Fiction - Innes

Chapter from novel in progress, published in Causeway Magazine, Volume 8, May 2017

The Glamour

I suppose it’s the moon that’s woken me, angling past the corner of my window. Either that or my bladder. Peggy comes outside with me. She’s nosing about after toads, all that rain’s brought them out. I aim high for full effect and watch how my piss catches the moonlight. Shake myself, see how the last drops shine and slant off. The moon’s bright. Full yesterday but I never saw a thing with the cloud cover. It’ll drop down behind the hill soon. Too fresh to hang about naked and watch though. I whistle Peggy back in. She’s been slurping down on something.

            ‘Leave it.’

            The dropped mouthful glints. We go back to bed. The terrier coories in at my feet. I want to sleep through the rest of the night. I want to get that picture of Alona right out of my head.


The coffee’s coming up, best sound of the day. Then the splutters start, telling me it’s done. I lift the hinged aluminium lid out of habit, just to make sure. Watch the last spurts spilling pale out the wee holes. All the strength has come through already. Sandy got me the coffee pot twenty years ago. Goes everywhere with me. You see them all over now, but not back then. That’s Sandy, likes his good stuff. Likes to be different.

            I sip on the sharp coffee. My tinnitus roars, it’s bad this morning. It dams briefly at each swallow. I think about what I’m trying not to think about. I think about yesterday. I think about how I’ve never seen Alona look so beautiful. Pale like that. Stone-still. Her hair spread out across the peat, dull in the blank light. Bound down with the wet. Wet of the ground under her. Wet of the rain falling over her. And the silver-dun pony standing by, still blowing from the exertion of heaving himself out of that peat hag.

            I feel the stirring again. The same stirring I felt standing over her when I knew she wasn’t dead, but was imagining, just imagining, that she might have been. I’d wanted to kiss her. How do you explain that? Wanting to kiss a woman who looks like she might be dead. I wanted to take those pale-skinned fingers and fold them over one by one into the centre of her palm and take the whole of her fist inside mine. I didn’t want her to wake up. I wanted her to stay there, below me on that wet ground. Lying there. Looking like that.

            I drain the last of my coffee. Put the cup down on the table. The handle’s missing and where it’s broken I can see the true colour of the clay. The red-brown of wet bricks, of dead bracken. I turn it slowly. Thumb and middle finger resting on the lip that’s not too wide, not too narrow. Uneven. Just right. I’ve other cups but they won’t do, not for coffee. I’m getting set in my ways, Sandy says. I clench my hand. Open it and look at the three crescent-moons fading out across my palm.

            Thinking about it now, it was probably just a few seconds – all that seeing and wanting – before I shook myself like a dog. Before my head cleared and the water let fly.

            ‘Alona, heh, Alona. Can you hear me?’

I knelt down beside her. The wet of the ground instantly spreading through tweed, across my knees. Picked up one hand at the wrist, surprisingly small, and shook it. Said her name again. Then her eyes opened. Right into mine. Life pooling behind her grey-green irises. Confusion surfacing. I pulled away. Watched as her hair lifted away from the wet and broken peat. She twisted around, looking for something. Not me. The pony.

            ‘The pony’s fine. He just got his back end caught in that peat hag. Knocked you out with his head when you bent to help him. Crack like a gunshot. What have I told you about keeping your distance from their heads.’ I smiled across at her but she was still looking at the pony. And the pony at her.

            When Sandy told me he was going to marry Alona I’d teased him. Told him the glamour had done a good job on him.

            ‘The glamour? She’s hardly glamorous, she’s the most natural looking woman I’ve ever met.’

            ‘No, I don’t mean glamour like that. You know, the witches, they’ve put a spell on you…either them or the faeries. I’d said it half jokingly. But really, Alona unsettled me. The grey-green eyes that looked away off into the distance half the time she was talking to you. Like she wasn’t quite here. Like she was on the far side of something, away from the rest of us. Just something about her that bothered me. Something, or everything.

            I flick open my iPad. Six unread messages from yesterday. Need to turn on the generator before I can pick up today’s. It’s Sunday though, it can wait. But maybe I’ll go along to the farm today, make sure everything’s in order before the stags next week. The guests have only paid for a couple, a nice easy start to the season. Good job too after yesterday’s fiasco. Hope Alona’s up to the work, there’ll be some long hard days on the hill. It was a bad day that Colin told me he wasn’t coming back this season. He’s been a great ghillie – must be ten years now we’ve done the stags together. Knows all the pony tracks, has a good patter with the guests - the toffs love him.

            I’m not sure how it’ll work out with Alona. I could do without the hassle. Paying guests like things to stay the same, like to come back year after year and not a goddamn thing to be different. They’re paying for the illusion of the world stopping while they’re not here. I hope Sandy knows what he’s doing. He says they need to cut costs. At least the guests still get the ponies here, Argo Cats just about everywhere else now. You’ll be turning in your grave, heh Dad, the way things have gone in other places. Slow footfall is a thing of the past. I look across at a photo on the wall, Finlay MacRae looks back at me, directly, in that way of his. Slow footfall son, read what’s aboot ye, feel for it. I can hear his voice even now, ten years since we buried him. Maybe I’ll walk that way today, up to the graveyard, look in on the old bugger. See how the ospreys are getting on while I’m there. The female’s away back to Africa. The male’s got that faraway look to him, won’t be long until he’s off too, then the two young. They’ll just all be gone one day. For another year.

            I close the iPad and push back my chair. Peggy lifts her head from the sofa. I go through to the bathroom, brush my teeth. Put my hand down there, I know I won’t have peace until I do. Push the door shut away from the old man’s eye. It doesn’t take long, and me the whole time willing my eyes to stay open. I see my face, three days of stubble, that small patch on my right chin where the grey’s coming through strong. My hair’s needing cut, still plenty of that. Then my eyes are shut and there’s nothing I can do to stop it and she’s there, her freckles slipping under that relentless rain, lying – like a hare motionless in her form – and I groan then. And when I open my eyes my reflection in the mirror is half blurred away.


The sun is behind me when I round the point. I look across the loch to the trees on the north shore, lift the binoculars and move them left to right across the policy; the woods the Wyldes – Sandy’s lot – planted back in Victorian times. There’s even eucalyptus trees in there. Those Victorian explorers must have had a blast. A few paces to the east side of the policy – twenty metres up in the crown of a solitary Scots pine – is the nest. Empty. It looks like wreckage but it’s the well-wrought work of twenty years of nest building.

            Everything’s crystal clear after the rain and I can see small left-behind feathers. They mark the breeze along the nest’s high edge. The young are still coming back to the nest to get fed by the male, but it’s happening less and less. They’ll be catching fish of their own. The female should be a long way south by now. We don’t know where she heads to. Maybe the Gambia. We know the male goes to the Zambezi. That’s where I’ll find him, with any luck, just as soon as the stag season’s over with. A twitcher spotted him out there, read his tag, back in 2007. Since then the world has felt a whole lot smaller to me. I went to find him. What a place, Zambia. It’s got right under my skin. I’ve been back every winter. And why not. No wife, no children. My ospreys. My bone breaking birds.

            I scan the skies. No sign. I lower the binoculars a fraction and sweep along to the Big House. No signs of life there either. It’s early yet. I wonder how Alona’s head is today.

            Some instinct makes me look back to the nest. A spark of movement. The squirrels taking their kits out. A slink of red tumbling out of the dray they’ve built on the underbelly of the nest. They know there’s no harm for them to live near fish eaters. Nature knows its enemies.

            Maybe I’ll just go home. The grave can wait. So can work. It’s Sunday after all. The guests don’t arrive until Tuesday so tomorrow will be early enough to get things ready. I’ll get a steak out of the freezer for later.

            ‘Fancy a bit of steak Pegs?’ She looks up, the wee snatch of her tail wagging. She knows fine.