Would you believe that last night, I fell asleep with such energy that I (including my bed and all my blankets) fell right down through the floor of this existence into another place of time. I know you think that these things are the work of science fiction however I am telling you that it happened to me. It was actually a rather nice feeling. Being in my bed and asleep, I was very warm, relaxed and comfortable. It wasn’t at all the sickening rollercoaster ride they tell you it is.
When I arrived at my destination, I was pleased to find my stomach and all my other internal organs still in place. I was however a little disturbed when I realised that I was no longer a woman, but now a man. I have to say it was refreshing to be so light in the chest and my back felt instantly straighter and less tense. What was rather distracting, were the extra bits and pieces that belong to the male anatomy that now belonged to me. I have a new understanding of how impossible it is to think about very much without being aware of it although of course perhaps that was just because none of it was there before. I think it best to leave that subject for another time and instead to describe to you my surroundings.
Gladly I did not land on a cobbled street in the middle of a city in my pyjamas or on my bed. The bed had gone and I was fully clothed. At the precise moment I arrived at my destination, I was walking. I became very conscious that I did not want to seem out of place, so I mimicked the gentlemen around me by walking with my torso tilted backwards, my chest out, my chin in the air and my arms swinging by my side. They were all dressed in smart suits with hats on their heads and it was clear to me that I had in fact landed in a much earlier time than where I started when I fell asleep. I made a guess that it was perhaps a couple of hundred years into the past. After walking in this manner for several minutes, I was aware that I was receiving some very peculiar looks from passers-by and when I checked myself in a shop window, I saw that I was not in fact one of these genteel men, I was rather poor and shabby. This was extremely embarrassing and I very quickly corrected myself by bending myself over in the opposite direction, my shoulders rounded, my back hunched and my head looking towards the ground. This drew much less attention. I was afraid that if I did not fit in, someone would notice that I was not supposed to be there and I might turn into a pile of ash instantly. I was not sure of the rules, but I knew enough to know that you absolutely cannot upset the balance of things.
I had the distinct feeling that I was perhaps a character in a famous novel, and I was half expecting Charles Dickens or someone similar to step out of a front door to absorb the scene around him only to put me into a story later. When I did look for him, I remembered with a slight chuckle that I had no idea what Charles Dickens actually looked like. I did watch a film where Ralph Fiennes played Charles Dickens, but I doubt very much Charles Dickens would look like Ralph Fiennes in real life. This kind of speculation was completely futile of course because I was not sure at all whether any of this was actually real. I pulled my wandering mind back into the present (or the past however you want to look at it) and continued on my way, for I had a purpose that was as yet unknown to me.
I walked up the hill and as I got further into the city, the streets and the people became more dirty and grubby. The city centre was busy and everyone seemed in such a rush which made me glad because it meant they paid me no attention. I had to dodge goodness knows what coming from the contents of pans thrown out of tenement windows by strong armed women with cross faces and sweaty brows. I tried not to deviate from the plan, but the sights around me were very distracting. It was so wonderful to be walking through another period in time. It made me feel very nostalgic. There were no cars, no traffic lights, and somehow, the buildings and streets seemed more real. I knew this city, I recognised the cobbled street that led to the castle, the alleyways and steps that led back down to Waverley Station and Princes Street however it occurred to me that that was not what was at the bottom of the steps in this time, it was the loch – I could smell the stink of it.
I had been so busy taking all of this in that I had not noticed how bitterly cold it was. A wind blew in from some naked part of the world and I looked towards the sky. I saw that it had darkened although it was still the middle of the day and the clouds had that wonderful grey/blue glow that meant snow. No sooner had I admired the strange dark light than the flakes started appearing in the air. It occurred to me that rain is something that happens to you while snow seems to exist around you. The snowflakes increased in volume and size and filled the space between everything. The wind began to blast my face and my chest hurt. I knew this was completely against the rules because I was supposed to keep going, but I bundled my worn, holey clothes into the entrance of a small shop with a glass window and a wooden maroon frame. I began to shiver. I pulled my feeble jacket around my body and the collar further up my neck as though I believed if I pulled hard enough I would create more material and cover my freezing skin.
I looked in the window of the shop and saw a tall lady standing behind a counter. She was smiling at me as though she were really pleased to see me. I had a feeling at the time that I knew her, but I couldn’t place her. She was out of context and I couldn’t remember where she should be. She had old fashioned wavy hair that was almost short, but not quite. Her face was all curved lines, round eyebrows, upturned lips, soft chin and smiling eyes. I liked that kind of face. She gestured for me to come in and although I was a little hesitant, I felt that it would be rude to ignore her. I opened the door and blew into the shop with the snow and wind.
“You must be freezing. Come in. Come in.” she gestured.
I didn’t say anything but nodded, I did not trust that my voice would be masculine enough to match my body. The woman stood and looked at me, smiling sadly. I wanted more than anything to reach out to her and touch her hand. I resisted since even in my own time it would not have done to touch a stranger’s hands like that. We stood looking at each other for a few moments when another lady came through from a room at the back of the counter. This lady had shorter, curlier hair and she was wearing glasses. She was a petite little thing, but all completely in proportion. She had a more angular face, like my own (well my original one, I had not examined this new face yet). She looked up at me and said, “Ah yer here wee yin. Right. Right”.
Clearly she also seemed to know me and I had the same feeling of familiarity. She was rustling around in a drawer behind the counter looking for something. She seemed out of breath in a way that suggested that she always breathed like that, like she had some kind of heart or lung problem. She kept saying to herself every now and then in airy whispers, “Right. Right”.
She turned around with a look of satisfaction on her face. She walked over to the counter and said “C’mere wee yin”.
I walked over to the counter and as I approached, she handed me a little parcel wrapped in brown paper. It was put together very neatly and tied in thick string. I accepted it and stood looking at the two ladies a little confused. I wasn’t sure whether this was part of my purpose that day or not. Something was a little out of sync. I felt like it was me, the female me who knew these ladies and not the man that I was in this existence (if that makes any sense). However I thought it best not to argue and had decided to leave without much fuss. I felt like I wanted something else from them, I felt like there was something I should be saying to them but I could not force any words out and I understood that I could not speak to them. I felt quite upset. The smaller lady nodded her head in a final way and said, “That’s it wee yin. You’ve somethin’ tae dae wae that. That’s whit ye came fur. Right. Right”.
There was no arguing with her so I left the shop. The snow and the wind blew right into my face and made my eyes water. I walked faster now, I was eager to finish this journey and get back.
I took the road to the left of the castle and headed down the hill towards the Grassmarket and the White Hart Inn. Outside the pub was a massive dog tied to a post shivering. I went inside and found the man I was looking for. I walked straight over to him without thinking how I knew who he was or how I would find him. He was a large man with a red face, a shirt that was ready to pop open and small eyes. He looked up as I approached his table and said, “Ah Daibhidh, son. See that brute outside? Fun’ the sorry dug stranded by the river. He’s a Boar Hound. Take him back up the road, get some food fae the Butcher’s and tell Mary tae feed the thing. Bonnie big dug. Kept geeing me his big broon een n’ Mary’s been that doon recently, I think this’ll cheer the lass up. Frank’s the name”.
I nodded my head, went outside and looked at the dog. It was a handsome big dog and although it was dirty, its coat looked shiny enough. It clearly wasn’t a stray, it had belonged to someone, most likely someone with money. I untied the rope and led Frank up the road. He came without so much as a gruff or a strain of the neck. He was as accepting as I was and even seemed to be pleased. I went back the way I came and looked in the shop window where the two old ladies had been but it was now closed. I went to the butchers and got some cuts of meat for Frank before handing both over to the servant at Mary’s house.
I made my way home to Lawnmarket and went to my room. I sat at my desk and took out the brown paper parcel. I unwrapped it as carefully as it had been wrapped and found in it a little red leather bound book. It had the usual gold stencilling on it, but no title. I opened the book and as I often do, checked for an inscription and found written in ink in writing that would have been difficult to read had I not known it:
I thought you might like this quote:
‘Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.’ Sir Frances Bacon.
Perhaps people like us were meant to encourage each other to read and to write so that we can understand a little more of each other, ourselves and of the world.
Read a few words and see where it takes you, write a few words and see where it takes you. It might not change the world, but it will change the way you see it and perhaps the way others see it.”
There was no signature but the words and writing were extremely familiar to me. I opened the pages and they were all blank. Involuntarily, I sighed, put the book down and looked out of the window. I’ll go the library, I thought, and look up Sir Frances Bacon and that will be a start. I was awfully tired though, so I decided to lay down in my bed for a rest. I understood there was a lot of work to do, but the best kind of work. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt so very light. It was good to have a purpose. I let myself drift off to sleep at great speed.
When I woke, I found that the bed I was in was much bigger and had a great deal more pillows and covers than the one I had fallen asleep in earlier. The room was warmer and I could smell a scented candle. It was one of the ones my mother had given me for Christmas. I must have forgotten to put it out last night. I got up to blow it out. Sitting next to it on the ledge of the fireplace was my snow globe with the pictures of me as a young girl with my two grandmothers. It never failed to make me smile. I got back into bed because it was the weekend and I did not have anything I had to rush to get up for. I took my phone out and checked my emails – excellent, a nice long message from David.