Waitress by Gordon M Burns by Gordon M Burns - Read Online

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Waitress - Gordon M Burns

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PART ONE

TOTAL FANTASY

1

After dinner service and with the dining room set for breakfast, Modra asked Lucy - stay behind - she wanted to - talk to her - tell her something, no doubt pass remark. Lucy knew she would have heard it all before. Through in the vast wood-panelled lounge the guests turned their ears to Ronnie Blues and his bingo-caller-spiel. In the kitchen, where the Lucy stood impatiently in the sterile lustre of stainless steel, a grassy-lemon zing of citrus cleaning fluid failed to mask the aftermath of deep frying permeating and lingering in the air, the waitress’s clothing, her skin and hair. It all left her wondering where this was taking her. Her eyes wandered moodily to where, out of reach from all help high up in the corner of a kitchen window, a butterfly struggled with faded wings that could neither win through the pane or fly into the clinically blue light of the electronic fly killer and end it. Stuck as she was herself, Lucy thought of its fate as either death by privation or destruction by electric shocks blasting it into fragments. Lucy felt stumped as, in no financial position to risk losing her job, she also could not afford to be home late. This being her mother’s zumba night, the waitress was expected back at her flat to care for Carrie. Frowning at the imposition on her freedom, she turned her back on the fated butterfly.

For the sake of everyone’s sanity the waitress’s mother should deposit three year-old Carrie at the flat, stick on her favourite DVD - the Princess and the Frog would do - then walk right out. It was the sort of thing Lucy considered that she would do herself, had done on occasions. She could feel fine about that - leaving her daughter on her own for a wee-bit. It would only be a while, not all night - heavens - just enough time to have a little need exorcised. The fact that the Social might cut her housing allowance off if that happened too often, worried her. She was not sure if they could do that or if she could see their point in doing so when she had a child to care for, however, most likely they would. Sheridan, her neighbour, might tell they could not but they could change anything they wished and did. There was no point in taking the risk especially when with most of the neds she had experienced, went off bang in a flash just after you sniggered coy-submission at their niggle.

Lucy’s chin, as it always did, led the charge of her trait of defiance. Knifing towards her shoulder, that perfect chin, followed as it was by an expression of disgust in the usual putout manner could only do one thing - swing her ponytail round into vision, an action that froze her glower. This reversed the shoulder chinning but as it rose up, the hair disappeared. One hand went behind her head, caught and returned the teasing glimpse of her hairstyle back into her vision. Once there she scrutinised the strands through screwed-up eyes and rubbing fingers with the frozen frown questioning the hair colour reminiscent of the shell-sand beaches in the west.

‘Do you think I should dye my hair, Kat? Tell the truth now - hey!’ Her mouth dropped open on a thought coined into place that she had to grab at before it rolled away forever to be lost. ‘To think that, of all things done - yeah? - I never done. Dyed my hair. Humph! Too busy ticking off the rest - yeah? So, Kat, what do you think?’ She asked waving the fine filaments at her friend. ‘Truth now - should I dye it more like yours - fuh, is that butterfly not messing your brain - once had one in a cupboard that did mine in. Say, when’s your next weekend off, hey-but, did we switch the light off this morning? I’m pulginwell bored, if you’re not Kat .’

❙❙▼ ☹

Given boredom, which, despite the presence of Katarzyna this stale-fat-fried-time was one such occasion, Lucy could, faster than whitebait fried, run all sorts of ideas and thoughts through her mind uttering them nonsensically before the mouth-watering aroma of deep fat frying could hit a nose. In Primary School that ability would have teachers read her work, smile three time however fabricated, then dish out the one wish that Lucy would sneer upon and do nothing about. Later, more specialised in Secondary School, the same would occur without the smiles to which Lucy would stick it to her English teacher along the lines of:

‘You know what, Miss? I’m not fussed. See when I’m your age, they’ll still chase my tail but when did give up hunting yours?’

Many, for various reasons, would grind their teeth at the thought of adolescent Lucy because, infuriating convention in some ways, she cinematically jumped events all over the place unprovoked to the point of teasing. Sometimes she seemed to be taking you linearly forward and the next instant frown into a maze of personal memoirs, an unfathomable labyrinth of complexity, which, despite the ordinariness of her family appeared too slipper-fitting-close for decent comfort. Then she would like sun from behind a cloud smile and making you think Nirvana found in a curving-bottle shape of bubbly fizzing-fun. Older, self-abusing teenagers trolled that promiscuity to gain experience for later deviant adventures whereas those her own age avoided her hash-tag for the risk the linkage made. The only ones scanning her Twitters friendly-likings were the maladjusted neds she made hooky alongside, noteably the one and only Sheridan and her lag-along, Malkie. As far as Lucy was concerned, anyone could have joined her social media grouping if they wished, if she approved or if niether, go twiddle their confusion in the nearest cubical whatever their gender. As all youth, she did not see herself as cardboard-cut-out obvious although, if she was honest to herself, she had been cutting and pasting a pastiche of herself since puberty not knowing where started the future ending. However, did she really care a fuh for a ugh-uch at the end of the day? Get by tonight’s run in with Restaurant Manageress Modra Lazdina, she and Katarzyna, back at her flat with Carrie, would be happy families together. ♡♡♡☺❙❙▼

‘Why, colour ess wrong with hair?’

‘Wrong? There’s a thought right enough.’ Lucy replied.

In answering in this vauge manner, it was as if her mind had become detached in examining her hair. As if the weight of decision to dye or not would frazzle her mind so that later nothing about why she did it or how it felt being done would leave her looking in the mirror convincing herself that she was fine with it. She stitch of half-thought that telling Kat this but the thread of that notion disappeared out the back of her head before she could reach for her phone and save it as a draft. With one eye-open wide on Lucy’s hair-stroking, Katarzyna perused her friend to make sense of everything then, when she thought she had, opened her mouth to speak, when suddenly the mood all changed. Something met with Lucy’s approval, she swiped her ponytail back to where it should belong, began the formation of a smile but only then noticed Katarzyna’s look of bemusement.

‘What?’ She asked reflecting the lost look of bewilderment from her Polish friend.

‘Ess true? Wrong thought be right?’

‘Huh? No-ahuh, hair - yeah? Hair I’m on about, Kat. Colour’s what wrong, thought’s got feck all to do with it - never had - yeah?’

‘So not thought of make change make you stare into air?’

Lucy’s hand sought her hair again, this time laying it over her shoulder and onto her breast, stroking the significance of Katarzyna’s words in her mind.

‘Never thought of it that way before. Now there’s a thought - what’s the time?’

Flicked back the ponytail went into place Lucy glanced between the kitchen clock and then back at Katarzyna. She had not wanted to ask Kat to stay behind to chum her home but she had, even though Kat’s displeasure in having her time wasted this way was noticeable. Nether Miss Melville or Rudzka Panna could give each other a reason for the need to stay behind.

‘Why she said she want you stay behind? It ess not like her.’

‘Well how would I know, Kat - hmmm - tell me that?’ Lucy replied happy to find someone to snap her exasperation at - only to immediately regret having done so. However, the dark-haired Polish girl had not picked up the inference in the undertone below the words or if she had, chose not to interpret them. Lucy flicked her head towards the door and her ponytail swung with a sleek swish. ‘You go, Kat, I’ll be fine.’

‘No, I wait. Hair - it ess nice.’ Each word offered neatly diced in a manner to pull Lucy up and notice more than a compliment.

‘Yeah? Thanks, Katarzyna, and sorry for biting you off.’

‘You bite me? When? I not notice.’ They both set ponytails swishy frolics in their laughter only for Katarzyna to come out with:

Kto się czubi, ten się lubi.’

‘And that means?’ Lucy asked with a lacing of annoyance towards last word.

‘I am not sure; something my babica say. I think mean - those that argue like each other.’

‘Humph!’ Lucy snorted at the ironic truth of it and feeling disinclined to ask what Kat’s babica was, checked the time on her phone and wondering whether to waste the effort to text her mum or not. The silence did not help clarify the decision.

‘By the way, Kat, we pronounce it is not ess.’

‘No, you wrong it is it not ess - is is is - tak?’

‘Hmmm!’ Lucy growled in her throat yet smiled at her friend’s wit and they fell into a comfort of silence together. Lucy took out her phone. Swiping the glass front swiped the mobile on and her smile off. She nail-tapped the phone screen, thought, then pressed the home icon and finally the off switch, which blackening her screen into a reflection of herself. Her eyes gazed out questioning herself.

‘Grandmother.’ Katarzyna suddenly blurted. Lucy frowned at the interruption, unsure of its reason. ‘Not you, Lucy, babica ... babica mean grandmother.’

‘Grannie.’

‘What is gran-nay?’

‘Babica.’

‘Oh? Not grandmother?’

‘Aye, grandmother; gran, grannie, grandmamma, nana - all the babica lot.’

‘Nana? All gr-gr-angry then comes nana. Why leave nana last? It sounds much nicer ... softer. Why gr-gr-grangry grannies here in Scotland? Polish babica is bubbly and kind of heart - old and knows - stays at home and make kaszanka.’

From the lounge, a call of ‘house’ silenced them.

Lucy wrinkled the side of her nose at Katarzyna but she did not say what ripped across her mind. Black puddings freshly made with slaughtered blood - honestly - did they do that? Kat had said they did when fresh back from a day out to the city with a six-pack of Tyskie and Polish sausage. An all-home-girl she would go sentimental for something left behind in pig’s blood, lungs and liver. That time Lucy went along with her and soon there was the supper worthy of a rhyme with added chips. Gutsier than herself - Lucy could hardly stomach haggis - she admired Katarzyna.

In Pitfroachie, some held the Eastern Europeans workers in little regard and poor opinion but Lucy did not. To her they all were laudable, hard-working people who stepped on a bus somewhere in the Northern European Plain, in a city she had never knew existed and popped up in a narrow glen in Scotland outside the Ardgormach Hotel in a wee town they could never have heard of - Pitfroachie. With no more than a rucksack or travel bag stuffed with all they were which was - a working knowledge of English to serve. Each one came with a lost look of hope mirrored the eyes of the reception clerk. Ieva, Ovis or whoever, with no more than - hello I am here for job - would stand on the tartan carpet ready for the split shifts and toilet scouring that most locals, Lucy knew, turned their noses up at. It was how Katarzyna had arrived with her degree in not-much-going that added up to zilch-all and as useful in Scotland as it was in Poland but at least here there were jobs that Kat and Lucy could do.

‘Do you want to come round the night, Kat, and stay over?’

Katarzyna teased the answer with more head wobbling, gauging the option of the staff accommodation, as if there was a contest.

‘You got beer?’

‘We could pick some from the Nisa.’

They both smiled; Katarzyna beaming her lip-curved grin into dimples that made Lucy feel stomach-churned to a tear-jerk on something from her childhood past she could not explain because somewhere beyond the placing of a finger, she felt something connected them from another time and place. She could not explain it, just like she could not explain how, occasionally in times of bright light, she would clearly see a body in multi-terrain combats lying bleeding up ahead of her. It could be on the hotel stairs or out in the street but usually when she was on her own. One shocked gasp look away and then an apprehensive return of gaze would find it gone and the thought he had lay there bleeding, trying to disolved her into grief was laughable, once the shock was over, because he had no hold on her - if he ever had.

‘I wish she’d hurry up and come.’ Lucy said to banish the thought.

❙❙▲☺? She, Modra Lazdina the restaurant manager, was another picture book character that Lucy once thought she had coloured in her childhood books; a woodland scene, near a babbling brook with butterflies.

Miss Lazdina came from Ventspils on the Latvian Baltic coast and curious as to why, Lucy took a walk around Ventspils, courtesy of Google maps. It turned out to be a pleasant looking place where mothers, dressed in summer frocks, pushed young children in buggies beside baskets of hanging flowers edging the streets. With its docks and beaches, take away the fiberglass statues of cows with baggage handles on their backs, and it was not unlike any waterside town along the Garriff Firth only less overcast and congested. As they would in Scotland, couples in Latvia pushing their child-buggies stopped to watch the green and white Google car pass by. Except in Latvia the men dressed only in shorts and waved or clapped at the goggling camera-car then metres on, seconds down the road - blonde hair trailed by on bicycles - buggy-pushers turned in a follow-on of amazement and a Volkswagen Passat trailed the vehicle with the blue roof-mounted camera. Studying the blocks of bright, uncluttered flats on a street called Pētera iela, some flats had verandas. One, with colourful window boxes of red and lilac flowers, Lucy considered she and Carrie could live in quite happily. Where she lived - if she could walk around the streets of Pitfroachie half-naked - she felt chill winds would shower petals from hanging baskets. If she lived in the warmth of Pētera iela with its sun-baked earth she too would set out window boxes with flowers to spread the beautification of the town. Beautifiaction - it was the longest word she knew, again due to the fact of her noseying into websites about Ventspils or maybe Modra. ☹?❙❙▼

‘What exactly are you looking at me like that for Kat?’

‘What? No mean say why? Who else to look at - moooey?’ She kissed her lips at Lucy. ‘Tell what like is look?’

Lucy knitted her brows. Sometimes she wonder if Katarzyna played her accent for the soul purpose of appearing exotic and score points over her when they met a couple of lads.

‘Like that!"

‘How is like that?’

‘Look, just because I can’t explain it does mean it don’t upset - yeah? I’ve got a good mind to, em-er...’

‘What?’

‘Make you sleep on the couch tonight - yeah?’

‘Then who tell Carrie stories?’

They laughed.

‘Fine for you, it’s not she’ll have a beef with.’

‘You eat beef with Miss Lazdina?’

‘Na-hah, it’s a way of speaking - yeah? Like she gonna give me grief - don’t tell me you don’t have ways of saying things in Polish.’

‘You want me teach Polish swear word?’

‘No way, you hear enough in English round these parts. What with Carrie growing up and copying everything I do and say, its like smoking - something I’m trying desperately to give up.’

‘Tak? Like how say kurwa you are? Katarzyna asked reaching out and tickling under the ribs.

‘Stop it!’

They laugh together.

Katarzyna and her, what pair they made together. It made Lucy puzzle over where in the blue wonder they matched together. She found no problem inviting her into her bed and that was strange. Although Katarzyna was neat for any eye to follow in her own intriguing way - not quite the full purse but plenty change to get by with - it was not a thing she thought she would have done. That she did might make people think - aye-aye - but they could think what they liked because it was not like that. The pair of them were like hetro-baited and up for gaming but lacquer on the beauty and pants flew out the window concerning lads. Only now, with Carrie around all-eyes and ears, it was something they tended avoid - mainly. If lads trafficed your online, looking to hack into anything you might download their way, it was what is - and what to do about it? It was all WiFi-availability and, for all she knew, taken for granted usage, nothing Katarzyna might have not hovered through to end up wondering where the promise was beyond long hours for minimal wage and think yourself fortunate. It all worried Lucy’s mother who called it - exploition of the unwary - something that should happen to pretty, little winged-things. However, as concerns about moth holes in woolen cardies was more her mother’s thing, it worried not Lucy. Her clothes were cheap-spun throw-aways, most likely stitched together by weebit flutterers worse of than her.

All that water off a duck, Katarzyna was beguiling peculiar and where to start?

She could start with Sheridan with whom she had not exactly fallen out with, like not shouting-match or an eye-scratching stuff, but rather just drifted off from - if one could end upon that word with her. She had known Sheridan since yonks-back-then and Katarzyna no more than a month but it was as if Sheridan - the weird, landing fag-end littering, foul-mouth next-door, always with her eye on her - she had just met and shuddered at and Katarzyna the one known since forever and got quaky-flaky about, despite a certain annoyance, which was - the way she was so okay with Miss Lazdina. It peeved Lucy to see them getting on so well together in the work place, made her feel she should be part of that, that the pair of them needed her to - what - square the triangle? Listening to herself, Lucy knew that sounded rubbish but she did feel like she belonged to them, even although that was way totally right off the spectrum. How could Lucy, rocking the Richter Scale of respectability, fit in with walk-straight-quick-with-no-wink in the dining room, Modra? And how did that mangeress accept swalk-the-carpet-with-tongue-in-cheek, Katarzyna? Yet they both got on together. Really strange for, taking that pair and something to go by, Latvia and Poland must be on different planets. Lucy wished they were a part of her world. True, she did have Katarzyna and Kat had this link with Modra, which was, deep down, the reason why Lucy had asked her to stay behind - to smooth the coming grief with Modra over.

❙❙▲☹⅀ It so happened that, unfortunately, Lucy had created a past for Modra Lazdina which at the time was fun to do but now she regreted - by and large but not completely - and it went like this:

At the age of fifteen, taken into a bar on Kuldigas iela by a Russian sailor called Ivan - who else? - who got her slightly drunk. In Lucy’s opinion, the street in Ventspils where the bar was snapped for the world with blonde girls strolling about in pretty, sleeveless tops and all-cool-for-summer shorts way passed lines cars should park themselves. All well and fine and worn with no intention of inviting residents hot-and-collared because they had. That sort would have to accept that, living in the sort of street with bars buzzing a party line, you only looked for fun - not necessarily the sort Ivan had in mind for Modra - which why he plied the Vodka down her. Then after, in the half-dark of a northern summer’s night, Ivan had helped tipsy Modra straddle a white cow opposite the bus shelters. There he tested the resistance in her giggle and she experienced a blinding thrill-chilly well above her knees. Both read her frothing and alco-fuelled excitement as written promise to mutual anticipation. Then, basically, he dragged her across a park called Dzirnavu laukims, into a building site and there severed from her childhood - as sure and as uninspiring as the Hellas fencing surrounding in site of that occurance. Latvia being short on suitable men, and those that were could take their pick, Modra left the resulting child behind with her mother, fled to Pitfroachie where, at the Ardgormach Hotel, she scraped the shite-spattered toilet pans. All this was not an original plot line and - apart from Miss Lazdina’s starting position in the hotel - it was not Modra’s tale being as it was more Lucy’s own story.

In the kitchen, Katarzyna teased her with a shit-house-you-in look. So what? - Lucy thought. Such was not new, so she put a finger up for Kat to swizzle on. They laughed fit enough to make the oldies with Ronnie Blues think the party was elsewhere.

Katarzyna Rudzka came from a place called Ełk in Northern Poland. Apart from not knowing how to make the letter ł on the keyboard, even wearing glasses Lucy felt, now that she and Katarzyna were friends it would be rude of her to stroll the streets solo-prising into Kat’s past and making up a scandalous nonsense the like of which she had for Miss Lazdina. If ever she felt tempted to wander Ełk, she would remember the embarrassment she felt meeting on Miss Lazdina during the breakfast shift following her stravaig around the mono-blocked streets of Ventspils where the traffic had not run ruts into its surface. She could not look her supervisor in the eye and smile that morning but it would have gone unnoticed by the Latvian. Never quick to smile herself, Miss Lazdina kept an edge of reserved formality for both the guests and staff, which had quickly risen her to Head Housekeeper and then to Restaurant Manager. Now on the Pitfroachie electoral role, within five years either she would be the hotel manager or she would be running her own boutique hotel nearby. Whereas, Lucy, having voted in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, was so shocked by her misreading of the fifty-five’s lack of vision, felt it was best she should never vote again and would still be waiting table for the bus parties when she was that age herself. ☹⅀❙❙⚡▼

‘Black pudding.’ Katarzyna’s voice broke the across the hum of refrigerator condensor motors.

‘Eh?’ Lucy frowned, thinking she was being got at for something.

‘Kaszanka ... you call it black pudding.’

‘I know.’ Lucy pouted. ‘You told me that once before, Kat. Do you think I’m so stupid that I forget things all the time?’

There was an answer to that, which best friends thought best to keep the lid on. So, brittle as a frosted puddle in late spring, she turned her back on Katarzyna who reached out taking her in her arms, pulling her round from out of her hurt. Lucy accepted the embrace just as the kitchen entry door swung open to the accordion playing the Gay Gordon’s and in came Modra Lazdina.

Kundze or jaunkundze? Lucy could not remember the Latvian form of address for unmarried women that she had learnt on the internet. She did not dare attempt to use it now because, either way, when she had tried that at home the sounding came out rude. Perhaps that was just her and the company she had kept in life.

‘You wanted to see me Miss Lazdina?’

2

‘It’s not what I meant, it’s not what anyone would have meant.’ She pleaded her case, however, one glance at Katarzyna told her that was not how they saw it.

Help me! - she screamed internally - what’s the use of speaking English if you don’t know what it’s all about - then, she thought, did any of them understand what each tried to tell each other? She nipped a stare and sealed herself into a silence for the restaurant manageress to think upon and clearly understand what words failed to explain.

❙❙▲☹⚡ The last time Lucy looked at someone like that was at school the day before her standard grade English. She had turned to Mrs. Reid, her English teacher, look in that eye that was alwys on her case and said and said:

‘Naa, Ah’ll nae bother sitting the feckin exam,’ laying on the Sheridan-talk the best she could. ‘Seems Ah hud aa the quallies needed tae get shugged-up - eh-no?’

‘Stop it, Lucy! That’s that Sheridan talking in you.’

The incandescence of Mrs. Reid’s rage took Lucy aback. It was as if the fifty-something, just separated from her husband, had been told by Lucy that all those years of teaching, meetings, guidance, record keeping, targets, forward planning and the hourly struggle to hem down indiscipline with both arms tied behind her back were all for nothing. At the end of the tongue-lashing, the withering look the teacher left her and the thought that Sherdian might be over influencing her, brought Lucy back to herself.

‘Well, as I see it, Miss, what’s the point now I have Carrie to look after?’

‘But you can’t, Lucy. You just can’t - not now, not after all we’ve put into this together. This is your future, Lucy, we’re talking about here.’

‘Is it, Miss?’ She had replied, knowing that the past had cobbled for her all the future she could expect and everyone would have their say in how they saw it. ‘And how great did yours turn out, Miss? Disturbed nightly sleeps and family troubles? No, you keep that - it’s not for me.’

Mrs Reid should have lost it. Miss should have smacked the schoolgirl across the face. If she had, Lucy hoped she would have not reported her because she knew it was herself who went too far at times. As it was, what Miss said next was distressingly too near a wake-up call in the light all that had happened. Most of that was now like cloudy-misty-in-her-mind but not what Mrs Reid had said:

‘Oh, Lucy, you’re but a child, an innocent.’

‘News to me, Miss. It might be the way you see it - does anyone else?’

That should have been that, interview concluded but Mrs Reid was a terrier to out truth and fair enough, only, she had predetermined outcome purely on fact fed her. One of the types of teachers who would pick an easy and scan each line, Mrs Reid would get to the end then miss the point of what the pupils knew in their mind was their best effort in creatively expression themselves. Then plastered on smiley face and three wishy-kisses, question the use of commas, dashes and refuse to believe that what she had before her could not be taken away and rewritten to suit her.

‘Don’t be silly, Lucy, and cut the attitude. ’

‘Wha-at - silly am I?’

‘It is only expression - one reflecting my exasperation with you, Lucy. You know and I both know your not.’

Lucy clammed up. Mrs Reid sat back looking for a way in. In the face of such doggedness, Lucy then curled into prickly-like-a-hedgehog, waiting a chance to prick back. Anything would do, a shoulder shrug, a tut, disrespectful eyes then they rise scent-barking-mad but by then Lucy would go dead-limp-possum and hang-in there unto they growled off exhausted.

‘Personally Lucy, I think you have acted silly. There has never been a better time for women’s opportunities in the world and what do you do? Woman have died in the struggle and you let yourself be ...’

‘I wasn’t a whore, Miss, if that was what you were going to say.’

‘No it was not Lucy. I’m sure you thought some ... But the point is, women are no longer the demure, fawning ego-gene-carriers for men’s legacy.’

‘Nuh-huh?’ Uttered like a bad smell smelt.

‘Pardon, Lucy, pardon. It’s not whuh, eh, huh, niuff, or even what. The word to use is pardon.’

‘Sorry, pardon then, but Miss but, I was only asking what that meant.’

‘It meant woman are no slaves to men.’

Lucy’s back ached as, knife-shut over her stomach whilst turning, she shut-door-back Mrs Reid in the face petulant as a toddler with a rattle Her way of blanking situations without lip-fanging straight into open verbal hostilities. Usually, she could pull this of effectively with a certain snake-like charm coiling saddensss into the beholder that could not reach her. However, the backache was something new and as she tried to tug herself around as far as she could go, the twinges told her that the desired effect was not being achieved. Outside of mum, teachers were the next to not appreciate such sunken-sullen posturing. She could not count the times some teacher other had asked her - don’t you like school, Lucy? - usually said when jack-knifed into such a position only the pout of her mouth and air-burning glare of eyes could be seen. The answer they wanted she gave but she had no idea the answer she would give herself. It pleased them to smile a - yes. Then she would try to knuckle down to work but conflict between Sheridan’s agenda and School’s forward planning meant teachers would come back at her - no, no , no! - this is not what we agreed would happen, Lucy. Such things, but by the nimbleness of Sheridan, would have doused her spirit wickless. Absent from the room that day, that friend could not give any backup and now, with the baby showing, her slumping cramped her. For some reason Callum flashed into her mind. He was above her, pressing her and all the time driven on the plunging ache she had they she heard herself say aloud:

‘Well, we’re all just slaves to something or other, Miss - yeah?’

‘Is that how you see it, Lucy? Could you perhaps expand on that and tell me how that is?’

Lucy sat up though still with a face like where had summer gone? She looked out the window at where the sky was blue. Mrs Reid drew her attention back into the room with - ‘Well, Lucy?’ - whereupon; Lucy eased herself into the Sheridan charm with:

‘The way Ah-hink is - whu-ugh - and why do it, Miss - eh? - Why do you let yersel get like all anorexic over zit-all?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Squeeze yersel, but we’re both wasting our time here because Ah’ll still be like plooky for society with the face Ah’m stuck with.

‘Pardon me, Lucy? Do you think that glibness impresses anyone? Mind you, young lady, if you are going to do metaphor - do try to be less facile.’ Metaphor: it seemed to Lucy that she had heard word before. ‘It is a bit of a simplistic, lop-sided view to take of life. Now, Lucy, maybe if you wore your glasses in class ...’ Metaphor: a comparison of a things taken as alike such as a rabbit with Lucy, Slack Alice is Lucy or hand-pumps are her. ‘Perhaps if you didn’t allow Sheridan to influence you all the time ...’ Metaphor: swearing, screaming Sheridan at the world’s hypocrisy, twisting it, jamming the hilt, reversing who splayed submission. ‘Is it at all possible, Lucy, that you could just, for a moment ...’

‘Metaphor no good for ya - eh!/?’ The schoolgirl spat, ‘Glib, am Ah?’ A clash of arms, legs and violent movements, shocked Mrs Reid into breathless non-reaction like a stomach blow had hit her. ‘See youse and yer trendy middle-class, femmi-slanting angle on things - eh? Stuffing word-painting no good for you? Pick this one apart - symbolise this right up ya jacking point and glib it, ya stuck-up cow.’ The gesture given, crude and nothing outwith Mrs Reid’s experience, bore Lucy on a tirade. ‘Ach, ye’ve nae idea, no idea, have ya, what it like to be like me. You see me in class hunched over my mobile phone hinkin - that’s all she’s feckin fit for - life seen in the snaps taken - but what you’ve got on offer is not the be all and end all - ah mean ...’

‘I will not be talked to in that churlish manner!’ Mrs Reid exclaimed looking to bring back order. ‘If you want to talk like Sheridan outside my class, fine, but do not come it with me, young lady. I grew up on a housing estate in Abergar, you grew up here. I took my chances, don’t let the likes of Sheridan drag you down.’

They both sucked in a pause knowing much said well out of order. Up to a point, what teacher said the schoolgirl knew to be true but fundamentally, that woman knowing nothing of the west and The Glen, had no idea the pressures that brought on family and life. Not a year past but some visit had to be made reluctantly back to the Old Home. At first she thought her mother drove this but increasingly she suspected only her brother seemed to keenest to go there and insisted that they should. In the schoolroom, Lucy broke silence first with:

‘That was you, Miss, but this is me and my - what do call it again, the line spun you?’

‘Narrative. I’ve taught you that much, Lucy - narrative.’

‘Aye - straight line jumping about.’

Lucy cast her eyes back out the window suddenly feeling tired as well as achy. She wondering why she had said what she had. She wished she could express herself so others understood. She also felt helpless in knowing that if she tried, Mrs Reid would hear what she said and twist it her own way.

The High School in Kilbrigit, built high upon the burghmuir, overlooked the town. From where she sat, Lucy viewed the five or so miles back to Pitfroachie set into it’s own wide-enough strath - the saving of it, for glens were narrow places and too constricting - but what drew her attention were the green woods on the town’s edge. Under that green canopy lay quiet glades where spilled a waterfall of clear memories of happy days - own imagining-created before the schooling started. Thinking of that time and the safety sensed with the dreamed-pair she shared it with - and she could not explain how this happened - she found words to say that really were not wholly hers.

‘See Miss, in all those stories you made us read, my favorite character was Feisty Fanny - yeah? She appeared in all the books only they prettied up the name for her. See if there’s a job to done, Feisty Fanny would get it done. Didn’t matter if she were Tea-with-Jane-Eyre or Down-the-Gutter-Nancy, she’d mind the house for Richard, fetch the slippers and be usefully for the what-nots before fading away with some disease or getting bludgeoned to death. Rewrite for today’s clued-in Fanny, and she’s Dick’s multitasking-sexy jobber, pube-free for the career she has to expand herself for and in her spare time? Why, blow me, but isn’t she down on the keep-fit of her best friend’s girlfriend to see how that makes her kite fly. She still has to mind house and the resulting what-nots - the kids. So, it comes down to the same thing. At the end of the day it’s all shagged out we are - a-and, for the likes of me and my type - life’s drifting clueless - it’s just the same for the men as women, except for lads its more just...’

She dried up for she had looked back into the woman’s eyes.

‘Yes, go on, Lucy, express yourself - for men it’s just?’

Lucy thought but bladder pressure took the strain of that away.

‘Sorry, Miss - yeah? A one-off back there,’ she said with distressed lips seeking empathy. ‘Don’t know where that one came from, sorry - no truly - and sorry if I was rude - yeah?’

Lips flickered a smile at Mrs Reid like end of term had come and the only motto emblazoned on the school badge was - here find joy for life abundant.

‘Apology accepted, Lucy.’

Lucy lit up the painless smile that she could render - the beaming bright-one, side-tuggers were after from her. A radiant ray which, when taking you in its light, made you experience how true beauty was not something that came your way everyday. Some might like to ruin it but Mrs Reid tried to hold it there, both for herself and for Lucy. In her head, she riffled her training that stifled her emotion. Running through the set formats of approaches, she fell quiet. In the impasse, Lucy thought to ask Mrs Reid if she thought there was ... Something she could not express other than a better way but that was not playing possum and so, she did not ask because she would never get away from the woman and her suggestions. It would breathed-word all wasted on her. Shifting in her seat uncomfortably she, or her internal workings, decided matters should end.

‘Now, Miss, if I can leave - I’m needing the toilet.’

‘Go then, go.’ ☹?❙❙▼

So, nothing to grump about, get on with it, give attitude to the real time in the kitchen with its after-stink of boiled veg and where, Miss Modra Lazdina was not about to go to the staffroom and bury her head in her hands. That Latvian, in her middle twenties, was unflappable as she was dynamic. Moving along from that, it seemed that teenage moldy-mump was either harder for Lucy to pull off at the tale-end of nineteen or an anathema to Eastern Europeans. Awkward silences did not get to Modra and even when reprimanding she preferred to talk softly. This approach unnerved Lucy. Even more so when the Latvian kundze gave praise. Delivering it in the same pan-faced, low-tone manner that made the Scot’s girl take a second to work out if what was said was hats off or not. It all had the effect of shutting her up and, in front of Miss Lazdina in the kitchen, Lucy clammed-up.

Katarzyna began tracing blue and oily marks across the stainless steel work surface with her finger. Line upon line of wavy cascading marks. Modra’s self-control flicked a modicum of concern across the eyes, making the young Scottish waitress begin to feel embarrassingly foolish. To Lucy it now seemed that she had missed some formality in the proceedings and although she had been the last to speak- it’s not what anyone would have meant - they were awaiting some word or action from her to move events along. Instead of facing this, she backed off by sliding down the edge of stainless steel. Lazdina Kundze tore off a length of kitchen roll; handed it to Rudzka Panna, thereby giving Melville Miss - why did they put everything round back to front? - time to gauge the supervisor from the distance she set between them.

At the end of any day, Modra looked as immaculate as she had at first breakfast serving. White shirt, gold tie, a blouson length, single breasted, burgundy jacket buttoned up. Either she had just two puffed-up nipples or she bound her bosom with elastic bandaging, for she was a flat as an ironing board. Not that had ever stopped the zimmer-men of Oldham - all talk and walking sticks - eh, lass if I wert youn’er - admiring her on their stopover. Nor did it prevent Jim Brodie, the chef, twirling his knife tip into a chopping board as he discussed menu and dining room arrangements with her. Modra was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful to Lucy and although she felt was no mean deal herself. Lucy knew, like Katarzyna, she was attractive enough and that if the traffic on her interface came over as sulkly or kitty face, it was the downtaken selfie that was good to go for whoever stalked her slash-dot-com. A state of fairs passable to Lucy, a service on a supply chain and that this happened to Lucy, just as was and what ot do about it? If Katarzyna could hop on hope’s promise, fetch up here and put up with it, then so could she. At the end of the day it was all starters and service through to dessert. The teas or coffees they could serve themselves with at the end of the meal and the second look they gave you not to do with whither you were remarkable. However, with that whiff of rank attitude she could muster, she was fortunate to have been born Scotland where they would not cast her into the sea for sharks to he-he with bonny wee lass or not. Lucy accepted she was not beauty born like Modra whose clear skin, smooth as a lacquered-laminated surface, so run-the-fingers-over devine you ached to touch and felt the warmth within. She had her quirks, her azure eyes, for example, never allowed close-up and personal questioning and a her short, pixie hairstyle and long face shape appeared chic-cool-uniform. Having said that, she genuinely made everyone feel welcome to the table during their stay but then could go right off menu like when, to take another example, new artificial flowers arrived for the dinner tables. For some reason she went round the lot cutting every fourth one out. When Lucy had questioned Katarzyna about that - well you cannot give flowers in even numbers can you? Was the reply. In the kitchen, Lucy shrugged her shoulders at that strange reasoning; they must be the only hotel in the SilverCove portfolio with three flowers in each table vase rather than four.

Lucy huffed her head at Modra’s cool nerve at bucking the corporate image, saw her action caught Modra’s eye and knew it was beholden to her to expalain - it’s not what anyone would have meant:

‘Look, all I said, yeah, was that I didn’t like the look of the woman at table thirty-six and I was right, wasn’t I?’

‘Lucy,’ Modra despaired before the callous crassness of the west. The same west that told her name badge should read Modra and not Miss Lazdina; fact was, this a place of business where all the guests were total strangers to her and they were not paying to get to know her personally. ‘Lucy,’ she said again as if to cure the Scottish girl’s ills. ‘You can not go saying that for guests to hear ... Most disrespectful, child.’ She went on to add that it was just as well posh, pointy-face from SivlerCove headquaters had not been present - she was about due to visit. ‘Set the flower vase just right, that woman finds fault if fault not there because her love is fault to find.’

Lucy invited herself into the eyes of Katarzyna to back her up her impending snigger but those eyes only confirmed what Modra said ... She had been a disrespectful child and be thankful there had been no inspection that day. All this did was help the young waitress’s hands suddenly find her hips, whereupon on hand flicked itself into the air as if the huh she uttered had been tossed up for service - take it or leave it. ‘And how do you make that out?’ She asked picturing to herself the old Yorkshire woman, grey as a heavy smoker, whose husband had gone through the bar to find out if Carling lager tasted the same in Pitfroachie as it did in Rotherham. Both of her colleagues in the kitchen studied her in blank amazement, so she tried another way. ‘If I hadn’t told you that, you might not have looked up in time to see her toppling into her tomato and basil soup.’

‘Oh?’ Miss Lazdina reconfigured visibly. ‘This is true? Not made up like story, Lucy?’

‘Yes,’ the waitress sighed, one eye on the clock ticking. ‘Not made up like story.’

Miss Melville felt she could not go running subtitles below all she said in life so everyone knew exactly what she meant. Heaven knew how the old woman at table thirty-six ever got on the bus in Newcastle let alone off the bus for morning coffee at Melrose or lunch in Dunkeld. However, by the time she had arrived in Pitfroachie she looked like yesterday’s porridge warmed up.