“Let’s not talk about Tim now.” Carrie’s father put the land rover to a firm halt in the small yard with gray and white pebble-stones.
“Sorry, I have a liiitle bit of jetlag, okay?” Carrie muttered under her breath. She hadn’t meant to mention Tim, but as they drove up the final road to her childhood home, her daughter Emma had asked if she was to sleep in Carrie’s old room and if her little brother was to sleep in Tim’s old room, and then Carrie had answered without thinking.
“So this is the house? Wow – do you have sheep, grandpa?” On the backseat Emma was bubbling with excitement.
Carrie cast a quick glance at her father before she answered. “Yes, Emma, that’s where I grew up, with the sheep. And with your uncle.”
“You’re breaking our agreement on purpose, Caroline.” Her father sighed in exactly that tone Carrie hated. She knew it would be coming. Perhaps that’s why she had felt like striking first.
“What agreement?” Emma was there immediately, almost crawling out between the front and passenger seat.
“Nothing,” Carrie said with enough venom in her voice that Emma drew back. “Use the door if you want to get out. That’s what it’s there for.”
There was a slight drizzle, and Carrie remained seated as Emma struggled to open the heavy backdoor. Her grandfather went out from the driver’s seat and around the car to help her, too. Carrie could also hear Jon, her husband, get out of the other land rover behind them, presumably to help Sheila with the luggage (and with Michael).
So Carrie was the last person inside any of the vehicles. Like a piece of forgotten luggage.
She looked out through the rain and the front window and took in the contours of the house. She noted that she didn’t feel anything. Not yet. She noted that was good. She went out to the others.
“No that one!” She could hear Michael cry out, pushing a suitcase back in the trunk of land rover number two. Sheila looked confused. “Take that one instead,” Michael said and pointed to a big grey suitcase – his father’s. Carrie bit her lip but said nothing, since Sheila looked as if she was determined to figure out how to do it right. Jon had stopped and looked unsure how much he should interfere.
The flight from the States had been surprisingly unproblematic for Michael, and then he had freaked out because the suitcases got off the plane in the wrong order. ‘Autism without borders’ Jon had joked, referring to that Doctors Without Borders secretary job she mused about on the way over. Carrie had sent him a withering glance and then they were both busy helping Michael cope with another painful interruption in his world’s order, while Emma withdrew to a bench to see if she could get a signal on her phone.
But at least they were finally here, after another half day of travel from Glasgow and up into the highlands. Carrie and Jon, their children, and the children’s grandfather along with his new wife.
It should have been the moment of relief but Carrie felt tense as a wire.
Emma was already striding towards the small white house, her pink backpack bumping up and down for every step.
“Emma!” Carrie called, “let granddad go first so he can open the door.”
“The garden path is still big enough for two,” Carrie’s father said. “I’ll get the young lady in first and then Jon and I can take the luggage.”
“Just be careful about the order-” Carrie started and carefully glanced in the direction of Sheila and her son.
“We’re fine, mom!” Michael waved and looked as if he had had an epiphany. Their suitcases were now ordered according to a certain sequence of colors that absolutely had to be correct. So all problems were over. Michael’s glasses were slightly foggy due to the drizzle and when he grinned, braces and all, he reminded her of a kid from one of those science fiction cartoons that he reveled in every weekend. Carrie wondered if they could watch them on YouTube and what they would do if they couldn’t. There had been so many things …
And from that point on, the logistics of unloading their baggage and getting everybody in before Scotland’s famous five hundred varieties of rain had soaked them all unfolded with remarkable speed and efficiency. Emma’s enthusiasm even seemed to have a strangely contagious effect on her brother, who was usually quiet and reserved when confronted with new places and situations. It was not long before the kids were roaming around the house, admiring everything with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as if they had been dropped into a toystore.
“If the wee ones weren’t 9 and 11, I’d give them a good drink to calm things down,” Carrie’s father remarked, followed by one of his trademark wry smiles, as he came in with the last suitcase. “And if I still had good drinks in the house.”
Then he stopped, as he saw Carrie standing frozen in the small hallway, looking at the faded drapery with the Lone Shieling verse on it:
From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas
Yet still the blood is strong,
the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides
“Dad, why is Tim’s jacket still here?” she asked.
Her father stopped, suitcase only half over the doorstep. Small droplets of water formed underneath it then disappeared into the mat.
For a long time her father was silent. Then he said, “I don’t know, Caroline. I guess I thought it was wrong to remove it. It’s right under the drapery.”
Carrie crossed her arms. “I can see that. So much for the agreement, eh?”
“I’m really sorry,” he offered, sounding genuinely out of it. “I guess I have a bit o’ permanent jetlag about that one. It’s been hanging there for so long, I … ”
Carrie didn’t hit back this time. Apparently there were some things you could try to agree to tell a certain story about, and then you would discover soon enough that there were other authors working around you.
Inside the living room she could hear Jon trying to calm the kids, while Sheila was rummaging with something on the stove in the kitchen right beside it. But she could only see the jacket. And the drapery.
“Shall I put it away?” her father asked, bracing himself.
Carrie opened her mouth like she was trying to find a breath. “No. No, it’s okay.” She put on her best smile.
“And if Emma asks?” Carrie’s father continued. “She’s an inquisitive lass, I can already see that. What should I tell her?”
“It will probably be Michael,” Carrie said. “He’ll tell you it isn’t your size. Emma may wonder about the Metallica logo on the back, though.”
“Aye, well, I still think I should put it away,” her father said. “I wouldn’t know what to tell them, anyway.”
Carrie breathed deeply. “Tell them the truth. I should have done that already, but I thought it was best to focus on this … reunion.”
“I reckon we both did, Caroline.”
Carrie worked to get her coat off, suddenly feeling how tired she was from the journey. “You know, Michael will tell you that Reunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean. He knows pretty much all the islands in the world. Right now it’s the ones starting with ‘R’ that he is most interested in, though.”
Her father helped her with the coat. “My grandson seems to be good at remembering the right things, then. That’s not a bad start.”
And so they went in, to be together.