A Newsletter Short Story
Betty McLeod spent her fiftieth birthday the same way she’d spent every birthday since turning twenty-five. Although, this year was a bit more special than most. It was a double celebration, of sorts—her fiftieth and what would have been her silver wedding anniversary.
“Yer aff yer heid, you know that, right?” Edna McKintyre had been Betty’s best friend since primary school, and she was never shy about sharing her opinion. “I managed to get Davy to let me go out for the day, and instead of going tae the shops on Argyll Street, I’m on a bus to the middle of bloody nowhere.”
“Auch, haud yer wheisht! We’re going to Bearsden, not Timbuktu. When we’re done here, there will still be time to get in a bit of shopping. I saw a braw tartan dress in Lewis’s that I’ve had my eye on. I wouldn’t mind getting a few of them to see me through.”
“Like we’re no Scottish enough without adding everyday tartan to the mix. Why don’t you get one of those nice polka dot dresses everybody’s wearing?”
“And look like everybody else? No thanks! I’m crafting ma signature style here. I’m looking for something timeless.”
“Timeless? Aye, it would have to be, seeing as you’re in your fifties now and you’ve no got much time left.”
“Speak for yourself! I plan to live forever.”
“I hear that can happen when you sell your soul to the devil.”
“Come on.” Betty tugged at her friend’s sleeve. “This is our stop.” She wriggled out of her seat, making sure not to shuggle the basket she’d carefully packed in Invertary.
They made it to the front of the bus in one piece, just as it screeched to a halt.
“Yer no Stirling Moss, you know that, right?” Betty shouted at the driver as they got off.
He answered by speeding away from the kerb.
“Bearsden,” Edna said in her poshest accent. “La-de-da. Maybe we should have dressed for the occasion.”
The large houses of the newly wealthy lined the wide street, sitting back from the pavement behind well-tended gardens and high hedges.
“Invertary looks better than this.”
“Aye, but these people have money.”
Betty sniffed at the thought. Anyone who was daft enough to think they were better than her because of a few pounds in the bank deserved everything they got.
The house she was looking for was one of the newer builds, with its boxy, boring architecture and tiny wee windows. Either the people who bought these houses didn’t like daylight, or they were hoping small windows would better deter the burglars. She snorted. Good luck wae that. In some areas of Glasgow, robbing a Bearsden house was a rite of passage.
“This is the one.” She pushed through a curlicue gate and strode past a bunch of bored gnomes.
Gnomes. In Bearsden. And people said she was low-class.
“Hurry up,” she snapped at Edna.
“I’m coming. I’m coming. Hold yer horses, woman.”
“Get the camera out.” Betty patted her short hair, which had started to thin—along with the hormones in her system. When a man lost his hair, he was manlier. When a woman lost her hair, she was a crabby, old witch. There was no justice in the world—something she’d learned the hard way twenty-five years earlier.
“Make sure you get my best side,” Betty told Edna.
“You don’t have a best side,” Edna muttered.
Betty laughed, flashing teeth that had seen better days—something else she’d no doubt lose along with her hair. With no more delay, she removed the scarf covering her basket, picked up an egg she’d been storing for months just for this day, and lobbed it at the front door.
It made a satisfactory splatting noise as it hit, before running down the red paint.
“Bloody hell!” Edna started gagging. “How old are those eggs? I’m no staying here for this. I don’t want to puke.” With that, she ran back down the path.
“You’d better have taken that picture,” Betty shouted after her. She needed it to round out her scrapbook.
With evil delight, she took another egg from her basket and aimed for the pristine windows. The smell was worth suffering to see the result.
“Stop that right now!” The shout came from the back of the property. “I’m calling the police this time. I’ve had enough.”
“Aye, it’s only been twenty-five years,” Betty said to the person who ran into the front garden. “I can see where your patience would be wearing a bit thin.” She threw another egg and smiled when it hit.
“Betty McLeod, you’re a nasty, bitter old woman.”
Betty turned to the woman she’d once trusted more than anyone. “And you’re a flabby old slag. How many spare tyres is that around your waist now? Four?”
“Get off ma property. Go find something else to do with your life instead of annoying me.”
“I do plenty with my life. This just happens to be my annual highlight.” She threw another egg.
“Haven’t you had enough revenge? It was a mistake. I told you that. I’m not even with him anymore. I haven’t been with him for twenty-four bloody years.” She confronted Betty, hands on hips, and glared at her. “I did you a favour. He was a bastard. You would have been miserable with him.”
“You’re probably right. But I never got the chance to find out for myself, because you went to bed with him the week before the wedding.”
“You didn’t miss anything,” Maureen said. “He was rubbish in bed.”
“Another thing I never got to find out.” She lobbed two eggs at the same time for that cheek “You always were a jealous wee cow. Always wanting everything I got my hands on. What was the matter, Mo, did you figure out that you’d always be in my shadow, no matter what you did?”
Maureen snorted. “You’re delusional. Maw was right about you. You’re going to waste your whole life because you can’t let go of the past. You’re going to die a lonely, bitter old woman, Betty McLeod.”
“Better than a two-faced, man-stealing, easy-with-her-favours old hag, Maureen McLeod.”
“That’s it.” Betty’s younger sister threw up her hands in disgust. Drama queen. “I’m done with this. Have at it. Throw your eggs. I don’t care. You’re the one who’s missing out. You’re the one who has family you never see. Nieces and nephews you’ve never met. And for what? Because Ramsay MacDonald had wandering hands.”
“It wasnae only his hands that wandered though, was it?” Betty was running out of eggs. “And it all wandered over my own sister. I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”
“It’s easy. Because you’re no here to drive me mad!”
Damn it. She’d run out of eggs. But, she smirked at the house, she’d still managed to make a good job of decorating for her birthday.
“I’m done,” Betty said. “See you next year.”
“Ha! That’s where you’re mistaken. We won’t be here. Paul got a job in the States.”
That made Betty pause. She might hate her sister with a vengeance, but America was awfully far away. It would be a helluva trip to make with two dozen rotten eggs.
“Where in America?”
“Like I’d tell you!” Maureen turned her back on Betty. “Enjoy your sad, lonely life without me. I know I’ll be living it up without you.” She disappeared back around the side of the house, and Betty wished she’d kept a few eggs to throw at her sister.
“You’re dead to me,” she shouted after her, but it wasn’t up to the standard of her usual retorts.
“Feeling better?” Edna said when Betty met up with her on the pavement outside the house.
“I was, until Mo told me she’s moving to America.” Betty wanted to hit something at the thought. “How am I supposed to get my birthday vengeance now?”
Edna linked her arm with Betty’s. “Maybe it’s time to move on. You’ve had twenty-five good years.”
Betty let out a heavy sigh. “I’m still right pissed off with her.”
“But no with Ramsay, I see.” It was a long-standing argument between them.
“You can get over a man’s betrayal, but a sister should always be on your side.” She thought about it. “She’s dead to me. I am now, officially, family free.”
“You, Betty McLeod, are a deeply disturbed individual.”
There was no arguing with that. “Let’s get a pie at City Bakeries. Then we can go to the department store and see that tartan dress.”
They headed towards the bus stop, arm in arm as grey clouds gathered over Glasgow. Betty took some satisfaction in knowing that the rich folk got the bad weather, just like the rest of them.
“Have you ever noticed,” Edna said, “that rotten eggs smell a lot like Sulphur?”
Betty smiled with satisfaction. Her nickname wasn’t Satan for nothing.
You can read more about Betty in the Invertary books.