Edinburgh is wearing her Friday lunchtime finest like a showy am-dram student auditioning for a low-budget film. But with a brisk breeze to temper the starry-eyed admiration of unsuspecting tourists. Some head back to their hotel rooms for woollen sweaters, while hardy locals in the Meadows bask short-sleeved and guzzle cider in between impromptu kickabouts.
Hugh’s late-June journey begins nearby in the Southside – now full of strange faces and a galling air of gentrification.
This is his first trip back in ages. His built-in navigation skewed by mirror-image student digs, bland hotels and gridlocked traffic.
The wee baker’s shop, McGregor’s, is now a flat as well by the looks of it. He used to get rolls there nearly every weekend for him and Sally, God rest her soul. She’d always have a black pudding and fried egg doubler, while Hugh was firmly in the bacon camp, with one splodge of ketchup.
That Moira who worked on the counter had always been keen on him, but Hugh was a man of principles. Apart from one slip-up with whatsername. The time that had passed made it seem like his little lapse had never happened at all. That and the fact nobody had ever found out. Hugh had never been good with confrontation.
There was some kind of kerfuffle outside the Sheriff Court as he walked slowly by. Hugh had been called up for jury duty once. His gaffer had told him not to bother going, but he was too scared of the consequences. Sally would have been mortified if one of the local bobbies had appeared at the door looking for him. As it was, he hadn’t been selected and was left wondering for decades about the goings-on inside the Scottish justice system.
The closest he’d ever got to being on the wrong side of the law was when he hit Tommy Donaldson in the work’s canteen. It was a ‘misunderstanding’ over a bottle of whisky. Back in those days, a punch amongst pals was soon all forgotten over a few drinks on the way home. Nowadays he’d ‘probably get the jail.’ It made him think of the boy he went to school with who got caught trying to rob a bank at 16 with a water pistol and a pair of cheap tights. Just a daft laddie. He’d probably been watching too many gangster movies.
As he made his way down the Mound, the castle appeared dramatically, which felt reassuring. Hugh called it the ‘tourist trap’ though and had only visited it once in the 31 years he was a resident, before moving to Nova Scotia. The fact he and Sally never had kids made it easier to avoid those sorts of places.
He now wasn’t far from where he’d first met his wife, at the dancing all that time ago. Rekindled memories of those days. She was a real treat for the senses – tall and slim with a gorgeous round face like a smiling moon. Not forgetting the tiny brown birthmark under her left ear that he found kind of cute. That particular night, in a pretty yellow dress with long curly brown hair and candy apple lipstick. And boy did she know her way around the dance floor. Hugh had been mesmerised – a celluloid moment now on the cutting room floor. He and Sally had also spent many a Saturday night at the Dominion Cinema in Morningside – up to no good in the back row.
He tried to bring the picture of her that November night to life. But the smell of her perfume had evaporated, replaced by harsh taxi diesel in his nostrils. The once colourful dress jaded-looking and Sally’s sweet voice wrecked by the throat cancer that took her away eleven years ago. Then the image of himself with whatsername flashed into full-frontal view. A moment of weakness at the worst possible time.
Almost twenty minutes since setting off and a fraction later than planned, Hugh arrived, baking hot in his black three-piece suit. As the sun hid behind a lonely cloud as if in momentary mourning, the cheap coffin disappeared behind the curtain to the tune of ‘Mr. Sandman’ by The Chordettes. Only the undertakers and someone from the crematorium in attendance to fake their last respects.
Hugh had quite enjoyed his wee jaunt through the city centre of Auld Reekie, despite how much it had changed over the years, like a Hollywood celebrity’s ageing features. There was no star on the Boulevard for him though.
“Hugh Ramsay Sandison 1935-2018 RIP
It’s good to be home.”
Soon after, the hearse drew away to collect the next lapsed soul to embark on their final confined journey through the capital’s streets. Screening another sentimental motion picture in the back, replaying their lifetime of cobbled memories before the credits roll, one last time.