The Slumbering Spirits Speak

Updated: May 29

Donna Faulkner née Miller drinks tea without sugar, mochas with marshmallows, and vodka and orange juice in a tall glass with no ice. She has two dogs, a one-eyed cat, and three teenagers. She lives in New Zealand with her husband Victor. Donna has had poetry published in FWS: Journal of Literature & Art, Havik: The Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature, Tarot Poetry Journal New Zealand, and Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

I can smell the Glenfiddich long before I take a sip. It smells of heather in the highlands. It tastes like the aftershave of imperial stags on the prowl. As it is poured into short stroppy glasses; the very air advocates my intoxication.

I can see my grandad when I take a sip. See him holding his own, the gathered coterie captivated. Whisky in hand and a smoldering King Edward cigar held like a prop. He ignites the passion that bathes with warm whisky in men’s bellies.

Everyone looks and nods and cheers, “here here”. Spontaneously banging glass bottoms on tabletops to applaud his spiel. Encouraged, the old boy continues. He is eminently positioned. Stretching braces cling bravely to his favourite grey trousers. Holding court, he exhorts the virtues of brotherhood, and with a genuine conviction that cannot be suppressed, he speaks of the working man's plight and the price of fish and chips. The men listen intently, their expressions smudged by a smoky haze.

It is an acquired taste, enjoyed by a more sophisticated palette, I am told. A ten-year-old single malt cannot be hurried.

And so I hold it in my mouth to see if I can make myself enjoy it. See if I can train my tastebuds to become more refined. I am sure I pulled a sour face as I swallowed that first sip. I hoped no one noticed. I do not like whisky. Not at all. I like vodka. But I persevere.

I swirl the whisky around and around the glass and watch it swirl. Biding my time. Gathering up the nerve to take another sip and down another mouthful. Attempting to summon remnants of my Scottish ancestry and reawaken their spirits hibernating dormant in my blood and marrow.

It becomes apparent as the evening endures that my ancestors could barely recall the sweet bouquet of the wild heathers brush. They had never heard the Stags roar rattling the lowlands or grown accustomed to the taste of single malt.

My ancestors instead haunted the smoggy filth. Their toil embedding cobbles of grimy streets. Bairns snatched dead from nursing mothers whose common grief languished in rows of cramped houses. They wore rags brandishing the impermeable stench of smelting iron, its stain leaching out from within their dirty pores.

Smoldering factories blighted the landscape whilst the workhouse and gallows loomed heavy on the peripheral.

Churches frequented sporadically. Hedging bets on behalf of their dead, whose broken backs built empires. There was no real respite for these wretched souls except the numbness served warm at Alehouses and filthy brothels.

At least that is how the stories were told as the whiskey flowed, and I dared to ask, how did I get here and where did I come from.

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