28th November

The Islander

She had left the island long ago but it had never left her. Just as she retained the language of her people but seldom had an opportunity to speak it, so the island was in her; even in the middle of a city a hundred miles from the sea. When she was shopping, or at the office, or working in her garden, it was as if the sea beat against her, as if a tideline of kelp and driftwood surrounded her. Pebbles dragged in the surf at her feet. Gulls screeched where there were only crows. She smelled salt instead of diesel fumes.

She had accepted the island unconditionally when a child, because it was all she knew. Then she grew, and grew to resent the sharp beaks and eyes of neighbours, the black, cormorant stance of the elder. She hated the mist that came down on the sea like another sea. So she unmoored herself: she applied for a job on the mainland. ‘So you are going?’ the elder said. ‘So you are going?’ the postmistress said. ‘So you are going?’ her mother said. ‘When are you coming back?’

She meant never to return. But unknown to her she had a ghost. Just as the island haunted her, so her ghost haunted the island. She believed in ghosts but she would not have understood it if anyone had told her hers had been seen, because she was on the mainland and she was not dead.

One of the old men met her ghost once. ‘So you are back?’ he said. ‘When are you going away?’ There was no reply, which surprised him because she had always been a polite girl.

When he told the postmistress he had seen her, she said he must be mistaken, because she knew all the comings and goings of the island. When he mentioned it to the elder, he was admonished for being drunk.

But when he spoke to her mother, something clutched at the mother’s heart, and she wrote to ask if she was well. And though she replied that she was, she too felt a clutching at her heart. She was an islander, and always would be.

Reader: Gerda Stevenson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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