Rob McClure Smith
The wedding reception had
by now acquired a mild hysterical edge. Deep down, the guests knew this was a marriage
fucked beyond redemption. Uncle Murray was still up trying to snag the microphone after
every song, always to be beaten to it by one or other of the horde of half-cut neds who
seemed to comprise the bulk of the bride's family.
"Fur Christ's sake Marion," he spluttered,
seriously frustrated now. "Them Tims huv bin monopolizin' yon thing fur the past half
"The mike should git shared by baith sides." Aunt
Marion sniffed for emphasis. She was big on the sniffing. Graham noticed that his
aunts face had in recent years collapsed into itself, with the leathery compression
of an ancient accordion.
"Murray aye does 'Scots Wha Hae' at weddings,"
Aunt Marion explained, glass chapping the lacquered tabletop. "Oor side aye looks
forrard tae it."
Paddy McNamee had commenced murdering Killing Moon in a
strangled falsetto. The wedding band, whose accompaniment to his yowling was a deranged
Indian raga, was draped in Granny-Takes-A-Trip retro shirts, and looked seriously
ridiculous. Their name was Cerebral Paisley.
Alba said the moniker was in appalling taste.
"What if they're from Paisley?" he'd offered.
"The thinking man's psychedelia? This shower used to be The Crewsy Fixers. That was
But there was no amusing Alba this night. She stared right
through him, oval green eyes sad as all tomorrows.
"Wid ye listen tae that yin screech," muttered
Uncle Murray, jutting his chin at the podium. "A cat caught in a mangle wid be a damn
sight mair musical than yonder eegit."
Graham glanced at Alba, but her eyes were fixed on the
scuffed green vinyl floor.
The trip had been an unqualified nightmare.
His cousins Billy and Willie were making daft faces into the video camera, mugging over a
deep pile of empties.
"That lassie's definitely goat a bun in the oven ah
think," Willie was saying.
"Definitely sumthin' dodgy aboot this hitch," his
"If youse ur slagging aff yir cousin again," Aunt
Marion snapped, "Jist shut yir fuckin' traps."
Alba turned towards Graham now, her expression beyond
mortified. He'd told her. They never should have come. Begged her he had. Albas
imagined Scotland was a postcard-perfect Local Hero full of rugged Sean Connery
look-alikes, a tartan place where Amazing Grace was endlessly shrilled by sporraned
bagpipers knee-deep in sheep-thick purple heather.
"But, sweetie, it's your cousin's wedding," she'd
said, scraping her fingernail down the crease of the invitation. "It would be bad
form not to go."
They had been in the kitchen of the Somerville apartment.
He'd folded the Arts Section over, scooped up the Book Review, and tried to change the
"There's a new Wong Kar-Wai coming out."
"Bad form," she repeated, caking fat-free cream
cheese on his bagel.
"It's a spring wedding," he'd told her, nervously.
'That's always bad."
"I don't understand," she'd said, lamb-innocent.
"I'd just like to see where you hail from. . . the auld countree."
"Real people marry in summer," he'd said.
"You have no idea."
What he should have said was: "Look honey, this is a
chemically deranged, viciously bigoted and horribly violent people. They're not at all
"Easterhouse," she said, pouring a stream of cream
from the cow-cup. "I picture a mansion full of lovely chocolate eggs."
Graham reached across to brush her knuckles with his fingertips. What nice girl from
suburban Massachusetts ever could be expected to know about this? He'd make it up
to her, maybe a weekend at their Brattleboro inn. Right now, she looked like hell too.
She'd been bawling during the service, like his female relatives, and black eyeliner had
run to coalesce in inky globs. She'd been dabbing at herself with his hankie while,
sunlight filtering through the stained glass, he'd been contemplating how Uncle Ali
already looked pissed as a newt and the Reverend Innes, at least one major facelift behind
the old sky-pilot now, was still stuck with the demeanor of Deputy Dawg.
Three whole days back here now, the harrowing of hell.
"Well, at least the girl turned," noted Aunt
"Wance a Fenian," said Uncle Murray
philosophically, "forever a Fenian. Oaf coarse," Murray added, nodding towards
Alba now, acknowledging her interest. "Protestants in a mixed marriage ur the
worstest turners imaginable. They git right fanatical at the Tim stuff, masses,
confessions, aw that jazz."
Paddy quit on the Bunnymen number halfway through. There was a smattering of applause, a
cry of "wanker." Uncle Murray leapt up quick, but the Paisley was back at the
dancing tunes now.
"Fuckin' hell," he said. "This is jist
"You were so right," Alba whispered.
Graham felt better immediately, recalling why she was so
deserving of his love.
"Why do they hate Catholics so?"
"Alienated labor. Religious strife as working class
opiate," he murmured. "Ignorance too. The educated grow out of it. Get beyond
all the false consciousness."
"So," said Aunt Marion, interrupting, "Ah
hope yiv goat tae see sumthin oaf oor bootiful scenery, hen. It's wurld famous aw ower the
"We went to Edinburgh," said Alba,
She hadn't been able to eat anything, finding Scottish
cuisine ghastly, beyond unspeakable. Graham thought she could try a little harder.
"Ah've niver bin tae Edinburgh," said Aunt Marion,
"But youre so close," said Alba.
"Ah huv," noted Uncle Murray. "Rangers versus
Hearts 1995. Massive win furra teddy bears ah recall."
"These days," said Aunt Marion, "asides
Greece at the Glesca Fair, ah don't git oot terrible much."
"Fuck's sake." Murray was guffawing now, this
horrible gargling noise, "Check it oot! Wan oaf them Tims is a Paki. That ither
sister must huv went and goat hitched tae a Paki. Haw. Haw."
"Noo Murray," said his wife, smiling. "It
isnae easy tae grow up broon in the West oaf Scotland." Graham noted that his aunt's
own skin was a peculiar mottled burnt orange, like an upturned crate of Irn-Bru.
"Everybiddy wid naturally assume," she added, "that ye wur either a doctor
ur a terrurist."
"Whit's wi' youse Yanks electing yon half-wit President
again?" Uncle Murray inquired of Alba.
Graham pulled his chair back to let one of the bridesmaids slip by. Her white-ruffled
outfit was a fashion catastrophe. It even had a wee lacy bonnet. She could almost pull the
look off though, smirking as she shimmied across his knees. Lily McNamee. He remembered
her still as a gorgeous Catholic schoolgirl, a St. Margaret's pupil in grey blazer and
black skirt. White ankle socks too! Lily wore T-shirts of cartoon characters on Countdown
disco weekends, an ironic touch, her being a mischievous one with that off-kilter smile.
Graham had never winched her, never a dance even. But he could see her sashaying down
Aitchison like it was yesterday, the smooth liquid motion of her hips, and remembered now,
to his horror, the night she'd walked by to Ginos chippie. Right under his bathroom
window she'd come, legs tattooing the rhythm of a bonnie poem, and then he'd come too,
eyes shut, chin digging into the white paint flecks on the sill. He was embarrassed at the
flood of adolescent memory, reminiscence of days when his body felt like a loaded gun.
Lily had been seeing Shuggie Manson, the Academy Prefect, and Graham never could fathom
why. That wido was halfway retarded, at best. Lily, it had been strongly rumored, went
like a bunny.
Alba was looking at him, him looking strangely, strangely.
"Do you want to dance?" he said, way too abruptly.
"Who was that?"
"Who?" he rumbled.
"That girl who smiled at you. The bridesmaid who looked
liked she'd draped herself in someone's old tablecloth."
"Oh, nobody." He gulped a thick slug of lager.
"Some girl from back on the old council scheme."
"She looked like somebody," said Alba. "She
was cute. Did you used to fancy her?"
Lily was cute as a button and he had in fact fancied her
"I haven't seen these people for years," he said.
"And I'm so glad."
"A girl from the scheme," Alba said thoughtfully.
"A scheming girl."
The dancers were doing the slosh. Graham despised the slosh.
Great-Auntie Ann didn't know how, spinning the wrong way, clapping her hands off the beat.
"Your family is interesting," Alba said. She was
contemplating Uncle Ewan whirl his toupee over his head.
He could hear her repeat that to her mother out on the porch
of their place in Maine. Graham's family is interesting. The ones who arent mad
or crazy religious bigots seem to be hardcore alcoholics. It's likely their environment to
"My Auntie Ina is gay," he offered. "But
the family pretends she isn't. They think Auntie Ena is her lodger."
"Ena and Ina?" said Alba. "Auntie Ena and
Auntie Ina the lesbian lovers?"
"Yes," he said, embarrassed again.
"And those cousins of yours are Willie and Billy,
He nodded, despondently.
"Homosexuality's getting so hip now," she said,
patronizing as anything, "that the family will accept your auntie's orientation in
"Right," he said, blankly. Her emphasis on auntie
reeked of sarcasm. Frankly, he didn't care for the way she said orientation either.
"Girlfriends are the new boyfriends anyway," she
said, staring at the bride's father as he swayed in slow motion across the dance floor
like his calves were brimful of mercury. He was a small man with a big face and his belly,
bulging askew a disturbing smoking jacket, solidified an overall impression of swollen
inebriated redness. He was screaming about the hucklebuck.
Graham hated the fucking hucklebuck too, although he'd
managed to block that memory out all these years too, only now to be swept back to
some god-awful Sunday school dance, him fourteen and brylcreemed to hell, French-kissing
wee Audrey Logan against the wall of the vestry, and that same night, after six cans of
Tennants, spewing spectacularly into the ornamental pool of the Wellwynd manse. But maybe
that was another night. Christ, so many nights he needed to forget.
"Can ah steal yir auld man fur a wee minute?" Billy smirked at Alba. His
incisors were urine-colored. "The blushin groom wid like a wurd wi' his as yit
"He's all yours," said Alba, pursing her lips.
Alec was really far gone, practically paralytic, eyes glassy
and red-rimmed with drink, bits of pink and white confetti stuck in his lapels.
"How's it going, Alec?" Graham offered. "Big
"Ach ah'm knackered awready. But nuthin like later the
night, eh?" Alec attempted a leer, but couldn't pull it off and explored thrusting
his hips back and forth instead. It was Shane McGowan on a bad day, rheumy, leaning too
close, reeking of peanuts and Bacardi. "Naeplace ah huvnae bin afore, mind you,"
he added. "Ah'm gonnae be a daddy." Alec looked suddenly disconsolate. "Aw
fuck, Graham. Whit happened tae oor lives? Flushed doon the bog aw them years wur."
"Well, go easy man," Graham suggested, gesturing
at the groom's groin.
"Yir next, pal." It was Alec's turn to gesticulate
now, poking a finger into Graham's chest. The angry prodding seemed to pep him up some.
"Gonnae git yirsel a ball an chain oaf yir ain soon enough ah see. A wee Yankee
"Maybe." Graham tried laughing.
"Well," said Alec, squinting across the floor at a
miserable looking Alba. "If you don't do her, ah certainly will."
Graham wondered if it would be bad form to deck the groom at
his own wedding, but considered that such a gesture might reflect badly on him.
Billy was tugging at his sleeve now anyway. "I have
plants," he hissed, conspiratorially.
"How do you mean you have plants?"
'Them's good plants," said Alec. "Aye, those ah
wid be recommendin."
"Ootside," Billy said. 'The walls huv ears."
"You have plants and the walls have ears?
"The new father-in-law is the polis," noted Alec,
glancing around anxiously. "Mind yirsels. Ah don't want nae aggro at mah furst
On the fire escape overhanging the tarmac parking lot behind the Ex-Servicemen's Club,
Billy proceeded to extract from the pocket of his jacket a plastic Ziploc bag of packed
dried vegetation, like roots, or fungus.
"Something from your window box, Billy?"
"Mushrooms," Billy said. "Want a hit?"
"A hit? At Alec's wedding. . .For Christ's sake. .
"Naewhere better. In actual fact oor Alec awready
drapped some. Weddings ur massive downers fur iverybody."
Graham considered this sentiment for a moment, frowning.
Then realized that he agreed. Very much agreed.
"What do I do?"
"What ye do is chew." Billy began to giggle.
"That rhymes. Chewin' is whit yir doin'."
"You've taken some of this already, haven't you?"
"Chew like a coo is whit ye do. Hah-hah." Billy
had difficulty composing himself. "Jist a smidgeon. Mild high. No even the buzz oaf
hash. Very mild. Mind, ah maself huv acquired a tolerance also. But very mellow fur sure.
Mellow yellow, quite rightly. Mind that Donovan song? 'Ah'm jist mad aboot
"Whitever." Billy examined his fingernails.
"Hello there, china," he said.
Graham considered his situation. Here was a predicament. He
imagined Alba waiting for him, rummaging in her purse, wondering where he had gone.
Billy slumped off, to look for a lumber he said. One of the
Tim bridesmaids was a dead ringer for Kylie Minogue. The stuff tasted like raw cabbage.
Graham had never tasted raw cabbage before. But he just knew.
She walked out on the fire escape, this vision in pristine white, and sat down beside him
on the stairs as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Her dress, swollen in
the wet spring breeze, was flouncy, airy as a cake. She took a flip-top pack of Regals
from her purse, pincered a cigarette, and lit it with the yellow lick of a Bic.
"Ah swithered aboot whether tae come the night or
no," she said. "Ah'm thinkin' ah made the wrang decision."
"I know you," he said.
So she remembered his name too. He blushed.
"Lost yir voice?" she said. "It's no polite
no tae answer."
"I did so answer you," he lied. "I was going
to say you were Lily."
"That's whit they call me. Though in this rig-out ah
think ah look mair like Little Bo Beep." She looked at him. "Mah sheep likely
scarpered in mortification when they seen the dress. Ye went tae the Uni, right?"
"Aye, it was either that or the dole. I'm over in the
States now. Four years. Graduate school. I'm just back for this fiasco."
"That must be terrible."
"Aw them blacks goin' aroon shootin' iverybody.
"Oh, it's not that bad really."
"It looks bad oan the telly. Gangsta rappers an serial
killers an that dumb President an that."
"Well," he said, "that's your television for
"Whit happened tae yir accent?" she asked.
"Huv ye went and lost it?"
"A bit," he said, quietly.
"How come? That's so pathetic Graham."
He was afraid to speak at all now, and instead watched as
the black wedding limousine pulled around back right beneath where they sat, ready for a
quick getaway, a triangular white ribbon stretched out tight across its hood. A cardboard
sign was looped around the bumper with a clothesline. In red capitals it proclaimed,
"There ye go," Lily said, nodding.
"It might just be somebody's way of reminding the happy
couple that there's no "I" in marriage," he offered, creatively.
"Ah think it'll mair likely remind them that the
groom's family ur a shower oaf fuckin' morons."
"Yir a cheeky wee besom," he said, and felt his
accent, long buried, being resurrected.
"Aye, so ah hear."
He could hear her dress rasp between her soft thighs.
Lily traced dreamy circles on her knee as she squinted at
the stars. "Light wis bright as anythin' the day," she said. "But noo it's
"It's the vernal equinox," he said. And he knew it
wasn't nearly as stupid a thing to say as it sounded.
They sat on the fire escape for a while, a comfortable couple, watching weans playing
round back of the Club on a vacant lot, this ferocious game of kick-the-can crushing the
crocuses. Then Graham began to feel a bit strange. He stole glances at Lily while she
arched a pink heel against the metal steps, looking off at the nothing in the distance.
She wore a little silver crucifix that settled in the dip of her breasts. He was staring
at it when she turned to stare at him. They didn't say a word. After a while, mistaking
the awkward silence for heavy sexual tension, they lurched together, kissing madly, all
lizard-tongued. Her eyelashes were silver starbursts.
"This gem's a bogie," one of the kids was
And, Graham thought, so it was. He got to his feet and
braced himself against the cold steel rail of the escape, feeling it go all soft and
pillowy in his fingers like wet, balled Kleenex. Everything that might happen already had.
"Whit's the matter?" Lily asked.
And now his hands were ballooning uselessly away too. He
showed her his white teeth. She looked at him, slightly panicked now, and he noticed how
freckled she was and how each freckle looked like Australia and now each freckle was
Australia and he remembered about the convicts and how he shouldn't ever mention anything
at all about convicts to Auntie June from Melbourne because she was sensitive about the
everybody-in-Australia-was-once-a-convict jokes even though it seemed highly probable
given his own experience of Aussies.
"Yir skin is like the curve oaf the Great Barrier
Reef," he suggested.
"Whit?" she said.
He dropped to his knees, the metal leaking cold through his
pants, trousers rather, and cleared his throat.
"What's the matter wi' you," she said, backing
away, alarmed. "Why ur you talkin' like that? Ur you pissed?"
She had taken her bonnet off and he noticed the barrette in
her hair and for the first time realized how it was holding her fucking head on.
"Don't take it aff," he yelled. "Don't take
it aff fur Christ's sake."
"Yir seriously disturbin' me here, Graham."
Her irises looked green as the hoops on a Celtic strip.
"You stole Alba's eyes," he said, horrified.
Lily left him there. In fact, it would not be imprecise to say she ran away like the
clappers. But he didn't give a damn because now everything was so remarkable and spiky. He
hadn't ever noticed the cacti in all their spiky spikiness and the lime-green fronds,
swaying this way and that and this. Star-dappled skies spilled milky intention his way and
her face lit like a blue star, a star his forever, only she wasn't there anymore. It was
raining now. But it wasn't raining rain. It was raining something more than rain.
Translucent white globs of thing, sperm maybe, spattered beneath the curve of stairs where
flapping black plastic lids gobbled flattened cardboard and crisp pokes, sucked in the
updraft, were this message written to him, and drifty melting galaxies whirlpools of
meaning fish foam plastic skill steel elastic butterscotch sticky light jewels and, oh,
his eyes full of the wondrous whiteness of white now, the sheer awful cream of it,
rooftops sheened with pale, the pale of a wonderful dewdrop world.
"Ah's a soam gumf tumpfie," he shouted. He didn't
know what the words meant, but they sounded so good. The way chocolate sounded good when
you said it out loud, or ate it even.
A wee fellow with a deflated Mitre looked at him from the
lot, this field of stone and blood now, seemingly scared shitless. It was himself perhaps.
He went with the white angel from the vestibule to the empty
sepulcher, past a pitchy torch oranging the stonework, the walls' dampness soaking his
fingers, him nodding, knowing, decades before she left him back there on the steps,
holding the rail, touching the hem of the infinite, weeping to see the goodness of this
world laid bare.
But after a while he began to feel a wee bit better, and
decided to scoot back inside for a vodka and lime.
He was just in time to catch Uncle Murray building up to the big finish of Scots Wha
Hae, though it seemed more like he was trying to kill the song off altogether. The
muscles of his neck strained like trawler cables, his chin stubble glossy in the arc
"Lay the proud usurpers low!" he
"How's aboot Flower oaf Scotland?" Graham yelled.
People looked at him oddly and he reciprocated.
Billy was by the riser chatting up a massive pair of
maid-of-honor breasts. Graham hooked him in a nasty chokehold. "Help me," he
said. "Mah mind is melted. You huv melted mah brain in not good ways ya evil wee
Billy frowned. "That wid be a completely normal
reaction wi' them shrooms."
"Ah'm gonnae kick yir heid in," said Graham.
"Ah jist want you tae know that. Ah'm going tae boot yir skull in till yir seriously
Everyone was cheering the climax of the big number. Uncle
Murray reached out and tugged the guitarist towards him before dropping to his hunkers,
mike held out before him as though he were a weird supplicant at some religious ritual,
and now he was bobbling across the stage on his knees, shaking, a St. Vitus dance.
"It isnae earth," said Billy, profoundly.
"Aye, it is," said Graham. "This is Earth,
Billy. Planet Earth." He examined his cousin closely, wiggling two fingers in front
of his eyes. "Whitever it is yir seein', its jist yir imagination. Ah thought
it wis rainin' spunk ootside. But it wisnae. And ah don't even think yon angel wis
"Look, Murray is daein his Elvis," his cousin
"His Elvis is braw," said another voice.
"Naebiddy dis the King like oor Murray!"
"It isnae fuckin earth," said Billy.
"He keeps saying it isnae Earth," Graham observed
to his Auntie Ena. "But it is." He nodded for emphasis. "I wis jist
Ena peered up at him, her good Marks and Spencer black dress
rippling like a plastic bin-bag. "Whit's up wi' yir eyes, Graham?" she asked.
"Ur you pissed? Like the rest oaf them wasters! Whit a family! Is that why yir
girlfriend wis gonnae scram a while back?"
"Check oot the Murraymeister!" said a voice.
"Whit a fuckin' cut-up!"
"Whit a complete tit," yelled another.
The voices were hurtling into Graham's skull from all
directions and he was unable to separate the babble into discreet units. Uncle Murray was
writhing on the floor now, making guttural rasping noises. The guitarist was screaming
like Black Francis. It was all too much.
"Girlfriend?" Graham said.
"This looks mair like Murray's Iggy Pop impersonation
anyway," said Ena.
"It isnae earthed," said Billy matter-of-factly.
"Mike isnae earthed."
"Who's Mike?" asked Ena. "That the brither
wi' the hair?"
"Christ oan a bike," Graham shouted, " Uncle
Murray's bein' electrocuted."
"Don't go near him!" the guitarist was still
"Touched the guitar and the live Mike at the same
time," Billy said musingly. "Dumb fuck. Didn't youse see the big sparks shootin'
oot his heid? Ah says tae masel, 'Billy-boy, that isnae right. That isnae normal.'"
Uncle Murray was bucking across the podium on his stomach
like a sad, beached whale. A hockey puck came bouncing across the floor and a boy in a
kilt trapped it with his instep. The bride's family cheered. It was Murray's teeth.
"Sing 'Love Me Tender Murray," Helen Innes
"The man's being electrocuted ya daft cunt,"
shouted Graham, angrily. He turned to Billy. "We cannae jist stand here like. . .
"Spare pricks at a wedding?" suggested Billy.
Showers of sparks spat in orange flakes out the amplifiers.
Murray was locked to the metal, eyes bulging, red gums chewing, a stream of spittle webbed
on his chin.
"Cause that's whit we ur," said Billy. "Haw.
Luckily, the bride's Pakistani second cousin was a doctor and managed to get Uncle
Murray's heart revved up before the ambulance came. Graham stood on the front lawn
comforting his aunt, patting her big hairdo, his cheeks wind-charred, trying not to snuff
the stench of gasoline perfume. The old dear was really sniffing up a storm now.
The grass outside the hotel was water-weighted and raindrops
crashed into the daffodils in the dark, but at least he wasn't seeing things anymore.
Walking back through the lobby, straight and clammy, Graham came upon a wasted groom
attempting to perform an oral tonsillectomy on his girlfriend.
"Leave me alone, you evil Scottish creep,"
Alba was spitting.
"Ah, here's the man," said Alec, noticing him.
"I'll thank you to unhand my fiancé," Graham
said, prior to his delivery of the obligatory Glasgow kiss. Alec toppled backwards,
slowly, like a cartoon character.
"Aw Graham," said Billy, shaking his head.
"Whit ye go and dae that fur? Whit a terrible weddin. Wan uncle fried tae fuck
and noo a bridegroom deid."
"Hes not dead. He was feeling up my girl."
Graham heard himself sounding profound as Walter Cronkite. "And now its
"Pit yir hands ahint yir back, son," said a voice,
announcing that it was far from finished. "Ah'm the faither oaf the bride and the
Garrowhill Polis as well."
"Your new son-in-law was sexually harassing my
girlfriend," Graham explained.
"Aye. Be that as it may. Yir still unner arrest."
"I was just laying the proud usurper low," Graham
The cuffs were ice-cold on his wrists and Alba long gone. He was in back of the wedding
limousine with the father of the bride. The black vinyl felt scrunchy. The limo driver was
wearing a bright orange turban.
"They spelt married wrang! You see that?
Unbelievable," the older man muttered. "Ah'm commandeering this vehicle by the
way, Gunga Din. Wellwynd station. Ah huv a serious assault an battery here."
"This is ridiculous," Graham observed.
"Totally fucking ridiculous."
"That's wan terrible tongue yiv goat oan ye, son. Whit
wid yir family think? Swearin like a trooper like that?"
"Fuck you, you bitch's bastard's Fenian fuck,"
Graham observed quietly.
The father of the bride backhanded him hard on the nose,
which commenced to bleed quite badly, staining his new white button-down with red
"Police brutality!" Graham sobbed. "Police
"I am seeing nothing," said the driver. "In
this place of strangeness and violent incidents I am never seeing anything at all."
"Whit kind oaf accent," the old man asked Graham,
passing him a balled and crumpled paper hankie, "is that supposed tae be?" He
grimaced slightly. "Son, take it frae me. Ye should nivir forget where yir frae,
should always mind yir roots."