Isle of Skye

How do you say goodbye to a child you didn't know you would lose?

Published January 24, 2001 12:17AM (EST)

I remember the day before there was a mackerel sky over Edinburgh; later, scudding clouds and mists. But when we traveled to Skye, it was clear, cloudless, a canopy of blue.

You can reach the island by bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh. Not for us. We take the ferry instead from Mallaig and stand on the guardrail looking at the glinting edge of the waves, the sunlight on water. And we arrive five minutes after the bus to the village has left.

In America, or England, the bus would wait for the ferry. But this is the Highlands, the Islands, and the bus left five minutes before. We have traveled the Road to the Isles. We are here. We have no need for buses. We drag the suitcase and a wheel is wobbling. When your backpack drops off, you stop, frustrated.

"Mom! Mom!"

I turn. Your face is a warm pink and wears a cartoon scowl. It's my fault, of course, for not booking ahead, checking schedules. I have come back to myself here. I have come back to what I was before, to what I am at the very core. My rebel Scottish blood reasserts itself against order, sensibility, good planning.

"Only a few more minutes," I say. "There'll be a hotel, a pub." At least let there be a pub, I pray.

And there it is!

A coach house with an old pub sign, swinging in the breeze from the Loch. I don't remember the name -- King's something, perhaps. It is an old white building, overlooking an inlet. We can see gray water and hear the sound of it lapping on the mossy banks. The voices from the rooms have the lilting sound of the Highlands. And the room is light, comfortable, with a little bath.

"Yeah! All right!" you say. We are happy to have found so good a place.

It's late, we've missed dinner. In the bar they serve chicken in a basket or fish and chips. We order both. We'll share. A shandy for you, a glass of wine for me. You love the shandy, gulp it down, then look around for a waiter.

I smile. "Hey, this isn't Los Angeles," I say. "You have to get it yourself. It's a pub."

You go to the bar, counting money in your palm, anxious. An L.A. youth, just 16 years old, waiting to be asked for I.D. The bartenders serve you easily, of course, smiling at each other.

You come back toward me in the warm pub, holding the drinks high with a wide smile that says, "I am the man."

I remember we talked about plans for hikes, boat trips. We ate, we smiled. You had rhubarb pie and the locals waited for your American response to something so tart. "It's good," you said. "It's cool." You grinned at me, not wincing once. I loved you so much.

Did you know that?

In that pub on the Island of Skye the locals exchanged glances with me, nodding, "He's a good lad, a good wee laddie." They saw the pride on my face. "Yes, he is. Yes." They knew that I loved you.

Freeze that moment. Go back. Rewind to that point.

Go fast, past a midnight in May. A Los Angeles highway, a car veering out of control, a truck crossing three lines of traffic to hit one corner of a Mustang convertible with its top down. To slam into it, to shatter it, to extinguish one young life.


Had I known that was your destiny, in that pub in Skye I would have held you so fast. I would have asked them to help me, those kind people with their warm Highland voices. Help me hold this boy. Here. We'll live here. Live here forever. There are schools. And girls. You can go to university in Edinburgh. Or Inverness. It will be wonderful.

It will be life.

By Mary McCluskey

Mary McCluskey is a British journalist living in California. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Zoetrope, Linnean Street, Exquisite Corpse and Atlantic Unbound. She has just completed a novel.

MORE FROM Mary McCluskey

Related Topics ------------------------------------------