FEATURES | By Sami Zahringer

The Curious Case of God, Norman and the Whistler’s Mother

Sami Zahringer, at her spectral best

Sami Zahringer, at her spectral best

At the time of writing, I, your humble correspondent, am in my hometown of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. Here then is a tale from there/here. It contains some unnecessary smut because I am unnecessarily British so, if you find that unnecessary, probably you had better find Mark Lewis’s much more necessary article in here and swerve this one. So, then.

An empty crisp packet blew down Cromwell Street. The crowd crowded on the pavements as crowds are wont to do, and was silent except for a lone, eerie whistler, and his exasperated mother. Up in heaven God shouted at the angels to turn “Game of Thrones” down so He could watch the scene unfold undisturbed. He’d forgotten how He’d predetermined this one to work out.

Tormod “The Tormentor” Boyle, the Bully of Ballantrushal, stood at one end of the street. One hand moved slightly towards a silver Colt Peacemaker in a grubby sheepskin halter on his not un-snake-like hip.

The lone whistler whistled again and everybody agreed inwardly that, by God, yes, that was a straight-up pretty eerie damn whistle.

At the other end of the street a pair of clear-blue eyes narrowed menacingly as their owner planted two determined feet firmly on the municipal crazy-paving and wished his Y-fronts weren’t riding up his Y-back. It must be thus though, he realized grimly. All eyes were on him, and it would look wrong and uncool to start grabbing his bottom at this moment.

He scanned the crowd briefly, his chiseled jaw tensing with the sort of impossible gorgeousness not seen on Stornoway’s streets since the days of Flinty MacFlynt, a fine figure of a man, aye, and handy with his tairsgeir (which is at once an enormous blade for cutting peats, and a painfully obvious phallic symbol with the dubious narrative purpose foreshadowing items a few paragraphs down from here) who had been much admired by the townswomen and was — almost literally — an original Town Father.

At the sight of this powerful clenching, two lady librarians and Joan from the butcher’s fainted clear away.

Ah, but this was his moment. How long he’d waited! It had been ten years since he left the island vowing never to return, ten years of demons haunting him, the ghosts of his bullied past taunting him, urging him on and on, never letting him rest for a moment, chasing him all the way to — as chance and Southbound roadworks would have it — Aberdeen, that great granite city of the North. There, still a pale, skinny stripling of a boy, he’d been baffled and had not understood a blessed word the natives said to him. But the Aberdonians had treated him kindly, if incomprehensibly, and for Our Hero, being baffled was better than being beaten by bully-boy Boyle.

In the intervening years, Our Hero (let’s call him Norman, for that was indeed his name, a name not unrelated to the fact he had been so mercilessly bullied by Tormod Boyle because Tormod is the Gaelic for Norman and there could be only one Norman/Tormod in the class in Tormod’s piggy wee eyes. He bitterly resented Norman for having the normal Norman version of his name and not the version Tormod would have to explain forever when he moved to the mainland. So Tormod did the only thing he’d been taught what to do with his angry feelings. He directed them out and away and at the object of his namey envy) … Wait, where was I?

Oh. Here. Norman, had become a highly successful ornamental hedge-trimmer which had given him broad and powerful shoulders.  Lately he had joined a gym, which had given him other powerful parts. He’d saved judiciously, bought a little house and, yes, had even known love for a short while before she ran off with a career doughnut-glazer from Achiltibuie. In the main though, he had thrived in these fertile eastern soils and was grown tall and devilish handsome, all the ladies and Martin, the bell-ringer, agreed. Not unlike Liam Neeson in some lights, or Al Pacino from some miles.

The lone whistler whistled again. The whistler’s mother smacked his ear.

And now was Norman’s moment! Now he would teach that low-down pustulant Boyle of a human being what it was like to know fear! His topiary-scarred finger curled delicately round his Derringer as the wind flapped his long black leather coat cinematically. He sized Tormod up. It was true, his once-famed hips were still snake-like, If the snake had just eaten a moose; his little arms barely reached them on account of the enormous gut that draped around like some monstrous skirt of beef.

He was suddenly reminded of a witticism he’d heard on the ferry on the way over: Some men were sitting around in the bar, one of them a larger-figured man, and the talk had turned to marital relations as it usually does in the choppy waters where Loch Broom meets the Minch. Apparently the big man was himself married to a big woman, and the others were gently teasing him about how they got the marital business done. Big Man says good-naturedly “Ah, that’s what all my short-peckered friends ask!”

But this was coarse thinking and he hadn’t become such a renowned hedge-artiste by such coarseness of thought — apart from that one cash-in-hand job for the nuns on their poplars behind the tall, grey walls of the convent on The Black Isle. He blushed in recollection of how he’d fashioned their azaleas. The sisters hadn’t even mentioned azaleas but he’d got carried away.

And anyway this strange turn of thought was by the by, because all the island knew Tormod only had a very wee one. They knew this on account of his mammy, Honest Margey. Honest Margey had taken a turn out at the fank (it’s kind of like a sheep spa and, refreshingly — if you’ve read this far — isn’t any sort of a phallic symbol or narrative device of any sort) one year and had never been the same again, her peculiarity being marked by a disconcerting habit of always, always telling the truth.

Incidentally, Tormod’s Situation-So-To-Speak, (and really, it was only a very incidental one) wasn’t the only Situation-So-To Speak to pass into notoriety by way of Margey. The minister, she declared on the bus one unforgettable Monday, had a very big Situation indeed, not as big as Simple George from the grocery van’s, but certainly by her reckoning, bigger than average. There was quite the kerfuffle after that, alright, for how could Honest Margey possibly know this unless she had been somehow privy to the minister’s Situation-So-To-Speak?

“It wasn’t in the privy!” Honest Margey had cried, Washingtonianly, disastrously unable to tell a lie. “It was in the vestibule of the vestry ‘neath the vestments, in a Vesterly direction!” (Honest Margey was half German.)

Within the week, the disgraced minister had been posted to a youth outreach program in lawless,  Godless, public-toiletless inner-city Inverness. To fill his sudden and shameful void, the congregation had had to accept an emergency young cleric from the South, with all the threatening new ideas that people from the South bring. Cushioned pews, indeed! Where were Christ’s cushions as he hung bleeding for our sins on the cross?

But I digress. Which isn’t like me.

Our Hero (Norman) shook his head from these ridiculous thoughts, as any hero should. Concentrate, man! Any minute now he was going to blast two holes right above and below Tormod Boyle’s sweaty unibrow, just like a divided-by sign. He’d read somewhere that to divide-by was to conquer and he was always a chap to go by what he’d read somewhere.

Somewhere a seagull screamed, briefly. Again, and even more cinematically than the other times, the whistler whistled, now low, now high, and tremulously, as if the accounts of all men’s souls were to be settled that day on Cromwell Street. Again, the whistler’s mother told him to shut his gob, he was putting people off. Up above, God made a mental note to smite her with a wart as soon as this was all over and she was back sitting for her portrait. God likes ominous whistling and is nothing if not an avid cinema-buff, although He couldn’t see why Citizen Kane was all that special.

A tumble-peat blew by…

The town-hall clock struck the hour — high-noon. According to the ancient rule for duelling crofters, on the twelfth stroke the foes were to fire.






The smoke clears. The crowd gasps…

Now then, reader, what happens next? Send your guesses to me and I’ll pick the one truest to what actually happened. If my hapless editor allows it, I’ll reproduce it here next time. (But you won’t get paid.) (Sorry, I will take all the money.) (It’s just the way I want it.) (Me, with all the money.)   ≈OQ≈

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