Feels Like Home
This atmospheric complete story by Sandra L. Ireland is set on a Scottish island.
An emotional story by Sandra L. Ireland
IT’S so different up here. It’s the difference that draws me back. The light is sharp and grey, and the easterly breeze carries on its breath the scent of cold countries and open sea. Where I live, on the west coast, the air is laced with rain and the harbour stinks of diesel and waste.
I thought the harbour would be a romantic place for an art gallery, and it is, providing I keep the windows closed. It’s a former warehouse, all glass and girders and reclaimed oak; fashionable, chic, and the place for the trendy art collector to be seen.
Selling is my thing. I’m polite and persuasive. I make eye contact and smile a lot, and when you decide to splash out on that must-have canvas – well, you think it’s all your own idea, don’t you?
I like people. I get a buzz out of matching them up with the perfect painting. I imagine them hanging it in their lounge, standing back, a loved one hugging their arm, to gaze at it with that warm, happy glow good art can produce.
Yes, I always imagine that they have a signif icant other with which to share the joy.
In the evening when I shut up shop, it’s just me, my microwave meal and a soppy f ilm. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve grown used to it, but there’s always that little nagging doubt that I will never f ind my own perfect match.
Sometimes it all gets a bit much, coping with the gallery on my own. My business partner, Louise, is more involved in the accounts side of things, but she’s always happy to take the reins when I get the chance of a well-earned break.
Every year, as the summer rolls crisply into autumn, I can’t wait to throw off my business suits and pull on my old handknits, pack my waterproofs and my hiking boots and set off for the eastern seaboard and the tiny island of Inverannan.
I think of it as my childhood home, but there’s nothing of my childhood left there, no parents or doting relatives, just my inheritance, an old but ’n’ ben on the beach. It’s my retreat, my sanctuary. I can think of nothing better than to be there, to throw open the crumbling windows and to drink in the difference.
Of course, in Inverannan, it’s me that’s different. I’m the incomer. I should belong here, as my family once belonged here, but there is a small, quiet whisper of suspicion when I go for my groceries, lingering looks in the tiny petrol station. It doesn’t bother me.
I go into sales mode. Making people like you is pretty much like persuading them to buy art. I dress in bright colours, and smile a lot. I remember to ask about Mrs Macdonald’s poorly sister and admire new babies, and bit by bit I become part of the community.
My smiles are returned, the landlord of the Lobster Pot slips me the odd free shandy with a benign nod, and I hear the old ladies whispering good things about my late parents: “She’s so like her mother! A lovely woman.”
The only nut I’ve never been able to crack is Lorna Moon. Lorna is the village postmistress, maybe a year or two older than me. She was the sort of person I should be friends with, but I found her very diff icult.
She froze out my smiles and my best banter was met with a cold front. I told myself she was like that with all her customers, but she wasn’t. She chatted happily with the locals in the village shop, only stopping when I happened to walk in.
I tried not to let it bother me. I was here to rest, to enjoy the landscape and nurture my inner artist.
I wanted to watch the sun rise over the sea and to capture the colours on canvas. I wanted to trudge over the heather, and daydream and scribble and sketch. I was happy in my own skin – until last year, when I met Ewan. Until I met him, I hadn’t realised just how lonely I was.
ISAW him first on the beach below my house, just a random f igure painting a boat. I couldn’t take my eyes off the brilliant glossy scarlet paint, set against the charcoal sea.
I wanted to paint the whole scene: the red boat, the expanse of sparkling water, the steep arch of the sky.
That was why I approached him, to ask his permission to capture his boat and, by default, him. I hadn’t meant to start up a conversation, I was merely being polite.
He was so engrossed in his task he didn’t hear me come up behind him. I stood for a moment, admiring his firm brush strokes, the f ine hairs on his wrist, the artistic fingers. I could imagine him adding the boat’s name, Girl Maggie, to the prow in neat calligraphy as the f inishing touch.
“Excuse me,” I said, still several paces away.
He turned round. His eyes were stormwater cold. I noticed his pale colouring and a fuzz of stubble. He had one red streak in his unruly dark hair and I smiled and touched my own temple.
“You have paint . . . just there.” I stopped, closing the gap between us and demonstrating just where.
He grunted and tried to squint at where I’d pointed.
“You stopped to tell me that?” He gave up squinting and raised his eyebrows at me. They were dark, too, with a fine arch to them, like the sky. He seemed to f it here, on the beach, with the sea behind him. He was all in blue; navy sweater, paler jeans.
Undaunted by his prickliness, I ploughed on.
“No. I want to paint the scene. Maybe take a few photographs of the boat, and you. Would you mind?” He shrugged. “Don’t suppose I can stop you.” “You can tell me to go away.” I smiled at him. He eyed me narrowly, and I thought he was going to tell me to get lost, but like the sun coming out, his lips tilted into a slow grin.
“You’re old Jack’s daughter, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m Morvern.” I stuck out a hand.
He wiped his own palm on his jeans and took it. His grip was warm and dry – workman’s hands, which reminded me a little bit of my father. I experienced a sudden pang of sadness.
“Your father got me into boats. He used to take me out fishing. You were away at the time. Art college?”
“Yes, I was. I never really came back much once I’d left home.”
There was a note of regret in my voice,