One night as the sun was setting I imagined the old spires of Glasgow as the swords of knights in procession. Snaking in towards the town centre from the west I kept my eye on the Merchant Steeple, drawing me in towards the din and bustle. It wasn’t just the buildings. The names and dates gave it a life; a line you could trace.
I wanted to put my finger on the line and see where it took me.
The traffic slowed to a crawl and I remembered that Charlotte had made plans for the night. I was already running late. I inched closer to the brake lights in front of me, reached for my phone. The siren of a police bike blaring past made me jump. The music on the radio gave way to a chirpy newsreader relaying the huge delay on the M74, caused by an accident at a merge. The drone of a low helicopter approached from behind and in my rear-view mirror the river of traffic was thickening.
Charlotte was never one for chasing you if you were late or making you feel bad for forgetting things. She had a way of accepting small disappointments over the years. It’s not that she stored them somewhere for safe-keeping. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t building in her mind a cellar of message-in-a-bottle type resentments. Her look revealed something much less typical, more painful. It showed that she was letting her thoughts and worries grow deep enough to handle the small things as a sum total.
When I made it through the traffic I tried my best not to gaze at the accident. A white 4×4 completely on its back like an upturned beetle. The bodywork was in a hell of a state, dented and scratched all over. One of the doors was actually off, lying on the road, at the end of a scrape trail. There were large, respectable gaps between all the cars in front and behind. Everyone slowed down further—under the guise of a respectable speed—to watch. With one last peek at the mirror I saw a policeman holding a small thing in a blanket close to his chest at the safe side of his car. He was patting it gently, mouthing something over and over.
When I got home I could smell the coconut and lavender of Charlotte’s bath. In the living room the TV was paused on an advert for weed killer. I sat down with my jacket on and felt the motivation to do anything else fade completely.
‘Do you want me to do your back?’ I shouted through eventually.
A few splashes. ‘If you want.’
‘Traffic,’ I said, kneeling down beside the bath. ‘Nightmare.’
‘I can’t be bothered going out anyway.’
‘Yeah. There was an accident. Police everywhere.’
‘Yeah.’ I massaged some soapy stuff onto her back and rinsed it off slowly. When we were younger I would already be in the bath with her. ‘Wine?’ I asked.
‘Soon,’ she said. ‘I need painkillers first, and I’ve not ate.’
‘Sorry, yeah. Want me to put something on?’
‘It’s okay, I’ll get it. I’ve got soup.’
‘Can I have the towel up?’
When I reached for the white bath towel I remembered the wee bundle the traffic cop was holding. The reality of it was only sinking in and I felt my soul swell up, but I didn’t mention it.
I poured myself a whisky and put on the sports news. I dropped two ice-cold stones into the glass to chill the Ardmore without diluting the taste. They came from a wee island off the west coast, the same place they get the stones for curling. A footballer I’d never heard of had been bought up for nearly £100m. He had his Instagram name shaved into his hair. He’d be retired and sitting on a beach by the time he was my age.
I heard Charlotte blow-drying her hair in the bedroom. I wondered what we’d watch tonight. What we’d not talk about. I wondered about that wee island. I wondered if it was getting smaller over the years and if they’d have to stop mining it.
With the bars open again we’d promised to make a night of it at least once a week for as long as we were trying. It had been over a year. The doctors had tested us both and they were almost certain the blockage was at my end. Apparently my body was producing antibodies to protect me from my own sperm. It was a flaw in my immune system, they said. Rare, but treatable if confirmed. It could be a very lengthy process, they said, and the tests never turned out as conclusive as they’d have liked. ‘Keep trying,’ they told us. ‘It can’t harm your chances.’
I could see the hope in her eyes desaturate. In certain lights her eyes are green, blue in others. But recently they’d taken on a piercing grey. It was mesmerising, daunting, and somehow nostalgic. I put it down to our recent attempt at keeping a strictly candle-lit house. We’d joke with friends about saving money on electricity but in truth it was a last-ditch attempt at textbook romance.
I went to light the candles on the fireplace.
A picture of me and my dad on holiday. I was about six or seven (he still had his hair). I had always prided myself on being like my mum (calm, laid-back, sociable), and so I had never really noticed how similar we looked. I scratched my head, looked as close into his eyes as the old photograph would allow. He was holding me up on his tanned shoulders, the glint of his gold cross around his neck catching the sun. My mum must have taken the picture.
Charlotte came into the room.
‘I love that photo.’
I turned round.
‘It’s the only one of just you two.’
She came closer. The scents of the bath oils and the candles clung around her. She put the glass of wine she was holding onto the fireplace and took the photo from me. Her eyes fell down onto it and I could see them filling up.
‘Do you know what really gets me?’ she said.
‘No-one ever tells you how hard this can be.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘This.’ she said, as if it was obvious. ‘Everything, all of it. At our age.’
‘The pressure. People change, look at you differently.’
I put my arm on her bare shoulder.
‘I mean,’ she said, ‘our parents just did life. It just happened to them. We’re struggling to even plan one.’
‘You’re a lot like your dad in this.’
‘Yeah. The double.’ She took my hand and put it on the nape of her neck. A breeze came in from the open window, prickling my skin.
With one motion I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and kissed her. Again.
I don’t remember being so much as an inch apart from her for the rest of that night.
Read this while listening to ‘Non Prophets’ by The Cure.
Craig Lamont is an academic and writer working at the University of Glasgow. Besides Craig’s research specialisms are Scottish Literature and cultural memory. Before his PhD on ‘Georgian Glasgow’ Craig completed a Masters in Creative Writing. He writes short stories mostly.
WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR
A lot of my stories have similar titles: ‘Smoking’, ‘Flitting’ etc. I didn’t have a title for this piece, it was actually part of a longer work (a novel, which I almost finished but lost direction with). I went through it and rescued some of the best moments, revised them, and turned them into short stories. It is with short stories where (I think) I’m most effective. Since this one centres around conception, and the fear of not being able to have children, the title ‘Trying’ came naturally. Above all, I hope this story reads like an almost-clean window into ordinary life, with all the hints of love and pain on show for all to see, but with that little smudge of obscurity we need in good writing.