Ch33: Stolen Sept 6th-Sept 17th
By lisa h
As I empty the last of the powdered milk from a bottle I have one of those eureka moments. I hold the bottle up, staring at it, unsure how I didn’t think of it before. I fetch my diary and tear out a single sheet of precious paper. I’ve been writing in it every day, if nothing else to record the date. There’s still over half of the notepad left, but I’m not sure how to ask Ian for another. I have to ration what’s left.
I get my pen and sit on the sofa staring at the blank page for a long time, the radio playing in the background. I need to write something that will be taken seriously, not be dismissed as a hoax. How I write my note is desperately important. I rip off the label around the milk bottle and decide to do a rough version on that first.
Please help me, I’m prisoner on an island.
That sounds stupid, and I cross it out.
Please come to the island of Vanir off the coast of Mainland in the Shetland Islands. I’ve been trapped for a long time now and need help.
Was that urgent enough? I needed to put details of me, I’d been in the news. Maybe people would remember my name.
I chewed on the end of my pen, mulling over what would probably be the most important thing I’d ever written.
My name is Emily Jenkins. I am trapped on the island of Vanir, one of the Shetland Islands. Please contact my parents, Donald and Anne Jenkins. Please call the police. Please send help.
I add the contact details for my parents, their phone numbers and address. It’ll have to do. I seal up the bottle and then fill the sink. I dunk the bottle and squeeze it, checking to make sure it’s air tight. Satisfied, I put on my red coat and venture out of the cottage.
The summer has passed quickly, with the nights drawing in with frightening speed. Most days seem to have at least three seasons in them, all wrapped into one, and today is no exception. A dense fog that blanketed the island this morning is only now beginning to clear, a light rain taking its place. I wander down to the harbour and go to the end of the pier. The tide is going out, and I hope that the currents take my little bottle over the water to Mainland. The fog shrouds the hills and lowlands of the island across the water, so that if I didn’t know better I’d think I was all alone for hundreds of miles, with only a ring of clouds to keep me company.
I cross my fingers, cross my toes and close my eyes tight, making a wish that my bottle will be found and lob it out as far as I can.
I sit on the end of the pier and watch the bottle bob in the surf until I know I’m catching sight of foamy white waves, not my bottle, but it doesn’t stop me from sitting there. Only when the rain turns to a driving hail do I leave my place, running back to the shelter of the cottage.
During the night there was a raging storm. The wind and rain shook the cottage and I’ve had little sleep. But I’m up early in the morning, combing the beaches for driftwood. There’s masses piled up on the shingle and rocks, but I have to be quick and get it before the tides come to reclaim most of it.
I decide to throw as much of it up above the high tide line as possible, work my way around the island and then once I’ve done a circuit and my precious firewood is safe, start the long task of carrying it back to the cottage. I’m half way up the west side of the island when I spot a creamy white bottle.
Crouching down, I save it from a rock pool. Looks like the one I tossed out to sea just a few days earlier. I open it and check. There’s my note, safe and dry and here on Vanir, not where it should be. I punch the shingle and let out a cry of frustration. Why can’t it be easier?
I tuck the bottle into one of my pockets and keep going with my task, rescuing driftwood. The evenings are getting very chilly now, and I’m going through wood at a fast rate. The cornucopia of flotsam and jetsam here on the surf will keep me warm for weeks.
My stomach tells me it’s time to stop for lunch. I’ve got cheese and crackers in a bag and sit near the tidal pool to eat. The tide is turning, coming in, and I’ve still got half the island beaches to walk. But as I watch, I spot a sea bird riding the crests of the waves, being dragged out to sea. It swims hard to get closer to Vanir again, then the currents start dragging it out again. If that bird is being dragged out, then so will my bottle.
Excited, I pocket the remains of my lunch and make my way down to the edge of the beach. I’m not religious, but as I throw the bottle out for the second time in less than a week I find myself saying, “Please God, please put this bottle in the hands of someone who can help.”
I stay longer than I should, as the tide slowly creeps up on me, watching the bottle float off towards Bressay. Hopefully the currents won’t take my message off on a long round the world journey. I cradle my stomach, the swollen lump of my baby belly hard to the touch. I need the bottle to be found, and soon.
Ian is due today. I sit on the hill with Humphrey and his girlfriends and children. He has his own little harem. They frolic around me, so innocent and carefree. I wish I was one of them. These last two weeks, I’ve been very careful with what I eat. I still have enough supplies for another five days of decent meals. After Ian left so suddenly, I don’t know what to think, have nothing to judge his reaction to my pregnancy. I might never see him again. He might leave me here to starve.
I can’t think like that. Pulling my coat around me, I shiver in the autumnal breeze. Summer is far too short up here and I’m not ready for winter. My bottle comes to mind. Will it to wash up somewhere useful, with someone there to pluck it from the surf? Maybe there was an old fisherman reading my note right now.
The morning turns to rain and I can’t stay on the hill. There’s no sign of Ian, anyway. He’s off somewhere, stewing over my unexpected addition. No doubt I’ve complicated an already complex situation. Poor diddums. I’m the one stuck here. All he has to do is let me go.
Hood up, I hunker down against the wet and go back to the cottage.
I am so hungry for meat. Protein. Eggs. Bacon. Chicken. I wake dreaming of a buffet in a pub. My plate is loaded high with turkey and beef, with gravy spilling over the edge. As I open my eyes I can smell it, and I savour the scent. I’ve still got some meat in a tin. It’s corned beef and it’s foul. Makes me gag, but beggars can’t be choosy. But there’s an alternative. Ian caught a fish from the loch, he prepared it in front of me. There’s no reason why I can’t do the same.
The thought of fresh fish has me dreaming of food all over again. I’m salivating, swallowing and lying in bed isn’t going to cut it. Making a cup of tea comes first, as it cools I check through the fishing gear. The main stumbling block is getting a worm. The thought of piercing a squishy body onto the hook makes my stomach roll. But needs must.
I search for the instructions Ian said he’d write out for me, on how to catch and then gut a fish, but I can’t find them. Maybe he never did it for me. I feel let down, and yet should I really be surprised?
I’m out there early, down by the loch, using a stick to ruck up the ground, hoping a worm will appear. I try to remember what Ian did and it’s all a blank. One minute he didn’t have one, the next he did. Where was he? I stand up and survey the area. There’s a squelchy patch of land that never dries out properly. I vaguely recall him being over there.
The land is too wet for worms. I do know that, they drown in water. But as I move away from the boggy area the soil is soft, not hard like much of the land is around here. I kneel down and start in again with my stick. Bingo, I see a squirming little worm. Grimacing, I flick it out of the dirt. It lands near me and immediately starts trying to find a way back underground. I try to grab it, but I can’t. Just the idea of touching the body makes me retch.
I need another approach. Taking the hook I close my eyes and shove the point through the worm and into the ground. Cautiously I open my eyes and I’m amazed. Grinning I watch the poor worm writhe on the hook. I’ve done it.
Catching a fish takes a little longer than Ian did, apparently there’s a technique and I don’t have it. But the lake is brimmed and after an hour I have two fish beside me. I also have an audience of gulls, and decide not to push my luck. I don’t want my hard work stolen by a scavenging bird. Gutting them is easier than I thought it would be, I’d watched carefully when Ian did it. Pierce the belly, pull out the guts, toss them to the expectant birds.
Late afternoon and I’m back in the cottage, my fish washed and seasoned and in the oven. The baby gives a little kick which I take as approval. Apparently we both want protein.
Later, as I sit down with my meal, the taste of fresh fish like nectar in my mouth, I realise I can do this. I can fight Ian. And I will win.