the last weekend
“Is that all that you’re taking dear?” asked Betty, looking down at Elaine’s bright pink bag.
“I’ve still got stuff at Avalon. I was going to sort it out today, take away what I need and put the rest to the charity shop. I’ve spoken to Bella. She says I can stay with them permanently from now on.”
Betty shut her car door. “That’s all very well, but you have to discuss that with your mother you know,” she said sternly.
“She won’t mind. She’s Gwen-fixated now. They can have the whole place to themselves after this weekend. Anyway, I’m sixteen. I can move out if I like.”
“You know, I think you all need to have a bit of a talk about this Elaine. Your father is still missing. I know how hard that is. You must all be feeling very strange at the moment. I really don’t think this is the best time to make such important decisions.”
“Dad wants me to do this. I just know he does,” said Elaine.
Betty started the car. “You do know that you can talk to me if you feel bad,” she said. “And God is always in His house willing to listen to your problems.”
“I know he’s fine,” replied Elaine. “I just know he is. And one day I’ll see him again.” She turned to the window and looked out at the rock strewn land, a secret smile on her face as she thought that this was the last time she’d have to spend a weekend on Eilean Beag.
Roddy shivered in the morning breeze. He hoped it was only temporary, but he had felt permanently cold and nervous since his unexpected dip in the sea earlier in the week. He also kept having bad dreams, mainly involving killer seals. Or killer something, at any rate. He rubbed his head. Probably only a hangover: too many cans too soon after getting out of hospital. Kendo was still asleep in the tent, and he would probably wake up his usual self with no ill effects whatsoever. The department of his brain which dealt with pain seemed to be permanently switched off. It was just a shame that a lot of the more useful parts seemed to have suffered the same fate.
The noise of a car made him look up. Anne swerved in beside the tent and got out, all smiles. “You OK now? Catch anything interesting?”
“Got a salmon and a few trout there. Nice dinner for us tonight.” Roddy put his arm round his girlfriend’s shoulders. “How’d everything go last night?” he enquired with trepidation.
“Just as planned Roddy. But I wouldn’t go mentioning Smiler to anyone, all right? Just say you haven’t heard from him in a while if anyone asks. I mean, everyone knew that he had money troubles with some dodgy folk in the city. I can’t imagine anyone’ll miss him too much.”
“What do you mean miss him? Bloody hell Anne – what’ve you done?”
“Now Roddy – calm down. Don’t go asking questions. It’s time to wake Kendo up. I’ve not got all day you know.”
“Do it now Roddy. Come on. Me and Genie are going to take a look at a place for rent, right on Harbour Road. Thinking of starting up a cafe and take-away. Might have a job for you doing the deliveries. Kendo can do dishes. Come on then. Let’s go.” She turned on her heel and strode towards the car.
Roddy stared after her. Oh well, he thought. It’s not like I’m going to get a job on a fishing boat after what happened. Giving Kendo a kick he began stowing their gear in the car. His stomach growled as he thought of the pie that Genie and Anne would make out of the salmon they had caught.
Malcolm leaned his head against the steering wheel of his car. He shut his eyes and tried to think happy, solid, land-based thoughts. The ferry pitched on relentlessly. “Christ, I need to puke,” he muttered. He glanced quickly from side to side and groaned. He was trapped in between nurse Betty and Elaine on one side and the minister on the other. The minister looked his way. Malcolm tried unsuccessfully to hide his black eye. That wasn’t the only thing that hurt either. What a night. That was the last time he would ever hit the Port when there was a dope shortage. Not that he had much use for the stuff himself, but it was well known that when the stash cupboards were bare in Port Malin, the cops had to batten down the hatches and rig for storm. And conversely, they knew there was good gear about when they had very little to do of a weekend. The fact was, there were some folk who shouldn’t be allowed out of their houses without several mellowing joints, and Malcolm had ran into quite a few of them last night. He was convinced he’d developed a nervous tic from all the stress. Still at least he wasn’t hauled off to the cop shop like Innes. Events were a bit hazy though. The last thing he clearly remembered was eyeing up a couple of tasty birds coming out of the Thistle. He’d given the blond one a little tap on the bum and the next thing he knew he’d been slammed into a bin by a single blow. I mean, what was she? An all-in wrestler? It had even made him feel nostalgic for the anorexic mental case he had so recently called his girlfriend.
The night had not progressed well from then, but thanks to the amount of alcohol he had consumed, the worst parts were a bit misty and anaesthetised. He had a vague memory of being thrown down the steps in the middle of the Oasis club. That was where the black eye had come from. He hadn’t even done anything to deserve that. He’d just been standing there when the whole place erupted. Someone at the bar had picked an argument over short change, which culminated in a barman being hit over the head with someone else’s full pint glass. The ‘someone else’ turned out to be Dondo – a normally amiable slaughterhouse man who spent his weekends consuming joints and mixing heavy metal with classical music on his computer. A heavy Friday shift followed by no post-curry joint had not put him in the best of moods so the loss of his pint had proved a bit hurtful to his state of mind. Malcolm happened to have a good view of the proceedings from the top of the stairs and had been impressed by the way Dondo hurled the pint thrower over the bar and into the spirit bottles. He thought that only happened in the movies. The fight had spread outwards as pints were smashed, bar stools were wielded, and the dope-starved community let alcohol take control of their systems. It was at that point that he had found himself flying down the stairs and landing under a bench. That turned out to be quite fortunate though. The mass brawl happened above him. Glass flew and the women screamed and joined in as far as Malcolm could see. People with old grudges launched themselves at childhood enemies in the melee. He just managed to crawl through the morass toward the toilet, which was empty for once. He lurked there and peered around the door. He saw Innes escape through the front door only to be thrown back in the window. Malcolm managed to crawl out of the bathroom window just as the cops went in the front door. He’d stood at a safe distance while they hauled half the pub away. Innes had got dragged off to hospital, but Malcolm was fairly sure he’d be getting a few charges later on.
Then there was another blank patch. The next thing he was sure of he was meeting up with his mate Kenny from Morrowsdale, over on the west side of Eilean Mor. They’d had a few in the Ram’s Horn, which had been fairly heaving. There’d been a band and he’d played a few games of pool. Then someone had been sick over his shoulder into the bottom baulk pocket. They’d ignored it and carried on for a while, until there was another scuffle during which the pool balls had gone their separate ways across the pub floor. Then there had been a strategic walk when the cops showed up and dragged some under-agers off. The fight had stopped a few minutes before, and the participants were sprawled in various corners, but it was only a matter of time before the action restarted – and you had to watch out for knives in the Horn.
The streets had been full of the terminally guttered. It wasn’t as if he was the only one who was sick in a shop doorway – it was practically traditional for a Friday night in the Port – just as it was to put a brick through Woolie’s window when your girlfriend dumped you. The shop windows had come in for a battering last night, right enough. All the ones without gratings were smashed and a few cars were windowless also. He knew he’d taken one or two of the shopfront letters, mind you, but that was just high spirits. He also had a nagging feeling that he may have fulfilled some bodily function in public view, but he decided there wasn’t much point worrying about it. He actually had quite a clear memory of colliding with one of those groin-height movable flower baskets. It would be pretty hard to forget that one, as it had taken a good ten minutes to recover and he was still feeling a bit on the tender side today. The stupid things were shaped like old-fashioned boats and festooned with flowers. He had decided to float the bloody things out into the harbour to make him feel avenged. He laughed to himself as he remembered the fleet of preposterous floral boats gently bobbing in the harbour. They were still there this morning, despite the tide. And the streets were paved with fish and chip wrappers. There were other events too, but they were dancing around the edge of his memory and refusing to come into focus. Probably best left that way, he thought. All in all he hadn’t got away too badly. Shame he hadn’t pulled. He had been convinced he had when he woke up, but it turned out he’d gone to sleep on a wooden sculpture in the park. Better have a quiet night in tonight though: best not to push his luck.
By the time the ferry docked, Malcolm’s queasiness was a little better. He put on the stereo and headed for home. He still felt as if he was coated in muck from head to foot, despite the shower he’d had earlier on. A video, he thought, would be good. And a bloody big glass of milk. He wavered up the road and meandered slowly into the valley, trying to remember where the lights were. He succeeded in putting the hazards on which would have to do for now. He wasn’t far from home. His brain, although feeling slightly more active, was still far from sharp and it was only when he pulled into his driveway that he finally registered the police car that had been just two cars behind him on the ferry. He held his breath and willed it to go past. It pulled in smartly behind him. Two unfairly large policemen got purposefully out of it, strength and fitness exuding from every pore. Malcolm felt his stomach churn. He tried to calm himself down and look like a stable and sober member of the community. It was probably only some questions about Innes after all. They were nearly level with the car. He took a deep breath, opened his car door and threw up across the drive with a violent propulsive force that Gwendoline could never have achieved.
The drive of Avalon crunched as Betty pulled up by the house. “Now do try and get along with Gwendoline dear. She’s convinced herself that the unfortunate incident was nothing but a bad dream and maybe it’s best left that way. I’ll take you back on Monday. I’m going early mind, so anything that you want to take you get ready tonight, and then you can pop it in the car tomorrow. I’ll be calling in after church to see your mum. I think you should go to, especially at this time.”
“Betty!” said Elaine, whose attention had begun to drift slightly. “Malcolm Macfarlane is kneeling in his driveway with two policemen behind him.” All over the village, doors and windows were opening as people realised that a ‘scene’ was taking place. Betty shoved Elaine out of the car with one hand, screeched out of the drive and pulled up along the road beside Malcolm’s. Elaine’s attention was caught by a figure creeping away from the back of Malcolm’s house. It appeared to be attempting to put its shoes on while moving at the same time. A moment later Chriselle Macfarlane rushed to the front of the house patting her hair into place. Betty was by this time helping the stricken Malcolm to his feet, oblivious to the fact that her husband was sneaking from peatstack to peatstack in the attempt to get home without calling attention to himself.