The turkey and the Queen

The turkey and the Queen had been and gone. Sofa-slumped in stupor, clutching bellies, nobody wanted to dance or sing so Vikki began to play charades. Soon everyone knew what she had seen Mummy doing with Santa Claus.

Ted swung his fist but the mulled wine made him miss. Uncle Nick made a dash for it. Snow blew in through the open door and Ted’s words flew back to him. “Is it a film?” Vikki asked.

Published on 04 January 2016 

Love in her eyes

Linh stood straight, face forward, and stared at the flag. The golden star sparkled, reflected in her dark eyes. She was beautiful. I tried to keep her face in my gaze but the Colonel was watching us. My eyes could not flicker or shift from the flag. I loved her but she loved the party, she loved the flag, she loved our country. I had tried to find the words but she was not ready for love with a person, or a person like me. I could not compete with her love for a people, for a country under attack.

Years later I heard that after leaving the camp she had crossed the border with a team of comrades. They caused the enemy such great losses that the invaders sent in the fire bombers. I heard that Linh was caught out in the open, away from the tunnels, and her body was never found.

Now I sit drinking iced coffee in a café in a city in my country, in a country at peace, in a country where the invaders were thrown out when I was still young. Now I sit here in a café in a street named after Linh, my Linh, though she was never mine, and I think of the young girl with the stars in her eyes, with the love of her people in her eyes.

Published on

Home is where

When I told my friends I was going home, they knew the house I meant; the house I had been born in seven or eight years before. You can never play for long enough but I knew it was time to go home if my da wasn’t to come looking for me with the dog. So I went home, to the house I had been born in, the only home I’d known or would know for twenty years.

When my friends asked me where I was going on holiday, I’d say I was going home and they’d laugh. But that’s what my ma called the island, that’s where she called home. She’d been away ten years now, and would be away for forty more, but every summer she took us all home to granda’s on the island.

I was at home there too, and my brothers, when we went out on our granda’s boat or watched him watching the tide against the light, eyes slits of green. It was my home as much as it was ma’s, it was home as much as the house I’d been born in. Aunts visited every day and ma’s friends we called Auntie, hair ruffling, old chocolate gifting. Then one summer the curtains were closed for a year when nanna left us.

In my twenties my home was in the deep sky-blue south, sun and sea, friends and just enough. My da said I made my home there. But it takes more than making to make a home. A home needs to be, to become and be. And once it is, it always will be. Now when I go back to visit where was my home on the sea, in the sun, I am at home with my friends. As soon as we arrive I breathe deep the air of home, I feel the calm warm quiet in the eye of the world’s storms, and our home here, our home in the city, is out of mind until we return.

When we are in the south, home is where our friends are, home is how we feel, not where we are. At home on the sand, at home asleep under the pines, at home late at night round the fire on the roof.

Back in the north, we watch from the top of the worn mountain as crystal light streams into the melting haar. We can see our house from here, now the mist has drawn back to the sea. Our house, our home, where many have been and many have gone. Home where our families became family, where our friends became family, where the heart is.

I have been to many places and have lived in many. Home is the magnet that pulls our hearts, circles become spirals and funnel slowly to the centre of our world. Years ago I saw a poem that said that home is with you, breathing slow beneath the skins. And now I know it is.

First published as part of Scotland’s Stories of Home April 2014

The Saint’s Day

Juanì opened the single tap. The pipes shook the loose tiles above the bath, covering the sound of the drums welcoming the saint’s day. Thin clay water poured, then cleared and began to swirl the red dust away.

Juanì fit the broken tile onto the grate and the bath began to fill. Thin dust rose and fell in waves in the water. It sparkled in the light between the roof and the wall and settled in forbidden river beach patterns. When the fresh welcoming water was deeper, the sand would feel reassuring beneath his feet.

The water crashed down like the Angeles cascade, a twisting splitting splashing rope. The tank on the roof must be nearly empty with the rains now so close. Sweat washed streams of dirt from Juanì’s forehead, his temples, and he wiped it away, shook his fingers away from the bath. The water was nearly enough.

He closed the tap and the clear water slowly stilled, a single green filament of weed settling on the rippled sands around the grate.

Juanì pulled off his father’s shirt and his brother’s shorts and stepped into the water. He saw his feet, his ankles, his shins, his calves darken. He sat down, closed his eyes. He stretched out and lay below the water, bubble breathed out through his nose. The drums of the saint’s day grew louder and became the drumming of his mother’s fists on the door.

The door swung open and slammed against the bath. His mother’s mouth was open, black. The rain on the iron roof drowned out her cries, begging forgiveness from the saint, begging him to give back what only he could. The golden red fish hung, nearly motionless, in the clear still water, eyes blank.

Also published on for National Flash Fiction Day 2014

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)