by Cath Barton
We’d always said we should go there in summertime, Edward and I, but the thought of the midges had put me off before. Now the pull of the island was so great that even if I was to be bitten all over I had to go there once more. Drown the itching with generous libations of whisky if need be.
The day of the crossing dawned picture perfect. Sinclair and I didn’t talk much over breakfast, just looked out through the big conservatory window of the guest house, each consumed by our own thoughts. The water was so calm, you’d have thought you could walk on it. A blue swirled carpet leading to the velvet green shore. The twin peaks were etched against the morning sky, drawn in fine charcoal, like one of Edward’s sketches.
We walked slowly down to the jetty, Sinclair and I, him gently guiding me, holding my arm so I wouldn’t stumble on the cobbles. The ferry was there, ready for us and the gaggle of visitors. I could tell from their exclamations that most of them had never been to the island before. They were clearly full of questions about it, but they would find their own answers, as we all have to.
The chains clanked as the boat pulled away into the sea loch. The squawking of the fulmars accompanied us until we were well out from the shore and then all sounds fell away. I stood on the deck, content to feel the sway of the sea and the island reeling me in. I talked to Edward in my mind. Sinclair put his arm around me and I lent my head on his shoulder. My strong boy.
Over to the west, towards the sea, the air was smoke-greyed. You’d have said a funeral pyre at sea, had such a thing been possible in the Isles. A whiff of India came strongly into my nostrils. Forty years since we’d left and the scent as strong as the first time I’d smelt it at Varanesi. Pungent, repellent. I’d longed then for home, for the cool of the island. Of course, after we’d returned the depths of winter cold had too quickly got too much for Edward, and somehow the years had marooned us in what he and I had always known as the Home Counties. Even though they were never really home for us.
A few months after Edward’s death I’d received a letter written in a florid hand. An artist who had moved to the island from America had come across some of his drawings and politely sought my permission to put on an exhibition. Careless with grief, I’d been less than generous in my reply. I regretted that now, but Sinclair kept telling me to set regrets aside. And so I had. And had undertaken this journey for his sake, his father’s and, I admit, my own.
The island grew larger and the rest of the world with all its sorrows retreated. Sinclair jumped onto the jetty and offered me his hand. I smiled, stepped ashore as lightly as if I were a young woman again and found myself able to walk, once more, unaided.
Cath Barton is of Scottish descent, though she’s lived all her life in England and, most recently, Wales.