Doone felt the life-force ebbing slowly from her, like the wake from a boat disappearing back into the dark waters. She was getting old. She was terrified of death; yet it loomed ever closer. As the chugging engines of the train belched clouds of smoke past her window, Doone strained to see the old familiar landmarks of her childhood. Shadow towns loomed and disappeared through the grey of a Scottish evening. She pulled at the collar of her tweed coat, hoping to gather some warmth around her tired bones.
She had buried her husband decades ago. His grave now silent and cold. The idea of her own interment seemed bleak and terrible in its finality and her faith was in tatters. Taking her last journey to Scotland, to say goodbye, fashioned an urgency within her. With yellowed leather suitcase duly packed, she had left her daughter’s home, the grandchildren watching as she left,
“Love you all.” She had waved her hand, absentmindedly.
Sitting on the dark blue waters of the bay, Oban town reached out from her childhood and reflected back at her. The islands, standing in timeless motion in the dusky sea glinted a watery orange hue with the setting of the autumn sun. Sail boats bobbed and the echo of their tinkling masts seemed somehow disconcerting. Street lights made phantoms of the evening strollers.
The old stream train wheezed and spluttered into Oban station. Doone climbed down on to the familiar platform; unfamiliar faces pushing past her. She picked up her battered suitcase and headed for the exit. An uncanny sense of fate encouraging her as she headed towards the town.
Across the road from the harbour, Doone recognised an old building with a crooked front door. Her destination? Or her destiny? Breath wedged in her throat as she put her hand on the stiff latch and pushed the door ajar. It was five minutes to six. Nearly closing time.
“Doone Robertson ! Why I do believe it’s you !”
Alarmed at the sound of her own name, Doone felt a prickling sensation spread through her, leaving goose bumps on her skin.
“But it IS you, Doone. I would recognise you anywhere, even after all these years ! Why it must be fifty years since I saw you last. I could never mistake those mysterious eyes of yours. It’s me, Doone. It’s me, Morag. Your old friend.”
Doone looked at her childhood friend in wonder. Morag Campbell! Frail, like herself and slightly ethereal but there was no mistaking her. The women silently embraced. They stood for a while holding hands, gazing into each other’s wrinkled and time worn faces. The clocks stopped their ticking. The world stood still. Fifty years of stories and of lives lived, passed by them and for a moment the two old friends were children again. Doone saw reflected in Morag’s eyes the years of her own youth and Morag saw her own, reflected back. What could these two old women say that could ebb away the years with more wisdom than the gaze they held now?
“I can’t stay with you Doone. I have to leave now. I need to be, …. … elsewhere.”
Doone felt her newly awakened heart tremble.
“But before I go, I want to buy you something. To remember me by. Please, don’t stop me. Please. I want to buy you a gift.”
Not listening to Doone’s protestations, Morag chose a bottle of perfume from the shelves nearby,
“If my memory isn’t playing tricks, Doone, this one was your favourite when we were young! I remember spilling it once on your bed.”
Taking Doone’s wrist, Morag sprayed musty cologne on to her old friend’s skin. Remembrances of heather and deer; tartan and bagpipes wafted between the two women. A tear found its way down Doone’s cheek and was wiped gently away by an age-weathered hand that was not her own.
“No tears my dearest. Not today. Only celebration of old friendships. Of lifetimes. Of things to come. Trust me. Always”.
Morag paid for the purchase, handed it to Doone and left the shop without another word.
Sitting in rays of sunlight, Doone stared out across the Bay. Her landlady brought her morning porridge and placed the local newspaper on the table as she left. One glance and Doone was repeating the words of the headlines over and over, her head spinning.
‘Morag Campbell, aged 76 years, formerly from Oban, lately of Paris, France, died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her family in her home in Rue Scribe, last evening at 6pm. Madame Morag was the founder of Musee du Parfu, the famous perfumery in the centre of the city. ‘
Doone was smiling, raising her wrist occasionally and inhaling deeply. The sun was shining out from behind opaque clouds over the highlands. And the train belched it’s smoke as before. A bottle of perfume lay gently on her lap.
After the shock of reading the newspaper, Doone had raced back to the pharmacy where she had met Morag. Without ceremony and holding onto the counter to steady her nerves, she spoke,
“Excuse me, but was I in here yesterday evening with a friend of mine? Did you see us? Did she buy me a bottle of perfume?”
“Yes Madam. You were with Morag Campbell. We knew her well. Are you ok Madam? You’ve gone very white.”
With something indiscernible healed in her heart, Doone was ready to leave Scotland. All fear diminished. Death, dying, a cold silent grave, all gone. The gift Morag’s apparition had given her had come in the disguise of a bottle of perfume. But it was so much more. Morag had given her the gift of life. A life without fear.
As the clouds smiled and the train chugged along its tracks, Doone’s Soul awoke. She was saying her goodbyes to Scotland. With a passion she had not felt for years, she was going home to enjoy what life she had left with her family. Death, she decided, could wait.
He hovered, about to dive. His iridescent blue plumage caught in the cool warmth of the spring sunlight and reflected in the waters below. Prey in sight, under the pale rippled surface of the river, the hungry bird pulled his feathers in tightly in anticipation of his next move. A gentle hum interrupted his rapt gaze and with a flip of his stubby tail, he darted to the river bank, all thoughts of his tasty meal deserted. An old low wooden boat came into his view. With its engine barely audible, the slow moving boat rounded the bend in the river almost indiscernible against the untidy woodland at the river’s edge. A woman sat tranquilly in the bow, hand trailing through the blueish grey water, leaving memories like shadows from her fingertips in the boat’s wake. Reflections of bright green from the new Spring leaves of the beech trees and wisps of silvery bark from the birch wavered ghostlike in the ripples around her, dancing on her face like shadows. The man at the helm gently guided the fisherman’s boat through the river’s meanderings; his eyes gazing along the banks either side of him; the tall reeds and yellow iris reflected in his expectant, silent eyes.
The man’s faint intake of breathe made the woman and the bird both look up. The warm breeze whispered as time froze. The tableau in front of them came into view through the mottled light. A majestic stag stood, head raised, nostrils quivering. The splendid prongs of his gilded antlers bronzed in the sunshine. A beautiful doe stood beside him, her flanks twitching slightly in rhythm with her breath; her gentle eyes alert, watching. Their fawn, almost imperceptible in the camouflage of his dappled young coat, as transfixed in time, as his parents. Humans, deer and bird were vividly suspended; the universe holding its breath from the absolute beauty of it.
With a snort, the stag raised his head and with the fluidity of one in flight, he, his doe and their young fawn, leapt and turned as one. The white of their tails dazzling, tantalizingly, as they ran. They were gone. The clearing, where they had stood, seemed suddenly silent. With a sigh, the boat traversed the corner and disappeared too, from sight.
With no more distractions the bird ruffled his spectacular feathers, raised himself off his stubby little legs and with the speed and grace of one so proficient in his hunt, he soared into the air above the river once again. Watching, elongating his body into a streamlined lethal weapon, he finally dived. As he emerged again through the surface of the water, spangled droplets glistened on the scaly skin of a fish as it thrashed in its final death throws within the bird’s beak. Rainbows of colour, in seeming communion between water, scale and lustrous blue of the bird’s feathers, fell across the water as he rose. Belabored slightly by his prey, he flew slowly to the protection of the river bank and the kingfisher, in all his brilliance, silently relaxed and began to eat his meal.