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The Stormer

Carrying a torch can get you burnt.

Davina was her name and she pleaded that I should not write this, that I should not expose her to the world. Apologies, sweet Davey, whose standard would I bear if your starlit eyes had not so pleaded. Those days are gone.


See wee Hugh, way up there, high in the sky, splashing on paint like there was a world glut - a paint lake? A paint mountain?

There’s a heap of red, because he’s on her hair now, and he’s got to get it right, tints of yellow, splashes of orange.

And her? She's washing dishes, of course, like she always does.

Up in the cool fresh air, the sun blazing down, Hugh wiped the sweat from his forehead. Nudes always did that to him.

Took a breather, leaning on the scaffolding, looked out over the city. This wee guy, barely five five, with his shaggy hair and moustache, unkempt, unloved, this heartbreaker.

Oh Glasgow.

See, there were these three kids once, grew up together in that fair city, nation of Scotland, continent of Europe.

They went to school together, played together, fought together. They knew each other well, and in the way of such things they became lovers and haters, winners and losers, dreamers and the dreamed about.

Their names were Hugh Cooper, the hero of our tale; Crawford Gillespie, the villain; and Davina McLean, the Stormer.

Later, Crawford became a policeman, the crown prince of the Strathclyde Force, and married the beautiful Davina.

And Hugh? Well, Hugh’s way up there, high in the sky, splashing paint all over Glasgow.

It’s what he does, creates his art, hanging outside a renovated tenement building, its stone-work sand-blasted to the colour of cream. At its side is a vacant lot, a piece of waste ground, now being landscaped by workmen. They are creating a little city garden with patches of grass, flower beds, a rockery, park benches. It’s nice.

There is scaffolding across the gable end, and much of it is shrouded in canvas. But there’s a gap in the canvas, high up on the wall, because Hugh needs light to work.

He is ladling on the paint with a large brush, like any other busy artisan. The paint he is enthusiastically throwing onto the wall is an orangey red.

A very similar orangey red to the overalls Fiona was wearing. Fiona was a smallish and feisty-looking blonde in her mid 20s, with a cuddly look that was deceptive.

She walked towards a cubicle, carrying a pile of towels. The massage parlour was pine-panelled and hygienic looking, though a little faded. Fiona entered the cubicle where a fat, naked, man was lying face down on the couch. Fiona dumped the towels, poured oil on the man's back and began massaging.

After a while his hand dropped from his side, to brush against her leg. Getting braver, he stroked her leg. Fiona sighed resignedly, took a pencil from her pocket and moved it towards the man's backside where she made one rapid stabbing motion. There was a sharp intake of breath, and his hand withdrew quickly from her leg. Fiona returned the pencil to her pocket and, having dealt with the occupational hazard, returned to taking care of the fat man’s less carnal needs.

Meanwhile, Hugh climbed down the ladder, watched by two 10 year old boys. The boys had been annoying the gardeners, but those of the green fingers had finished for the day and were packing their van. Hugh got to the bottom and started fussing about with paint cans, mixing up a new batch of paint. The two boys came over to watch what he was doing, then looked up at the wall.

Finally the smaller boy gathered his courage and asked the question with a cough. “What is it, mister?”

His friend, the sophisticate, answered for Hugh. “It's a muriel, ya wanker.”

The younger lad, a budding art critic, was all eagerness. “Is it? Let’s see it, mister, go on.”

Hugh dealt with them as he had been dealt with when young. “Bugger off.”

He continued stirring the paint, the same orangey-red.

Very similar in colour to the red hair of Davina.

She was washing dishes.

Plate. Into the basin of soapy water. Good scrub. Rinse under running tap. Stack.

She was one of the few people in the world who had actually been trained to wash dishes. Her mother had been that kind of woman.

Davina was five foot eleven inches tall. Her inside leg was 38 inches, and her legs had good tone and shape. She took size six shoes. Her bum was small and neat, and yet well defined. Her hips were 34 inches, her waist was 22 inches and her stomach was flat and tight. Her chest was 34 inches, but she had a narrow back and took a C cup. Her skin was flawless, without blemishes, marks or scars. It was the colour of light honey. Her hair was the flaming orange of a promising evening, and her face was that dream of symmetry and perfection. Wide eyes, hazy grey. Retrousse nose. Wide mouth. High cheekbones. Dimple in chin. She had Audrey Hepburn’s neck.

She finished the dishes and dried her hands. There was a pile of housework to do, but she didn't feel like it. She never did.

Why did semi-detached, three bedroom houses in Bearsden take so much cleaning? Davina didn't know it, but it was an unavoidable law of nature. When you moved into the middle class suburbs from a working class tenement, your time and effort expenditure didn't increase in proportion to the increase in living space. It rose in direct relationship to the value of the new property. Once I was poor and dirty, now I am rich and clean.

She was wearing a pair of faded denims and a cheesecloth blouse. Apart from that she was bare-foot, bare-assed, and bare-boobed. The animal lurked inside her yet.

She made a cup of lemon tea, took it through to the lounge and curled up on the leather settee. Her breathing was slow and settled as she sipped, she was waiting. Soon, she slept and when she awoke she made the transformation that was expected of her. She went through to the bedroom and became a lady, dressing as befitted the wife of a superintendent of police.

Her bedroom was well-appointed, fitting for a nice middle-class couple.

Davina tried on different clothes in front of a full-length mirror. One skirt was a fraction above the knee and obviously pleased her, because she swished about in it. The front door slammed and Crawford, her husband, tall and distinguished in his police superintendent's uniform, appeared at the bedroom door, saw the amount of leg displayed, frowned and shook his head. It was an order.

Hugh was packing up his equipment and soaking his brushes as an old Volvo pulled up and Fiona got out. She kissed Hugh warily, avoiding his painted surfaces, then stood back while he continued packing. When his attention was away from her, she began edging towards the scaffolding. But Hugh noticed her out of the side of his eye. Just as she got to the canvas and made furtive attempts to pull it away, he made a leap towards her. There was a little mock struggle and she ran away from him to the other end of the wall, to hold the other edge of the canvas and threaten to lift it. He stalked towards her and she lifted the canvas a little higher. The threat was implicit, one step further and she would lift the canvas and look. Hugh, stymied, dropped to his knees and threw open his arms, begging her not to. She laughed and came towards him, kissed him this time without caring about the paint. She helped him pack his gear into the boot of the car and they drove away from the tenement wall.

A large dark Audi pulled up outside the church and Crawford got out and opened the passenger door for Davina. She was dressed very demurely in a tweed suit.

They walked towards the church, where other police officers and various, dignified and suited, middle-aged men were gathering. They were all accompanied by wives, all dressed soberly, but not quite as rigidly as Davina. There was much genteel hand-shaking and back slapping, but it was Crawford who participated. Davina was left standing alone and Crawford had to come back for her to escort her into the church.

The Dog’s Breath, a grubby bar which had no character apart from its customers. There were students, an arty crowd, bikers, actors, poets, derelicts, nurses and workmen. It was noisy, a jukebox blaring, and there was heavy drinking going on.

Hugh and Fiona entered the pub and struggled through the crowd towards Midden, leather-jacketed, bearded and long-haired, standing with a crowd of other bikers. Hugh reached the bar and waved over Bob, the manager. He passed him a cheque he produced from an envelope and asked him, in a loud voice, to cash it.

Bob wondered, and knew that Hugh knew, that the days of signing the backs of cheques was long gone, but glancing at the slip, was wise to his purpose. He whistled dutifully. “This is for ten grand, Hugh, I can't cash that.”

Hugh gave a gleeful explanation, “Came this morning, wages for the painting from the council. Give me a sub on it.”

Bob joined him in his moment of glory, “You’ll be buying everybody a drink then?”

Hugh glanced round at the huge number of people in the bar and shrugged, “Damn right.”

The service had just ended and the congregation were slowly filing out. There was a lot of chatting between the business types, networking. The police officers had their own little section and as they left Chief Constable Burroughs put his arm round Crawford’s shoulder.

“I hate these duty calls,” Burroughs said, “Half these buggers are probably laundering some ill-gotten gains.”

Crawford nodded. “Yes, but a very thought-provoking sermon, I thought.”

Burroughs looked at him quizzically, but then shrugged it off.

“I noticed Stoker was here,” Burroughs commented “Shows initiative for a young fellow.”

“He’ll go far, sir. I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

“Henderson was late, saw him sneaking in at the end.”

Crawford could not help but agree with his superior. “He’s slow with his paperwork too. Room there for improvement, if you ask me. But at least he showed up.”

Burroughs nodded, not really looking at Crawford.

“Your Davina looked stunning, as usual.”

Crawford smiled gratefully, then looked round, puzzled, searching for Davina. Her mane of red hair identified her, sitting alone, eyes closed, half asleep in the near empty church.

Back in the Dog’s Breath everybody was drunk to various degrees. Hugh turned to the throng of bikers surrounding him and said, “You’re not all turning up, and that’s final. It’s my big day and I’m not having you screwing it up.”

Midden, smiling wickedly, cuddled up to him. “We want to see your picture, Hugh. This masterpiece, that’s going to make you world famous ... well, locally speaking.”

Hugh shrugged him off. “You can see it after the opening. I’m not having you there noising everybody up and stealing the drink.”

Midden was staggered. “Drink? You never said there was drink involved.”

Hugh sensed danger and pulled Fiona aside. “You make sure that arsehole brother of yours doesn’t turn up.”

Fiona comforted him with a smile. “They won’t be there, they’re only winding you up. They know it’s important to you.”

Midden came up behind Hugh and thrust his wiry frame against Hugh's butt. “Hugh! Can I shag you when you’re famous?”

The following morning City Council vans and lorries arrived at the tenement. Workmen and equipment poured out of these. Rubbish was cleared from the newly-landscaped waste ground in front of the gable end and carted away in trucks. A little stage was erected at the side with a line of chairs, and a little podium was placed on it with a microphone on a stand. A small marquee was put up beside it. Tables were set up and caterers arrived to lay out a buffet and wine.

Fiona’s flat was girlie. Pastel shades and teddy bears. The style was poor, but the expensive looking TV, DVD and surround sound system showed that this was down to a lack of taste, not cash.

Fiona was still running around in her knickers, but Hugh was dressed, wearing the same T-shirt, jeans and long coat he had worn the day before. He was in the bedroom, sprawled in an armchair, gently swigging from a bottle of wine. There was a strange look on his face as he considered what this day meant to him. To his life, his career, his ambitions, his art.

“You can’t go like that,” Fiona screeched.

Hugh looked down at himself. “It’s all I’ve got.”

Fiona walked over to a wardrobe and threw it open to show a rack of Italian suits. “I’ve bought you hundreds of clothes.”

Hugh made a face and turned away. “Let’s not start that again. When I buy you hundreds of clothes, then I’ll wear the hundreds of clothes you’ve bought me.”

“Well, you’ve got plenty of money now, go and get yourself some decent gear.”

Hugh considered this, then shook his head sadly. “Thing is, it’s been so long, I don’t know what ‘decent’ means any more.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © © 2012 Gurmeet Mattu
The author asserts the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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