A Man on an Island Ch. 06byTaLtos6©
***I feel as though I'm racing the clock and I know that this will be late for Christmas, but still ... I just wanted this part to carry a little romance and a touch of magic in a Christmass-y sort of way.
I ought to mention that this is quite obviously a work of fiction - and to my knowledge, though Cu Sith as a phenomenon was known in Scotland for centuries here and there, there is no connection to the families mentioned in this, just as their slightly different way of looking at things is fictitious as well.
Finally, to avoid confusion, 'Sylvia' is not her real name - it's only something anglicized. Her name is Sile, which is an old form of Sheelah. Cale learns pretty quickly that she likes to hear that from him in a private moment.
Cale found her back in the place where they'd slept as he came back in with Rufus and she was smiling a little smugly with the fur up to her chin, but she looked surprised when he went right on by. "Where are you going?"
"To the bathroom," he said with a bit of a shrug.
"Well I'd have thought that you'd have just done what Rufus did," she said, "You're a man. Shit, if I could suddenly pee standing up like you guys, I think I'd spend the first two days drinking gallons of tea just so I could laugh my ass off while I peed like that to write my name in the snow."
He laughed at the thought of it in his mind before he said, "I want to brush my teeth. Hey, do you want to use my toothbrush first?"
"No," she said airily, "I washed it off and used it already. Then I washed it again. You don't mind, do you? I was pretty sure that you'd be ok with it."
"That's fine," he chuckled, "I don't mind. Besides the horses, what have you got on the go today?"
"I want to go see my Gramma at the home. She gets lonely there over with my parents in Florida all winter."
"Can I come?" he asked from the top of the stairs and speaking with a toothbrush accent, "I didn't know that she was still alive. I'd love to see her."
"Sure," Sylvia said, "I wasn't going to give you a vote. There's family business to tell of. If I didn't go see her the first chance I got, I'd be looking at nothing other than quickly souring milk for the next month."
She stared at him with a sweet smile as he came back to her. "I didn't think right away," she said, "I've only just noticed that you were outside like that in just your pants and boots."
He took the clothing off and was back against her before she could see a possible downside and she fought against him laughing as he held her tightly to him, "Christ, you're as cold as a grave and you pull just as strongly."
"Sorry," he grinned as he moved away a little, but she was on him then, "I didn't tell you not to, did I? I'm used to it now."
"Not that I'm complaining," he smiled, "But it's almost daylight out there and there are these horses over the hill and I think it would be better to see to them before they figure out that you're here and hike on over to remind you."
"Yeah," she nodded, "and at least three of them are bright enough to do it, too."
"Hey, if we're going to the home, I probably ought to shave."
"No," she grinned as she rubbed his cheek a little, "I kind of like it and you're on vacation. Besides, Gramma won't mind a man looking like what he is. She's always been someone with a lust for life, and she thinks that the world would be a better place if we all just remembered what we are.
She'd be the first one to make a quiet comment under her breath about the behaviour of ... well for example, a woman who acts like a slut to excess by her actions -- but when that woman is in a quiet place with her man, she'd have even more to say if she acted as though she wasn't anything. Men are men, she'd say, and women ought to be women. In her view, there's a time and a place for being the way that we were intended to be. She'd tell you that everybody would get along a whole lot better if they got laid more."
He sighed, "You know, I've always like her. How do you think that she'll take the news about you and Paul?"
Sylvia laughed, "You might as well get used to something about us." She lowered her voice as though what she wanted to say was a big secret or something like that, "If you get us all together in a room -- Gramma, my Mom, Siobhan and me, we'll all drive you nuts. If we're having tea, and Gramma wants the cream, she'll say, "Could you please pass me the -- "
She won't finish the question because she won't need to; the rest of us will all know what she means and someone will hand it over while you're still waiting and eager to get her what she never asks for. That's our way. That's the way that all of the women in my part of the family have always been.
I'm not the only one who feels things. Oh, I'll bring it up because it's better that I do it before she does, but trust me, Cale, if I know my grandmother at all, she already knows."
The old woman looked up from her book in a little disbelief as they walked in. "Hi Gramma," Sylvia smiled, "I've brought you a playmate."
Sylvia's grandmother laughed then, "Oh I wish that were true. What I'd want to do to a man like him -- why it just wouldn't be proper. It'd be a lot of fun, though." She was more than twice Cale's age at eighty-seven, yet her aged eyes were clear and they still shone and twinkled the way that he remembered her.
She sat up a little and held out her hand, "Well, I must say that you've turned into something remarkable, Cale Taylor. Sile told me that you were living on our land and in the old house by the stream. It does me good to know that you're there. That old place as seen a lot of living, you know. I hear that you've got it starting to look respectable again."
She nodded once, "I might decide to stick around long enough to see it come the summer."
Cale smiled, "All of the living causes me a few little problems with some decisions. The stairs are worn, but they're made of such thick wood that I doubt they'll wear out in my lifetime. All the same, they've got grooves from the passage of so many generations of feet going up and down. Part of me wants to refinish them, but in a way, I'm really rather proud of them like that, so I'll probably never do it."
"You suit yourself," she smiled, "all that I need to hear is that you're taking care of my granddaughter."
The statement caused Cale a little trouble, because he didn't know what was meant, or if it was her mind wandering. "I'm sorry," she smiled as she saw his confusion, "What I wanted to say was, are you doing what you can for her, now that her useless bag of shit husband has lost her?"
"He's doing just fine, Gramma," Sylvia said to help Cale past this, "I'm sure I'd be a wreck without Cale. He seems to know what I need, whether it's to talk or just to get out of the house."
"Well I've always liked you, young Mister Taylor, sir," the old woman grinned, "from what I see before me, you just be what she needs for her and I'm sure that you'll both be better off for it, I dare say. If I'd known what would come out of the summer that you worked for us those years ago, I'd have made a few changes, I can say. But things are the way that they needed to be, or my great-granddaughter would never have been born."
She looked up, at him, "For a young summer lover, you've made quite a mark, Cale. Now it's your time to be what you both should have been all along."
Before Cale could get his jaw to shut, she looked out of the window, "Would you mind walking me outside, Sile? I find myself wanting to have my cigarette of the afternoon, and I think there's someone else."
"Come on, Gramma," Sylvia smiled, "I'll get your coat and you can meet him."
Cale found himself wondering how Sylvia's grandmother could know the things that she obviously did, but after helping her into her coat and beginning the walk to the door, she turned to him, "Well, what the hell do you think it means to call someone a wizened old fart?"
On Sylvia's suggestion, Cale walked on ahead and by the time that old Mrs. Mac Domhnaill got her afternoon cigarette lit, he was walking over from the parking lot with Rufus.
She stared for a moment as they approached, "So there is Cù Sìth once again. In all of my life, I've seen them so often, but this is closer than I've ever been to one of the Black Dogs."
Rufus sat down then and waited, looking pleased to be out of the truck. "I don't think that he's really Cù Sìth," Sylvia said, "He's just adopted Cale, and he seems to like me as well. He can leave the land, Gramma. We've brought him to town before. He won't hurt you, so you can pet him if you want."
She held out her hand and Rufus held still, looking very happy to meet the woman whose old hands tousled his head. "Oh, he's Cù Sìth alright, or near enough" she smiled, "I can't believe that I'm touching one of the hounds. Look at his eyes, Sile. You'll see it there before anywhere else. Cù Sìth runs again, and I hope that I'm wrong, but I think it's so because he knows that he'll be needed."
She looked up at Cale as she spoke to her granddaughter, "Has it been decided between you?"
Sylvia looked a little uncomfortable as she spoke in a quiet voice, "I want it to be, Gramma, but I'd rather that it not be spoken of here with him listening and all. I'm already afraid that he'll think I'm crazy."
"Look here," the old woman said to Cale, "I think you already know that we're just a bit on the different side. I don't think that it'll change anything and it's not something big anyway."
She looked at Rufus once again as though what she saw might influence what she'd say next while her granddaughter looked uncomfortable. "Have you noticed that she seems to know things for no reason?"
Cale smiled, "You mean more than any other woman that I've ever known? Yes. Why?"
"Why?" the old woman smiled, "Because it's me who's asking the questions here, that's why, Cale Taylor. Well it'll get worse, you mark my words. By the time that she gets to my age, folks might wonder what it is that she talks to the squirrels and the chickadees about so much, though they never know that they answer truthfully about the weather. I want to know if that would bother you then, that's all."
"No," he replied, "not if she's still talking to me as well."
The old woman smiled then and she nodded, "Then I think that's the way that it'll be. But there are a very few things that she ought to be teaching you, if you'd want to know her love the way that she's hoping that you do. It's not much, but it's what we are and always have been. If you want a woman like Sile to grow old next to, then you listen as she teaches you. It'll do you no harm."
She turned to her granddaughter and took her hand, "As I did for you before, I do for you again, Sile. You ought to begin this very night -- it's almost Grianstad an Gheimhridh and half a dozen other feasts as well to mark the solstice. Begin before then, and -- "
The rest was spoken in Gaelic and Sylvia blushed, but she nodded.
After speaking some words to Rufus in the same tongue, the old woman was ready to go back inside, after she kissed Cale's cheek.
When she came back to the truck, Sylvia looked embarrassed, so Cale decided to say nothing. They didn't speak for a while until she turned to him and said that if he wanted, he could believe that her grandmother was slipping a few gears.
Cale shook his head, "I don't think that's what I saw, but I know that you're feeling very uncomfortable now, so I don't want to talk about it. I'd much rather go for a coffee."
She nodded her thanks and took his hand to hold after he started the truck and put it into gear.
At the drive-through window, Rufus was a huge hit as he stuck his head out at the servers in the window. Cale bought them something to eat and he included a gingerbread Santa Claus for Rufus in his order. Cale pulled away from the window and found a parking spot.
With a little careful prying, he worked the sugared icing off and broke the cookie into pieces so that their large friend could have something to take his mind off what they were eating as their conversation went in different directions.
"She wants us to be together," Sylvia blurted out in the middle of a conversation about horses, and Cale almost spilled his coffee. She looked as though she instantly regretted the remark, but he just smiled a little.
"I know that," he said with a little nod, "I also know that though she tried to be as indirect as possible, she felt that she had to stress some sort of urgency that I don't understand at all. I'm just bothered that you're feeling ashamed over it. The rest?"
He laughed a little, "Way over my head, so I'd much rather that we forget about it."
She shook her head, "Thanks, but she meant that she sees us ... well as a couple, and she was just saying that the timing is lousy, because of the time of year. Gramma means that now is one of the best times to start, but we're not there yet and that I should tell you more about things. She says that I'm running out of time -- unless I wait till Imbolc at the beginning of February."
Cale shrugged, "I don't care, Sheelah. As long as we start sometime -- that's what I'd like."
She had to put her coffee into the cup holder. "What -- what are you saying. Cale?"
"That I love you," he said, "the timing is up to you. I'll be here for you anyway. I heard your Gramma. She has some reason to think that it's what ought to be. I don't know any more than that, but I can see that I've got a chance to be in love with the girl that I knew a long time ago. You choose the time, I'll be here."
She took his coffee to put it into the other cup holder so that he wouldn't end up wearing it and she would have jumped into his lap if it weren't for the center console of his truck, but she held onto him so tightly and she kissed him until ...
She opened her eyes and saw the looks of the people in the next car and she groaned, "Crap. Mrs Ouellette is parked right next to us."
"So?" Cale asked, "I'm not kissing her. In fact, I refuse to. I -- "
"Roll your window down, Cale," she said as she let go of him and eased herself back down into her seat, "I ought to try to fix this. We're not kids anymore."
Cale hit the button and the window slid down, "Sorry about that, Genevieve. This is Cale Taylor. We used to be sweethearts a long time ago."
The woman smirked, though there wasn't a lot of disapproval there, "Well if any of my old flames looked like that, I guess I'd probably do the same thing. But aren't you -- "
"I'm separated," Sylvia said, "and I'm thinking of trading up," she said with a smile.
The woman laughed and reached for her ignition key, "Well have fun with the road test then, and a Merry Christmas to you both as well."
A moment later they were alone and burst out laughing together. "Well, it'll be all over town in about an hour, I guess," Sylvia said, but then she looked at Cale, "But I don't really care."
"Hey, that stuff that your grandmother was talking about ..." He began with a quizzical look.
"It's not much of anything," Sylvia said, "other than her hope for you and I -- mixed in with a lot of her view of people in love and the way that we are. But she's not some wild fey woman living in the Highlands herself. She grew up here the same as me. And we're not livestock or forest creatures, Cale. We're people, living here and now. What she was talking about is that she wants us to be together and make the best of it, that's all. But the other part of what she was talking about is that I tell you what I am -- which is really a woman who hasn't forgotten a lot of her family's traditions.
But really, for now, all I want is that you be my boyfriend again, Cale."
The fire in the stove burned brightly and the wood crackled as Cale sat on the couch looking out of the window over the moonlit snow. Rufus was a little way into his own personal Heaven as he gnawed on the biggest rawhide chew that they could find for him in town.
Cale looked at a pair of old large and rough pottery cups on the table and the big bottle of mead that they'd found in the liquor store. He heard the crinkly sound of cellophane from the downstairs bathroom where Sylvia had been having a bath.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
She laughed, "I'm unwrapping my new toothbrush. And you know what it means if a woman finds a place for her toothbrush, don't you?"
"I think that it means that she'll know where it is the next time that she wants it." he chuckled, "or is there some tradition to this?"
"No," she laughed, "It means that I've moved in."
She came out of the bathroom in a very simple dress and Cale sat transfixed. The dress looked to be made of a roughly woven sort of burlap and he hoped that it was softer than that. She wore a little simple jewellery in the form of a metal bracelet and a necklace of large wooden beads. Around her waist, a belt or girdle was wound, also decorated with perfectly round wooden beads.
Sylvia wasn't looking at him as she tied the last of the rough braids together at the end. Her long blonde hair was tied in a long and thick braid at the back and she was finishing up with the second of the pair which hung down from her temples and still reached to her breasts. Satisfied, she looked over at him, "What, Cale?"
"Nothing," he smiled, "You've always amazed me, that's all. Seeing you like that, I'm amazed all over again. You're so lovely."
"Well if I've got you as mesmerized as all that," she chuckled, "then what are you doing on the couch? I'd think that by now, you'd know where to be for me. And thank you, by the way."
"I called in to the shop," he said as he got to the floor, "There are no big jobs on at the moment and the boss is about losing his mind looking at all the guys who are standing around, doing little things like cleaning up and straightening the shelves for the fittings. That's one of the reasons that I like to take a week of vacation at this time of year before Christmas. It gets me out of sight and out of mind for when he starts to think about having too many guys around and maybe laying a few off.
I asked him if it was ok to just stay out, unless he needs me all of a sudden and take it as an unpaid leave. Timing is everything," he laughed a little, "and he agreed in a heartbeat. So I'm all yours for uh, ... whatever, and so on and like that."
"Ah," she smiled a little enigmatically, "the acolyte awaits to begin his training. Ok, put all of the cushions here and here and open that big bottle. We're not going to be drinking a lot of that to begin."
"Then why --"
She laughed in that sweet way of hers and she just said, "There are times when it's the best thing to do to just humor me."
She went into the kitchen and returned with a clanking sack in one hand and a platter of finely chopped bits of apple and shredded dried peach and apricot. From the bag, Sylvia produced a variety of items and laid them out on the table. "Please get a broom and a dustpan, and if you say a word about me riding it, ..."
Cale smiled and shook his head as he walked to the broom closet in the kitchen. When he came back, she pointed at the old Persian rug in front of the woodstove, "Now pull that back and out of the way. Don't get too wild with it, but I want the floor underneath swept clean, ok?"
He nodded, beginning to see some sort of connection between all of this and what lay under that rug. By the time that he had it swept, Sylvia came from the bathroom with a dampened cleaning rag and she dropped it onto the floor as she hitched up her simple dress and got to her knees to wipe the area of any dust before she left with the rag and washed her hands. "Take off your socks and get out the ash shovel," she said, "I'm going to need a couple of hot coals."