Duncan’s Last Request tracks three men in the highlands exploring trauma, companionship, and the unexpected tenderness of an old alcoholic.
After a week of drunken arguments and even drunker confessions, we were surprised to learn that Duncan had fond memories of his childhood. Driving in the autumn, always late at night, with his father behind the wheel and his brother leaning against the window – these were the among the happiest moments of his life. The inheritance was good until it ran out, his marriage swallowed decades and shat out empty bottles, and the birth of his first son was something of an anti-climax. ‘I’m old,’ he told us, ‘and when I die I want to be in the back of my father’s old Morris, tucked between the black hills and the purple sky.’
A few months later Brian spotted a rusty Marina outside the Boots in Ullapool, Derick jacked it, and we met up by the crumbling lip of the Glascarnoch Dam. The bonnet was dented, the upholstery stank of lager, one of the wing mirrors was missing and the brakes only worked half the time, but Duncan was thrilled. ‘It’s uncanny,’ he said, smoothing out the sticky vinyl with his palm. ‘So, who’s going to drive?’ I looked at Brian, who looked at Derick, who looked back at me. Duncan suggested we draw straws, but nobody had any straws, so I cut up Derick’s fags with a penknife. Longest fag stayed home, middle played the brother, and the shortest drove. Once everybody’s roles were allocated, we moved onto the sensitive matter of Duncan’s death. Brian said something about exhaust fumes, Derick demonstrated the lethality of his crowbar on a can of Stella, while I argued that we should just push him out and be done with it. It was Duncan who decided, of course. With a stirring yell, he downed the rest of his heart medication and hurled himself into the back seat of the car. We hit the road within the hour.
I drove while Derick leaned out the back window, pensively smoking half a cigarette. The hills rolled by like waves. Duncan complained that his brother had never smoked as a child, to which Derick replied that he had never had a handlebar moustache, either. The comeback never arrived, and after a few minutes we realised Duncan was dead. We pulled into a passing place, gently closed his eyes, then drove back in silence. I remember returning to the dam, a week or so after the funeral. We made a bonfire of the Marina there, mixed its ashes with his own, then drank until the clouds turned black, and the last embers had dwindled into the night. It seemed the least any of us could do, for a friend.