Extract from "Crex Crex," by Victoria MacKenzie. Forthcoming in The Book of Iona: an Anthology, edited by Robert Crawford. (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2016)
A strong westerly wind, chilled by the Atlantic, blows a smirr of rain straight at the windows and shivers the foxgloves in the hotel garden. So much for June. But there are small consolations: a coal fire blazes in the hearth and I’m sinking into a velvet-covered chair. I feel calmer than I have for weeks. A young waiter with a Highland accent takes my order. He’s bearded and his fingers are long and sensitive; he reminds me of my first boyfriend, who played guitar and thought he was going to make the world a better place, until he discovered how difficult that would be.
The waiter is polite and efficient and brings me a china teapot of Lady Grey and a scone the size of a saucer, the sugar glittering on top like broken glass. I sip my tea and savour the heat from the glowing embers. Bliss. Then my husband appears and my good mood evaporates.
When we were first married I took such pride in saying those words: ‘my husband’. Now it’s more like a term of abuse. Here he comes, lumbering in wearing multi-pocketed trousers and a tatty anorak the colour of boiled spinach. And yes, he has his camera round his neck and a bag of lenses, weighing at least a stone, slung over his shoulder. Perhaps he thinks he’ll spot a rare bird in the dining room. David is obsessed with what he calls his List: a catalogue of all known resident and visitor birds in Britain. Every spare second is devoted to looking for birds, the rarer the better, but it’s just a game to him, he’s not remotely interested in the birds themselves. He even assigns them points – fifty for a great northern diver, sixty for a red-breasted merganser, that sort of thing. A hundred points is the highest score and it goes to the corncrake. But don’t get me started on those sodding birds. Crex crex. Crex crex. Everywhere we go we hear them calling, or I should say rasping. The sound is harsh and repetitive: less like birdsong, more like the cranking of a rusty car jack.
David sits down opposite me. ‘That looks nice,’ he says, gesturing at my scone.
‘Then I’ll get one too.’ His tone is jovial but I push my plate towards him.
‘Here, finish this. I’ve had enough.’
I get up and leave. I know I’m behaving badly but I can’t stop myself.