Book Week Scotland 2016

In our celebration of Book Week Scotland we are showcasing some of the work of our authors, starting with the short story Burning Barbara's Boats.

 

A taste of what's to come in Spinning A Yarn...

The day for flitting dawned soft-hued and moved noonward in shades of forget-me-not.

 

"Such a promising day," mumbled Barbara with little spare breath for praise.

Alan reversed the hired van to the head of the incline and nudged it cleverly towards the open front door.

"There you go, Babs, just as you said.  Don't do anything till Mike gets here.  No lifting for you, Babs, not today.  I'm keeping my eye on you.  You can boss us around, that's all."

Barbara wondered if she would ever feel at home in her new world of inaction.  She had labelled every box, having lovingly enshrouded each item with newspaper.  She had taped the boxes with broad brown bands of stickiness.  Depending on the size and weight of  each, her shoulders, elbows, knees and feet had variously been used to shunt into line a causeway of cardboard running from the kitchen, through the hallway then side-stepping into the living room.

 

Bare walls around her were punctuated with picture hooks.  She hadn't removed them for fear of taking away pieces of plaster.  The light bulbs hung above her, shadeless, with pearly nudity displayed on greying flex.  The empty fire grate was the saddest of all.  There were no ashes.  Barbara had cleaned it out.  She felt satisfied that the next people would be at home once they had put match to paper in the yawning fireplace.  Heart and hearth are as one.

"Alan," a pause, then "Alan, you do think this is the right thing for me to do, don't you?"

"Why wouldn't it be, Babs?  You're on your own now.  You can't live out here on your own."

Barbara gave him a smile, affectionate yet unassured.

"We all had such wonderful times here though, Alan, didn't we?  Do you remember when Duncan came up from Dingwall and there was so much snow that he couldn't get back?  He couldn't even get onto the back road.  That was a Christmas to remember.  He was supposed to be back in Dingwall for Hogmanay but we were snowbound.  It wasn't what any of us expected but he and Archie were busy in the byre by daylight and Barley-Bree came out in the evening.  The games we played!  Happy fools!  I tried to keep up.  I tried to follow what they were about but it was all too clever for me.  They emptied the malt and the rhubarb wine and there wasn't much tatty wine left either.  All that was left was the Babycham!  Those were grand days, Alan.  Good memories."

Alan appeared to be checking out the boxes.  He wanted the conversation to be about the future, Barbara's future.  He didn't want her to look back.  She wouldn't remember recent times, she couldn't bear to do that.

"This one is really light.  What have you got in here Babs?"

Barbara couldn't remember.  She went over to the box and read out the neat capital letters on the carefully positioned label,

"Bedroom lampshade.  It says here, see."

"Of course it does!"

Good!  Barbara was back in the present and looking through the deep-set window for sight of Mike.

"What time did Mike say he'd get here?"

"He didn't Babs.  He just  said he had to take Liza to Elsa's before he came.  I don't reckon he'll be long now  though."

The view was achingly beautiful.  To glance through the window was never sufficient, to gaze was pure gold.  How many mornings had Barbara woken up to this?  It seemed a part of her, and she of it.  She had seen, in plenty, artwork and photography of exotic locations but Barbara never wanted to overlook any hillside, any stretch of water, any mountain but this one.  The brow of the mountain tipped its cap to her each morning.  The evening light became a kaleidoscope mantle, and there was peace.

"Have you seen him Babs?"

But Barbara didn't hear Alan.  She heard the curlew and the soft lowing of the cows. An oyster catcher startled her as it flew low over the dyke.  She heard childish laughter and excited greetings.  A lullaby pacified a restless baby.  She heard an ancient tractor chugging up the track.  There was her own young voice too, working with Bess, or was it Glad?  The dogs were panting alongside the flock as shadows lengthened.  Barbara didn't hear the hurt nor did she remember the losses.

"There's a white van down the hillside.  Do you think that's Mike?  Look Babs, it's turning."

"I'm not ready Alan.  I don't want to leave yet.  Just a while longer."

She rested in the old nursing chair by the window, her neck becoming taut as she let her head fall back.  Her eyes were closing and, behind them, faces smiled at her, hands reached out.  She sat up suddenly,

 

"They don't want me to go!"

"We all want you to go, Babs.  Everyone knows how separated you are up here.  You're cut off from us now.  You're isolated and there's no need for it."

"But they don't want me to go."

"Who are they?"

"Father, Archie, Mother, Eva, Grace . . "

"They aren't with us now Barbara.  They're waiting for you but you're not ready to join them just yet.  Wait a while, Babs, there's more to be done."

"But we've been here so long Alan.  You know we have.  Generations!  And it isn't just those I remember.  There are forbears of theirs too.  Folk who went before.  They've all looked out across the water, Alan, they've wondered and connected with it all.  I'll be breaking the chain.  I'll be the one to stop the magic.  I don't think I can do it, Alan, I really don't."

Alan had known Barbara since they were at school together and he was aware of her qualities.  He knew her strengths.  That is what he had seen.  Once in a while he had spotted her weaknesses.  This was something different, something with which he was unable to deal convincingly.  He hadn't expected this, a few tears maybe, but not her articulation of this depth of feeling.  He sighed, placed his broad hand on her bony shoulder, then clumsily took out his tape measure and appeared to occupy himself with sorting out the boxes and small items of furniture according to their size.  The truth was, he was just passing time until Mike showed up.  He was completely empty of any effective words to make Barbara feel convinced this was right.  He was aware that, whatever he chose to say, he was capable of making things even more uncomfortable for his sister-in-law.

After an age, Mike arrived and parked his van to the side of Alan's.  Mike was not a talker, he wasn't really a thinker either.  He grunted a greeting, glanced over the sea of cardboard and immediately started loading boxes into Alan's van.  Alan followed his lead.

 

Mike was a doer and those who worked alongside him became doers too.  They just followed Mike.  Alan just followed Mike.

"Leave the chair, Mike.  Barbara wants to sit a while."

"Right you are."

The two men loaded the boxes with little effort.  Barbara turned to each of them and, with her thankful smile, she acknowledged their kindness and generosity.  No one expected Barbara to do the flitting.  There had been exasperation when the women discovered the empty shelves and full cartons.  They had meant to have put their collective hand to that.  She was grateful for every little thing that anyone ever did for her but she was fiercely independent.  It was a struggle now though.

Silvering of the water drew Barbara back to the window.  Her dancing eyes took it all in.  They danced around as the shards of light danced up and down the firth.  They danced with the curlews probing the hay meadow.  They danced by the hare lurching down the grassy slope.  They took in the cattle by the water's edge and then skimmed the shining water, as stones, to the foot of the hills on the far shore.  Slowly they climbed to the top of the mountain, attempting to commit every detail to memory.  Those eyes had rested there many  times.

There were sounds behind her, sounds of men working, familiar sounds.  A small yacht ghosted along the water and, some distance from that, the squat ferry chugged between shores with its friendly, engaging engine noise.  Barbara's eyes closed and she was flitting through the years, away from the present.  Weathered faces with rheumy eyes glowed as beacons.  Smoke from pipes and laughter drew her in.  An aunt, with apron covered head, played peek-a-boo.  A young man called with myrtle and manners.  Then, so softly, 

"Barbara."

She opened her eyes, still fixed in front, towards the water.

"Barbara."

In noiseless calm, a vessel, ablaze with crimson, rust and gold, drifted towards the shimmering ocean.  Its brilliance reached across the water and swaddled her.  Such rest, such peace.  In that moment of rapture, Barbara was loved.  She had come home.

Burning Barbara's Boats

by Susan Crow

© 2019 by Crowvus, 53 Argyle Square, Wick, KW1 5AJ

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