The Sunday Post (Inverness)

Following the inky shadows, her mind wanders to the past

- Extract from the opening chapter of Almost Then, by Margot Mccuaig

Rathlin senses the forest beyond the window calling her and using her arms as a crane she’s raising her neck, watching trees swallowing the hill that’s pressing into the horizon. Its shadows are stealing her but she’s a willing traveller all the same, following their inky path, letting her mind wander to the past.

She’s walking through heather. She can feel its foliage tickle her ankles. She’s wearing sandals, the T-bar pinching her foot. She’s stopping to touch it, moving her thumb under the leather. She’s looking at the imprint of the strap on her skin. It’s summer. Her feet are brown, even under her shoes, so she knows she

must have been walking barefoot, sucking in the sun’s rays like a sponge. She’s wondering why she isn’t as free now so she moves to untie the buckle, stopping when she sees her bike lying on its side, the back wheel spinning. It’s new. The white tyres are as pure as the limestone chalk on a cliff, the metal spokes glimmering in the sunlight. She’s standing up, dusting bracken from her bare leg, turning to listen to laughter in the woods, its cry strong and deliberate.

She’s running quickly towards it, her binoculars bouncing on her chest. She’s grasping the lanyard, holding them in her outstretch­ed hand so they don’t ram the flesh that’s beginning to fill the space in her bra.

The laughing’s harder now and she’s recognisin­g the sounds of her mother. She’s imagining her throwing her red hair back into the sunlight, the overhangin­g pine leaves catching her chuckle, muting its soft sound, releasing it so it can stretch freely into the bluest sky. She’s skipping beyond the wild flowers, heading for the silver lights, gentle rays of sunshine meandering in and out of tree roots, their long fingers passing her into the forest. Then she’s stopping. Hard. She’s curling her toes and pressing on to her heels, pulling from a forest floor edged with sharp claws that will tear her to shreds.

Rathlin never gets beyond this point. She knows it’s when she falls.

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