BED AND BREAKFAST TERROR
It was no use pretending that all would be well. That booking had been
made. They'd deposited their luggage in the room and gone off for a
walk in the summer rain. Margeret kept asking herself if she had been
crazy to do this, because she just knew he was going to flip his lid
when he returned. They weren't even a respectable looking couple and
that was going to make things a lot worse. He was always less volatile
if guests seemed more well-to-do. Then he would be prepared to play the
host to her hostess:
"Now, now let me carry that bag for you. Is this your first time in the
Isles?" he might venture. Then he would only cuss when doors were
firmly shut. Yes, tonight those doors would definitely need to be shut.
That would be the answer. If she could confine his anger she might just
pass it all off.
"Never mind my husband folks, he's a little drunk," she would
Would that be all right? It didn't sound very 'all right' to her. She
sat in the kitchen, poured a stiff gin and allowed time to pass.
Donald had always been a handful, but Margeret thought herself able
help him kick the habit. When he was a young man he had been thrilling
company with his wicked sense of humour. She had no idea of the huge
quantities he was drinking. To her he was a merry man and a passionate
lover. The things he said were full of tenderness and sweetness and the
romance of it was all-consuming. Of course he would drink in her
company but she had no idea that he barely ate a thing. His nourishment
came from the booze he was swilling in.
When they first met, Donald had a brilliant business career. He was
making more money than anyone they knew and they knew so many people.
Wherever they went, especially the bars, people said hello.
"Donald my good man, sit alongside me and bring your good lady wife.
The usual eh?" and they would settle into the social banter of drinking
men and their patient portly wives. But out of blue there would often
be the danger of an ugly moment. For instance, times when her husband
would suddenly burst into big talk about punching someone on the nose
for staring at her.
"Now simmer down Donald old boy. Simmer down now. You're good lady
wife is in no danger."
"Just so long as that heathen keeps himself to himself." To him, all
other women were second rate. He condemned them liberally for their
ugliness and low moral turpitude.
"That bitch wife of his screwed her own dentist in the dental chair
while her children were in the waiting room. Can you believe that? I
know what I'd do with her. I know." Such things had never occurred to
Margaret before. They had all lived together in their sheltered island
community. The people her husband condemned lived side by side with
them. Now they appeared to have some fearful secrets. She was careful
to abide by his codes of conduct and stuck close to his view of things,
revelling in their privately superior world.
They married and settled down. But the longer she knew him the less
confident she became in the fa?ade he had upheld and found it to be a
fragile reality. Donald could be defensive and the unpleasant incidents
became more frequent, gradually revealing to her the true degree of his
intemperance. She would bite her lip and sigh because she could not
deny that there were still many compensations, especially the money. So
she allowed the good times to make up for the bad.
Looking around at other people's marriages, Margaret saw how easily
things could fall apart for portly patient wives if they buffered up
against the option of humble compromise. After all Donald and Margaret
were usually on top of the world. She knew how to pick up the pieces
when he went too far. But secretly the doctor had long since lost
patience with him.
"Ach don't come here again with that rubbish. Man you're falling apart.
Now bend over and touch your toes. I thought not. That liver is
shredded. Your arteries are flooded with whisky man. You'll be dead
this side of Easter."
Margaret proudly coveted the holidays, car and house. Disgraces could
be recovered from, though the loss of his driving license did hit them
hard, particularly as the court case and newspaper coverage.
However, as he got older she found that she could bear it less. She
couldn't help but conjecture that the booze should have killed him off
years ago. His health was now very poor and his mouth so foul that it
wasn't easy to find excuses anymore. Forty years of them is enough for
anyone. Booze, the shadow between them, had utterly worn her down. It
had always been there. They had never been alone.
Consequently, she tried to focus on working hard to keep the house nice
and feeling proud when her bed and breakfast guests made lovely
comments in the book.
'Beautiful home. Thank you so much.'
'We have enjoyed our stay and appreciated the very pleasant
All of her efforts were now made towards her guests.
This last month had been the worst she could remember. There had been
some awful hairy times juggling to keep him away from her guests. This
morning she spent time watching him sitting at the window staring out
to sea and noticed how he looked hollow.
"He's none of the charm left in him," she thought, as she dusted the
"So much drink. On the outside he's brittle, on the inside he's
curdled. It's a miracle he can do anything." She dusted the
"It's getting almost impossible to feel sympathetic towards him. If I
step out of place though, he has that uncanny knack of snapping back
into focus." She sighed as she hoovered the hallway.
Every morning there would be the same ghastly ritual: his extended
guttural routine. She used to be able to persuade him to cover up his
noises by putting the cold tap on full, but now he would not. His
bodily noises resounded around the bungalow with unconstrained
alacrity. Next would be a long daily haul on the toilet, followed by
much vigorous rubbing down in the shower with loofah and scrub brush.
This always followed with a short burst of cold water, accompanied by
the familiar shriek of "Mother of Mary!" as he leapt out, his tubby
little body clean and sweet. Not a sign of that give-away whiff of the
At this time of the morning, his hand is amazingly steady and he can
still shave himself terrifyingly clean and trim his moustache. The
mornings are his best time. There is a careful oiling and slicking of
the hair and a thorough cleaning of the teeth, followed by the debarcle
of mouthwash and gargle. Finally he will conclude with any necessary
attention to his manicure. Now he feels as fresh as a mountain stream.
At almost precisely 9.00 each morning he will appear framed in the
solid oak kitchen doorway and look at his watch.
"Good morning Margaret."
She won't usually see him again until she takes him a cup of strong tea
and the morning paper an hour later. All this time he will be sitting
there bolt upright, eyes half closed. Mr. Alexander, retired manager of
an inherited business in Edinburgh, stares out to sea and his eyes turn
the colour of seawater. His hand rests gently on the arm of the chair,
just near enough to the cigar box if he should so wish to indulge. The
beautiful carved mahogany box with his father's initials on it is full
of the largest cigars that money can buy.
For many years he has adopted this morning ritual of staring out to
sea. He's looking for the mainland, but the weather is so grey that it
rarely can be seen. Little boats come and go and seasons drift one into
another and then one day the visibility will clear and there it is. It
was there all the time. It's a game of pee-boo. He loves that. He'll
chuckle happily and calls his wife, who never comes. She is in the
kitchen, having dispensed breakfast to her paying guests whom she hopes
have not heard the worst parts of his ablutions. Later in the day she
may walk to the shop or dedicate herself to her perfect garden. He will
retire to the hotel bar.
But now those guests had returned. It wasn't surprising because it was
tipping down with rain out there. Where else could they go? She hoped
that they would stay in their room and read or write postcards.
Anything but wander around.
At the request of the hotel manager, she driven to collect Donald from
the bar. Her husband was now slumped in the passenger seat of their
Rover, rocking to and fro chanting The Lake at Inisfree.
" I must arise...I must...
I must you know Margaret.
I must off and up to Inisfree Margaret."
To add to the alarm that she felt about the early return of her guests,
he was up and out of the car before she could release her seat
"I'll go on in Margaret. Nine bean rows." He yells and takes the steps
in a bound, leaving the car door swinging. Trying to keep calm, she
runs round to shut it. She finds him in the hall swaying precipitously,
as he inspects the barometer. There is a pool of water at his
"I think its going to rain, Margaret," and he turns to her with and
smiles helplessly. He's forgotten his poem.
"Yes Donald. Yes."
She attempts to steer him into the kitchen.
"No Margaret. I mean really rain. Cats and dogs you know, raining cats
The ghoulish smile is still there. He terrifies her and she can't move
him. He's stuck to the floor, the pool at his feet expanding, his
clothes steaming and dripping. Suddenly he looks her full in the
"Margaret, I hate you" he pinches her puce cheek and pulls her toward
"Ssh! Donald, please."
No matter how drunk he is he can always work out the worst thing to do.
He grabs her and kisses her vigorously full and messily on the
"There Margaret, now I don't hate you do I?"
"Ssh! Donald, please."
She so much wants to steer him into the kitchen, but somehow he's
become rigid and no matter how she nudges him he doesn't budge.
"Where's my umbrella? I'm going fishing."
"Don't be silly Donald, dear. Now come into the kitchen and I'll make
"No, I really think I'll go fishing. Get my umbrella. My love has got a
red, red nose." He begins to sing; grotesquely parodying their once
treasured favourite tune.
"Well dear, I think your umbrella is in the kitchen. If you come on
I'll get some dry clothes and make tea for you before you go. Come on
"Why are we whispering?" He says and finally shifts, leaving a very
large wet stain on the carpet. It's not to the kitchen that he
"I'm going to have a piss" and he shambles off down the corridor.
All this time she had seen nothing of her guests, who remained politely
in their room. She wonders if they are going to appear.
Rushing into her bedroom she quickly lays out dry clothes for her
husband. Then she rushes out again and shuts all the doors leading to
the hallway and taps on the toilet bathroom door.
"I'll help you get your clothes changed Donald. Come on now."
She opens the door and he's straddled over the loo. He comes willingly
with her, leaving all manner of messes behind him. She grabs a towel
and steers him into the bedroom.
"No, no Margaret I can do this. There's nothing to it" and with one
sweep he's pulled off much of his wet clothing, buttons flying akimbo.
She sets to drying him with the towel and then to help him into the dry
"You've got huge arms Margaret." And he grabs at her breast squeezing
"What a woman"
Tears tingle in her eyes, but she won't be lured into saying anything.
She will hold on to her emotions. She's become accustomed to these
"I could tell 'em couldn't I Margaret? All those times eh? You're a big
woman and full of juice, aren't you Margaret?" Her husband articulates
her name as though he were swallowing cod liver oil.
She's bitten her lip for sometime now and it's hurting. His hand
settles on her knee and then slides up her leg, as she is busy pulling
his sweater over his head.
"Shush now Donald! " she snaps "There's people in the house. Shush
now!" She pulls down her skirt, removing his hand and biting her tongue
again in regret.
And there it is: He's gone quiet now.
"Oh Margaret are there people in the house now? Are there? Are there?
And how's that? I thought I told you no more people in the house. I
told you didn't I? I warned you. No more of it I said. I don't want to
see anymore people in the house Margaret. I said that." He raises his
whisper to a menacing hissing pitch, as he comes closer and closer to
her until her vision of him is blurred and his face is touching hers.
Then he turns and is gone. She must follow him and keep control, but
her legs are jelly. She follows him swiftly, closing all doors behind
her. From the guestroom she can hear muffled voices. She has a fleeting
vision of the young couple and their two children sitting on the bed
looking extremely confused, as their door opens inquisitively and just
a quickly pulls to. She closes the kitchen door behind her and there he
is, somehow seeming to be sober.
"Margaret I told you I want no more of this bed and breakfast caper. No
more nosy parkers in my house. Now get rid of them," he shouts.
"You get rid of them, Margaret."
"Its too late Donald. It's pouring with rain. I promise they'll be the
last. I promise Donald. I won't take anymore. I can see your point
"Margaret I want them out, or else." She can see that he means this.
He's going to do something awful if she doesn't get rid of them. She's
"Donald there'll be nowhere for them to stay. It's too late and
everyone on the island is booked up. The ferry's gone and it's pouring
He's sitting down at the table, arms folded across his chest,
"Get me a drink" he bellows
She runs to the cupboard and pours him out a stiff whisky in his
"I'll phone Laura." She runs into the hall shutting the kitchen door
quietly behind her.
What can she tell this family? He's out of control. They can't stay;
that's plain. Last time this happened she managed to tank him up and he
passed out, but this time he'll be up to her tricks. He'll be one step
ahead. She can feel that he really does mean to harm them.
She knows that those guests will have heard it all. She expects the
young man to come out at any moment and demand to know what is going
on. She expects her husband to surge out of the kitchen at any minute
and pound on their door like the maniac he surely is.
Her face is glowing an unhealthy crimson beneath its sturdy coating of
streaked powder-cake. Tears have cut channels into the surface.
Her hair is drying itself into a tightly frizzed matt, after the rain
Her own clothes are feeling damp.
Her heart is pounding.
She could muster no help from Laura.
"Well what did she say?"
"She can't help, she's got relatives coming."
"The cow." His speech has blurred again from the whisky's bite. Glass
after glass he can consume. The chair scrapes viciously against the
tiled floor, leaving a slash mark in the polished surface. There is a
terrific clatter as he rises to his feet.
"I'm going to the shed Margare," he hisses menacingly.
"No Donald! No!" she screams in the melodrama of it all.
She blocks his way and uses all her strength to restrain him.
"Let me through. Let me pass." He has become Jack Nicholson in "The
Shining", that terrible movie he made her see. He pushes her but she
has become Brunhilde and holds her post with majesty, despite the
"It's my house. You must let me pass woman. You get out of my way," but
he loses his footing and falls to the floor and she bends to pick him
"Now, now Donald. Now, now." But then he grabs at her and she loses her
own balance and tumbles towards the back door, crashing against it and
with considerable impact, splitting the bottom slats. She's up quickly,
defying age, gravity, weight, health and anguish, in her desperation to
preserve decency. He lurches for the hall door and she's there in front
of him again.
"No Donald! No!"
He's got a grip on the handle and tugs at it. The door moves slightly
and then slams back noisily, as she uses her weight to advantage,
shoving it with her substantial buttock, bruising herself monstrously
in the process.
In the guestroom there is now of course considerable alarm. The family
from down south are packing their bags in haste, as doors slam and
angry voices erupt. They can't help overhearing the second even more
desperate telephone call.
"Laura, is that you? For Christ sake come over and bring Daniel.
Donald's in the shed now and I'm at the end of my tether. I don't know
what to do. Please come and help. Please," and their landlady breaks
into volcanic sobs.
The guest room door timidly eases open and a young man in scruffy jeans
stares at the sobbing flustered woman, who is standing in the kitchen
doorway with the telephone dangling from her hand.
"Can I help?" he ventures.
"No! No!" She extravagantly shoos him back into his room and then
musters herself a little:
"It's my husband. He's a little drunk." She even manages a manic smile
too, before rushing back into the kitchen.
The guest family hurriedly tiptoe out into the rain to sleep anywhere
but here. As they scramble into their Datsun Cherry, to the
accompanying sounds of the maniac in the shed, they all cheer as the
engine uncharacteristically starts first go.
"Margaret! Margaret! Where's my rifle? Where is it?" yells Donald
Alexander, stomping about in his shed. His wife shuts the kitchen door
again and sighs upon hearing her poor guests' car reversing at speed
down the drive. She sighs again, feeling light headed. She makes her
way to the front door, shutting and locking it, having placed her 'No
Vacancies' sign in place. Then she's back in the kitchen and she's
pouring herself a large whisky that she downs from his favourite glass.
She can hear her husband knocking and banging in the shed. He's cussing
liberally, as the rain crashes down from the porch.
Her eyes are wide open as they roll round in their sockets. She can
feel every bit of her much bruised body, from the corn on her little
toe to the sweaty meeting of her thighs. The roll of fat around her
middle comforts her against the coldness of life. She feels her own
breasts and shakes her head to loosen herself.
She waits for him.