, the girl lifted the receiver, dialled the number and waited. A woman's voice answered. "Ask her who it is you're speaking to, Fiona."
His daughter obeyed Danny's instructions. "I'm Mrs Gaye."
"Mrs Ashley Gaye?"
"Yes. What do you want?" And the phone fell in a shower of Fiona's tears.
Next Saturday night Danny came home from the Legion to find a man's jacket hanging up in the lobby. His heart swelled. "Isn't that the very jacket we bought Ewen for his Christmas? Hell, I kent fine well that Fiona would come to her senses."
They were sat watching TV, his arm draped over her shoulder. Fiona turned, smiled. "Hello dad. I'd like you to meet my new boyfriend. This is Nathan Myles."
"That's Myles with a 'Y'. M-y-l-e-s. Pleased to meet you, mate."
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Steven Cashmore 1999
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