Here’s a quick story I wrote for one of my Creative Writing seminars. That week we’d been looking at ‘time and place’, and we’d been tasked with writing 1-2 pages set somewhere in our hometowns, with one character who’s a local, and one who is an outsider. We were also challenged to make the story take place over five minutes, five months, or five years, but because I include a flashback I’m not really sure if I achieved that. But anyway, here it is.
(WordPress can’t deal with paragraph indents so apologies for the unconventional formatting.)
‘Wait! The wind – it is going in the wrong way.’
I freeze, one hand gripping the urn at its base, the other holding the lid. A young woman, Spanish or Italian, I’m no good with accents, is tapping me on the shoulder. She’s small, and has on a rucksack so massive she seems likely to tip over backwards any second. It takes a moment for her words to sink in. I turn back to the city – tenements, tower blocks, Victorian houses, brutalist shopping malls, all fighting for space – and notice the cold breeze blowing in towards us. It makes my eyes sting. I look down at the urn in my hands; with the lid off I can see the contents, pale grey, chalky.
‘Aye, you’re right,’ I say. ‘A wasnae thinking.’
‘You do not want it to go in your face.’
I turn to look at her properly and see that she is smiling, uncertain. A test to see how close I am to breaking. I force a laugh. ‘Yeah, that’d spoil the moment a bit.’
She laughs too; a loud, childish thing. I see the smoothness of her face, broken only by the odd spots scattered across her forehead. She’s really just a girl, maybe seventeen, eighteen. Probably on a gap year. Everyone under thirty is on a gap year these days. Edinburgh is probably just one stop for her in a grand tour of Europe.
‘Who… who is it?’ she says softly. The wind almost swallows her words. It blows her dark hair across her face, which she brushes away with a gloved hand. Her question, the tense of it, is jarring, but I see she means well. I look down at the urn once more, replacing the lid.
I can feel the story rising to my lips. The story of how this moment began years ago. I am paralysed by the question of whether or not to tell it. The girl’s eyes are piercing; so dark I can barely make out the distinction between her irises and her pupils. As they morph from shock to pity I blink and find myself lying in a bed on a day that broke before she was even born.
Her arms are warm around me. The room is pitch black and we are heading towards sleep but I want this perfection to last a little longer, so I tell her about how I knew she was special on our first date, because the moment we reached the top of Calton hill, the whole place was glowing. She was golden. I tell her that just to impress her, just to be sweet. But I also mean it, because it’s true.
With the energy of two young people who really quite fancied each other, were a wee bit drunk and knew that hilltops were pretty fucking romantic, we had raced the whole way up the flights of stone steps, stopping at the top to catch our breaths as it all opened up before us. The strange collection of monuments seemed more like part of the landscape than man-made constructions. To our left, the wall that bordered the old domed observatory curved perfectly to fit the slope of the plain. To our right, the cylindrical Nelson’s monument rose up from behind a mess of trees as though someone had once planted it as a seedling and it had grown during some forgotten spring into its towering self. Only the National Monument seemed out of place, unfinished at the top of the hill. Scotland’s Disgrace. It must’ve been sort of embarrassing, not being able to finish a war memorial; trying to copy the Parthenon and ending up with a solitary twelve pillars holding up nothing but air. But it still looked majestic somehow. And then there was the long cut grass, whispering, and the people. Tourists milling around, taking photos, students drinking the evening out. And everything was glowing. And she was golden.
She laughs and tells me that it had been magic hour. The hour before sunset, when the sun’s low in the sky and its light has to travel the furthest. ‘It happens every night,’ she says, blinking eyelashes against my shoulder.
‘Well I never noticed ‘til I met you.’
The present grabs hold of my throat and pulls me towards her. ‘I am sorry,’ the girl says.
‘Maybe you could… throw her on the other side?’ Her face is deadly serious as she points towards the south edge of the hilltop. I let out a snort of laughter. She would’ve found this hilarious.
‘What is it?’ she frowns.
‘Nothing, just your… wording,’ I sigh. The single laugh has drained me. But the girl keeps looking at me, questioning. I try to summon more words but all I manage is, ‘A have tae scatter her here.’
The girl nods, and together we wait for a moment of still. The grass on the hill leans back and forth like a hand brushing velvet. The wind breathes deeply. Then it stops, the sun slides down in the sky, and everything is golden.