She had turned the other way at the crossing. Quickly she biked west on the 884 instead of going to the school in the village. When the tension of just going on without a definite goal became too great, she stopped and left the bike in the tall wiry grass on the hillside, then made her way down to the beach. She felt that she should go to the water’s edge. But she had to cross the stones first.
She carefully stepped from one big gray boulder to another, each of them protruding from the naked wet sand like small islands. It had not rained last night so the surfaces of the stones were dry and hard, unlike the sand below them which was continually soaked in the shallow surf that breathed in and out from. It wasn’t much of a hide-out here, she had to admit – probably only a few miles from the house.
Eventually ma would find her if she stayed here much longer. She knew ma would soon come looking. She also knew that pa – if ma had called him first – would have told ma in no uncertain terms why it would be best for ma to find “the wee brat”. And without something else to do, except roam the house looking for dust and the remnants of a dream, it would for sure be ma who came a-looking. She wondered how much time she had left.
The red wristwatch which gran had given her for Christmas already reminded her that it was more than an hour ago that she was supposed to have been at her table beside Siné. She scolded herself for looking at the watch again. She should make a decision on which way to go – now.
But the truth was, she knew, as she stood still here at the edge of the indifferent gray-blue waters of the loch – that she could not decide where to flee. Maybe when she got older, but how much older? When you are 10 a year or two is a long time, and even then running away seems like a frightening liberation, like running into one dark room – away from another.
No! She could do it this morning! She could go back up the hill, pick up the bike, and … there was Siné parents’ boat down at the pier in Milovaig. She knew how to turn on the engine or make the sail work. Sinés father had shown her countless times. And Siné would understand … she hoped. So she turned to go back up – quickly stepping from one imaginary island to another, on the stones. She had been a fool to go down here first, to think about it, but she hadn’t been decided. And maybe … she still wasn’t decided?
She began running. If she moved quickly enough, perhaps she would outrun the doubt before it could delay her again. She couldn’t bear the indecision anymore. She had to try something. Unfortunately, immovable and dry as the stones were they didn’t exactly invite for a sprint. She had to slow down again when she almost fell.
That’s when she recognized the car up on the road. It stopped. Ma had spotted the bike. There weren’t many other things to spot out here, except a few lazy seagulls. Blast it! She might as well have put up a road sign for her ma on where to find her. Her mother stepped out of the car, slowly … as if she had seen a wild animal that she was now afraid of chasing away.
“Caroline – why aren’t you in school?”
“Because I hate school! Because Rory an’ Sid an’ – an’ I wish … I wish they’d all die.”
“We talked about this, with Mrs. Gregory – remember?” her mother tried, soothingly. “They promised they would leave you alone.”
“They lied. They’re nothin’ but a bunch o’ liars!”
“Come, honey – I’ll drive you to school. We’ll put your bike in the trunk.”
“I am ne’er going back ta school!”
Ma looked tired, her voice sounded tired:
“Should I phone dad, then? Let him pick ye up?”
“I’d rather be spanked a hundred times by pa than be chased by Rory and that gang o’ his one more time.”
“Well … what do we do then?”
“I do nae know.”
Her mother thought a bit about it then said:
“Maybe we could go home and I could bake you some of gran’s pancakes? Then I’ll call Mrs. Gregory and say you are ill?”
Carrie stood still for a while, feeling under her feet the big smooth stone she had stopped on. It had been smoothed by countless millions of waves running over it, like an ancient rhythm repeating itself again and again. It felt as if it lay very still, but everybody knew that the stones and rocks were moved by the eternal surf, even if it was just a few inches a year. Where they eventually would end up was another question. But it was almost certainly in a fixed area near the beach or in the loch. There was nowhere else to move but within the fold, that nature dictated.
Unless you didn’t need the surf to move you. Maybe that was scarier, though, because even with a completely free choice you might just end up repeating the same old mistakes over and over, and end up at the same old shore where you came from. Then it would be your fault if you never got off the beach.
“Please, honey – “ Ma looked like she was about to cry again, like last night.
Carrie looked down at the stone she stood on.
“Okay,” she said and stepped off it.