Monday, 22 October 2007

A Place on Earth

A nice cheery wee story this. It was written for a competition a (good) few years ago & is my husband's favourite - but then again he can be pretty depressive too.

A Place on Earth

I lie sweating my pain into the twisted sheets of this hospital bed. The air around me is filled with the soft sounds that bind me to this world. The hiss of bellows. The beep of a heart monitor. The soft whimpers and sighs of my bedfellows. I open swollen eyes and turn my gaze toward a window that has never known sunshine, even on the most perfect summer day.

My vision, dim at the best of times, is further blunted by the exhaustion that follows each progressively longer bout of delirium. Try as I might I am unable to pick out any features of a landscape that I know from memory to be heartrendingly beautiful. Of all my regrets it is this which grieves me most; during the years that I have roamed this earth, gazing over my beloved land has always been the greatest pleasure of all. Once again I squint at the rectangle of brightness, staring so intently that my eyes grow grainy. My weakened body is too dehydrated to produce the tears necessary to lubricate the delicate membranes. I don’t care, so desperate am I to penetrate this veil.

And suddenly, it lifts! The pastel-coloured haze resolves itself into the living landscape that still exists beyond that slim pane of glass. The green blur coalesces, forming the grass that carpets the hospital grounds. Gemstone flowers border the footpaths. Dusky violet hills recede into the distance. The sky is a gentle blue, striated with white cloud.

The tears that pain could not force from my eyes flow now at the rapture of this moment. My final wish has been granted. But elation turns to confusion and then to fear as I feel myself rushing headlong toward the glass. I utter a wordless cry as, instead of crashing into the casement, I pass through unharmed. I know then that this is no miracle. The scales have not fallen from my eyes. The delirium must have taken me again, in an even crueller manner than before.

I rise up, far up into the crystal air. I look at the modern structure below, the corners and angles of its pink and grey stone contrasting sharply with the natural curves of the surrounding grounds. Sprawling out around the hospital like a starfish is the town where I have lived all my life. Traffic runs steadily along the arteries and veins of its roads. In between and all around move the tiny cells that are its people, each an individual but coming together to form the lifeblood of the town. At its heart sits the abbey where our most famous king lies at rest, his name cut into the huge square tower.

I sense another presence close by. I am not alone in the sky. My viewpoint swings southward and I briefly register the narrow expanse of tidal water, bound by the twin edifices of its bridges, one grey the other a deep arterial red.

My attention is captured by the savage beauty of an approaching buzzard as its down-curved yellow and black beak opens and it looses its raucous cry. I try to evade it but the bird heads straight for me. I feel a momentary stab of panic before I remind myself that none of this is real. I see the glint in the buzzard’s eye as it ploughs unheedingly through me, intent on its search for prey.

I’m caught! Riding the air in the mind of the bird I can feel the wind that eluded me before, ruffling its rich brown plumage and whistling past its huge wings as it flies. I feel the hunger in its - in my - stomach as it scents the air. The town passes in a blur as together we head for open country. Hovering low over the fields, the wind in my face, I marvel at the buzzard’s acute vision. Never in my wildest imaginings could I have dreamt of being able to see so clearly. Through the bird’s eyes I scan the ground below, watching for the telltale movement of some tiny creature too panicked to remain still. There! The buzzard pounces, talons outstretched.

In the moment before impact I am jolted from the mind of the bird and into that of the young rabbit which has become its prey. I feel the rabbit’s terror as the cruciform shadow of the great bird blots out the sun, feel the talons slice into its tender sides. Then, mercifully, I leave the dying body and fly free, watching the buzzard as it takes off toward nearby woodland, its meal dangling limply in its grip.
Moving under my own power I pass over the buzzard, now intent on feeding, and fly free over the green canopy below. I catch sight of a grey squirrel and briefly my mind touches its and I am there, scampering from tree to tree along the inter-twining branches, aware that while the buzzard feeds it is not a threat.

I fly high over the land, feasting my eyes on her hills and hollows, seeing her as if for the first time from this unfamiliar perspective. I soon come to a vast expanse of water filled with a thousand rowdy ducks. The bottle-green heads of the mallard drakes glow amidst the modest browns of their mates and the round, golden eyes of the tufted ducks sparkle like sequins. My eye is caught by a sudden flash of emerald. I plunge toward the loch and again I see the world through another's eyes. The drake that I now inhabit takes off from the water, running along its surface, neck outstretched and wings a-whir. He flaps madly, aiming for the far bank, while from behind comes the laughter-like cry of a female. He reaches the bank and stops but I continue, flying onward over fields and hills, isolated farmsteads and bustling villages.

Occasionally a creature catches my attention and momentarily it is mine. I hear through its ears. I see through its eyes. I share in its experiences. The contentment of the tomcat sprawled in the sun outside a kitchen doorway; the hunger of the crow as it scavenges amongst the carelessly discarded litter; the watchful timidity of the red deer as she grazes in the upland meadow. With each encounter my excitement rises. This is not the delirium that earlier held me in its confused and twisted grip. That had neither the clarity of thought or of vision that I experience now.

Joyously I race over a landscape that seems to be rippling up to meet me. Lowland fields criss-crossed with burns and dykes give way to rolling hills mottled with dark, secret pine forest and bright deciduous woodland. I pass over a majestic cathedral, its grey stone bulk nestled on the bank of a wide sparkling river dotted with graceful swans. For a moment it seems that the angels have climbed down from their tombstones to bask in the sunshine.

I pass again over evergreen pines, gazing down into secret gullies where white water races through rocky channels, smoothing the stones into sinuous curves. With each fleeting contact I make - a timorous pine marten, a secretive wildcat - I smell the fresh menthol scent of the trees, feel the lush warmth of the sun, hear the sound of a million breathing, living, growing things.

I see below me a loch; a placid expanse of blue dotted with leaf-shaped boats. Their oars leave expanding ripples on its surface. I pass unheeded overhead, over the lush trees and graceful ferns that line its banks and are reflected in its calm waters. As I admire the kaleidoscopic greens and browns I sense a steady beating in the air behind me and again I am taken. I ride the wind easily, relishing the strong, easy beats of the bird’s wings as it makes its way from the loch and follows a wide river. The gorge narrows, hemmed in by forested hills. We fly, the heron and I, along the pass, the dark water below spanned by the concrete and metal bridges that knit its banks, stamping mans presence onto an otherwise wild landscape.
The bird lands on the rock from which a terrified soldier once leapt for his life and I am free once again. I travel invisibly, pulled along now by I know not what. The land below is mountainous; granite carved by long-melted glaciers into fantastic shapes. I see wide valleys separated by knife edged arĂȘtes. The green troughs are strewn with massive boulders deposited carelessly by the departing ice, as though a giant child has forgotten to pick up his toys. Small lochs and rivers wink up at me in the sunshine. Tiny cars twinkle along roads that wind through the steep slopes covered with broom and purple heather.

The rugged landscape below reflects my own emotions; my soaring joy as I contemplate my beautiful land is tempered by my despair at the knowledge that this cannot be real. I know, know, that my body lies, now scores of miles behind me, in a stuffy airless room. Yet, in those brief moments when I occupy another creature’s mind, I feel the sun. I hear the soughing of the wind and smell the fresh wild scent of the highlands.

Onward now, over mountain and valley, snow-capped peak and dark trough. A crumbling ruin lies in the centre of a loch on its own tiny island. Where once people lived, loved and died crows now sit, hunched and hooded, contemplating their next meal. I pass through eagle territory, soaring over their eyries. I thrill at each glimpse of these most spectacular of predators as they wheel over the land in their relentless search for prey.

Ahead I see the great glen, that ancient fault line that yearns to split our land asunder. Great lochs stretch westward as far as I can see, each long narrow ribbon leading into the next. As I travel over the most famous of these I reach out, trying in vain to make contact with that which legend tells us lurks in its peat-dark waters. I am disappointed and turn my attention instead to the graceful ruins of the castle perched on its shore, standing guard over its murky depths.
Soaring on I feel an overwhelming sadness as I pass over the windswept moor where my ancestors fell in that final, terrible battle. The tall flags flutter in the breeze, red and yellow, while below lie the stones that mark the graves of the brave clansmen. I briefly sense the terror, the agony and despair that soaked into the earth along with the lifeblood of so many men.

I fly further over the rugged landscape. Below me passes castle and croft, mountain and moor. Villages nestle in the uneven terrain like jewels hidden amongst the rocks and as I fly over I catch sight of a mother, remonstrating with her son as he stands howling in the middle of the street. For a moment I see him through her eyes, feel her mixture of love and frustration as she regards her squalling child.
Faster and faster I fly, with no control. The wonder I feel is slowly replaced by unease as I see the edge of the land approach. I do not want to break that boundary, to fly out over the blue-grey sea, so cold and forbidding.

I try to pull back, to find that place where my body lies and to force myself to return. I hurtle on, alarm now escalating into terror as I am dragged to the edge. I feel the link to my self, to my land, strain against the force that is trying to pull me onwards, ever onwards.

Suddenly the terrible tension snaps; I am jerked backward. I career back over the land that I couldn’t bear to leave, moving so fast that everything blurs around me. Confusion, terror and elation mix in a sickening swirl somewhere deep inside and now I am plummeting down, down...

My back arches and I gasp in a convulsive breath. My hands are by my sides, clenched tight around the noisome sheets. My eyes fly open and I stare at the ceiling, willing my heart to slow as it pounds inside my sunken chest. As I recover slowly from the shock I relax, uncurling my fists and allowing my body to settle.
I know, now, that I will never leave this land. Its earth will cocoon my bones. My memory will live on in the hearts and minds of those whose lives I have touched. While my spirit soars.

I smile. I close my eyes. I rest.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

After Ever After

The modern versions of fairytales annoy the hell out of me. The heroine is always sweet and beautiful, the hero (generally a prince) is handsome and charming and they always live happily ever after. Well who decides what 'happy ever after' is? And why should we believe them?

After Ever After

The audience was growing restless. Cindy had been in the business long enough to sense when she was losing a crowd and she didn’t need to look to know that the fidgeting had begun. Surreptitiously, she signalled for an ad break.
‘Fraser,’ she sang, disengaging her mike, ‘I’m dying on my ass out here. Who’s up next?’
The floor manager consulted his clipboard. ‘Some woman from the back-end of nowhere. Thinks her husband’s at it with the neighbour.’
‘Is he?’
‘Who cares?’
Exactly what the audience would think. ‘That’s not going to cut it,’ Cindy snapped, shooing away the make-up girl who was enthusiastically brandishing a powder brush. ‘I think we should go straight to the biggie.’
‘You sure?’ Fraser raised one artfully plucked eyebrow. ‘You’ve got a lot of time to fill.’
Cindy’s gaze swept over the ranks of uncomfortable chairs while behind her a bickering couple was ushered off the lurid pink and purple set. People were checking watches, picking noses and yawning. One woman was even knitting!
‘Positive,’ she said, patting her blonde chignon as she took her cue and smiled into camera three. ‘Welcome back. My next guest requires no introduction. There can’t be a household in the land that didn’t watch with bated breath during what has been dubbed the Trial of the Century. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Snow White.’
The camera panned left as a young woman swathed in white velvet emerged from a sumptuously curtained archway. They’d done their best but with her pinched face and hard eyes, wardrobe had been hard put to recapture the virginal looks that had had the woman melting the hearts of every man she met.
‘Snow White-’ Cindy began as her guest took a seat.
‘Snow,’ snapped the woman. Her winter midnight colouring perfectly complemented her icy demeanour.
‘I’m sorry?’
‘White is my maiden name. I prefer simply to be called Snow.’
‘Snow,’ said Cindy, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. ‘I’m sure there’s no need to go over what happened. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know your story.’ She let her gaze roam the studio, noting the audience’s rapt attention with satisfaction. ‘What we really want to discuss today is your reaction to the whole sorry business. Your happy ever after, if you like.’
Snow frowned. ‘Everyone knows what happened. The prince and I married and we have a beautiful daughter, Crystal.’
Cindy’s smile froze. ‘I’ve met Crystal. What a little treasure.’ And screwed-up enough to deserve an episode all to herself. ‘But it’s your emotional journey we‘d like to discuss. For example, how do you feel about your stepmother?’
Snow gestured vaguely.
Cindy gritted her teeth. Come on, she thought, we’ve another thirteen minutes to fill.
Snow White spoke at last. ‘She’s just a sad old lady, isn’t she? My therapist says I should learn to let go, not hold grudges. I suppose I should pity her, really.’
Aaahh, thought Cindy. Smiling, she turned to camera.
‘Although Snow’s story is well documented, very little is known of her stepmother, who became something of a recluse after the trial. It hasn’t been easy, but our research team managed to track her down.’ Cindy sensed her guest freeze. Her own smile widened as she said, ‘Meet Lily White.’
A spotlight hit the archway and the sound system erupted with a slow, sticky beat as a long leg parted the drapes. A body that would have made Jordan look under-developed followed the leg. Sheathed in an emerald sequinned dress, Lily undulated across the floor and took the seat farthest from Snow.
There was a ripple through the audience as a number of men sat up straighter, sucking in guts and puffing out chests like a flock of preening pigeons rearranging their plumage.
Lily carefully crossed her legs to ensure maximum exposure and tossed a waterfall of chestnut curls over her shoulder. Wardrobe hadn’t been anywhere near this one, Cindy knew. Lily had oozed from a taxi at six-thirty that morning looking exactly as she did now.
‘This can’t be right!’ Outrage made Snow sound like a hissing kettle. ‘Your spell backfired! Last time I saw you, you looked like Methuselah’s granny!’
‘When did you last see Lily?’ Cindy enquired.
‘At the trial! After she tried to kill me!’ Snow was on her feet, legs apart and hands on hips.
‘The word is allegedly, dear. After I allegedly tried to kill you.’ Lily smiled as much as the Botox allowed. ‘You know the jury acquitted me. Be very careful - you can’t afford a libel action.’
‘But how can this be? The spell stuck. You had a hump the size of a hatchback and a face like a sock full of marbles.’
‘Cosmetic surgery, of course. I found myself a darling surgeon who didn’t mind trying a few experimental procedures. It’s not as though he could lose his licence to practice twice, after all.’
Snow’s eyes narrowed. ‘How could you pay for that? You had nothing left after the trial. And I can’t believe you’ve got the cheek to still be using poor Daddy’s name - he must be spinning in his grave!’
‘I think we’d all like to know where Lily’s good fortune came from,’ said Cindy. ‘Perhaps our next guest can shed some light on the matter?’
It was the turn of the women in the audience to perk up as a figure stumbled into view. Tall and dark with a strong jaw and bright blue eyes, Prince Percival was classically good-looking in what Cindy thought of as a bland, generic kind of way.
The Prince reluctantly took the vacant seat. He had come to talk about how wonderful married life was and he didn’t like the way this was going. It had taken the floor manager’s foot to propel him through that curtain.
‘Percy!’ Snow’s voice was so high that only dogs should have been able to hear her.
Lily waved coquettishly. ‘Hello, Percy darling,’ she cooed.
The Prince’s eyes swivelled between his wife and her stepmother.
‘Your Majesty,’ Cindy’s voice was full of malicious glee. ‘Can you tell us what’s brought on Lily’s miraculous rejuvenation?’
The Prince shrugged, refusing to make eye contact. ‘How am I supposed to know?’ he mumbled into his collar.
‘According to sources at the palace, you know very well.’ Cindy waved a sheaf of papers above her head. I have here copies of credit card statements, letters and emails that show that you’ve been lavishing money on your daughter’s step-granny -’ Cindy’s grin widened as she saw the Prince flinch and heard the muttering in the audience, ’- since shortly after your own wedding. An occasion that was described as the society wedding of the millennium and was ‘exclusively’ covered by no less than five different celebrity magazines.’
Snow leapt to her feet, towering above her hapless husband and vibrating with rage. ‘Don’t you dare tell me you’ve been giving her money?’ She pointed a trembling finger at Lily’s pneumatic cleavage. ‘All the time you’re telling me we’re skint because of some bad investments and they’re the reason I couldn’t go to Cuba last year?’
‘I . . . felt sorry for her,’ mumbled the petrified Prince.
‘She tried to kill your wife - allegedly,’ Cindy shot a quick glance at Lily, ‘and you felt sorry for her?’
Prince Percy stared at the floor.
‘So it wasn’t hush money, then?’ Cindy persisted.
The Prince’s complexion matched Lily’s outfit. Once again he addressed his reply to his shirt collar.
‘I’m sorry?’ said Cindy, theatrically cupping an ear and setting her earring swinging. Tiny rainbows sparkled and died in the faceted diamond. The silence from the audience was absolute as they waited for the Prince’s reply.
‘I said, she looked after me all right? You know, when my fiancĂ©e ran off to live with a bunch of strange men?’ The Prince shot a venomous look at his wife.
Snow‘s shriek covered the audience’s shocked hiss. ‘Oh for the love of - ’ she screamed. ‘Not this again! How many times do we have to go through this? I told you I was running for my life!’
‘Yeah, so you say,’ sneered the Prince. ‘That’s not what the court thought though, is it?’
Before Snow could reply, Cindy addressed the audience. ‘Perhaps my next guests can shed some light on the matter. Please welcome the seven dwarfs.’
The crowd applauded enthusiastically as seven little men trooped on set and formed a protective circle around Snow’s chair.
Cindy smiled. ‘Why don’t you introduce yourselves?’
‘Yeah, don’t be shy,’ sneered Prince Percy. ‘Stand up and introduce yourselves. Oh, wait a minute, you’re already standing up.’
An indignant muttering broke out among the dwarfs. Several made a show of rolling up their sleeves.
Snow’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh not more of this crap. Will you give it a rest? I’ll tell you this much, each of them is more of a man than you.’
‘One of them is, certainly,’ spat the puce-faced Prince.
‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ shrieked Snow. ‘Crystal was premature!’
Lily laughed. ‘By two months? You can hardly blame poor Percy for turning to me for comfort when you were shacked up with your half-pint harem!’
With a feral snarl, Snow launched herself at her stepmother sending Lily flying backwards off her chair. The avid audience watched as the two rolled on the floor in a flurry of scratching, biting and hair pulling. Some took sides and began to cheer and one entrepreneurial soul started to take bets from those around him.
A tap on his shoulder made the stunned Prince turn. He had time to see one dwarf standing on another’s shoulders before a set of hairy knuckles (bearing the tattooed word Snow) wiped the horrified gawp from his face and he disappeared under a heaving mass of bodies.
Cindy smiled to herself as she pictured the scores of journalists who were undoubtedly bent over their keyboards committing their outrage (or glee) over this little scene to hard drive. This little fracas should guarantee the ratings for a while, she thought . To fill the remaining airtime and to drown out the stream of invective from her guests, she launched into an impromptu monologue and prayed that the guy on the bleeper machine had a quick trigger finger.
A ballistic chair was the cue for the burly female stagehands to break up the action. Cindy, homily over, watched with satisfaction. She still got a kick out of seeing her step-sisters do her bidding for a change, although it rankled that she had to pay them minimum wage when all they’d ever passed her way had been stale food and rags. Still, there was always the chance, as now, that an irate guest might land a lucky punch. She hid a smile as the luckless woman reeled away from Snow, clutching a bloody nose.
Cindy turned back to camera as her signature tune began. ‘Join us next week on The Cindy Reilly Show, where we’ll be discussing why some women stay in abusive relationships.’ Her smile became lascivious as she continued. ’We’ll also be joined by Beauty, who’ll be telling us all about why she really preferred the Beast.’

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

A Wee Blether

This story won first prize in an annual competition that our local paper used to run. It was my first ever completed piece & also the only story I've won anything with - damn, I peaked too soon!

It's written in Scots slang but I think (hope) it'll still be legible to those who don't live in my neck of the woods.

A Wee Blether

“Hello, Sharon speak-”

“Oh, hello, dear. It’s Bridie Mackay here. How are ye today?”

“Fine, thanks, Mrs Mackay. How can-”

“Oh, that’s good. Ah’ve no been keeping so well myself, ye know. Ma arthritis has been playing up something awfy.”

“Really? That’s a shame. Can I-”

“Aye, it’s been terrible. The doctor gave me new tablets and they didnae agree wi’ me at all. They just aboot did for me! Every time ah stood up ma heid was burlin’. A’ because o’ some wee pills. It’s that new doctor’s fault, ye know. Just a young laddie, wi’ fancy new ideas. Always trying tae push the latest thing on tae people, whether they want it or no. Bring back auld Doctor Soames, that’s what ah say. ‘Course, they’d have a hard job daein’ that, seeing as he’s been in a home the past four years. What a disgrace! Soon as his wife passed away, that daughter o’ his just ferried him off tae Sunnybraes retirement home. Nae bothering to ask him what he wanted. Just ‘it’s the best thing for ye, Dad,’ and off he went. And that lovely wee cottage o’ his was up for sale a few weeks later. Ah’m awfy glad ma Dora’s no like that. She never left ma side a’ the time ah was no weel. Wouldnae let me lift a finger. Ah never even left ma bed the fortnight she was here, never mind the hoose. That’s why ah havnae called in a while, ye know.”

“I see-”

“’Cause ye know, of course, that ah’ve had tae get the phone taken oot. Aye, it was just getting ridiculous. Ma calls were only costin’ a few pounds a month, but the service charges! Dearie me. So ma Dora got me one o’ those wee pay-as-ye-go mobiles, so ah can call her if there’s an emergency. Only ah cannae work it, ye know. It’s just a totty wee thing, ye can hardly even see the buttons. And how ye’re supposed tae speak intae the receiver and hear what the ither person’s saying ah don’t know. Ah’ve only used it the twice, ye know, once tae call Dora and her Alec when ah took that bad turn. An’ ah just aboot gave myself whiplash on top o’ everything else, whippin’ ma heid aboot so ah could talk intae one bit and hear oot o’ the other. Useless contraption. Yet ye see a’ the young ones on the bus, texting like naebodies business. If they’re no careful they’ll wind up wi’ texter's thumb - is that a medical condition? Texter's thumb?”

“I’ve really no idea, Mrs Mackay-”

“Anyhow, so here’s me phoning ye now. Ah’m ower at the Rolands’. A nice young couple, the Rolands’. Dan and Sarah. They’ve no long moved in. They let me use their phone when ah need tae. It’s no everybody would let ye do that, ye know. Ah used tae go over tae the Middleton’s, o’ course, but she got very uppity. Her and her fancy car and her fancy conservatory. He does something in the bank, ower in the city. He’s got a big posh office, and a secretary as well. Ah’ve nae idea what it is he does there, though. Practically runs the place, tae hear her tell it. ‘Oh, George is very high up in The Bank, you know.’ That’s how she always says it. The Bank. Ye can hear her pronouncing the capitals. So ah used tae go there tae use the phone, sat in her fancy conservatory on her fancy bamboo sofa. And then one day ah went and knocked on the door and do ye know what she said?”

“No, I-”

“She said ah couldnae use it any more. Said ah was an auld chancer and ah was costing them a fortune. Me! Ah always left fifty pence in her wee phone bank every time ah used it. And that was more than ah could afford. What a pity that wee scratch card that fell oot o’ yon magazine didnae work oot. ‘You could have won a million pounds!’ it said. ‘Just call our claims hotline to find your special prize claim number!’ Oh, ah was that excited. Ah hung on that line for ages, ye know. And d’ye know what the special prize was? An uncut emerald. Some million pounds. Ah sent away for it anyway, since ah’d put in ma fifty pence for the call. And what dae ah get back? Something that looks like a wee dried-up bogie and a leaflet telling me that if ah send it back wi’ a cheque for twenty quid they would polish it and put it on a nine carat gold plated chain. What a waste o’ a stamp, eh?”


“And it was just after that ah fell oot wi’ Mrs Snooty Drawers. It’s a shame, though. He was quite nice. Used tae gie me a wee bottle at Christmas. He didnae deserve tae be saddled wi’ a wife like her. Especially considerin’ what she’d get up tae while he was away in his big office a’ day. Well, that’s the only other time ah used the mobile. He must have suspected it anyway, ‘cos he made record time back frae the city. He screeched tae a halt ootside that hoose an’ went runnin’ in the front door. Two minutes later the fancy-man comes flyin’ oot backwards wi’ herself at the back o’ him. And d’ye know the best bit?”

“No, I-”

“They were baith starkers! Can ye imagine?”

“Mrs Mac-”

“Well, after a’ that-”

“Mrs Mackay, can I please take your reference number? All the calls to this helpline are timed.”

“Oh! Oh, sorry, dear. Ah got a wee bit carried away. Let, me see, noo. it on this letter? Ah cannae make it oot. Ah’ve had an awfy bother wi’ ma eyes, ye know. Blind as a bat, so ah am. Why, just last week....”