Jinty’s Lament (a very short story)

jinty's Lament“Whaur’s that blimming cat got tae noo?” Jinty sighed as she stared around the edge of her door, peering out into the darkness of Fishmarket Close. “If yer no’ hame in ten minutes, ye kin hae a night on the tiles!” she warned the moonless night and absent feline before closing the door over and slowly shuffled on tired legs back across the tiny space which constituted her home. With a weary sigh at the dull pain in her chest and legs, reminders of every one of her eighty-three years , she gently lowered herself into an armchair almost as old as herself.
Nestling back into the mass of cushions which bolstered her thin, bone weary body, she gazed into the low burning flames of a handful of coals in the fireplace which provided the sole illumination in the room.
The warmth they provided was welcome, as was the scant light they gave out. The dancing shadows hid the dust and dirt which gathered on every surface no matter how often she cleaned, Not that she did as often as she had in the past. That was back in the days when her husband Josiah had still lived. He had been gone for almost twenty years now leaving her heart-broken. The fruits of their union, two fine, strapping sons had attempted to help her around the house once. Their wives had tried to ease her burden but as time rolled on their visits became fewer and fewer and the gaps between them grew longer and longer. Now she would struggle to recall exactly when she had last seen hide or hair of them. Her sole company these days was a feline philanderer she named, with no real thought, simply Cat. Like most males, she had discovered, he could not be relied upon to be dependable. She had sat long into the night more times than she cared to count, sitting here in front of a dying fire, waiting for the scratching at the door or his impatient yowl which signified his return.
For a moment she considered stirring herself to place another lump of coal on the fire but instead shook her head. Coal cost money and she had little enough of that these days. No, let it burn down. If Cat had still not returned by the time the last embers had winked out into oblivion he would have to find his own bed elsewhere for the night. It may be September but the nights were still mild. Her only concern was that some starving, half-naked ruffian from the Highland army curently controlling the ancient city of Edinburgh would see Cat and think him a fine, fat portion for his cooking pot.
Their commander in chief, Prince Charles Edward Stewart, may be holding grand parties and balls at the Palace of Holyrood House less than half a mile from where Jinty sat but she was content to sit in her tiny room before a waning fire and concern herself over the fate of a flea-bitten, mangy mog whose own sole worry was where his next meal was coming from.
Her contemplation on the where-abouts of her absent companion was interrupted by the sound of sudden laughter and voices raised in bawdy song. With another sigh that sounded as though it had summoned up from the soles of her feet Jinty pulled a thin shawl around her frail shoulders.
“Och, but it’s fine tae be young.” She smiled into the flames, still dancing though their movement now seemed as tired as she felt. “A’ that life and energy spilling oot o’ them! Oh, just for one more night tae escape this decrepit auld body and be the lassie I was then…”
She closed rheumy eyes as the dinginess of her surroundings were replaced by visions of secret dances held far from prying eyes. Back then in the late 1670’s, before she was married, dancing and any displays of public enjoyment were frowned upon. To avoid the disapproving stare of Kirk and parents, parties were held in secret locations, normally the deepest cellars of taverns and alehouses on the wynds and closes running down from the High Street towards the Nor’Loch or the Cowgate. There by the smoky light of cruisie lamps, candles and torches the young would gather in hot, sweat dripping caverns and lose themselves in music and dancing. Their behaviour would have them branded for having loose morals, and earn them public shame on the Penitents Stool below the pulpit in church. Here before the congregation their sins would be laid bare for all to know. It was a risk young Jinty had embraced as warmly as she had embraced her dancing partners.
Those wild, care-free days when she, like most of the others present, had been less than twenty years of age, now seemed as distant as the moon. The laughter, music and dancing had given way within a few brief months to the Killing Times as God’s Chosen had done all in their power to exterminate men and women, just as devout in their faith as their oppressors, who worshipped the self same God but in a different manner. The crushing grimness of those years had snuffed out the light of laughter, silenced the music and the only dancing was done at the end of a rope hanging from the Grassmarket’s gallows.
“No!” Jinty said with a shake of her grey head. “We’ll no’ think o’ that!” She turned her thoughts away from memories of the martyrs and the tears she had shed. “Tonight lass, we’ll think only o’ happier times, or we’ll think o’ nothing at all.”
Behind the screen of closed eyes, time shifted. The room on Fishmarket Close faded into the mists as memories became real. In her head the music played with a wild abandon. Couples whirled and leapt sending shadows soaring around the walls and vaulted ceiling.
A sharp pain in her chest made her gasp but she kept her eyes shut. Tonight she wanted to be eighteen again. Tonight she would be eighteen again.
Faces came into focus beckoning her to join them on the crowded dancefloor as one darkly handsome figure came forward as the dancers parted allowing him to stand before her with his hand held out for hers.
“Aye Jinty, will you give me this dance?”
A fleeting sense of alarm flowed through her briefly reminding her of the strangely distant pain she grew less aware of in her chest with every passing moment, but that sense of alarm dimmed as quickly as it had come.
“But Josiah, you were never at the dances! I never met you until later. How are you here?”
The youthful face of the man she had married smiled gently at her confusion. “Och lassie, dinnae fash yourself none about the why’s and wherefore’s. You wanted to be eighteen again. Now you are/ And eighteen you will remain. We’ll dance and laugh together from now until Judgement Day, if you’ll but take my hand and dance.”
The crushing pain in her chest had all but gone now along with the sounds of drunken revelry from the close beyond her door. The weight of years fell away as easily as cast off shawl as she reached out a hand tentatively towards Josiah. His hand was warm to the touch and her own hand, she noticed with a wistful smile, was white and smooth. The wrinkles, kidney spots and scars of time were gone. Looking at those hands as their fingers entwined swept away the last sixty years.
“Dance lassie,” Josiah urged her gently. As the music filled her body Jinty allowed herself to settle into his arms and fill her senses with the familiar scent of his body against hers and they danced.
Tonight would last forever.
* * *
From his favoured spot on the window ledge outside the room Cat cocked his head to one side as he looked through the glass at the scene within. The old woman who fed him and provided him with a warm bed, sat in her familiar place with a hand raised before her. For a moment she sat motionless and then as the hand sank to her side, her head lolled backwards into a cushion. Invisible to the eyes of Man but plain as day to Cat, her soul lifted from the shell which had housed it since birth. Another shade awaited her and together they joined and slowly spun around the room before fading from the world as they danced into eternity.

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2 Responses to Jinty’s Lament (a very short story)

  1. Pingback: Jinty’s Lament (a very short story) by Stuart S. Laing | Layered Pages

  2. What a hauntingly beautiful piece.

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