The Life We Choose – Episode 73

Back at the house, Daniel was busy and their cosy little kitchen had been turned into an unfamiliar, bare place with only their little card table in the middle of the floor, set for dinner. A solitary pot bubbled on the range.

“Potatoes,” he explained to Sarah. “And Mary Ellen left a plate of cold cuts in the scullery to go with them. Sandy’s been down to take the first of the stuff away. He’ll bring the big wagon on Friday for the furniture. Says he’s been given his orders by the General.”

He laughed.

“That’s what he’s taken to callin’ Jess. Says she can’t wait for us to move. Tells me she’s made new curtains for the cottage.”

“Nest building,” Sarah said thoughtfully. “Mary Ellen’s mentioned that the womenfolk do that when they’re expecting and when their time’s getting near.

“I’ll go up and see her. Try to get her to rest a bit more,” she added.

“Not tonight, though.” Daniel finished laying the table. “Mary Ellen called in. She says we’ve to go along later, for there’s not much comfort here.”

Sarah suddenly felt a pang of regret.

“We’ll miss her when we move,” she said, her voice suddenly muffled.

Darkness had fallen by the time Sarah and Daniel paid their promised visit to Mary Ellen and Pate. They were surprised to hear a babble of voices and the occasional peal of laughter as they approached the door, and Sarah was all for turning back, but Daniel was curious.

“Come away in.” Mary Ellen threw open the kitchen door as they stood uncertainly in the small lobby. She leaned forward and lowered her voice,

“Big Ella Gourlay’s sprung a surprise on us. There’s to be a weddin’ on Hogmanay – her an’ Dreels Cox, nae less. Bein’ Ella, there’s no’ a single preparation made, so some o’ the women came by t’see if somethin’ could be done to make a wee celebration.”

“I’m in here,” Pate’s voice came from the bedroom. “Come away in an’ gie’s your chat.”

“Pate hates a crowd o’ wimmen thegither,” Mary Ellen explained. “You go away in an’ keep him company, Daniel, an’ you come wi’ me, Sarah. They’re sittin’ the bit oot in there an’ I’ll soon have t’ make tea. I could do wi’ a hand.”

There was an air of festivity in Mary Ellen’s kitchen. The Langrigg mothers filled every available chair. Each one was clutching a glass and a plate of shortbread was being passed round between them.

“New Year’s come early.” Nellie Burnett waved her glass at Sarah.

“And Mary Ellen’s ginger wine is better than ever.” Mrs Maxton helped herself to another piece of shortbread.

“Welcome back, Mistress Morrison.” Rachel’s mother’s quiet voice broke into the hilarity. “We’re all right pleased to see you. I hope you found your father well.”

Sarah reflected that Nellie Burnett had been busy spreading the news.

“We’re tryin’ to decide whether it’s to be one or two clootie dumplin’s this year, Sarah,” Mary Ellen said.

“Yes, we tak’ turns to make one in the bine at the wash-house – that’s for New Year,” Nellie added.

“But if there’s a weddin’ on Hogmanay, we’ll need another forbye that.”

Mrs Maxton gave a sudden window-rattling guffaw of laughter.

“D’yis mind the year that Tricky Binnie made the dumplin’ for the Front Raw here?” she asked. There was a sudden gale of laughter from the company. When at last it had died down, Mary Ellen explained the hilarity to Sarah.

“Magrit had juist had a bairn, so Tricky volunteered to make the dumplin’. Trouble was, he couldna find the muslin cloot for boilin’ it in the bine, so he cut up an auld blanket instead.”

There was a shout of laughter from all present at the very memory of it.

“An’ he feenished up wi’ a furry dumplin’,” Nellie Burnett announced, shaking with laughter.

Mary Ellen held up her hand.

“Nae mair dumplin’ stories or we’ll be here a’ night. Now, I’ll fetch my notebook an’ we’ll see if there’s enough stuff saved for two dumplin’s.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.