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Lightly squeezing the pockets of his windcheater to confirm they held darts and cigarettes, Dod Kelman peeked in on the contented face of his sleeping year-old son. The knitted cot blanket brought mother-in-law Elsie to mind, changing Dod's smile to a grimace. Back in the main bedroom as he strapped on his watch, Fiona's lingering fragrance conspired with the two big measures of whisky he had earlier to quicken his pulse and weaken his resolve. He opened the window wide. Closing his eyes and breathing deeply he pictured himself in an earlier life walking up Aberdeen's Union Street to join his friends in the Market Bar before catching the bus to Pitodrie stadium, smiling as he recognised each player emerging from the tunnel to rapturous applause. Then he blinked back to the reality of Ben Rinnes's heathery slopes, reminding him how much his life had changed in the space of a year. One day a hapless Aberdonian student, the next a distiller's clerk in the vale of Glenlivet, living in a distillery-owned cottage with his wife and son - and Elsie within nagging distance.
Downstairs he crept up behind his wife as she stacked the last plate on the draining board, slipping his arms around her waist and holding her close, the blonde softness of her hair tickling his nose as he breathed her perfume. Roddy, their young Labrador, padded his way over to tug jealously at his master's jeans. "Ye ken Fiona," Dod murmured, "sometimes I feel as if I'm on another planet. The stillness maks me nervous."
She turned into him, wiping her damp hand on his sweatshirt, pouting as she pressed against him, gazing into his eyes. "I know. You miss your pals and your fitba."
"Well, I miss my man when he's at work a' day and off tae the pub when he gets hame," she winked, tugging at his sleeve. "C'mon upstairs," she whispered, "wee Geordie'll be sleepin' for ages yet."
"Oh Fiona, ye ken I canna..." Just then the doorbell chimed reminding Dod that the darts cup semi-final wouldn't wait, although with luck maybe Fiona would.
The drams they had before leaving work gave most of the Clachan team the edge in confidence, that and their position at the top of the district league. Veteran Robbie Stronach was a rock-solid captain while Lachie Geddes the cooper played with amazing flair considering he swayed about so much on the oche. In his singles match Dod checked out with only eleven darts and followed that up with a one-five-seven finish in the doubles. Inspired by the anchormen the rest of the team raised their game and the outcome was never in doubt.
"You're a lucky bugger," said Robbie to Dod later, slapping his back as they grouped together for a congratulatory drink.
He smirked, high on success and drinks his beaten opponents had bought him. "Whit can I say, Rob? Anything for a free beer eh? I am an Aberdonian ye ken!" But he had a feeling the luck the brewer was referring to had little to do with his skills on the dartboard. He'd encountered that look before, and not only from Robbie, ever since he brought Fiona back to the glen.
The publican's daughter interrupted. "You're like a lot of bairns. Whit a fuss to make aboot throwing wee pointed things at a board!" Isobel mocked, shoving her way through with a tray of steaming hot stovies and oatcakes. Blushing as she handed Dod his plate she leaned forward and whispered, "You'll be walking the dog the morn, I suppose... aboot seven?"
"Aye," Dod whispered back without hesitation, winking as their eyes met, "aboot seven."
Fiona was asleep when he got back and Dod lay awake remembering the first time they'd made love and how he couldn't have felt more fulfilled, more ecstatic, if the Dons had beaten Celtic six-nil – at Parkhead! He'd gone for months without a girlfriend and found himself drawn towards the quiet country girl, attracted by her looks and challenged by her indifference. He'd sought her out at lectures and in the canteen, gently probing her background, convinced they had much in common. What emerged, widowed mother, strict religious upbringing, night curfews, pressure to study, peer derision, came as no surprise... Then a shy confession.
"A nervous breakdown?" He had placed his arm around her slim shoulders then, instinctively. "I'm nae surprised!"
"I went off the rails, as my mither put it," she had told him. "I jist wanted to know what life was like for other lassies my age. I was lonely."
"I broke a few o' her rules for a while, then the minister preached me a sermon and I agreed to try Uni. That's it... except..."
"I hate it here."
He had mouthed the words ‘I love you' to at least one girl before, but now it had meaning for him, just as he had understood her aloofness as being a cover for vulnerability. He would protect her.
When she finally succumbed, she amazed him with her instinct for fantastic lovemaking, devouring him like a hungry animal, telling him he was the man of her dreams - dreams much more imaginative than his own sex fantasies ever were. What followed, the pregnancy, the marriage, the decision to quit studies, the move to the country, all seemed to be outside his control but he didn't care.
Because he did love her. Even now, though he strayed a wee bit with Isobel now and then (that was just the drink and a young girl's infatuation and he always felt bad about it afterwards), he was happy enough with his new lifestyle. The job was undemanding and the wages below par, but they had fine accommodation, and the plentiful supply of the best malt whisky meant he spent most of his waking hours in a contented Scotch mist. He would learn to live with moody hangovers and guilt pangs and anyway, they only lasted until the next dram. It was all about sacrifices and rewards and wasn't he forever having to listen to holy Elsie telling him how lucky he was and how she'd pray for him?
He pulled back the bedroom curtain when he heard them coming. They were early. It was a Thursday night ritual but Cup Final night was special. Alistair, the head maltman, would have rushed his dinner and pedalled down to his youngest son's house, then on to the next. They would cycle on in single file collecting team members along the way and by the time they rounded the corner to the last distillery cottage where Dod and Fiona lived, the procession resembled a seven-headed serpent, each head shouting friendly abuse as it came to a halt by Dod's gate. "I'll be doon in a minute lads," he shouted, hoping they'd stay out on the road. He had a sulking wife to deal with first.
"Whit is it lass?" he asked, "has your mither been moanin' aboot me again?"
She pushed his arm away, turning to gaze out of the window. "You an' your darts team, Dod! Are they mair important than you an' me?"
His eyes widened in disbelief at her anger. "Whit brought this..."
"I blame mysel' for bringin' you here. The drink's pickled the wee bit brain you had. Here's a clue – it happened a year ago."
"Oh God, Fiona..." He felt a surge of compassion, a desire to hold her close but she elbowed him off. "I'm right sorry, lass. Whit aboot an anniversary dinner somewhere at the weekend?" But he had forgotten and even now his recollections of the wedding, never mind the date, were a bit hazy. Fiona, a vision in her short midnight blue dress, himself and big Alistair MacPhail in their kilts hired for the day... the booze... the breakages...
"Go on, your pals are waitin'," she said, coughing to clear her throat.
Hesitating at the door, thinking it was just as well he'd taken that twenty out of the housekeeping earlier, he said "Aye, but I hate leavin' you like this..."
He was but halfway down the path when she called him, her words vibrating with emotion. "I'm takin' Geordie tae my mither's for the night. From whit I've been hearin,' you'll nae be lonley."
Dod blushed amid wolf whistles and a shout of ‘Whit have you been up tae, Dod?' from impatient but amused onlookers. His embarrassment was changing to anger. "Later!"
"Suit yoursel'. I've nothing tae hide."
"Oh no?" he shouted. "Would ye like me tae tell the boys – and your mither, maybe - that I was shagging ye lang before we were wed." His face screwed up in instant remorse. "Come on lads," he said, quickly mounting his Raleigh Sports, "we'll be late."
"Wait!" Fiona's voice was firm now, commanding.
There was a simultaneous squeaking of brakes and head-turning. "Whit?"
She walked forward hands on hips, eyeing each cyclist in turn before stopping next to her husband. "So were your pals!"
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