Against His Better Judgement

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Returning from the shops Rory opens his front door, scuffs the letters and flyers on the floor away with his foot and enters the hall, glad to leave the icy wind that tugs at his body-warmer and flicks the collar, stinging into his face.

He’s worried. Something about him has changed but he hasn’t a clue what. Last night he dreamt about vertigo, falling … and a blindfold released too late. The tattered scraps of dream evade any attempt at piecing them together and he doesn’t know why he’s so obsessed with trying.

He scoops up the letters, goes to the kitchen and lets the contents of his carrier bag roll and slide over the table.

Grabbing and tearing the milk carton open he takes a sip and pours more into a mug.

Swaying and feeling the bags under his eyes Rory is struck that he can’t remember anything of yesterday evening.

He switches the kettle on, scrapes a chair back and sits thinking: This is sad. Chuck and I used to go to the climbing wall after work. When did I let him change it to going to the pub? Going earlier and earlier … staying later and later. It is fun but…

He’s struck by subtle images. The barmaid’s eyes bright when she first looked at him months ago. Now they are glazed and dull when taking his money. She used to chat now she chats with others.

The kettle boils; he checks his phone. Nearly time to go to work. No time for breakfast but his stomach doesn’t want it anyway.

He’s time to go through the post-woman’s offerings. Credit card statement, plastic bag for second-hand clothes collection, an arts centre flyer with a picture of a pretty actress on it and offers from a local supermarket.

He checks the price of vodka.

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This Land Rover is twenty years old, pours out blue fumes, won’t clear the windscreen of condensation and the heater died a long time ago.

Rory struggles to wipe the screen with his gloved hand while bouncing the car over frozen rutted ground.

The frost whitening the fields, silvering trees and flying in a sparkling spray as he drives through long grass, serve to freshen and clear his head.

The fences are checked and correct; the sheep where they should be. The only surprise today is Angus, one of the groundsmen, waving his arms and beckoning as the Land Rover reaches the main track.

Rory tries to wind the window down but it sticks half way. ‘What’s the matter?’

Angus puts a hand on his cap and moves it around as he always does. He leans towards the gap in the window and points down the track. ‘I’m stopping cars and the like. Y’ can’t go that way, not yet … I think. Y’ can go an check if you wish.’

What’s up?’

Tractor. Morrison was driving. The trailer link snapped and the tractor went into the gatehouse.’ He looks up and straightens. ‘Here he comes.’

Rory reverses a little to give room for an ambulance to pass. Angus shouts to it, ‘Aye, you’ll be alright, man.’ He turns back to Rory. ‘Can you go and see if the way’s clear now? There’s a good boy. Save me old legs.’

Hop in. Why are you all the way out here where you can’t see anything?’

Angus walks round the front, creaks the passenger door open and the Land Rover lurches as his huge frame hits the seat. ‘I was on me way to the main road, y’ daftie.’

Rory grins, a gear crashes and tyres spatter frosty mud as the Land Rover lurches onto the metalled track.

Angus wipes the screen. ‘An’ why you driving this auld thing? The factor will get you one of those new Nissans’

It’s my best friend. Like you it never lets me down.’

Angus stares at him and frowns. ‘Are ye alright, laddie?’

Good question, thinks Rory.

Around a corner the gatehouse comes into view; Aberdeen granite against the clouds, arrow-slits for windows in the turrets. Angus says, ‘Don’t drive through. Park here. We took a section of fence down you can walk round. There’s a muckle crack in the wall on the other side.’

Rory decides the rest of his day will be risk assessments and setting up diversions.

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Richard, whom everyone considers a nutter, the only person ever to have climbed the gatehouse or completed the estate’s tree-rope course without a safety harness, meets Rory at lunchtime. ‘Hi, boss. What you want me for?’

Rory shrugs at the twenty year old and nods at the gatehouse. ‘There’s nothing much to do now until a structural engineer comes. Help me with these barriers then stay and keep the public away.’

Safety tape snaps and rattles in the wind. A gust tears one free and Richard darts to catch it.

Busy minutes later and Rory looks up at a shout from Richard.

Richard, grinning manically, scampers from the gate passage. He beckons, ‘Quick! Come and look at this.’

Richard, keep away from there. This building could collapse at any time.’

It’s fine; it’s fine, come and see!’

Against his better judgement Rory follows to the centre of the carriage passageway. Richard points into a crack and says, ‘Look. You can see all the way up into that turret. The floor of it is open a bit. There’s stuff in the turret rooms; I saw when I climbed up the outside last summer but the windows are too narrow to get through and the doors were bricked up over a hundred years ago. God knows what’s been in there all that time. Let’s go and find out.’ He pushes aside a shard of granite, scrambles up the diagonal crack and scatters debris in hissing and rattling cataracts. He’s as fast as a squirrel; the noise of his movements echoing through the cracked building.

Richard! Get down at once.’

Come on, follow me. Wow, you should see all this!’

Estate ranger was the first job Rory got after university. He wonders if seven years’ of responsibility have killed his lust for action and adventure. He follows. Richard has cleared most of the loose material and climbing or squeezing through gaps comes easily.

Look, look, bloody look!’ Richard shouts.

Almost at the turret, Rory feels the building move. ‘Richard, get out right away. That’s an order: now.’

But…’

Now!’ The building settles again and Rory is tempted to flee, leaving Richard. Instead, he hurls himself upwards, grabs Richard’s ankle and pulls.

Richard slides back and shouts. ‘Hey! Stop, I’ll fall.’

Rory releases Richard’s leg but grabs his belt and says, ‘I’m not letting go until you’re out of here,’ and pulls again.

Richard yelps and swears until Rory finally releases him a safe distance from the building.

Dust and broken glass explode from windows as a ceiling collapses. Rory and Richard watch until everything is quiet.

Richards says, ‘Not quite where we were but you could have saved my life. Nice one, boss.’

And thank you, Richard. You’ve been an inspiration.’

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It’s been a long day. Rory drives past the Crown, waves at Chuck, who’s waiting at the entrance and turns to park round the back of his house. He’s barely in the back door when Chuck’s calling through the letterbox at the front, ‘What kept you?’

Rory lets him in. ‘I haven’t had dinner yet.’

That’s a scunner but you can get a pie at the Crown.’

We’re not going.’

Chuck’s eyes widen. ‘What? You want to go to the Nithsdale then?’

No. I’m going to throw a pizza in the oven. ’ Rory picks up the art centre’s flyer. ‘We’ve forty minutes to eat dinner and then … um … we’re going to see two RSC actresses doing very different interpretations of Shylock the money-lender.’

Who’s she?’

Rory shrugs. ‘God knows. It’s Shakespeare I think.’

But…’

That’s an order, Chuck.’

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©Gary Bonn 2014

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