Isla from Thrill Ride

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

I thought you might like to see a glimpse of Thrill Ride. Isla is the first bit (slightly longer than the Look Inside pages on Amazon: Check out the new trailer on SoundCloud (hj furl).

Tuesday 3rd October 2023:

She’d left me with a tummy ache, and I felt sick. It wasn’t my fear of the plane crashing to the ground after take-off, bursting into flames landing or dropping out of the sky that made me ail. She’d made me ill with her treatments, the realms of injections which left my flesh raw, sore, punctured, hole-ridden like a human pincushion. Since the treatments I’d suffered from acute claustrophobia. I hated being incarcerated or pressurized. So, suffocating in a confined airless space with unclean males, particularly bald mature men with grey ear fluff and sprouting nasal hair, was a particular ordeal for me.

I flicked my tired head from side to side guessing their ages: early-sixties? And occupations: undertakers, mourners, chartered accountants, financial advisers, actuaries? They could have been mourners. The sweating, obese hulks squatting either side of me were dressed in matching charcoal suits, black ties and shining shoes which were all scrupulously polished at the backs.

My dead mamaidh always used to tell me to polish the backs of my shoes in case I was being eyed up from behind. I shut my eyes and relived her last moments.

Her burial service was held on Traigh na Cille, the island’s secret beach, which stretched from the loose rock sea wall behind our weather-battered cottage down to the raging sea. Our cottage had white roughcast rendered walls, small windows, an oak stable door, a low pitch slate-tiled roof and tall chimney stacks. It’s a holiday cottage these days. The garden was an eyesore, overgrown with weeds, marram grass and nettles where mamaidh never tended the land. In the corner was a coal shed, her bad girl shed as she called it, where she hid me when I misbehaved. A rusty wrought iron gate led to the sandy beach where I used to mould sandcastles as a child. The tide was out. The smooth sand, strewn with spiral wormcasts, broken shells, bladder wrack and plastics, stretched far into the distance.

For the ceremony, I wore my prettiest strappy white summer dress (the one with the buttoned front), soft bra and pants, and bared feet braving the driving rain. The flimsy dress clung to my skin like clingfilm, my dripping wet hair stuck to my scalp. A blustering wind blew occasional flurries of rain in my face, specking my eyes, making me blink.

I loved rain. Exhilarated, relieved the bitch mamaidh was dead, I heard barefooted Blair, our solitary priest, cry, in the driving rain: ‘there’s a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to uproot, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to tear down, a time to build, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance’ from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3. He’d left out some words for me, left out all the ands.

He knew me, Blair knew me more than anyone else, and how I felt about mamaidh. I danced for joy while he read, digging with my toes, burying my feet in the warm, soft sand. He turned to face me, his gray hair matted with brine, frock glistening with raindrops, and asked if I’d a suitable tribute to recite in mamaidh’s memory. I told him she could rot in hell. The wind flayed my cheeks as if punishing me for my sinful words.

Understanding how much I’d suffered at mamaidh’s cruel hands, the father shook his head and spoke, ‘Forgive her in death, girl, for even tho’ she sinned against you, she was still your own flesh and blood, your dear mamaidh. This is the time to forgive those who sinned against you.’

Blessings, sentences, prayers, readings, commendations, formal farewells to mamaidh in the torrential downpour: none of them meant anything to me. I told Blair I could never forgive her for the way she’d treated me, in much the same way that I could never forgive him. He tried to say sorry. I looked away staring up into the cloudy heavens, searching for a reason to stay alive. Subsequently, I acquiesced to his grovelling apology, reassuring the father that I didn’t hold it against him.

He gave me a smug, conceited, patronizing look, ‘Is that nae the same as forgiving me, Isla?’

‘I meant I don’t bear a grudge against you for what you did to mamaidh, father,’ I said.

Blair, the eight mourners and I recited the Lord’s prayer word-for-word. The father blessed my mother’s soul and invited her to swim forever in that great sea in heaven even though mamaidh couldn’t swim to save her life. Then the fishermen waded in, lifting her heavy casket out of the sea’s spume, committing her bloated body to its miry boggy grave in the cold black sand, to be consumed by the incoming tide.

It was over.

I slipped on my thongs and followed the mourners as they trudged thru the teeming rain, up the sucking sand beach, to our sea crofter’s cottage. It was traditionally built, all on one level, with the equivalent of an open plan kitchen living room overlooking the garden: beyond that the sea.

Our simple kitchen had an electric cooker and sink unit, a solid farmhouse table and wooden seats. As soon as I got home from school, it was my job to prepare the vegetables, cook supper, wash up, wash our dirty laundry, hang it on the airer to dry, clean, polish, scour, brush and tidy the house, make our bed, bring the logs and coal from the shed, and light a fire. I ran the house, mamaidh worked late shifts at the hotel - which is all she did.

There were nae books or magazines in the cottage: mamaidh wasn’t one to read, nae tv set or music other than the small transistor radio she kept on the kitchen windowsill. Once in a while, she would bring home an auld copy of Good Housekeeping from the hotel but I never recalled her reading it. On the few occasions when she wasn’t working, sleeping off, or moaning about work, mamaidh would take a man to her bed and ask me to cook them breakfast in the morning. Granted, we did play card games: trumps, tricks, auld maid, clock-face, sevens: simple games like that, and on Friday night, her day off, she bought me fish and chips soused in vinegar and oil and we’d play Scrabble or Millionaire after supper. The rest of the time was spent combing the lonely beach for seashells, crabs, flotsam and jetsam, splashing our feet in the surf’s froth as we struggled to converse.

Once I’d completed the household chores, I would open my leather satchel, take out my school work and sit at the desk by the window, reading, writing, or idling my time looking for wildlife in the garden. Once I saw a red deer grazing on our fodder. I envied her, wishing I were free.

Freedom came prematurely for me with mamaidh’s unexpected death. I had nae family or close relatives to speak of, other than athair, and he’d abandoned us when I was a wee bairn. My life was my own, my future as murky and unclear as the indistinct horizon, obscured by teardrops.

Blair was waiting for me, drenched to the flesh by the relentless downpour, at the gate. He held my hands. His hands felt soft. He had blunt fingernails. I wanted him to go further, take me in his arms, hold me to his chest, and hug away all the bitterness and resentment I felt towards him, the intense loathing festering inside me like an unburst boil after so many years of neglect.

‘Will you be alright, Isla?’ he asked, smelling of damp and musty mildew, ‘Do you need help?’

I wanted to ask him what kind of help he thought he could possibly give me now, this late, after what he’d done to us? Instead, I told him I’d get by, manage, see if I could take on mamaidh’s auld job waitressing at the hotel as their trainee, apprentice or skivvy, anything to prevent myself from being taken into care. I was still at school. If I didn’t earn money quickly to pay the rent, water and electric, I’d lose the cottage, and with that any dignity I still had left. I stared into the dark abyss that was his face. There was nae sign of remorse for his sins, nae heartfelt sympathy for my current plight, nae love for me or sobby regrets at all.

‘Will you nae be joining us for the wake buffet, athair?’ I asked, changing the subject to food.  

Blair shook off my hands as if I were a leper, declined my invitation to join us for refreshments, and excused himself saying he had other commitments around the isle. I knew the real reason:

I was his bastard girl.

I left him standing at the gateway to his hypocritical version of religious devotion, turned, and strode to the cottage. I since heard that Blair McNair died in a fatal collision with a pick-up, driving in blinding rain over the crest of the craggy ridge that curls its way from our village to Dervaig. I wept nae tears for the heartless beast who inseminated mamaidh, gave her his bairn, then walked out of our lives.

The mourners were queuing impatiently on the weed and gravel path leading to our stable door. I edged past them tolerating the irritating scratch of saturated coarse marram grass on my bare calves and pushed at the door. Inside, the cottage was welcoming, warm from the crackling log and coal fire that I assembled in the hearth earlier. I held the door open, inviting them all in to share my private sanctuary. With nae bidding from me, each man stamped his boots clean of mulchy, oily slush on the granite plinth outside the door. Each took off his boots, hooded oilskin jacket, and waterproof trews, and left them in neatly folded piles on the flagstone floor next to my wet thongs.

They entered the cottage in their stockinged feet. I’d never enjoyed the company of eight young seamen on my own before. I felt vulnerable, innocent, thrilled and scared all at the same time. The pallbearers were hungry, wet, bearded men with straggly hair: blonde, brunette and ginger, dressed in damp chequered shirts and sodden tight-fitting jeans. Undeniably handsome twenty-something volunteers from the surrounding villages. They all looked at me in an unfamiliar yet vaguely familiar way. Some of them were shivering after the rain, so I closed the stable door. My mouth was as dry as coarse sandpaper. We were alone in the cottage: eight men and me. It was nae wonder that I struggled to deliver my unrehearsed speech:

‘Thank you all for coming out in such foul weather today to bear mamaidh’s coffin. I can nae tell you how much it means to me. You see, you’re her only mourners, you and the priest, and he has other commitments. Please, warm yourselves by the fire. Now, can I offer you some fine food, a wee something to drink, maybe? I expect you’re hungry after all that heavy lifting.’

It was the first speech I’d ever made. The men nodded approvingly at me. I took that to signify their appreciation. They stood by the hearth warming their bones. Not once did they take their beady eyes off me. I felt flushed and clammy. My dress adhered to my body. I wanted to take it off. Dismissing the rum notion, I waved my arm over the spread laid out on the kitchen table.

Mamaidh’s hotel had kindly laid on an all-you-can-eat-buffet-at-home for the mourners of stale pork pies, dried sausage rolls, watery cheese and bacon quiche, curling sardine sandwiches, cheap wines and beers for the grown-ups, a bottle of ginger beer for me. There were nine-inch paper plates, single-ply black serviettes and unclouded, unrecyclable plastic disposable wine glasses assembled at one end.

Worried there might not be enough food to go round, I went to serve the queue of hungry men.

‘Can I offer you a sausage roll, a slice of quiche, pork pie, a sandwich perhaps? Glass of beer?’

‘I suggest you let everyone help themselves, Isla,’ one of the men said, a flame-haired redhead.

‘I’m scared I’ll run out if there’s a free-for-all.’

He nodded, assessing the situation, ‘Suppose you’re right.’

He lifted up a bottle of supermarket own label red and unscrewed the top.

‘Here, let me help. You dole out the food. I’ll serve the drinks. If you don’t mind my saying, you look as if you could do with a glass or three yourself.’

He poured me a large goblet of red. I thanked the pallbearer for his kindness and took it from him. I’d nae drunken alcohol before: mamaidh forbad drinking in the cottage, except when she took the men to her bed. On those occasions, she expected me to butler for her, and serve them copious dregs of plonk while they pleasured her on the bed. I took a cautious sip of the wine. It warmed my innards. I enjoyed its bite at the back of my throat, drank it all in one, and held out my glass for more.

I served the men their lunch. He poured the drinks. I drank lots of red wine, liquor which never passed my lips before. I served the men the last of the food. He poured, I drank, more wine. I felt all light-headed, felt myself relax and unwind, lost my inhibitions, lost my cares and woes.

Some of the men were unbuttoning their shirts in the heat. They’d hairy muscular chests. I’d never experienced young men like these before: real men, fit men, healthy, virile men, not the weaklings at school. I felt their eyes undress me. My dress clung to my body: they could clearly see my breasts. I wanted to take it off, they wanted me to take it off. The redhead took off his shirt, unbuckled his belt, unclasped the brass stud on his tight-fitting jeans then asked me what I intended to do now that my mamaidh was dead and buried?

I just clasped my hands behind my back, mouthed an innocent: what do I intend? and blushed.

‘What would you like do right now, Isla?’ he said, ‘With me? Would you like to kiss me, girl?’

Submitted: January 23, 2023

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