A Place Of Healing – 29

Andrew walked quickly on the firm sand speckled by fragments of shells.

The sea was gentle today, sending small swirls of white-flecked wavelets towards his feet. Why did he react so quickly, so unfairly? How did Cassie put up with him? If it helped her to have a tree, a Thomas tree, as Jess had called it, then she must have one.

Whenever he hurt her like that he instantly regretted it, yet he kept doing it. He must stop making Cassie suffer for his guilty, angry feelings. He didn’t deserve her.

He turned for home under a pale blue sky and walked to the winding cliff path that would take him home.

Ah, there was Murdo on his bench. Andrew approached quietly as he saw him dozing in the sun. His walking stick had slipped to the ground and he was slouched slightly to his right.

“Murdo?” Andrew said.

There was no reply. Andrew reached and touched his arm. No response.

Andrew leaned closer and touched the old man’s neck. There was no pulse.

Murdo MacKenzie was dead.

* * * *

Hear us when we cry to thee

For those in peril on the sea.”

The hymn filled St Margaret’s church, a church packed to overflowing as the people of Skerrabost came to say farewell. On the coffin was a Celtic cross of flowers next to Murdo’s old peaked cap.

As the last line of the hymn was sung the congregation sat down and Paul Bryant went up into the pulpit in his white surplice and purple stole. He read from St Luke’s Gospel, then he addressed the congregation.

“I did not choose that reading about the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. Murdo MacKenzie chose it, just as he chose everything about this service. He said he could imagine the joy of Mary and Joseph at finding the son they thought they had lost. They were united again.”

He paused for a moment then continued.

“Murdo said that he and his wife always believed that one day they would be reunited with their beloved son, Fraser, lost at sea. I think they are now united again. And imagine that joy.”

Cassie was not alone in shedding tears for the loss of Murdo and, of course, for her own loss.

Paul went on.

“You know, Murdo told me he was weary and just waiting to be called home, as he put it. He was a great lover of the Gaelic language, poetry and songs. He said he would like this verse of an old Scottish song read out, so people could understand and not grieve too much at his passing.”

He looked at a piece of paper in front of him and read,

“‘Ah, sweet will be our meeting

After many weary years.

Soon my fond arms shall enfold ye

As I call ye ever mine

Still abides the love I told ye

In the days of auld lang syne,

And it’s oh, but I’m longing for my ain folk.’”

He looked up at the congregation.

“Go in peace, Murdo. Amen.”

The amen was echoed and Murdo’s coffin was carried out by four old friends. The piper, Tom McNeil, walked in front playing “Amazing Grace” as Murdo was taken to the place where his wife and son lay.

Cassie and Andrew had thought about whether Jess should attend Murdo’s funeral and eventually decided that if she wanted to go she should, but could leave any time she wished.

Mother and father held Jess’s hand as people followed the coffin to the churchyard. Jess wore her MacKenzie tartan kilt.

“You know what’s going to happen now, darling,” Cassie said. “Shall we go home?”

“No, Mummy, I want to say goodbye.”

“All right, if you’re sure.”

So they went and eventually, as people gradually drifted away, they found themselves by the graveside.

Jess looked down and waved.

Beannachd leat.” She looked up at her parents. “Murdo taught me that. It’s like goodbye, but it means ‘Blessings with you’.”

Andrew smiled at her.

“You’ve been a very brave girl, Jess. Murdo would have been proud of you. I’m sure he is proud of you. Come on, young lady, let’s go and have some tea and cake.”

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!