A Place Of Healing – 07

“Seaweed, Mummy?”

“Yes, Jess, seaweed. Apparently it’s full of good things, nutrients, that a garden needs, especially a vegetable patch.”

Cassie and Jess had worked hard over several days to clear the brambles and weeds in the back garden, preparing a good-sized patch of ground where they intended to grow vegetables.

They were upstairs now putting on warm clothes for an expedition to the beach – or strand, as Jess had corrected her.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He won’t be long, he’s just seeing a patient.”

“On Saturday? I didn’t hear him go out.”

“He hasn’t. He’s in the kitchen.”

“Our kitchen?” Jess exclaimed.

“Shush! He’s not too pleased.”

*  *  *  *

Andrew was not pleased at all. The doorbell had rung and he had answered it to find a Mrs Maggie McAlpine smiling at him.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Doctor, but I cannae move ma neck and I couldnae leave it to the morrow. It’s awfy sore.”

Reluctantly he let her in. She was a small lady with a ready smile and light blue eyes. She had a carrier bag which Andrew eyed with suspicion.

He sat her at the kitchen table and gently put his hands on her neck and moved her head slightly.

She winced.

”Have you been sitting or sleeping in a draught, Mrs McAlpine?”

“I was in the shed yesterday, plucking two chickens for the pot, and there’s a bit of a wind that fair whistles through.”

Andrew nodded.

“I think that’s the answer. Changes in temperature affects muscles, and your neck muscles have tightened up. Just massage your neck every four hours with warm olive oil. If there’s no improvement come and see me on Monday. In the surgery.”

“Well, thank you, Doctor. Warm olive oil, you say? Would goose fat be as good?”

“Er, probably. But olive oil might be better.”

“Olive oil it is, then.” She reached for the carrier bag.

“I’ve brought this for you, Doctor.”

Andrew was dreading seeing the white dimpled flesh of a badly plucked chicken emerge from the bag. Instead, Mrs McAlpine held up an oatmeal-coloured, crew-neck sweater.

“I made it for my Bobby but it’s too small. He’s grown as fat as a porker! Try it on, Doctor.” She touched the sweater Andrew was wearing. “Aye, cashmere is fine to the touch, but I’ve made this from our own sheep. The oil in the wool will keep out the rain and the wind. Good day to you, Doctor.”

That was why, when Cassie and Jess came downstairs, Andrew was standing in the kitchen in an oatmeal sweater, ready to gather seaweed.

They drove a short way from their home and parked by a stony path that meandered down to the white sands and black rocks, and headed down the path to a flat open space with a fine view of the sea. There was a wooden bench with one occupant.

“Good day to you,” the man said. He wore a black peaked cap, a thick navy blue sweater and a tweed jacket. His gnarled hands rested on a black silver-topped walking stick.

“Hello,” Andrew, Cassie and Jess said in unison.

“You have a fine view here, Mr . . .” Cassie said.

“MacKenzie. Murdo MacKenzie. Just Murdo will be fine. And you’ll be Mr and Mrs Shelley, no doubt. But I don’t know the name of your wee lassie.” He smiled at Jess.

“I’m Jess,” she said.

“Jess,” he repeated. “A fine name. Jess of Skerrabost.”

“That does sound nice,” Jess said. “Jess of Skerrabost. Do you know any Gaelic, Mr Murdo?”

He nodded.

“I have the Gaelic,” he agreed. “Not many do now on the island.”

“Can you teach me some?” Jess asked.

“Please,” Cassie reminded her.

“I can so,” Murdo said. “Beag air bheag. That means little by little.”

Beag air bheag,” Jess repeated.

“You have a good ear. Now say Is mise Jess. I am Jess.”

Is mise Jess.”

Murdo stamped his walking stick.

“Well done! You have the tongue for it. We’ll be chatting away in no time.”

“We’re on our way to collect seaweed,” Andrew said. “For the garden.”

“Aye,” Murdo said, “there’s plenty, but there’ll be more of it soon. The storm will bring it.”

“You think we’ll have a storm, Murdo?” Cassie asked.

“Aye. A bad one. You look now at the size of the clouds. And feel the direction of the wind. You see out there?” He pointed out to sea. Three fishing boats were heading for the harbour. “You’d best gather your seaweed before you get blown away.”

They said goodbye to Murdo MacKenzie and spent a happy time collecting seaweed and exploring rock pools and then climbed the path back towards the car. The bench where Murdo had sat was empty.

There was a small metal plate on the back of the seat. Cassie read it out loud.

In loving memory of our dear son, Fraser MacKenzie, lost at sea, aged sixteen years.

She looked at Andrew.

“I wonder if that was his son?”



Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!