I think there is little for me here in Shapinsay. I think one must have an incredible sense of self containedness to live here. I have just been to the shop for the third time since I arrived, three different assistants but no questions, no welcomes, no ‘how are you liking the island’. There are two elderly men in the shop, I smile and say hello, they nod back. In front of me at the counter, one forgets his change but does not smile or enter in to banter when reminded.
My turn, ‘I hope you don’t mind all my loose change’, I say, smiling and looking directly at the assistant, ‘for I have a pocketful I’d like to get rid of’. ‘No’, she says amiably but that terminates our conversation. It’s not about me per se, there seems to be no conversation between these people themselves, at least, not when I’m here.
Thelma says why would they ask me questions when they probably all know who I am. I get her point but I miss them doing so, miss them wanting to talk, wanting to know a little bit about me. I miss conversation. I miss there being a cafe or a pub where I might sit and where my purchase might at least buy minor pleasantries.
I am told Shapinsay has a wonderful sense of community, I can only say as I find and I have not found.
I am sitting in my car at Ness looking at the evening sunshine, I am facing an impending sunset that might be beautiful. I could be walking on the beach but I gave it a look, it is the same as before, seaweed, sand, rocks, waves, stunning, but it holds nothing for me today. I retreat to my car and sit to write, safe from fierce, gusting wind that both prevents me opening the door and immediately slams it firmly shut. I open the over large pack of corn chips I just bought when the shop didn’t have salt popcorn, only toffee.
Have I written about the dead body in the sea? Walking the dog yesterday morning my eyes were drawn to a buoy, a large buoy floating in the water but one that I have not previously noticed. Is it a buoy or a body? White shirt and black trousers? Two divers have drowned in the two weeks since I have been here. Tragic, people say, but it happens all the time and really it seems to be of little news. This is not a body, I feel it has to be a buoy but it is laying at a strange angle, seems to be tethered, pulling across the current, against the tide. I think again, perhaps it is a dead body, a person wearing black trousers, white shirt but I try to make it look like a fat pencil buoy. A seagull is too interested in it though, it is a dead body floating, I am sure, but a body of what? I climb the small hill and look out from the top, it is a thick pencil buoy.
Paulo and I walk on to the boundary wall where I watch conflicting currents. The wind and current tousle each other’s hair, ripple and break together, tumbling playmates. By the time the dog and I return, there is no doubt that it is a body, perhaps that of a small whale, it is slowly drifting toward the shore, close to Vasa point. I think I can make out black holes where eyes might be, the belly looks swollen distended. I am unsure why I always look for dead bodies in the sea, expect to find them, watch the surface for anything unusual. I often wonder if it means I might meet a watery end.
I play a game of spider solitaire on my phone. I hear a seal keening. The warmth from my heated seat is comforting. Somewhere on Mainland, my friends, the Polar Bears, are swimming. This island is too isolated for me, I have no place here. My thoughts turn to a desert island and how I might cope, if alone. I think, for all my perceived lack of need for others, I would struggle. I need to be around other people even if not directly WITH them. I need to have choices. Perhaps I am attention deficit, such that any one thing does not hold me for long. I know this is not true but it is the truth of the melancholia I find myself in.
The softly rolling landscape is neither harsh nor imposing, I have big skies and can see for miles but I find no essence that might hold me. Today, I am bereft of meaning or purpose. Two sheep have been fighting intermittently while I have been sitting here, tussling and then backing away from each other only to repeat the same, over and over.
Plant repotting was my task again this morning, I felt contented doing that. Cleaning windows was less attractive as an ensuing task although I surprised myself and washed the outsides too, something I would never do at home. Afterwards, I said, it’s a lovely day I’m going walking. Would you like to take my car and the dog? Thelma asked. For a moment I was lost for words, has she not yet realised that my tolerance for the dog is just that, a tolerance. I am unsure of boundaries, hear myself say, would you like me to take him? She responds, people often do take my car, they are happy to drive it. I squirm but manage to squeeze out my truth. Actually, I would rather walk alone this time and she lets me go.
Tomorrow I have the dog from midday right through until the following late evening. It will be a trial. One step at a time. Keep a ball nearby at all times. Without a ball, he is likely to jump and take anything out of my hands, whether it be a plant, a coffee or a brush. He has started to butt the back of my legs, pulls my coat pocket. I think our relationship is borderline, I think he knows I have little control over him. Increasingly when we walk, he keeps his ball, lays it for me to pick up and throw but takes it again when I am just yards away.
I don’t like these corn chips yet eat them anyway until I get out of the car and throw two thirds of the pack to the birds. It is not food I am needing, my soul needs nourishment but for the time being it can absorb neither the sea nor the sky. Lambs skit in the field in front of me, running one way and tother up and down the fence, taking it in turns to jump and lead. I find I am missing baby Molly.
I don’t know why I am here, why I am away, what it is that I am seeking? I need to be on the move. Perhaps I will stay in Stromness just one month and then pack my car and wander slowly home for Christmas. Perhaps. The car has grown cold, I start the engine again, rewarm my seat.
Sun shines peachy-gold behind heavy blue-grey cloud. I do not want to be on this island. A shaft of light springs from a gap in the cloud and reaches out, trying to grasp the blue sky above, to hold on to it but heavy clouds pull tightly together, cover the rays and quell their beauty.
Another car drives up, approaches fast, swings around without a glance, no ritual wave of the hand. The driver is male and young, I think he will go for a run but he parks up and sits behind me, texting. I can see him in my rear view mirror. He has no dog and does not even make the short walk I made down to the beach and back up.
There will be no sunset this evening. The clouds are falling into the islands and the islands into the sea. Soon only the grass in front of me will be distinguishable from the grey watery-sky-island-scape. An engine turns as the man heads his car further towards the beach. There is nothing there, he looks younger than I initially thought and I think he responds to my wave with a scowl as his car disappears behind the dunes. I wonder if he was expecting a liaison and I have interfered with his plans. Minutes later, he reappears and zooms out up the road. This island has a strong sense of community I am told.
A crescent moon plays hide and seek with thin layers of fast moving water vapour. I understand it might be a good aurora tonight if not for the promised cloud. A deep pink begins to glow in a strip of sky, at moon height, sharing the same gap in the clouds. Thelma will be wondering about me, this is the first time I have left the house without her while she has been here. I find some extra strong mints in the door of the car, gone soft, spoiled but nevertheless welcome. It is raining in the east but above and to either side of me the sky is lifting, clearing, the sky is lighter than several minutes ago. I struggle to focus, to concentrate my thoughts.
Some one is checking me out. A quad bike drives along the road, stops, turns to come this way, reverses, waits, then drives off. The car creaks, engine cooling down I think, but the light is fading and I begin to feel spooked. I want to stay in this place of no belonging but the man in the car and now the quad bike have set me on edge in the dusky light.
Suddenly, my light is taken from me and I look up to see the sky fall, darkening, rain is spreading, black cloud now looms over my car. My heart beats faster, my body feels menace, the wind says go you are not wanted but my brain says stay, it’s all ok.
The silver sliver moon has been consumed. It exists no more. My body wins, it is time to go.