It has been a day of rainbows here in the Scottish Highlands. I have counted six in total, ranging from faded half rainbows, to a full arcs.
We were out with the dogs today when Helen said to me, isn’t it amazing that we live in a world that does that, and pointed to the rainbow. I have to agree. I’m almost 49 years of age, and a rainbow still stops me in my tracks. They are a gift from mother nature, a reminder of her power, and that beauty still exists amongst the dreariest of days.
Write a poem, or a story beginning with the line – If she was colour blind, why did she chase rainbows?
Is the ocean chained to the land or is the land chained to the ocean? Are we free is this world or are we chained to a system that benefits the few over the many? Are we chained to a system who would drown those in need in order to keep those who don’t afloat?
I planned to write a prompt based on the above image but when I posted, all I could see is a big rusty chain and it got me thinking. Is it time for change? Can capitalism survive this pandemic or the next? How do the wealthy survive when there is no more capital, do they win or loose? Will the many ever be free from their chains?
Okay. I have a prompt
Write a short story in the form of a news article, T.V news report or radio report named, The Day That Money Ran Out.
Pick a ring, any ring. Take a moments to feel it in the palm of your hand. Now look closely, at the colours, the patterns, the tiny clasps that hold the stones. Now bring the ring to your nose. Smell it. What does it smell like? Where did it come from? Who once owned the ring that you hold in your hand?
Write a poem or a story about searching for the perfect ring in a charity shop. Who was it for, what was the occasion or, was it just a random purchase. Now tell the story of where it came from, perhaps the cashier told you, or you found a name inscribed inside it and looked it up, perhaps it was stolen and you found an article online while you were trying to find out what type of ring it was. Will you keep the ring, give it away, or return it?
Imagine stumbling across an old grave yard. Imagine wandering amongst the dilapidated weather worn grave stones. Imagine a cold chill wrapping around your neck while a black crow squawks from a stone wall. Imagine the iron gate creaking as it swings to and fro on rusty hinges. Now imagine a shadow, small at first, but growing longer as a figure appears below the orange light on the old kirk building. Suddenly, you see a face.
Write a story or poem about the face that appeared in the old cemetery. Who is it, what do they want? How do you feel and do you stay to talk or run as fast as you can? You decide.
How colourful is this photograph? It was taken in the garden of our old house in Bannockburn. I was trimming the roses when I looked up and saw Buddah, and he looks like he’s sneezing. It made me smile.
I chose to post this photograph today because not only have I been clearing out my writing study/meditation space, but I’ve also been sneezing. To be honest, I think it was the dust from the tumble dryer filter that irritated my nose, but I have done a bit of rearranging so it might be that.
I love having a clear space to work. I find that along with regular meditation, and an uncluttered work area, I can sit down at my desk and write easily. I began writing a novel on 1st April 2020 and am now 63000 word into it. I haven’t written since the beginning of December, my partner had a relapse of her neurological condition, NMO, feel to look it up, then we both thought we had covid but, it turned out not to be, and obviously there was Christmas. Now I’m ready. I have the rest of the novel planned out, I reckon I could complete it in a few weeks then begin the editing process.
But I’m ranting now.
Write a short story or a poem in the form of an email. The email should be an apology for not going on a date and, the excuse should be allergies.
We were on our first caravan holiday in Arbroath, me, Helen and Kimber (we didn’t have Millie at that point). It had been a hell of a week, Kimber was stung by a jelly fish, then a bee the following day, but was treated to her first ice cream cone by the harbour while we tucked into some greasy chips.
It was our first time on Arbroath. The seaside town looked tired, ramshackled in parts, but with pockets of charm dotted around and we fell on love with the place. The beach was long, and at one end flies buzzed around slimy seaweed, rotten and stinking. But in the opposite direction, it was wide, flat and when the tide slipped away into the distance it left silver mirrors in the golden sand.
Famous for its Arbroath smokies (smoked fish), we expected the harbour to reek, but instead, we were greeted with the smell of the salty sea spray that lashed the rocks and soaked our faces. The smell of garlic from a nearby restaurant hung in the air, and as we passed fishing boats tied to metal cleats, a waft of engine oil. I was struck by how much colour was to be found on the coast, from the lobster crates stacked in piles, to rows of washing flapping in the wind above a small cove, to the pretty white lighthouse, stark against a blue sky. One night, we even saw a supermoon.
There was one place that stood out above the rest though. It was close to the end of our holiday and we were wandering. We’d climbed a hill above the harbour and had a picnic while looking down at the orange roof tops and the grey sea, then we strolled by the abbey, and shortly after, into a hidden garden. It was tucked away, between Arbroath’s high street, a park and a rural area. We wandered through an archway into a beautiful walled garden. The garden was in bloom with red roses, white roses, trees, a manicured lawn and a variety of shrubs. There was a wooden bench where we sat for a while. All around us, birds sung in bushes and trees, butterflies fluttered and insects buzzed, hovered and jumped. It was a lovely day and the garden offered shade and a pocket of quiet and stillness, a rest from the world outside.
I have such fond memories of this trip, and I never intended to write such a big post.
But perhaps a prompt?
Okay. Write of place of tranquility, somewhere hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of busy life. Was it found by surprise, why was it there, what did it look like, smell like, sound like, feel like? Was it surprising and did anything happen that changed you or your character? Now hide something, bury it, hide it in a wall or a tree or amongst shrubbery? What was it and who will find it?
This is me, my partner Helen and our youngest dog Kimber.
I love this photograph so much, it says a lot about our little family. The photograph was camptured by Helen’s mum while we were camping at Comrie Croft in Perthshire. You can see that is was a happy day, a fun day. I think we were relieved, it rained loads while we were there, but on this day, there was a break from the grey, the cold and the dampness, and it lifted our spirits.
Write a story or poem about a group of people camping, but write it in two parts.
The first should be set inside the tent. The weather is cold, wet and grey. Everyone is a bit damp and miserable. What does the atmosphere feel like? Is there conversation? What can you see, smell, taste, feel?
Now write the second part. The weather has changed, the clouds have shifted and the sun is high in the sky. The tent is suddenly warmer, there are voices outside as people unzip their tents and venture out into the bright open field. How does the mood change inside, and then outside of the tent. What happens? How does it feel? What can you see, smell, taste, feel?
There is so much going on in this photograph and that’s why I took it. It was taken outside the 17th century mansion Bannockburn House. Notice the man in his traditional Scottish dress, the wheelchairs – one neatly placed, one abandoned. Then there is the bike propped under a window beside a 1980’s wire bin.
Using the photograph above, write a short story or poem about arriving late to a party and finding yourself back on 1984. When did you realise and how? Who was there that you haven’t thought about in a long time? How was everyone dressed, what music was playing and what was on the buffet?
I haven’t seen the sea for over a year. Living in Killin, I am close to several lochs and rivers, but there is something special about the sea. For me, it’s a feeling that wraps around my ribs like a hug. It’s that feeling of wonder, the mystery of nature and the universe. The sea is a place for contemplation, for stillness and a place to feel whole.
I love this photograph , I snapped it while walking on the beach at St Andrews. The photo is of some teenagers huddled together on the sea wall. I couldn’t hear their conversation but I noticed the long pauses where they all looked out into the endless grey water. Perhaps they were thinking about their studies or their future, perhaps they were lost for a moment in a memory. I like to think they were contemplating their place in the world, their responsibility to the earth and her future
Write a story with two characters, each going through individual difficulties in their lives. The characters should not talk out loud to one another, but sit together on a sea wall watching the sea. The story should record their thoughts, perhaps scattered like a stream of consciousness, or like an internal conversation or monologue. Notice the difference between the characters voices. Did the sea calm them or increase the storm within?
There’s a house that sits in the corner of our street, except it isn’t actually in our street. It’s across the road and three doors to the left, which means it belongs to the street around the corner. I’m not sure it should be there, or in our scheme, or anywhere that is – well here. It’s not a real house. It’s one of those kit houses that you buy from Ikea that gets delivered flat pack, in a huge cardboard box with plastic ties around it that you have to cut open with a blade. The instruction leaflet must have been massive and I wonder if they had to pin it to one of the huge oak trees in the field behind the house. It must have taken twenty folk to hold up the walls of the kit house while they bashed in all the rawl plugs to hold it together and I can’t even imagine how many packets of wood glue they used to make it stick good and proper. I didn’t notice it when we first moved here. It just appeared one day; all shiny and new with pink coloured pebbles all stuck to the walls and shiny brown roof tiles. I think all of the rain must fall on the kit house and wash it clean because all of the other houses in our street look orange and brown next to it. Since I noticed it there, I can’t stop looking at it. I’ve been watching it for months now. I want to lean against it and see if it rocks to the side. And there’s always the temptation to pick at the pretty pink pebbles that kind of look like the pink woodchip we had in our last house, and after picking that, I got into heaps of trouble – but that’s a whole different story. I think it must have come all the from Ikea in Texas because it has a porch, kind of like the ones you see on the telly where the front door juts right out; like it’s shouting to the postman that this is the door that you need to shove your letters through. I think if I was a kit house, I’d be embarrassed. It’s not polite to be on show like that and it not polite to shout and scream at the postman either.
I’ve started polishing my shoes since I noticed the kit house, and I make sure my socks are pulled right up over my knees so you can’t see the scabs that are starting to peel off from when we played the Grand National along the back gardens in Randolph Crescent. I tripped over an empty booze bottle and my knees got grazed on some plastic grass. Plastic grass, what’s that all about? I bet the kit house has plastic grass in the back garden, it means you don’t have to borrow a lawnmower from one of your neighbours when the council say that they won’t cut it anymore. I saw a program on the telly last week about a woman who was buying a big old house, a real one, and it had a big old back garden, full of weeds and trees and old bricks and stuff. The man on the telly said she should get rid of it all and put some plastic grass down instead. I don’t get it. Why get rid of all the real stuff and replace it with fake?
I’m watching the kit house right now. I’m hiding in the grass in the front garden just behind the bit of the fence that Bert fixed by nailing the gate to it. This is where I always hide. Bert is ninety-one and lives on the top floor of our flat. He doesn’t fix fences anymore. The council cut his side of the grass because he’s proper old. Ours has to grow. We can’t afford a lawnmower and Mum says you can’t be going and asking people for their lawnmower in this day and age, it’s not like the old days when all our front door where open – whatever that means. I bet in the auld days they didn’t have houses that came on the back of an Ikea motor all the way from Texas. I like the grass to be long any way. Long grass means I can hide. I’m the perfect spy you know, best in Hillpark. I can lie in this grass all afternoon and no one can see me. But I see everything. Like the time Peter’s dog ran away, she came into the garden and lay beside me and I tickled her belly then fed her some of my brown sauce sandwich. I told her to stay quiet and she fell asleep curled up beside me. Peter has four dogs so I didn’t think he would be too bothered because he’d be busy doing all the feeding and cuddling with the other dogs. It was only when he started shouting on her that I started to worry. Then some of the neighbours started talking to him and I heard him saying he was worried ‘cause she isn’t well. She looked fine to me except for the big lumps on her leg that made the fur fall off. Anyway, I took her back a wee while later and said I found her down at the stream. I’m good at telling fibs, all spies are. Peter looked well pleased and Elaine – that’s his wife, she cried a little bit. I got fifty pence for bringing her home and that’s not bad for a day’s work. Another time I was peeping out through the grass and I saw Jimmy kissing a woman in the back of a taxi. Jimmy stays over the hall from us and is well old, and he looks like Santa. It was gross really, because old folk can’t have girlfriends or boyfriends because old people aren’t meant to kiss. My mate Benjamin said it’s because they haven’t got teeth and when you kiss without teeth, you could suck someone’s face off. Jimmy must have had his falsers in because the woman still had a face when the taxi went away. But I did see Jimmy looking all around for the Police or something. The kit house is the best thing ever for spying on though. I heard Marion over the road telling my Mum that it used to be a Bookies, which I think means library because that’s where you get books from. They must have built the kit house on top of the library. I’ve been watching the kit house very closely for days now and I’ve got a rash on my knees from all the midge bites. So far, I’ve seen three people leave the kit house with big heavy bags. And the other day, a weird thing happened, I saw someone go in with a brief- case, he was in there for ages, and when he came back out, he was shaking his head and there was a woman at the door crying. Then the next day after that I got out just in time to see an ambulance drive away. Mum had made me sit on the couch for ages while she rubbed nippy stuff into my midge bites so I missed the good stuff. I wonder if a whole pile of books fell off the shelves and onto someone’s head.
I’m glad it’s the weekend again so i can get back to business. The Red Cross van has just parked outside the kit house and there are two men going inside and coming out with boxes and boxes and black bin bags full of stuff and filling up the van. I wonder if the boxes are full of books because the bookies have so many that they keep falling off the shelves and landing on people’s heads or something. Now the woman who was crying the other day is on the porch, she’s looking over at my garden and I’m worried she has seen my orange cagoule through the grass. I bury my head under the hood, lie flat, and wait. It’s raining today and it feels all wet and sticky, even under my hood. My breath is proper loud, and I have to gulp it back because I can hear the clickity click of high heels close by the fence and I’m scared I’ll blow my cover. The clicking stops but I’m in disguise under here. I can hear a rustle in the grass beside me and I hope it’s not Peter’s dog or she’ll give the game away. But then it stops. I hold my breath. The clicking starts again and it’s further away now. I lift the corner of my hood up just in time to see the door of the kit house closing. There’s a box beside me. It’s just a brown box and it has little rain drops all over it. I look all around and even though my cover is still safe, I don’t know how it got there. I leave it on the grass and open the flap, slowly. My belly is all nervous and it makes me want to pee. Inside the box is dark and my fingers touch cold metal, curved and smooth. I’m scared to open the box right up. I put the lid back down and get on my feet. Carefully, very carefully. I pick the box up and hold it in the palms of my hands. I walk through the grass, slowly, letting it brush against my legs. I carry the box up the two steps and into the hall. It feels heavy and dangerous and I can hear my breath, louder that in my cagoule hood. I have prickles in my hair. I walk into my house. Mum is on the big chair watching the telly.
“Mum, someone left thus in the garden.” I lay the box on the coffee table and stand in front of her.
“What?” her mouth is full of muesli and some of it sprays onto the box lid.
We both stare at it. I watch Mum’s fingers as she lifts the lid. Slow as anything and I grab my hood and pull it up and over so my eyes are covered. Mum starts laughing.
“You’re a donut,” she said, “Look.”
Inside the box is a pair of binoculars. Black metal ones with red lenses. Mum takes out a little card and hands it to me.
To the little spy over the road, I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. From the old spy over the road.
The cork burst from the bottle, hitting the wall and leaving an indent on the yellow wallpaper. Fae poured the champagne into a slender flute, watching the bubbles snap to the surface and dance around the rim. She drained the glass in three gulps, feeling the bubbles gather in her gullet, causing her to hiccough. Replenishing her glass, she sipped slowly this time.
She reached into the ashtray for the half-smoked cigarette. Lighting the tip, she watched the smoked wander into the air before dissolving into nicotine stained cornices. The cigarette made her dizzy, so she closed her eyes.
From a pink paper bag, she pulled out matching underwear; white silk knickers trimmed with lace, and an angel bra. She removed the price tags and slipped the garments onto her soft pale skin. Standing in front of the mirror, she examined her body; tall and lean with curved hips and strong muscular thighs -the result of two months of hunger and anxious floor pacing. From a drawer in her dresser, she pulled out a lace garter, the same garter that her mother had worn when she had married her father. She smiled at she recalled her parent’s recent silver anniversary celebration. From a red and brown gift box, the same one that had arrived in the post two days earlier, she pulled out the silver pendant. She laid the necklace in the palm of her hand and brushed her thumb over the engraving – Evermore. Fastening the thin chain around her neck, she felt a shiver of excitement when the cold metal dipped into the crease between her breasts.
Seated in front of the mirror, she wound her long hair into a fishtail braid and placed a ‘baby’s breath’ flower crown on top. She applied her makeup, bronze shades to her eyes, cheeks, and lips that not only complimented her russet hair but also created a gorgeous monochromatic and glamorous effect. She liked this face. This was a face she had abhorred for many years until it had been touched so tenderly…
The sound of the letterbox roused her, and she heard a pile of letters hit the floor, it was most likely bills or perhaps the Betterware catalogue.
Stepping into the dress was like stepping into a daydream. The rush of excitement and the smell of a new start hugged her. She felt rich, expensive but most of all, worthy. The dress was all over white, with lace trim around the shoulders where the material stopped – allowing for bare-arms. Sequins swirled in waves around the tummy and spread out around the waist before tapering at the thigh. Then stitched neatly in the seam, was the Armani label beside a slim and slender and slightly battered security tag.
Adam paced the floor; the photographer was late. He dialled the saved number on his phone.
‘I’m stuck in traffic.’ The voice said.
‘If you’re not here at two, I’m fucked.’ Adam snapped.
‘I’ll do my best mate. Bank holiday weekend and all that.’
‘Just hurry up or my necks on the line.’ He hung up and put the phone in his pocket. Seconds later it rang.
‘Adam Scott.’ He answered in a professional voice.
‘It’s me, Lucy.’ A panicked voice sounded on the line. ‘Is Patricia there? There’s a security tag still attached to my dress.’
‘Apparently they were all the same.’ Adam said pushing the bar on the fire exit and stepping outside. ‘Just tuck it into something.’
‘But it’s on my hip. Where’s Patricia?’
‘Wear a scarf around your waist.’
‘What? Patricia isn’t here. Why have I got to organise everything?’ He hung up. Taking a pre-rolled joint from his pocket, he held it between his teeth and lit the end.
There was a taxi waiting outside the flat. The driver had his window rolled down and his arm hung out.
‘Bloody hell.’ He said when she stepped out the front door. ‘They never told me you ordered a wedding cab.’
‘I didn’t.’ She replied, gathering her train into a big ball and stuffing it into the taxi before stepping in.
‘Stetford Gardens. 123a.’
He nodded, rolled up the window, straightened the collar of his shirt and started the engine.
‘The bloody cake is melting with the heat.’ Adam was on the phone again. He stared at the four-tier monstrosity with its frills and piping.
‘Can you find a fridge?’ A woman’s voice said.
‘It’s an empty fucking building Patricia.’
‘Put it beside the window then.’ She said. ‘Has Tony arrived?’
‘Stuck in traffic.’
‘Shit. Are you ready though?’
‘You’re a life saver. Thanks for doing this at short notice.’
‘I’m doing it for the money. That’s all.’
She laughed. ‘I’ll be there in an hour, don’t get stoned. Love you.’
Pavel pulled the cab up close to the pavement. He looked in the rear-view mirror. The bride was rummaging in her bag.
‘Should I beep the horn?’ He said.
‘No. I’ll call.’ She replied into her bag. She pulled out a bottle of perfume and sprayed it in a circle around her neck.
The smell wafted into the front of the car and he coughed.
‘It’s me.’ She said into her phone. ‘I’m outside.’
He looked at the flats. Posher at this side of town.
‘Yes. A black cab.’
Her voice sounds nervous, he thought and caught her eye.
‘Of course, I’m wearing the dress.’ She held a mirror to her face and laughed. ‘Come on, I’m dying to see how you look.’
He looked at his watch.
‘What? Twenty minutes?’ She pulled the phone from her ear. ‘There’s been a slight delay.’
‘I have to keep the meter running.’ He said.
‘Fine.’ She slumped in the back seat.
The rattle of the taxi’s engine filled the silence.
Adam felt used. He’d only agreed to her stupid idea because he’d had three lines of coke and the promise of a blow job.
‘It’ll be over before you know it.’ She’d said.
‘But groom…’ he’d sulked. ‘…I’d be a better best man, or an usher… hell, I’d even be a better priest!’
‘For me darling.’ She said and unzipped his fly. And that was that.
Lifting the collar of his white shirt, he clipped the bowtie into place. He was pulling on his trousers when the door buzzer went.
‘Fuck.’ He said and tucked his shirt into his trousers. He was still fiddling with the button when he opened the door.
A woman stood with arms loaded with flowers. ‘I’ve got a carload of these.’ She said thrusting them into his arms. ‘Get a move on.’
He unloaded the flowers onto a trestle table and hurried back.
‘So, which one are you.’ The woman asked in a strong northern accent. She handed over a cardboard box filled with assorted bouquets.
‘Groom.’ He said looking into the box and counting out loud.
‘I was told ten bouquets.’ She said watching him. ‘Is it ten?’
‘As far as I know.’
‘Greedy boy.’ She laughed.
‘Whatever.’ He felt his face flush.
‘If there isn’t enough, they’ll have to share. We only made what the boss lady asked for.’
He helped her carry the remaining flowers into the room then locked the door as she left. He ran back to the toilet, sat down and flicked cold water onto his face. On the back of the door a heavily lined tuxedo jacket hung in a clear plastic wrapper.
She’d had her eyes fixed on the front door of 123a for the last five minutes, and finally out came Clarissa. She was spectacular in a white silk dress that she’d folded perfectly onto her lap. Clarissa waved, blew a kiss towards the taxi and wheeled to the gate. Her long ebony hair was wound into a plait and trailed down her left shoulder, tiny blue flowers were woven through it. She wore a silver tiara and red lipstick.
As she approached, the driver got out of the taxi and opened the back door. ‘I’m sorry I never expected a…’
‘It’s fine, I can transfer.’ Clarissa said. ‘If you wouldn’t mind holding the bottom of my dress though, until I’m …’
‘…And putting my chair in the boot.’
Pavel watched bride number two slip into the back seat. He handed the silken material into the taxi and closed the door. He wheeled the chair to the back of the taxi and opened the boot. Both brides were locked in a passionate kiss.
Adam was terrible at small talk. As far as he could tell, the best man had arrived, an usher and three bridesmaids. There was a Paul and a Stacey, and maybe a Brenda, but he wasn’t sure. He filled some glasses with champagne, smiled and checked his watch.
By the time Patricia arrived, so had Lucy and Grace and someone else in a white dress, but he didn’t catch her name because she was busy chasing two boys and a silver balloon.
‘Thank God.’ Adam said following Patricia into an empty office. ‘Where have you been?’
‘I’m here now.’ She said, putting down her briefcase and stepping back. She eyed Adam from head to toe. ‘You look delicious darling.’
‘You should’ve been here hours ago. I’ve had to organise everyone.’ He put his hands on his hips. ‘That’s what you’re paid to do.’
‘And you’re paid to look beautiful.’ She tugged the lapels of his jacket .
‘It’s as well I love you.’ He stepped forward and kissed her on the mouth.
The taxi pulled up outside the newly built hotel.
‘Are you sure this is the place?’ Pavel asked, having read in the evening Herald that the hotel wasn’t due to open for another four months.
‘It is.’ Both brides said in unison.
Fae wheeled Clarissa up the ramp. They could hear music playing as they approached the double doors. Two boys stood at the entrance, both in black suits and shiny shoes. The one on the left looked up and smiled revealing a missing tooth. Fae paused and Clarissa took her hand.
‘Nervous?’ Clarissa asked.
‘A bit.’ Fae replied. ‘It is my first time.’
The hall was decorated in silver balloons. Sprays of flowers hung on the wall and were stuffed in giant vases. A long navy carpet stretched from the door to a wooden archway.
On each side of the room identical wooden chairs were lined in rows. Some were already filled. Of course, neither bride knew anyone, except Adam. Everybody knew Adam.
Patricia was great at acting cool, but it was an act. She’d taken two Valium on the journey and had just finished a joint with the groom. She strutted into the middle of the hall and stood on a chair. There were two brides in the corner laughing with a half-naked minister, one inhaling helium from a balloon and singing Bohemian Rhapsody, a disabled lesbian bride with her tongue down the throat of a ginger bride, and four brides fighting over bouquets. Patricia clapped her hands together,
‘Can I have everyone’s attention please.’ She began counting. ‘I’m missing a bride.’
Just then a door burst open and out wandered a best man, a partially dressed bridesmaid and a dishevelled bride.
‘Here.’ The bride shouted and the three snorted with laughter.
‘Groom.’ Patricia turned around as Adam strode into the room, finally doing his job.
‘If you could all make your way to the front now.’ She said and jumped off the chair.
‘Okay.’ She said, satisfied that everyone was listening. ‘We are all gathered here today…’
There was a roar of laughter and a round of applause.
She grinned ‘…I’ll start again. We all are gathered here today…’
‘Excuse me.’ A voice echoed from the back of the hall. ‘I’m here for the photoshoot. Is this Wedding Plus magazine?’
Twenty minutes later than scheduled, the blinking seat belt signs suggests they are about to leave. Juliette watches silently as bullets of hail bounce on the airplane’s wing. The early morning’s offering of sunshine that she’d been so relieved to wake up to, is now hidden behind scribbles of charcoal clouds and a heavy sky. She grumbles obscenities under her breath, Meanwhile, Isobel sleeps silently.
There are murmurs around the cabin; clicking of belts and rustling of newspapers. Juliette turns her head toward Isobel, whose flickering eyelids border between sleep and awake. She shushes her back to sleep. Isobel shivers, and her pale hand slides from a gap in her tartan shawl and pulls the garment up to her neck; she purses her lips, frowns, then rests her head on the back of seat.
As soon as the airplane is in the sky, the cabin fills with chitter-chatter and the smell of fresh coffee. Juliette sucks on a mint imperial, clattering it around her dentures until her ears pop. The tea trolley rattles past with a chorus of, “Any hot drinks or snacks? Anything from the bar?”
A middle-aged woman in PVC trousers and a pink poncho leans across the aisle toward Juliette. “I think Sleeping Beauty there is needing a wee espresso.”
“I’m sorry?” Juliette says.
“Well, it’s such a short flight. We’re hardly up before we’re back down again.” She flicks her hair over her shoulder. “Besides, the sun’s splitting the trees down there in Dublin. You don’t want your woman there to be missing out on a beautiful landing, now do you?”
“Your friend, your sister, your missus, whatever, I’m just saying, there’s a spectacle to behold down there in the autumn.”
And doesn’t Juliette know it. Autumn, as it happens, is a precious time of year. She rests her head on Isobel’s shoulder and closes her eyes.
She’d met Isobel in autumn of 1989. Juliette was on a return flight from Glasgow following four days at a horticultural course in the botanic gardens. She felt tired and her muscles ached from digging and stretching. Isobel had been sitting across the aisle with a group of friends, some of which were being loud and obnoxious. Juliette had noticed the young woman immediately and thought she must have the celtic blood in her veins to be blessed with hair of the color of fire. She caught Red Head’s eye and gave her an appreciative nod. The woman flashed her a quizzical look and turned back to her group. Juliette picked up her battered copy of Orlando and turned away from the hubbub.
Fifteen minutes before landing, her reading was disturbed by the sound of raised voices. She lowered her book and sat up straight to see what was going on. A man in a pinstriped suit four seats in front her was jabbing a finger toward the group of friends. His face was red and twisted in anger. From among the jumble of words being thrown back and forth across the aisle, she managed to pick out “queer” and “gay boys.” Her shoulders tightened, and she dropped Orlando onto the empty seat. She unclipped her seat belt with trembling fingers and was about to rush to the boy’s defense when two cabin crew swept down the aisle to defuse the situation. Juliette sat back in her seat, closed her eyes, and blew out a breath. Her heart was racing.
“Are you alright?” Red Head tapped Juliette on the shoulder.
“I will be,” Juliette replied.
“Do you mind?” She nodded toward the empty seat.
Juliette lifted her book. “Be my guest.”
The seat belt sign lit up, and both women fiddled with their straps until they were locked in.
“I can’t believe people still act like that,” Juliette said, still stiff with anger.
“I know. I’m so embarrassed,” Red Head said. “I told them not to be so, you know, out there in front of other people.” She shook her head.
“Oh no.” Juliette blushed. “I was referring to him there,” she said in a raised voice, pointing at the man in the suit, who was now arguing with his wife.
Red Head cowered into her seat. “I guess I’m just envious. I wish I had the courage to be so bold.”
They sat in silence for the next ten minutes. Juliette fidgeted in her seat, while Red Head twirled a strand of hair around her finger and whistled under her breath.
“I’m Isobel, by the way.” Red Head turned so that their faces were close; Juliette felt her warm breath.
“Juliette,” she answered; the skin of their arms brushed slightly. “Are you Scottish?”
“Can’t you tell?” Isobel smirked.
“You don’t belong to Glasgow, that’s for sure.”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“Student accent, I guess.”
“I see. What are you studying, Isobel?”
“I was studying public health. Just finished.”
The airplane dipped its left wing to turn and then begin its descent.
“Have you been to Dublin before?” Juliette asked.
“First time, but I’ve been told if the weather’s clear it’s a beautiful landing.”
“That it is.” She sat back. “Take a look.”
Isobel leaned over Juliette’s lap. A ringlet of red hair fell on Juliette’s bottle-green blouse, and the contrast was striking.
“You’ll be seeing Killiney Bay about now,” Juliette said, “and beyond that, the glorious Wicklow Mountains.”
“Wow. Would you look at the colors of those trees.” Isobel turned to face Juliette with wild blue eyes. “Do you want to see?”
“I’ve seen them a hundred times.”
“It’s like the mountains have captured a rainbow.”
“I like to imagine that every tree and every bush, and all the grass and flowers hold the entire summer inside of them, then in the autumn it all spills out.”
For a second, their eyes locked. Juliette held her breath, and although the blood rushed through her veins, there was a feeling of familiarity, like she’d been reunited with a long-lost lover.
“Thank you for this.” Isobel squeezed Juliette’s hand gently before reaching forward one last time and filling the window with hair the color of fire.
Juliette could see in her mind’s eye the Japanese larch, the pines and the spruce, stretched up to the sky and swaying from side to side, back and forth, sweeping brush strokes in the clouds. From up here, she could almost see the forest breathe.
“I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward, but can I see you again?” Isobel asked as the airplane bumped to the ground. “I’m here for a week and I just thought, seeing as you’re local . . . ”
“What gave you the impression I’m local?”
“It’s the accent, I just . . . ”
“You’re right, I’m just playing around with you.”
“So, do you fancy . . . ”
“I’m free on Wednesday evening if you are.” Juliette laughed and felt giddy.
“I’ll make myself free.” Isobel grinned.
“Okay. Meet me in John Kavanagh’s on Prospect Square. Is seven o’clock okay?”
Juliette wore a pair of pin tuck trousers and a black polo neck. She waited at the bar, sipping Malibu and pineapple through a straw and tapping her feet to “Never Too Late” by Kylie Minogue. A few minutes later, the young doctor arrived. She looked younger than Juliette remembered and dressed casually in double denim with green Doc Martens and matching earrings. The long red curls that had first caught Juliette’s eye were tied into a ponytail. Juliette immediately felt her age. But later that night, as they stood in an alleyway to avoid the rain, Isobel leaned forward and kissed Juliette. It was the first time she’d been kissed like that.
Juliette pulls the inflight magazine from the seat pocket and flicks through its glossy pages; adverts, adverts, and more of the same.
“Excuse me, dear.” A voice interrupts her thoughts. A heavily made-up face leans toward her with red lips pulled into a smile revealing straight white teeth.
Juliette raises her eyes.
“Would you like a hot beverage? Tea, coffee . . . ”
“Someone was here just ten minutes ago,” Juliette says. “No thank you.”
“And for your daughter?” Juliette feels a stab in her chest.
“Yes. But . . . ”
“Nothing for either of us. Thank you.”
“If you change your mind, dear . . . ” She points at a button above the seat. “Just press this one.”
Juliette nods and raises the magazine to cover her flushed cheeks. If it isn’t bad enough being insulted with the title of “dear,” being mistaken for Isobel’s mother is deplorable.
The age gap hadn’t been so obvious at the start; Juliette had just turned forty and her premenopausal body was still trim with a flicker of youthfulness. Isobel on the other hand was twenty-one and glowed. Since their first encounter, they’d kept in contact with each other by telephone at least once a day, if not twice. Juliette was completely consumed with love, and according to Isobel, the feeling was mutual. Yet Juliette was reluctant to commit to a relationship, never mind that type of relationship. She assumed, as one would, that Isobel was just dipping her toes in the water and would soon get bored with the lifestyle of a middle-aged woman, never mind the gossip. But Isobel didn’t refrain from trying. Nevertheless, Juliette kept her lover at a distance for ten whole years, meaning both women would travel between Glasgow and Dublin at the weekends, birthdays, and holidays.
“Do you remember that first flight?” Isobel asked her on one of those sleepless rainy nights as they lay in bed together.
“Of course, I do,” Juliette said, stretching her tired limbs.
“I think about it every time I fly here,” Isobel said. “I almost kissed you on that flight. I’d never felt so drawn to anyone like that before.”
“I felt like I’d found you after years of looking,” Juliette breathed into her ear.
“You old romantic.” Isobel kissed her. “But isn’t it about time we began making new memories? Besides, I’m exhausted.”
The flights to and from Glasgow stopped in the first autumn of the millennium. And when Isobel moved in, not a word of gossip passed from the lips of the villagers. Assuming that unlucky-in-love Juliette was past her mothering years and was now a spinster, what else could the young Isobel be but the spinster’s lodger. After all, she’d been visiting as a “friend” for ten years. This suited Isobel well, although it irritated Juliette, but Isobel’s new career as a family practitioner and the sole female doctor in the practice meant absolute discretion. They set up separate bedrooms in Juliette’s two-bed bungalow, in case, as Isobel pointed out, of a surprise visitor or people passing by the back window. But Juliette corrected her, saying that whenever they were in bed together, the curtains were firmly closed. And as for the people passing the back window, that would only be the village gardener, Juliette herself.
For most of the time, their fabricated life wasn’t an issue; the back-room door stayed closed, the room gathering dust, and their relationship shone. Then one afternoon, Juliette was pruning Mrs. Candleberry’s Arthur Bell roses, when the lady herself appeared in the garden with a tray carrying two glasses of Pimm’s.
“So, tell me about your young doctor friend,” Mrs. Candleberry said, putting the tray on the table. She pulled out a chair and patted it. “Join me for a refreshment.”
“Isobel.” Juliette took a handkerchief from the pocket of her shirt and mopped her brow. “What about her?”
“Well, what’s she like to live with? Has she got a man-friend?” She put her hand to the side of her mouth and whispered, “I hear she’s friendly with Doctor Luton.”
“He’s new to the practice. A handsome young Australian man.”
“She hasn’t mentioned him.” Juliette dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand, leaving a line of half-moons.
“Well, I’m sure two attractive doctors don’t need any help from us old hens, but it wouldn’t hurt to give your little friend a nudge?”
Juliette almost choked on an ice cube.
“Although,” she continued, “I’m sure you don’t want to lose a good lodger. It must be nice to have the company of a younger woman in the house.”
“And the rent, of course. Such a shame to have to manage on your own without a . . . ”
“I manage just fine, Mrs. Candleberry.”
“I was just saying to Hilda and Betty at the church hall this morning that Isobel could almost be mistaken for your daughter.”
“My . . . ”
“There’s such a likeness, dear,” she went on, “over the mouth and . . . ” Her voice was drowned out by the scraping of Juliette’s chair on the concrete. She marched back to the roses.
“I’ve got to get on, Mrs. Candleberry,” she shouted over her shoulder. “Mr. Dingle is expecting me in half an hour.” But she raced home that afternoon, stripped off her grubby clothes, and stood in front of the mirror. Then she cried, all the feelings of doubt returning to her mind.
Isobel shrugged it off later that evening. “There’s hardly a line on your face,” she said, tucking a stand of brown hair behind Juliette’s ear and brushing her lips over her earlobe. “And besides, I would be lucky to look anything like you. You’re stunning.”
“But one day soon I’m going to be an old lady and you, you’ll be in your prime.” Juliette shrugged. “And then you’ll leave me.”
“Why would I leave you?”
And for the next decade their flights remained grounded, and together they celebrated each new wrinkle, cried over ailments, and watched each other grow. But sometimes, on a dark and rainy night, Juliette would lie awake wondering when it would all end.
The plane judders and the seat belt sign lights up again. Juliette gently lifts Isobel’s shawl and checks that her belt is firmly in place, then checks her own. She looks at her watch; they’ve been in the air for twenty minutes now, which means there are only thirty-seven minutes to go. She listens to Isobel breathe while all around her teacups rattle on saucers and a couple shout at a child. At the back of the airplane someone is crying. The cabin girl that earlier called her dear staggers from left to right as she makes her way to her own seat by the door. Juliette considers pushing the little button above her head, then scolds herself for thinking bad thoughts. Suddenly the airplane dips. There are wide eyes and a collective gasp, and someone screams for God. Juliette swings her arm toward Isobel, searching for her hand, and Isobel wakes. She struggles to free her arms from her shawl but, of course, she’s held tightly by her seat belt.
The airplane settles, followed by an apology over the intercom.
“It’s okay.” Juliette twists to face Isobel, who is thrashing around, red-faced. She puts her two hands on Isobel’s face and turns it toward her own. Isobel stops writhing and looks at Juliette. Their eyes lock. Juliette breathes sharply and holds her breath. She searches those familiar eyes, still as blue as the sky after a storm. Isobel smiles; a dimple that’s grown deeper with age bends as her lips stretch.
“Hey, my love.” Juliette’s heart quickens. “It’s me, Juliette.” She reaches out and takes Isobel’s hands.
Isobel clears her throat. “Do you have an appointment, dear?” She shakes Juliette’s hands away and starts pulling things from the seat pocket and dropping them on the floor. “I can’t seem to find my diary. What did you say your name was?”
Juliette feels a familiar gnawing of disappointment, but she blinks it away. “I’m not here to see a doctor, I’m here to see you.”
Isobel frowns and sits back in her seat. “Are we on a bus?”
Juliette pulls the shade down. “We’re on an airplane to Dublin.”
“Where’s Juliette? What have you done with Juliette?” She begins tugging on her seat belt.
“Stop this bus!” Isobel shouts at the top of her voice.
“Isobel . . . ”
“Help! I’m being held hostage!”
Juliette unclips her seat belt and stands up. She holds Isobel by the shoulders.
“Is everything alright?” A bald head pops up from the seat in front.
“Ma’am.” Juliette’s favorite steward stands in the aisle. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine.” Juliette puts her arm out to warn the steward to stay back. “She’s . . . ”
“Are you here for an appointment, dear?” Isobel smiles at the steward.
“She’s radio rental.” A little blonde girl with pretend tattoos drapes her arms over Juliette’s head rest.
“Don’t be so rude,” Juliette snaps, then turns to the steward. “She’s just confused.”
They thought it was fatigue at first, what with the extra shifts she’d been covering due to Dr. O’Brian’s pregnancy.
“You can’t just diagnose yourself with exhaustion, then go in to work on a Saturday,” Juliette snapped after finding an egg bouncing in a dry saucepan on the kitchen hob. “You need to take time off.”
“I can’t. Deloris is as sick as a dog with this wee one, and besides, there’s no one else to cover for her.”
“Fair enough, but remember you’ll have to finish early on Monday, you’ve got a hospital appointment to get that left leg looked at again.”
“My left leg?” Isobel looked puzzled.
“The trapped nerve . . . ”
“Aye, right enough,” she said, limping out of the room.
But Isobel didn’t finish early that Monday, or the following Monday, and as the weeks went by, Juliette lost count of the times she’d canceled and rearranged appointments. But it was six months later when things came to a head.
Juliette was in the kitchen organizing sandwiches onto serving trays. They were expecting a dozen friends over in the evening to celebrate their upcoming twentieth anniversary.
Isobel burst into the kitchen with arms full of shopping bags.
“Is the cake in the car?” Juliette asked.
“Cake?” Isobel dropped the bags at her feet.
“The anniversary . . . ” Juliette began.
A tin of dog food rolled from one of the bags and landed near Juliette’s feet. She picked it up and looked at Isobel. The confusion on her face sent shivers down Juliette’s spine.
“We don’t have a dog, do we?” Isobel said softly.
“We don’t.” Juliette pulled out a kitchen chair and took Isobel’s hand. “Sit down, love.”
Isobel was trembling.
After the diagnosis Isobel took sick leave from work and began reading prolifically. Being a doctor, she had access to the best medical books on early onset dementia. She collected them all and shut herself in the second bedroom and spent weeks poring over them. Then one day, out of the blue, she packed the books into a large cardboard box and took them to the office. Juliette waited in the car.
“Do you want to go on a road trip?” Isobel asked when she returned.
“Today?” Juliette asked.
“Why not. I want to make up for forgetting our . . . ” She held her mouth open, as if waiting for the word to drop out.
“Anniversary?” Juliette lifted her eyebrows.
“Aye, that. I feel so disconnected from everything.” Isobel blushed. “Shall we?”
“Where do you want to go?”
So, approximately three weeks after their twentieth anniversary, they laid their sleeping bags on the ground on top of a thick bed of moss and fallen pine needles at the foot of Wicklow Mountains.
“Who needs a mattress?” Juliette said and breathed deeply. The forest smelled of damp mulch and burning firewood.
Isobel tucked a cushion under her head. “We should have done this years ago,” she said, looking up at the trees swishing in the breeze. “Look”—she pointed—“Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers!”
Juliette looked up to see two Scots pines bent toward one another in a romantic embrace.
Isobel turned to Juliette. “Thank you for twenty years of good memories.”
“And here’s to making new ones,” Juliette replied.
“Memory might not be my strong point though.” Isobel sighed.
“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you think.”
“Oh, Juliette. We need to talk.”
Isobel sat up and crossed her legs.
“I know you’re worried, my love. I am too.” Juliette brushed the palm of her hand over Isobel’s cheek. “But if things get difficult, I’ll look after you.”
Isobel turned to face Juliette. “Promise me you’ll bring me here every year on our anniversary.”
“Even if I forget you, I think this is the place that will bring it all back.”
Juliette reached over and held her hand. She choked back her tears.
“Will you collect me from Glasgow.” Isobel’s blue eyes were heavy and full.
Juliette sat up. “What?”
“I’m going back to Scotland. Everything’s arranged.”
“No. You can’t.” Juliette felt her body trembling. That familiar feeling that had kept her awake for so many nights. “You’re leaving?”
“I’m setting you free.”
Juliette feels the pressure change in the cabin as the airplane begins its descent. There’s the usual hustle and bustle before landing; bags being stowed in overhead lockers; seats being put back in upright positions; last minute queues at the toilets. Isobel fiddles with the air-conditioning above her head; it blows strands of red hair over her face and she laughs.
“Isobel.” Juliette whispers so as not to alarm her. “Do you want look outside?” She pulls the window blind up fully.
Slowly, Isobel reaches over and looks out. “No, no, no!” she shouts. “I think we’re falling!”
“Oh no, darling, I promise you we’re not.” Juliette takes her hand. “Look, we’re flying over Killiney Bay.”
Isobel edges closer, her eyes widening. Suddenly, she presses her finger on the window. “Aha!” she says. “Can you see that rainbow? That’s where I’ll find my Juliette.”
Juliette smiles and nods.
The forest floor is dappled with sunlight. Long lingering licks of amber coat the leaves and branches. Isobel sits in the car while Juliette unpacks. She tries to ignore the ache in her heart while she sets about re-creating the past. She lays out two sleeping bags on the blanket of thick green moss, and two cushions. Beside each she places a bottle of water and a bag of mixed nuts. Even though they’d returned to this exact spot for the last ten years, she checks for their initials on the bark of the spruce that they’d carved five years ago.
“I’ll never stop trying,” she says, tracing her finger over the rough bark.
Before she fetches Isobel from the car, she stands for a moment and breathes the cool damp air. High above her, Fred and Ginger stand still, like strangers.
Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway was not supposed to die first.
Margo pulled the front door shut and hobbled out onto the veranda. She put her mug of hot tea onto the table then pulled out one of the plastic chairs. Fastening her fingers around the handles, she began to lower her fragile body on to the seat. She held her breath, knuckles white under the patio light, arms trembling, but her elbows buckled and gave way. She gasped. Her bottom hit the seat with a thud. The chair skidded backwards – with Margo holding on for dear life – and its four legs scraped the concrete, ripping a roar into the night. She sat rigid, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She blew out a long whistling sigh. Clumsy old fool. A large brown moth tapped the light above her head. She watched as it hovered and tapped and hovered then dived, down towards her face. Unfastening her fingers from the chair, she swiped the air. The moth darted back into the light. Shug would have scolded her for swiping the moth, “God created this world for all living creatures, not just the pretty ones.”
“Oh Shug,” she wrapped her arms around her chest. Her shoulders shook and tears welled in her eyes. She coughed out her sorrow in a whisper.
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you were not supposed to die first.”
She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her dressing gown and inhaled the night. Autumn had begun to creep into the corners of the garden in little cold curls, and the air smelled of damp foliage and chimney soot. Margo looked out into the darkness and saw the moon, a white eyelash resting on a purple blanket.
The tea was hot. Margo held the mug to her chest and twirls of steam rose into the air, dampening her face. She turned away and caught her reflection in the patio window. How time had altered her face, it used to be so soft and smooth but now it hung in folds of sagging flesh. And those lips – sucked dry into a shrivelled line. She swept a strand of hair that had blown onto her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. How she missed her long fiery curls, her most defining feature back in the day. Now her hair was as grey as the chimney smoke chugging the air. Shug had barely noticed her changing though. “You’re bonnier than the sunset o’er the Forth of Firth,” he’d say, “as bonny now, as the day we met.” Shug had gone grey first. He was only twenty-three when it happened. In a single year, Shug’s hair transformed from bold black into fading grey. It was the year after Pearl died. Margo sipped her tea from trembling fingers. She heard the sound of a door opening, closing, and then footsteps. In the darkness, she could see the silhouette of a tall slim man walking down the pavement. It was Billy, her friend’s Grandson.
“Evening Mrs Galloway,” he waved, “Starting to get a bit nippy out eh?”
“Aye Son, it is.”
He continued walking. She watched as he stopped at the far end of her fence and lit a cigarette. The flash of orange light glowed for a moment, then he disappeared into the night. All that remained was the sound of his footsteps and a dancing orange dot. The smell of tobacco drifted through the air, lingered for a few seconds and she felt a flutter in her chest. She inhaled deeply. Margo had never smoked, never even tried it, but she had grown used to the smell of a newly lit cigarette. It reminded her of the first day that she had met Shug.
It was a warm afternoon in the spring of 1964. She was working from home at the time, a seamstress by all accounts, though a self-trained one. She had even built herself quite a reputation in the village where she lived. A craftswoman, the locals called her, “with an eye as sharp as a needle and fingers that can turn a tattie sack into a gown.” When Shug turned up at the foot of her steps, a handsome young man with a pair of trousers draped over his left arm and a cigarette paper balancing between two fingers, she stood in the doorway and watched him. He knew she was watching, but his eyes were focused on his fingers while he tore the wiry brown tobacco, spread it into a line then folded the paper, rolling and licking and rolling again. When he was done, he put the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and looked up.
“Are you Margo McNabb?” he cocked his head to one side.
“Aye.” She blushed and looked at the trousers over his arm.
“Great, my Maw said you could maybe take up the hem of my trousers,” he held them out. “Can you do it for me?”
Margo looked at the trousers and then at her visitor. He was short and stocky and the trousers would have been a good two inches too long. She sniggered.
“Aye okay,” she turned her back, leaving the door ajar, “Come on in.”
He followed her and closed the door.
“Who’s your Maw?” Margo asked taking the trousers and nodding her head to an empty seat.
“Betty, Betty Galloway. She said you two were pals during the war. Do you mind if I…?” he pointed to his cigarette and raised his eyebrows.
“Aye go ahead, but you’ll need to take it into the scullery. Do you want a cup of tea?”
“Go on then.”
He got up from the seat and followed her through. Margo filled the kettle and put it on to boil.
“So you’re Betty’s laddie. Stanley is it?” she asked dropping two teabags into the teapot.
“Aye, but call me Shug, hardly anyone calls me Stanley anymore.”
“Alright Shug,” she leaned back against the wall and folded her arms. Shug lit his cigarette. He took a long draw and blew the smoke up to the ceiling.
“Nice place you have, Mrs McNabb.”
“Not Mrs,” she felt her face burning, so she turned to the cooker and fidgeted with the kettle, “Just Margo will do.”
“Just Margo eh? Interesting.”
She turned back around and watched as he blew little hoops of smoke into the room.
“Me and your Maw, we had some good times together, she used to wash and iron the clothes that I fixed, she was always singing, kept us all going so she did.”
“I bet you could hold a tune yourself,” he winked.
“Well I tried.” She twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. “Anyway, those were hard times back then, nae money for luxuries and all that.”
“Make do and mend,” he said, “Aye, she still goes on about it.”
A car engine rattled, snapping Margo out of her memory, and abruptly back to 2010. She jumped, and looked out into the street. It was normally so quiet at this time of the night. The car drove past. Lifting her mug, she took a gulp of tea but it was almost cold. She put the mug back on the table. Television lights flickered in the window opposite and an upstairs light in the house on the left, turned on. A curtain twitched. She watched for a moment then stretched her legs out in front of her. Flopping her head back, she looked up at the darkening sky. She closed her eyes and sighed, letting her thoughts drift off again. ‘Make do and mend’, she thought, ‘just like our wedding.’ In the space of a year, they had gone from talking in the scullery to walking down the aisle. It was a shame it had been such a small ceremony. Not many people approved of the twenty-seven year age gap. Shug had looked so charming in his taken-up trousers and suit jacket, while she had worn a dress she made herself. Oh and how wonderful she had felt in that beautiful dress, satin and lace that expertly skimmed her three-month baby bump.
Pearl was born in the back of an ambulance, eight days late, and after seventeen hours of labour. She was a scrawny little pink bundle – with a temper as fierce as her fiery hair. And those eyes, those little blue eyes that looked up at her Mother and filled her joy. They had fallen in love instantly. Margo remembered bringing her home, swaddled in a crocheted shawl. It took Shug a few days to hold his daughter on his own though.
“She’s not a bomb for goodness sake,” she took the baby from him and told him how to position his arms. He sat back in the rocking chair, and she placed the little bundle back into his arms. He stared down at her, a new twinkle in his eyes.
“She’s a gem.”
“Aye,” Margo smiled, “She really is. Are we giving her a name?”
“Pearl,” Shug replied, “Her name is Pearl.”
“Pearl.” Margo whispered her daughter’s name into the night. “I’ve missed you all these years.”
A cold breeze ruffled her hair and tickled her face. It felt like tiny ghost fingers touching her playfully. With her eyes still closed, she held on to the lingering chill. She touched the pendant that hung on a silver chain around her neck. Shug had bought it for her birthday in 1968, the year that Pearl died. She could still remember him dropping the pendant into her hand and closing her fingers around it. The stone had felt as heavy as the ache in her chest.
“I don’t want it.” She threw the pendant back at Shug. She hadn’t even remembered it was her birthday. After all, she had only buried her daughter three weeks earlier.
“But it’s Mother of Pearl,” he placed it on the bed side table, “Like you, the Mother of Pearl. It’s to remember our little girl.”
“What? You think a stupid necklace is a replacement for my baby? Really?” her body convulsed and tears fell from her swollen eyes.
“You’ll always be her Mum, Margo. You will.”
“Her Mum? But it was my job to look after her, not to dilly dally at some stupid ladies group. She was only three, for Christ’s sake, my only child. I should have been with her.”
“It’s not your fault,” he sobbed, “I should have been watching.”
Margo looked away from him and clenched her teeth.
“I only took my eyes off her for a second to roll my fag. I didn’t see her run. I didn’t see the car.”
“Come on Margo, you have to believe I’d never have let anything happen to our wee girl, not on purpose.”
“Too late. Where is she now Shug, eh? Where is my bairn?”
Shug bent down to touch her face. She swiped his hand away.
“Don’t touch me!” She shouted and pulled the covers up to her neck. “Just don’t”
“I’m so sorry,” he fell no his knees and wept into his hands, “I’m so sorry. Oh God. Oh God!”
Margo could still remember his cries, even now – forty-two years later. She shook her head, dropped the pendant onto her chest, and stared out into the darkness. Poor Shug. He’d never been the same after the accident. It hadn’t been easy for either of them to – just get on. But they did – get on – or at least they did their best. The television had stopped flickering in the window across the road. All the other windows were dark. She was alone.
Margo had always imagined that she would die first. Shug had joked about how he would go off and travel the world with all of their money when she was gone. After all, the success of her sewing business had allowed her to save for many years; so much so that she had comfortably retired at sixty. She remembered asking Shug to consider early retirement from his job in the carpet factory.
“I’ve plenty years in me yet.”
“But we can afford it, and you’ve worked so hard for all these years, don’t you want to spend more time at the dancing? You love the dancing.”
“We can dance anytime. Look,” he took her hand and pulled her into an embrace, then spun her around, catching her and kissing her on the nose.
“But we could do other things. You know. Together.”
“Get on a train and go somewhere new. My goodness, we could travel the world.”
“I already told you,” he slapped her bottom, “I’m going to travel the world when you’re dead and gone. What else am I going to do with all that money you’ve got stashed.”
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you are a bad man.”
But alas, it wasn’t to be. Shug was forced to retire in 2004 due to ill health. He was diagnosed with emphysema and heart problems. It had begun as a cough that had lasted for three months.
“Is it no about time you gave up on the cigarettes?” she’d asked him, knowing full well that he wouldn’t.
“How am I supposed to give up the fags now,” he said, “I’ve been smoking since I was eight.”
Shug had often recalled his early childhood memories to her. He had worked in his uncle’s cigarette factory when he was just a boy. He told her how he would sweep under the machines, collecting the loose tobacco in a paper bag so him and his pals could meet in the hay field after school and smoke the scraps. Margo had laughed about it, and people didn’t know the risks back in the fifties, and most of the boys did it.
Margo worried. Shug had lost his appetite and had grown thin, adding years to his face. His bottom lip was tinged in blue. He spent much of the day asleep or sitting up in his armchair reading the paper. Margo began to sleep in a chair beside his bed. One night, at the beginning of 2005, his heart stopped.
“I saw her Margo. I saw her standing there, waiting for me,” he gripped her hand through the bars of the hospital bed.
“She’s waiting, I saw her, and she was smiling.” Shug tried to sit up, but she put her hand on his shoulder and bent over him. Her back ached and her eyes filled with tears.
“She forgives me, my little girl.” He closed his eyes.
“It’s not time yet.” She said and kissed his finger then held them to her lips. “I’m taking you home.”
“Oh Margo, I’m ready to go now,” he turned his head towards her but never opened his eyes, “Don’t let them bring me back next time. Promise me?”
“I, I don’t know.” She whispered.
“Don’t let them bring me back.”
Margo looked up at the sky. It had turned black. She was glad that Shug had managed another six years after that, and although he began to fade away, his love never faltered. And he learned to laugh again. “You better get spending that money, Mrs Galloway.”
She reached for her mug; it was as cold as stone. Pouring the remaining tea into the wilting fuchsia in the flower box, she sighed deeply. She pushed her arms against the plastic chair and steadied herself. Her legs trembled and she shivered. The night had sunk into her dressing gown. She had waited long enough. Straightening her back, she walked slowly into the house. It was just as she had left it. The armchair, the ashtray filled with cigarette ends, and Shug. She kissed his cheek, closed his eyes, and watched another white eyelash fall to his purple blanket.
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you were not supposed to die first.”
Tears rolled down her face. She picked up the phone.
Alistair stands in a doorway on the corner of Admiralty Lane. The streets are quiet today. A cold air has swept up from the Forth keeping the locals indoors. He shivers and pulls his scarf up over his nose and his woollen hat over his ears. It’s four o’clock and there’s Claire sneaking out of the office again, that’ll be the third time this week. She walks briskly on the opposite side of the road. Alistair follows, keeping close to the old sandstone buildings. He ducks behind parked cars and stops briefly behind a white Winnebago when she slows. The wind whips her coat tails and they splay out behind her, allowing him the briefest moment to catch the slender silhouette of her body. She continues past the Ship Inn. He imagines, just for a second, that she’ll go in, sit by the log fire, order a glass of red, then call him to join her. But the thought passes as quickly as she does, and she doesn’t give the place where they first met a second glance. He falls back, watching her hurry along the coastal path then up toward the cliffs that overlook Ruby Bay. She crests the hill and disappears. He runs to the beach. The boat is still banked in the sand where he left it. Untying the rope from the cleat, he steps in. The sea is calm, and his oars cut through the water leaving a trail of ripples. Bowing his head, he rows beyond the bay. He sees a fisherman cast his line, but it’s unlikely that anyone will know him out here. He sees her standing on the cliff high above the sea. Her face, though partly shadowed, looks void of emotion. He feels a sickness in his stomach. There she is, one hundred feet above him, tall and solid, and morbidly unashamed. He hates her, hates what she’s trying to do to them. Just then, she pulls a bottle from the inside pocket of her coat and throws it over the cliff. His eyes follow the bottle until it hits the water with a short splash. He waits until she’s gone, then rows towards it.
She stands in the shadow of an old oak tree. Over the cliff the grey sky has melted and spread like oil over the sea, with no end and no beginning. She watches his boat glide quickly through the water and feels pleased, she’s played him well. He’s a fast rower though. She’d only found out recently that he could row. He’d spun her a yarn one day about almost drowning in a river when he was a boy, right after her best friend Craig and his husband Terry suggested they all go on a weekend cruise together. ‘But you’ll be safe on a cruise ship.’ She’d told him. ‘I don’t like boats.’ He snapped. ‘No, you mean you don’t like Craig.’ She’d always known it, but they’d never actually spoken about it. ‘You’re right. I don’t like the way he touches your arm when you’re having a conversation,’ Alistair told her, ‘and all the “in” jokes that you have with him. He should have married you.’ She tried to reason with her husband. ‘Craig’s gay,’ she laughed, ‘and we’ve been best friends since we were five.’ But Alistair shook his head. ‘I don’t like him, and I don’t like how close you are to him.’ So, she’d declined Craig’s offer, telling him that she’d catch up with him soon. She hasn’t seen Craig since, he won’t come to the house when Alistair is there, and Alistair is always there. That was eight months ago.
She steps closer to the edge of the cliff to watch. Alistair reaches the bottle quickly. He pulls it from the water, holds it under his arm and pulls out the cork. The sky is darkening. He’ll struggle to read the gibberish she’d written anyway, besides, he isn’t wearing his glasses. He hadn’t worn them in over a year. ‘I can’t see a thing when I wear them, so what’s the point.’ He’d said and thrown them across the floor. It was a month after he’d been sacked from the gas board following an accusation of an affair between himself and a customer’s wife. Of course, he denied it. ‘I can’t afford a new pair, so I’ll do without.’ He folded his arms like a child. She offered to save to get him a new prescription, but he shook his head. ‘Keep your money,’ he said, ‘Besides, you’ll need it to pay the bills. Personally, with the lack of money coming in, I’d make cut backs. But seeing as you can’t live without your beloved Facebook, you’ll have to pay for the internet too.’ She ignored his snide comments for as long as she could. Then one day after work, she’d come home to find Alistair on her laptop looking through her online messages. ‘How dare you.’ She pulled the laptop from him. ‘Those are private messages between me and my friends.’ Alistair stood up and walked out of the room, not uttering a word. She’d spent the rest of the evening looking through all her messages to see if there was anything that he might misconstrue. About a week later, he called the phoneline provider and had the line cut off. ‘Because it’s a luxury we can’t afford.’
She sees him strike a match, can almost hear the hiss of the flame. He lights the corner of the paper and lets it float into the air. She winces at the sight of it burning and looks down at the scar on her right hand. She’d been out for a drink with Kelly and Omar from work one Saturday afternoon. It was Omar’s fortieth birthday. Alistair had been invited along but he said he’d rather watch paint dry than go out with a bunch of accountants. An hour after she’d left, the texting began. ‘Is Omar your new best friend?’ and worse, ‘Will you be giving him a ‘SPECIAL’ present for his birthday.’ She tried to ignore the messages, but they kept coming. Embarrassed, she excused herself and went home. Music was blaring from the stereo when she arrived, and she could smell burning. Panicked, she ran into the living-room. The rug under her desk was on fire. An ashtray had fallen from the arm of the sofa and scattered on the floor. ‘Alistair. Fire!’ She screamed then ran into the kitchen and filled a basin of water. When she returned, her desk was on fire. Flames ripped through the wood, catching books and paper and all sorts. She threw the water. It barely touched the flames. She reached out to grab her precious memory box, but it was so hot it burned her hand and she dropped it. Suddenly, Alistair ran into the living-room. ‘Give me your phone,’ he yelled and grabbed it from her coat pocket. He dialled 999. The fire brigade saved most of the house, but she never saw her phone again. ‘Lost in the fire,’ Alistair said. ‘But you’ll have a note of your contacts anyway.’ Yes, in her diary, on her desk! She watches him throw the empty bottle into the sea, then slips back into the shadows. She takes the quick route home. She’d discovered it about a month ago. That was the first time she’d realised that Alistair was following her. In her panic, she’d ran down the cliff and climbed a fence that lead into someone’s back garden. Luckily, when she reached the other side, she realised she was just a street away from her own. Since then she’d purposefully let him follow her to the cliff, just long enough to be one-hundred percent sure that it took him twelve minutes to get home. It only took her three. And with that certainty, she planned her escape. She hadn’t realised how bad things had gotten at home, until one morning about three months ago. Alistair had begun insisting that she went home for lunch, and that morning was no exception. But he was in a particularly foul mood and she did something out of character, she lied. ‘The secretary is sick, so I’ll have to cover the phones.’ She needed space. So, that afternoon, she left the office, picked up a sandwich, and walked toward Ruby Bay. She used to come here with Alistair when they first started dating, when life was happy, when life wasn’t suffocating. She climbed the gravel slope to the cliff and sat. In the distance, the beach was busy with dog walkers and joggers. Seagulls swooped to the sand hoping for scraps. She sat on the grass, unwrapped her sandwich and opened her mouth to take a bite when she realised that she was crying. She put the sandwich back in its wrapper and went into her bag for a tissue. She pulled out a notebook too. That’s when she saw the empty bottle lying in the grass. I’m lonely. She wrote.
She pulls the backpack from the corner of her wardrobe, it was tucked under some winter clothes.
It was two weeks after she’d written the first note, rolled it into a tube and stuffed it into a bottle that she received her first letter at work. She really hadn’t expected it, and at first, she felt panicked. The sender, however, turned out to be a six-year-old girl who had found the bottle on the beach in Burnt Island. She’d drawn a picture of the beach with a big yellow sun in the sky and a red boat on the water. Attached to the picture was a note. You’re not alone, keep reaching, scrawled in adult handwriting. So, she did. She wrote note after note, rolled them up and tied pretty ribbon around them and popped each one into a glass bottle and sealed it with a cork. Then at lunch time, or if she could slip away early from work, she’d head to Ruby Bay to throw the bottles from the cliff. She felt free in those moments.
She checks her watch, Sheila should be here in fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven. Shelia was the fifth person to reply to her message in a bottle. Up until then, she’d received some encouraging words, not to mention a fridge magnet, a leaflet for the Samaritans, and a postcard, but there was never a return address. Still, it was wonderful to feel connected. But with Sheila, it was different. I can help. She wrote in a letter. Please write back. It turned out Sheila was an elderly widow who ran a small B&B in Broughty Ferry. Her dog Millie had found the bottle on the beach one morning and dropped it at Sheila’s feet. They began writing to each other regularly and soon became friends. Then one day, during work hours, they met face to face. That’s when they began to make plans.
She pulls back the blinds. Two car headlights flash. From her rucksack, she takes out a glass bottle and places it on the coffee table. Then she pulls on her backpack and walks out the door. She only looks back once at the house that was once her home.
‘She’s slipped away again.’ Alistair moans. The last three times he’d rowed the boat as fast as he could, then ran all the way home, but he never caught up with her. By the time he’d reached home, she’d be in a change of clothes and with a mug of tea in her hand. ‘Were you at the library again?’ She’d ask. He would nod then go into the bathroom to calm down. But tonight, the sofa’s empty, the kettle’s cold and although the lights are on, she isn’t home. Then he notices it. He pulls the cork out and tips the bottle. A thin roll of paper, held together by a gold wedding band, drops onto his lap. He unrolls the note. ‘Disconnected.’
It’s been a few days since I was awarded 2nd place at the SMHAF writing awards and I’ve received so many kind words since. I promised you a link to my prize winning story, but I have something better, a link to all of the short listed pieces here.
I think you will agree that the judges must have had a difficult time deciding the three winning pieces because all twelve entries were excellent. I feel proud to have my work showcased with such talent and diversity.
There has been some excellent write up’s about the event, as well as photographs and even live streaming. If you are interested in any of the above, please visit SMHAF and BipolarScotland and like their pages, both organisations do fantastic work.
Thank you if you were able to come along and hear us read from our work, and thank you for your lovely comments about my story.
Finally, thank you to SMHAF and Bipolar Scotland for an amazing event, to Emma Pollock for performing on the night, to Ian Rankin for hosting the event and being an inspiration to us all, to the judges whose job it was to read through hundreds of pieces of work, to those brave enough to submit their work, to the short listed writers who were brave enough to have their work heard by an audience -regardless of who was reading -and finally to the readers who make the job of writing worthwhile.
This short story was published by Fairlight books on 13th November 2017. Click here to be redirected to their site.
She pulled a bunch of ribbons from her jacket pocket, selected a red one, then squeezed it in the palm of her hand. “I wish,” she said, and closed her eyes, “I wish that today will be the day that I find you.” She took the ribbon to the large elm tree and tied it onto a low hanging branch. It flapped lazily in the breeze. From her backpack, she pulled out a folded handkerchief and unwrapped it. It held a rusty nail with a battered head, but with a newly sharpened tip. Crouching down to half her height, she traced her finger over the neatly carved lines already on the tree trunk. Nineteen lines for nineteen years, and the first, still as deep as the day her father helped her carve it. She pressed the nail into the bark, and tapped it with a large stone that she’d found by the loch. She carved line number twenty. It was still early morning and the sky was a brilliant blue. She sat cross-legged on her sleeping bag, drinking strong coffee from the lid of her flask and let her eyes trail lazily over the rugged outlines of the Trossachs. A lone osprey flew from the east and soared over the wide loch, its white belly and black-tipped wings, mirrored in the still water. “Look at the giant seagull Kim, look, look!” Kim held her breath as it dipped its wings, swooping downwards and breaking the water with its claws. “Did it steal a fish?” Blinking hard, she sighed. “Where are you Nora?” The osprey was already back in flight by the time she shook off the memory, rising to the sky, before disappearing into the forest of Scots pines on the opposite bank. All that remained was a ripple in the calm. She took the longer route to avoid the main campsite; weathered hill walkers tended to stray away from the paths and the noise of people. The terrain at the south side of Loch Chon was reasonably accessible, although rock scatterings hidden amongst the greenery at the foot of the hill could be tricky underfoot. She dug her trekking poles into the grass and took long strides, breathing in the smell of mulchy earth and sweet oily bog myrtle. It was late spring and the hills were alive with wildflowers. Smatterings of dog violets grew amongst the long grass that swished in the breeze. She paused to watch a woodman’s friend bat its tiny orange wings as it landed on the spike of a blue bugle. “Is it a moth Kim?” “I think it’s a butterfly.” The valley led down to an old stone bridge, where twenty-one years earlier, she had found a little red shoe among the reeds. The shoe was still warm, perhaps from the sun that shone on its shiny patent surface, or perhaps from the foot of her five-year-old sister Nora, who was nowhere to be seen. She climbed onto the bridge, took off her backpack, and leant over, watching the reflection of her orange cagoule flickering in the stream. “Count to fifty then come and find me.” “Fifty is too long Nora.” She bent forward and put her face into her hands. “One, two, three…” She said out loud. “Are you playing hide and seek?” Kim stood up, startled. A little girl, no more than five years old, stood beside her. Her eyes were red and her cheeks glistened with tears. She crouched down to the little girl’s height. “Nora?” “No, I’m Phoebe. Who are you?” “Oh God.” She leaned against the bridge wall for support. “Sorry Phoebe, you gave me a fright. I’m Kim, where’s your Mum and Dad?” She stood back up and looked around but there was no one else in sight. Phoebe began to cry. She held the sleeve of Kim’s cagoule while her little body shook. “I got lost,” she sobbed, “I lost my Mummy.”
“It’s okay Phoebe, don’t you worry. I can help you find her.” “Will I be in big trouble?” “No silly, you won’t be in trouble.” Kim took a tissue from her backpack and wiped Phoebe’s eyes. “Now blow your nose and we’ll find her together.” She held the tissue to the girl’s face and laughed when she blew a trumpet. “Now, which way did you come?” She asked, pulling her backpack on. Phoebe pointed her finger east and Kim figured she must have come from the campsite. It was a five-minute walk on flat land, and easy to find. “Can I take your hand?” Phoebe asked. “I’m scared.” “Sure.” She held it out and felt the tiny warm fingers grip hers. They passed through a grove of elm trees, stepping over protruding roots and clumps of moss. The temperature dipped in the shade. “How did you manage to get lost?” “I was following the big seagull.” Phoebe said. “Did you see it?” “Yeah I did. But that big bird was an osprey. They look a bit like seagulls but they’re bigger and prettier.” “Offspray,” Phoebe giggled, “Off. Spray.” “Osprey, aye.” Kim laughed. They emerged from the grove and found the man-made gravel path that led to the campsite. Kim could see a group of walkers ascending a softer hill in the distance. The odd tent was dotted around the flat ground while others clung diagonally to the side of the hill. When she saw the loch glistening at the far end of the horizon, she knew they were close. “Kim. Who were you playing hide and seek with?” “Oh. I was just pretend playing. I used to play with my sister Nora, she was five.” “I used to be five. I’m seven now,” she smiled showing a gap where her front tooth had fallen out, “How are you going to find her if you’re taking me to my Mummy?” “I’ll find her,” Kim pressed her lips together, “One day.” “But isn’t she too wee to be left alone?” “She’s lost Phoebe.” Kim took a deep breath before continuing. “She’s been lost for a long, long time. I come here sometimes just to look.” “My Grandad got lost. He was in a home. Mum said he went to heaven but I heard her telling my Auntie Kate on the phone that they lost him.” “Oh.” Kim squeezed Phoebe’s hand. “If people get lost then they can get found too, can’t they?” “I guess.” “I think they can.” She nodded her head. “My Grandad leaves me clues. Like one time when me and Mum were out walking Timmy, that’s my dog, and we found a card with a number eight and a heart on it…” “Uh-huh.” “Well, eight is the number of his old house, before he went to the home, and the heart is because he supported the Hearts.” “That’s a brilliant clue. Maybe you could be a detective when you grow up.” Kim laughed. “Aye, that’s what my Mum says.” Phoebe’s little blonde bunches looked so much like Nora’s did on the day she disappeared. “When I’m big, I could help you find your sister.” She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. “I’d like that.” “Good. Does Nora leave you clues like Grandad does?” “I’m not sure. I think so,” she said, “maybe I’m just too grown up to see them now.” “How can you be too grown up to see clues?” “You’re right Phoebe. Maybe I just forgot how to find them. Thank you for reminding me though.” “You’re welcome.”
“Oh my God. Phoebe. Where on earth have you been?” Kim stood by the door of the park ranger’s cabin. She smiled warmly as Phoebe’s mother ran towards them and scooped her daughter up into her arms. “I got lost Mummy. I’m sorry but I was following an off spray, it’s like a big seagull you know, and then it flew away over the big mountain and then I didn’t know how to come back. But I found Kim.” She said, pointing at Kim who nodded her head. Phoebe’s mother mouthed a thank you and pulled her daughter in for another hug. “You shouldn’t run off on your own. I’ve been worried sick.” “It’s okay Mum, I only got a wee bit lost.” “Well thank goodness you found Kim.” “I know. She was playing hide and seek with Nora when I found her, but Nora got lost. Like Grandad.” “Oh.” She lowered Phoebe to the floor and rubbed her hair. “Is your daughter lost Kim, do you need some help?” “Twenty-one years ago, I’m afraid, and she was my sister.” “I’m Kim, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful for your family.” “Yeah, it was. Mum passed away the following year and Dad never forgave himself for losing her.” “Is your Dad with you?” “Gone too. Four years ago.” Kim coughed and looked out of the window. “Sorry Kim.” “It’s okay, but thanks.” She felt her chest tighten. “I come back at the same time every year hoping to find something, you know…” “Clues.” Phoebe interrupted. “Yeah, clues.” Kim laughed. “I don’t know how to thank you for finding this little rascal.” They both looked at Phoebe who stood with her tongue out. “I’m Sandra.” Kim took Sandra’s outstretched hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you. She’s a good kid.” “I’m so glad you found her, she tends to wander. I only nipped to the toilet, she must have run off.” “Well, no harm done.” Kim smiled. “And it was Phoebe who found me, honestly. In fact, I think she might even have been sent as a clue.” She winked at Phoebe who clapped her hands in delight. “Can I get you a coffee or something?” Sandra asked. “or a hot chocolate?” “No thanks,” She said. “I need to get on, I’ve a bit of walking to do and I’m heading home tonight.” “Please Kim.” Phoebe took her hand and pressed her face against it. “Not just now,” She whispered, “I need to go looking for clues.” “Oh aye,” she whispered back, “I hope you find some good ones.” “Me too. Hey, maybe you could both come around to my tent after dinner. I’ll let you make a wish on my faerie tree.” “You have a faerie tree?” Phoebe’s eyes opened wide. “Do faeries live in it?” “Yes, they do. Now, do you have a ribbon?” “Have I got a ribbon Mummy?” “Erm, I don’t think so.” Sandra said. “Don’t worry, you can have one of mine.” Kim smiled. “I’ll come by here at six.” She patted Phoebe on the head. “See you later detective.”
She climbed down the rocks blow the stone bridge. Gripping onto a dangling root, she lowered herself onto the pebbled bank and walked into the cold shadow of the bridge. “Watch out for creepy crawlies.” She ducked her head. The water echoed around her like whispers and she hunched her shoulders to her ears. She found the line she’d etched into a large rock the previous year and set down her backpack. Using the ends of her trekking poles, she flicked pebbles one by one into the water. After each plop, her eyes scanned the ground – searching. She got to her knees, cupping the stones in her hands, sifting through them with her thumbs, before throwing them into the stream. “Where are you?” She dug her fingers into sand and mud, scooping up wet clumps, and throwing them to the side. “There must be something.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her jacket. Just then, she saw the surface of a rounded piece of glass partially hidden in the dug-out hole. She pushed her finger into the mud and edged it out slowly, discovering a glass marble, cold, and smooth with green and yellow swirls through the centre. She washed the dirt off in the stream then rolled it around in the palm of her hand. Was it Nora’s? “Come on Kim, play with me.” She squeezed her eyes shut, searching her mind. Nora tugged her sleeve, blue eyes staring hopefully. Her pink freckled cheeks dimpled as she smiled. A smile that stretched over decades in Kim’s memory. The red velvet dress with white trim was as clear as the photograph in her purse. Shiny red patent shoes. “Count to fifty and don’t peek.” “One, two…” Did Nora play with marbles? “Three, four…” I can’t remember. “Five, six, seven…” “Damn it!” She threw the marble into the stream and it barely made a splash.
The sun had begun to dip behind the mountains by the time Kim had led Sandra and Phoebe to her pitch. They stood beside the slow burning wood fire and Kim looked over the loch. It lay flat and still, reflecting sky and mountains and creating the illusion of endlessness. “It’s like the sky is upside down.” Phoebe pointed. “I think it looks like the edge of forever,” Kim said, “like you could walk right inside the belly of the world.” “Forever-land.” Phoebe said. “Like Peter Pan.” “That’s Never-Never land.” Kim laughed. “It’s pretty though, isn’t it?” Sandra said and put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. Phoebe nodded. “This is the best time for wishes.” Kim said, “It’s when the faeries come out to play. Come on.” They walked up the stony bank. The oak tree stood alone on the grassy hill at the rear of Kim’s tent; its wide trunk topped by a full head of leafy branches. “Where are the faeries?” Phoebe asked as she stepped into the shadow below the tree. “You can’t see them, but listen.” They huddled together, listening to the tree branches creak, and the leaves rustling gently. “They whisper to one another,” Kim continued, “Can you hear them?” “I think so.” Phoebe put her ear to the tree trunk. “What are they saying?” “They’re waiting for your wish.” Sandra said. “That’s right.” Kim smiled and took two pink ribbons from her pocket. She pulled down a long thin branch to Phoebe’s height, then held it while Sandra helped her daughter tie the first ribbon. “Don’t let it go yet.” Kim said as she fastened her own ribbon to the branch. “Now make a wish.” “You first.” “Okay.” Kim took a deep breath. “I wish that one day I’ll find a great big clue that’ll help me find my Nora.” “I wish,” Phoebe squeezed her eyes tight shut, “that my Grandad will look after her until you find her.” Together they let go of their ribbons and watched as they flapped freely in the breeze.