It was Burn’s Night, January 25. After celebrating at a drunken faculty party with a feast of the traditional haggis and several large glasses of whiskey, I felt the need to walk it all off.
The evening lent itself to an after dinner walk. It was cold but not damp, that short of crisp cold that can be envigorating. Standing at the top of some steps, I looked down the sinuous Union Canal that wove its intricate path through the capital. Edinborough seemed like a treasure trove of possibilities to a budding young doctor like me. I was the first in my family to attend university and that made me proud but at the same time the investment my parents were making in me weighed heavily on my shoulders. I tried to keep on the right track, but I would get easily led by my peers. Just one more skipped lecture, one more round in the pub. I stepped onto the canal path and almost simultaneously the street lights dimmed, the council was cutting back on spending and the measly light made me feel quite twitchy as it strew eery shadows.
Feeling queasy and fearing I would fall over, I grabbed onto the railings that ran along the canal and tried to steady myself by fixing my stare on the reflection of the street lamps shimmering yellow in the murky water. Lost in my thoughts of the night that I had passed my head swirled as I had previously swirled dancing. The ballroom which hosted the dance had been packed and the enormous old warped mirror that covered the whole west wall held a reflection that created the illusion of an even greater crowd. The band played the traditional Scottish music and as the music got louder and louder I swirled my partner around faster and faster. Who was she? Mary? Jane? I didn't remember but it was of little consequence. I tilted my head in drunken laughter and suddenly got a flash in the mirror of a slim young woman with striking red hair and flimsy orange and black polka dot dress, wholly inappropriate for such a cold night. Captivated, I turned to look for her on the crowded dance floor. Where was she? Where was the dress? Could I get a glimpse of her face?
I was very drunk I'll admit and I may not remember the name of the girl I was dancing with but I just knew I had seen that dress, flapping at me like a distress signal in the wind. I twisted my head back and forth several times first to the 'refection' in the mirror and then to the room, there it was and yet, then it wasn't. In the general confusion of the dance I could see in the glass the girl smiling, laughing, and throwing back her head in gay abandon as her partner twisted her around and kissed her. I had not seen her before at any other university gatherings, I would surely have noticed her. The brightness of her cheeks and dress in contrast to the more formal attire worn by the rest of our bunch, revealed it was not her usual habitat.
I turned to the dance floor but no girl, no dress, no red hair could be seen. How could it be?
Then I felt a hand grab my arm and pull me in the direction of the bar...time to sing the traditional Auld Lang Syne and more and more whisky.
I was awoken from my rêverie at the canal edge by the chiming of the church bells, two am. With the same stroke a freezing wind blew through the canal making me shiver and pull my scarf tighter around my neck. In doing so the direction of my gaze shifted slightly. Was the light of the street lamp changing to orange? No, it was the orange dress shimmering in the water as it had done on the dance floor. I gasped and turned around sharply. No dress, no girl. In the water the reflection seemed to be moving away with the current, hovering at first. I reached my hand out towards the water as if to touch it and suddenly, sharply, the shadow darted away down the canal like a nymph. Driven by some unexplainable force, I ran after it almost in a trance and not knowing where I was going. I didn't take my eyes off the reflection for fear of losing it, whatever it was, again.
A bridge with thick columns and a turn in the course of the canal stopped me in my tracks. I leant my hands on my thighs panting: a large dinner and a copious amount of alcohol were not the best way to prepare for a run. Contemplating my breath in the frosty air, I became aware of my surroundings once more. I had never been that far down the canal on my own before. I was not native to Edinburgh but even I knew it was best to avoid such places, especially at night, frequented only by the ill-intentioned and misguided youths looking for chemical highs.
The only sound was my heavy breath and the moaning of an unlit street lamp creaking in the wind. But wait, there were no street lamps this far down the canal. Could it be a cat? Or a voice? The sound of keys falling onto concrete. It came from my left. I jumped and arched my back like a cat and froze in fear. A flap of flighty orange material waved at the corner of eye. It was poking out from behind a column of the bridge. I was like a moth to the light, uncontrollably drawn. I crept forward and peered around. There she was, not a phantom but a real flesh and blood girl, slumped over the steps that led up to the bridge, all red hair and dress, blood seeping from a cut in her pasty forehead. 'Miss?' was all I could muster up.
Without moving her head she turned her eyes to look at me, her stare was so intense I wondered if she could speak. Her lips moved but no sound came out. I touched her lightly on the shoulder and she flinched but continued staring.
'Are you alright Miss?'
'I think I have been mugged' she replied in a thick Glaswegian accent.
'It's okay, I'll help you' I stumbled, shocked back into sobriety. 'I'm a doctor.'
What is this?
When I started lostinclassics I looked for language lessons in the books I was reading, such as for example the use of phrasal verbs or inversion in conditionals and I explained them through examples found in the text. I also did reviews of the books I read and tried to give some advice on how to read classics using the various resources I know of. Then I switched to just reviews and lately I have been doing a bit of creative writing inspired by my reading. Who knows what I will come up with next!