© Sabine Muir
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His Favourite Girl
Betty Anderson watched the young woman struggle out of the old village shop with two toddlers, a baby and a heavy shopping bag. She shook her head in sympathy then turned her attention to her next customer.
“She’s got her hands full, hasn’t she?” she remarked.
Jessie McKenzie nodded, then bent her head and whispered: “I hear her husband’s been made redundant. Goodness knows how they are going to manage now.” She pursed her lips.
“Yes, and he’s fond of a dram or two,” Betty added in a stage whisper. “He comes in every day for a bottle of the hard stuff.”
“Well, I never,” Jessie tutted. “That poor girl. What's gonna become of her and those bairns?"
Betty lifted her chin.
“I’m glad I have no such worries. I like being single. I come and go as I please, eat when I please and I can read in bed till all hours without disturbing anyone.”
“You lucky woman,” Jessie said. “My Harry doesn’t like the light on when we go to bed. Grumbles like an old bear if I want to read when I can’t sleep.”
The shop bell rang. “Talking about old bears, I’d better go and make his tea before he starts eating the furniture. He likes to be fed at half past five or else he gets unbearable.” Jessie gathered up her shopping and stuffed the items into her well-worn shopping bag. “Oh, God, here comes Big Jack. Right, I’m off. See you, love.”
“Yes, bye Jessie. See you tomorrow. Now Jack, what can I do for you?” Betty said in her cheerful shopkeeper’s voice. Almost immediately, she regretted this turn of phrase. She felt Jack’s watery blue eyes devour her body. She stiffened and fiddled with her beads.
“There’s a lot you could do for me, girl.”
Betty could smell the whisky on his breath and recoiled.
He leered at her then smirked and continued: “I want a bag of oatmeal and a stone of tatties.”
Irritated at his rudeness, she began to collect his order, still aware of his eyes on her. Betty detested rudeness, and not once in her forty five years had she behaved in an unladylike fashion. When she placed the goods in front of him on the counter, he lifted his hand and pointed a yellow, tobacco-stained finger at the cigarette stand behind her. “And my usual,” he added.
To Betty’s dismay, he proceeded to knock his pipe on the counter then he brushed the ashes onto the floor. “I wish you wouldn’t do that, Jack,” she said primly. She wished he would keep his filthy habits to himself.
He grinned, handing her a ten pound note. He ground the ashes into the floor with his great big boot. “There…all gone now.”
Betty sighed. She had heard stories of how Jack lived, up in the farmhouse on the hill with only his cows, sheep and chickens for company. His flooring consisted of flagstones and his hens would perch on his old Welsh dresser. They laid eggs wherever their fancy took them. Word had it to never accept a cup of tea from him, after Angus Robertson once made that mistake and nearly drank tea with chicken droppings in it. He had lived to tell the revolting tale.
As she handed him his change, he let his fingers trail over her hand suggestively. She bristled and withdrew her hand as though she had been stung. Nervously, she watched as he put his groceries into his smelly old carpetbag.
His gaze came to rest upon her face again. “You know, you’re quite pretty really. But you should take those pins out of your hair and let it down.”
Betty’s hand automatically went to her hair and she pushed her hair pins in deeper. He nodded his head dreamily. “In fact, you’re my favourite girl.” He narrowed his eyes and came closer. She stepped back, in dismay.
Feeling colour flood her cheeks, she said: “Flattery will get you nowhere, Jack.” It wasn’t every day a man, even a brute like Jack, paid her a compliment.
She felt relieved when someone else came into the shop at that moment. She watched Jack stomp out of the shop with his big farmer’s boots. “Be seeing you, lass,” he said, with a leery wink.
Betty caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that evening. Her nose was too large and she had crow’s feet under her eyes. She took the pins out of her hair and shook the bun loose. She had baby fine hair, of a nondescript colour, usually referred to as ‘salt and pepper’. Jack was right. She wasn’t bad looking. But then she shook her head as if to shake the notion of any relationship with a man out of her mind. She was happy as she was.
There had been a boy once, when she was seventeen. His name was Ian. They had grown up together. He had been the love of her life. When he had gone to university in Edinburgh, they had kept in touch initially, but then the relationship had fizzled out when he'd met someone else. It had been very painful for Betty and she had never quite forgotten Ian. No one had ever quite matched up to him.
There hadn't been many eligible men to choose from during her youth in this small Highland village. Most had left the village to make their fortune elsewhere. The rest had stayed to run their parents’ farms, or became game keepers. She couldn't move away because, being an only child, she'd had to look after her elderly mother. Her father had died when she was small. Mother had insisted that, even though she was bright and had obtained good grades at school, she put all that university nonsense out of her head and take over the family business. So here she was, Mother had died and she felt that life had passed her by.
Latterly, a few men had expressed an interest in her, but none had made her heart beat faster like it had with Ian. There was Neil, a farmer on a neighbouring estate, who had danced her off her feet at a recent Ceilidh, but he was a bit coarse and spoke with a lisp, spraying her with saliva every time he opened his mouth.
Then there was Fraser, who kept giving her the eye but never actually plucked up the courage to speak to her. He was a bit of a loner and made her feel uneasy.
Betty’s life had become lonely. Mother had been tiresome and negative, with her constant wittering and moaning about everything and nothing. But at least she’d had someone to go home to, someone to talk to. She did switch off to her constant stream of negative nit-picking. Her mother’s illness had been slow and gradual and had made her almost unbearable to live with. She had felt a sense of relief at her funeral. When she threw a handful of earth into the gaping mouth of the freshly dug grave she had felt that the time had come for her to get on with her life. It was her turn. In a curious way it had felt as though by throwing the earth at the coffin, it was her who was silencing her mother once and for all. Now she lay beside her much-missed father, who had given up the ghost much earlier, he’d probably been nagged to death. Waves of guilt swept over her for her wicked thoughts.
She looked at the old photograph of Ian and her and sighed. Her sweet obsession with him had not waned over the years. Wondering how he was, she went online and got as jolt as saw his photo on Facebook. He looked so familiar, but older. He wore his hair shorter and it had darkened to a dirty blond. She almost pressed the key to send him a friend request, but her shaky finger and her shaky self-confidence had stopped her just in time. She turned off the computer and went to bed. Ian's face swam in and out of her consciousness.
The next morning her telephone rang at an unearthly hour. In a confused haze, Betty stumbled down the stairs to answer it. She cleared her throat. “Yes?” she croaked.
“Aaahh, you sound very sexy first thing in the morning. Did I get you out of bed?” the man asked in a husky, unhurried voice.
“Who is this?” she shrieked.
“Well, have you been dreaming of me then?”
Her hand gripped the receiver so tightly that her knuckles went white. Her frantic mind assured her that this wasn’t a dream.
“I’m an admirer, shall we say, I think you are lovely.”
She slammed down the phone and stood there for a few moments, shivering in her sensible night dress.
The second call startled her that evening. “Hello, my darling,” the man said, in honeyed tones.
“What do you want? Why do you keep calling me?” she blurted out, on the verge of hysteria.
“You know what I want. You’re my favourite girl.” He gave a naughty chuckle.
She slammed down the phone in disgust and called the police.
They said they would send someone later to take a statement.
“Come in, Officer McDonald,” she said, opening the door to let the young policeman in. He sat down upon her request and he took out a pristine white pad, not often used in this peaceful village. Eagerly, his pen was poised on the paper, as he asked: “So what did the man sound like?”
“Well,” she began, taking a deep breath. “He sounded sort of husky. I keep thinking I’ve heard his voice before.”
“Someone local do you think?” he said eagerly, moving to the edge of his seat.
“He sounds familiar, but I couldn’t be sure. I wouldn’t like someone innocent to get into trouble.”
He urged her to get in touch the moment there was another call. She didn’t have to wait too long. The third call came that same evening.
At first there was nothing, then an intake of breath. "Hello?" she said tentatively. "Who is this?”
"You know who it is," the man said in a raspy voice. "Your secret admirer."
"You have to stop ringing me!" Betty said, in a voice bordering on hysterical.
"But you're my favourite girl. But you are so uptight. You need to relax. I want to do nice things to you. First I want to kiss you, then I will slowly undress you and.... "
In disgust, she dropped the phone.
With shaky hands she called the police. She felt sure who it was this time.
She went to work the next morning, feeling vulnerable and frightened. Every time the phone rang, she would jump and start shaking.
There was a shop delivery and she hadn't even the energy to put the fruit and vegetable boxes away.
At the end of the day, as she was cashing up, Jack strode into the shop, not even bothering to wipe his feet on the mat at the door. The smell of cow dung filled the shop. She could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t there to do any shopping. She shut the till and faced him.
“Hello, Jack,” she said in a curt tone of voice. She pressed her trembling hands onto the counter. “I was just closing actually.”
“You know why I’m here.” He threw her a dark, sinister look. He displayed his stained teeth in a mocking grin. “I feel very hurt that you told the police all those lies. I wouldn’t do that to you.” He slowly approached her. "But if you are fantasizing about me, who am I to resist?"
Betty panicked. “Jack, stay where you are, don’t come any closer or I’ll…” She looked around helplessly. “Just get out.”
He ignored her request and walked around to the other side of the counter, with a menacing grin on his face.
Suddenly she was pressed against the wall. His rough, calloused hands touched the soft pale skin of her neck. A wave of revulsion went through her. She moved her face away from his, but he grabbed her cheek roughly and pressed his big, vulgar lips onto hers. She felt sick. With all her might she pushed him away, but he hardly budged an inch. She could smell the strong tobacco on his breath and repulsed, she turned her head away again.
He gave a snort of laughter. “So you called the police on me, huh? Wishful thinking, I’d say. You’ve dreamed it all up, haven’t you lass? If you want me that badly why didn't you just say?”
He tried to kiss her again and with her free hand she managed to grab a tin of fly spray from the shelf and squirted it into his face. He winced in pain. “You bitch!” he bellowed and released his grip on her, then stepped backwards and stumbled over a box of fruit. Not able to see what he was doing, he tripped and fell, hitting his head on the corner cabinet. He slumped to the floor, wearing an expression of disbelief. There was a frozen moment in time, when nothing moved, nothing changed, and Betty stared at Jack’s face in horror, willing him to get up, but also terrified should he do so. Then, when he didn’t move and his face remained motionless, she dared to move closer. She noticed the steady stream of blood coming from his head and she began to shake uncontrollably. “This can’t be happening,” she muttered. She gingerly poked at him, her face a mask of fear and revulsion. He lay there flat out, his eyes staring upwards as if he was inspecting the ceiling. Betty’s teeth were chattering and she wrapped her arms about herself.
The eerie silence which had enveloped the shop was broken by the urgent sound of the telephone. She froze. Shaky legs took her to the phone. She tried to stop her teeth from chattering as she answered it.
“Hello,” she said. Her mouth was dry with fear.
“Hello, my darling. How’s my favourite girl today then?” drawled a familiar husky voice.
Betty started shaking. The blood was rushing in her ears. Chilled to the bone, her eyes were fixed on the bleeding figure of Jack Morrison, still staring up at the ceiling in eternal surprise, with a dead fly clinging to his nose.