It was difficult to decide which part of my new novel to let you read. I didn’t want to let you peep too far into the gate and spoil the story for you. Nor did I want to show you the beginning, because you can read that on Amazon, can’t you?
So, what about this part? It is fairly near the beginning and lets you see how Mhairi is coping with the things that are upsetting her.
She could be going about her daily life, thinking of nothing more than the task she was working on, the meal she was planning, when a word, a phrase, a smell, a trick of light, and there, something was triggered in her head and she’d be taken back to that garden or to the life without it.
To the abyss of loneliness: overwhelming despair that had bowed her head and bent her back. To the void of hopelessness: deepening shadow that had darkened her eyes and destroyed her sleep.
It amazed her she had lived through it: shocked her she had been forced to.
Mhairi dragged herself from the brink again, as she had so many times over the years. Whenever she allowed herself, or was unable to stop herself remember those barren years, she came so close to losing her mind that it frightened her. Each time, it took a huge effort of will not to allow the past to drag her down into its morass of hurt and blame. Each time, she had to remind herself she had survived before, she would survive again.
Forcing herself to take a long, deep breath, she gathered her coat and keys and took herself out.
Driving into Edinburgh at this time of day didn’t take too long and she reached Holyrood Park in thirty-five minutes. Parking the car, she crossed the road and walked briskly to the bottom of the hill. At a slightly slower pace, sometimes walking the well trodden paths, sometimes scrabbling over rocky parts, she reached the top of Arthur’s Seat in not much more than two and a half hours. Breathless and elated, she stood at the top and gloried in her accomplishment. It got her every time. That hard push beyond thinking, beyond pain. No matter how desperate she felt, no matter the weather, climbing this hill imbued her with power. As long as she was able to force her legs and her lungs through the burning pain of this climb, she could believe there was hope that the past would not catch up with her, that she was strong enough to fight against its drag.
The wind was strong up here by the cairn, but Mhairi loved it. Sitting on the grass, she closed her eyes, leant back on her hands and offered her face, feeling the wind chill her skin and whip her hair, taking her breath and throwing it back at her with full force as it swirled. Not until it had whipped the last thoughts of the past from her mind did she open her eyes to look at Edinburgh lain out at her feet.
The city, the castle, the river, the hills: it was all set out before her like an architect’s model, with background views all round, full-circle: over the Pentland Hills; the city; the Forth Road Bridges; the Fife coast, and out to Bass Rock and the conical shape of Berwick Law. When she stood up, she had almost a complete three-hundred-and-sixty degrees of ever-changing view — all wrapped in blue sky with heavy white clouds hanging in it, undecided whether to release their load now or wait till later.
Autumn had already rushed in on the scene with a chill wind, ripping half-turned leaves from their branches earlier than they would have chosen to fall. Though there were no trees up here at the top of the climb, she could see them in the vista she surveyed.
Mixed with the peaty smell, there was the sniff of snow in the air and she filled her lungs with the sharp, freshness of it, loving how cleansing it felt.
The city looked very small: cars and buses moved along the grid like tiny ants, insignificant from this vantage point; people were no more than dots, too small to even bear the label ‘insignificant.’ What arrogance to think mere mortals were the pinnacle of creation. What were they but specks of dust on the surface of the planet: a planet placed in a veritable plethora of celestial bodies all moving in a majestic choreography.
What was her life compared to the vastness of the world around her? What place did she hold in the universe?
Yet there was something in her that clung to life, clung to the value of her own life. She spread her arms to the wind, turning slowly in a circle, embracing the sky, the hills, all of it. “I am here,” she told the world. “I am me. This is my place.”
No traffic smells, no traffic sounds, but the smell of snow and heather on the wind, the sound of the same wind in her ears, the distant mumble of the earth turning. Up here, she had space in her head to hear the hum of life. It was made up of insect noises and bird calls, human voices and the thrum of her own blood. Up here she could shut out the past and live in the moment, her only thought how to drink it in and hold its healing in her heart. Up here, she knew she was alive. Up here, she felt invincible.
“I am here. This is my time.”
There were always walkers on the hill, regardless of wind and weather. She acknowledged with a nod the one or two she passed as she walked round its crest, revelling in the rawness of the day and the bounce of the tough grass beneath her feet, pulling the crisp air deep into her lungs and holding it for as long as she could. Spreading her arms wider and lifting her face back to the sky, eyes closed, she spun slowly round and round, round and round until she felt as though the whole world spun on this axis, this was the centre of the planet, everything spun out from this point.
Other walkers smiled back at her, complicit in her pleasure. It was good to be here. Good to get perspective: to know that just as every blade of grass on that hillside added to the wealth of its beauty, so too, did each one of them have a part to play in the great drama of life. ‘I am here. I am me.’
Enough. It was enough. She was restored.
As she made her way to the car, she studied every part of the walk back down the hill as though she would be asked questions about it later. Was there much heather still blooming? Had the wind stripped the gold from the gorse? What about birds? Did she see many? Which ones? She was greedy for it all, anxious to store it for barren days ahead, when this walk might be denied her.
Enough? It would never be enough.
HERE AT THE GATE
Available on Amazon:
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and can be ordered from bookstores.