For the second year in a row, Moniack Mhor had the pleasure of supplying the first prize in the Tarbert Book Festival writing competition. The eventual winner was Sylvia Hehir with her short story Oban – The Perfect Destination. Sylvia has given us kind permission to share the story with you here.
Duncan angled Mother’s chair at the dining table. She liked to be able to see the bird table through the bay window, although this blustery morning the only visitors were the resident blackbirds and the ubiquitous chaffinches.
In the kitchen, Duncan filled the kettle before turning on the gas, striking a match and placing the kettle amongst the blue flickering flames. ‘Coffee or tea for the flask,’ he called, but any answer was drowned out by the spitting of the bacon in the frying pan. It was an unnecessary question anyway. When had Mother wanted anything other than tea? Still the day might come, he considered, when he would have a say.
He turned around suddenly; a shadow had passed behind him. And was that the smell of Mother’s Gardenia perfume? He chastised himself, knowing full well that Mother couldn’t get out of her chair by herself.
He watched a jay fly past the kitchen window and counted out loud, but there was just the one. He disliked their unnecessary noise and their tawdry colours were decidedly out of place around here. Still, they were preferable to those magpies. He wondered if there was a superstition attached to the number of jays seen. He hoped it wasn’t the same as for magpies. One was not a good number to see, not today of all days. But as he recited the rhyme in his head, no other number seemed appropriate either. He was thankful, at least, that he’d not seen two.
They had decided on Oban for today. They’d tried Mallaig first – the fish and chips there were the finest in all of Scotland, Mother had always commented when they’d been there for family holidays – but the wind had been far too strong. And at Kilchoan – another favourite holiday destination – the waves had been thrashing the rocks. So, Oban it would be.
After clearing away the breakfast things, Duncan selected appropriate outerwear. Pushing aside his anorak, he opted for his father’s old overcoat, hoping the weather wouldn’t get too warm as the day drew on. Then gathering up his backpack, they set out for their bus.
He’d been right. Oban was the perfect place. A gentle ruffling onshore breeze caused him to push his hat on more securely as he settled Mother into a secluded spot behind the seafront wall. Unused to such an action at his age, he spread out the overcoat and sat down beside her on the rounded pebbles.
The lid was a bit stiff, the thread sticking as he unscrewed it. But in a few turns the contents of the ornate jar could be seen. He upturned the jar gently and tipped Mother out onto pebbles at his side, letting her mingle with the sand and the tiny empty crab shells. A seagull squawked at him. That was all right too – you expect seagulls at Oban. He took out the flask from the backpack and poured out the weak tea. He could have coffee another time.