by Sheila Scott
The dusk is falling and midges emerge in clouds from the undergrowth like dust from a beaten carpet. It’s been a warm day and the heat baked into the stones of the cottage is slowly leaching out. The sky is a weakened blue, streaked with cloud.
Through the tumbledown walls I can see the hills around me. Their purple green is dotted with grey blocks of farmsteads and dressed in yellow sheets of gorse. Its sugared scent fills the evening air and carries me back to peaceful days.
We had struggled through one blood stained failure after another until gifted upon us was our child, our son, my boy. In the evening light I would hold him in my arms and sing the songs of this country, lulling him to sleep with the melancholy that seeps from these hills into our very core. The sweet sweat of childhood would furl the blond waves clinging to his head as I laid him down to sleep, surrendering him to the brief guard of that other world until they returned him to me in the morning.
Time came when he no longer fitted on my lap nor ceded to my embrace, and his father urged him to ‘be a man’. He was still so young.
On early summer mornings, when the croft had no task for small hands, I’d wave him out the door. The hills and river formed the backdrop to his days, and on evenings he’d recite tales of adventure with the thrill of discovery only felt by the young. When he talked of venturing near the banks, I’d remind him: beware the kelpies. With the melt surging down from the peaks, the white water at the falls rose and fell to the pace of these racing beasts in their depths.
‘They’ll take you. Stay clear of the river.’ I’d grip the slight form of his shoulders, urging the fear into his soul, from the bone of my fingers to his marrow. A prayer to stay safe. His affirmation betrayed only pitying comfort. My fear would not take hold against the immortality of youth.
And They took him.
A glistening stone, a momentary lapse of concentration, one misstep; all They needed to catch his legs and pull him from our world to Theirs. His friends shouted from the bank, tore through the bracken at the water’s edge, but the Beasts would not release their grip. They dragged him between boulder and log and finally over the edge of the falls. Those on the shore spoke of hearing a sickening crack as his small body rag-dolled against the rocks beyond.
It was James, the father of his closest friend, who brought word. He stood before us, cap spindling in his hands and eyes downcast, creating a moment that has no end. When they thought I was ready, they took me to the bank to lay flowers; cornflower and red campion tied in a ribbon teased from the collar of my Sabbath best. My broken hands strangled the stems. Friends held me upright as my feet took dumb steps towards the rushing water. At the sight of Their cruel indifference I felt the strength leave my legs, surge up through my chest and out my mouth, filling the valley with the sound of my soul as it ruptured. My bouquet fell, scattered and worthless. I screamed, beat the ground, bargained my life for his. But They ploughed past, deaf to my cries, until my friends pulled me to my feet and carried me back to what had once been home.
Now I sit here every dusk.
The house has receded, block after block tumbling to the thick bracken floor. The roof fractured and finally turned to dust, lost to the winds of many, many winters. A stunted outline of rock now marks our cottage’s hollowed footprint. My solid self waned too; it thinned, frayed and finally shed this life to the invisible air.
But I am still here, and will remain, until he is returned to the safety of this mother’s embrace.
A hybrid writer-scientist, Sheila Scott most enjoys turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Her work has been published in Postbox, Edwin Morgan 100 Anthology, Cabinet of Heed, Causeway, Ellipsis Zine, Flashback Fiction, Bangor Literary Journal, Poetic Republic, and the 2019 Morton Writing Competition. Her intermittently hyperactive Twitter account is @MAHenry20.