“You can’t piss when sheep are watching,” Arn says, pinging cherry pips from between strong fingers. His cheeks are puffed out with further ammunition. Another gleaming garnet-coloured cherry is forced between them.
Jake shakes his head carefully so he doesn’t disturb stones of the wall he’s perched on. “Cousin dearest, when you are an artist you nearly burst from time to time and could piss in front of an entire theatre audience. The difficulty is tearing yourself away from your work.”
Arn is traditionally dressed for tending sheep, jeans, wellingtons and baseball cap. Jake wears trainers, microfibre trousers and a fleece.
Unimpressed by Jake’s mentioning art again, as always when they meet up, Arn nods towards the sheep gathered in an arc before the wall on which he sits. “Not in front of sheep. Well known fact. Try it.”
Jake stares at the black faces. There is something demonic about the shape but it’s the eyes. Empty and devoid of nous but behind … some significant intelligence, cruel and judgemental: threatening – bladder-seizing. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Aye, I’m right. You English city folk know nothing. You think I can tear myself from my work? No, one blink and the wolves’d have the lot.”
Jake takes a cherry from his pocket and polishes it on a sleeve. “There have been no wolves in Scotland for hundreds of years. I think those sheep want to steal my cherries.”
“Well it won’t be auld Rab taking a loan of my sheep. Some of these were his when I took back the ones he stole from me. See that one and that one?” He points. “I took them from Sheila. No doubt she’ll have them back, an’ more, when I’m no’ looking.” Arn sighs, “But that doesn’t account for them all. Something takes them and it’s no’ the fairies. I lost a black ‘un and two others just the day afore yesterday. See? it’s a busy life … taxing.”
“Picking cherries off trees and sitting on a wall is not taxing. Art is taxing. It burns your brain.”
“Oh, here we go … talking aboot airt agin.”
Jake looks around. “How can you sit on walls all day? Can’t we lead the flock down to the lock and sit there?”
“Lock. We English can’t make your weird Scottish sounds.”
“You mean loch. How do you finish this name, Johanne Sebastian…? Have you ever heard of the football player and manager called Brian Clock?”
“Shut up. Let’s go to the other side of the field beside the Bach.”
“So you can see Mhairi coming home from school? Or do you have to pronounce her name Oswald or something?” Arn jumps down. The flock splits apart like biblical seas as they pass through it.
“I still need a piss, then I’ll tell you all about my work,” says Jake, pushing aside a thistle with his foot.
“Aye, tell me if you must but keep me clear on whether you’re pissing or talking aboot airt so I don’t get them mixed up.”
Forcing a path through shoulder high reeds, they jump areas of squelching bog and climb the far bank. Jake says, “We’ve left the flock behind. You sure no one’s going to steal them?”
“If it’s Sheila I’ll let her keep a few for a week or two. She feeds her stock well. I’ll steal them back when they’re fatter.”
The sounds of cattle lowing comes from behind a dry stone wall bordering the next field. Jake notices his shadow fading as clouds drift across the sun and drop a fine drizzle. “Right, see you in a minute.” He darts across tractor ruts and climbs the wall. A moment later he calls to Arn, “Hey, I’ve got something to tell you – vital countryside information.”
Arn leans his head back and lets the gentle smurr of rain dampen his face. A sound makes him open his eyes. He shouts, “Hey, Jake, run! Your darling Mhairi is just down the track.”
After brief sounds of microfibre hissing as it slides over rock and trainers squelching in mud, Jake joins him. “Where?”
“Just round the corner.”
“You … you idiot! She’ll have heard you.”
“Aye, her and the mates she’s with. They’ve probably come to see the handsome English artist.”
“I’ll kill you for this.”
Feminine laughter bursts across the reeds. A cluster of school girls comes into view. Mhairi waves and the group hurry forward. “Jake, wow, look at you all tall now and with bum fluff! What have you lads been doing all the hours you’ve waited for me?”
Jake’s tongue-tied; Mhairi is even more gorgeous than he remembers. Arn speaks instead, “Jake’s been talking shite most of the time. But he’s just written a girl’s name on the back of that wall.” He nods to indicate.
Jake blushes cherry red. Mhairi grins. “Now would that be any name or mine?”
Arn grins. “Yours. I’ll show you if you like.”
Jake finds his voice, “Nice to see you, Mhairi. Is it OK if I kill Arn?”
“Aye, and it’s nice to see you too. You can try to kill him. I have often enough. He’s bloody indestructible, that one. See you at dinner?” She turns away. “Come on, girls, this rain is on for a while.” They pass along the track.
Jake goes to join them but Arn grabs his sleeve. “Wait,” he whispers, “This is a subtle game we’re playing. Don’t be in too much of a rush. She knows you like her and now she knows you’re clever enough to write – even if it’s only with your todger. You’re on to a winner, laddie.”
“You actually want me to go out with your sister?”
“Go out with her? I want you to marry her. Gods, I’ve had to live with her most of my life. Take her away and take her recipe for soggy bread pudding with you.”
“OK, I’ll follow your lead. I’m a bit worried about the bread pudding though.”
“You should be. There’s only one person in the whole world who makes worse bread pudding: me.”
“Good thing I like her and not you.”
Arn snorts and pulls Jake from the bank. “And whet’s this vital country knowledge you learned in auld Rab’s cow field?” Now the girls are distant, they stroll after them.
“Two things. There are three sheep among the cattle, one of them black. But the vital information is that you can piss in front of cows.”
“Can you now? Maybe we’ll make a farmer of you yet.”
©Gary Bonn, 2021