Fiction: Da Lass wi da Peerie Dug

Bruce Eunson concludes his translation into Shetland dialect of Anton Chekhov’s classic short story The Lady with the Little Dog.


Winter in Edinburgh wis terrible cowld. Da first thing ony body did ida moarnin wis fire up da haetin, an da bairns had tae pit da lights on tae see der breakfast. Der had been twartree frosts aaready. When da first o da snaa comes, an you happen tae be da first een oot da door an ontae da street dat moarnin, it’s aaful fine tae see da pavements an da rooftops aa boannie an white; da air is saft an da feelin o da snaa under your fit makks you mind aboot times fae when you wir peerie an wir da first een oot ee Yule-time moarnin. On days laek dis you might be wanderin alang an a peerie red-breestit robin might appear in front o you. Da sight o dis is usually enyoch tae warm da cowldest o haerts, an touch even dem wha’s missin der wanders doon by da sea or ower da hills.

Harry wis a Shetlander, but he’d been bydin doon in Edinburgh fir mony a year noo, an had come tae kaen dat nae matter foo muckle he’d enjoyed a trip hame ida simmer, wance he wis makkin his wye doon Princes Street an up een tae Rose Street, whaar his wark wis, den da things dat he had seen an felt ower da summer wir quick tae faa fae his memory. Piece bi piece he immersed himsel in city life ageen, an aa dat cam wi it. It wisna lang afore he wis lured tae aet his evenin meal oot radder as at hame wi his faimly. Fae dare he wid geng tae a bar somewhaar, meetin up wi idder fokk o da sam mind. He felt braaly prood o foo aften he wid dan be invited back tae a pairty. He fann dat he had an opinion fir ivery conversation, an had nae fear tae gee his opinion at lent.

A mont or sae wid geng by, he towt, an Sonja’s image wid become shrouded in mist; he wid juist dream o her boannie smile fae time tae time, laek he dreamed aboot aa da idder eens afore her. But mair as a mont had geen by, Yule wis well an truly wi dem, an his memories wir as clear as if he had pairtit fae Sonja juist dastreen. His memories grew mair vivid, in fact. Sittin ida hoose he might hear da bairns döin dir schoolwark as dir midder made dir tae, a song or an organ wid start in a restaurant, or da wind wid blaa doon da chimney o da auld hoose, an aa o a sudden aathing wid be resurrected in his mind: dat night up at da Knab, da look o da moarnin mist trow Tingwall, da Milky Way comin slowly in, da smoorikens. He wid spend oors walkin da lent o da room, mindin things an smilin, an den his memories wid turn intae dreams an da past wid fuse wi da future in his imagination. Sonja didna appear in his dreams, but shö followt him iverywhaar he geed laek a shadow, keepin eye on him. As soon as he had closed his een he wid see her as if shö wis standin right dare, an shö wid seem boannier, younger an mair affectionate as afore; an he himsel seemed dat bit better as he wis back in Shetland. In da evenin shö wid look ower at him fae da bookshelf, or fae da fireplace, or fae da coarner o da room; he cood hear her breathin an da gentle rustle o her dress. Oot on da street he turned his head tae follow weemin wi his een, lookin tae see if der wis somebody idder laek her . . .

An he wis owercome wi a haevy desire tae share his memories wi somebody. But he coodna spaek aboot his love at hame, an he had nae freends wha he cood confide in. Dir wis naebody at his wark he cood spaek wi; an whit wid he say onywye? Had he really loved her back den? Wis der really somethin beautiful, poetic, upliftin, or even datna interestin aboot his relationship wi Sonja? Aa he cood dö wis spaek in vague terms aboot love an weemin, an naebody twiggit whit wis gyaan on; his wife juist knittit her dark eyebroos an said:

“Harry, you should stop that fatuous posing; it doesn’t suit you.”

Ee night he spent da best part o fower oor drinkin wi a man he caad a pal, an oot in da street coodna hadd his tongue so blurtit oot:

“You should have seen the beautiful girl I was with in Shetland!”

Da man, wha wis a client o da bank Harry rowt tae, wis flaggin doon a taxi an paid nae attention at first. It wis only when he got a car tae stop, an Harry wis standin lookin fir da orange light o een tae drive him hame, dat da man shoutit oot da window:

“Mr Manson, you were right, earlier on: the lager in that pub was flat!”

Those terribly ordinary wirds fir some raeson suddenly made Harry right mad; dey seemed degradin an dishonourable tae him. Whit appaulin manners, an whit ill-laek fokk dis Edinburgh eens wir! Whit meaninless nights an whit uninterestin, unmemorable days! Whit a carry on it wis, aa these nights on da booze, troopin fae wan pub tae da nixt, ower tae somebody’s flat wha’s enyoch o a plonkey tae bid aa dis fokk in. An aa da endless yarns aboot nithin, it wis aa pointlessness. Harry felt laek a proper drooth. Livin life laek dis took up aa your time an energy an eventually left you wi an uninspired, restrictit kind o life whit wis wort nithin, an whit you cood neither laeve nor git awa fae; it wis laek bein lockit in Cornhill or Barlinnie.

Harry didna git a wink o sleep aa night an wis braaly tirn bi moarnin, sufferin fae a headache aa da nixt day. He sleepit braaly badly da followin nights in-aa; he wid sit in bed an think tae himsel, or he wid pace aboot. He wis fedd up wi his faimly, fedd up wi his wark, an didna want tae geng onywhaar or spaek aboot onythin wi onybody.

In December, durin da Christmas holidays, he pakkit a bag an telt his wife dat he wis gyaan tae Inverness – but he actually geed tae Glasgow. Why? He himsel didna really kaen da answer. He widda laekit tae a met Sonja an spokken wi her, arranged a meetin wi her if possible.

He got tae Glasgow early in da day, an got himsel a good room in wan o da bigger hotels, da floors wir lined fae waa tae waa wi auld-fashioned grey carpet. On da desk in his room der wis a pad o paper fir writin on, da tap page wis scuffed an torn fae hivin niver been used fir onythin idder as settin keys apon. On da windowsill ahint da layers o curtains he noticed a peerie ornament, it was a rider on a horse; da rider wis raisin his hat wi ee hand, but his head had been brokken aff.

Harry cood mind Sonja sayin her an her man bade in Hyndland. He got a phone book fae reception an lookit up “White” . . . thankfully dir wis only da wan wi a Hyndland address. Harry didna feel laek rushin, so decided tae wander ower. When he got tae da street she bade on he lookit at da lang grey fence dat geed in atween da hooses an da pavement, a variety o nails had been poorly banged intae it.

“The fence kinda makes you want to turn back”, he towt, castin his eye up tae da windows an back doon tae da street.

He figured dat seein as it wis a Sunday, her man wid laekly be hame. He didna want tae meet him. An if he wis tae phone den it might be da husband wha wid answer. It wid be mair sense tae wait fir da right opportunity. So he waakit up an doon da street an alang da fence, waitin fir dis opportunity. A braaly rough lookin guy cam alang an hockit in a bin, den an oor or sae laeter he cood hear a piano bein played, an saft, indistinct peerie soonds floatit trow da air. It wis surely Sonja playin. Da front door o her hoose suddenly opened, an auld wife cam oot wi da peerie dug he kent fae da summer in Lerwick runnin efter her. Harry wantit tae shout oot tae da dug, but his haert wis beatin wildly an he wis sae nervous he suddenly coodna mind da dug’s name.

As he waakit up an doon he cursed da grey fence mair an mair; he wis braaly taen aff an towt dat Sonja wid hiv firgotten aboot him an wis mibee wi somebody idder; it wid be sae natural fir a young lass tae dö as much, especially if shö had tae stare at such a wretched fence fae moarnin tae night. He geed back tae his hotel and lay on da cooch, no kaenin whit tae dö; he had somethin tae aet an geed tae sleep fir a braa start.

“This is all so stupid and pointless”, he towt. He had wokened, an wis starin trow da dark windows; it was aaready night. “Now I’ve had a rest, and something to eat; but what am I going to do tonight?”

He sat on da bed. It wis covert wi a grey blanket dat lookit laek it had com oot o a hospital. He taunted himsel aboot da disappointment o da trip:

“So much for your lady with the little dog . . . So much for your adventure . . . You can just sit here.”

He mindit dat at Central Station dat moarnin he had seen a poster advertisin a night o films bi Yasujiro Ozu at da GFT. He mindit Sonja used tae spaek aboot her passion fir Japanese culture; so he set aff.

“It’s possible she’ll be going”, he towt.

Da entrance o da theatre and da cafe wis filt tae da gallows; a lot o fokk wir makkin a lot o noise as dey waitit tae geng in tae da film. A fair variety o fokk sat or stood at peerie tables in da cafe, swiggin fae bottles o expensive beer; a young lass wha had funn a grain o celebrity efter landin a role in River City wis sittin at a table in da middle o da room, an auld man wha Harry judged tae be her faidder wis sittin modestly tae her left, leanin back so tae try an hide ahint wan o da pillars it seemed, his twa graet haands placed on da edge o da table wi fingers intertwined. Da ushers wir spaekin amongst demsels an castin glances across da gaddery o fokk, wha didna seem in ony hurry tae geng in tae see da film. Harry kept his head doon, but eyed ivery coarner tae see if Sonja wis aboot.

“Maybe she’s already gone in?” he aksed himsel, an efter buyin a ticket, wis blyde tae see da house-lights wir still dimly lit; he stood at da tap o da steps an lookit fir her.

Dare shö wis.

Only tree rows up fae whaar he wis standin; his haert geed a lurch, shö wisna even lookin at him! In dat moment Harry kent clearly dat dir wis noo naebody wha he cherished mair, naebody dearer or mair important tae him; lost in amongst da crood, dis peerie an in nae wye remarkable woman, wi dat sam Fair Isle patterned beret on her peerie head, noo wis da centre o his wirld; shö wis his sorrow an his joy, da only happiness he noo wantit fir himsel; an joinin in wi da soonds comin fae da adverts playin on da cinema screen, he towt aboot foo lovely shö wis. He towt and he dreamed.

A man younger as himsel wis sittin nixt tae her, he wis tall an slim, wi short dark hair; da look on his face as he turned tae spaek wi Sonja made it look laek he didna think much o hivin tae sit an watch films in a foreign language. Dis must be her husband, wha in Shetland, in a rush o ill-feelin, shö had caad an idiot. Harry waakit up da isle an took a saet twartree rows ahint dem. He waatched dem mair as he watched da screen, an wi ivery detail he caught o da man, he towt mair an mair dat dey had been right tae caa him an idiot.

At da end o An Autumn Afternoon der wis an interval. Sonja’s husband took dis chance, laek mony idders, tae geng fir a fag afore The Tokyo Story startit. Wance Sonja wis on her ain Harry went tae her; in a gluffed voice an wi a forced smile, he said “Hello”.

Shö lookit up at him an geed pale, dan lookit at him ageen in horror, no believin whit shö wis seein, grippin eidder airm rest tightly tae keep fae fentin. Da pair o dem said nithin. Dey baith bade whaar dey wir; he wis gluffed bi her embarrassment, an no sure if he sood sit doon nixt tae her. A lot o fokk wir back in and startin tae takk dir saets, an in a horrifyin moment it felt laek aabody wis waatchin dem. Shö quickly got up an made fir da exit; he followt her an dey baith geed in confusion alang da corridors against da flow o da crood; a draught wis waftin in da smell o cigarettes an Harry wis sure dey wid meet her husband afore dey fann a place tae spaek. His haert wis baetin wildly an he suddenly mindit dat when he’d seen Sonja aff at da airport he’d telt himsel it wis aa ower atween dem an dat dey wid niver see wan anidder ageen. Clearly things wir far fae ower.

Shö took him half wye up da steps tae anidder room, barely able tae look at him as shö said:

“You gave me such a scare!” Shö wis braaly braethless an still pale fae da shock. “Such a scare! I can hardly think. Why are you here? Why?”

“You must understand, Sonja, you must understand”, he said, quickly, braaly oot o braeth himsel. “You must understand, please . . .”

Shö lookit at him entreatingly wi a mixture o fear an love, starin at his face so as tae imprint his features mair firmly in her memory

“I’ve suffered so much”, shö said, no listenin tae him. “I’ve thought about you all the time; all I’ve thought about is you. I wanted to forget about you, forget all about you. Why, oh why are you here?”

Fae higher up on da steps twa young boys began slowly waakin taewards dem, but Harry didna care; he drew Sonja tae him an startit kissin her face, her cheeks, her haands . . .

“What are you doing? What are you doing?” shö said in horror, pushin him awa. “We’ve both gone completely mad. You have to go; you have to go right now. Please, I beg you . . . People are looking!”

Da twa boys geed by dem an doon da steps, no makkin onythin o it.

“You must leave . . . Harry, please”, Sonja said in a whisper. “I’ll come see you in Edinburgh. I’m terribly unhappy, I’ve never been happy. Don’t make me suffer even more! I’ll come see you, I swear, but now we have to stop. My darling, my friend, my dear, my dear – we have to stop!”

Shö grippit his haand in her ain an took him doon da steps, lookin back at him aa da time, an you cood see bi da look in her een dat shö wis aaful unhappy. Shö let go o his haand an geed doon da corridor back tae whaar da last few fokk wir gyaan back intae da film. Harry stood whaar he wis, an bade dare fir a moment, noo da only wan in an empty corridor. He turned himsel aboot an left on his ain.


Sonja noo startit tae com an visit him in Edinburgh. Ivery twartree mont shö wid laeve Glasgow, tellin her husband shö wis gyaan tae see a pal o hers; her husband baith did believe her an didna believe her. When shö got tae Edinburgh shö bade at da Sheraton an wid send wird immediately tae Harry dat shö had arrived. Ivery trip felt laek a braaly lang journey tae her; shö wid wait til da train got tae Polmont dan pat on a red hat afore swappin saets. Shö spokk wi naebody.

Ee winter moarnin Harry wis on his wye tae see her, but no afore waakin his dowter tae school (Sonja had been in Edinburgh fae da night afore but he hadna been able tae win awa fae his wife). Snaa wis comin doon in lonely weet flakes.

“It’s above zero now, but it’s still snowing”, said Harry tae his peerie lass. “But it’s only the surface of the earth that’s warm, you see; there is quite a different temperature in the upper layers of the atmosphere.”

Harry geed on tae explain mony anidder detail tae his dowter, wha aksed him plenty o peerie questions. As he wis tellin her aa dis, he wis thinkin aboot da fact dat he lived twa lives: an open een, seen an kent bi aa wha needed tae kaen aboot it; it wis a life o conventional truth an conventional falsehood, juist laek da lives o his freends an acquaintances… an dan he had a secret life. An trow some queer coincidence, mibee nithin mair as pure chance, iverything dat wis o interest an importance tae him, iverything dat wis essential tae him, iverything dat he felt honestly an didna deceive himsel aboot, iverything dat he felt made him wha he wis, geed on entirely in secret fae idder fokk; an while aa dat wis false, da cover dat he used tae hide da truth – his wark at da bank fir instance, his nights oot, his references tae da “lesser species”, da public appearances he made wi his wife – aa dat geed on in da open. Judgin idders bi himsel, he didna believe whit he saa, an aye towt dat ivery man led his real an maist interestin life under a cover o secrecy as under da cover o night. Da personal life o ivery individual is based on secrecy, an mibee it is pairtly fir dat raeson dat cultured fokk ir sae anxious fir personal privacy tae be kept as dat.

Wance he had taen his dowter tae school, Harry set aff fir da Sheraton. Sonja had been waitin tae see him fae da streen; shö wis wearin his favourite grey dress an when shö opened da door it wis barely draan ahint him afore shö collapsed in his airms. It wis as if dey hidna seen wan anidder fir years, an dey kissed slowly an quietly til dey felt laek dey wir immersed in wan anidder ageen.

“So, how are you?” he aksed, “Any news?”

“Wait, I’ll tell you in a minute. I can’t now.”

Shö coodna spaek as shö startit tae greet. Shö turned awa fae him an dabbed at her een wi a tissue.

“She must have a cry if she needs to; I’ll just sit here for a minute”, towt Harry an he geed an sat in doon in da chair bi da writin desk.

He phoned doon an aksed fir some tea tae be browt up fir him. As he drank shö stood by da window, da white transparent material dat ran in atween da curtains an da glass lit up her face an exaggerated ivery tear.

Shö wis greetin fae bein sae upset, an because o da painful realisation dat dir life had turned oot sae poorly; dey met wan anidder only in secret, an had tae hide fae fokk laek criminals. Dir life really wis a terrible mess.

“Come on now, stop this”, he said.

It wis clear tae him dat da love dey felt fir wan anidder widna come tae an end ony time soon; in fact, it wis impossible ta say when it wid end. Sonja had become mair an mair attached tae him, shö adored him, an it wid be unthinkable tae tell her dat it wid aa hiv tae come tae an end at some point; shö widna hiv believed it onywye.

He geed ower an pat his haands on her shooders, he cuddled her an tried tae makk her laugh. He lookit at himsel in da mirror; his hair wis turnin grey an he had lost his looks. He fann it queer dat he had gotten sae auld in such a few short years. Da shooders dat he had his haands apon wir warm but tremblin. He felt compassion fir dis life, still sae warm an beautiful, but laekly aaready startin tae wilt an dwine, juist laek his ain life. Whit wye did shö love him sae much? He aye seemed tae weemin as different fae whit he really wis; dey didna love him, dey loved somethin dir imagination telt dem wis pairt o him, somethin dey wir lookin fir aa dir lives; an efter, when dey wir awaar o dir mistakk, dey loved him onywye. Not wan o dem had been happy wi him. In da past he had met weemin, been wi dem, pairtit fae dem, but not wance had he iver been in love; it wis mony anidder thing, but niver love. An only noo, when his head wis grey, wis he faan in love, really, truly – fir da first time in his life.

He an Sonja loved wan anidder laek fokk wha wir aaful closs; laek man an wife, bridder an sister, or closs freends; dey felt dat fate had intended dem tae be taegidder, an fann it impossible tae understand foo it had come tae be dat dey wir baith mairried tae idder fokk; dey wir laek twa peerie birds, a male an a female, wha had been catched an made tae byde in separate cages. Dey had firgiven wan anidder fir things dey wir ashamed o in dir past, dey firgave wan anidder fir aathing in da present, an dey felt dat dir love had changed dem baith.

In da past, when dir had been moments o sadness, he had reassured her wi da first rationalisation dat cam tae mind, but he had nae time fir rationalisations noo; he felt deep compassion an wanted tae be sincere an gentle.

“Stop it, my love”, he said. “You’ve done enough crying now. Let’s talk a little, let’s see if we can cheer ourselves up.”

Dey spent a lang time spaekin aboot foo it wis tae be dat dey wid extricate demsels fae da need tae hide an deceive, fae hivin tae live in different toons an no see wan anidder fir such lang stretches o time.

“How are we going to do it? How?” he aksed.

An it seemed laek in a peerie start dey wid happen upon a solution, an den a new, wonderful life wid begin; but it wis clear tae baith o dem dat da end wis a lang wye aff an dat da maist complicated an difficult pairt wis only juist beginnin.


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