Isle of Second Chances – Episode 06


Alone in the centre’s office, Nicola stared at the piles of dusty letters, invoices and scribbled notes on the old kitchen table which passed as a desk. Just as this windowless cupboard, with its bare light bulb, passed for an office. Where to start?

Why hadn’t she said no?

She pulled out the old straight-backed wooden chair and sat down, looking helplessly at the mess of papers.

By question and reluctant answer she had pulled out the facts like teeth from Annie. The centre was running out of supplies because it had run out of credit from its mainland suppliers, and it couldn’t be totally self-sufficient in food.

It had run out of credit because the overdraft Annie had taken against the security of her own house had been frozen by the mainland bank.

She was in trouble with the local suppliers of electricity – some sort of community grid based on wind power and solar power and run by the islanders themselves – but they were still at the complaining stage rather than being outright threatening.

Annie was also in deep trouble with arrears of council tax. It was as well that the council’s legal department seemed to be moving with the speed of a snail, like all legal bodies.

However, the tax situation with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had reached a point where Annie was being threatened with prosecution for tax evasion.

You didn’t get into a mess like that in a fortnight, nor even six months, Nicola thought. It took years of running at a loss.

“Otherworldly,” that islander had called Annie. Downright deluded, rather! A dotty old lady who ran a public service for needy women rather than a business which had to cover its costs to survive.

Nicola picked a letter at random from the paperwork which littered the table. Another final warning.

Three female “patients” in a house as big as this, with no set fees charged.

“We let them pay what they can afford,” Annie had told her. “But none of these women have much money; it comes with the territory of being left behind.”

So how did she collect payment? Was it in a charity tin at the foot of the stairs? Or as a folded fiver slipped into her hand as they said goodbye? Meanwhile, wages had to be paid, with running food bills, bank debits and taxation.

Blood was thicker than water. But it wasn’t family Annie needed – it was a fairy godmother.

                                             * * * * 

 

In the still of the early morning a lark was singing from high above the moorland field beside the shore. Nicola paused, breathing in deeply.

The air around her seemed to shine like sharp-cut crystal – a pale blue sky, the land a riot of colour with its carpet of wildflowers.

There was a strange peaked mountain to the south, completely hidden by clouds yesterday. And a limpid sea, the sand shining green and pale beneath its clear depths, along with the wine-and-purple patches of seaweed.

Out to sea, a few white specks of seabirds drifted in the breeze and beyond them, on the Isle of Skye, a wonderfully ragged range of mountains stood tall and sharp as if cut from purple cardboard by a child.

The sea moved gently and she saw a sleek grey head break its surface, then turn to watch her. It was a seal out hunting for its breakfast.

Nicola felt her stomach rumble: she was hungry, too.

She let her gaze pan round the bay. It was a magical place. She felt the island reach out and draw her in, then shook herself free. She was here to rescue her crazy aunt, not join her!

Nicola began to walk back along the sand and shingle edge of the bay. There were hard decisions to make – if she hadn’t already made them. Decisions which would win her no reward.

So be it: if she had been called to sort out the mess, then she would. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Just don’t expect the eggs to thank you.

A wave of loneliness swept over her. Why was she always the one who saw the facts, while others lived happily in their dreams?

lucycrichton

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 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!