Northern Lights – Episode 03

Maggie wanted to prove how well she managed. She was a good cook, for she had learned the art from her mother. Now the range pulsed with heat, Maggie set to work. Soon there were bannocks and scones fresh from the griddle and a pot of barley broth simmering on the hob.

Fresh herring, gutted, salted and rolled in coarse oatmeal, waited on the larder’s cold stone shelves for frying when her siblings returned from work.

They came in as Maggie set the table. After days of half-raw food, eaten without complaint because their bellies rumbled with emptiness, the scene verged upon miraculous.

“I have bad news,” Maggie said.

“Is Napoleon come tae invade us?” Amy, the youngest, gave a scream.

Maggie shook her head.

“The man wouldna dare. No, it’s worse. Grandmother Spink has come frae Auchmithie.”

Their eyes widened.

“Where is she?” her brother, Alec, demanded.

“In Papa’s room.”

Their gaze swivelled along the corridor.

“Why has she come?” Cathy Mary asked.

She was the bonniest of the three sisters. Even after a hard day’s work in the seamstress’s sweat shop she still looked bonnie.

“She thought it was time to care for us.”

Alec snorted.

“What did ye say?”

“That we’d no need o’ her, of course.”

The traitorous fire burned up brightly at that moment.

Maggie shrugged.

“She has a knack wi’ the fire and offers tae stay for seven days to stoke it. I could learn from her how to do it, and we’ll be rid o’ her at the end o’ seven days,” she said just as the door at the end of the corridor opened.

The sound of voices had roused Lilias. She replaced her daughter’s portrait tenderly before taking a deep breath and opening the door. She made no sign she’d heard Maggie.

Maggie introduced them.

“Grandmother hasna seen ye for five years and wouldna ken ye if she met you in her porridge. She’s even lost count o’ your age,” she added.

The older children remained unmoved but Lilias noted that the youngest looked stricken, tears glistening in the lamplight before the child knuckled them away.

Maggie pointed to her brother.

“You’ll mind that he’s named Alexander, although we call him Alec. Alec’s fifteen.”

She turned to her sisters.

“This is Cathy Mary, named after our mother. She’s just gone fourteen and wee Amy is twelve.”

Cathy Mary was the very image of Lilias’s dead daughter. To look at her was heartbreaking.

“Thank ye, Maggie,” Lilias said. “I’ll no’ forget.”

“Aye, weel.” Maggie cleared her throat. “I’ll leave ye to get to ken one anither. I’ve fish tae fry.”

She escaped into the larder and silence settled over the room.

Lilias was used to silence, but for the youngsters faced with this unknown grandmother, the hush was purgatory.

Amy was curious. Most of her friends had fisher-women for grandmothers, fat women with strident voices, who cuddled motherless Amy to bosoms that smelled of herring.

Amy sensed this grandmother was different.

“Maggie says you have a knack wi’ the fire,” she said.

“So I do,” Lilias agreed.

“Will you show her how?”

“If she’s willing tae learn.”

Maggie returned at that moment bearing a platter of herring ready to fry on the hot griddle.

To Lilias’s surprise it was a tasty meal. The girl could cook. The fish was perfect and Lilias could see that all they needed was a reliable heat source.

A sobering thought. What if her grandchildren had no need of her?

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!