Ch7: May 16th part one
By lisa h
Ian is up before me, and I wake to the smell of a hearty breakfast being cooked. This man likes his meat, and today he’s cooking the last of the bacon. I emerge from the bedroom, more tired than I think I should be, even after my late night escape to the beach.
“Good morning, sleepy head. We’ll have breakfast and then I’ll be off. I think you might get a nice day today.”
I realise I can hear chatter in the background. There’s a sturdy looking radio on the bookshelves at the back of the room. The casing is black and blends in to the shadows.
Ian sees me examining it, and leaves the food for a moment. “It’s a wind-up radio, no need for batteries. Here, let me show you.” He doesn’t wait for me to ask, maybe I know all about wind-up radios and feel like he’s treating me a bit like an idiot. Fact is, I’ve never seen one before in my life, and sullenly watch him unhook the crank, give it a few turns, and click the lever back into place. He puts the radio back.
“Seems easy enough.” I’m grumpy and it’s not his fault.
The sun is out, and I walk out and into the nearest ruined cottage. The original tile flooring is all but gone, taken over by scraggy plants. Bird song, mewing seagulls, even barks from a group of nearby sea lions fill the air. My mind goes to David again, and a sense of despair comes over me. Breathing in the sea air, taking slow, deep breaths helps.
“Foods up.” Ian calls to me.
We eat with the door open. It’s actually warm and sunny and I think I’ll explore the island once Ian has gone. I don’t think I’ll even need my jumper.
“If you go exploring, don’t go to the edge of the cliffs. The wind can gust from any direction, and too many people have lost their lives falling over and into the sea.”
I nod at his warning, my mouth full of fried egg.
“There’s a tidal pool in the northwest corner of the island, if you go paddling beware the tides, you can get caught and drown.”
This damp paradise seems to have a dangerous side. “I’ll be careful.”
Ian takes our cleared plates to the sink and starts washing up. He’s gone through telling me how to use the water heater, how to heat water using the aga, how to keep the thing lit, which is far easier than me trying to relight it. There are boxes of matches and kindling for the fireplace, should the aga not be enough to keep me warm. The only thing that seems to me missing is a way of communicating with the outside world should something happen to me. The wind blows in through the door, bringing the scent of salty water and wild flowers. I realise I don’t care.
There’s a wind up clock on the mantel above the fire. By 10 Ian is packed up and heading to the boat. “You sure you’ll be okay by yourself?”
“Of course I will.”
“Be careful on the cliffs.”
I nod. “Will do.”
“And beware rabbit and puffin holes. You can break your ankles in them.”
“I will beware the deadly ankle breaking holes.” I try to supress a grin.
“And the tidal pool. I left a tide timetable on the bookshelf. Check it before heading out on a walk.”
“And two weeks isn’t too long? Do you want me to come back sooner?”
“No!” I laugh, reach into the boat and pat his shoulder. “I’ll be fine. Two weeks will slip by before I even realise it.”
He’s in the boat, hesitating. Does he want me to leave the island? I feel like he’s trying to scare me out of staying. He’s run out of things to warn me about. Finally Ian gets me to untie the ropes and before I know it, he’s off, and I’m at the end of the short wooden pier, waving him goodbye.
“Remember to call my parents,” I call out and I think I see him nod.
As the boat disappears into the distance an overwhelming sense of loneliness fills me. Never in my entire life has another human been so far away. Back in the cottage I nab the binoculars off the book shelves and head back down to the bay. I can see Ian’s boat going between Mainland and Bressay, then I lose sight of it again.
I decide to walk all the way around the island. With the binoculars hanging around my neck, and my jumper tied around my waist, I head north, hugging the coast, but at a sensible distance. There is a gentle breeze coming from the south today, but ten minutes into my walk a gust slams into me from the east. I stagger towards the cliff, and my heart kick-starts into overdrive. I understand Ian’s warning now. Had I been a couple of meters closer, my holiday away from it all would have included a more permanent break.
My progress is slow and it takes me half an hour to get to the tidal pool. Despite Ian’s advice, I forgot to check the tide times before I left. After growing up on the Wirral, I am familiar with tides, and as I get closer, I can see the North Sea racing in the small entrance in the cliffs to the pool. Water swirls dangerously, eddies trying to suck in a seagull that isn’t paying attention. I find a place to sit and watch the water fill the pool, and realise I’m in the middle of the puffin territory.
First one swoops in, a mouthful of little fishes trapped in its beak. It regards me, and with no fear at all, hops over and disappears into a hole to my right. I’d thought those pictures you see of Puffins with beaks overloaded with fish were the special shots, the ones caught at a lucky moment. Then another flies in from the sea, its beak similarly loaded.
They are smaller than I thought they would be. I guess I thought they were chicken sized, but they’re not. Their complete lack of fear is endearing, and myself reaching out to touch soft, slightly oily feathers. I’m squawked at, but none fly away from me. I realise that the deep loneliness that hit me when Ian powered off towards Lerwick is no quite so bad now.
I know I’m here to think about Chris and my parents and what on earth I’ll do with my life. But as I stare at the rush of tide coming in, all I can hear is the water and the crash of waves, the constant mewing and calling of at least a dozen types of sea birds, and the gusts of air rustling the long grass around me. I shove my problems to the back of my brain. My home seems so far away, so far south, and like another planet entirely right now. I stretch out, my body kinked a little to avoid puffin holes, and wonder if Ian would let me stay here forever.