by Ann Harvie
Setting: National Health Service GP’s surgery in a run-down area of Glasgow, Scotland
Time: Mid 1960s, near the end of the evening
Character: ELLEN MACKENZIE, 46, an unmarried home help, originally from Sutherland but working in Glasgow.
ELLEN, prim, upright and respectable, sits in the uncomfortable surgery chair, telling the doctor, for the first time in her life, about her mental difficulties. She has a strong Highland accent.
I hear them speaking about me more and more, Doctor.
(Folds her arms and imitates a female, broad Glasgow accent, nodding her head sideways, as knowing gossips do) “Some home help that yin. Spends hauf the day starin’ oot the windae.”
(Imitates another female, less broad Glasgow accent, and acts as if nudging a fellow gossip) “She’s a spinster, you know. Never been a bridesmaid, never mind a bride.”
(In her own voice) But they call me Mrs. Mac anyway.
(Loudly and firmly, almost startlingly assertive) My name is Miss Ellen Mackenzie.
(In her own voice) I want to say that sometimes but I know they would just laugh behind their hands and still they would call me Mrs. Mac. It’s a mockery, to my mind, but I know they don’t mean it that way so I pretend I don’t hear them.
(Imitates a third female, Kelvinside, Glasgow posh accent) “Mrs. Mac does her best, but she doesn’t really understand what it’s like to have children.”
“Oh, but Mrs. MacPherson,” I want to say, “I do, I really do.”
I‘ve seen them, have I not, and aye, right enough, Doctor, my own mother as well, losing a wee bit of themselves with every baby. There was a thing the old wives used to say in Sutherland where I was born.
(Imitates an old female with a Highland accent) “Lose a tooth for every child.”
(Her own voice) But it’s more than teeth that they lose.
Baby after baby, wearing them out. But they love them, even so. And that’s fortunate, because without love, a baby’s just another parasite.
Like an eariwig.
They say, don’t they, that an eariwig will crawl into your ear to feed on your brain and never care that it’s inside a living person.
A baby doesn’t care if you live or die, just as long as it gets itself born, it’ll feed on your blood and your bones and your own life’s energy.
I know, for it’s happening to me.
As if an eariwig has got into my brain, and it’s nibbling away into my mind, just taking a wee bit every now and again, mind you, but I feel the loss.
(Briskly indignant) Och, I know it isn’t a real eariwig, Doctor, I’m not a daftie altogether.
But I feel it all the same, eating, drawing all the living energy out of my life.
It’s always been there. With some folk, it’s bats in the belfry.
That’s what the other children at school used to say when I was stood, staring at the sky, waiting.
Waiting for the black clouds to turn into God’s hand and carry me away.
I never heard them shouting on me ‘til afterwards, and then I’d look and they’d all be away and the bell would be ringing for the end of playtime.
But I could hear the words, still in the air about me.
(In a sing-song voice, like a child) “Elly Mackenzie’s bats
Elly Mackenzie’s bats
Elly Mackenzie’s got bats in her hat.”
(In her own voice) But it wasn’t bats. Bats would flap about and make a noise inside your head but the eariwig—she is very quiet.
I only know when she starts because it’s then I need to look at the sky.
It’s endless, the sky. They say there are so many stars out there that if they were grains of sand, the Sahara Desert wouldn’t be big enough to hold them all.
(Slightly sly smile) The eariwig doesn’t like that—sometimes it even makes her stop, all that space going on and on forever. You can look for God’s hand as far away as you want, and nobody to bother you at all.
No wee toddlers crying out for their Mammies and throwing their porridge on the floor.
No tired men coming home from the docks or the factories looking for their tea and hot water for a wash.
The factory men, poor souls, there’s no life left in them at all—it’s them that’ll come home late on a Friday evening with an open pay packet—and they mumble at you.
(Imitates a male voice, medium-broad Glasgow accent) “Sorry, Mrs. Mac. The bus was that full—I had to walk hame.”
(In her own voice) And all the time they’re trying not to breathe on you after their one beer of the week.
The eariwig doesn’t mind the smell of beer, so she lets me look on them with pity.
The smell of beer’s a good honest smell—it gives a wee bit respite to the man’s working week. There’s not so many as you think—you’d be surprised, that let it get the better of them.
And even those, I never like to judge.
When you look at the sky, and how big it is, then you can get outside of yourself and feel a bit of pity, a bit of compassion for them all—for the men and their poor wives rushing round like ants just trying to get from one day’s end to the next.
The eariwig doesn’t rush.
She knows, Doctor, she knows if I don’t find God’s hand soon, she’ll get all of me in the end.
copyright © 2010 Ann Harvie. All rights reserved. _________________________________________________
Ann Harvie lives on the Isle of Bute in Scotland and is part of the Bute Tale Spinners, writing and performing original short plays and monologues on and off the island. Ann has sold several short stories in Alberta, Canada, where she lived for 28 years, and also won two awards for “Best Coverage of Performing Arts in Alberta.”