When Marje Threw the Big One at Me
February 1, 2002
Two tickets to Edinburgh
by Alan Varty
hen Marje threw the big one at me we were going places. Place, to be exact: Edinburgh. We were on the train, travelling at the speed of light, into the future.
Capital city bound, we willed the driver to slow down, to take his foot off the pedal, to stop dreaming of red Ferraris and tartan men. The bright lights of Princes Street could wait (they would have to - it was not yet midday). The rock and wall of the castle would be playing music for centuries yet: the pipers inside didn't even know of our arrival. Maybe they did. It felt as though everyone did. They'd have the mat ready for us. Highland Hearts would be open. Hospitality is something the Scots know a wee thing about.
We were going to walk the Royal Mile and try not to fall off the other end. Hand in hand it would be hard to get there. Not yet a couple, certainly not a pair, never more ourselves, we were as absolutely different as you could possibly be. And yet underneath we were being pulled together just as surely and as swiftly as the engine was pulling us to Edinburgh.
Sooner and swifter as it turned out.
It was really happening. In fact, as it happened (as Marje spoke) I was walking the aisles in the woollen shops with the texture and the smells and the lyrical voices of smartly-dressed assistants telling me they had exactly what I wanted.
And as her words went through me (Marje's, not the assistants') I threw down the warm comfortable blue bed blanket and broke into a run.
I was out the door and the din of Princes Street bashed against me. Bodies crashed away at either side. Traffic stopped.
My heart banged and I swallowed a mounted policeman and his six-foot-tall horse.
So it was hard to say sorry. I didn't want to have to say sorry (not to my mental Mountie but to Marje).
Marje, who was really there sitting beside me, somewhere behind the mounted policeman.
I could tell he was arresting her. She was on the brink of apologizing, of saying she'd made a mistake, could he possibly look the other way?
Fifty years ago - it could be less - my mother had come to this romantic city with her romantic bridegroom and had a romantic honeymoon. He was a musician, a mover and a shaker, a man alone. A man you dream about who takes your heart the way a barman takes your order and when you leave him you're drunk, intoxicated on what he's given you. He was the sort of man who would show you that the world you'd known 'til then was shadow, without substance, that until him you'd existed in the comfort of your mind only. But, if you trusted him you could know heaven in your body. You only had to keep him in your heart.
He left little pieces of her all over Edinburgh.
They went home after their romantic weekend and he left her.
It was wartime then.
But there are always casualties of war. You've got to be brave.
I heard myself say yes. The policeman went away, the chains came off. Marje stopped trying to think of how to change the subject. She stopped wondering whether to hope I was deaf or worry that I had a hearing impairment. She smiled. A big beautiful smile wider than Princes Street. And the driver slowed down. The man sitting on the seat facing us stopped pretending he was asleep. The boiling hot coffee became cold and its smell vanished without anyone seeing where it had gone.
Later, a lifetime later it seemed, after an hour or two of breathing in Romantic Edinburgh, the tight feeling in my chest returned. I noted to myself it was a scientific fact that molecules of my mother's romantic first husband were circulating in my lungs, and the heart-thumping came back too. For a moment, like the screaming of bagpipes, it deafened me to all else.
She was my bride. It was our honeymoon.
You said you wanted to, Marje reminded me. Are you sure?
I was almost in the Lion's Den.
Tigers, actually. I was terrified of them. Which was daft. After you've been in the Human Zoo, what's a few tigers in a real zoo, Edinburgh Zoo? Of course I want to, I said as I paid my money, I wasn't thrown. Two for the lions, mate.
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