Actually, as it happens, Little Levy Balquhidder wasn't exactly over the moon when he met his baby brother, Moe, a little later, and it wasn't anything to do with displacement, sibling rivalry, all that mumbo-jumbo he'd read about during Rilla's pregnancy, so don't get the idea that he is some kind of local yokel, because he lives in the puckerbrush where time passes and people move with the speed of a somnolent indri—the nickname Lemurville has indeed been maliciously applied to Melrose, by Flash Harrys who are denizens of the bustling metropolis of Galashiels, ha ha, and what do you think their home town is called by folk fae Dalkeith, never mind Embra?—no, it was because as soon as he looked into the eyes of Miney Moe—"why, oh why," he asked himself, "did I have to give him that pet-name?"—and saw the Spirit who had been allocated by the Creator, and knew with ironclad certainty that this was one Spirit he would never be able to work with, for this one had caused the shedding of too much blood, the suffering of so many innocents, and had become a byword for inhumanity and evil, second only to Satan!
Peter and Bernie had just agreed to meet the next morning, at Talbot House, where Peter and his family were currently lodging with Algie and Aggie, the caretakers, "so we can get down to brass tacks," and in a stage-whisper to Teri, Bernie explained that that was a particularly Edinburgh legal term used almost exclusively by Writers to the Signet and which is difficult to translate into 20th Century Doric, and Teri replied that she, her cousins and aunties were all "pure-bred native Dorics, divn't ye ken, ye daft loon?" when Susie and the girls re-appeared with a tray of enticing pastries, which Susie announced to be: "Turkish Simits, fresh baked by Azra and Zehra just now," and, "as lang's they urny semmits," chortled one wag, only to receive that silencing glare from Auntie Cristo which has lang syne given rise to the theory that she is, in fact, omnipotent, being The Creator in Human Form, in which, according to Ancient Legend—and popular belief—that Deity engages several times in each millennium, just to take the pulse—as it were—of her Universe by experiencing it as an ordinary mortal, and Peter and Bernie, being nearest to the Tea Room door, had each taken a bite, the delight showing instantly on their faces, when Teri's mobile rang and she took it from her pocket, pressed a button and held it to her ear, and grinned; the call was brief and when she ended it, Teri announced loudly, over the babble of chit-chat and blether: "that was Rary Balquhidder, Rilla's just had her baby in the BGH, a wee brother for Little Levy, and his name is Moe!" which produced a great cheer and a round of applause, for Rilla (short for Sarsparilla) Balquhidder was a cousin of all the younger people present—with the exception of the Time Travellers and Peter Boo—and a niece of the Aunties, which of course included young May and Cristo, though they didn't yet know it, and Little Levy, now five years old, has already played a major role in our story and Miney Moe—as Levy called him and which stuck—though just a mite, a tiny scrap of life, is—though blissfully unaware of it—also on the very brink of Destiny and with all the World his Lobster!
The courtyard, as he entered it, was empty, with a number of picnic tables and benches near the Tearoom, which had a sign on the door, advising that due to Covid-19 it was closed until further notice, and apologising for any disappointment, then Bernie heard a cry of "mihi!" behind him, and as he turned, he saw everyone from The Old School House, plus a few others, emerging from where they had been hiding—he had been tricked, just as he had cheated, and he burst out laughing, and it was Teri who spoke first: "are you pleased to see us? or is that a map sticking out of your pocket?" and he blushed furiously, "how did you know?" and it was one of the newcomers who spoke next: "we've had you under constant surveillance from that drone," pointing into the sky where Bernie could see nothing, but she continued, "oh, it's there all right, first you've heard of them I suppose, by the way I'm Detective Sergeant Isa Urquhart and this is my DC Milly Millican, she's the one with the know-how, I understand it's our room you've got at the moment, well, it better be spick and span by the time we come home," then everyone was talking at once, and Bernie felt like a bit of a tinhorn, oh, a solicitor from Glasgow, forget the time-difference, still a city-slicker among country bumpkins for all their degrees and experience, but they'd soon sorted him out, he reached out and caught Teri by the elbow: "so what was it all about?" he asked? and she grinned back at him: "don't worry, we wanted to see how you'd do it and Auntie Cristo was right, first you took a map, if you hadn't we could have been in for a long wait, and you worked out the clues faster than I thought them up, ah, here's Susie with the grub," as a young woman carrying a huge tray came out of the Tearoom, followed by two girls with teapots and coffee jugs, "they're still shut, like it says, but for a Special Occasion, Susie and the girls pulled out all the stops—they've doing home deliveries to vulnerable people who're shielding, so had all the necessaries here anyway, and this doesn't interfere with their timing, we brought all our own crockery and cutlery, so there won't be much washing-up needing done here," and as a stocky man turned into the courtyard, she said: "Peter, thanks for coming, this is Bernie," and Bernie automatically put out his hand, then realised why the other had his in his trouser pockets, and let it drop, "this is taking a bit of time for us to get used to," he said and the other man nodded: "we've had three months or more to change our behaviour, don't worry," and Teri said: "Peter is a solicitor, too, from Edinburgh, and he's had some run-ins with Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his Ring of Gold, and we thought that if you two could put your heads together you might be able to help work out who, what, where, when, why and most importantly how?" and Peter chipped in: "at the risk of it sounding like adynaton, MacFarlane is way off the scale when it comes to crime, all sorts, theft, rape, murder, here, there, everywhere, we catch sight of him, but he slips away, he seems to have some kind of a map of the wormholes he uses to go from one point in Space/Time to another, backwards, forwards, sideways, and whenever he and Doubleday and others in his gang have been killed, their bodies disappear and they pop up somewhere else, but there's a theory that it happens because it's already too late, that they aren't being caught in their actual present, if you get me, but in their past, and the only way to stop them is to go to the point which is their own Now! if you like, when they are as old as they have ever been, just as we are, here, today, right now, you follow?" and Bernie nodded, "yes, I see what you're getting that, you can't kill them in their Past, because they have already moved beyond that, whether they've gone forward or backward in Time doesn't matter, you are only eliminating the memory of their existence which is why the bodies disappear, but what help can I be with that?" and Daphne handed him a coffee and a plate of sandwiches, and said: "it was Rabbi Burns' idea, well, no, it was Zelda's, but Shmuel came over last night, late, and told us about your enquiries into family members who disappeared, were murdered, during the Holocaust, and we had that musing about going back in time and killing Hitler, but if Time isn't strictly Linear, that wouldn't make any difference, because a later version of him is still alive doing what he did, but the difference between Hitler and MacFarlane is that MacFarlane has broken out of the limitations of the Space/Time Continuum and he is doing that consecutively, going to 1866, then to 1974, then 25 AD and then 25,000 BC and at some point in all that slipping and sliding about, is the man as we are now, and that is the point at which he can be stopped, permanently, and we, well, Zelda, thought that you and Peter here might be just the pairing needed, the right partnership, like Marx and Engels, Lennon and McCartney, och, ye ken whit ah mean, divn't ye" and Bernie, popping a delicious cake into his mouth, nodded, swallowed, said: "maybe I'm not a gourmand, but I could live like this forever, yes, I do see, and I'll be happy to work with Peter and maybe before we're finished we might be permitted to shake on it! and I take it the Loch Brothers will be involved? they are private detectives after all," and he lowered his voice, "or do your local bobbies get jealous?"
After receiving his instructions from Teri, Bernie managed to surreptitiously find a map of the local area in the Aunties' Library and slip it into his coat pocket, only studying it once he was clear of the House, but he quickly identified his route: 'From the golden calf go where you may be smoked out, or rested, cross over a warmed-up ghost and when you encounter the hills' name, take a roonaboot road for a short-cut, to cross a road and follow the finger to Prior Barney's bull where a smorgasbord awaits us!' and he ticked off the clues as he walked: "Melrose, I can work out the meaning from Old Scots, a blasted heath, a good sounding name belying it's ancient appearance; a crematorium, then a graveyard, yes, here it is, Waird's Cemetery, and the footpath crosses a Bogle Burn, ha ha, beware the Bogeyman, then goes to a village called Eildon, like the Three Hills," on the map the roonaboot road twisted through the village and then descended to the A68 road just shy of the River Tweed, and across it he went, finding a Finger-post that pointed him towards Old Melrose, "aha! that's where the name originated then, and Prior Barney? probably because ancient monks must have built themselves a House here, that preceded the present Abbey, and bull, because it was surely pretty bad back then, low lying, probably marshy in the crook of the river, a breeding-ground for midges, to make the monks move a couple of miles upstream, so the location was the crux of the matter, but who can be there to provide this spread we are promised?" and he was still mulling that over when he saw the sign for Old Melrose Tearoom and with a big grin on his face, he lengthened his stride!
"Rise and shine," sang Teri in the morning, knocking on the doors and announcing: "it's the Summer Solstice, you're not in some ski-through winter resort in New Zealand where the day's so short it seems hardly worth getting up," to a chorus of kvetching from the new arrivals which so grated that with the masterful co-ordination of a plate-spinner, she threw all the doors open and tossed into each room a prematurely retired pay-as-you-go mobile phone, all of which still had sim cards—being from the era when, you changed your phone, you changed your number—and credit, not a lot, but enough for beginners, and a suggestion that, "unless you're doing a Masters in Geratology, breakfast is served downstairs and whatever's left when the big hand reaches 12 and the little hand is at 9, goes to the house cats and they are ravenous, which did the trick because, after popping into her own room for her tablet, when she reached the kitchen, young May and Cristo, together with Bernie, Duddingston and Campbeltown, were finishing their corn flakes and Auntie May was plating up bacon, sausages, eggs, beans and fried bread while Auntie Cristo was pouring coffee with her right hand, or tea with the left, and Aunts Daphne and Maude, sitting at either end of the table, were doing their best to explain the little black devices to their new owners; plonking herself beside Madame Oyzell, Teri produced her own, rather newer, phone and pressed a button, all five which the others held began to ring—different chimes, tunes, buzzes and whistles—and as first Cammy, then the others, managed to answer them, Teri said: "they've all got the same Contacts, everyone in this room, plus Isa and Milly, so after breakfast, spread out through the house and the gardens, front and back and get used to making and receiving calls from each other, then I'll call all of you with a message and directions, and—if you can avoid Chinese Whispers—we'll all meet up together for lunch, last one to arrive picks up the tab, any questions? no? enjoy yourselves and no cheating, you will each have a different route to the destination and we'll have people watching you, don't try to guess, it's a bit of fun, but there's a serious side to it and at some point your lives could depend on knowing your way around a strange place, so, tarrarranoo!" and with that she slipped out of the door and headed over to the hammock for her third coffee and cigarette of the day.
Auntie May—as the two younger additions to the household soon learned to call her—produced a pandemain and placed it on the table, the aroma of fresh baked bread filled the kitchen and Teri said: "we're all going to have steatopygous bums, just like you four, if you keep baking this wonderful bread, hoi, young Cristo, stand up and on that shelf just behind your head you'll find a jar of Auntie May's home-made blackcurrant jam, I'll get the butter, Bernie, in that drawer by your left elbow, bread knives, thick slices, can you manage?" and he grinned: "of course I can, cheeky-chops, I was wondering where you got your figure from, and now you've got me envisioning further developments, sure you want a slice?" which prompted Teri to throw a tea-towel at him, which Aunt Daphne caught with a darting left hand, and said: "if you are serious about your geratological studies, Theresa Genevieve, do remember to look at muscle-memory and inherited reflex, my father was a slow-left-hand bowler and close fielder for Roxburgh County, his 1930 record of 180 catches off the bat at silly point in a single season still stands," and she tossed the tea-towel back to Teri, who winked at Bernie.
Daphne proposed a toast: "as this is—or near enough—Juneteenth, which commemorates and celebrates the emancipation of the African-American slaves in the United States, though they still have aways to go before they reach the Reverend King's Promised Land, I should like us to raise our glasses to celebrate the return of my beloved wife, Professor Maude Lyttleton and her good friend and travelling companion, Madame Oyzell Zegan—who I understand and appreciate is reluctant, after her recent experiences, to return to her home and we welcome into ours for as long as she is happy to stay with us—stalwart travellers in both Time and Space, and to also welcome to our home—though I do observe that we are not all observing the correctness of Social Distancing," at which chairs were eased away from the table, so that the sitters were something more nearly approaching two metres apart than they had been—yes, it is a big kitchen—and she continued, "thankyou—two younger members of our family who have been emancipated from a different Melrose, one almost identical to ours, but in the grip of the Großer Europäer Reich which we, in our historical narrative, were all fortunate to be spared, and towards whom, and I believe I speak for our Company of Cousins, et al," at which there was a murmur of assent from May, Cristo, Maude and Oyzell, and a stamping of their feet which is the customary equivalent of clapping in the Church of Scotland, "when I say that we ambiate for their growth and development in our community and pray that other members of their branch of our family may, in short order, if the journey you took can be safely negotiated again, have the opportunity to pass through the invisible barriers of contingent dimensions and join you here," and she took a sip from her glass, "jist tae wet ma whustle, no ower much tae spiel, and also two of the young men who accompanied Maude and Oyzell from Antarctica," she glanced towards the door, "ah, just in time, come in Teri and let your companion join his friends," and when her recalcitrant niece and a dashing young man were seated and given glasses of the amber nectar, continued, "all three of those young men, pursuers from Glasgow of the nefarious Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his cohort of accomplices, Dominic Doubleday and Martin Elginbrod, augmented by none other than Reichsmarschall Herman Goering of undisputed Infamy, Bernie Cohen, Campbeltown and Duddingston Loch, I can appreciate that you may hope and plan to return to your own Time and Dear Green Place, but do be assured that for however short or long a time your stay with us, you will be welcome guests here in The Old School House and we look forward to getting to know you all, you young people, and I'm sure that our niece Teri Somerville, whom you have all met, and who is not by choice a student of geratology will be happy to have the younger generation more than equably represented, particularly as her two closest cousins, Isa Urquhart and Milly Millican, who also normally live here, have not been able to return because the Lockdown came into force while they were working in Edinburgh, so, I've spoke long enough," cries of "Hear, Hear," from Maude, May, Cristo, Oyzell and Teri, which she casually waved away, "let us drink to the Good Health of all who reside in this Auld Hoose, L'Haim," which was echoed to the rafters and their glasses quickly refilled!
"I should point out, Campbeltown, may I call you Camp?" and he grinned, "Cam or Cammy will do, Ma'am," so Cristo continued, "well Cammy—I'm sorry but when I said 'I should point out Campbeltown,' it sounded as if I were a signpost or a tour guide on a ferry—the fact is, we're a very academic family, full of Double Firsts, Emeritus Professors, if you'll forgive the hyponym, apart from May—who buried herself in General Practice and is the only one with a practical turn of mind—and able to construe, conflate or conjugate almost anything but quite incapable of giving simple answers to simple questions and, I would suggest, 'what the fuck's going on?' is about as simple and direct as anyone in your situation should want answered, and I think I would suggest, although Maude may have a different interpretation, that the most hopeful answer might be that with any luck at all, Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his Merrie Men, might have met their Waterloo, by jumping into an alternative Universe, which you were all very lucky to manage to jump back out of, what do you think May?" and she sat back, cradling her whisky-tumbler in both hands and gazing over the rim at Cammy, while May set her own drink on the table and reached out for the young man's hand: "for once, dear boy, I sincerely hope that Cristo is right, because the alternative is quite unthinkable," and the silence was broken only by a cheery voice from the garden, as the kitchen door opened and Maude, supported by Daphne and Dudd, tottered in, beamed at the upturned faces and said: "well, Dr Bellwether says 'am no deid yet!' an ah've decided tae accept that diagnosis, so, May, ah've a notion fer the fifty-year-auld, iffen youse anes huvnae swallied the lot while me an Oyzell wis riskin Life and Limb," and as she sat down in the old oak chair at the head of the table, May reached into a high cupboard and brought out two special bottles, saying: "let's finish these anes, they've been here ower lang and likely weel past their sell-by date, like us!"
The elderly lady took one look at May and Cristo and Cammy standing behind them, and said: "it's taken you long enough, come in, you must be starving," and led them through the house and down some steps to the kitchen, where Oyzell and another woman sat, drinking, and smiled at them: "I'm May," said the woman who had brought them, "Oyzell, you obviously know, and this is my cousin Cristo, sit down and tell us about yourselves, while I finish off this pot of soup," and as they took seats at the table, the elder Cristo said: "my cousin May is a believer in gastrodiplomacy, every important meeting or discussion should take place round a kitchen table with food a-plenty," and May, over her shoulder said: "and Cristo can't cook for toffee, except, maybe, boiled eggs and toast, if you don't mind the eggs rock hard and black toast, but she can harangue the Devil and send him off with a flea in his ear, now, before we start, Oyzell has told us about your world, your dimension or whatever it is, and I have to make one thing absolutely clear—I am a Christian, I believe in the Bible, I believe in one God and that he created everything in the Universe, I'm not a Seventh Day Adventist or a Literalist, but I am a Henotheist, I practised medicine for many years and have always accepted that there are things I didn't know about until I encountered them, and they may challenge my Faith, but my Faith is robust enough to deal with that, so! you, I take it, my dear, are me at, what 18?" and the younger May, addressed directly, blushed to her roots, said: "17, yes Ma'am, err, Miss," and the elder May laughed, said: "gosh, I didn't realise I was so pretty then, here May," and handed her a bowl of steaming broth, and the older Cristo said: "and unlike my delightful cousin, I am a devout Agnostic, which she says means I'm an Atheist without the courage of my convictions, merely a Doubting Thomas, but I argue back that if she or anyone can show me verifiable proof that her God, or anyone else's, exists, I'll be happy to eat my hat, put on sackcloth and ashes and walk on my knees to the church of their choosing, which is I think a rather generous offer, what do you say, young Cristo? was I fiery back then? if she's 17 you are definitely 18, enjoying Uni? don't know why I ask, I know I was, regular at every pub in the Old Town, yes?" and the young Cristo, visibly cursing her hormones, also blushed to her roots and said: "exposed for the lush that I am, no, I'm not quite that bad, but the most interesting people are there, and the same on digs, I'm sure you remember?" and her namesake laughed, "oh, checking that you won't be senile by my age? fear not young 'un, I still do The Scotsman crossword over breakfast, you'll have been doing it for about a year and wondering why, but yes, I found plenty of folk to argue with, challenge, swear undying friendship with and enjoy discreet - or indiscreet - love affairs, in the bars around Potterrow and The Pleasance as I'm sure you have too; but don't worry, I'm not actually who or what you will be in, say, seventy years time, if we are from different or parallel universes, our experiences will not match absolutely, Oyzell tells us that in yours the Germans defeated Britain and it has become part of the Großer Europäer Reich, so five of your important developmental years are very different from ours, and who knows what effect that may have on your lifetime, but anent of that, we are delighted to meet you both and will do anything and everything we can to assist you, if you want to stay here with us, but don't forget, we have another visitor, and Oyzell tells us that you are from Glasgow, like Bernie—where is Bernie?" she asked May, who was just handing the three young people some fresh-baked soda bread, and told her: "he and Teri have popped along to see Rabbi Burns, it seems that Zelda is a distant cousin of his, or his mother's, they actually met just after the war, and I suspect he wants to know something of people who disappeared, there were still a lot of refugees being moved around Europe, desperately searching for family, poor boy, I think Teri's going to stay with him and they'll be back before tea, but I'm so sorry, Mr Loch, Cristo was asking you about yourself," and Campbeltown spread his hands: "to be perfectly honest, ladies, I really don't know whit the fuck's going on, excuse my French, Bernie, Dudd—ma brither—and I were conducting an investigation in Glesca when we were blown up in a tunnel, arrived in the Antarctic, during the war, then went through a portal and cam oot here, in Melrose, in 1950 but the Nazis had won the war, it's aw totally freaked and noo we're in, whitsit? 2020, seventy-three years efter we stertit! ah dunno if am comin or goin, honest but!" and Oyzell handed him a tumbler of whisky, which he accepted gratefully and took a swig: "at least some things never change," he said with an appreciative sigh and everyone laughed with him, so May poured a glass each and handed them round.
So, as it happens, while Daphne and Maude were still in A&E waiting for Dr Bellwether to discharge Maude into Daphne's capable hands, the two young refugees from The Land That Time Forgot, May and Cristo, persuaded Campbeltown that as they were no longer required at the hospital, with Duddingston waiting in the car to take the Profs home, and that's how it came about that they were strolling down Chiefswood Road towards Darnick Vale, where they would turn right towards Melrose, when they heard and felt the explosion, which fairly shook the very ground beneath their feet and, for several minutes, they clung together for support and balance: "d'you think it was a nuke?" asked Cammy, but the girls didn't know what he meant and Cristo pointed towards the peaks rising behind them: "the Hills were originally volcanic, maybe there's still some energy far below, and sufficient faults in the sub-strata for tremors like that," said Cristo, not very convincingly, but Cammy laughed: "okay, all bets are null and void, how far to your house now, I mean, the house like yours, in your dimension?" at which May pulled a long face: "about fifteen minutes, to be honest, I think we're actually dawdling because we're a bit nervous at the idea of meeting our future selves, even though because of the dimensional thing, they aren't really our futures, but, you know, I mean you're a hench, you've got physical strength as well as smarts, but we were never encouraged in sports or things, our parents and our aunts and uncles only value, valued, oh I don't know what tense it is, only value intellectual advancement, they didn't even approve of us running over the hills with the other local children, which was pretty much the only exercise we got," and Cristo butted in, "and we made the most of it, can you imagine? a swarm of kids, hundreds if they were all there at once, usually never less that a couple of dozen at any one time, aged from about six or seven to thirteen or fourteen, swarming all over, from Gattonside to Bowden, Abbotsford to St Boswells, re-enacting battles between the Votadini and the Romans, between Scots and English, Uppies against Doonies, exploring every inch of Our Homeland, not a fox-hole or badger's set we don't know about, every turn of every burn mapped in our heads, innumerable dams built and tumbled, forts erected, defended, demolished, we were feral, we were strong, wiry, with stamina," and May took it up again: "but if our parents had known, they would have been down on us like a ton of bricks, because it didn't fit in with their view of the world, too rural, too common, too much like the farm-children—who were our best friends and whom we envied because they got to milk cows and goats and ride on the backs of sheep—they looked down their noses at, you know, if they had discovered our Secret Life among the Peasants, I think they would have been more shocked than to learn we had a fetish for aischrolatreia," and Cammy stared ate her, "what's that?" he asked, "an example of what we mean," said Cristo, "an obsession with obscenity, which just about covers anything and everything to do with men and women and the various permutations available, you know it's a wonder they managed to have children at all, given their hang-ups, but then I remember reading about researches by Margaret Mead in the Pacific Islands as recently as just before the war, that there were communities where people hadn't worked out, or been educated about, the cause and effect of procreation, among birds, bees or animals, including themselves, they just thought that sex was pleasure but didn't connect it to pregnancy and childbirth, and I really do wonder if our parents aren't exactly the same, what about you?" without making it clear whom she was addressing, which meant that Cammy and May replied at the same time, and by the time they had apologised and retried, Cristo said: "and here we are, folks, The Old School House, shall we go in by the front, as visitors, or the back, as family?
When Maude opened her eyes and blinked in the bright lights of A&E, she was aware of her hand being held, gently, but firmly, and knew by the touch that it was her life-partner, Daphne, who clung on to her so fiercely: "you, okay?" asked Maude's voice, much quieter than usual, and Daphne nodded: "don't you ever disappear like that again, love of mine, especially just before a pandemic," but her tone was gentle and she smiled, resembling one of the Barons delivering the Magna Carta for Bad King John to sign at Runnymede, and Maude returned her smile, for she had so much to be happy with; the pounding in her head, which had felt like a lithophone being assailed by mallets, had reduced to the intensity of a tub of soft butter and she whispered: "when it comes to disappearing, I don't have the know-how to do the guntz, best beloved, I'm always going to roll back like one of those balls or hoops you flick away with a backspin that draws them in faster than you can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!" and Daphne roared with laughter and gave Maude a hug that left her gasping for air and brought an anxious nurse to the cubicle; she checked that Maude was still in the present and not the hereafter, and said: "Dr Bellwether will be along in a few minutes, Professor Lyttleton, she wants to be told when you wake up so that she can tell you off good and proper!" and Maude's eyes were like saucers: "Tamara Bellwether how long has she been working here?" and the nurse winked, then said: "she joined us about a week after you disappeared," and Maude stared intently at her, then gave a whoop: "Geli Raubal! you were a nun on the Pilgrimage, weren't you? so what makes you think Doctor Bellwether's going to read me the Riot Act?" and Nurse Raubal simply held up her left hand, on the ring-finger of which twinkled a Rose Diamond, and murmured: "pillow talk, Professor! but sealed with the strictest kiss of confidentiality," then spun on her heel, gave a little wiggle—which her bottom was perfectly suited for—and as she scampered down the corridor, Maude and Daphne could hear her giggling: "well!" said Daphne, rolling her eyes, "do you have something you want to get off your chest, Professor?" and Maude, laughing and coughing, said: "this hospital gown! Oyzell and I haven't had a decent bath or shower in a week—I know, I know, five months—and I just want to get something soft and smooth around me," then she grinned, "and that means You, Professor Dumbiedykes!"
As luck would have it, or—not to put too fine a point on it—in Madame Oyzell's own mind, the thought was articulated as 'thank fuck!' she only had to walk through the open gateway to find May, Cristo and Daphne sitting in the garden, drinking something that looked suspiciously like Laphraoigh, with Teri lying in a hammock strung between two stout trees a few yards behind them, so that the smoke from her cigarette didn't pollute their air, and it was her quank, "Madame Oyzell! what you doin here? where's Auntie Maude?" that roused the other three, first to look at their overly-boisterous niece and, then, following the direction of her stare, to turn and see Oyzell and two young men standing just inside the garden wall: "Oyzell! Oyzell! where have you been?" and suddenly, overcome with emotion, Oyzell ran to them, giving out her story, an outpouring, overflowing, Niagara of words, names, places, and then one of the young men stepped forward, introduced himself as Bernie Cohen from Glasgow and, perhaps because of—or then again, perhaps in spite of—his training as a solicitor, gave without any kind of bloviation, a simple, straightforward and blessedly concise account of the past week of Oyzell and May's lives, although five months had passed here, in Melrose, with just one little divagate, to assure them that Maude, having experienced a possible heart attack in the Co-op, apparently just after learning of the Pandemic which had developed in their absence, and showing them the newspaper which Oyzell had prised out of Maude's grip, was safely at the BGH and that Oyzell had just received a call from a third young man—is there no end to Oyzell's ability to surprise?' thought Cristo, listening intently—to assure her, and them, his sweeping arm taking in Teri as well as the three old ladies, that Maude is conscious, apparently it was a panic—rather than heart—attack, and she should be leaving the hospital in about an hour after a few more tests: "trying to find out how she can walk and talk without a brain," said Daphne, rising, "I'll go, can't leave her there on her own, can one of you young men drive me? been taking medicine and it makes me a bit wobbly," and without waiting for a reply, walked over to one of the two cars on the little driveway, with Dudd hurrying to catch up with her and Oyzell, quietly, whispered to Bernie: "they got married on Hogmanay 2014, after being together for over fifty years, you'll find that the Law has changed in many ways from 1947 to now, maybe not always for the better, but mostly, yes, I believe so," and Oyzell saw that May and Cristo, now joined by Teri, were asking her and Bernie to enter the house and she thought to herself, 'I really don't want to go back to my own cottage and be alone, I wonder if they'll let me be quarantined here with them?' and knew exactly what the answer would be and that she really didn't need to voice the question, as May and Cristo, on either side, helped her up the steps and into the sanctuary of their home.
Niagara changed, reduced, became a trickle, a drip, drip, drip, and Maude tasted what seemed to be nitrox in the air she was breathing, was this some kind of scuba-mask on her face? when had she gone to the sea-side? oh Christ, her chest ached like she had walked into something, what was it? a lamp-post? or a door, maybe? she heard Oyzell's voice above the babble of the waves but it was just unconnected sounds, a mish-mosh of vowels and consonants, she tried to ask Oyzell to speak slower, more clearly, but wasn't able to formulate any words, let alone articulate them any better than Oyzell, who, when she saw the two girls run into the shop, knew at once that something bad had happened to Maude and she got there herself even before the imperturbable Loch brothers and Bernie, but they quickly took command and formed a cordon round the shambles of papers and magazines where Laura was doing CPR and John, the Duty Manager was still on his phone, then recognized Oyzell and said: "ambulance on it's way, three minutes," which was when Oyzell saw the front page tightly clenched in Maude's fist, was able to read the headlines and knew at once whodunnit to her friend, even though she didn't understand the story they referred to, the words Virus and 40,000 UK Deaths were enough for a Holocaust survivor, the rest would follow, she scanned the faces and grabbed young May and Cristo: "go with Maude in the ambulance to A&E, I'll go up to the house and tell her cousins what's happened, you take one of the brothers, they know my number, ask him to call once there's news, okay with that?" and the girls, faces drained by the shock of seeing the older, later, version of Maude—their cousin, too—so vulnerable, so death-like, as the girl in working-clothes pressed down on her chest, one, two, three, four, five, pause, one, two, three, four, five, nodded and Oyzell grabbed their hands, kissed them, chill fingers, then, saying "tell Maude we need her home," hurried out, taking Bernie and Duddingston, as the two paramedics bustled into the store and homed in on their patient, and she explained that something terrible seemed to have happened, affecting the whole country, maybe the whole world, and she had to get to Maude's home where—with any luck—she would find Daphne, May and Cristo, and their niece Teri, and God only knows what other waifs and strays they might have given house-room to, so with the two men following in her wake, she set off at a steady pace, past Gibson Park, the original Fire Station, Police Station, new Fire Station now headquarters for Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue, and then the slightly curving slope up towards the rambling old house where her friends lived, squabbled, loved and welcomed people like herself, and for the first time in who knew how many years, decades, she said a brief, silent prayer, to the God of Abraham, if he was listening!
The others spread themselves about the surprisingly half-empty car park, while Maude headed for the entrance, only to be told by one of the staff, positioned just inside the doors, to wait until another customer comes out, and although slightly surprised by this, Maude did as she was bid, assuming that there may have been an accident inside, or perhaps one of the elderly customers—thinking not of one like herself, but rather someone like old Mrs Mauleverer, whom she usually referred to as an Auld Biddy, though Millicent Mauleverer was actually a year younger than Maude—had been taken unwell, but then Mrs Mauleverer, in the flesh—or skin and bones, for she was always skeletal, even as a schoolgirl—came out, wearing a surgical mask and wheezing and pushing her shopping trolley and Maude bit her tongue for thinking such unkind thoughts about someone who had never done her any harm, well, not deliberately, at any rate, and then the Co-op staff member was waving her in; first she went to the newspaper section and selected one of her eclectic mixes: The Guardian, Farmers Weekly, Daily Record, Scotsman and Morning Star, which was when three things caught her eye: today's date, on all the papers so it couldn't be a misprint, or a fictitious April Fool joke, the kind The Grauniad does in Spades, is Friday 12th June 2020, near enough five months since she and Oyzell had been whisked off to Glen Glum, less than a week ago; a photograph of the Wendelstein X7 Tokamak Fusion Reactor, which reminded her of the interior of the TARDIS accompanying an article about today being Russia Day; and a piece about something called Covid19, which she soon found was the name for a Global Pandemic which had put Britain into what was referred to as Lockdown, after wreaking havoc in continental Europe! her heart did a Niagara, she could feel her blood-pressure dropping like a stone, coming out through her boots, she swayed, held onto a shelf, her mind racing: would Daphne, May, Cristo, be okay? what about Teri? she almost spoke out loud, Jesus! thousands, tens of thousands, over forty thousand dead in the UK! and in Italy, she scanned the pages, while others fluttered to the floor, Spain, France, the USA, the entire Northern Hemisphere, and a patchwork South of the Equator, she discovered an image floating into her mind, an image of May, sitting dead in the kitchen while the three-legged Barnstaple Oven that was her pride and joy boiled dry and burned on top of the old range, smoke belching out from the vent in the lid, and she slowly sank to the floor, knowing she was being hysterical, neurotic, they were probably all fine in this Lockdown, or Quarantine, but the tears ran down her cheeks and it was Laura, the friendly Check-out girl from Gala who spotted her and called for the Manager, and that was when young May and Cristo, wondering what was keeping Maude, just happened to glance in through the automatic door as it slid open to allow a customer to leave and they saw Maude, sprawled among a drift of newspapers, and—knowing nothing of Social Distancing—rushed in and reached her as a woman, wearing a doctor's mask and with a clear plastic visor over her face, was trying to resuscitate Maude while a man, similarly kitted out, seemed to be calling for an ambulance!
The little group became strung-out as they meandered past the Corn Exchange and the Ormiston Institute, Burt's Hotel, walked out of The Square and, passing Martin Baird's butcher's shop, strolled down the High Street, occasionally one or two crossing the road to look in a shop window on the other side, or at the menu outside a hotel bar, Oyzell pointing out this or that, Maude making a mental list for the Co-op, Bernie nosing into the alleys or wynds as they passed, but there weren't many other people about and a number of the shops were shut already, and they all seemed to luxuriate in having escaped from the Nazified town, as if having shed something physical, an outer skin, leaving them feeling esquamulose, smooth and soft to the touch, so when Cammy laughed out loud at the photos of Ladies' Styles outside Hetties of Melrose, Hairdressing Salon, seeming to imply that the provincialism of the name and presentation was somehow below the standard he, a city boy from Glasgow, would accept and acknowledge, it wasn't just Maude and Oyzell—long-time patrons of Hettie's—who bridled, May and Cristo were quick to accuse him of vilipending their Home-Town and even his brother Dudd and Bernie, too, advised him to be less brash: "there's Glesca fowk wud cry ye a Keelie, cummin fae the Gallagate," Dudd reminded him, "dinna be sic a scunner, when yer a visitor tae sumdy else's patch," which Cammy accepted without demur, and apologised, with a nipe of his head, for his rudeness and they moved on down the hill.
Quadrivial Quandary (QQ) is owned and operated by Rudi Seitz.
Sentences submitted to QQ are the property of their authors. See our page on Copyright Information for details.
Dictionary definitions are the property of their respective sources, presented here via public RSS feeds or otherwise with permission.
All other material is copyright 2015 by Rudi Seitz, all rights reserved.
Use of this site is governed by our terms of service.
Contact: rudi at quadrivialquandary dot com.