Jan/Feb 2000  •   Fiction

The Demon Lover

by Suzanne Thomson

She strode the polished wood of the stage, blue skirt swirling about her legs, arms held wide to the burgeoning applause. The Edinburgh Consort welcomed their star with knowing smiles. When she opened her lips and sang, my long exile blinked out of existence.

"Where have you been my long lost love, these seven long years and more?"

My husband cocked an eyebrow at me.

We heard once again the familiar Border ballads and songs of the Hebrides, on which she'd sailed to international popularity.

"The roll of the waves, wistful is their sound, as they chant thy praise in mine ear; by day thou art bewitching me and wounding me with longing, by night thou art my dreaming, O Land of Youth."

She was a tactile, sensuous woman, who caressed with her hands and voice, who moved close to speak, who touched constantly in conversation. And so I recommenced my wooing in kind, with tangible objects, with little luxuries I knew she couldn't resist.


Or so I thought.

"Apples!" she laughed. "What are apples to me?"

I took one and passed my lips over the cool golden skin and held it to her mouth, its scent under her nostrils. "These are magical apples from the Norse realm of the Gods, Asgard. Worth a kiss, at least."

"They look suspiciously like Asda supermarket apples. And anyway, what is Asgard to me?"

"The opposite of the realm of the dead, where there are no apples and no lovers."

Her eyes narrowed. There went my kiss. But the stakes were very high.

"I know the way," I said, "To Asgard."

"Heaven is a reward, not a given."

One cannot prevail in the face of righteous Calvinism. My hope was that her artist's soul- and my apples- would break open the black shell of dour Scotland, enabling her to be reborn, swaddled in the flamboyant cloak of her Celtic ancestors.

"Take these apples anyway," I sighed. "They are still sweet, without my breath to polish them."


But she came to me later. Hair in a prim bun, conservative woolen dress, but she came. I could tell immediately that she'd eaten my magical apples.

"You are to sit in that chair and don't move from it," she said.

"Will you be mistress in my own house?" I cried.

"Please pour me some wine," she said.

"Look, my favorite crystal glasses," I said. "Do you remember giving them to me, a fortieth birthday gift?"

She held the glass to the candle-light and looked through the crimson. "Never broken in seven years?"

When I leaned forward to touch her bare foot where it dangled, she pulled away. "I said," she said, raising a finger.

I sat back and with quiet confidence, drew out my trump card. "I'm taking Victory 'round Mull," I said. "You've always wanted to see Staffa."

"Oh, yes," she cried, then sobered quickly. "Hold on, you mean just me and you on your boat. Oh no."

"I will agree to behave as you wish me to, neither more, nor less. You sing the songs of the Islands for your living. Let me take you to Fingals' Cave. I'll find basalt glass and have a necklace made of it for you to wear."

"Is this your Hebridean overture?"

"I'll show you Tir-nan-og. If you're lucky."

"Do you fancy yourself heaven's tour guide?"

"I know the way," I said. 'But I can't go alone."

"And what shall we do with our husbands and children?"

"It's only for a week. They'll keep."

"I think if I go with you, it will be for eternity."

"Why then, the sooner, the better," I said.

"Or never the better."

"Come with me," I pleaded. "Our eternity is seriously circumscribed."


We set sail from Tighnabruiach.

She had been very glum on the drive over, despite, or perhaps because of the scenery; the rounded misty hills of the Highlands, the gray lochs and occasional dreary castle ruin. Shining Asgard, the Apple-Isle, was a long way away. But when she saw Victory rocking in the harbor, her interest was piqued. She moved about the boat touching its streamlined composition of wood, rope and wire. Her hand hesitated over the reefed mainsail.

"My grandmother," she said, "kept a set of sheets for her deathbed. It's an old custom. When she died, the sheets were carried outside to the lane and shaken out, so that everyone knew."

I unloaded the car, passing the boxes to her, and she stowed them in the galley. Her spirits lifted with the work, until she began to hum, then sing snatches of ballads, including her favorite, 'The Demon Lover'.

"What have you to keep me with if I with you should go? If I forsake my husband dear and my young son also?"

Her low voice moved me almost to tears with desire for her, inextricably bound with the ancient land and sea and silver light. My mouth and throat were dry. We hovered on the edge of a precipice, to which we'd grown accustomed after ten years. There, on the Victory, it reemerged palpably, frightening.

"I'll show you where the white lilies grow on the banks of Italy. I'll show you where the white fishes swim at the bottom of the sea."

I went over a checklist of the instruments and gear, and we eased away under power into the Kyles of Bute, escorted by black-headed gulls and fulmars. She was as excited as a child, eyes sparkling, leaping to do what I asked, peering over the side with exclamations. When I cut off the motor, and the mainsail unfurled, and Victory opened to the breeze, filled, tilted, and nosed into the deeper channel, she moved to the bow and laughed at the water washing ever more quickly under the keel.

"This boat is a work of art," she clapped her hands. "A sculpture."

I turned to her and did not say what was in my heart, but she saw it in my face. She grasped the forestay and put her other hand to her mouth.

After a time, I spoke. "If with the flame of love I shine beyond the measure that is seen on earth and overwhelm the power of your eyes, be not astonished."

"Done?" she asked.


"I meant, are you done?

"Do I spout too much poetry? Then," I cleared my throat and stepped, for well or woe, over the precipice. "You must stop my mouth with kisses."

She trailed her fingers along the sail as she approached.


I raised my head from her hands and gasped. Victory shied sideways in a gentle bump as we plowed over the rubber buoy. I scrambled to my feet and took the helm. She sat up and turned her back to me, and enfolded her knees in her arms. We watched the cormorants tuck, spin, and spear into the water, hurled like javelins from the low clouds as we sped toward the open sea, trailing a wake over Viking paths.

The waves changed to a deeper steely hue as we entered the Sound of Bute, and became an animated entity, rising and falling in a rolling swell. The sun set over the hills of Kintyre, a beacon to Tir-nan-og. With the kiss Victory became the white barge that ferries the Celtic souls across the sea to the Land of the Ever Young. Something unleashed filled the sturdy vessel, the lit energy expanding and blending into a swirling aurora.

We rounded Ardlamont Point and made for a secret cove. Its entrance was difficult to navigate, black rock just under the dark sliding water, but she crouched at the bow and called warnings as we motored in, eyes riveted by the task, arms stretched to point this way or that.

But for a lonely curlew, night came in absolute silence, and I dropped anchor in the calm, and took her beloved face in my hands and kissed her again and again.


The one appetite stole the other, but I'd had enough sense to prepare dishes beforehand, and the shepherd's pie was the snack we took intermittently through half the night.

Red lantern light illuminated the warm galley and the bed. I sat up and took in with my eyes what I had taken in with my mouth and hands. It is heart-rending to be given the gift of another, to see desire marry their open vulnerability, their fragile human beauty. And she was far more comely than she knew. The world is not in the business of elevating true feminine beauty, and her husband was a man of the world.

"It's hideous," she said. "How can you bear to look at it?"

I placed my palm over the length of the cesarean scar.

"Don't weep," she said. "Don't weep. I'll cover it up."

"Oh, God," I cried, and pushed the blanket away. "Don't you realize how beautiful you are? Don't you know why I am weeping?"

I bent over to kiss the hollow between her pubes and thigh, and brushed my lips through her fleecy dark hair. Then I gently bit the soft mound. She caught her breath, and when I pushed open her sinewy leg, came up on her elbows and arched her torso and let her head fall back.

She was still tense with self-consciousness, but very quickly her easy responses drew a whisper of surprise. Every sensation I offered her I felt within me, and I was surprised as well. But I'd been wanting her for a decade, and time finally stilled.


We drummed our heels against Victory's flanks. The sand below was white, every small pebble visible in sharp detail. The sun once again descended toward the same hills of Kintyre, as we had not been able to bring ourselves to leave the bed all day.

"I am lost," she said. "This boat might as well sink. Take me to Corryvreckan, let's at least be dramatic about it."

"We are lost, but we are wandering heaven's shore."

She cried out and lifted her feet. A massive white phantom glided beneath the boat and came to rest where the sun still warmed the sand, a basking shark, fins and gills mimicking the sparse bits of seaweed. We watched it for a long time, till the deepening shadows pulled a veil over the water, and our attention wandered to the shoreline, the small waves rhythmically hissing on the sand. We were in a hidden recess of the sea, acutely aware of the silent hills which encompassed us, as secluded and breathtaking as anywhere on earth.

"I would like for you to tell me," she said, "how I can possibly go home again."

"There is a part of you that never left it."

"Don't be cruel! Give me credit for coming this far."

"Sing something for me. No, not for me, for Scotland, a libation of song."

She stood up and moved around the boat, looking out over the dark hills and darker sea. When she sang, her voice filled the cove with the rich and melancholy sound of so many women whose voices had sained the land for thousands of years.

"The Grail of the dreamland, the youthland, is love-lit, beside the hill waters afoam to the sea, like tangle at noontide, like snow-wreath in moonlight, as thou who art yearning shalt yearn it to be."


It was undoubtedly a voyage of discovery. From beauty to beauty and pleasure to pleasure, yet always on the edge of danger, the tides racing through the shoals, through our veins. Our curly-haired heads bent solemnly over the charts as we reckoned how to circumnavigate the islands. We washed in sea-water, and imbibed it from our bodies, turning mermaid, anemone, tensing into muscular shark or softening into seal skin. In the warmth of coves, we dove from the Victory and came up gasping, or came gasping up from desperate embraces, immersed in one, immersed in the other. All seriousness aside, we played like the sea otters who came to visit, becoming selkies ourselves, casting off our thick hides to stand revealed on the virgin shore.

And we formulated the transformation of alchemy in the crucible of the boat. Ritual became us.

"By the glimmer of thine eyes in blackest night, I'll know." I lit one candle. "By the light of love that's kindled when my love I'll show," and lit a second. "By the joy that leaps and laughs there, like the dancing sea," a third, "I know thou lovest me."

"Be thou my dreaming," she passed her hands over the flames. "Thou my waking."


We avoided Corryvreckan on the way out, passing between Jura and Islay, and I told her about the American friend who'd sailed all unknowing through the giant whirlpool, a fool's luck, hitting the tidal currents at just the right time to be completely oblivious.

"Ah, that's often the way of it," she laughed. "But this one, this shoal, this whirlpool, I see it all too well."

In truth, there was far more unfurling of sheets in the cabin than sails on the deck. Our week was gone, and we'd only got as far as Colonsay. We put into the harbor at Scalasaig to phone her family. I leaned against the phone box and felt the foreign land moving under my sea-legs.

"Hullo, Tom. Yes, hullo, can you hear me? I, hullo? I'm on Colonsay. Colonsay! Yes. No, we've not made it to Staffa yet. No, if I need to be getting home, we could simply make for Oban and catch the train, but. Yes, we're so close, wouldn't it be a shame. Three days I should think. Oh, would you? That would be lovely, thank you. Oh, yes, think how dreadful to come this far, yes, exactly. Aye, I'll have a word with him." She caught my glance and turned her back to me, cradling the receiver on her shoulder. "Hullo my little Darling. Are you missing Mummy? I miss you, too my darling, but I'm about to sail round Mull and see Staffa, which I've been wanting to do all my life. Yes, I promise someday I'll take you there as well. Mummy loves you, darling. Yes, I'll bring back a sea-shell for you, don't you worry, I've already got a bucket-full. Good-bye darling, I've to hang up now. Be good."

She came out from the phone box. "Be good? Be good? Oh God."

"It's more common than you'd think."

"And did they, the others," she shut her eyes for a moment, then continued. "Did they manage?"


"I don't know if I can."

"I would not have asked you out if I thought you couldn't. But make your final decision now. It's not too late to return."

She started to speak, then looked back at the harbor and mainland. Then she turned to shade her eyes and peer north. The Ross of Mull across the sea hid a view of Staffa, but it was there, just over those hills, and she knew it.


A silver mist lay over the islands, and silver sands turned the sea to turquoise as we entered the Sound of Iona.

"The grail-lit isle," I said. "Do we go ashore?"

"Can we stay here tonight and go to Staffa in the morning?"

"Mo chridh, my heart, my beloved," I said, " we can do whatever we like."

We sailed a bit north and anchored near Port na Fraing, out of the ferry's path, between the Isle of the Women, and Iona. I rowed the tender ashore while she dozed on the deck in the misty sun-light, and returned with haddock fillets, potatoes, savoy cabbage, and chocolate bars.

I took her in my arms, she now more familiar than my own body, and nodded to the north. "There it is."



"Oh! Where? Which one? Not that tiny island?"

"Small under Rhum and Skye, but it'll be impressive enough when we get there."

She searched under the seat in the cockpit and took out the binoculars. "It's misty, it's hard to see. It's just a lump, really. Oh, what a disappointing first view."

I boiled the potatoes and cabbage, and sautéed the fish, and we sat on the deck, watching the light change over Staffa and the sea, eating with our fingers. Our meals and our times to sleep occurred whenever it suited us. No matter how tired, we could not lie together without making love, and so the nights passed in lantern-light and joy, and exhaustion closed our eyes in the wee hours, or into the late morning, or often afternoon if we could anchor somewhere. Then the love-making would start again. It was grand, creating our own perfect time.

But light of love, darkness of sorrow, there's never one without the other.

She turned her back on Staffa. "Are you making a fool of me?" she asked.


"Well, you can't... a person can't have an experience like this and just go back as if everything was normal."

"No, but the change is within us, like a precious jewel we'll always carry. Like the basalt glass I intend to find for you tomorrow." I opened my French picnic knife and halved an apple crossways, to reveal the seeded pentagram within.

"So, when for instance, I make love with Tom, this jewel is shining undiminished?"

I grimaced. Still, middle-age does have its compensations, and one is a better understanding of what women are truly capable of.

"Yes," I said.

She considered the idea, then stood in the bow to address Mull instead. "Thou kingly island of towering mountains," she sang, "aloof, majestic, in light or grayness, thou isle of peaks that outsoar the eagle, a woman's heart beats beneath thy sternness."

I poured wine and offered it to her. On the Isle of the Women, a cormorant opened its wings to the last of the sun.

"These are the glasses I gave you," she said.

"Hadn't you noticed?"

"I've been swamped, crushed by stimuli on this cruise."

"You make it sound frightening."

"It is, I'm terrified! I don't know that I really understand what's happened. Am I risking everything? Will I stop loving my family? How can sex ever be the same? I feel like a stranger to myself. And you, do I really know you? We've hardly been in touch at all since you left me."

I put my glass down. "I beg your pardon?"

"Well, yes, you did. You're the one who went off and lived in the States for seven years and sent me a Christmas card if I was lucky. And God knows what you were getting up to over there."

"I wooed you for three years, three years! With every means at my disposal. But I gave up. You gave me no cause for hope. I'd have done anything for you. But you wouldn't have me. And now you say I left you? And then immediately it seemed, you married Tom. What am I to make of that?"

She pouted.

"Are you suggesting that you were about to capitulate?"

She tossed a morsel of fish into the water. It floated away, no takers.

"I don't believe it."

She drank wine and never looked at me.

"Are you suggesting you have regrets?"

She sighed.

"Or was it that you got used to the flattery. Is that all it was?"

"You were married. I couldn't cope," she said. "It was simply too bizarre for me."

"Oh, God, are you saying that if I'd stayed, you'd have become my lover? That seven years have gone by, empty, without you? No, I don't believe you. I can't believe you."

The cliffs of Gribun on Mull caught the setting sun's rays and seemed to move close, a stunning wall of rock rearing up from the slope above the sea. Then, like a curtain being drawn, a solid wall of clouds in the west covered the sun and plunged the mountains into dark silhouettes. Streaks of sunlight flashed out of the clouds, but the shipping forecast had warned of a storm blowing in. The volatile elements and the play of light and darkness transformed the land into an elusive, fluid creature, Gaia at her most impressive.

"What are yon high high hills the sun shines sweetly in?" she asked in song. "Those are the hills of heaven my love, where you will never win."

Too close to the bone. I pushed her back with my teeth on the warmth of her neck, until she was lying on the deck, and my glass tipped over and shattered. I snarled and pushed the shards over the side. A large curve of glass stayed in my palm, in a neat and clever cut. I pulled it out and tossed it away, seeing the surprised flesh sliced open, then filled with blood. I stretched aside her pullover to lay bare her skin, and to her sharp cries entwined with that of the sea-gulls, bit slowly all around the hard nipple. I grasped the tear-drop shape of her breast. The blood flowed from my palm, over her ribs and across the deck. She tried to push my head away, gasping with the effort. But I fastened on her breast with my mouth and lapped and sucked in blood and tears mixed, what an unholy soup to be drunk in with such beauty.

"Stop," she cried. "Stop. I want to go back."

I kissed her, smearing her lips with my blood till we were as slick and sticky as if in a feast of cunnilingus. My hand moved up her thigh, bare under the skirt, leaving a streak of glistening brilliant red. I felt the cut gape and flow, deep deep in the flesh below my thumb. My hand stopped and hovered.

"Yes," she said, "please... Oh, God." and rose to meet me.


She held up the needle, her face streaked with tears. "I can't, I can't. There must be a doctor on Iona."

"You can do it." Under my hand, the blood coated one side of the bowl, then the other as the boat rocked.

She angled the lamp and bent close and pushed the needle through the inflamed skin. The cut had put a chasm across my life-line.

Large drops of water spattered against the port windows.

"There's that storm coming in," I said, pinching the wound's lips together to enable the needle to puncture the other side.

"There's too much blood still," she wept. "I can't see. I'll hurt you."

I laughed.

She threw the needle down and stood, her hair wild, her eyes blazing, her bosom rising and falling like the deepening waves. The blood still glistened on her face. She wheeled and pulled back the quilt, grabbed the top sheet and yanked it from the bed. I ducked back when she came at me with it, but she mopped up the blood on the table instead, and as if I were a messy child, from my mouth and hands, the thread and needle still dangling from my flesh. She followed the trail of blood across the floorboards, wiping as she went.

Her features were contorted, her teeth flashing, and I was afraid. She crashed into the hatch, opened it to the wind and rain, and tripped out with the sheet tangled around her legs. I followed, to see her almost plunge headfirst over the rail as the deck dipped, but she caught herself and hoisted the sheet over the side, where the fierce wind caught it and opened it, and spirited it away like a horrible spotted ghost. She roared at its flight. Then off with her blood-stained pullover, her skirt, also over the side. She stood to the cold rain, shuddering with her weeping, and let the elements cleanse the blood from her white body.


Later, we lay naked under the quilt, full length of our bodies tightly curled together. Her arms held me, one hand cupping my breast, and she sang softly in my ear.

"Thou'rt the music of my heart, harp of joy, oh cruit mo chridh, moon of guidance by night, strength and light thou'rt to me."

The storm descended with thunder and a great roaring, heaving the boat to and fro, dragging the anchor through sand until it hooked rock. Driftwood bumped the hull. Spume blew and breakers crashed over the Isle of the Women, and Iona hunkered down, its back to the Atlantic, the small row of houses and shops snug in the leeward wind. We were safe enough in the Sound, and once we felt the boat to be secure, we slept deep and long as if in a rocking cradle.


Dreams came in sharp elegies. Why must love's progress be dogged by the sense of loss? As if ecstasy pulled off into a spiral of divinity, creating a vacuum in our poor human bodies for its nemesis to fill.

In the dream a seal lay on the sand, alive yet unable to move. I turned it over to see a long gash down its belly, and smooth human abdominal skin beneath. I brushed off the sand and tried to stitch closed the wound, but my own throbbing hand in its bulky bandage could not hold the needle, and the seal-eyes bored through me, helpless, accusing. And blazing with anger.

A wave washed over us, spilling the churning and frothy turquoise into the slit. The human stomach tensed and heaved. The seal eyes glazed over, and finally I realized my stupidity. I gripped the slippery seal flesh and tried desperately to widen the gash. I reached in, around the human torso and with the poor strength left to me, extracted the human shoulders and head. Considering the trauma, the face was extremely composed. Unlike my features, when I discerned that the gray eyes staring back at me were my own.

My hand woke me in its pain. She was gone from the bed. Coffee had been made. I listened for a bit to the only sound of wind and a banging of rope against the mast.

Then the hatch opened with a burst of sunlight and cold air, and she was there, rosy-cheeked, eyes sparkling.

"It's brilliant! It's so blue, everything. I can see the islands in detail. I can see the columns on Staffa! We've been blessed in this day. God, it's so beautiful. Come on, sleepy-head. Take me there!"


The Victory cleaved the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. The line of horizon to the west was indistinguishable, blue sea, blue sky, the fathomless water beneath deep indigo, black shadows behind the waves. Above the sky was royal blue, and if we looked into it at zenith, could discern its depth and deeper blue and the blackness of space beyond. We raced along, sailing close to the wind, and she took the helm with more frequency as her confidence grew. She sang the Gaelic songs of her childhood, some old waulking songs that held a beat with the slap of waves against the hull.

We made such speed that the dinghy's tether was in danger of snapping as it bobbed and bucked behind us. I pulled it to and lashed it tight to the stern rails.

Victory surged forward, leaping from the crest and crashing into the troughs.

"This is fantastic!" she cried, knuckles white gripping the wheel. "I feel so powerful." She put her head back and shrieked.

"Imagine," I shouted. I unwrapped the long bandage and let it sail overboard, a merry banner of blood roses. My hand was swollen and painful but unlike the dream, the fingers flexed. I stood behind her and moved my hands down her arms, over her breasts, and along her belly, stopping at her hips. "Imagine the force driving the boat forward is coming from your cunt." I pressed my body against hers and let my hands slide their way into her clothing, loosening and moving under the band of her trousers, to the heat of her, the core of her, the soft skin and pelt and constantly attentive and welcoming flesh. "Imagine. Tie your desire to the boat's movement."

"Ah, God," she said. Her hips pushed forward as Victory plunged, and relaxed in the gathering pause as the wave slid under. Riding the swell, riding my hands which moved with the boat, slowly, insistently, and I riding her. Her long dark hair whipped around my face, and I bent my head to her taut neck and fastened there with my teeth. She knew I'd show no consideration in my caress, that she'd have to settle into my rhythm, and my rhythm was the boat's leisurely thrust and relaxing.

As I knew she would, she re-calibrated to my demands, crying out into the wind and waves with every rising up, surrendering to an ascending intensity. My hand hurt beyond bearing, yet a stronger part of me ignored the pain.

"It's too much." Her entire body writhed in a sexual dance against me. "I'm breaking apart."

"Concentrate," I hissed into her ear, which I bit for good measure.

A white-cap slapped Victory almost broadside and mist sprayed over us.

"Steady," I said. "Hold her steady."

We were so linked by this time, that I felt the tightening advent in my lower belly before her gasping cry. She sagged against my hips, wanting to soften, to melt into me.

"No," I said. "Stay with Victory. Move out, into the wind."

Brave navigator, she lost herself in the elements. The sounds coming unwittingly from my throat joined with hers. She fell back, fingers loosening from the helm, eyes shut, mouth slack, tears emerging to be whipped away by the wind. Her legs buckled and she went to her knees, still gasping and tensing in spasms that bent her forward, till her forehead touched the streaming deck, one arm clutching my thigh as I kept Victory true to her course.


We held steady a few hundred yards off Staffa. Framed by stunning basalt columns, Fingal's Cave was an absence of sunlight, an opaque black hole. The heaving blue swell washed over the base of rock skirting the island, and pulled away brilliant white. A rainbow-colored aura ringed the sun in the misty air.

"It's like a great leviathan that's risen from the deep," I said. "And Fingal's Cave is a Sheila-na-gig." I laughed. "And the columns are her ribs, the old Caillech. Don't you think?"

There was no answer.

"We'll have to wait a wee bit," I said, "for low water, to make an attempt to land."

There came a sound of cellos, a horn rising behind, violins swelling to the waves, following their movement. I wasn't certain where the music was coming from, until I turned and saw the CD player on the cabin top, and herself standing on the polished wood of the deck, below the mast, hair blown back, chin high and mouth open, eyes half-closed as if in the ecstasy I knew so well.

Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture flew out exultant over the waves to the cleft rock, returned to the place that inspired its creation. A group of seals sunning on the island lifted their sleek heads to quest this way and that for the sound.

It was magic, all creation luminous in the brilliant sunlight, a dancing ring of light come down to meet the kindred flame in us. She slowly raised her arms to the island. Her tartan cloak snapped in the wind, winged Celtic Victory on Victory's deck, on Victory's shore.

She stood in that aspect for the duration of the music, but we had been lifted out of time, and never yet returned, with the seals and seabirds, the sun playing on the waves and the black rearing columns of Staffa.


We came together over the years as we could, and time passing made no difference. Our courage had been rewarded, a rare thing.

"And do you remember," she said, "how we took the dinghy into Fingal's Cave and played the Overture inside, and how it..."

"How it filled the cavern! Sixty feet of water beneath, basalt columns rising up..."

"Like a living cathedral! And there was a seal inside..."

"Scared us silly! And we picnicked on the basalt steps by the causeway, it looked like a ships' graveyard, the crooked columns bent like ribs, and the sunlight sparkling on the sea."

"The isles of song and laughter." She touched the black shining pendant at her throat. "All captured in this."

"No, mo chridh, in you. Would you like some wine?"

"Are these the glasses I gave you 15 years ago?"

"Yes. I've only ever broken the one."

I held out my hand. We bent our graying heads over the chart that was my palm and she kissed the old scar.