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Edinburgh Falcon Girl


It was the last day of the festival for me. Fringe, or otherwise.  Ten days is enough of this divine madness. The last night in town I decided to stay up all night because I had a 6am train out of Waverly down to Paddington in London. Four hours. From there it’s a ¼ mile jog to the damn commuter train for the excruciatingly slow and dull and eye-opening 45-minute haul out to Gatwick. I’d arrive, if all went well, one hour before my non-stop flight back to LA. Thirteen hours.

This was all pre-911 bullshit when a man could literally fall out of a taxi at curbside reeking of a three-day bender and still get pushed onto his flight within minutes with no hassles. So, no use heading to bed. What with the bars I usually got back to the room at 5am anyway.

Lone Piper at the Festival

The Grassmarket Area below the Edinburgh Castle is a treat to the drunkard. Pub after pub within floating distance of each other: The White Lion, Finnegan’s Wake, The Something-Or-Another-Parrot, and on and on.

Edinburgh also has the latest closing times in the UK. One closes at midnight, but another closes at 1am, yet another closes at 2am, then 3, then 4, then 5. You just keep bouncing along until you eventually get back to your room.

Which is conveniently located in the hostel atop a sprawling concrete staircase.

The Castle Rock Hostel offers jaw-dropping views of the castle itself, which, sits directly across the street. Incredible to wake up to…

I had staggered out of a 2am-closer and was nimbly headed for a 3am rendezvous when I ran into Mary. I was pleasantly buzzed but by no means inebriated as on other nights. I did have a train to catch you know. Just one last spin around the block, I thought.

Before I actually met Mary I bumped into another young lady, a local, walking up the street besides me. “You here for the festival, I take it?” she asked

“Why yes I am. I love it.”

“You wouldn’t love it so fookin’ much if you had half the world tramplin’ through yer fookin’ gardens half the day and into the night. Just stay the fook away I say! Get the fook oot de my city!”

I had to laugh. That’s exactly the way I felt whenever I was in Hollywood catching a movie at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and kept running into cartloads of tourists spilling out of their overcrowded buses and snapping pictures of the stars and handprints in the sidewalks.

Here in Edinburgh though, a small town, it seemed that the festival had infested every alley, graveyard, backyard, rooftop, stairwell, and public bathroom they could get their hands on. For indeed a few nights previous I had attended a great show situated in an elevated passageway crammed between two narrow and decrepit buildings. But at least they had set up a makeshift bar for us patrons of the arts, god bless them…

“Em, don’t get me wrong na, you yanks aren’t all bad, you’re OK.”

“Well, gee, honey, thanks for the reassurance.”

“Aye. Best be goin’” and she fluttered up the winding road.

There was a drunken lot of us walking up a curving, rising street when Mary nudged me from the side in a slightly tipsy, playful mood. “I reckon’ you’re here for the festival?”

“That’s a pretty good guess, Lassie,” I nudged back.

“Lassie is it? He’s here for the weekend and he thinks he can speak the lingo.”

“Ten days, baby. Ten fucking days in this town. And I was here last year too.”

Streetscene in Edinburgh

“Betcha haven’t left your 4-star the whole time, eh?”

“You see any other Americans out here? I’m up at the hostel.”

She smiled a smile that reminded me of a lady professor from college that I used to “date” back when I was 19 and she was 34. A thousand years or more ago…

“And aside from contributing to the bulging masses that clog our streets by day and getting sick in our pubs by night, just where else have you gotten your well-fed and contented arse to?”

We had continued to follow the crowds as we walked. Sudden bursts of savagery banged about the ancient streets. And the smell of potatoes still permeated the air. It’s a scent that immediately sails up your nose as you take you’re your first steps in Edinburgh.

The air is heavy with it, musty; in it too I can smell my father’s hair tonic in the bathroom after he left for work so early on a cold morning. Somebody’s boiling a large kettle of fresh potatoes for that evening’s supper. Odd and strange and comforting and something that’s rarely brought up when discussing travel, but there you have it.

“Let me see now: aside from taking a bus out to Crommond, aside from taking trains up to Glasgow and Sterling, and aside from ferrying across Loch Lommond, trampling through the woods of Bolloch, and then hiking up Arthur’s Seat just this afternoon, I can’t think of a goddamn thing I’ve done here.”

She laughed a hearty laugh, relaxed and vulnerable, like we’d been chatting in front of a fire and drinking cider.

“Well, that’s a start.” Then, she brushed alongside me again.

“Care for a pint?” I asked.

“Not right na. I’m fighting a cold.”

“You hungry?”

“No, afraid not. But I’ll walk with you, help you find something.”

“I want one of those mini-pizzas I see everybody carrying around.”

“Three quid for those. We’ll find them soon enough.”

All thought of a drink left my head. One of the many things a woman is especially talented at is making a man give up the drink. In theory, anyway. It can just as easily go the other way…

“So what’s a decent young lady doing out here all by herself?” I asked and we passed that 3am pub I was looking for earlier but didn’t care about now but was the destination for most of the crowd we were tailing.

“Look at all those kids,” she motioned with her head. Her arms were crossed over her to ward off the night frost. “How can they go the whole night?” I was about to help her with that one when she came back with, “Oh, sorry. What did you say? Oh right: Em, don’t know about the decent part, but I can tell you I was with a few friends tonight that seemed to have vanished on me. Just as well though.”

“Good, you can show me around.”

“Do I look like a tour guide?” she grinned. “But for you, sure, you seem like a good enough yank.”

“You’re the second one to tell me that tonight.”

“Then it must be true.”

“Wow. She’s pretty, funny, sarcastic. Marry me.”

“We just got to talkin’. Besides, my birds have to take a liking to you first. As well as my dad.”

“Birds?”

“I raise falcons. We have a rather large property outside the city. My babies are waiting on me now.”

“Falcons. Now that’s a first. A 24-year old falcon keeper.”

“Aye, you just gave me back three years. Cheers.”

“But you get on me about being the bougeoise American. Look at you: country estate, lands for the birds, a wealthy old man rattling about the halls of a manor occupied with the ghosts of days gone by, waiting to die so he can give his only daughter titles and deeds.”

“You make it all sound so romantic. But you’re fairly close.”

And then we strolled, I guess, you can say. Haven’t “strolled” with a woman in quite a while. So used to hopping into a car and having to drive 30-fucking miles somewhere in order to do something.

Passing drunks slapped me on the shoulder and winked at Mary and me and then kept on keeping. Revelry was in the air, unlike, say, the threat of multiple brawls that hang on the verge of consummation in the Temple Bar Area of Dublin.

We walked past closed pubs and cavernous alleyways and darkened and abandoned courtyards and entire walls covered in those festival fliers announcing plays and other performances for the next day, telling us what times, where, how much, and what the critics are saying about them and all the while we brushed against each other and chatted about nonsense people chat about while trying to think of something bright and clever to say. Is this what it was like? I can barely remember what it’s like to be with a nice girl.

There was an obvious attraction between us that was certain, but acting upon it has become one of my new drawbacks.

I can lie to a woman. I cannot care about a woman and still fuck the hell out of her. I can pay for a woman. I know immediately which woman in a room will fuck me. Which one is lonely and wants to have a one-night stand and then kick me out of bed within two hours. Which one gets beat on by her husband and needs “someone to talk to”. Which one whose boyfriend won’t fuck anymore. Which one will keep calling me for sex at a cheap motel on the outer rims of the county line no matter how bad it is time after time. I can see all that, but when there’s a hint of a real connection it becomes difficult.

I’m afraid of pulling the trigger.

Having been fucked over twice before, by women I was in long term relationships with, I have let myself become afraid.

Jim’s Scottish Hostel

Window-shopping in Amsterdam and every other goddamn city on the planet I’ve crawled through has become the standard op. Hundreds. But what of it? Something more was needed for sure.

“Look, there’s yer pizza,” Mary pointed and shuffled me in the direction of a corner stand with a line 25 deep.

I wanted Mary but I didn’t want to fuck her. I didn’t want to defile her. My friends say I contaminate the women I love. I didn’t want to do that to Mary. But what did she want? What did she care?

“I’ll wait over here,” Mary said and sat at the base of a lamp post as I pushed my way through a drunken lot intent on trying to vaguely sober up before heading home. Taxis sped past in one-minute intervals. No police though. And that’s the way it should be…
Three quid did do the trick, and I was rewarded with a slab of greasy bread with greasy cheese slopped onto greasy tomato paste and mixed in with greasy bits of pepperoni and ham that seeped through a greasy box. Goddamn it was good!

“Fancy a slice?” I asked Mary as she stood.

“Christ no! Get that away from me!”

“Spice of life, Love.”

“I’m a veggan thank you.”

“No, really? Damn, see? You just lost points there.”

“Did I? I didn’t realize I was under review. Tell me Mr-I-don’t-even-know-your-name, are you always so presumptuous with the ladies?”

“Never. Now walk with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Continue then.”

“Jim.”

“What?”

“My name is Jim.”

“And I’m Mary.”

“But I shall call you by your given name: James.”

“Nobody calls me that.”

“Aye.”

Just then some drunken bear of a man came stumbling down the street, eyes on fire-to match his flaming red locks-and he was sweating badly in the cold. His clothes were disheveled and he was giggling and belching at his own stupor. He halted as he came face to face with us. ”You got pizza! Oy, mate, you tink you can find it yer heart to tear off a piece for a fellow journeyman?”

I did better than that and handed over an entire slice. His eyes went wide and he began to salivate. “Hey, you Yanks are all right!” He grabbed the steamy slice and shoved it into his mouth. “That’s a good lad!” he mumbled. “Cheers!” Then slapped me on the back and pranced off.

“That was nice of ye,” Mary said. “Normally we’d tell them to fuck off.”

We continued to stroll, in silence. I could smell the jasmine coming off her hair even in the dampness of the night and I nearly melted. We saw more show fliers scattered on the ground and we kicked through them as we passed.

The drunks began disbursing after 4am. You could see the fingertips of a sunrise just over the purple-black horizon. It gets dark here during the summer after 10pm, but the sun starts to rear its ugly ass well before five. Not good. We also passed another graveyard and that is where we stopped.

“I better grab a taxi,” Mary said.

“Not yet.”

Do I kiss her now? Do I let my passion fly and drag her into an alley and slam her against a storied brick wall? Do I ask for an address? What for? I’m leaving the country in seven hours. A phone number? Same thing. An email?

We can write each other and the next time I’m in town we could hook up. But that never goes well for me. We’ll email for a couple months then the novelty wears off and suddenly I’m a dead to them. They disappear. Better to save myself the heartache. Make it a clean break.

“I guess I gotta go too, get my stuff together.”

“And I have a ways back.”

“Okay.’

“Okay.”

We looked at each other:  I’ve often wondered since why she didn’t take the initiative and fling her arms around my neck. I wouldn’t have minded. Why didn’t she kiss me before I left? Was she as gun shy as I? Who fucked her over, and how hard, and when, enough so that she couldn’t let herself desire a night’s passion?

We moved toward one another, hesitantly, then awkwardly, then, extended a hug. Christ, it felt good. “You take care, sweetie. Get home safe,” I whispered into her ear then kissed its lobe.

“You too, James,” and she returned this soft gesture of affection.

I moved to kiss her on the lips; she did too, but stopped ourselves. Two people never wanted to kiss each other so goddamn much, to connect, but god forbid if that should happen again.

Yeah, sure, I want to get married; to have a warm body to lay with that doesn’t make me look at my watch and pretend I have to get up early for work only as an excuse to get the fuck out of there. To share Paris with, an African safari, a fireside chat, hell, a new life.

Before I left I turned, we waved tiny waves at each other, then, I made for the hostel. 5am. Right as rain. I had one hour to get my shit together and run down to the station, which, fortunately, was about a half mile away and all down hill.

I had already packed the night before, just needed a quick shave and to run my head under a shower. Aside from location, the best damn thing about the Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland are the showers.

They have large, private shower stalls, like old- fashioned phone booths, with wooden doors, and with plenty of space to reach those hard to find places when lathering up.

It was in one of these booths, very alone, very early in the morning before anybody else got up and began to fight for the hot water, that I choose to cry for a few minutes.

After, I left…

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