Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 13

Dropping down the final slope in the island road to see the blue sea spread out in front of her and the mountains of Rum to her left, the air she breathed was like champagne.

She felt exhilarated, full of energy.

Above her a lark was singing. Around her the yellow blossom on the broom bushes smelled like coconut oil.

Behind her, long stretches of the island road had grass growing between the tracks; a semi-wilderness, untouched by the mainland and its problems.

At the top of the climb, across the island from the eastern shore, she had stood for ages, watching a huge bird effortlessly ride higher and higher round a thermal of air.

From its wingspan, she had guessed it might be a golden eagle. She would ask either Donald or Sandy when she returned home.

Nicola blinked. Home. Why that word? It was Annie’s house, her quiet harbour for the wounded people who came to it.

Nicola wasn’t wounded, and had only been here for a few days. It was ridiculous to think of it as home.

She stopped, breathing deeply the crisp air and its myriad scents. The whole island was so seductive.

She could understand why people left to seek their fortune, and then came home – and why others never left at all.

The island, with its carpet of wildflowers, its peace and its silences, was a refuge from the wear and tear and stress of modern living.

And people were so friendly. On her walk across the island, twice she had seen a woman come out from her croft and walk along its path towards the road, then stand there waiting to chat with her.

It had come as a shock to realise that the whole island knew about her, and why she was there. Bush telegraph communication.

The women, in the way of Highlanders, had talked easily about everything and anything while they had sidled up to the main question – was she going to close the centre, and if she did, what would happen to Annie, who was clearly well liked on the island?

Nicola winced. She had been so preoccupied with guarding the privacy of her plans for the centre that both women had slipped adroitly through her defences and had started asking questions about her.

What did she do for a living? Where did she live? Was she married; did she have any children? If so, what were they doing while she was up here in the Small Isles?

It was a gentle but still remorseless version of the Spanish Inquisition! These women were impossible to head off and impervious to hints that these were private areas in her life that she didn’t wish to disclose to strangers.

She had been astutely manoeuvred into telling them that she wasn’t married and had no intention of ever being married, nor having children.

They had stared at her. Why not? This drove her into further explanations, although on the mainland she would simply have said something cutting and walked away.

Because she had a career, she had told them. She was a career woman, not a housewife.

“A career?” one of them had said. “That’s all very well, but what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

Nicola had struggled to find a ready answer. She had refused their offers to come in for a cup of tea and a craic – dreading to think where that chat would lead in terms of further probing.

Feeling their eyes bore into her back, she had walked on without needing to turn around to know they were watching her, but gently. And – disturbingly – with a sense of pity.

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!