by Margo Fallis
A Picnic In the Heather
Tiny bits of pale purple
burst out from tight buds, filling the delicate branches with clusters of
heather bells. For as far as the eye could see, the hills looked like a
sea of rippling waves, pinkish-lavender, and dotted with whitecaps of
daisies. An occasional bluebell bobbed up and down on the swells.
"Letís sit here, Grandpa,"
Maggie urged, pulling on his bony hand to get him to sit down.
"All right, lassie, this
looks just fine," he said.
He began to lower his
tired, sore body. Before he reached the ground, Maggie stopped him in
mid-air. "Wait, Grandpa. Let me spread out the blanket first." She shook
the woolen blanket and laid it on top of a patch of heather. The maroon
and pine green colors blended in nicely with the heather. "Okay, Grandpa.
You can sit down now."
He bent his knees and fell
onto the blanket. He set the woven straw picnic basket down on the heather
and stretched his legs. "Come here, lassie," he called to his
granddaughter. "Come and see this view."
Maggie threw herself down
on the blanket next to her grandpa. Her long brown pigtails whipped the
air. He slid his arm around her cardigan-covered arm and pulled her close.
He pointed towards a loch, far off in the distance. "Thatís Loch Ness.
Itís very deep. See how black the water looks from here?"
"Loch Ness? Thatís where
Nessie lives. You donít think sheíll come after us, do you, Grandpa?"
Maggie asked, looking up into her grandpaís eyes for assurance.
"No, lassie. Nessie stays
in her loch," he chuckled, hugging her tighter. "Look very closely. Can
you see that pile of stones that looks like part of an old castle? Well,
thatís Castle Urquhart."
Maggie repeated the word,
sounding it out, "Urquhart. Thatís hard to say, Grandpa. Urquhart."
Grandpa sighed, as if
remembering something, perhaps from his younger days. It caused a wave of
nostalgia to ripple through his heart. "Over there," he continued,
pointing another direction, "is where your mum was born. Thereís a tiny
cottage there. Oh, she was a bonnie wee bairn, your mum."
"Iím hungry," Maggie cried
out, bursting her grandpaís train of thought. "I want a sausage roll! I
want some shortbread and some Ribena with it," she demanded.
Grandpa laughed and
squeezed her tight. "Aye, lassie, weíll eat, and then I want to take you
to the cottage. Will you go wií me? I want you to see something."
Maggie nodded yes, and then
announced, "Letís eat." She reached into the picnic basket and pulled out
some sandwiches. "What kind of sandwiches did Gran fix for us?" she
wondered. She pulled the paper off and peeled off the top piece of bread.
"Watercress and cucumber?" she looked, quizzically. "This must be for you,
Grandpa," she said, handing him the sandwich. She reached in and pulled
out another. She peeled the top layer off. "Ham and cheese, with lots of
Branston pickle," she laughed. "This is mine!"
She set her sandwich down
on the paper, on top of the blanket, and kneeled over the basket. "Here
are the sausage rolls. I love sausage rolls, donít you, Grandpa?" she
asked, handing him two of them. "Mmmm, they are delicious," she said,
taking a bite of one. "Oh look," she added. "Gran sent us a bottle of HP
Sauce too. Iíll pour some on the paper and we can dip our sausage rolls
into it," she giggled.
The two of them sat quietly
eating their lunch. The sky was filled with fluffy tufts-of-cotton clouds
being swept along by a gentle breeze blowing inland from the sea. A few
black ravens with bright orange beaks flew over them, cawing and
squawking, as if they were debating to come and invade the picnic, but out
of respect for the serenity of the moment, chose to fly on. Now and then a
whiff of heather-scented air was sent their way.
"Grandpa?" Maggie asked,
"What do you want me to see at the cottage? Is there something pretty
there, or something scary?"
Grandpa laughed out loud.
"Silly wee lass. Thereís something I want to show you that reminds me of
your mum; something very special to her, and to me."
"Letís eat our shortbread
and have a drink of Ribena, then weíll go. Do you like Ribena, Grandpa? I
love black currant. Do you?"
"Yes, Maggie, I love Ribena
too." He reached for the glass bottle filled with the thick, deep purple
drink, and for two plastic cups. He popped the lid off and poured the
liquid. It splashed and sputtered as it flowed into the cups. "Here you
go, lass," he said, handing her one of the cups. "Now be careful. Your
Gran wouldnít be happy if you spilt Ribena on her good blanket."
"Iíll be careful, Grandpa,"
she said, grabbing the cup and gulping it down. She wiped her mouth with
the back of her hand. Maggie took four pieces of shortbread out of the
basket and kept two, while handing the other two to her grandpa. She ate
them quickly, delighting in the buttery, sugary taste. She brushed the
crumbs off her fingers, making sure they went on the heather and not on
the blanket. She looked at her grandpa and started giggling. "Grandpa,
youíve got shortbread crumbs on your face!" She reached over and brushed
them off. Maggie noticed that his chin needed a shave. It was rough from
stubble. "Come on, Grandpa. Letís go to the cottage."
She jumped up and pulled on
Grandpaís hand. He stood, feeling stiff, yet not in pain. While Maggie
gathered all the rubbish and put it in the basket, he shook the blanket
off, folded it up, and then set it on top of the closed picnic basket,
carefully, so that he could still hold the handle. "Letís go," he said. He
took Maggieís hand in his and they headed towards the cottage.
It was a long walk, but
mostly downhill. At the bottom of the hill was a small burn. The two of
them stopped and watched it. It was so quiet that the trickling of the
small brook seemed to hypnotize them for a few moments. They listened as
its dark, peaty water danced past them. "Be careful not to get your feet
wet," Grandpa warned. He stepped over it. Maggie jumped and was quite
proud that she made it.
The silhouetted form of the
cottage up ahead gave Grandpa comfort. He knew that soon heíd be able to
rest. Maggie, in all her youth and innocence, let go of his hand and ran
off towards it. "The cottage, Grandpa. Iíll race you. Iíll win," she
bragged. Grandpa was quite happy to let her win.
Maggie reached the cottage
first, as expected, and peered inside through the still clean glass pane.
"Grandpa, Hurry. The cottage is filled with spider webs and dust."
He began to trot as fast as
he could and soon stood next to Maggie. He peered in the window. "There
are a lot of webs, arenít there? Hmmm. Come around back," he said,
grabbing her hand and walking towards the back of the cottage. Maggie
noticed the red berries hanging on a rowan tree. She saw yellow gorse, or
broom, as Gran called it, growing in patches. There were hawthorn bushes
with small pink wild roses on them.
Grandpa stopped. In front
of them was a swing. It was attached to a sturdy branch of an oak tree by
long pieces of weatherworn rope. The seat of the swing was nothing more
than a wooden board with two holes drilled in each side. The rope was
woven through them and tied with large knots. "A swing!" Maggie exclaimed.
She ran over to it and climbed on.
Grandpa walked behind her
and began to push her. She held onto the ropes, even though they were
dirty feeling and damp. "I used to push your mum way up high when she was
a little girl. See that branch up there, by your feet? She used to be able
to touch the leaves. Can you?"
He pushed her a little
harder. She started pumping with her legs and soon was swinging high.
Grandpa stood back and watched. "Iím going to touch the leaves, Grandpa,"
she cried out. She stretched her legs and struggled to reach the yellowing
autumn leaves. "I did it! I did it!" she proudly called out when she
grabbed a leaf between her feet.
Grandpa stood watching his
granddaughter, but what he saw was his own daughter, a little girl with
long brown hair, in pigtails, just like Maggies. Instead of cries of
"Grandpa!", he heard cries of "Poppa!" A tear trickled down his wrinkled
cheek, dripping to the ground. He missed the days gone by. He missed his
"Grandpa, Grandpa, push
me," Maggie giggled.
"Aye, lassie," he
whispered. He took a deep breath, wiped the tears away, smiled a big smile
and waked over to push his precious granddaughter.
After several swings,
Maggie jumped off. She flew through the air and landed on the grass, right
on her knees. She fell forward, giggling.
Maggie and Grandpa spent
the next several hours at the cabin. He chased her around the gorse. They
picked some strawberries that were miraculously growing in the place the
garden once was. Juice dribbled down Grandpaís chin onto his shirt. Maggie
tried to wipe it off, but ended up making a bigger mess. "Grandpa, Gran
isnít going to like this. You made a mess," she scorned.
"Weíll no tell her, will
"No, Grandpa, we wont," she
whispered, putting her finger to her lips.
The old croft was
thoroughly explored by Maggie, though it was small and didnít take long.
Grandpa showed her where the beds used to be and which one was her mums.
He showed her the old fireplace and how they had to burn peat to stay warm
and cook. "How did you get the peat?" Maggie asked, inquisitively.
"I had to go and chop it
outside. You find peat near the burns. Oh, it smells so sweet as it heats
up. Will last for hours," he explained. Maggie squeezed his hand. "You go
and play for a while, Maggie. Iím going to sit here and think."
Maggie ran outside. Grandpa
watched her picking buttercups and sniffing them. "Aye, Maggie. Youíre
like your mum, you are," he sighed to himself.
After a while, Grandpa
stood up and called his granddaughter. "Time we be getting home now, lass.
It will soon be twilight."
She came running and handed
Grandpa the picnic basket. They walked towards home. "You know, lass, that
at twilight, the fairies come out, donít ye?"
"Aye, fairies. Have ye no
seen a fairy before?"
"No, Grandpa. What do they
"If we hurry, we might see
one, dancing over the loch, or through the rowan trees. Highland fairies
like rowan trees."
"Letís go, Grandpa. I want
to see one," Maggie urged.
They tromped through the
heather, over the hills, past the burn, around the shores of the loch. The
sun was lowering behind the horizon. Instead of a velvet blue sky, fingers
of maroon, pink, reached across the sky. "This is the perfect time,"
Grandpa said, stopping on top of a hill. "Look, down by the loch. Can you
see the flickering lights?" he asked the girl. He pointed to a cluster of
trees. "Thereís one. Sheís at the rowan tree down there."
"I see it, Grandpa. I see
it. I see the fairy," Maggie said, excited. She jumped up and down. "Itís
flying around the tree. Look at its wings. They are silvery."
"I see, lass. Sheís eating
the rowan berries."
He squeezed her small hand.
They stood, captured in silence and wonder, watching as the sky darkened
around them. After a few minutes, Grandpa looked up. The sky was
darkening. "Time to go, Maggie," he said. "We need to head for home."
"All right, Grandpa, but
can we come and see the fairies again?"
"Aye, lass, weíll do it
Smoke billowed from the
croft as they approached. Gran was waiting at the door. Maggie ran to her
arms and she took her granddaughter inside. Grandpa stood near the ancient
oak, gazing into the heavens. Knowing she was listening, he whispered
"Goodnight, my lassie," to his daughter, and went inside to join the
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