For any of you contemplating sharing something of your creativity I encourage you to Just Do It! Anticipating all of the terrible things that could happen (they won’t ) is just a way of letting fear rule your life. Share your creativity and joy!
My second attempt to get to the library went more smoothly. Mrs. Muir was always very helpful when I went in to research a project but everything I had done so far was based on facts and science. I certainly couldn’t bring up the mermaid with her. My report on the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides wasn’t complete but I couldn’t even think about it when I had all of these other questions tumbling around in my brain.
Mrs. Muir greeted me from the reading room with a “Hallo, Halley.” She had already pulled out some books for me and I went through to where she was sitting at her desk.
“We missed you yesterday. Is everything alright?”
“I was actually on my way here and had a bit of an accident on my bike, but I’m okay. I need to ask you about something else though. Have you heard anything about some kind of buildings being planned near the shore?”
“Oh, yes of course I’ve heard, dear. There’s been talk of developing out there on and off for years but with the economy in the shape it’s been lately I know the council is quite excited about the possibilities. It may change the shore a bit but the area could use the income. I don’t think it will affect our bird population though. You must be nearly done with your report. Is there anything else you need? I’m off to assist Mrs. Glen with her genealogy search.”
“Oh thanks, Mrs. Muir. I’m sure I can find what I need. Do you have Internet service today? We lost it at the cottage from all the rain.”
“Yes, indeed. The signal is quite strong today.”
I sat down at one of the computer monitors to look for information about mermaids. At first almost everything I found was about Disney mermaids like Ariel and Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. My mermaid wasn’t like that. I kept searching and came up with something called selkies. They seemed to fit more closely with what I’d seen. Some people who lived in ancient Scotland dressed in seal skins to keep warm. When other people saw them from a distance as they took off the skins to dry them on the rocks they may have thought they were actual seals. There were legends that said selkies were able to live on land like humans and then go back to living under the water. I wondered if the person I saw was actually a selkie. I thought about looking for another book about the history of Scotland and the civilizations that Jonathan had told me about but I was getting tired and wanted to leave. I signed out the books that Mrs. Muir had saved for me and put them in my backpack. As I pedaled home I wondered if Mom was back from Edinburgh yet. Maybe it would cheer me up to spend some time with her.
As I bumped up the path I saw Mom’s car was already in the drive. I parked the bike and went into the cottage.
“Mom, I’m home!”
“Hey sweetheart, I’m home too!”
“Yeah, Mom, I saw your car.”
“You could pretend to be happy to see me.”
“Of course I am.” I said as she gave me one of her sideways hugs. I winced a little when she brushed against my elbow.
“Oh, Halley, are you hurt? What did you do to your arm? ”
“Well it’s kind of a long story Mom. Can we sit down and I’ll tell you about it?”
“Of course. Let me put my things away and you start the kettle for some tea.”
As I filled the tea kettle and got out the cups I thought about what I should tell my mom. She always seems to notice small things that other people would easily overlook, like my arm being hurt. Dad hadn’t noticed anything at all. I decided to tell her about the luxury resort and meeting Jonathan, but not to mention the mermaid.
A few minutes later we sat down to drink our tea. She pulled my shirt sleeve up over my elbow and lifted a corner of the Band-Aid. “What happened to your arm?”
“I was riding into the village on Tuesday morning and I almost ran over this man named Jonathan. He’s an archaeologist. He put some weird powder on the cut and gave me a bandage.”
“Well, this doesn’t look too bad at all. You say this happened on Tuesday? Whatever he put on it seems to have healed it quickly. There’s hardly even a scab but I can see that you’ll have a scar.”
I pulled my arm back impatiently and said “Mom, did you know that they were going to be building a resort out here?”
“Yes I knew that the council was considering allowing the development but I didn’t think it would go anywhere. They usually take so long to make a decision, there must have been some incentive for them to agree to it so quickly.”
“But Mom, they can’t build a resort here. It’s perfect the way it is and I won’t be able to go to the shore anymore if they build between our land and the sea. Can’t you do something to stop them?”
“Oh Halley, I don’t think that’s going to happen. When Mum passed she left this place to me but I haven’t decided what we’re doing long term. Besides, my going to the council wouldn’t be very effective. No one thinks of me as being from here anymore so why should I have any say in what goes on?”
“Well what about Mr. and Mrs. Fraser? Can’t they do something?”
“I don’t think they’ll want to cause a stir at a council meeting, especially if things have already gone this far. Besides, I don’t know how long we’ll be staying in Scotland. I just came to help out Mum when she was ill. With our work we’re always moving from place to place.”
“But I don’t want to move again! I love it here. I love the cottage and the shore and the sea and how wild everything is. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay here.”
“I know Halley. I know you love it here. And it is where I grew up so it does feel like home to me. We’ll see what we can do. How about if you help me get dinner started now?”
Later that evening Mom and I were in the library. I sat at Nan’s old wooden desk and started going through the drawers. Mom said it’s actually called a secretary. It has a tall cupboard in the back and an area for writing in the front. There are drawers on either side of the desk and some in the cupboard that have stamps and Nan’s old stationary. I liked looking through them. Most of the things had belonged to Nan but some were from before she was even born. “Do you know anything about that picture on the wall? Jonathan noticed it when he was here.”
“I don’t know anything about it. Mum liked old things, like you do. She probably bought it at a rummage sale. You didn’t tell me you brought Jonathan to the cottage.”
“I invited him for tea after I almost ran him over.”
“Tell me more about this Jonathan character.”
“He’s not a character, Mom. I told you he’s an archaeologist. He’s looking for something that could stop the development from happening.”
“Really? Well perhaps I should meet him. I’m sorry I called him a “character”. It’s just that I don’t know him and I’m always a little suspicious of older men taking an interest in young girls. But he sounds like a decent person. Would you like to invite him here for dinner on the weekend?”
“That’s a good idea, Mom. I think he’d like that. He’s staying at a guest house in the village and he’s probably tired of eating at restaurants. Can I invite him for Saturday?”
“Sure. We’ll let your father know when he gets home tonight that he’ll have someone new to tell about his latest discoveries in the cosmos.”
As I looked through the desk I found black and white photos of Nan when she was young and a tortoiseshell hair comb with rhinestones on it. There was a little yellowish white carved box with a lid that held a tiny spoon. Mom told me it’s an ivory snuff box which long ago women would use to inhale snuff or tobacco. I thought that sounded disgusting but I really loved the little box. It has a carving of a stork and a tiny house in the distance. She told me I could keep it. I tugged at the bottom drawer but it seemed to be stuck.
“Mom, what’s in this drawer?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Probably more old musty things.”
I tried to pry it open but it was definitely locked.
“Do you have the key for this somewhere? I want to look inside it.”
“No, I think the key is lost. I asked Mum before she died but she said she couldn’t remember ever having seen it.”
“I really want to open it. Maybe it has a treasure or something… I could ask Mrs. Fraser.”
“I doubt that Mrs. Fraser would know anything about it. They only lived here at the cottage for a short time. After my father died Mum decided to move back here and she had them move right into the new house. My father would have been so angry about that. He loved the new house.”
“But Mom, aren’t you even curious about what’s inside the drawer?”
“No, I’m not. This house is full of things that have outlived their purpose. When I have some time I’m going to start getting rid of all this old junk.”
“Why can’t we just leave it the way it is? I like it like this. It has a lot of history. You don’t always have to try to change things. It doesn’t make it better.”
“My goodness, you’re sensitive tonight. Not everyone feels the same way that you do, Halley. I’m not going to live in a blackhouse for the rest of my life. If we were to stay in Scotland we’d definitely move into the new house. If Mr. and Mrs. Fraser stay on they could move in here. It was good enough for Mum but it’s not comfortable for three people. We’re practically on top of one another. And I’d like to modernize things a little and buy some furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs in the 19th century.”
My eyes stung with tears. I loved the cottage. I sighed and said goodnight. I’d go ask Mrs. Fraser about the key tomorrow. If Mom was thinking about redecorating that might mean that we’d be staying in Scotland after all. When I got up to my loft I pulled out a locked box that I keep under the bed. I had put the white feather in from when I’d seen the mermaid and now I put in the ivory snuff box. I’ve collected lots of little treasures and sometimes I like to look at them when I’m feeling down. I have a book of poems that Nan sent to me when I was about 5 years old. We read it together here at the cottage before she got really sick. I also keep some pieces of wood that were cut from the branches of a tree I used to climb when I was small. One day I came home from school and someone had cut the tree down. I cried and cried because I loved the tree so much. Dad knew how upset I was so he cut little disks of wood for me from the branches and sanded them smooth. I like to rub them on my cheeks. They still smell like a Christmas tree. I kept the collar from our dog, Finnegan. He was a big smelly black Labrador. He ran away and got run over by a car. I guess none of the things in my box really cheer me up but I love all of them. They remind me of things that I’ve lost. I closed the box and locked it then slid it back under my bed.
The next morning when Mom left for the village to run errands I went to the new house and knocked on Mrs. Fraser’s door. It’s funny that we still call it new because it’s at least 40 years old. Almost everyone who lives on a croft has built a more modern house. The cottages are small but they’re so much more interesting. A year after my mother left for college my grandfather died of cancer. I had asked my Nan why she moved back into the cottage and she told me she always liked the old ways better than “all these so-called modern conveniences.” I laughed and teased her about preferring to use an outhouse but she said that having indoor plumbing was one modern convenience she could live with.
When Mrs. Fraser opened the door I saw that she was wearing an apron just like my Nan’s. They must have sewn them from the same pattern. “Good morning dear. Two visits from the Irving girls in one week. What a surprise. And why aren’t you in school today, is something wrong?”
“Remember I’m doing all of my schoolwork on the computer Mrs. Fraser. I’ve been working on a project about the wildlife here along the coast. I was at the library all day yesterday working on it. Mrs. Muir had some books for me on the oystercatchers.”
“Oystercatchers? Well, we certainly have our share of those around here. Would you like to have some tea? I’ve just put the kettle on.”
“Yes, I’d love some. Do you have any more of those cookies you made last time I was here?”
“Cookies?” Mrs. Fraser looked puzzled. “Oh, you mean biscuits. Yes, I do believe I have some. Let me get them from the pantry.”
I sat at her wooden table in the kitchen and looked out the window. From here you could see the moor, and beyond that the sea. Mrs. Fraser set the tea and cookies down and poured me a cup.
“It’s nice to see you Halley. You’ve got a look about you that reminds me of Mrs. Irving. I mean to say your Nan. I suppose you favor your mother as well but I see your grandmother’s face when I look at you, especially around the eyes.”
“Thank you Mrs. Fraser. I found some pictures of her yesterday from when she was young and I guess I do look a little like her. I wish she were here to see the view today. She loved looking out to the sea. By the way, did you know that there’s a luxury resort that’s going to be built right near here? In fact, the other morning I saw the survey flags when I was coming back up the sea path.”
“Yes, of course. The Council has been working on it for some time. The village needs all the help it can get and I know some of the people are rather excited to have a place to work.”
“But aren’t you upset that it will block your view? And they’ll be tearing up the land and building giant houses on it. I wish they wouldn’t build anything here.”
“No, it won’t block my view in the least. Didn’t your mother tell you that we’ll be moving into the blackhouse if you stay? And what’s good for the village will be good for us too. I’m too busy working to be looking out the window anyway. I’m pleased that some of our young people will have a place to work. Perhaps they won’t feel that they have to move away and leave this place. They could stay here and be close to their families.”
“What about you Mrs. Fraser, do you have any children?”
I heard a sharp intake of breath and when I looked up she was staring at me.
“I had a son, Colin. I’m surprised your mother didn’t tell you about him. He was quite fond of Genny. He left to join the service after your mother went away to college. He didn’t make it back from Iran.” She stepped out of the kitchen and came back with a framed picture of a young man in uniform. She set it on the table between us and gazed at it for a minute.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Mrs. Fraser glanced at me then looked away.
“No reason why you would have I suppose.”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Fraser. He was very handsome.”
“Yes, and he was bright too. Had his whole life ahead of him…”
Nan had told me once that when my mother left for college they assumed she’d come back home after she graduated, especially since my grandfather died. But then she surprised everyone by moving to the U.S. and marrying my father. She and Dad visited Scotland a few times but she never moved back home. If my grandmother hadn’t been sick we probably wouldn’t have come to Scotland.
“Your Nan was a strong woman. Her heart must have been broken by first losing her daughter and then her husband. But she kept working right up until she took ill. And she was a religious woman too. She was in church every Sunday, rain or shine.”
“Mrs. Fraser, she didn’t lose my mother. Mom left to go to college. She always loved Nan and Nan knew that. And if my mother hadn’t left then I never would have been born because she wouldn’t have met my father. And we have to collect the specimens on Sunday so Mom can take them back on the Monday morning flight to Edinburgh. What she’s collecting could really help people.” Mrs. Fraser disapproved of the fact that Mom and I were at the shore every Sunday morning collecting algae. The only time we’d gone to the church since we moved here was for Nan’s funeral. I finished my cookie and got ready to go.
“Oh, before I leave I wanted to ask if you know where the key is to the desk drawer, the one in the library at the cottage?”
“No one knows where that key is Halley. Your grandmother looked for it and your great-grandmother before her. That’s a mystery that must have gone to the grave with Margaret. She was your great great-grandmother, Genevieve’s mother. Genevieve was your Nan’s mother and the one that your own mother is named for. It’s funny to think of all these generations of women living in that little cottage and now you’re here to live in it too. It nearly skipped a generation when your mother left. It was nice to see you today. I didn’t mean to upset you by saying what I did about the young people who’ve gone. It’s always been a struggle for families who lose their children to the wide world. And don’t worry yourself about the shore. Ah, there’s Mr. Fraser. He’ll be wanting his dinner soon.”
I avoided Mr. Fraser’s eyes as I left the house. He was always scowling whenever I saw him. I pulled my jacket tighter around me and slipped sideways out the door as he was coming in. His dog barked at me from where he had chained it outside the house. I could still feel him looking at me as I walked down the path toward our cottage.