tagRomanceThe Edge Of The World

The Edge Of The World


When I was growing up, I always thought winter came in two colours. There were white days, when everything looked as though it was covered in a fine icing and the frozen grass would crunch under my feet while I practiced making smoke rings on the frosty air. Then there were grey days, a multitude of variations on the same colour, as if God himself had switched the colour setting off on the world. When grey days bled into one another, it felt as though wintertime would never end.

During the dark months, storm-force winds would batter our coastline, the huge Atlantic rollers ripping up long stalks of kelp from the seabed before depositing them on the high-tide line in huge banks, like a visitor leaving a calling card. Nights would be spent listening to static filled news and weather reports on the radio while the wind rattled the slate tiles on the roof, kindly removing the loosest ones for us. Oil lamps were lit when the power failed, but having to do this brought no more than a slight shrug of the shoulder and a small sigh, this was our life and we had grown used to mother nature stealing our power, making life a little more challenging.

Slowly, slowly, winter would lessen its grip, and the first lambs of the year would be born, their thin bleating, the first music of spring. When I was young there was always at least one, born a few weeks sooner than the rest, my father would bring the lamb into our kitchen, settling it in a warm box by the stove. This was the closest I ever got to having a pet; the dogs my father kept were strictly for working and he was adamant that they were not to be turned soft. My father and mother were gone now, but sometimes I could still feel their presence, in times when I questioned my solitary life and it filled me with a quiet contentment.

The main town on the island lay fifteen miles away, home to some six thousand people and overlooked by a stunning castle, which, at one time belonged to the owner of the island. That was many years ago though, and since then, the island had been gifted back to the islanders, along with the castle. It might have only been a short drive away, but I only made the trip when strictly necessary, each time I went there it seemed as if another of my former classmates had gotten married, fallen pregnant or flown off to pastures new. It just reminded me that my life had stood still.

The churning and boiling seas of winter were gone now, replaced by gently rolling waves that lapped delicately, a quiet murmuring instead of the crashing and deafening roar of the rocks being dragged along by the currents. I stretched out underneath my quilt and breathed deeply, looking sideways towards the kitchen window, seeing the gulls flying high in the distance, their cries unheard. It was time to get up, and judging by the way my collie dog Jess was eyeing me, one ear cocked, tongue lolling as she stood sentry beside the cupboard that I kept her food in, I had overslept.

My shower was taken in record time because I had forgotten to heat the water, so my skin was tingling and covered in goosebumps by the time I finished towelling myself dry. After dressing, I headed back to the kitchen and fed Jess while I waited for the kettle to boil for my morning caffeine kick. Clutching my cup in one hand, I opened the kitchen door and smiled widely, greeting the morning.

Slowly, I walked barefoot through the machair that wrapped itself like a multi-coloured blanket just above the high-tide line. This was my ritual when the weather permitted, the beautiful clashing colours of the carpet flowers infecting me with their energy while at the same time giving cover to the corncrake whose cries rang out above the gentle sounds of the sea. This was my home, my beach, and there was not another soul within shouting distance to share it with.

The cottage that had been left to me by my parents would never have graced the pages of any glossy magazines; the kitchen was quite large and the bedrooms were furnished with a comfortable but shabby collection of inherited furniture. The beds were covered with quilts made when the harsh winter weather made it impossible to venture outside and most of the time, I slept in the kitchen on a small sofa that sat close to a stove that the cottage had almost certainly been built around.

Carefully I sat down at the very edge where the machair dropped away to the beach, sliding my toes into the sand and feeling the crunch of seashell beneath the seat of my jeans. Only rarely did I have to share my beach with anyone, sometimes a group of conservationists happened along, keen to find ways to protect the machair from the tides or birdwatchers, bedecked in binoculars, handbooks stuffed in every available pocket of their wax jackets. They never stopped too long though, fleeting ghosts and passers-by in my life.

I had just raised the cup to my lips when I heard an excited barking coming from the back of the cottage, I smiled to myself and waited for the black and white blur that was sure to come hurtling at me. Jess had left on my doorstep shortly after my parents died, an anonymous gift of companionship that came at a time when I desperately needed something other than my own maudlin thoughts to dwell on.

She divided her time between chasing the ghosts of sheep that had once roamed the hills behind the cottage and jumping in and out of the waves with the boundless enthusiasm of an overgrown puppy; it was always a wonder to me how she managed to spare herself a drowning. Stopping only long enough to drag her tongue over the side of my face she ran straight past me and down to the water; pushing her nose through the seaweed for any sticks that might be worth playing with.

The sea hadn't been particularly generous and she gave up quickly, deciding instead to streak to the far end of the beach where a rocky out-crop gave protection to a small pebble strewn cove on the other side. She had caught the scent of something interesting that was for sure because as I shouted her back she gave no sign of recognition. It was more than likely a rabbit or a mink, there were no other animals I could think of that would have caused her so much excitement but interest had me putting my cup down.

The morning sun warmed my arms and the gentle breeze moulded the soft material of my over-washed and faded t-shirt against my body, the frayed threads of my cut off jeans tickled my legs and I smiled, curiosity peaked by the dog's barking. Slowly I jogged along the sand just above where the tide was lapping and watched as Jess disappeared behind the rocks. Her barking was much quieter now, just an occasional yip and purely on gut instinct I knew something wasn't right. Carefully I picked my way over the rocks and stopped briefly at the top, looking on to where Jess stood guard over a large, dark, body shaped lump.

Despite the warmth of the sun, I felt beads of cold sweat breaking out over my body and my stomach started to churn. I had stopped hearing anything but the thunder of my heartbeat; there were neither sea sounds nor birds screeching. It was as though I was in a long tunnel and at the end of it was whoever was lying on the beach. It wasn't uncommon for bodies to be washed up on any of the islands beaches. Poor unfortunates that had fallen over the side of their fishing boats or even those that had tired of life and had walked into the waves and away from their troubles. Dread filled me, death wasn't something I wanted to be dealing with but I knew I couldn't just stand where I was doing nothing.

Slowly I made my way down the rocks and onto the pebbled beach and as I got closer to Jess she began to whimper softly, lifting a paw to place it on what I now knew to be a very tall man. His face was not bloated, as I would have expected for someone that had spent some time in the sea and his clothes looked to be completely dry; in fact, he just looked as though he was asleep. Jess herself was acting strangely; she had crouched down low and placed her head on the man's chest.

The moment I saw her crawl forwards towards his face, I knew there was a chance and my heart leapt. I quickly grabbed his wrist and felt around for a pulse, trying to concentrate. Carefully I tilted his head back and bent my head down close to his, completely unprepared for the two hands that placed themselves on either side of my head and the blazing blue eyes that stared intently into mine.

"If you wanted to kiss me sweetheart, all you had to do was ask. It's rude to take without asking first, did your mother not teach you any manners at all." He laughed softly as I pulled myself back sharply.

"I thought you were dead! You could have been for all I knew, at least I was concerned enough to check." Right at that moment, I wished that I had the escape of death, I felt mortified.

"Jesus woman, can't a man take the time to lie down and watch the clouds without being leapt upon." He had rolled to his side facing me.

"You weren't watching anything, your eyes were shut!" I got to my feet and spun on my heel, hearing him getting to his feet behind me, but as far as I was concerned, the conversation was over, humiliation swept through me, heating my face.

"Jess, heel!" I commanded, but all I got was a small whine from the traitorous animal.

"Looks like she'd rather keep me company, and if you'd wait for me, maybe you could tell me something about the area. The sheep I met last night weren't too talkative." His voice teased me but I held fast.

"You'll find the tourist information office in the main town, maybe you should have gone there when you got to the island." I jogged to the rocks and climbed over them without a backwards glance, breaking into a run as my feet touched the sand on the other side.

I was out of breath when I reached the edge of the machair, retrieving my long cold cup of coffee before heading back to the cottage for a refill. I cursed Jess as I filled my cup, she had obviously taken a real shine to the stranger, which was completely unlike her, normally if there was a tourist around then she would give a warning bark and glue herself to my side. I settled myself at the kitchen table and switched on the radio, letting the music calm me down. My eyes were closed when I heard Jess's paws on the kitchen tiles.

"Sorry are you then?" I questioned.

"Sorry I didn't let you kiss me, almost certainly!" I choked on my coffee and brought my head up, finding myself staring once more into the eyes of the stranger I had found lying on the beach.

"Jess what have I told you about bringing strays home." I said, scolding the dog gently.

The open doorway was filled with his large frame and I felt my mouth go dry.

"Are you always this hostile, or is it purely for my benefit?" He asked, but made no move to come into the kitchen.

"Cloud watching?"

"Okay, maybe I wasn't watching the clouds when you found me, I'll give you that I suppose. I've been hiking around the coast, pitching my tent here and there along the way, only for the past couple of nights, my tent has acted like a magnet for all the local sheep, so I've had next to no sleep. I laid down on the beach for a while and fell asleep, next thing I knew, you were throwing yourself at me." He gave a slow lazy grin, waiting for me to start spitting fire once more no doubt, but I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction.

His singsong accent wasn't too dissimilar to my own, he was unmistakably Irish, undoubtedly graced with all the charm that went along with his heritage and I found myself warming towards him.

"I guess as explanations go, then that is a far more plausible one." I conceded.

"I won't ask to come in, but I would appreciate some insider information about the area, not the tourist claptrap they seem keen on dishing out in the town." I watched as he shrugged his backpack off, setting it down by the door.

"I'm surprised, Anna and Mari in the tourist office are usually a mine of information, both relevant and useless." The two old women had been there for as long as I could remember, and the office itself was filled with as many townspeople as tourists the majority of the time; a local gossip exchange.

"They certainly had plenty to say for themselves, but nothing of great interest, so I just grabbed a handful of leaflets on the way out the door." He gave a small shrug of his shoulders and turned to look out over the sea.

"Alright then, let me make us a coffee and we can sit outside." I busied myself with rinsing out the cups.

"Oh okay, but only if you promise not to throw yourself at me unexpectedly, I want to be completely ready the next time it happens." He laughed softly and was gone before I could catch his eye.

"I wouldn't go hanging my hopes on there being a next time!" I shouted after him.

"Hope springs eternal and I've always been a bit of an optimist." Came the cheerful response and I smiled, despite myself.

With a steaming hot mug of coffee in each hand, I paused in the kitchen doorway, wondering briefly, why I had agreed to give him any information at all. It occurred to me that I could always feed him nonsense and send him across the moors and away from civilization, but it was just a passing thought. He had settled himself in my own favourite spot, facing the sea, knees drawn up, leaning back on his hands, quietly contemplating lord alone knew what, the same way I did most days.

"Hope you don't take sugar, it's a couple of years since I bought any and the bag has gone solid in the back of the cupboard." I handed him the cup and sat down a few feet from him.

"Ah so you won't be winning any good housekeeping awards this year then will you?" He shot me a warm smile and took a tentative sip of his coffee.

"Well, I guess housekeeping has never been one of my priorities." I returned the smile and let the sand trickle between my toes.

For long minutes neither of us spoke, I had to assume that he was just as content as I was just to appreciate the scenery, watching the small seabirds zipping along the beach, hunting for sand crabs now that the tide was out as far as it was going to go.

"Here I am imposing on your hospitality and we haven't even introduced ourselves. I'm Seumais by the way." He held out his hand towards me and I only hesitated for a second before stretching my hand across to him.

"Kate." At that moment I was hit by the strangest feeling, it was as if I was just completely aware of him and nothing else, the way my hand felt in his, the way his thumb stroked across the sensitive skin on the inside of my wrist, and I hesitated before withdrawing. A minute later, the skin on my wrist was still tingling and I was still wondering why.

"It feels as though we're sitting on the edge of the world here, it's amazing to think that the next landfall out there over the water is Canada."

"There were many families that made the trip at one time, wanting a better life." I had distant cousins over in Canada myself, like many people on the island.

"It must have been a frightening and exciting journey for them, I'm not so sure that it's one I would have made myself. So, tell me about this place, it looks as though an artist went crazy with a paint brush, all these different flowers." He skimmed the palm of his hand over the velvety heads of the flowers closest to him.

"The machair is beautiful isn't it? It's home to plovers, lapwings, corncrakes, but sometimes it's hard to spot more than a head as they run through the grass. Amazing to think how the flowers have adapted to the harsh windy conditions, but you'll find stretches like this down in the Uists and Barra, and in Ireland too I think."

"You must get bothered by people like me all the time, I don't want to make a nuisance of myself, not just yet anyway, since we've only just introduced ourselves." I shielded my eyes from the sun and looked at him, and saw the white of his teeth as he shot me a broad grin.

I got the distinct impression that he could have made a nuisance of himself anywhere without anyone complaining, there just seemed to be something very likeable about him, despite what had happened earlier.

"I don't think this beach is featured in any of the tourist brochures, so apart from conservationists I only ever see the occasional hiker or two, normally they just keep on walking, Callanish isn't too far away, most people are more interested in that." I had finished my coffee and the heat of the sun was beginning to make me feel incredibly lazy.

"I've already seen Callanish, so I'm in no hurry, in fact, I was going to ask you if I could pitch my tent here for a couple of days, there's not a sheep in sight, so that means that I might get some sleep." His eyes held mine, and I knew that I couldn't refuse his request.

"I couldn't say no even if I wanted to, I don't actually own the land so feel free, just don't drop any litter and set your tent up away from the machair." How I managed to keep my voice steady I'll never know, but my heart was thundering away in my chest.

"You'll hardly even know I'm here, I promise." Somehow, I doubted that very much.

With our coffee drunk and conversation done, we stood up and walked through the machair and up to the cottage.

"You could pitch your tent here if you want Seumais." I said, indicating a clear patch of ground on a slight rise just outside the kitchen window. I knew I should have been directing him further up the hill behind the house, but the words wouldn't come.

"Thanks, I think I will. I'll try not to make too much noise, just give me a nudge if I start snoring too loud." Right at that moment, he gave me a look of such innocence that I couldn't help but laugh.

I went into my kitchen but left the door open, Jess had taken it into her head that she had a new person to look after, so she spent her time wandering between the kitchen and the garden. His cheerful whistling reached my ears and I was drawn to the kitchen window, scrubbing down the already clean sink, my excuse to watch him as he pitched his tent.

His long hair, which had been neatly tied back earlier had begun to slip free of its restraining band and now, some of the strands were being picked up by the wind, waving them about his face. Time, and time again, I watched as he raised his hand to tuck the errant strands behind his ears, but in the end, he gave up, with a shrug of his shoulders and bent down once more to the task of knocking in the tent pegs. I could see his muscles playing under his clingy t-shirt, the material stretching tightly across his back each time he swung the mallet downwards. I swallowed deeply and scrubbed harder. The muscles were bunching in his arms with the effort of his movements and I could see the sweat glistening on his forehead. I was being handed an excuse to go outside and I grabbed it with two shaking hands.

Reaching into the deepest recesses of the freezer, I pulled out an ice-cube tray and popped a few cubes into a long glass, topping it up with water. He didn't acknowledge me until he had knocked the last peg in, taking the glass from me with a grateful looking smile, draining the glass in a few long swallows.

"Thanks, I was putting off asking you for some water, I didn't want to impose any more on your hospitality." He handed the glass back and got to his knees in front of the backpack, retrieving a small camp stove from its depths.

"You know, it seems a bit silly you camping here on my doorstep and fending for yourself when I can at least provide you with a few of the basic amenities." My stomach churned again, I didn't know why I was offering him help, normally I didn't appreciate anyone encroaching into my space but it felt different this time, so completely different.

"I hope you realise that now I am going to make a complete nuisance of myself and take liberties with your kind offer." He laughed and stood up, forgetting the stove for the moment.

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