Beady-eyed under bushy eyebrows, old Nettie watched as Frank Stone, Drumblae’s village postie, conducted his regular fight with her broken garden gate. The gatepost at the hinged side had long been loose in the ground and when the gate was opened it had to be lifted up at the handle side to get it to close again. It was going to be an expensive repair sometime soon and she imagined the hole it would make in her pension. Nettie had calculated that it would be in excess of six months’ worth of gin, and the thought depressed her. At ninety-two she didn’t have that many pleasures left. She looked as Frank wrestled with his bag while trying to set the door back in its frame and heard a loud and ominous crack followed immediately by a tremendous crash. Frank stood in the debris with knob in hand, dust flying around him in a swirling cloud, and what had been the gate now kindling on the ground at his feet. As he looked up in shock, his eyes met Nettie’s and she motioned with her finger for him to come inside.
Frank let himself in through the front door, ducking as he entered. He was six foot four tall and lumbered awkwardly. Nettie thought his face looked like someone had burst open an old horsehair mattress: his flame red hair was long and hung in greasy ringlets, and his bush-like beard thrust bristles at all angles from his face – as if a bird had once tried to nest there and then given it up as too unhygienic a place to bring up kids. Nettie knew he was twenty-six, but she thought he looked nearer forty-six.
And there was also that smell which always seemed to follow him around.
“Ah’m richt sorry, Nettie, but ah’v telt ye afore ‘at door post wis rotted an ye’d hae tae get it mendit,” the flustered postie spluttered apologetically.
“An ah’v telt ye afore, ye wir aye a clumsy bugger, Frunkie Steen.” Nettie sighed in resignation. “Dinna fash yirsel. Ah’ll get a hud o Tam e jiner nex wik. Come awa bain and hae a cuppy. Yir lookin mair gleckit an usual e day, if ye dinna min me sayin. Fit’s warst wi ye?”
“Ach weel, Nettie,” Frank began, now sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea in front of him, “ma graunnie, Doris, aye telled me that ye wur a wyse wummin – a spey wife. She aye seid ye hud … speeshal po’ers.” Frank’s eyes widened in suitable awe as he slowly intoned the final words of his sentence.
“We wir aye richt guid pals, yir graunnie an me – frae even afore wi wint tae the skweel. Ah miss her sair, Frunkie. She wis richt tho; ah am a seevinth dochter o a seevinth dochter. Noo, fit caun ah dae fir ye?”
Frank blushed, and then slowly shook his head, as if he had suddenly changed his mind.
“Naethin. Its nae richt. It’s daft,” he concluded.
“Yiv teen a beamer, Frunkie! Noo dinna be shy. Ah keep secrits just as sakrit as ony meenister if at’s fit’s wirryin ye. ‘Hink o oor meenister as e BBC an me as Chunnel Fower – similar, but e ither side, ye ken?” Frank thought for a moment, nodded, and then launched into a tale of an unrequited love that was worthy of Shakespeare.
Nettie heard how, a few weeks before, a new girl called Emily had come to work behind the Post Office counter in the village grocery shop. Emily was, according to Frank, the most beautiful creature who had ever graced the surface of the planet and he had fallen madly, hopelessly in love with her. All of his normal appetites (bar one) had faded away as a result of the agonies he was suffering. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, and his Dons’ season ticket sat gathering dust on the mantlepiece at home.
“’Aw, am affy, affy sorry tae hear ‘at Frunkie,” commiserated Nettie as the woebegone postie finished, “they did nae bad gainst Hibs laist wik.”
“Fit kin a dee, Nettie? She’s ma sowel mate but ah’m nae hirs. Ah askit her oot tae e ceilidh inni village hall nex Wadensday an she lookit at me like ah wis dirt. Seid she wis helpin her sister tae wash hir dug ‘at nicht, but ahv seed hir sister’s dug. Exactly foo muckle washin’ is ere in a Yorkie?” Frank’s torment increased at the memory of the diminutive canine that symbolised his rejection and shame, and he began to sob into the cupped palms of his hands. Nettie stood up, rubbed his back gently and said soothingly,
“Tak hart, Frunkie. Yiv came tae e richt place. Fit yir needin is a luve potion.” Frank looked up with dawning hope in his teary eyes. Nettie continued, but with added gravity in her tone. “Mind weel, ma loon, ers mair tae a luve potion an a wee bottle o bree. Iss speil taks three days. Firstlins, on Setterday ye wull hae tae ging on a quest ah’ll set ye oan. Oan Sunday, ye will hae tae bring me sacrifeeshal objects ‘at ir strang wi yir essence as a mon – somehin frae tap an toe. Laistly, ah will gie ye twa potions tae apply tae yirsel at sunrise oan Monanday.” By now Frank was staring at her, saucer-eyed.
“An fit’ll haipen en?” he asked with a gulp.
“If aw is done richt, aw will be richt,” Nettie proclaimed. “Are ye riddy tae win yir hart’s desire?”
“Aye,” replied Frank with steel in his voice, “Ah’m riddy. Gie’s ma quest.” Nettie pulled open a drawer in the table and took out a paper bag, a copy of a women’s magazine and a notepad.
“Listen noo and screive fit ah tell ye oan iss pad. On Setterday ye wull hae tae gang intae e muckle toon o Aiberdein oan yir quest. Buy a bran new pair o trainers. I wull need e auld pair fur e sacrifice oan Sunday. Fit better tae hud e essence o a postie ‘an thair sheen?”
“Oh aye,” said Frank,” at’s affa clever ‘at iss. Fit els?”
“Aifter, ye must gang tae a speeshul baurber an ye maun ask a fair maiden tae cut e beard frae yir face and e hair frae yir heid. Yir hair’s a vital pairt o the speil. Ye maun ask e maiden tae cut yir hair like iss!” She pointed dramatically to a picture of Tom Cruise on the cover of the magazine. “Tak iss wi ye an shaw her. E dresser o hair ye mun seek is oan School Hill and cried Beefcakes. Mind an collect aw e hair in iss paper poke. Return tae me oan Sunday wi trainers an hair an we shall complete e speil. Eneuch.” Nettie put her head down as if exhausted, and waved her hand to dismiss him. Frank picked his postbag up and left.
On Sunday, Frank returned carrying a parcel under his arm.
“Here, Nettie. At’s ma auld trainers an e poke wi ma hair in.” He handed the precious ingredients over and Nettie set them down on the floor.
“Weil done, ma loon!” she cried. “Ye huv braved e dangers o Aiberdein, an e toonsers theirin, an returned safe hame, victorious. Ah’ll uise these later. Noo fir e luve potion.” Nettie left the room and returned moments later with a small white bottle and something round wrapped in greaseproof paper.
“Fit’s iss? A bottle o Auld Spice?” a puzzled Frank asked. He sniffed the object in the greaseproof paper. “Is iss ane o thae bath bombs?”
“Ye daftie!” Nettie snarled angrily. “Ah uisit ‘at Auld Spice bottle tae disguise e potion. Ah shapit e mudjik ingredjints like ane o e bathbombs tae mak sure naebody gets wind o fit wir daein. Div ye nae ken the po’ers wir meddlin’ wi, Frunkie? Weil, div ye? Naebody kin iver, iver ken aboot oor deeds iss wik.”
“Oh aye, Nettie. Ah’m affy sorry like,” replied the suitably chastised Frank.
“At daw the morn ye maun drap e mudjik globe intae a bathtub foo o watter ‘ats at bleed tempratur. Gang intae e watter an steep yisel fir twenty meenits. Spik e name o yir quine three times an get oot. Aifter, ye needs tae uise e potion in e white bottle tae liberally anoint yirsel. En, gang tae yir quine. Noo, eneuch!”
When she saw he had gone down the path and out of the gateless gateway from her garden, Nettie turned to the paper bag and shoebox on the floor. She took one of the trainers out of its container by lifting it up carefully by the laces using only her finger and thumb. She held it just under her nose, sniffed and instantly recoiled, gagging and dropping the shoe back into its box.
“Ah wis richt! Oh mon, ‘at is honkin ‘at is! Ah kenned it. Fit a bludy reek! Foo coud he nae smeel thon?” She took the shoebox and the paper bag of hair and dropped them onto her coal fire.
Early on Monday morning, Nettie made sure she was in the grocery store, basket in hand, before Frank came in to pick up the post. He had already phoned her that morning to tell her how cunning she had been in not only disguising the potion by putting it into an Old Spice bottle, but also managing to make it smell exactly like Old Spice. Nettie looked round the nearly empty shop and decided to position herself by the display of magazines which would afford her the best view of the post office counter and the pretty blond girl who was behind it.
When Frank came through the shop door, the girl immediately locked her eyes on him and an appreciative growl rumbled in her throat. To Nettie, it sounded surprisingly like a Yorkshire Terrier was trapped in there trying to get out. She smiled at the effect her creation was having. Emily hadn’t recognised the well-groomed, perfumed and devastatingly handsome young man at first, but when she saw his postbag, realisation had begun slowly seeping into her consciousness.
“Iss ‘at ye, Frunkie Steen?” she asked, marvelling at the transformation in his appearance.
“Aye,” Frank replied, delighted just to hear his name on her lips, “Fit like?”
“Frunkie,” Emily said, winding a ringlet of her hair round her finger, “Aboot e ceilidh. Ah wis thinkin, if ye still want tae go, ah’ll go wi ye.”
“Fit aboot yir sister’s dug?” asked Frank.
“Oh, eh … it got squishit … by a lorry… So, ah fin maself free ‘at nicht.”
“Awricht en. Braw. Weel, nae braw fur e puir dug, like … Ah’ll come by fur ye at seevin.”
Nettie smiled as she witnessed the first green shoots of young love sprouting, and whispered to herself,
“Awww… It would gar ye boak.”
Just before two o’clock that afternoon, Nettie was sitting in her comfortable armchair watching the dumb show being performed outside in the garden with interest. Frank was pointing and silently explaining the job to Tam the joiner who was nodding. The two shook hands, and then Frank fished his wallet from his back pocket and counted notes into Tam’s outstretched palm. Frank turned to the window Nettie was watching from, and gave her a thumbs up. In turn, Nettie lifted a tumbler clink-full of ice and gin towards him by way of a farewell. As he went, Nettie lifted her glass again in a toast to her long-departed pal.
“Ah’m affa fond o yir Frunkie, Doris,” she confided to the imagined shade of her friend, “but fit wye coud ye – o aal fowk – manage tae hae sic a gowkit gallumpher as ‘at fir a graunson?” With that, Nettie took a satisfyingly long slurp of her drink, turned the radio on to “The Archers” and closed her eyes.