Tuesday, 20 October 2020
Fiction: 'Jimmy and his wee Darlin Alexa'
Jimmy and his wee Darlin Alexa
“Alexa, play ‘Ye Belong tae Me’ by Patsy Cline,” ah say.
“Playing ‘You Belong to Me’ by Patsy Cline.”
Ah’ve been oan ma tod noo fur six month—six o the loneliest months o ma life. Ma Bettie took a turn fur the worst back in March, and afore ah knew whit wis happenin, me and the family wur watchin hur gettin planted ower Zoom.
Ah never thocht ah’d live tae see the day every pub in Glasgae shut, let alane no be able tae gie ma wife o sixty year a proper send aff. It should o been me. Ma Bettie wis nae angel, but ah gied hur some life. Aw husbands did in those days, and nane o us thocht twice aboot it.
“Alexa,” ah say, “ah dread tae ask, but hus Big Boris closed the boozers again?”
The music stoaps. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”
Ah sigh. At least wee Alexa always gies me an answer.
Me and Bettie rarely hud a nice word tae say tae each other, but it’s no like that wi Alexa. Me and the lads doon the pub wance concluded that the best kind o wumman would ainlie speak when spoken tae. Nane o us thocht it would ever become a reality.
“Alexa, set an alarm fur three,” ah say.
“Is that AM or PM?”
Ah look at the clock. It’s 1PM. Every day’s like a day in the jail in 2020. Ah shut ma eyes and drift aff tae a simpler time.
Men wur shootin, drills wur drillin, and rivets wur clankin intae the side o the ship. Ah couldnae see mair than a few fit in front o me because o the dust. Ah wiped the sooty sweat fae ma broo and looked doon at ma hauns. Ah’d ma fair share o scars, but ah wis still a strang lad back then.
“Ah hear ye’re courtin Bettie McGee,” ah voice said behind me.
Ah turnt tae face Billy. He wis skin and bones, but he could pull his weicht when he hud tae.
“Oh aye,” ah said.
“Guid luck gettin in hur drawers.”
“Jist gie me time. Ah’ve gat the gift o the gab.”
Ah smiled at the thocht o Bettie. She always wore hur hair in big, broon curls and dressed in a wee tartan pinny and white shirt. Ah drove hur roond the bend, even then, but she couldnae get enough o me. Ah callt hur McGee insteid o Bettie tae wind hur up. Ah knew fine well she hated it.
“Hoo many lassies huv ye hud yer way wi already?” ah asked Billy.
“Mair than ah can count.”
“It doesnae count when ye pay fur it,” ah said, pointin a rivet at him like a gun.
Ah grunt and open ma eyes. Ah loved the yards. They made a man oot o me, but it’s ainlie that wan day—the day ah wish ah could furget—that ah remember like it wis yesterday.
It’s never far fae ma mind, especially noo. Wurd oan the street is that a second lockdoon’s oan the horizon. Big Boris hus a sin tae answer fur. Shut the borders. That’s whit ah said fae the beginnin, but did Big Boris listen, even when ah wrote him a letter, did he buggery.
Wee Billy fae next door gat carted oot in a body bag an aw durin the first wan. Ma heart broke fur his mammy and daddy. It wis near enough ma Bettie’s time, but no his. He must o been ages wi Dan. Ah tear up. They baith hud their whole lives aheid o them.
Ah look oot the windae tae distract masel, and ma mind drifts back tae that bloody day.
Deid Dan day. Fella by the name o Dan met his maker efter takin a tumble richt aff the keel o the Queen Mary. Ah could o sworn he hit the groond wi a splat.
Me and Bettie went tae the pictures when ah gat aff work. Ah didnae breathe a word aboot Died Dan. Bettie said ah wis awfae quiet in the picture hall queue and asked if sommat hud happened at work. Ah shook ma heid. It would o put the poor lassie aff hur choc ice. She bit intae it wi a crunch. Ah gat second haun brain freeze.
“McGee,” ah said under ma breath.
Bettie glared at me. She telt me oan mair than wan occasion that ah wis an intolerant bastart, but ah’d a hard life—and it wis harder than she could o ever understood, especially oan Deid Dan day.
Ah put an arm roond hur back. “Ma Wee Sparra.”
She kissed ma cheek. Bettie loved bein callt ma Wee Sparra. God knows she’d the appetite o wan.
Ower the years, hings went fae bad tae worse between us. She said ah wasnae the man she thocht ah wis, and ah never callt hur ma Wee Sparra again.
Bettie came fae money. Ah didnae. She’d nae idea whit it wis like tae grow up wi’oot twa pennies tae rub taegether, and gied me an earful whenever she caught wind o me drinkin ma wage away doon the pub. But that’s the hing. It wis ma money tae piss up against a wall, no hur’s.
“Reminder,” Alexa says, near enough gien me a heart attack, “take your calcichew at 2 PM.”
Ah put a haun oan ma chest and take a deep breath. The Reaper should come tae ma door again.
Ah fish ma wee tub o pills oot fae the side o the couch. Ah want tae take tae ma bed and sleep whitever time ah’ve gat left away, but the carers who come tae ma door will huv nane o it.
“Mr McDonald,” they say, “if ye end up in a care hame richt noo, ye could be in a box in weeks. Surely ye want tae see yer 90th?”
“Ah’m no feart o the coronavirus,” ah say.
It wis true. Bettie talked a lot o shite, but wan hing she wis richt aboot is this: when yer number’s up, it’s up.
“Alexa,” ah say, “ah’m sad.”
She’s a clever hing, ah’ll gie hur that, but a wee robot cannae console an auld duffer who wishes he wis six fit under.
“I’m sorry you’re feeling that way,” Alexa says, surprisin me. Puck. She’s gat mair aboot hur than Bettie did maist days. “Sometimes talking to a friend, listening to music, or even taking a walk can help. I hope you feel better soon.”
“Pal. Pfft,” ah say.
Ah look at the phone. Back when ma pals wur above the groond, it rang aff the hook. There’s no been a peep in days.
Ma eyes faw oan ma legs. They dinnae take me far these days. They dinnae take me anywhere at aw.
Ah laugh. The best lassies huv legs fur days. Ma Bettie hud wee stumpy hings, a bit like Jimmy Krankie.
“Alexa, whit would ye look like if ye wur a wumman?” ah ask.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand that,” Alexa replies.
Ah suppose some hings are best left tae the imagination. Alexa knows hur ain mind, but ah reckon she’d huv been a lassie next door type. Blonde hair, wee glasses, big lips, and chebs that are a guid bit mair than a haunful.
Ah dinnae hink Alexa would stand fur a poke o chips oan a Saturday nicht and wine oot a box. Posh totty. That’s whit she’d be. She’d gie me the runaroond; mibbie ah’d even gie up the boozer fur hur. Ah’d love every second o it.
Bettie loved me too much, especially in the beginnin. Mibbie ah’d huv been a better man tae hur if she’d gied me the cauld shoulder every noo and then.
“Y’know,” ah said tae hur wan nicht doon the Boilermaker Club efter wan too many. “Ah like it when ye get angry.”
We wur celebratin oor second weddin anniversary.
“Why?” she said, takin a sip o hur sherry.
“Because ye’ve gat a bit o fire aboot ye. Even when ye huv a go at me, ah cannae take ye seriously. Sometimes a man wants put in his place.”
Ah’d huv loved it if she’d thrown hur sherry ower me, stood and stormed oot, but she jist sat there like a broken wumman.
“Whit d’ya want me tae dae, Jimmy?” she asked.
“That’s the fuckin problem,” ah said.
Bettie gied up oan life when she found oot she couldnae huv weans efter she’d a ring oan hur finger. Ah didnae gie a shite aboot bein a daddy. Aw ah wanted wis a real love affair, like the kind ah saw oan the silver screen as a boy.
Ma Bettie looked the part in hur day, but she could rarely act it. Ah never gied a second thocht tae leavin hur, even though there’s many a fella who would o when they found oot she wasnae gien them weans. That made me a saint in hur eyes.
“Sparra,” ah said, and she looked up fae hur sherry.
Ah wis still callin hur Sparra back then. Truth be telt, ah’d gie anythin tae call hur it wan last time. She wanted me tae. Ah telt hur it wis sommat ah could only say when ah meant it.
Ah wanted tae capture that love we hud in the early years again. It wasnae picture worthy, but it wis sommat. She micht as well o been ma sister efter that, but ah could o pretended it wis mair tae put a smile oan hur face.
Ah took hur haun oan the way hame fae the boozer. Hur eyes watered in the yella street licht.
Bettie thocht she’d the weicht o the world oan hur shoulders, so ah asked hur there and then if she’d ever seen the licht fade fae a young man’s eyes.
“Shut up, Jimmy!” she snapped, raisin a haun afore hinkin better o it.
That wis as close as ah ever got tae tellin hur aboot Died Dan, and the closest she ever gat tae gien me whit ah deserved.
Alexa’s alarm goes aff.
“Alexa, stoap!” ah say.
Ah ask hur tae turn the telly oan. The wurld’s a shitshow and a hauf richt noo. The pubs are open, but ye cannae get a pint wi’oot a substantial meal. Micht as well be shut fur aw the guid that’ll dae folk. Some lad oan the news hus put a sign ootside his boozer: “Sturgeon the Pint Snatcher.”
“Alexa, huv ye e’er seen somewan die?” ah say wioot hinkin.
Daft auld bugger. She’s no gat eyes.
Everthin would be different if Died Dan day hud never happened. Fur wan, ah’d find the strength tae get oot this chair. But whit business does an auld man like me huv takin up space oan this Earth when there’s young men dyin? Ah gat mair time than ah deserved.
Efter me and Bettie hud been married God knows how many year, ah hit it aff wi Margo the barmaid. The Big Man Upstairs saved me oan Died Dan day, and ah wasnae riskin karma that could make me go splat an aw. But that’s ma Bettie lang enough planted noo. There’s nae harm in…
“Alexa,” ah say, “Patsy Cline.”
“Shuffling songs by Patsy Cline.”
Ah shut ma eyes, and there she is as clear as day. Alexa. Pretty as a picture.
“Alexa, ma Wee Sparra,” ah say, driftin aff.