At the Glasgow B&B. First of all, why do I even book a B&B? I am not social in the morning. In the late afternoon, no. At night, about as sociable as stars. Shared bathrooms. OK, my bladder is sociable. We ring the bell several times and wait. Finally, our host lets us in. Red, impish face, the features squeezed tight. He looks like Ed Sheeran in a French press. He says: we’d like some tea. It’s not even a question. I’m floored by this hospitality. When have I ever offered anyone tea? I usually ask them if they’ve brought me coffee. And where we plan to go in Glasgow. Really? Those places? Not one of those places is all that great. We are taking the bus? God’s mercy what is wrong with us. Here’s the brochure for what we’ll be wanting—a double-decker that goes all over. My harmonic convergence with the Scottish temperament. We are both hella thrifty.
Our host strongly advises us to visit the cathedral right around the corner. Magnificent cathedral, most red cathedral in all of Europe. Also, free. Mentally I raise my hand. Question: I am an infidel. How many infidels are getting mauled in the stained-glass windows of this cathedral. In short, how stained is that glass?
But of course, we go. When it comes to travel, I am as suggestible as an infant.
Entering the cathedral I feel the old Shakespearean love of the stones, the mortal cold. What a wonderful idea, to gather in grandeur. The wall label states: a king needed to be murdered so they did it here. Practical. Dragging around the moors—why. Who would ever find each other? Murder in the cathedral every time. Eliot reference. There is a Lego exhibit. The ghost of Martin Luther is not going to like that, one bit. On the other hand, he was no friend of the infidels, was he? I give a defiant hosanna in praise of the plastic blocks of childhood.
Wooden box in which to leave prayer requests. My prayer request: God give me the strength not to open that box.
There are three large wooden pieces left from the original cathedral which was built in (14?? Look up) and survived fire, human emotion, carpenter ants, brimstone. Two are chunks of wood, indistinguishable from some we saw at the construction site on the way over. The third is a carved exact replica of our host. I suddenly remember how he handed me a bottle of beer and we never saw him again. Hereafter we only interact with his granite-faced wife, who seems disappointed by our unending toast consumption. More toast? What is she, a baker? She makes certain we never see our host again. He has been handing out bottles of beer like it was river water. God’s mercy what is wrong with him. In parting, I leave my bottle of beer on the table. I am an infidel pilgrim, this is my offering. Please God, make me hospitable.
On the drive north the long, lush fields, divided into squares. Rain arrives on the back of the sun. My tears, my tears. The present only touches me. Robert Burns reference. All our stay a wind blows through us in osprey, seas and stone. Bagpipes, the national instrument depends on this wind.
Thoughts on the castles. Very hard to keep clean. You could not be overweight and live in one. If you’ve seen one castle you have not seen them all. Some are droopy and sleepy. Others are pretentious and bustling with new ideas. In some the tour guides finger their plaid ties in a particular Scottish sadness, describing the scullery maids. In others stern women in A-line skirts and thick shoes don’t approve of all these people clomping around, touching stuff. The gift shops are maintained entirely by beautiful Scottish girls with creamy skin and hair the color of mineral stain, raspberries, deep blush and the sky from which all sailors know to take warning.
Ghost employment. Ghost unemployment is quite high now. Do the math—there are only so many castles and not really building new ones. On the obverse, the ghost population grows daily. The ruined ones are inhabited by so many ghosts there is a line to get in. Ghosts in the gift shops, in the tea shops. Ghosts examining a tartan for the rival crest, others stretching and yawning. The empty seat on the bus is not empty.
But not one of them wants to leave the rocky coast, bad weather and shocking price of avocados at the co-op. Where are they going to go. Spain? Please.
You will swell with pride. Your calves will grow to the proper size to bulge under that kilt. Your beer consumption will inflate. The vision of the girls with pointed toes leaving the tarmac altogether in an Eadweard Muybridge vision will cause your eyes to bulge. Caber toss. They are throwing whole trees around like a toothpick. The sight of them will tumefy the horizon. Tendency to self-deprecation has an antidote. It is called the Highland game. We saw the clans gather, imbibe, race in kilts and march in formation of pipes and drums relentless as tides on the North Sea. You are not even a little Scottish and it saws through the ice that has accumulated in your thrifty heart.
Bought books in the Oxfam: Pico Iyer, Walter Benjamin. Had to leave them on hold while we got change. “Is this your Christian name?” says the saleslady. My eyes fill with tears. It’s about as Christian as I’m ever going to get. In IlluminationsBenjamin writes “Everything remembered and thought, everything conscious becomes the pedestal, the frame, the base, the lock…” He’s writing about books, but it is the truth of all our travel. Scotland. I feel the pedestal, base and frame. As for the lock, all travel comes in fours: in fantasy, in body, in memory, in dreams.
BIO: Merridawn Duckler says: I’m a writer from Portland, Oregon and the author of INTERSTATE, Dancing Girl Press. As the title suggests, many poems about travel. Published essays in Ekphrastic Review, Isotope, At Length, others. Fellowships/awards include: Wigleaf Top 50, Yaddo, Squaw Valley Writers, SLS in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Berta Anolic Fellowship in Jerusalem. I’m an editor at Narrative and the international philosophy journal, Evental Aesthetics.
This piece previously appeared in the Australian online zine Sleaze Magazine.