Feels Like Home

This at­mo­spheric com­plete story by San­dra L. Ire­land is set on a Scot­tish is­land.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

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,

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