Kirsty McGrory is an Edinburgh-based writer. Her work has recently appeared in Gutter Magazine, The Leither and The Coffin Bell Journal. She is a regular contributor to The Wee Review and writes theatre reviews for The Skinny. 'The Homecoming' was first published in The One O'Clock Gun.
It’s just after five when we get off the bus. I’m concerned I might have left my shoes or my fascinator or something important in his flat, but he assures me I haven’t - I triple checked our bags before we left Edinburgh. It’s still very light and the wind has a salty East Neuk bite in it that I find both accusatory and affirming. I breathe it in, and feel exactly as I’d expected I would. The tangy, titillating guilt you sometimes get if you find yourself missing an ex.
I can’t remember if I’ve ever been here, exactly, before - I assume I must have, when I was very little - but it’s viscerally familiar, regardless. Brine, cawing, dignified slate-grey, the feeling of it always being Sunday morning. Yes - the rattle of cobbles under the pushchair, shiny red wellies, my mother frowning in approval. I’ve been to all the simulations of this place at some point very early on.
In two days, the bride’s family will be hosting a brunch in the neighbouring hamlet, which I do remember. My mother lived there when I was born. We visited again when I was ten or so, when she and I were displaced and put in a local Bed and Breakfast for a while. We had to be out during the day, so took bittersweet, compulsory day trips to several nearby fishing villages. A faintly morbid tourist trail of the area she insists is home. “That’s where he pushed me out of the car when it was moving”, she’d said, blandly, pointing and almost smiling in a picturesque, gable hooded street. Affluent, silent, Tory. A projection.
Everything here is tiny and close, so the walk to the house is so short it barely even registers as time. My city stride feels inappropriate; somehow crass and impudent. I’m consciously refusing to feel out of place. The cinereous beauty of the harbour gives me a jolt as we approach it, reminding me that I never did anything wrong then, nor am I wrong now. She’s always wanted me to be here, I tell myself. She would not be angry.
“So, here we are, “ I say. “My real
neck of the woods.”
He smiles benignly. He’s only met a handful of people I will introduce him to tomorrow, and this weekend - the places, the people, the versions of me - probably all seem bound up as one to him. The narrative of my past will seem linear and coherent. He doesn’t realise it’s a jumble of jagged non-sequiturs. None of my school friends that he meets will know, either. It will be assumed that the bride’s wealthy East Anglian parents discovered this place for us. They don’t know I already had it lodged deep inside.
“It’s so bonny,” he says, and begins taking some photos of the fishing boats. Freshly painted in bold primary colours and lined up improbably evenly, they look like an illustration from a picture book.
At the end of the reception, the couple and the groomsmen usher the guests outside the barn to light sparklers. I think that this is a convenient way to clear the venue for the staff to start tidying. I hang back a little while, dragging out the final few mouthfuls of wine. “I’ll take that from you. If you’re finished,” says the boy behind the bar. His accent is local, but strikes me as somehow affected. You take the glass, I think to myself, and I’ll take you.
I drain the wine, put the glass down in front of the boy, and head outside to the sparklers. Someone has crammed several in a jar and lit them all at once, and the jar has shattered. No-one seems particularly concerned.
He spots me and bounds forward, beaming. He is holding a sparkler and wants me to be as delighted about this as he is. Luminescent against the pitch black nothing of the field behind him, he looks so happy and beautiful that I want to kiss him. I tell him we need to find Emma, because Emma has the torch. We need the torch to get back through the field to the house. “It’s ok, I’ve got a torch on my phone,” he says. “I’ll get us home.”
“This place used to be the chandler’s, you see.” The father of the bride has appeared beside me and has homemade pastrami stuck between his teeth. “Did you see those great poles in the back outside? That’s where they used to hang the nets.” I have an impulse to say “I knew that”, but of course that’s a lie. “Was it really? It’s such a beautiful house.” He nods.
I smile admiringly at the vintage bicycle artfully rested against the pine bookshelf. It’s painted a gainsboro grey and matches the walls. Out the back window, the tide is retreating and the faint charcoal of the sea in the distance and the rocks on the beach seem like part of the decor. I turn to the books: Atlas of Brutalist Architecture, Life of Pi, Guinness World Records 2004, The DaVinci Code, Twentieth Century American Art, Angela's Ashes,
something without a title on the spine, The Complete Works of Harold Pinter
. I look at my half-eaten piece of salmon, variegated like a bloated red leaf, then place my plate surreptitiously on a side table.
Emma asks if we mind heading off soon. Tom hasn’t driven in a while and wants to get back to Edinburgh before it gets dark. Of course we don’t mind.
He sighs contently as he settles into the backseat of the car beside me. I return my phone to my pocket.
“I’ve just told her.” I say.
“Yes, I just text her just now while you were putting the bags in the back.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing yet. She won’t reply, probably.”
He pauses, then puts his arm around me and pulls me into him, so that my head is resting on his chest. “You’re a good girl,“ he says, and kisses my hair. As the car pulls out, he turns to the window to take in the last of the view. Marengo, platinum, silver, sand. “So bonny,” he says.
On the exit road by the harbour, we pass a battered sign that reads Semper Tibi Pendiat Hamus
May a hook always hang for you. ●