by Emma Robertson
port and lemon
I was just six years old when I first killed a man. Not physically – a heart attack did the job – but I combed my hair when my da and brothers were at sea and their skipper hit the deck as they were returning to Peterhead. I should have known better, even at that age. Aye, superstition was a way of life for fisher folk where I came from.
I say were because it’s been many a year since I lived that life. I escaped when I was seventeen, tired of being blamed for all my family’s woes. “You’re a bad luck charm, quine,” Da said when my oldest brother slipped on salt that I had spilled on the floor of the curing yard, leaving him a man short for two months.
My first boyfriend Gregor concurred. The night we met, dancing at the beach ballroom, his wallet was stolen and his ma broke her ankle the day after I first went round there for tea. Once we were enjoying a wee bosie as we strolled home (I couldn’t bring him in; he was terrified of my da and brothers) when he leant too heavily on a parked car and broke the wing mirror.
“Seven years bad luck.” He looked at me in dismay. I knew he blamed me.
That was the last time I saw him. He didn’t even come to see me off but I heard later that he’d been down with shingles, so it wasn’t his fault. Anyway, I met Ruaridh on the crossing to America and we had a wonderful week under the Atlantic stars. He was a lovely boy; it was such a shame that he lost his papers and couldn’t pass immigration.
I threw myself into work when I arrived in Manhattan, paperwork intact. It was 1965 and my bespectacled supervisor at the telephone exchange sat on the edge of my desk and asked me if I knew The Beatles. “What with you being English an’ all.” I started to point out that I was Scottish but was cut off by the clanging of the fire alarm. A lit cigarette had been left on his desk and he was fired on the spot; we never had chance to finish the conversation.
No one has ever stayed in my life for long. An accident here, a misfortune there. I’ve outlived three husbands; many would say that was awfully bad luck. I’m not sure that I would.
I don’t believe in superstition anymore; a woman makes her own luck. Just this morning, some poor fella collided with me on the street, and his wallet somehow found its way into my handbag – good luck for me, bad luck for him. Then later, the woman across the hall who always gossips about me was taken ill with food poisoning – that had to be pure bad luck. I baked those cookies myself and I was absolutely fine…
I have high hopes for my date tonight: Tony, 76, from Queens. Might he be a candidate for husband number four? With a little luck, he might be.