You hid the hope in cloudy crystal,
like a mosquito in the amber.

You shaped the jewels and clipped them on their chains.
One you put around your neck and one, hard-handed, round mine.

Your hope is independence, I thought you said.
It broke my heart to leave you but now I’m strong.

Billy peered through the haze

Billy peered through the haze at the fading letter Q on his brother’s front door. The haar had rolled in in September and never burnt away. The sun, when it was, was thin and white. Billy peered, but did not stop.

They had shared a mother and a father but never shared ambitions. Billy had grown up to see the litany of lost opportunities and lies and his brother take the other road.

Crows chattered. The thin grey mist muffled the sound of the celebratory gun. Billy shivered and peered and caught his breath but did not stop.

The Explosion

Some mid-season tourists were hanging around in the Gardens, waiting for the explosion. It was a couple of minutes to one and that was all there seemed to be to do. The locals were busy with their voting but the shops were open and you could still buy tartan towels and travel rugs.

Jan had sold the experience to the boys as an explosion rather than the One O’Clock Gun. She’d get them to look up to the castle and see the smoke before they heard the bang. But it was five past, ten past, now and the boys were getting bored. Just a couple more minutes, she told them, the soldiers must be having their dinner. And then – it was strange – she heard the explosion but didn’t see the smoke. She wondered why the gun was so late – 13.14, she remembered later – and the boys gave a little cheer.

After the boys had gone to sleep, she went down to the hotel bar. And that was when the gun sounded again, just before quarter past eight. The windows shook and rattled and Jan screamed a cut-off scream into her drink. She worked near the embassies and had been on edge for twenty years. ‘Colonist!’ A man at the bar spat. Jan had no idea what he was talking about. He carried on.

‘No more bowing down to the rich man’s whims and wishes, that’s what it means.’
The barman: ‘Unless they’re Scottish, I suppose. The rich men. Then we’d have to bow and scrape.’
‘It’s started, no matter how the vote goes. Hear the glorious guns of Bannockburn and Independence Day?’

The next day Jan bought shortbread and a Jimmy Shand CD. She was at Waverley in plenty of time but there were no trains south.

(First published in The List magazine’s referendum special 23 January – 20 February 2014)