Scene in Europe, Scene 9, Aberdeenshire, Roses and Thorns
Sophie and Marty were sitting across from an ancient dovecot, amid the topiary gardens of Craigievar Castle, on a hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, not far from the Queen’s summer retreat in Balmoral which they’d driven through earlier in the hope of a royal glimpse but settled for buying a packet of custard creams in the local convenience store. It was an unexpectedly sunny day having arrived 4 days earlier to their two story Nordic styled lodge in the Hilton’s Craigendarroch resort, tucked into the woods of Royal Deeside, under a heavy blanket of clouds and rain. They’d detoured from their mainland European vacation for a family wedding, a distant relation of Sophie’s whose name she kept forgetting, but the festivities had distracted them from the downpour of the previous days. But now the party was over and it was their second day of Scottish exploration, at a slow pace, of course, considering the bunions, new hips, angina and all round ageing. Thankfully all bowel blockages were now a thing of the past, helped hugely by the sausage, bacon, eggs and haggis breakfasts.
“It’s a castle,” Marty said disappointedly to his wife.
“I can see that, Marty, you think I bring you with me to point out the obvious? You think I thought it was mall?” his wife joked in her usual sarcastic tone, “this is what happens when you don’t want a shoe larger than your foot!” she whispered to herself. Even as a young girl, she knew she would never be able to cope with marrying someone bigger or better than herself, so you get what you’re given instead.
“But another castle, Sophie, really?” her husband questioned.
“Yes, another castle. Oy, if only I coulda got me another husband. Listen Marty, we don’t have these back home. It’s a once in a lifetime trip and at least it ain’t a cathedral,” she reminded him.
“But it ain’t all that different either,” he tried to point out.
“Oy Marty, you old putz, it’s a whole other story to a cathedral. People lived here; lords, earls, barons; the elite, gentry. Didn’t you watch Downton Abbey, it’s all the rage these days, all that old fashioned stuff; maids and servants, upstairs, downstairs; the traditions. We don’t have that sorta thing back home, all that land and not a bit of room for tradition. We pretend we do… but it’s all fake. We prefer a good condo to an old castle, even though we build our condo’s to look like castles.”
“Sophie, may I remind you that we’re Jewish, we have nothing but tradition.”
“Well, mazel tov to you then. We have our path, I know that, our Halakhah. I walk it daily and with you, believe me, Marty, it all takes on a whole other meaning,” she said with an exhaustive shrug, “we have Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kappur, the mitzvah’s, the brit’s, the kipa, yada, yada, yada… they’re all a part of me, I ain’t denying that. But this, this is a whole other something, this is tradition on a whole other level. This is grandeur, this is excess, ain’t no one chopping anything off in these traditions, Marty.”
“Soph, you can’t say that,” her husband replied in an attempt to reprimand his wife’s words of disrespect for their faith.
“Really Marty,” she slapped back at him with that look he knew so well, reminding him instantly that he had forgotten that nothing was ever forbidden from falling from her lips, aside from a few words of affection that wouldn’t go amiss occasionally and a few other unmentionable words that he used to miss in the bedroom department, although that was now a department they no longer visited together. Someone had to love her, he told himself, maybe this was his Halakhah; his path in life.
The baronial 17th century Craigievar Castle with it’s practically pink turret towers and glaring gargoyles loomed over them like a fairytale come to life as they shaded themselves beneath a giant topiary bush which Marty suggested was shaped like a UFO, a comment he’d earlier regretted sharing with Sophie.
“This one has a ghost too, you know, another story of love and loss,” his wife mentioned with a certain lightness to her gravel based voice while she scanned over the guide book, “seemingly, the father of a beautiful damsel tried to kill one of her suiters while he was climbing in the window one night, but before he was pierced in the heart, he fell from the window itself and plummeted to his death. Right here. Now they say he roams the hallways, in the eternal search for his love,” Sophie told him, “now ain’t that just darling. See Marty, men knew what love was back then, would do anything they could for it, dead or alive.”
“You know, Soph, they told us all this while on the tour, is your hearing all right? You think it’s time for a hearing aid? We could be hearing aid buddies,” he joked but as usual, she didn’t smile.
“The only aid I need is carrying around your lard ass, Marty. That pizza overload from Italy’s still pushing your tush southwards. And I can hear damn fine, thank you. Just can’t understand a thing anyone round here is saying. You sure it’s really English they speak in Scotland? I have my doubts. I can tell you. But it sure does sound good and boy oh boy, the men round here are real men, Marty,” she said, reminding him once again, in her own not-so-subtle way, of all his inadequacies.
Yesterday, before their walk around the Spittal of Glenmuick at the end of Loch Muick, protected by the luscious heather covered hills dancing over glorious green mosses all rejoicing from the recent rainfall, they’d driven to Braemar Castle, built as a 17th century hunting lodge. It was there that Sophie had first been driven wild with excitement by the history of it’s reported ghost; a young woman who’d killed herself on her wedding night after awaking alone and believing her husband had deserted her. Sophie was almost teary eyed at the thought of the poor ghost, newly married and newly dead. And yet Marty’s wife managed to spent most of her time critiquing him, chastising him, chopping him. Today Marty realised he would never fully understand this woman on front of him, even if he managed to survive as long as this castle on front of him.
He looked over at her; her dyed blonde hair, the skin a little softer now on the face as she’d missed her last two Botox sessions since they’d been away, her once buoyant chest now almost leaning on her fanny pack as she bent over to adjust the side seam of her turquoise leggings. Romance, he said to himself, half the time her heart’s as stone cold as these bloody castles and cathedrals, impervious to time and man himself. And other times, well, sometimes the drawbridge lowers itself to allow entrance but nowadays, with body getting older, that drawbridge seemed to be having trouble opening up as much as it used to.
“You’re a real oxymoron,” he told her with a smile on his face.
“And you’re a real son of one, but so what? We make do with what we have, Marty,” she said as she took his hand to heave herself up out of the seat, “all these tales of youth and romance, they bring a flicker of something to me, what can I say?” she said with another shrug, an annoying habit she’d picked up in France.
“And what about us, what about our romance?” he asked, hands back to hiding in his tracksuit pockets, fearing the reply.
“Oy Marty, come on now, love in youth is a crown of roses, love in old age… it’s a crown of willows,” she told her husband as he made a small yelp, having leaned back too far against the shrubbery and pricked himself on a thorn from one of the low lying rose bushes.
“All righty then,” she continued, ignoring his pain, “how about we see about getting you a kilt to show off those legs of yours? You know how much I like your legs.”
“Well Sophie, that’s real nice of you to say,” he said, instantly forgetting the prick and suddenly beaming with an underused sense of pride and a rise in affection for his fortified wife. Perhaps the drawbridge just needed a little oil, after all, he thought to himself.
“Yeah well, Marty, anything to distract me from that saggy ass of yours.”