today i awoke feeling gnarly and sleep-deprived. i felt the makings of a headache stir slowly. i felt as though i was underwater. i lay awake for twenty minutes, massaging my temples, contemplating the day ahead.
an hour later, despite a cool shower, two cups of black coffee and two codeine pills, my headache was surfacing. fast.
another shopping expedition with my mother. i was not in the right frame of mind to spend time with her demands today. she can be very argumentative, and this was not the day to stir the hornets’ nest in my head.
i met my mother at our usual meeting place and we headed for Stance #5.
mother rummaged about in her handbag for her concession pass. being the age she is, and being besieged by geriatric ailments, her concession pass allows for a travel companion. once again, i am her +1.
she finally found it and handed it to the patient, smiling bus driver:
“whoar ur ye goan?” the driver asked.
“oh sorry… Kirkcaldy, please!” mother replied, smiling sweetly at him.
“ye ken this is a longer bus?” he asked me.
“it’s okay- we’re no in any hurry!” mother replied for me.
“well that’s awright then!” the driver said, winking at us.
“she doesn’t get out much…” i said, in all seriousness.
the driver laughed and handed me the tickets.
“we’ll take the scenic route the day!” mother added, in her soft Highland lilt.
we took up our seats at the rear of the bus: me at the window, mother at the aisle.
as the bus pulled out of the terminus, i realised we were seated above the rear wheels.
‘Christ’ i thought ‘it’s going to be a bumpy ride…’
“fine manny!” mother said.
“he was only bein’ nice ‘cos he fancied you” she joked, nudging my arm.
“mind you, you’ve got Robert. he’s a bonnie laddie!” she smiled, nudging my arm once again.
i gazed out the window, smiling at thoughts of Robert and i and how intense our love is…
my thoughts were interrupted by a third nudge:
“hey! maybe he fancied me!?!” she laughed.
i smiled to myself. she was happy. It was good to see her smile. for as long as i can remember she has been burdened with depression. for as long as i can remember she has been mourning William. William was my brother who died, tragically at the age of 18 of a brain haemorrhage, only 10 weeks before i was born. i never knew him. this makes me sad because i look quite like him, apparently.
seeing her smile today made me smile. i hoped that her upbeat mood would continue. some days, she can really stretch my patience and make my blood pressure soar in exasperation but today i caught a real spark of joy in her eyes.
i looked out at the sky. blue. little scatterings of grey cloud were beginning to creep in overhead. i hoped this was not a sign, portending another shitty day of petty arguments…
“nice perfume, mum” i said.
“Youth Dew… Estée Lauder… my old favourite” she said, smiling, thrusting her wrist beneath my nose to smell it.
“mmm…” i said. “it suits you!”
“thank you!” she said, feigning a smug attitude.
as far back as i can remember, she has always worn this fragrance. it has become as synonymous with her as her signature, or her collection of cardigans, or her generalisation of everyone being ‘a peer crater’.
and then her chatter began…
“fit’s ‘at on the back o’ that manny’s heid?” she asked, louder than her deaf ears realised.
i gazed down the aisle to see who she was referring to and spotted an elderly man wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap.
“it’s part of that man’s cap” i replied, in hushed tones.
“ach. i dinna see affa weil!” she added.
“he’s a bit auld for a hip hop hat, is he no?”
i swallowed hard and gazed out the window.
“peer al’ manny!” she said, again louder than her deaf ears realised.
the bus took us through Thornton and her thoughts turn to old friends, Betty and Ian.
“a hinna seen Betty n Ian fir a lang time… Betty n me used tae hae a lot o’ laughs… she wiz yer teacher, mind?”
i nodded and pointed out the window at the quickly gathering grey clouds. the sun was trying his best to cut through.
“i think it might rain…” i said.
“eh?” she shouted, cupping her other ear… “that’s my deef lug!”
“rain…” i said. “i think it’s going to rain…”
just then, some children at the rear of the bus began to scream and squawk. the sound was shrill and filled the space. the sound jarred my head.
“little buggers at the back o’ the bus, surely… fit a noise!” my mother said.
“fit a girny wee buggery” she said, of the loudest child.
“fit a strange wee voicey that bairn’s got… a right yapping wee bugger… you nivver hid a voice like ‘at… you were an affa guid bairn!” she added.
i shrugged a laugh and looked out the window. i was relieved to see we were deep in Kirkcaldy.
“far ar wi’? i need new glasses, Kathryn. a canna see the same…” my mother said.
“Kirkcaldy, mum…” i replied.
the young family, with the fake-baked mama and her three boisterous children got up to alight the bus:
“come on…” the mother yelled, in a thick Essex accent.
“Junior! Princess… put that down! Come on, Daisy… hurry!!” she shouted as she teetered down the aisle in ridiculous shoes.
i looked up to see three beautiful children with tousled curly hair, dressed in near identical outfits and pierced ears, all under the age of five excitedly totter down the aisle towards their father who was seated at the front of the bus nursing a baby in a pram. the children could barely contain their excitement:
“Daddy…!!!” they squealed as they all alighted the bus.
from the window i could see we were stuck in traffic. roadworks. a pneumatic drill pounded the pavement outside. the sound pounded my head.
“my toe’s affa sair” mother said, in a hushed tone.
“my corn’s dirlin’! it’s going tae rain.” she added.
“i hiv an appointment with the podiatrist wifie at 4 o’ clock… i dinna like her. i dinna think she kens fit she’s dein’!” she grumbled.
“Jimmy’s takin’ me doon… he’s affa good… i’d be lost withoot Jimmy.” she added.
Jimmy is my eldest brother, and the sibling longest-suffering of mother’s demands.
the bus stopped at Victoria Hospital and the elderly man, sporting the Yankees cap, and his companion got up to alight the bus. we watched him wobble and stagger as he struggled rise from his seat and then hirple down the aisle, his body bent out of shape with old age.
“peer crater…” mother said, aloud.
“div i look like ‘at? a’ bent oor?” she asked, her eyes tinged with sadness in accepting her own mortality.
“no…” i said, smiling as i stroked her hand.
truth is, she is beginning to look her age now. i guess all these years of grieving and depression have taken their toll on her. in 2009, she suffered a stroke. until then she had enjoyed the spoils of good genes. she had such beautiful skin for an old lady.
i smiled at her and told her she looked beautiful.
as we passed the memorial gardens, she looked out the window and pointed to a rug of blue flowers:
“aw, Kathryn… look! whit bonnie flooers!” she said.
i smiled. it was at this moment i caught her perfume.
our shopping expedition was quick and painless. my mother’s inability to walk any great distance, her shortness of breath and attention span, and my worsening headache ensured that.
it was, all in all, relatively uneventful. no dramas. only minor bickering. maybe, by way of virtue, my patience was growing.
the x37 took us on a more direct route back to Glenrothes Bus Station.
mother sat by the window, I sat at the aisle.
the bus was grubby and the air unclean. choking exhaust fumes and an overwhelming stench of body odour, from the woman seated in front of us, made me feel sick. it was warm and muggy. the air seemed clingy and thick.
i looked out the window, the world outside had darkened. dirty black rain clouds were gathering fast. a storm was coming. my head was already enduring its own little storm.
two fat ladies boarded the bus and sat down the front:
“this bus is fuckin’ reekin’!” the uglier of the two exclaimed and immediately arose to open a window.
as the bus tore down the dual-carriageway, rain began to fall. fast and hard. the cool misty air was refreshing. for a little while, i could breathe again. i sucked in the fresh air, in the hope it would alleviate my queasy headache.
the rain stopped, with the bus, in Glenrothes. within minutes, the sun began to shine with a new-found ferocity. it was warm!
i helped my mother into a taxi and headed to catch my bus home. i didn’t have to wait, fortunately. the prospect of codeine and a ‘katnap’ in a darkened room were the only things motivating me to keep moving for fear my headache would truly immobilise me if i stopped moving.
the G7 deposited me at the back door and i immediately put the kettle on to make myself a coffee. while the kettle boiled, i swallowed some pills. i let the dogs outside for some fresh air frolics.
i was hoping caffeine and codeine would abate the little storm surging through my brain. i sat outside, with the dogs, and sipped my coffee.
the dogs seemed restless. more restless than normal.
a flash of lightning unfurled in the sky, swiftly followed by a deep growl of thunder. no rain. the dogs grew anxious and began to pace, barking at the sky.
the rains broke and tumbled from the sky in sheets, as lightning continued to spark and illuminate and thunder cracked around our ears. i put the dogs inside. they were scared.
i wasn’t scared. i took off my shoes and sweater and stood, barefoot – my arms outstretched and my face upturned towards the blinking firmament. i stood, barefoot, in the water letting the rainfall batter my face and drench my bones as thunder crashed around my ears.
after an hour, the storm passed- taking my headache with it.
the dogs were calm, the sky was calm.
i felt alive.
(c) Kat McDonald 2014