Out here, out beyond the furthest place you can see, there is an island, small and tree filled. Proud and cut like a jagged rock. Full up to overflow with the traditions of traditions and the rituals of the people that lived for and died for what nobody knows.
Out here we do not live for the ways of the mainland. We do not understand them and they do not understand us. A simple truth, but truer than anything that ever was.
Out here the island is fat with spirits. With those that have lived, do live, and live no more. We may be few in body but we are fat in souls. Those on the mainland do not understand this. They don’t see that there are other ways to be. Other ways to see. For we know how to read up the storms and learn from the sea.
There aren’t any men folk left on this rock face. For most the mainland stole them away, took their names and swapped them for bullet carriers and owned them by the stripes on their arms. Some distant war, nowt to do with us who live here. But go they had to. For what other choice was given? Stay, and the fight will come here they were told. Stay and your women, your children, your sea and your soil will become ours. And the mainland is not like our land, it has its ways and we have ours. Different you see. Just how it should be.
So they left, the men. A long long time ago. One or two remained, either too old or too young. Hard to remember now as time does flow in circular ways. And our isle did shrink and smallen and the trees did continue growing taller and often times these days it seems hard to see the sky through the trees, but we know she is there. We know how to read up the sky and all she gives us.
And the sea, the sea, she tells us more than any book ever could. She protects on us and we respect on her. As simple as it was ever meant to be. And we know the rules, the ways of the world. Never should you take without putting back or she’ll get an anger on you mighty and fierce. So for each fish that feeds us we make sure to place an offering, a flower, a fresh fruit or a something special upon her waves. She’ll smile her fortune on us again that way. We know it so.
And odd times be that she does give on us surprises. For one day she washed ashore a dog. Herbert we did call him and live long he did. Where he came from no-one knew. Perhaps swam the channel to find his home. We shared him, dear Herbert, here on this land. It’s how we live best. And in exchange for Herbert we kissed the sea and shone her waves. We watered her with wine and poured petals at her feet. And she was happy.
But just today, this very hour, an odd thing she did gift us.
A strange wonder,
A man it was.
He that is tall as a ship’s sail and pure as the salt upon my shoes. He with arms as strong as the wine growing vines that twist and curl around my chimney pots. He who is carved of beauty, like a delicate soap. He arrived, wrapped in seaweed like a prize, rolling softly ashore on the backs of her waves. Magda was the first to see him. She was out looking for fish, flowers in her hands to give unto the sea, a gift for a gift was how she saw he.
‘A man, a man, a man has come’
‘I think she said a crab, a crab she’s caught’
‘Oh I see, so she did, crab cakes tonight for all’
But no, those were not the words that she spilt. But a man, a man, a man was such a thing of wonder, of strangeness, of new and of old that the women, we women, could hardly believe it to be so. For to gift such a thing, a wonder of a thing, the sea was surely deserving of more than mere flowers at her feet.
And one by one we women ran, aprons at our waists and soil beneath our nails, the smell of fresh milk on our fingers and the taste of plowed fields on our skin. Down to the beach, the sand sinking beneath our feet. Till a circle we did make, around this thing of wonder, of pureness, of beauty and of more.
‘Here he is, the man, this man. Come see, Manera and Etty, step closer Regina and fear not Felicity. For he’s mine, I found him and bite you he won’t.’
‘Yours you speak?’
‘How so? We share all that there is on this isle. The crabs you catch our all of ours, just as the potatoes I pick make your dinner too.’
‘Aye so, true enough. But a man, this man, he is a thing aside. Look to him and say we won’t look a fine couple together. Some things, such things, are not born to be shared in such ways’
‘No so, no way. He is here atop our shore and he will be shared in equal parts as is all we find’ Sophia stated.
Indeed, such ways it is and such ways it was ever meant to be.
‘But it wasn’t always so’ Magda spoke. ‘Don’t you remember, back before the world spun different to how it was ever meant to be? Don’t you recall that we once lived in a land where what we had was ours and we shared only if we wished on it? I had my man and you had yours? Don’t you recall that’s how the world turned and maybe will turn once more again?’
At this Manera near on stamped her foot to the mud. ‘The sea did gift him us, then he’s ours to share. Those days you speak of, back and before, those days are done. They ended when they left. The boats that came took them days and buried them in foreign fields under nameless stones. That’s how it be. So now, now look to what we have left. Here. The things that real be.’
Regina rose. ‘There be but a handful of us, living long and fine on this here isle, not no need for others but all that we have we share. As it ever was since the new ways became the old and as it ever will be.’
‘But wait’, said Simona. The youngest of them all. With a voice small as a snail in a shell she whispered it out but the sea took it and carried it off. Not another turned to see her as she crouched over the man and slowly and softly and with hands that had touched the burn of love and felt the ice of it’s death, she removed, piece by piece, the seaweed that wrapped him.
She was close enough to lick the salt from his face before they noticed her. Sudden as all that, the only sound was the sea keeping the island an isle apart. The women, all of us, had eyes on Simona. On her knees she was, ear to his mouth, eyes wide as the sky.
‘He’s dead. The man. Our man. He’s dead. She’s gifted us a dead one. What are we to do now?’
And before that second spoke not a one of them had questioned who he was or where he came from or why the sea washed him upon their shores.
They suddenly noticed the stripes across his arm, the hands that spoke of fight, the shoes, but one of them left, now a scuffed and watered down regulation black.
And the women, us women, here and right now, remembered the others. The black boots that had stepped before and the brown green and grey boots that had left these shores. The men, their men, our men had gone.
In each one a story, incomplete and unwritten.
And the time that was lost now flowed from all sides. The years, gaping as an ocean, withered to a stream as they saw themselves standing in the same very spot wishing and waving and blowing kisses atop the wind as their men stepped to ships built for far away seas. Not their sea. Not their ships. No longer their men.
And a loneliness, a pain that strangled and suffocated from within sat heavy upon each of them.
It grew from the tree tops and polluted the soil.
It turned potatoes purple and twisted carrots till they burst.
It sucked at the water wells and ground coal to dust.
It blew clouds that dropped rain, dark and heavy.
And the world turned.
‘Well let us keep him’ spoke out Sophia.
The sea roared and the sadness lapped at their toes.
‘Ok’ nodded Regina.
‘Alright’ spoke Manera.
‘Yes, yes’ said Etty.
‘He’s ours’ Simona whispered.
And so it came to be that the women, us women, carried the man, gently as the sea had, across the beach and up the hill to the cut of a rock that ripped into the waters. And there they placed him, overlooking the sea and all she had to give. Like a lighthouse he shone to them, to each in a different way.
And one by one they kissed his cheek and one by one they stepped away. Back down the path lined with what once was and out towards their homes filled with the should’ves, could’ves and what if’s of life.
And that day each one mixed a little twist of their heartspace and a pinch of what was lost into their soup. And they ate it all down, a hunger upon them like they’d never known.
And as the sun shone up the next day they arose, a spring to each step, as they opened curtains and boiled up tea mixing in a sprinkle of hope and a spoonful of maybe’s.
One by one they went to visit he that had come, the man, the one.
They named him up Skye for it was the most beautiful thing they could think on. Had they had a working church atop their isle could be he would’ve been a Jesus but the days for belief in books were gone.
These days they believed in the things that real be. The sea and the sky and all that flowed inbetween.
And the days passed in such a way.
The women began to gift him things. They’d make two of what they gave to the sea.
Sprinkle wine at his fingertips.
Crumble cakes near his ears.
Set candles at his feet and leave petals by his head.
And the isle began to sound like they imagined he would’ve.
In the whistle of the wind they heard him speak.
In the fall of rain they felt his hands touch.
In the taste of apples off the tree they tasted him.
And slowly, strangely, the things that should befall befell another way.
For the man, he that they named up Skye, did not disappear as is right and proper. As a dead man should. His skin did not turn to dust and his eyes did not soften to ashes. No bones appeared and his skeleton remained hidden.
Instead the cakes seemed to feed him full and the wine drank him down and the petals spoke to him of growing and his heart began a beating deep to his chest. At first it was faint and soft as a tap drips on a full sink. But as each day passed it grew in size and force, till it beat loud like a drum and the women noticed something wrong.
Their apple trees had doubled in size. Their plum fruit turned itself to wine and the gooseberrys were sweet as sugar to their tongues. The trees that grew tall now covered the sky above them, their homes swallowed whole. They saw no sky but he.
And so the earth turned on.
Until the day his eyes opened.
Wide and blue. Ocean fat and full.
He blinked at the overgrown island, now wild and unkempt, at the piles of fruit that surrounded his head, at the mountains of petals around his feet and the buckets of wine that lined up his side.
And at his side sat Manera, Etty, Regina, Sophia, Magda, Simona and I.
For near the time it takes for the world to turn it seemed he sat, our Skye, still until each a one of us felt sure he had but died again. And then, just like that, he sneezed. It wasn’t polite nor dainty, soft nor contained. It was loud and raucous and it shook the island and rattled each of us to our ribcage.
But it proved, beyond all else, that the man lived true as he had in each of our hearts, and the women, we women, inhaled and exhaled an inch closer as one.
Regina, always the first in a crisis, moved quick as a mouse to tear off a green leaf from a nearby branch and presented it to him, palm up and open. He slowly, with limbs that ached from un-use, took the leaf and blew his nose on it, letting it drop to the ground, settling atop the petals resting there.
‘Hello?’ he spoke.
And the women, we women, now close enough to breath him in, looked to one another with eyes wide in shock. For Skye, our Skye, was like the sea to us. A presence always there, a power just beyond reach, a being who we loved and who loved us and one with whom spoke to us through the wind and the sun and the world in-between but never, it must be said never, did we expect actual words to fall from him. We were as shocked as if our island has sprouted legs and upped and walked us to the moon.
“Am I dead?” He spoke again and seemed to look closely at each of us in turn. “Do you understand me? Where am I? Am I dead? Who are you? Hello?”
At this unexpected outburst we women backed off ever so, for fear of what else would happen next. One slight nod from Regina and, slowly as a snail so as not to disturb him into action, we upped and crept away into the cove of a greenpea bush to discuss a plan of action.
For in truth we did not want a talking god. We had no need for a man’s voice atop this land, so used had we become to the ways of a woman’s tone. To knowing each other inside and out. To the waves of the wind and all that it meant. This isle was ours because we built it so.
So we huddled, knee aside elbow, in the greenpea bush and with few words agreed that unless Skye was willing to return to his position as a silent place for our prayers, we had little need for him.
Out of the bush we came, one by one, Simona the last to step to the semi-circle atop the cliff, and the sound of seven hearts clenching escaped us as we saw Skye now stood, stretching his limbs and pulling off greenery that hung low from the branches.
An anger surged through our collective limbs as this man, this body, this stranger to us, tore at our island. As one we stepped forward, surrounding him. ‘Stop’ spoke Regina, a quaver to her voice. ‘Stop now and we’ll do no more’
‘Who are you? And why should I do as you say? If I’m dead and this is all I have’ he roared and he continued, as if not a care beyond anger to his mind. We watched as leaf upon green leaf fell, crumpled to the floor. Branches and twigs caught up in his rage and he trampled and destroyed and tore up our land before our very eyes. Until.
Until Regina stepped forward with a firm foot. We followed as one. As if in response, he began to tear whole trunks from the ground, hurling them to the sea below. His fingers clutched at soil in handfuls, pulling up potatoes and too-soon orange carrots, tipping over our carefully collected buckets of wine and spitting upon our petals laid as a pillow. Regina stepped closer. As did we. And his arms ripped an apple tree from its home and threw it to the floor.
No sooner had he placed his hands on our plum tree then Regina was upon him. With one push to his chest he flew, hard and fast as a bird taking flight. If a sound did escape his lips it was stolen up by the air. For a moment his body, nursed to life by our very hands and hopes, seemed to still itself in the air, as weightless as a feather, before tumbling rock heavy to the sea below. And just like that she swallowed him whole and in one.
We seven sets of eyes peered over the rock face and mourned our losses as we watched apples bob and tree trunks wave in the blue below. Slowly we turned, Simona at the front, and without a word knelt to our isle and began to pack down the soil with our hands, tuck the roots back into the earth with our fingers, feeling the ground move beneath our steady arms. As the sun turned to orange and slid low to the sky we brushed the dirt from our knees and looked to one another.
Without another word we turned down the hill face and walked our land back.
As we reached the wooden and stone homes, patched and build strong with our very own hands, Regina stopped short aside a water well. She dipped into a wooden box where upon we keep the pails and pulled out a bottle filled with plum wine. Our finest.
‘Women. To the sea. To our isle. To us. We have rebuilt our world and the view be different from what once was. The sea has washed them days clean and now all we have here is all we ever had.’ And she sipped the sweetness to her tongue, passing it hand to hand, lips to lips and we drank the bottle dry.
A smile on each of us as the sky above turned blue to black and shone out the light of the stars and, with the taste of the earth under our fingernails, we slept.