Chapter 1 – The Half-Girlfriend

Rose Howard: The Half-Girlfriend

It wasn’t easy, being rid of her Englishness, but she had to try. Otherwise, all she had striven for, and all that she had lost – all ambition and anguish, and the energy she had expended in getting to this point, to where she stood now, would have been for nothing. She was nearly there, almost a Euro- Scot, and she would never, never be a Nothing.

Rose Howard felt a gentle tug on the bottom of her right-trouser leg.

“Come on down now, Rose! Your shift is up – it’s time for Morag to takeover!”

It was her half-boyfriend, Bruce.

She was one of the lucky ones, one of the select group of the English defectors; the majority of the Euro-Scot boys claimed they’d rather be dead, than seen even just talking to one of her kind, to a girl who had come over from the other side of The Wall. But Bruce? Bruce, she’d known for a long time. Bruce was different!

__________________________________________

It had been obvious from the off that Bruce was something else, something and someone different to the English boys she’d known previously. It had been the year 2017, three years before The Wall

Grace had been at a sleepover that weekend. At first, Rose had been jealous. Why had Grace, just two years older than herself, been invited to a sleepover? And why hadn’t Rose been invited as well? Rose had always gone everywhere with her big sister. She and Grace were inseparable!

In an attempt to console her, Rose’s father had dragged her along to some kind of a party, with the promise of a buffet and balloons. Only it wasn’t the kind of party Rose had been looking forward to. It was a political party conference, a grown-ups’ parley about English ties! And Rose, had been deposited in the adjoining buffet room, in loci parentis to a sleeping Alfie. Following a quick see-you-again-very-shortly hug, Mr Howard and his tickle-Alfie-in-the-face tie, had tossed themselves into the parley!

But Alfie, being Alfie, awakened to the goings on by an itch, had soon made his objections known! Rose had abandoned her drawing pad and pencils and, unable to think what else to do, plucked her baby brother out of his pram and sat down with him for a cuddle. It didn’t do the trick. Alfie’s crying turned into the sound of a howling wolf cub. Please, God, Rose muttered. Please, God, help! Tell me what to do! Should I take Alfie to Daddy? God listened. God appeared, in the form of a boy. Jesus?

“Wit yer doing with that bawlin’ wee bairn? Where’s yer maw[1]?”

“He hasn’t done a wee! I’d know if he had. I’d smell it!

“Aye?”

“I said that Alfie hasn’t done a wee! He’s a good baby. He’s my brother and I’m looking after him. And, anyway, what’s a maw?”

“Your mother! Where’s your mother? And why yer stuck with a bairn?”

“I don’t have a bear. I’m six – too old for cuddly toys. My mother’s dead and Alfie hasn’t done a wee!”

“But you do have a bairn – you’re holding him and he’s making a right din!”

“I’ve already told you. Alfie’s a baby, not a bear or a barn, and he can’t help being noisy. He’s bored. I’m bored.”

“Aye, me too! Here, I ken what to do!”

And with that, the boy who turned out not to be Jesus and who spoke funny, lowered himself down to her level, sat cross-legged on the floor next to her and stuck his pinky into Alfie’s bawling mouth. Silence. Within minutes, Alfie had closed his eyes and was fast asleep.

Bruce was better than God. Bruce was amazing. He was the only boy Rose had ever known to take an interest in her baby brother, and the only boy who didn’t seem to care that she was just a girl. Since the day of the conference, they had been firm friends. And, with their parents’ permission, they had exchanged contact details and kept in touch. Bruce regularly emailed her with photos of his home in Scotland, and Rose had responded by sending copies of some of her flower drawings. Sometimes, Bruce even sent her photos of flowers he’d spotted in Scotland, so that she could identify them and the details to her scrap book.

How naïve she had been, how young and innocent. But, even if she had understood, back then, how much her life was about to change, there was nothing she could have done about it. For that debate, titled ‘Should England break ties with Europe?’ had, within the space of just twelve years, reduced England – shrunken it – transformed it into nothing. Transformed the people into Nothings. The people. Grace. Grace and Alfie. No.

No, she must try. Try not to think about her siblings. Try not to think about how she had failed them; failed to bring them with her. For now, she must focus on her goal. She must gain full admittance. Must become – indispensable.

But then? Then, after The Wall, with Rose being on the wrong side of it, everything had changed.

Still, she was here now. Ten years after The Wall, and thanks to Bruce, she had made it! And, once it had been confirmed that she could stay – once the DNA results had been returned showing that she was 11% Scottish – Bruce had (at last) confessed his true feelings for her. He no longer wanted to be just Rose’s best friend; he wanted to date her, even wanted her to be part of his own family someday.

And now?

Now, she felt proud – proud to be Bruce’s half-girlfriend. One day, hopefully soon, Rose would become his full-girlfriend, but that would only happen if she could proved herself fully to the Euro-Scot Keeper and be deemed worthy of full-status as one of them. At that point, Rose would finally be able to rename herself, to cleanse herself of the last vestige of her birthland. She’d already chosen the name – pending approval, she wanted to be referred to as Thistle[2] – prickly, formidable and, most importantly, loyal!

_________________________________________

“Rose, Rose! Quit your dramin’[3] and come down to the groond![4]

“Hold on a moment!” Rose responded to Bruce, jerking the cloth of her trousers up to regain her foothold. “Morag can wait! I wasn’t daydreaming! thought I just saw something. A movement in the copse over there, a telling shadow, perhaps something hiding in the undergrowth!”

“Okay, Rose! I’m coming on up to back you up. If it’s a Nothing, we’ll have it soon enough!”

“No need for back up – I can handle it!” And with that, Rose pulled back her slingshot and fired into the copse.

“Just a rabbit!” she proclaimed. “Seems the Nothings do have some food supplies after all!”

“Ha, not for long! I’m going over to grab it. Rabbit soup?”

“No! It’s not worth the risk – if you’re caught, they’ll eat you alive. Bunch of savages, the lot of them. And, anyway, that’s all by the by. I saw a rabbit. I didn’t hit it. It got away. How else did I know what it was?”

“Damn, Rose! Why didn’t you let me come up? I could have tried out my arch’ry graith[5]!”

“I take it you are referring to your Great-Something-Grandfather’s bow and arrows set?”

“Yeah, but you need to shake off that language, Rose – you know you do! You know we’re supposed to use the old Scottish terms now. Dinnae[6] go get yerself lifted[7]! We didn’t break free from English rule, from that loser Horace, for nothing!”

“By the English, I take it that you mean the Nothings. Or, in using the old terms, are we allowed, now, to dispense with the new?”

“Rose? Do I detect a hint of sarcasm in your tone? You want to watch out. I thought you were desperate to be accepted by the Euro-Scot Guards, to be a fully-fledged Border Control Officer? If that’s really the case, you’re going to have to dispense with that sort of humour. It won’t go down well at all! In fact, I’d say it was a very English sort of a humour. Harsh, unfeeling and, if I may say so, rather controlling!”

“Oh, rather! Tally ho! Spiffing!”

“Rose! Shut it! I mean it!”

“Oh, come on! Can’t I have a joke with you anymore? Remember, before The Wall went up? You know, the time when we used to have a laugh together?”

“Yeah, but that was then. This is now. Things have changed, tightened up. You know that, Rose. Come on, you know that more than anyone! Anyway, let’s stop bickering. You know how I feel about you Rose, and you need to get down from there. It’s Morag’s turn to keep watch!”

“No!” Rose retorted. “No, like you said, I need to prove myself. I’ve only been up here a couple of hours. I can do more – carry on – and complete the shift!”

“Rose, get down here! Now! You’re just in training. Two hours maximum – it’s the law!”

Clambering down via the footholds, Rose arrived at ground level. Bruce wrapped his arms around her. He loved her. Didn’t he?

“Come on,” he said, in his best tone of reassurance. “Come on, I know you’re impatient; know that you want to just get on with the job, and miss out the training part, and I’ve no doubt you’re more than capable of holding your own. But we’ve all had to go through the procedures, all of us, even me – me, Bruce Douglas! You’ll get there soon enough!”

“Okay, okay. I get it! I’ll try harder. I promise I will! But, Bruce?”

“Yep!”

“Don’t be offended, but I feel I ought to let you know that you don’t sound so Scottish yourself these days! In fact, I’d say you sounded rather splendidly English – sorry I mean Nothing! Doesn’t the ‘Euro-Scot Acclimatisation Glossary’ state that yep or yes or even yeah should be replaced with aye?”

“Yep! Sorry, I mean aye! Okay, so you have a point. One up to you! I blame that dastardly posh boarding school father, I mean da[8], made me go to up in Elgin. Didn’t do his research. Who’d have thought it would have such strong links to Germany and the Anglo-Saxons? The Headmaster got his comeuppance, though – in the end!

Anyway,” Bruce laughed. “I’m pure done in and we’re agreed that ma heid’s mince[9]. So shut yer geggie[10] and come on home now!”

Success! Rose was chuffed that to see a glimpse of the old Bruce return – the one who laughed and joked with her. But home? Rose wasn’t entirely sure whether she was entitled, yet, to call Bruce’s abode home. Sure, Bruce’s family, owned it, as they did all the other dwelling-places in the borderland counties of Scotland. And, sure, Bruce had taken her in, accepted her as his half-girlfriend, persuaded his brothers to trust her, to let her in to the Douglas clan, albeit by them reluctantly.

But Rose wanted more. Wanted more that to be just a half of something: a half-girlfriend, a half-Euro-Scot, a half-border-officer. And recently, she’d been having so many doubts that she felt half-convinced Bruce more-than-likely doubted her too. No matter that he might say otherwise, with all his ‘you ken’ this and ‘you ken’ that persuasions. Did she know Bruce? Really know him?

Wrapped up in the arms of her half-boyfriend, Rose had been surprised not to feel the usual surge of adrenalin, of electricity, of …

… gratitude.

Yes, that was it! Gratitude.

Just lately, Rose had started to question herself, and her convictions. Did she love Bruce really? Did she love him enough to give up everything for him – for everything Douglas? For everything that could still be said to be Scottish? Or was she just grateful to him; grateful for his part in her escape, for giving her a way out, a route out of what was left of the country the Howards had once been proud to call home?

Pushing her thoughts away, defying them to intrude upon her again, Rose pulled herself – her thoughts – together. She had to love him enough. She just had to. She had no choice – not now! Not after all she had been through, that they had been through, to get here – to get to where she stood now. For Rose Howard, unlike all the other Howards, stood on the right side of The Wall. She stood for everything the Scottish people stood for. She stood, with them, for everything that was Scottish and, even more importantly, for everything that was now a part of the New Europe.

Copyright owned by Jay Cool, The Silly-Savvy Salopian, 8th October 2019

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Chapter 2 being published on 9th October 2019 – Watch this space for link to the other side of The Wall!

N.B. This is a work-in-progress novel so please do get in touch with your comments! If you spot any typos, or inconsistencies, let me know! The beauty of WordPress being that errors can be easily corrected and the post updated. Read, like, comment and follow …

[1] maw = mum

[2] The thistle is the national symbol of Scotland, as opposed to the rose – the symbol of England.

[3] dramin’ = daydreaming

[4] groond = ground

[5] graith = archery equipment or bow and arrows set

[6] dinnae – don’t

[7] lifted – arrested by authority figures, e.g. police

[8] da = father or dad

[9] ma heid’s mince = my head’s all mixed up

[10] shut yer geggie = shut your cake hole, i.e. shut up!

 

Book Reviews by Jay Cool:

Chapter 2 – The Half-Sister

Savvy Books – Old and Wise

Savvy Book – Burn

Savvy Book – The Legacy

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