There are many ways to die in a lonely crofthouse in Lewis.
In all that solitude you might develop Peculiar Ways and, according to the Institute For The Study Of Loneliness, Peculiar Ways are 17 times more likely to cause your death or maiming than Usual Ways.
There was a man, a lonely straggle-bearded man who had long shut up his heart to human love and tenderness. No man nor woman nor child could reach him after a terrible tragedy one summer in his twenties. He bought a lonely crofthouse, retreated from Lewiskind and subsisted on home-made nettle products and the milk from a sweet-natured cow called Aggie-Louise.
He was a man of regular habits but uneven temper and often would he run out of his house screaming terrible words at the world and scaring poor Aggie who would only yield a sort of thin yoghurt for days after such episodes. But although his habits were regular, and for the most part usual, he had developed one habit that is now recognised as being Type 1 Peculiar. This habit was to prove fatal.
Many people who spend a lot of time alone will talk to themselves. Some will talk back to themselves. But there
are a few, a very few who will cease to use regular speech altogether and find all the meaning, all the means of
expression they need in their solitary lives, in the lyrics of Madonna. In particular, the smash hit 1986 album True Blue.
“I’ve heard all the lines, I’ve cried oh (oh) so many times, Those tear drops they won’t fall again, I’m so excited ’cause you’re my best friend” the straggly-bearded man would say to Aggie, and she would know it was time to go to the stool for milking.
“Open your heart with the key, One is such a lonely number” he would sing softly to the mouse that lived behind the radiator. “Ah, ah, ah, ah Open your heart, I’ll make you love me It’s not that hard, if you just turn the key”
And “Don’t want to grow old too fast, Don’t want to let the system get me down. I’ve got to find a way to make the good times last, And if you’ll show me how, I’m ready now” this man with thorns round his heart would tell the spider in the peatstack.
Then later, bitter and brooding over glass after glass of the all-purpose nettleated spirits he distilled in a still made from two welded together tin bathtubs, later he would grow angry. Sweeping plates and cups off the table in a fury and sending the chair crashing against the walls he would fall to his knees and yell “Where’s the party, Where’s the party, someone tell me, Where’s the party, come on come on” with all the savagery of a rhinocerous with toothache.
“And when the samba played” he often spat at those times with a cruel sneer, “The sun would set so high, Ring through my ears and sting my eyes, Your Spanish lullaby”
Pretty soon the straggly-bearded man lost all ability to speak anything other than lyrics from the True Blue album.
One morning, the man stepped out into the garden to milk Aggie-Louise as usual but right away noticed something was wrong. 50 feet yonder Aggie-Louise lay on her side, not moving. So still… So still! The man ran across the yard to her, half-knowing what he would find but half-hoping against half-hope that Aggie was still there…
He sobbed into her cold neck for about an hour before he could bring himself to close her amazed dead eyes. As he rose, he saw that in death she had leaked a little milk and it had puddled, could it be? …in the shape of a telephone? Aggie, this dear dead cow was giving him a message! Telephone somebody! she seemed to be saying.
And suddenly he knew.
All this living alone, protecting himself from human love and hurt had been for nothing. He had loved Aggie, he
hadn’t completely shut down, he could still love again!
He knew what he had to do. He would run to town and be embraced into the warm bosom of his family once again, the prodigal teuchter would come home. So he ran and ran and then he stopped and wheezed and all of a sudden his chest felt tight. No. Something wrong. Got to get help! His mind worked furiously.
Up ahead was a pink weather-beaten old telephone-box, his last hope. Dragging himself to the phone-box, he
struggled inside, clutching at his chest and dialed 999 – a free call. It was ringing! Sweet Jesus, thank-you!
A dispatcher answered the phone at last. The man’s left arm was in some kind of spasm now.
“What’s your emergency?”
“Tropical the island breeze, all of nature wild and free” said the man.
“Pardon me sir, I can’t make you out, can you repeat please?”
“Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep” choked the man desperately. This wasn’t right. what was wrong with his voice? Why couldn’t he ask for help?
“Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losin’ sleep!” he cried desperately.
“Sir? sir? Are you all right? What is your location sir?”
“Last night I dreamt of San Pedro. It all seems like yesterday, not far away, La-la-la-la-la-la-laaa, Te dijo te amo!” he screamed, his face wet and contorted with wretched pain, his eyes wild with panic.
“Sir? Are you there sir? Sir!”
But sir wasn’t there. He was going away. It would be a long journey but at the end he would reach a happy warm place, a place where the sun shone on golden limbs and where none of the cushions were made of scratchy Harris Tweed.
I want to be where the sun warms the sky, he whispered softly, barely audible.
When it’s time for siesta you can watch them go by
Beautiful faces, no cares in this world
Where a girl loves a boy, and a boy loves a girl…
The ambulance found his body an hour later after tracing the telephone box. Only his elderly mother and his drunken brother attended the funeral.
And that’s just one of the manners in which having a Peculiar Way can kill you in a lonely croft-house in Lewis. Sometimes just one Peculiar Way is all it takes.