A Fairy (Liquid) Story
Author(s): Mark R Smith
Copyright holder(s): Mark R Smith
This document contains language which some may find offensive
Once upon a time there was a man with a two day hangover, a four day beard, a telephone bill he couldn’t afford to pay until the end of the month, a job he never thought about when he was at home, an overdue rubbish bin that he would take out later, a habit of wiping the pickings from his ears on the arm of his sofa, vague and frustrated ambitions in a musical direction, and a depressing, too long ignored, sinkful of dirty dishes. Standing with the kitchen door held open in his left hand, he contemplated the dishes - dried-on pasta sauce, pieces of noodle left over from the Chinese takeaway he had eaten three nights ago, the tea-stained mugs that were dotted throughout the other dishes like flowers in a field of dead grass.
The door swung shut behind him as he walked into the room and reached for the half-full bottle of Fairy Liquid that lived in the plastic cutlery holder on the draining board. He squeezed the bottle, unenthusiastically, forcing three small bubbles and one larger one to emerge from the partly clogged-up nozzle. The bubbles, caught in some tiny updraught of air imperceptible to the man, who had already resolved to have a quick plunk on the piano before tackling the Mount Everest of dishes, drifted balletically towards the ceiling.
The kitchen door thumped shut as the man walked back into the living room and sat down at his piano. The topcoat of dust and the pile of letters on the closed lid let him know how long it was since he had practised last. He lifted the letters and set them on the floor behind his stool.
It was easy for his fingers to find their way into routes they had made their path along hundreds, thousands, of times during their owners life. Soon enough, the fingers, lingering around the high end keys, began to massage a lazy jazz melody from the hidden away strings of the piano. The man closed his eyes and let the music his fingers were creating drift up into his ears. The dishes were irrelevant when he was here, in this new place of his own making, in this world of melodically manipulated airflows where slightly furred, five-day-old cheese sauce would never exist.
Time passed without the man noticing. He played songs that he knew better than the barrenness of his own bank balance. And, just as he was thinking about closing the lid of the piano, the words of a song he had heard one of his pals sing at a party came into his mind. The jazz rhythms he had been slouching out shifted into a jaunty, jumpalong country and western beat and he sang the only words he could remember from the song:
Ir you awaar o ony trows?
Carrying on with the same two chord pattern, the man hummed the melody of the song, sounding out this one line, like an incantation, when the chorus arrived.
The clock let him know he had been at the piano for three quarters of an hour, but, he decided, it had been time well spent as the dishes didn’t seem so ominous anymore. He closed the lid and walked through to his kitchen, humming the melody of the trowee song as he did.
When he opened the kitchen door, the scene that greeted him was a scene that rendered all rational or deductive thinking useless. No explanation was obvious, or even obtainable, what he saw simply was. It defied good sense and the rudimentary laws of physics which had been planted deep inside his head at school, but the only thing he could think of to explain the enormous soap bubble that half-filled his kitchen was that the bubbles he had squeezed from the fairly liquid bottle had somehow merged and expanded into this monster that now confronted him, just like sometimes happened when you managed to produce a freak, gossamer skinned bubble with your bubble-gum. The logical part of his mind started to follow this line of enquiry:
?? but there wouldn’t be enough soap in those wee bubbles to make this one ??
?? the chances of them merging without bursting would be very slim ??
?? the outside air pressure would be too strong for the bubbles, they would implode without
touching anything solid ??
?? once it reached a certain weight, it would be heavier than air and therefore be prey to gravity
just like the rest of us ??
But the truth of the bubble was undeniable, it was bobbing up and down right afore his eyes, it sides breathing out and in, widening and narrowing in response to the ceilingward / floorward / groundward / skyward swell of the bubble. And, in a further denial of the physical laws, in defiance of any theory the man could formulate, the bubble was getting bigger.
The unnaturalness, the impossibility, the need to confirm salient facts he had always unconsciously taken for granted, made the man wish the bubble gone. He reached out his hand, extending his index finger as he did, and pushed it into the skin of the bubble. But the soapy smelling haar he had expected - just like used to happen when you were a bairn and you burst the bubbles - never appeared: the bubble paid little attention to him and refused to burst. He tried again, this time grabbing at the bubble’s skin with all the fingers of his right hand. But, again, all he succeeded in doing was pushing the skin inwards, only to see it spring back into shape when he took his hand away.
Finally accepting the actuality of the bubble, the man stood with his hands on his hips, said ‘bastard’ contemplatively, made sure that the bubble was in fact growing, and wondered what on earth he should do next.
The bubble had by now grown so wide that it was beginning to press against either wall of the man’s narrow kitchen. Deciding he couldn’t be defeated by soap, water, and air, the man lunged at the bubble, squeezing it with both arms like he was giving it a desperate cuddle, trying to force a hole through its plasticy membrane. But it was, he found, useless. Resting his weight against the bubble, the man sighed and tried to think of another plan of attack. The rack of knives on the wall caught his eye.
‘Aha!’ Exclaimed the man triumphantly. ‘Lets see how you like that upye.’
He flattened his palms against the bubble to push himself back to his feet but discovered, frustratingly, that he was stuck. The bubble hadn’t felt sticky when he grabbed it, but, sure enough, here he was, gummed on like a midge on a piece of sticking tape. He thrashed around frantically, the bubble adjusting its shape to keep him helpless, but couldn’t free himself from the trap. He tried biting the bubble but all he achieved was a mouthful of soapy saliva. If this bubble keeps growing, thought the man, I’m going to be squashed against the wall.
Realising that to fight was no use, the man lay on the bubble, gave himself up to the vagaries of the situation, and hoped that some other bizarre twist would transpire and rescue him. And, as he lay there, his eyes closed, the strange path of events did alter its course: the bubble started to move aroundabout him, pulling him inside, passing him through its translucent rainbow skin. He started to resist again but felt tired, too wiped out to try and pull his arms away, too exhausted to stop the bubble creeping over his head, around his ankles, enclosing his chest and arms, claiming his now pliant body.
Inside the bubble, his sudden tiredness vanished, he found he could breathe, move about without causing a puncture, and see out into his kitchen. The formerly traumatic stacks of manky dishes seemed of little concern now. The feeling of panic that had inhabited his mind earlier on was gone. He lay back against the side of his bubble, laced his fingers together behind his head, bent his knees into a comfortable position, started to whistle a tune he had forgotten he knew, and, for the first time in a while, felt himself relax.
Even when the bubble started to shrink, the man didn’t feel any increase in his pulse, any insistent thump on the inside of his chest, any need to wipe sweaty hands on the legs of his breeks. His whistle became a hum and he smiled, jingling his left foot in time with his tune. The shrinking of his foot made it seem like his kitchen was growing, just like happened when you were on a pier and a boat was going out - for a weird second, until the rational part of your brain worked it out, you knew the pier was moving, despite the 40 tons of concrete dumped on the sea floor, despite the two feet thick posts that had been sticking in the same place for twenty odd years, despite the rest of the boats that were tied comfortably alaangside, you knew. The rational part of his mind had taken a bit of a doing in the past couple of minutes, but it did manage to work out that it was himself that was getting smaller, not his kitchen getting bigger. Dirty dinner plates becoming the size of full-moons - forks turning into per ilous stainless steel skerries - curdling milk and breakfast cereal bowls looking like poisonous, filth filled lochs.
The man stood up, hands on hips, and reflected on his situation: he had started off his day with little idea of what he was going to do, no motivation to do very much, a fuzzy headed hangover and a feeling that he should force himself to have a go at his too long ignored piano. Now, he was trapped in a freakish fairy liquid bubble that had shrunk to the size of a tabletennis ball; if it burst, the fall would be like a parachutless suicide jump from a Boeing 747 flying over the Alps; if he did manage to get out, would he have to spend the rest of his life scuffling about with the mice and flies, fighting them for crumbs of food left by the next tenants of the flat, who maybe hadn’t heard of part time musician and call centre operative Ralph William Jamieson’s strange Mary-Celeste-like disappearance? But, despite the endless questioning his mind forced him intae, the feeling of relaxation that had come ower him when he entered the bubble carried on.
The easy-going 12 O’clock upward drift of Ralph’s bubble changed to a forceful up and sideways 2 O’clock drag as the kitchen extractor fan started itself up and begun inhaling the stale food and rotting-milk-tinged air of the room. Ralph viewed the receding piles of dishes and the now distant kitchen floor detachedly. Turning, he looked at the fan, this close-up view giving him a momentary jab of shame whin he realised that he hidna cleaned the fan since he moved in. Gigantic claatches of dark brown grease covered the once white plastic. Tangled clumps of hair twisted in and out of the fine wire mesh that covered the front of the fan. The bubble got closer, shrinking a little more to fit through the grill, speeding up as the drag became more powerful, being pulled through the diaphanous film of fluff that wallpapered the surface of the fan - catapulted into the dark air-shaft by the whirling blades - thrown upwards toward the far away disc of outside light - passing years-worth of accumulated dirt, plastered on the inside of the shaft like wet lumps of newspaper - the light getting bigger, hurting his eyes a peerie bit, filling the bubble with kaleidoscoping rainbow patterns, drawing him oot o da dark air duct and into a gigantic Liliputian-in-a-bubble-eye view of the city he had lived in for the past fifteen years. Glasgow: pasted onto the land like the centre pages of a massive pop-up book; the sharp tower of the university away to his left. Drifting higher: bowling greens and fitba pitches with regimented tenement blocks surrounding them like uninterested viewing galleries; down the hill, the river, bluey-brown like dirty dishwater, bridges stepping through the air with precarious precision. A change in the wind and he was floating over George Square, the dyed red tar, statues, the City Chambers he had always meant to visit. Parkhead below now, the car-park empty but for one car determinedly spinning and sliding and skidding around, the empty stadium, the white lines of the pitch framed by the emerald turf. Floating into mysterious East End regions he had never visited. Rows of smokeless chimneys (he sits in his bubble now, getting tired). Some houses now instead of flats. Ralph yawns heavily. Buildings thinning out. More green. Rests head against side of his bubble, whistles Waltzing Matilda slowly. Last look. Must’ve speeded up abit. Edinburghisitno? Yeah, see the castle. Singing da words as he faas asleep. Waaltsin Matilda....Waaltsin Matilda.....will...doo cum....aawaaltsin............Matil ......da ......wee... .......mmme.........................................
He woke up lying on his back, covered in the soapy sheen of formerly impenetrable, now popped, fairy liquid bubble. With the tune of Waltzing Matilda still in his head he sat up and looked around at the heather-brown and dirty-green landscape he had been plunked down in the middle of. He looked at his watch. If he sussed oot whit time it wiz, he could bring some order to this admittedly strange day. But his watch, no matter how much he tapped and shook it, was running backwards, the minute hand flying around at the speed its little brother the second hand normally ran at. He stood up, not knowing what else to do, lit a cigarette, tried to get used to the strange source of music, ran a hand ower his stubble and through his hair dt needed a cut, and started to walk towards the twartree buildings he could see smoke rising from down at the baudum u d hill.
‘Now daan.’ Said the samllish man painting the house Ralph surprisingly fun himself standing ootside o. ‘Boanny day.’
‘Ahhh. Yes. Yeah it is.’
The man continued his painting; but, as he stood and looked, Ralph realised that it was varnish the man was using, not paint, and that the house was a crazy collage of old beertins, irregular pieces of corrugated iron, hubcaps and numberplates of long gone cars, flattened out baked bean cans with scraps of label still clinging on, sections of motorbike fuel tank with the names of faraway Japanese manufacturers showing here and there.
‘Is the varnish to stop the rust?’
The man turned aroond, balancing his varnish brush on da edge o da tin as he did.
‘Buee, buee. Dir nithin gits by dee ir dee? Dir anidder pent brush ida sheid if doo waants t gee a haand.’
The man started his varnishing again. Ralph looked around at the other houses. They were all made in the same way; teepee shaped, built up of old pieces of scrap metal, glinkin a peerie bit in the daylight.
‘Brushes are in here?’ Asked Ralph, pointing at one of the small outbuildings at the side of the house.
‘Ye. Doo myt taak oot a grain mair varneesh anaa.’
Ralph had to go on his knees to get through the door of the shed. His eyes took a meenit t adjust to the dark but, soon enough, he could make out the writing on the various tins that were lined up on the two shelves abuin the workbench. The smell of paints and thinners was vinegar sharp in his nostrils as he bent forward to read the smaller tins. He found a tin with “Hoose Varneesh” written on its side in rough red letters. Good job, cuz his knees wiz getting sore fae the coorse stone floor dt he was kneeling on. He lifted the tin of varnish from its place on the shelf and, as he was too big to get turned around, reversed his way out of the door.
Once outside, Ralph handed the tin to the man who was now standing at the foot of his ladder, wiping off of his haands wee an owld cloot. Now that the man was standing on the ground, Ralph could have a right look at him: he was smaller than Ralph had realised, the taap o his head might have reached to the middle of Ralph’s chest at the most; there were long, toughlooking nails on the man’s coarse hands and on his uncovered feet; he wore a faded, often-patched-up Fair Isle pattern jumper, and a pair of tattered jeans; he had tangled barbed-wire hair sticking out scizophrenically from his head.
‘Im blyd u dis waader. We sood git dis feeneesht daday.’
The man handed Ralph a brush.
‘Doo’d mibee do yun bit abuin d door yundir. Hits a curs haein t moov d leidir ivery time sumeen waants in ur oot uda hoose. Doo sood be aibl t reck doe.’
They worked in silence, not feeling the need to yap. Ralph, despite a habitual dislike of most kinds of manual work, found himself enjoying the varnishing.
‘Foo’s doo gittiin on?’
‘Fine. Not so bad. I think it’ll no take much longer.’
‘Dir soop upu d stove fur whin wir feeneesht. Jessie’s maakin sum banniks anaa.’
The thought of getting back to Glasgow for his backshift at the call centre came into Ralph’s head.
‘Aa. No, I’ve got to work. At 10 O’Clock.’
He looked at his watch. It was still running backwards, getting faster, the dates -31,30,29,28 - clicking into place as he looked.
‘Naa. I doot doo cood byd. Dir liklee no lippinin dee noo oaneewy.’
The man’s anouncement convinced Ralph to stay. The two of them got on with the varnishing.
Ralph had already figured oot dt time worked unusually in this place, but, whin he lookit up and saw that all the varnishing was finished, he hopefully tried his watch again to see if he couldn’t fix in his mind how long it had taken. He jumped a peerie bit when the man said:
‘Cum doo in noo buee. I dinna kein aboot dee but im fantin.’
‘Ye, yes, dat,dat would be fine. I am pretty hungry noo that I tink about it.’
The man opened the door and went inside. Ralph followed, ducking his head as he passed through the door.
The smell of peat smoke fae d open fire wiz strong, especially to gas central heating owner Ralph. There was a small woman hunkered down afore the fire, stirring itae a pot that hung just within reach of the lowpin falmes. She lifted the lid from the pot and the smell of tattie soup was combined with the reek u d peats. Baaniks wir maakin on the hot stones around the fire. A large leg of mutton sat on d sideboard, partially cindered up.
‘Billy. Let d buee sit doon, fur oany sake. I dinna kein. Ralph, cum n set dee in neest d fyr.’
Ralph was surprised to find he could fit in the wooden chair that sat to the right side of the fire. Billy went through the house and returned with a bottle of whisky. The bottle had no label. Hom Bru. He poured out two glasses and handed one to Ralph.
‘Cheers min. Thanks tae dee fur d haand.’
Ralph swallowed half his whisky in one moothfoo, coughed when it hit the back of his throat, felt his eyes water, recovered, and said:
‘That’s allright Billy. Happy to help out.’
They sat in silence. Neither of them feeling the need for conversation. The clock ticktickticked. Billy’s wife bustled aboot preparing the tea. The lowe of the fire got brighter as the light filtering in through the tiny windows decreased. Billy took oot his pipe, lit it, took a long draw, held the pipe in his left hand, and broke the silence:
‘Hit wisna ey lik dis doo keins.’
Ralph lookit ower, unsure how to respond.
‘I mean dis skriipin by, biggin hooses oot o aald bruks o tin.’
‘What did it used to be like.’
‘Weel, dee wir a tym whin dey wir far mair trowee fauk heer iz dey ir noo. Dey wir trows in Trooseegirt, in Haamirsweek, in Bretho, Neep, Gunneegirt. Noo dir choost whit doo sees oot yunder. Twartree bits o hooses wappit up choost fur d saik o haein sumwy. Eens upu a tym d trows a beid tgidder, nae need fir me t hae my hoose an dee t hae dyn; naa, you aaa choost beid ida ee plis.’
Billy sookit on his pipe. He blew oot d reek slowly, as if t calm his sel doon a bit afore he geed on mair.
‘Bit, you hae t moov wee d tyms I suppoas. Sum o d trows geed awey t d circus. Dey meid good money anaa. Dat’s nae sense wee bairns doe. A braa lok o dm guid t Ireland, a braa lot dt wiz my cousins geed dair. I dinna kein, bit dey seemed t be less budder fittin in dair. Doo sees, hit caam t be dit fauk choost didnoo waant d trows heer oany mair. At waan tym trows an idder fauk got on ower weel: yea, ryt eenyoch, wee wid gluf dm an chis dm, an dey wid gaadir tgidder an reesl up amung wis noo and agein, but, on d hoal, dey wir kindo a...a....a tolerance, an acceptance o annider kynd o fauk.’
‘Whit happint?’ Asked Ralph.
‘Ach. Doo keins d wy. Tings cheinj. Dey wir fensis geed up. Fauk heid title deeds an plans draan o whit dey aowned and whit dey didna. D trows choost nivir fat in wee aa dat. I mynd dey wir a trowee burn dt caam t bee ida middl o twaa fauks bits o laand. Noo, nein u d twaa o dm waantit t aown a trowee burn, but neiddir o dm waantit d idder een t hae it. Weel, waan nyt, een u dm, athoot d idder een keinin, caam wee a roog o dugs and shistit aa d trows awaa. Daan he guid tae his neebir and seid dt he wiz cleerd oot d trows so d burn wiz hiz by rychts. D pair u dm faell t feichtin, damned fuils, until een o d weeminfauk fun dm and spleet dm up. Dey eventually heid t git d mineestir in t mediate atween d twaa u dm. D point o aa yun is doe, dt d trows couldna geing back. A plis dey wir been fir as laang iz oanybody cood mynd an dey wir chist awaa in ee nyt. Hits nae winder miist u dm left.’
Billy returned tae his pipe. Ticktickticktick went the clock.
‘Supper’s reidee. Cum yoo.’ Said Billy’s wife.
Billy and Ralph went to the table, helped themselves to soup and bannocks, and returned t dir saets at d fyr. Ralph felt no need to get going. No thought of unpaid bills entered his heid. D towt o dirty dishes was a ting o d paast. For the first time in a long long time he felt something he realised he had never felt afore: he felt the alien sensation of being content. They ate in silence. The soup was salty. Hot. Coorse lumps o carrot and tattie melted in Ralph’s mouth. He dipped in the coarnir o his bannik. It tasted like the best meal he had ever eaten.
Then the feed was ower. Plits wir cleared awey. The door opened and more trows came in. Billy lifted down the fiddle and began to tune up. Ralph saw that there was a piano in the corner of the room. Two more trows caam in. Een o dm heid a guitar. Ralph drained his third glass of whisky and volunteered:
‘I cn play d piano.’
‘Weel buee. I tink doo’d bettir git hm fyred up. Aald Lowrie u d Hyts tinks he cn play but d poor aowld bugger tinks keys is joost fur oapinin doors. Set dee in afore he cums.’
Aa d trows gaaffd and Ralph set him afore d piano. He wiz surprized t fun dt it wiz d rycht syz fir him. He plinkplinked d A t gee d naut t Billy. Dan dey wir aa in tyoon. An owld trow caam in an geed Ralph a firsum glower.
‘Wir needin sumeen t play d spuins dnyt Lowrie. Geing doo ida draar n git dee twaa.’
Billy fyred up d fiddle. D tyoon wiz in G and dey aa joined in. D fiddle wiz fleein. Fauk clappit dir haands. Staampit dir feet. Dan Billy’s wyf, fae wey at d back u d room, startit t sing. D words Ralph hid eence herd his pal sing at a pairtee flautit itae iz lugs. He myndit d words an staartit t sing alaang:
Iz doo awaar o ony trows daday
Iz doo awaar o ony trows.
He played d piano wee an enthoosiasum he hid forgot he wiz capable o. He threw in aa faancy chords. D fauk aa sang an clappit. Sum u dm staartit t dance. Ralph sat at dat owld piano and played and played and finally, fur d first tym in his lyf felt dt he wiz a pairt o it aa.
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A Fairy (Liquid) Story. 2022. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved June 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=957.
"A Fairy (Liquid) Story." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2022. Web. June 2022. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=957.
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