Wise Old Owl by Paul Cowan

Paul spends his days working as a welder at home and abroad. This is where he collects most of his material–through the people he works with and day-to-day life experiences. Paul has had poetry and short stories published in magazines like Untitled, The Grind, Octavious, and an anthology called Alight Here by Alan Bisset.


Wise Old Owl


“How the fuck did Iain Banks create a world inside a bridge an’ dae it sae masterfully?” Del thought out loud as he dipped his brush into the red paint and stared out over the kingdom.

He looked over the edge and imagined being dead before hitting the water. The papers had stopped documenting most of the jumpers because there were so many nowadays. The rail bridge seemed to be a favourite diving board for the end-of-life club; they would get off the train at Dalmeny and sneak along undetected, then start the long upwards climb until the terminal tilt and final farewell to Edinburgh and Fife.

“Wit ye thinkin’, Del?” spat an elderly voice from behind. Del turned to see Gilbert Crow standing a few feet away on the scaffold, a fag hanging from his crooked gub.

“Jist the usual shit, Gil, ye ken?” Del replied. “How much money av no got, how long av no hud ma Nat King Cole, an’ how long it wid take afore ye hit the water below if ye ever took the notion tay take a brave step aff intay the thinnest ay air!”

Gil screwed up his eyes and blew out a puff of yellow smoke that was instantly kidnapped by the wind–a constant this far up. “Ah worry aboot you, Del, ah really do,” he said. “Folks come fae aw o’er the world jist tae spend a few moments takin’ in the spectacle ay Arrol’s bridge, an’ you’re talkin’ aboot how long it wid be afore ye hit the water! Deed that is, ya fuckin’ numpty!”

“Listen Gil, am no thinkin’ ay jumpin’, but loads ay punters must git these morbid thoughts noo and again, likes. Ah hink bein’ this high up does hings tay yer heed, ken?”

Gil put his hands firmly on the handrails and inched slowly towards Del until his knee was touching his shoulder. “Move o’er an’ move yer paint tin,” he said.

“Wit fur auld yin?” said Del. “Am tryin tay feenish this leg afore Hitler comes an’ bags me fur yappin’ tay you!”

Gil moved the paint and slowly slid in beside Del, putting an arm across his shoulder as if to steal some of his heat. “Av been watchin’ ye over the last few months, son, an’ ye’v no been yersel,” he said.

Del was a little suspicious of Gil’s voyeurism. “Wit day ye mean ye’v been watchin’ me, ya auld perv? Are you yin ay they predators thit linger aboot in online chat rooms?” He noticed Gil’s hand and nicotine fingers, and wondered how many fags he’d eaten to do such a professional paint job on that skeletal skin. There must have been at least ten different shades of brown crud stacked up against his sabre-like finger nails.

Gil’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Av been aroon’ a few years longer thin you, son, an’ am no a bad judge ay character. How long huv us two been up here on nights, an’ how many blethers huv we hud?”

Del smiled a little and leaned into his colleague. “Must be close tay two an’ a half thoosand blethers at least, auld yin.”

“Aye, it must be aroon’ that figure,” croaked Gil. “When two folk work the gither for as long as we’ve worked the gither, then a hink that qualifies yin hof ay oor partnership tay rise up above jist being his brother’s keeper an’ notice if somethin’s wrong.”

Del grinned. “Thanks fur yer concern, Gil, but am fine. Ah honestly am. Am a grown man, thirty years auld. Ah dinny need the world’s auldest baby sitter oan ma case!”

Gil laughed and pulled himself up to a standing position in three short, painful instalments. “Auldest baby sitter? Ya cheeky wee shite! Av got lunch boxes in the hoose aulder thin you!”

Gil idled over the scaffold planks towards the works canteen and looked back at Del. His young colleague was staring down through a gap in the boards at a passing tanker heading for the BP in Grangemouth.

“Am gon tay check the urn tay see if the water’s boiled fur oor coffee!”  Gil shouted, his voice battling against the howling gusts that swirled and roiled this high up.

Del didn’t look up. “Nay bother, Gil!” he shouted back. “Jist mind an’ check they mince pies on the lid in the broon bag!”

“Aye son, ah’ll dae that!” replied Gil. “Soon as av done a pish!”

Gil disappeared down the ladder and into the canteen. Del glanced up to make sure the coast was clear. Satisfied, he pulled out the letter from his trouser pocket and turned it over. It was still sealed. He looked back up towards the ladder.

“Wise old owl,” thought Del out loud, safe in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be heard. Then he lifted the envelope that held his goodbye words, ripped it into a million pieces, and sprinkled it down onto the welders crackling like brittle firewood below.

Paul can be reached via email at tampoh1234@gmail.com.