The Scottish Book of the Dead by Gavin Broom

Coffee time again. Do not adjust your sets, this one’s in Scots! 

Descent

There’s nae gettin roond it. The words are written a’ o’er everybudy’s face but ah hae tae wait afore someone can find the tongue tae say them. Efter a bit, it’s Peter who finally speaks up.

“Naw,” he whispers. “He cannae be. No oor Billy. We got the call jist there the noo, no fifteen minutes ago. The cunt cannae be fuckin deid.”

The doc’s a young lassie, a wee bitty plump an plukey fae too many junk meals on the hoof while she rushes aroond the infirmary. Workin in Glesga, she’ll be well-versed in dealin wi’ worse mooths than Peter’s, but she still flinches.

“There was nothing we could do,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”

Maggie keels o’er at this. The legs disappear fae unner her an she crumbles like a demolished chimney. This sets the bairns aff, feart fur their mammy an o’er the almighty commotion, the doc shouts oan a coupla pals tae help. Meanwhile, Peter’s shouting, “Naw, naw,” an pounding away at the wa’ wi’ his fist. Fuckin drama queen, oor Peter.

Ah dinnae ken whit makes me notice Maggie’s troosers while she’s passed oot but she’s got these grey flannels oan o’er her black pop socks an they’ve got these perfect creases runnin doon the legs, an ah mean fuckin perfect. Ah imagine her this mornin, ironin her troosers fur tae head tae the infirmary. Ah wonder if she kent whit wid be in store. Ah wonder if she was greetin when she had her iron oot. Ah’m still thinkin ae Maggie an her fuckin troosers when ah get so sad, ah’ve got tae say somethin, jist tae take my mind aff it a’.

— Aw, fur fuck’s sake, will youse lot settle doon. Yeez’re a’ giein me a rid neck, so an yeez are.

Course, nane ae them pay me the slightest bit ae attention.

The doc an a coupla nurses help Maggie up an then she pits us a’ intae the waitin room at the tap ae the ward. Naebudy wants to see the body so we sit and we wait. Ah ken the nurses huv got better things tae dae, an better folks tae be dealin wi, but efter a wee bit, they bring in tea an choccy biccies fur us, bless their herts. The doc says she’s needs to go aff an fill oot some paperwork, but she’ll be as quick as she can.

“Tea an choccy biccies,” Peter says, shakin his heid wi’ a smile, but tuckin in a’ the same.

Maggie an the bairns jist sit in their seats, clearly no as peckish as Peter. The bairns stare at their feet an it’s clear they dinnae ken whit tae be thinkin. They dinnae even clock the telly in the corner ae the room, that’s how stunned they are. They dae me proud, they bairns — ma wee neice an nephew — an ah’m aboot tae say so when their mam pipes up.

“Will ye settle doon wi’ yer grazin, Peter,” she says. She sounds weak an she’s white as the driven, but she still manages tae gie Peter wan ae her glares so he kens she’s no fuckin jokin. “If ye polish aff a’ they biccies they’ll think we’re a right bunch ae tinks.”

God bless, Maggie. Peter blurts oot a spray ae crumbs fae his choccy digestive an the bairns quietly chuckle, a’ sheepish an guilty.

“He was some fella, oor Billy,” says Peter.

Maggie nods. “Jist a young man.”

— Fifty-three, ah says, because it’s jist hit me. Fifty-three. That’s fuck all these days.

“Treated me like a true br’er,” says Peter.

No that Maggie needs tae ken any ae this, but that’s no strictly true. Tae pit it mildly, ah widnae trust Peter further than ah could fling the sleekit wee shitebag, an a’ this talk ae brotherly love is jist fur oor Maggie’s benefit. She’s too gid fur the likes ae him, so an she is.

Peter’s still haverin oan when the waitin room door flees aff its hinges an in pours the rest ae the rellies: cousins, nephews, brother, sister, the hale cast an crew. Course, there’s no enough seats fur them a’, so efter the hugs an mare greetin, the bairns sit oan the flair, the men lean against the wa’ an the women get the chairs.

There’s also a manky auld bird — a fuckin stork or somethin – standin at the door. Ah cannae mind if it came in wi’ the others or if it’s been here since we arrived, but there it is. In between preenin itsell in a right uppity manner, it stares at me wi’ its beady black een. Every noo an then, it puffs intae a baw an gies itsell a shoogle, sending mank an feathers a’ roads. Nae other cunt mentions it, though. They a’ act like it’s no even there, so ah dae likewise, keep shtoom an try no tae freak oot.

The waitin room becomes quiet wi’ secret thoughts as the clock ticks like thunder. Every noo an again, a gentle bout ae greetin breaks oot but by the time the doc comes in wi’ a wee broon envelope, everybudy in the waitin room is daein away no too badly, ah decide.

As for me? Well, no that anybudy’s askin efter me, but considerin that fuckin stork’s still starin me oot an ah’m the cunt that’s deid in a’ this, ah’m daein pretty fuckin peachy, so an ah am.

Revelation

The manky auld stork’s waitin fur us back at ma hoose, sittin oan the chimney pots. It watches the cars draw up at ma gate an it keeps its beedy wee een oan me while we pile intae ma hoose.

It’s only been a coupla days since ah’ve been in the livin room, but it feels grey an cauld an although ah’ve ayways tried tae keep the place spick an span, it looks dusty an it honks a wee bit ae stale coffee an fagends. A’ this probably means ah used to honk, tae. Ah wish some cunt had telt me. Ah’d’ve done somethin aboot it.

Folks make themselves comfy while Maggie’s workin in the kitchen, makin tea an sarnies fur the hale clan. Efter they’ve sparked up their fags, ah get the feelin it’ll no be long afore they start reminiscin aboot some ae the daft shite ah got up tae. Ah never wiz the smartest bulb in the toolbox. Archie — that’s ma Isabel’s big br’er — well, he’s parked his par five erse in ma chair an is happy tae oblige the room wi’ the wan aboot Egypt.

Egypt’s Egypt. It’s jist another thing ah never got roond tae an ah’ve heard a’ that afore so while Archie’s bletherin awa’ aboot ma hobby, ah spy Peter takin a wee daunder aroond the room, checkin oot a’ the ornaments oan the sideboard an the mantle. Ah couldnae tell ye much aboot any ae them. They were a’ Isabel’s afore she fuckin went an died oan me. Breast cancer, so an it wiz. Hert attack it wiz fur me, surprise sur-fuckin-prise. Too fond ae a sausage supper wi’ a single fish chaser, that wiz ayways ma bother. Smoke til ah choke. Drink til ah stink. Despite a’ this, folk’ll say it wiz a broken hert that finally done me in. They’ll say ah’ve no been the same since me an Isabel huv been parted, that ah’ve barely raised a smile or an eyebrow, that ah’ve loaked masell awa’. Acht, they might well be right.

Any road, Peter’s wanderin aroond like he’s the expert oan wan ae they daytime telly programmes. He disnae say fuck all — jist scratches his stubble an mutters unner his breath — an ah wonder if he’s actin a’ pissed aff cause he’s jist realised that the hoose is foo ae shite.

Of course, it’s shite tae him an it’s shite tae me. Nane ae it wiz shite fur Isabel. It a’ meant somethin tae Isabel. She wiz proud ae a’ this keech. Archie seems tae clock whit’s goin oan an he keeps his peepers on Peter, who by this point has made his way tae the only thing in this hale hoose that’s worth a bob or three: Isabel’s silver photee frame.

— Haw, you. Get yer pokey wee face oot ae that, ah tells him. Am no even cauld in the fuckin grund an yer eyein up ma Isabel’s silver photee frame.

Ah ken his fuckin game, so an ah dae. He did the same when his ain mither an faithur popped their clogs, rootin aboot their gear fur somethin he could flog doon the boozer. Ah’m aboot tae launch masell at him when that fuckin stork appears in between us, flappin its big, manky wings at me as though it’s trying tae slow doon efter landin oan ice. The stench, when it wafts intae me, reminds me ae sweet, fresh compost.

Ah shout at Peter as he plucks the frame aff its place oan the telly but the stork’s makin too much noise — it’s fuckin growlin at me, so an it is — an he disnae hear me. Then ah mind that even if the bird wiznae there, ah’m still fuckin deid.

Ah can take a hint, so ah retreat up the stairs an stand at the end ae ma bed, listenin tae the bairns playin oot the back until ah hear Archie’s Paula oan the blower tae the Coapy funeral directors. Fur a minute, she sounds jist like ma Isabel. Jist like her. They’re no even related or nothin, but up here ah’d swear ma Isabel wiz right here in the hoose wi’ me, jist a few feet awa’, so’s ah could go doonstairs right noo an see her.

Efter that, ah need tae get awa’ fur a bit cause it’s too fuckin sad an while ah’m gone, everythin’s black.

Journey

Ever since ah wiz a bairn, ah’ve been fascinated wi’ Egypt. At school, ah’d ayways be drawin pyramids an the Sphinx an yon crazy wee side-oan Pharaohs.

As ah got aulder, ah funt oot that ye could dae Egyptology at uni. Course, ah never hud the brains fur university, but that didnae stoap me readin up oan the matter. Ah read a’ the books ah could lay ma hands oan. Wan thing ye need tae ken about they Egyptians, they fuckin loved their myths, so an they did. They’re gid wee stories, tae. Quite freaky but gid a’ the same. They had it a’ figured oot. They even had a story fur their deid folk, like a set ae directions fur them a’ tae get tae the efterlife nice an safe. A kinda gie-us-three-rings-when-ye-get-there sort ae thing. An you’ve got tae think that back then, information like that must’ve been fuckin important, like a million silver photee frames melted doon intae wan.

While it’s black, ah mind they stories an keep masell entertained. They stories ayways helped me understand shite, but the noo, ah jist dinnae ken whit tae think. Ah ayways reckoned that dyin wid be a skoosh. Wan minute you’re there, the next you’re no. But it’s no that simple. Dyin’s fuckin hard, so an it is. The hardest thing ah’ve ever hud tae dae.

Efter that, yon stork’s back oan the scene, which makes me realise that the blackness has disappeared. He’s still manky, likes, but there’s somethin different aboot him; somethin ah cannae pit ma finger oan. Afore ah can work it oot, he’s nippin ma ear.

— Are ye ready, Billy? asks the stork.

— Billy, is it? We’re oan first name terms, noo?

— Ma name’s Ba. That better?

— Since when could you fuckin talk?

— Ah’ve ayways been able tae talk. You’ve jist never asked me fuck all tae find oot.

— Aye, ah suppose, ah says cause the cunt’s got a point.

— C’moan. It’s time tae go.

— Where we goin, likes?

— The next stage is Vindication, says Ba. Afore Vindication is Journey. An afore we can really move, ye need tae lose some ae this anger.

— Whit anger? Ah’m no angry.

— Is that a fact? Aye, well you jist hod oan a minute.

An at that point, ah realise a few things at the same time. First up, ah’m alone in ma livin room. Second, the silver photee frame’s been swiped aff the telly. Third, the reason ma stork pal’s suddenly funt his tongue is cause he’s got a human heid an that heid, wid ye believe, is fuckin mine.

Vindication

Ah’ve ayways hated Lambhill Cemetery an ah can tell ye fur a fact, it disnae get any better when it’s yer ain fuckin funeral. Ah never wanted buried. Ah wanted tae get burnt. Chuck me in the furnace. Keep me warm. Spread me aboot efterwards. Fling me tae the winds. Dinnae leave me trapped in the grund. Dinnae stuff me in a boax. Dinnae hae the worms nibblin oan ma taes. But because ah’m no the brightest tac in the phonebook, the only person ah telt this tae was ma Isabel an she’s fuckin deid tae, which is nae use tae naebudy. So. Burial it is, then.

A’ the folk fae the infirmary an the hoose are here. It seemed like a lot back then but oot here in the cauld, wi’ them a’ huddled up the gither, it disnae look like many folk at a’. The bairns are there, oan their best behaviour, bless their herts. An there’s their faithur. There’s Peter.

— Ah cannae believe that bastard’s hud the brass neck tae turn up, ah says tae the stork.

— Shoosh, ya fanny, he snaps back tae me. Yer minister’s sayin nice things aboot ye.

Ye dinnae argue wi’ a talkin stork, especially when it’s sportin yer ain heid. Right enough, while everyone’s stood roond the coffin wi’ their een pointed at their feet, the minister’s gettin a few things aff his chist aboot yours truly.

“People who knew Billy knew two things about him,” the minister says. “He loved Isabel and he loved Egypt. This latter love is one we shared, although I don’t think we ever talked about it.”

— We didnae.

— Shut it.

The minister goes oan, “It was his dream to go on a Nile cruise with his beloved Isabel. I understand from his friends and family that he was very close to realising this dream until Isabel fell ill and he had to take early retirement to care for her.”

— Is that true, big man? It’s the stork again, flappin its gums rather than its wings fur a chinge.

— Fuckin ministers, says I. Naw, it’s no true. Ah didnae huv tae dae nothin. Ah wanted tae. There’s a diff’rence.

— Were ye nearly there, though?

— Naw, ah wiznae that close, ah says but I think big Ba kens ah’m fibbin.

“And that was Billy all over,” the minister says. “He was a good man, always thinking of others.”

— You shut it, ah says to Ba. Afore ye say anything, jist shut it.

Ma fifteen minutes ae fame end efter about five an then ma jaw practically draps aff. That cunt Peter’s got his hands oan a cord, so an he has, an he’s part ae the team lowerin ma boady — ma fuckin boady — intae the grund.

— Ah’ll no huv it! ah scream but they dinnae hear me an big Ba, well, he jist steps in front ae me again, daein his bouncer routine. Ah’ll no huv it!

They dinnae hing aboot, they cord boys. Next ah ken, o’er ma protests ah hear a hollow plumf an a puff as my coffin touches doon oan the fresh earth. Ah get an awfy boak an ma knees go yon jelly way.

“May his soul and those of all the departed through the mercy of God rest in peace,” says the minister an jist like that, it’s a’ o’er.

Maggie an the bairns, Archie an Paula, an a’ the others, wi’ erms aroond each other, bawlin their een oot, a’ shuffle awa’ tae get their wee cup ae tea. It’s jist Peter that’s left, hingin aroon like a bad smell, lookin doon intae the hole in the grund.

— You take a gid fuckin look at me, ya bastard. You take a gid fuckin look cause ah’ll be hauntin ye. You mark ma words.

Ba’s wing lands oan ma shoder. He pats me. He tries tae calm me doon jist as Peter reaches intae his jaiket an produces that fuckin wee silver photee frame. He looks at it long an hard an whispers somethin tae it. Then he bends o’er, reaches intae the hole an draps it intae the grave.

Right then — right at that minute — ah feel like a pure cunt. Ah start tae mumble an apology fur a’ the bad feelin o’er the years, but Peter’s turned awa’ an he’s chasing efter Maggie fur tae get back fur the wee cup ae tea.

— Right ye are, Billy, says the stork. Come oan in, number five, yer time is up.

An as Ba takes ma hand an lifts me aff ma feet, his big manky wings beatin through the air, ah get a quick swatch intae ma grave an the photee frame lyin face up on ma coffin an ah see me an ma Isabel starin back up, so an we are. We stare back up wi’ daft smiles an big, bright een an ah mind us baith bein happy when that photee got taken. Ah mind it like it wiz yesterday, an no really ten year efter a’. Well, there’s plenty of time tae be happy again. Time’s no a problem any mare, so an it isnae. There’s a’ the fuckin time in the world.

Born in Falkirk, Gavin Broom now lives in Michigan. He has been published over fifty times online and in print, and he edits fiction for The Waterhouse Review