It’s 1974, and Mac is a young American just arrived in Aberdeen to work in the oil business – definitely a stranger in a strange land….
On a cold, gray Friday night in February, at the end of his first week living in Aberdeen, two work colleagues, Tony and Ian, took him out for a night on the town to celebrate his first week on the job. They consumed several pints and a couple of whiskies in a starkly austere pub populated with craggy, old men. Mac was despairing of Scottish nightlife until Tony told him they were only drinking there because it was a lot cheaper than at the dancehall they were heading to.
An hour and a half later, and suitably lubricated, they weaved their way down a cobbled, dead-end street in the old part of town. The freezing night air attacking his lungs was a sharp contrast to Mac’s Southern California home. He hoped their destination was close. Halfway down on the left, stood a four story granite Victorian edifice. The word ‘Palace’ glowed in red neon on the side of the building. Like moths to a flame, several dozen other revelers converged on the sign.
Mac turned to Tony. “Where did all these people come from?”
Tony ran his hands through his hair, and straightened his tie. “The pubs are all closed now, but the Palace has a late license.”
“Aye,” chimed in Ian, rubbing his hands together, “so let’s get in there, have a little dance, a little drink, and maybe get lucky.”
They paid the cover and went in past the broken-nosed bouncers. One or two looked like they’d beat him senseless for free. Once they’d handed in their overcoats at the cloakroom, Mac opened the doors to the main room and was smacked by a wall of sound. The live band on the wide, raised stage was belting out a competent rendition of All the Young Dudes.
Hundreds of women and girls danced with each other in the middle of the dance floor. An equally large number of young men circulated slowly around the perimeter, like a pack of wolves sizing up a herd of sheep. On the back wall under the balcony, a long bar ran between the two entry doors. The crowd was four deep, but after standing in line for five minutes, eventually they got their drinks; two each, so they wouldn’t have to fight the throng again too soon.
Since conversation was well-nigh impossible, Mac had been looking around the hall, taking it all in. The band was playing Bye Bye, Baby when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to be confronted by a young woman with shoulder length dark hair and straight bangs. She wore a plain, scoop-necked black top with an impossibly short, lime green mini skirt, black tights, and matching green platform shoes that raised her height almost to his six feet.
Her eyes, blue and kohl-rimmed, surveyed Mac’s face. “Gonna give us a light, please?” she shouted in his ear, holding up her cigarette.
Mac nodded and handed her one of his drinks as he fumbled for his lighter, switching the glass in his hand as he moved his search to his other pockets. She was smiling at him. He held her gaze and smiled back.
“Cool band,” Mac screamed at her, hoping he could prolong the conversation. He thought she was gorgeous. He found the lighter and sparked it up.
She shouted back. “Aye, no’ bad.” She leaned in, and lit her cigarette, exhaling a blue plume away from him. She moved her face close into his ear. “Be even better if they’d stop playing that Bay City Rollers shite.” Her perfume was ginger, musky. He could smell hair spray, and her voice, close and in his ear, gave him a tingle. She stepped back, but her scent lingered. He was enchanted.
She handed him back his drink and shouted, “Thanks.”
Before he could come up with something else to say, she was off, walking away to rejoin her girlfriends. Mac cursed his luck. He willed her to turn around. Just when he was thinking he’d made no impression, she looked over her shoulder, and their eyes locked, just for a second, before she disappeared back into the shoal of dancers.
Mac and his buddies continued drinking until the place closed. He swept the room, hoping for another glimpse of the lime green mini. No such luck.
Back outside, Tony and Mac sidestepped the scuffles and vomiting, and walked along the frosty streets. Steam flowed off the top of their heads as they navigated the cold, February night.
Mac felt they were going the wrong way. “Where you going, Tony?”
“Chips. I’m needin’ some chips,” Tony slurred, weaving from sidewalk to street and back again.
“Yeah, everybody goes to Freddy’s chip shop after the Palace.”
“What the fuck is a chip shop?”
Tony stopped and pointed to a brightly lit, glass storefront with a door to the right. Above the window, a hand-painted sign read Freddy’s. A cartoon fish, with its tongue hanging out and a jolly look in its eye, gaped down at them. The windows were completely steamed up. “That, my American friend, is a chip shop.”
Inside, it was mayhem. The place was heaving with hungry, impaired people all talking at the top of their voices. Someone was singing The Wonder of You, sounding remarkably like Elvis, but with a Scottish accent. The air swam with the smells of hot oil, battered fish, pastry, and malt vinegar. Behind the counter, a stout middle-aged woman, wearing a grease-spattered, flowery pinafore and sporting thick eyeglasses, served customers with a serene smile.
In complete contrast, behind the massive, stainless steel and glass fryer that dominated most of the chip shop, stood the most pent-up looking man Mac had ever seen. Freddy, the eponymous proprietor Mac assumed, was a tall man with arms like whipcords, and a jaw like a car crusher. He worked the fryer with the single-mindedness and determination of a machine-gunner mowing down advancing attackers. Patrons cried out greetings to him as they staggered in. His smile was thin-lipped in its fleeting acknowledgement, while still one hundred per cent devoted to the task at hand.
Tony nudged Mac, nodding at the dervish battering fish and pouring five gallon buckets of cut up potatoes into the roiling oil. “That’s Freddy. God help anyone who starts anything in here.”
“Yeah. See his wife? Louise. She’s the only one that can keep him under control. When he loses his shit, he’s like the fuckin’ Incredible Hulk. I’ve seen him in action a couple of times.”
Mac looked up at the bill of fare on the shiny, Formica wall. “What are you going to have?” He looked behind Tony. “We’ve lost Ian, by the way.”
Tony grinned. “Oh, no we haven’t. He managed to pull. We won’t be seeing him until Monday.”
“Got off with a woman at the dance hall. You know, hooked up.”
“Oh, sure.” Mac blinked. The vinegar in the air was nipping his eyes. “So, what are you having?”
Tony pointed to the glass-fronted case on top of the fryer. “Freddy’s wife makes the best chicken pie in town, so it’s a chicken pie supper for me.”
“Supper? It’s after midnight.”
“That’s what it’s called when you get it with the chips. You’ve got to have Freddy’s chips, especially now, when everything’s fresh out of the fryer. Magic.”
“I’m never gonna understand your accents and words, even if I stay here a hundred years.”
A thin, red-faced man, in front of them in the line, turned on Mac with eyes flashing. “Then why don’t ye do us all a favor and fuck off back to America, ye Yank bastard?”
Mac watched the spittle fly, as the man poked him in the chest with a concrete finger. The man continued. “It’s just like the war again. You come over here, lording it over all of us like your shite doesn’t stink, shagging our women, and then leaving them in the lurch.”
Mac, shocked by the sudden ferocity, resorted to humor.
“Have we met?”
“Fuck you. Outside. Now. You an’ me.”
Freddy momentarily stopped scooping fresh chips out of the fryer to issue a dire warning. “If anybody starts a fight in here,” he barked, “I’ll be over this counter like a rat up a pipe, and you’ll both be eating hospital food for a week.”
A quiet murmur ran through the patrons; even Elvis stopped singing.
“There you are.” Mac turned. It was the girl in the lime green mini. She pushed her way through the crowd and put her arm through Mac’s. She smiled at him. “I’ve been lookin’ everywhere.”
“Hello Jake,” she said to Mac’s aggressor. “Been oot for a few, hiv ye?”
Jake was taken aback. “June? What are ye daein’ with this fuckin’ Yank?”
“He’s ma cousin. Visitin’ from America.”
Mac’s eyes widened. June continued. “My dad said you had a good week on the boat.”
Jake shuffled his feet. “Aye, yer dad’s a good skipper, right enough.”
June gave him a dazzling smile. “I’ll tell him I saw you. You’re next. See ya.”
Jake looked confused, swiveling his red eyes from June to Mac and back, before quietly ordering a bag of chips. He got his food and walked out without another word.
The babble of voices resumed. Elvis tore into “All Shook Up.”
Mac shook his head in amazement. “Hello again. What just happened?”
“That was Jake. He works on my dad’s fishing boat.” She moved them up to the counter. “Nice enough bloke until he gets the whisky in him. I think you should see me home. It’s not safe with all these drunks about.”
“Mac, eh? Pleased to meet you, cousin. Want to split a chicken pie supper?”
After saying farewell to Tony, who was lurching around outside the chip shop devouring his food, they walked to an all-night coffee bar that June knew. Warming themselves over several mugs of tea, they talked and laughed for a long time, getting to know one another’s stories.
Finally, in the wee hours of Saturday, with their eyelids growing heavy, they took a taxi through the deserted, frosty streets to her parents’ home in Seatown, where she lived.
Outside June’s house, its motor idling on the street beside them, Johnny Cash’s gravelly voice crept from the cab. Folsom Prison Blues. Something about having shot a man in Reno. The driver had the window cracked, and was blowing out smoke, pretending to ignore them.
June and Mac stood a foot apart on the sidewalk, next to the small, low gate in front of the two story detached house. The front lawn, covered in old, gray patches of snow, had several dormant rosebushes around its borders, and was split in half by a short concrete path. A hallway light shone out through the half-glazed front door.
She stepped closer to him until they were face to face. Mac’s whole body was tingling. He had slept with a total of three women, but this was different. More than lust, or attraction—he really liked her.
“Thanks again for saving me. Back at Freddy’s,” he said, grinning.
“No bother at all.” She was looking at his mouth. “What lovely teeth you have.”
“Thanks.” Mac nodded toward the house. “You should probably go in, eh?”
“Trying to get rid of me, are you?” Now June was grinning.
Mac stammered. “No, no – I don’t want to say goodbye. I just thought you’re probably freezing.”
“I’d ask you in, but they’d hear us talking, and then my Mum would get up and be rushing around making you tea, and bacon and eggs.” She rolled her eyes.
“It was great to meet you.”
“Well, I guess I’d better be going. Can I call you?”
June opened her purse, pulled out an eyeliner pencil, and rummaged around for a piece of paper.
As she wrote, Mac admired her long eyelashes. “What are you doing tomorrow? Want to go to the movies, or something?”
“Something sounds good,” she said, handing him the phone numbers, thick and black on the crumpled scrap of paper.
“Thanks.” Mac felt another stupid smile forming on his face.
“Right, I’m off inside. Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
Mac tilted his head down slightly. June opened his overcoat, then her own, and hugged him to her. Mac closed his eyes, their lips were drawn together magnetically, and they kissed. Tentatively at first, until passion quickly took over. Their mouths stayed open, their lips mashed together, sliding around. Mac could taste her lipstick. Their breath steamed in the night air, like thoroughbreds after an early morning workout. June’s tongue slyly probed his mouth, touching his tongue. She made a sort of whimpering sound. Her chest mashed against his. He felt a stirring, a buzzing; he gave a low, guttural moan.
They pulled apart. Mac felt the cold air on his wet lips.
“Well, that was very nice.” June’s eyes sparkled.
“Mmm, I think I’d better go before I’m not responsible for my actions,” Mac said, hoping his dark jeans and the night were minimizing the obviousness of his erection. He quickly closed and buttoned his coat.
“Tomorrow, then?” June said.
“I’ll call you in the morning, if that’s okay?”
“Not before ten.”
“Of course not.”
They were both goofy. Mac leaned in for another kiss. It started to get intense again. June pulled away, laughing. “I’m going inside. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Mac.”
She squeezed his hand and kissed him on the cheek before turning away. He watched her open the gate and walk up the path to the front door, fishing the key out of her purse on the way. Mac stood looking as she waved goodbye from the open door. He waved back at her as she closed it and turned out the light. He gazed up at the stars in the clear, freezing night, and smiled at his good fortune.
The grey-haired cab driver rolled the window down, and threw out his cigarette. “Hey John Wayne, are ye off on a suicide mission tomorrow morning, or what?”
“No, I’m not,” Mac said over his shoulder, still smiling to himself.
“Hiv ye got her phone number?”
“Yeah,” Mac said. He turned and showed it to him.
“Then get in the fuckin’ car, ye’ll get pneumonia standin’ oot there.”
Mac got in the back of the taxi, smothered by the instant heat. They pulled away from the curb, and accelerated down the street. Mac turned his head to keep June’s house in view as long as possible.
“That was some hot stuff back there, by the way.” The driver looked over his shoulder at Mac. “I was almost getting a hard-on myself.”
Mac stared at him, shocked. “Fuck off. You’re not supposed to be looking.”
The driver turned back to the road. “No wankin’ in the back seat. Okay?”