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November 4, 2019

Always about Hope – Chapter 2

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.


Wow, I spoke first; remarkable given I’ve struggled to engage my brain and connect it to my mouth since our arrival. I don’t think I’ve managed one half decent conversation. What must everyone think of me? Poor Danny, I couldn’t have made a great impression on his family; although they’ve been so lovely and welcoming.


Robbie gives me a wave as he comes running down to join us. “Hi Emmy,” he calls out to her. She looks up and grins, “Robbie!” she exclaims, excitedly rushing over to hug him. I hear her describing what she is looking for, and watch as he takes her hand to help her over a particularly uneven rocky area, to a new part of the beach that she hasn’t explored yet. Despite being eleven, he’s so good with her, thoughtful and kind; he has explained a lot to her about rocks and fossils. She hangs on his every word, looking at him with great admiration.


He’s a good-looking boy, dark hair, very slim; lovely hazel coloured eyes; in fact, he looks like I imagine Danny looked as a child. His family must have strong genes; you can clearly see a resemblance. He’s become Emmy’s best friend on the island. She’s going to really miss him when he leaves tomorrow. I’m thankful that they are not moving far though, only to the village where I have just left.


“Hey Hope,” Robbie’s dad approaches. Living in England for a long time has softened his Scottish accent. “We’re helping prepare the food for tonight, is it ok for Robbie to stay here for a wee while?” 


Food tonight, oh yes I remember, everyone’s heading up to the farmhouse for dinner. 


“If he becomes any bother, ye can send him up on his bike.” “Of course, Emmy will love playing with him.” “I think the others may be heading down shortly too, will ye be a’right with that?” Everyone was being so considerate, checking in with me, trying not to ask too much. “The more the merrier,” I smile back. “I enjoy watching them all having fun together.” 


“Aye, they’re lucky bairns to be out here.” He appeared to drift away, to somewhere only he could see. His memories perhaps, his childhood? “Right, we’ll see ye up there later. Be good Robbie!” With a wave to the children, he headed back to their car. His wife was waiting, after returning from inside the cottage they are staying in. She smiled at me as they got in their vehicle, before driving off up the lane. 


There’s only one track on this side of the island and one road on the other, leading from and to the tiny man-made harbour. On one side the roughly surfaced lane leads to these cottages and further up to the main farmhouse, then it becomes a dirt track through fields to the lighthouse. 


The one on the other side is a narrow road with a tarmac surface. It leads to another large old house next to the distillery, with a couple of what would have once been farm-hand’s cottages and beyond that, a small number of wind turbines that provide power for the whole island. There are a couple more cottages down by the harbour too, so only eight homes in total I believe. Oh, but the two near the distillery have been knocked through into one, so maybe seven.


Many footpaths make it easy to explore and get between the handful of properties and the lighthouse. I’ve been told that the whole island can be completed in one day on foot, for a keen walker, though I have no desire to accomplish this. I shall take my time to explore with Emmy, appreciating each new detail that we discover. I have seen very little as of yet.


The two semi-detached stone-built cottages here, are at a guess around 50 metres from the edge of the headland; elevated enough from sea level to negate any risk of flooding. I assume their style to be typical of this area, as there are many similar on the mainland. Most painted, though some left their natural grey. These two have a small walled garden at the rear, recently fenced off down the middle to create a sense of privacy for their guests. The front is open to the elements. The mainland facing position however, means that they are fairly sheltered, as the worst of the weather hits the other side of the mound of moorland; the focal point and centre of the island. The lane ends in an open gravelled area, a few metres from the building, so as not to spoil the view from inside.


They look almost picture-perfect from here, with their fresh coat of white paint and the soft grey / blue window and door surrounds. The 4 square dormer windows upstairs, two on each cottage, and steep sloping slate roofs make them look quaint and smaller than they actually are. Danny’s parents have been renovating them, to offer them as holiday-lets. With a growing number of people interested in visiting the island, seeking peace and tranquility and wanting to escape from the binds of modern technology; they saw a market and an opportunity to diversify. It seems strange to think of them standing here unoccupied, during the weeks no-one comes to stay. A waste of what could be a very comfortable home.


I wonder how many houses back in England are no longer homes? How many families will not be returning? All the empty buildings; properties abandoned like museums. Possessions untouched, wasted; just like the lives of those to whom they belonged. I can imagine how traumatic it must be for their relatives, grieving, having to manage the clearance and disposal of everything that they once associated with someone they love. 


I get a flashback to my dream from last night. My chest feels tight, my stomach lurches. Instinctively I find myself looking towards the bedroom window where Danny and I are staying, I feel a growing sense of unease and the image from my nightmare is back at the forefront of my mind. Claire, only not as I remember her; not my beautiful bright blue-eyed sister. 


At five foot five inches and a size ten, with gently wavy dark brown hair, she didn’t look anything like the actress whose place she had taken. My subconscious had replicated the scene we witnessed on the television; only in place of the stunning, tall, slim, blond Australian actress, I saw Claire. In my sleep I had seen her smiling and chatting on the sofa, talking about her latest film release, exactly as the movie star had. The few grey hairs that had troubled her over the past year, glistened under the studio lights. Then, her expression changed and she slumped, eyes half-closed, lifeless, alongside the presenter. I watched her take her last breath.


Waking up sweating, my heart racing, thoughts whirring around my brain. I felt like I was going to throw up and made a dash as quietly as I could, to the small newly tiled bathroom across the landing. Holding my wrists under cold running water to ease the sickness and splashing a little on my face to fully wake me, I peered at my reflection in the mirror on the wall, above the washbasin. I was physically shaking and sobbing. I hadn’t had a nightmare of any significance for years and had forgotten how distressing they can be.


After calming myself, I tried to sneak back into bed, but Danny was already awake. I imagine I had been unsettled, wriggling and turning in my disturbed sleep. He cuddled up to me, wrapping his body around mine, holding me close so my head was resting on his chest. He had kissed the top of my head, then moved down the bed to kiss my lips goodnight. He seemed to know instinctively that I would not want to recall my dream for him and that it was best to offer comfort and reassurance.


I couldn’t relax, so rolled over with my back to his chest and after momentarily laying like this together, my body still tense, my mind racing, he started to kiss the back of my neck, then caressed my shoulders, lightly massaging them with gentle hands. Moving his fingers down to my waist and over the curves of my hips, he took hold of my nightie and raised it off over my head, then pulled me in close again, so our naked bodies met. 


My skin awakened, I turned to face him and we intertwined our legs. I felt loved, cared for, and safe. The intimacy of being this vulnerable with him was intense; as was his kiss. Whilst my brain was struggling with thoughts of ‘how can I do this now’, my body was responding to Danny’s touch. The physical sensations quickly overpowered any doubts in my mind and looking into each other’s eyes, we made love, slowly, silently and all-consumingly.


Then, I slept. Deeply. For the first time in days.


Oh my, I’m blushing at the memory. My cheeks feel red hot. I raise both hands to them to check, yikes. Sun Cream; my face is going to burn if I don’t apply some. Emmy, oh no, I didn’t think to put any on her before we came out, as the sun hadn’t seemed strong enough to need it. I forgot how easy it is to get caught out when it’s windy or slightly overcast. Feeling inside my pockets, I hoped to find the super small bottle which we had purchased from the pharmacy in town, before heading across on the ferry. Yes!


Getting up I feel stiff, so give my legs a quick stretch and my bottom a wiggle, which for some reason, makes me smile; then I head steadily across to where Emmy and Robbie are trying to remove cockles from a rock. Emmy sees the familiar packaging and stands still, eyes closed in front of me. She knows the routine. We had done this so many times in London, I’d lost count. Once I’ve smothered every last millimetre of her face and neck in cream, she returns to what she was doing. 


I find a new place to sit.

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