Last Walk

The wave came at Michaelmas with a full moon and a spring tide. After that our land was soured and we knew. Now I shut the door and say to the dog ‘Last time.’

Paths criss-cross the marram. It’s early twilight with a hint of rain. Waves break far out on our shallow shores. Lines of white criss-cross, make little water-spouts and lace-like rafts. 

The thunder of the sea is familiar as my beating heart. I listen for the sound I will remember when I’m gone.

Soft sand pocked by raindrops. Scatters of pebbles over wet sand. Waves erase my footprints step by step. I pass the sculpted shape of the sea-wracked tree-trunk. Sky blurs into sea. Clouds break. 

Scattered shells, broken bits of seaweed. Waves weaken round my feet, circle, then draw back.

Out there is the drowned village. These grey pebbles may be bones of kye, or ancestors. I round the point to quieter water. Sea sweeps away a trickle of sand and stones, constantly shifting.

The island over the sound was tidal. We walked to school on firm sand. My mother remembers a marshy dip, brackish puddles, sliding wheels. Every year less pasture, more blown sand. And the sea – always the sea – churning.

Water rises stealthily, lapping stones where grass grew under my feet when I was a child.

So many colours in the pebbles – pink, sandy-white, whale-grey, guano-splattered. Sea-washed kindling burns with green salt-sparks. No point gathering it now – no fire, no hearth, no home.

Tide’s slackening. Smooth water starts to ripple. It’s as high as it’ll get tonight.

Seals used to bask out there where the skerry was. Sometimes at low tide you still see the curve of white water.

I turn inland, wind in my face. Clumps of thrift that will never flower cling where tideline and marram mix. I take a white gull-feather – not a flight feather, but the small soft kind you’d use to line your nest. And a smooth pebble the colour of the sand. Our land.

We stand, my dog and I, on the jetty where daisies bloom between crooked slabs, with stunted clover, plantain, grass, broken shells from feeding gulls. Lichen patches on the flagstones like round islands merging into continents – have they been growing slowly all my life?

An orange lifebelt on a white post, rusted rings with the marks of ropes, but every mooring’s empty.

Salt-burn, empty fields, breached dykes. The animals left last week, our last neighbours on the boat this morning. They’ll come for us tomorrow.

The moon’s too clouded to light me back. Dark now, but my feet know the way they’ve always known. And there – one square of light left to lead me home.

Our memories will soon be washed away.  

‘Last time,’ I say to the dog, ‘Last time.’

Comments (6)

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  1. Roland says:

    Lovely, sad. Dogs understand.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Genuinely poetic. Nostalgic in a sincere and non-mawkish sense. As I read it, it evoked an image of Skara Brae.

  3. Colin Kirkwood says:

    A great piece of writing. Best I’ve seen for years. Just good as it is. No need for comment.

    Thank you, Margaret Elphinstone

    1. Haidee Jones says:

      Hi Margaret can you message me please. My uncle is trying to get hold of you from Norway.

  4. Wul says:

    Magic. Don’t know if this is lamenting the past or foretelling the future.

  5. Haidee Jones says:

    My uncle is trying to get hold of Margaret regarding some work he’s publishing. University of Strathclyde email doesn’t seem to work. Any ideas how I or he can teach her. Many thanks

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