Re-write of a story I posted two years ago for a Fiction challenge I put on here. I think there was only one other entry at the time (thanks Nic)
The Orkney wind welcomed me in its unique way. A stubborn fluttering breeze searching every crevice of clothing blowing a reminder he is King here. Leaning into the wind, the short walk across the Tarmac brought me to the calm of the airport building where I could smooth hair and pat down imagined creases in my clothing.
Angus waved from the rear of the small arrivals hall before I’d even noticed his presence. I’ve never been the most observant of people.
‘Glad you could make it, James.’
I took his outstretched hand. He shook it vigorously, his grip firm as ever. I had a familiar uncomfortable feeling mine was weaker. We faced each other hesitating, unsure if a hug was appropriate.
‘It was the least I could do, Angus.’
I really had no idea what else to say, but I managed, ‘You’re looking good. You haven’t changed a bit.’
Hardly original, but true. After fifteen years not one pound heavier. No grey hairs. Same clear wind-tanned skin. Same warm self-conscious smile.
‘Aye, but it’s more worrying when they’re not.’
We laughed. He put his hand on my shoulder guiding me toward the exit.
‘Come, Maggie’s waiting in the car park clocking up the pennies.’
We walked across the sparsely populated parking area toward a blue fifty-year old Land Rover. That’s when I remembered who Maggie was.
‘You still have her, then.’
‘Would nay be without my Maggie,’ he said, patting the car’s wing. He opened the passenger door. ‘Can nay beat a Land Rover.’
‘They tart them up now and call them Defenders.’
Angus chuckled as got behind the wheel. ‘She’s no defender, she fights me all the way. Always has, always will.’
The scenery along the short drive from the airport to Kirkwall typifies the Orkney landscape. “Windswept” doesn’t do it.
Flat treeless vistas and on a clear day distant curves of low hills purplish against wide skies filled with scudding clouds. Fields of mostly scraggy grass for grazing punctuated by a few growing oats or barley. Trees that do manage a roothold are stunted, skeletal and bow to the prevailing winds.
Wild, beautiful and yet serene. A description that could easily have fitted my Jenny.
Conversation was difficult inside Maggie’s sound-box of a cabin so we remained pretty much mute. My thoughts started to ask myself why the hell I was here. The whole thing would seem bizarre to most people, but I felt compelled to do it, as much for me as anybody else. As we entered Kirkwall we slowed down and it was possible to speak without shouting. Angus glanced at his watch.
‘Do you mind if we stop in town for a drink so we can hear ourselves talk?’
We left Maggie parked on the quay surrounded by the wail of wind blowing through rigging and stays’ impatient rattling on metal masts. I followed Angus through a couple of narrow streets until we arrived at a bar I didn’t recognise.
‘It hasn’t been here very long, used to be a café. They serve a good pint though.’
Over a pint of Orkney beer with its unique peaty hint from the local water, Angus detailed the plans for dispersing Jenny’s ashes in the Ring of Brogdar.
‘It took a long time to get permission, but a local company who specialise in arranging ceremonies helped us. I think Jenny being local and so involved in the Ness dig, also swayed it.’
‘It was something she always wanted.’
I recalled her words during one of our frequent visits to Avebury, twenty miles from where we lived. ‘Your stones are magnificent, James, and I’ll never grow tired of walking amongst them, but Brodgar is where my heart is.’
I’m sorry I couldn’t come to the funeral, Angus. It wasn’t the travelling. I just didn’t think I could handle it.’
‘I know, James. We understood. Nobody in the family blames you for what happened between the two of you.’
‘Yes, your ma and I had many conversations after Jenny left. I used tell her, “Don’t be too hard on Jenny, she’s a driven person.”’
‘Driven. Aye, we couldn’t keep her away from the stones even when she was a wee girl.’
‘When she heard about the finds at the Ness, I knew it was inevitable. Nothing was going to keep her from coming back here.’
‘Aye.’ Angus nodded. ‘We better be going. Ma’s preparing dinner for the family tonight. You’ll be staying in our best guest room of course.’
Everybody was up early the next morning. The ceremony was booked for ten to avoid clashing with tourist visits, although it was unlikely there would be any in late winter. The day was pretty calm by Orkney standards. A sleepy morning sun greeted us when we set off. Maggie was left at home and we travelled to the ring in a short cortege headed by the organiser’s Volvo.
We parked the cars in a gravelled area smoothed out of the turf for visitor’s cars and tour buses. Too organised for me. The scruffy patch of worn grass at the side of the road I remembered was much more in keeping with the wild atmosphere. We crossed the road and followed a new (to me) fenced path leading to the stones.
As you approach Brodgar ring, the land rises on a heather bedecked incline. The monoliths seem to grow in statue as you climb. Once you’re on the edge you realise how large the diameter really is. The stones are much further apart than they appear from the road. The whole structure seems to open out as if it is welcoming you inside. It never failed to impress every time Jenny and I visited the place.
Everybody was handed a spray of purple heather. Jenny’s favourite colour. One by one we filed into the centre of the ring and placed them on the ground side-by-side. We were led to one of the stones. Angus told me Jenny specified it in her will as the place where the ashes were to be scattered.
It was just the family and myself. Angus, his wife, Laura and their two young boys I’d never met. Jenny’s sister, Morna, her daughter, Ina and of course, Ma.
We all stood in front of the stone. The organiser passed the urn containing the ashes to Angus and backed off to a respectful distance. Angus held the urn in both hands and raised it high above his head into the breeze blowing through the ring. As he tipped the contents out, a powerful gust caught the ashes and sent them high above the ring of stones where they seemed to hover then disappear against the bright marbled grey sky.
For an instant I was the only one there. What occurred was exactly the way Jenny described to me how she wanted to be remembered – just after we’d made love one wild winter night thirty years ago at the foot of the very stone I was standing next to.
‘Welcome home, Jenny.’
When it was over we returned to Ma’s for lunch. Angus and Maggie drove me to the airport in the afternoon to catch my flight to Aberdeen. After I’d checked in Angus handed me an envelope. The face had an ink drawing of Brodgar ring on it. I recognised Jenny’s hand. Beneath the drawing it said, “For James.”
‘Jenny asked me to give you this if you came today . . . if you didn’t I was to burn it.’
I took it and we hugged our farewells with tear-filled eyes.
I waited until the flight was halfway to Aberdeen before opening the envelope. The letter inside began with the following words, ‘Dearest, James if you are reading this I thank you with all my heart for I know you have come to the stones to say goodbye.’
Jenny went on to talk about so many other things in our fifteen years together, but that’s another story.