Isabella Sturt pens a poem for Felicity.Read More
Caillic waded through the shoals in search of cockles and sea snails. She inhaled deeply, relishing the salt air in her lungs and its slick kiss on her skin. Struan would expect her home and tea prepared by the time he returned from market. Caillic knew better than to disappoint her husband, but, while she was on the shore on his bidding, she enjoyed the gentle monotony of the task. These moments of silence, at least, were her own.
A gaggle of women strayed off the high road above the beach, their prattle a distant din on the wind. They wound along the carriageway from the hubbub of the marketplace to the crofts scattered across the island’s heath, then reached the sands. Caillic could imagine their malicious, mirthful gossip, though only snatches of it ever reached her over the wash of the sea. Come see the reclusive wife of the handsome merchant, Struan! See how she paces, hem-deep in the froth of the North Sea, eyes darting in the shallows! Standing from their usual perch atop a sand dune, the women were at a distance safe enough to observe Caillic without having to confront the girl whom they had always considered freakish. Caillic tried to ignore them. Wasn’t it fine with Struan? Then it was fine with Caillic, too. So long as they kept to themselves and let her do the same.
But, despite their distance, their voices still pricked in her ears. She had no desire to linger under their gaze. Besides, she’d collected enough. Struan would be happy, would he not? Caillic made back to the cottage, hunched under the weight of a net brimming with shellfish. She kept her gaze to the ground as she trudged through the dry sand.
“He doesnae love ye,” a voice cried, a stone’s throw away. Caillic turned and looked up, neck still bent with her burden. The Blair girl, youngest by far, had broken ranks, those honey eyes wide with disgust. The wind carried faint cries of “witch” and “devil’s consort” from the older women in their distance. She ignored them. She stared at the Blair girl who, emboldened, took a step closer. “He doesnae love ye,” she repeated.
“He loves me,” a ghostly voice whispered from within. “He loves me.” Caillic feared it. She feared that voice.
Caillic let the net fall from her shoulder, her own eyes wide in a mirror image of her challenger, not in fury but in shock. Caillic took several steps towards her. The other women fell silent. Some of their faces twisted in fear, others in perverse excitement, unable to resist the spectacle of confrontation.
“Aye but he married me, Malvina, didn’t he?” Caillic replied, her voice cracking. “Not you. Not any of ye.” Caillic had never felt the need to defend her marriage. But had she ever had it questioned so directly? No, never. Had Struan not dragged her from poverty? Had he not given her everything she now had, a home she need never leave, her loom, even the occasional gift of fine jewellery from his travels?
“A marriage, is that what ye call it?” Malvina laughed sharply, humourlessly. “A know about the separate beds, Caillic. When was the last time you were in his?”
The gloating in her voice was too much to bear. Tears burned, threatening to spill, checked only by her rage. She was too close now. A stone’s throw. She fumbled inside her net and closed her hand on the first thing it landed on, a clam. She stood, her arm cocked back to throw. Malvina only stared. Everyone stared, quiet now. Caillic gave a shuddering, trembling sigh, then threw the clam into the sand at her feet. She awkwardly shouldered her burden again and hurried away as fast as she could in the sand. She caught one final scrap of Malvina’s taunting. “If she had shared his bed, she would know the leg’s broke. That’s why he prefers mine, he says. But I can think of other reasons.”
Caillic opened the wind-battered door to find Struan, her Struan, merchant of Orkney, away. The stove, cupboard and table crowded one side of the cottage. Struan’s bed dominated the other. Caillic’s own makeshift pile of cushions and quilts were bundled against the back wall. All was as she had left it.
She set down her wares and stripped out of her wet cloak and gown, hung the kettle on the stove and sunk, shivering, into a chair, taking comfort in the steaming heat. When the image of the old fishwives’ hateful glares came to her, she went to the loom to work on a shawl. When the laugh of the dancing girl from the tavern cut through her, she examined her collection of sea glass to determine which pieces would be fit to be jewelled for Struan to sell at market. Malvina Blair's laughing, honey-brown eyes flashed in her mind. And again. And again. He doesnae love ye. He doesnae love ye. Caillic sprang from her armchair by the fire, the roaring heat of which could not stop her shivering with cold disgust. The walls seemed to close in around her. She felt a pang of anxiety tighten her chest as her darting eyes fell on her husband's bed. Surely she would have noticed if a leg had broken. Surely her husband would not have dared discuss the details of their marriage with that girl. Could she bring herself to look? Yes, she willed herself. Yes. Now. She crossed the room quickly and knelt at the foot of the bed, as if in prayer.
She dragged away the large chest that sat before it, holding her breath. She saw it immediately. The bed slanted to one side, a large crack running down the front left leg. Caillic felt hollow. Malvina filled the space around her. Her laugh. Her eyes. Her scent. What did she smell like? Not the sea, not like Caillic. Perhaps honey, like her eyes.
Caillic almost wretched in the now oppressive heat of the fire. She stumbled to the door and yanked it open. The wind, colder now, bit at her exposed skin. She sank to her knees on the cold grass of their croft. The cold cleared her mind. The hollow feeling was gradually replaced by shame, and then by rage. What was more, she was filled with a desire to provoke the same rage in her husband.
Caillic went back inside. She knew she must start cooking, start cleaning, but she fell still in the doorway. Her eyes fell on the locked chest she had drawn from the foot of Struan’s bed. He had forbidden her from ever mentioning it, let alone opening it. Caillic had always felt a strange pull to it. Or perhaps to its contents. They were calling to her like a distant song, the most familiar melody in the world, the name of which just managed to elude her. In the more turbulent, stricken periods of her marriage, she often found her mind wandering to the chest. She had vowed to obey Struan. He had vowed to be faithful to her. Caillic felt a jolt of excitement.
The little light that glimmered through the tiny windows of the low-ceilinged cottage was beginning to fade. Struan would soon return. Caillic knew he would stay only a handful of hours before he would stray out again, locking the door behind him for the night.
The broth was well on its way. Caillic hunched over the stove, and her jaw clenched when she heard the door open and then slam shut with the force of the wind. She heard a series of grunts as he struggled out of his wet things. “Tea no ready yet?” he barked. It seemed some things would never change.
She started violently when he pulled her suddenly away from the pot by her arm to investigate its steaming contents. Another grunt. Caillic stole a quick glance at her husband and saw that he returned a furtive look.
“You’re in your under clothes,” he said. Caillic nodded in reply. Struan narrowed his eyes. “Why?” The hairs on her arms raised in gooseflesh.
“It wis dreich on the beach the day,” she replied, her eyes cast down in submission. Her husband’s gaze did not waver.
“And ye didnae redress?” What exactly was he accusing her of? Had he no shame of his own infidelity?
“I wis busy cookin’ your tea,” she said. Too sharply for Struan’s liking. His face reddened and, not for the first time, Caillic feared his temper. He said nothing, however, and stepped back to the table, slumping into a chair.
Caillic ladled broth into two bowls, serving her husband the fuller of the two. “Are ye in a hurry to be off again, husband?” she asked, praying that he could not detect the hopeful note in her voice. He shook his head.
“Am no goin’ anywhere the night,” he replied. Caillic bit her tongue. The first time in so long she wanted her husband to leave her alone at night, and the first time he decided instead to stay. She nodded, then glanced at Struan, sure that her disappointment would betray her.
Struan, though, was too lost in his food to dwell on the subtleties of his wife’s mannerisms. He did not speak another word until the bowl was empty.
“A fair would lie doon, wife, the day wis long,” he muttered eventually. Caillic nodded again. He stood from the table, dressed in his nightclothes, and rolled into his broken bed. He was snoring within minutes.
Caillic cursed him. Had he caught a whiff of rebellion on the stuffy, broth-scented air? Perhaps news of the encounter on the beach had reached even the men of the town. He kept snoring. He slept so soundly. She could hardly believe it, that for so long she had relied on the lull of the waves on lonely, restless nights, and for so long Struan had spent those nights with Malvina Blair. And how many others? She could hear Malvina’s laugh, and see the broken bed. Surely there were others.
Before she could stop herself, she found herself carried by light steps to the foot of Struan’s bed. She watched him for a few moments. His deep, steady breaths assured her that he would not wake. She dropped to her knees and peered at the chest. The huge lock was ornate, incongruous upon the poorly assembled, unvarnished oak.
But there was no key. At least, Struan had told her so on their first night together when he had still cherished his young wife desperately, when she had still trusted him with her life. In those days, he would not have left his wife alone in an empty bed for all the world. Now, even in his absence, Caillic could not bring herself to sleep in that bed. Could she remember the night, the moment things had changed between them? No. Had there been one action, one indiscretion of hers that had caused it? She could not think of any. It had been gradual, she was sure. For the first time, she knew that the fault had been his. He had changed. He had hardened against her.
Perhaps, as time had worn on and the magic of their first night had faded, the lock of the chest might have rusted or cracked. She watched her own hand move, seemingly of its own accord, and reach out to try it. Her heart raced as her fingers wrapped themselves around the latch. She felt the weight of the lid as her wrist jerked it upwards and watched as the ancient lock crumbled and came free. The lid tipped back. The contents were exposed. Her mind registered pale brown. A pelt of some kind. It conjured the image of the waves lapping the shore, the scent of salt, the feeling of family, of belonging. Her heart began to pound and her hands to shake. She stretched out both hands. As she felt the silky, speckled skin between her fingers, a wave of recognition began to lap over her body. It started at her feet, spreading throughout her very being, stopping only when it reached her heart which now echoed the song of the skin. She was staring, she realised, at herself, her true self, that had been lost an age ago. She was not Caillic, goodwife of Struan the great merchant of Orkney, and a Christian. She was Caillic of the sea. She was of an order older than man.
She took herself in her arms and made the short walk from the cottage to the shore. Not a thought entered her mind of Struan. She cared not whether he woke or slept on. She loosed salt-stiffened corsets, letting her shifts fall to her ankles, and breathed for the first time in ten years. Her sisters were waiting for her. She shrouded herself in her pelt, inhaling her scent, and stepped into the shallows. A strong set of whiskers replaced the pale freckles on her nose. The wealth of golden hair gave way to still-damp brown fur. Her pallid, almost translucent skin was gone - all traces of the weakness of humanity disappeared. Her skin was strong now. It would protect her. The salt water danced around her body. A welcome home.
She turned back only once. She saw Struan racing down the beach, face contorted in rage, shrill cries muted by the sound of the waves. He had trapped her. He had betrayed her. A grave mistake. Men ought never to disrespect the sea, or its daughters. Without another second's hesitation, she turned into the wind, feeling it ripple through her fur, and dove.
Caillic, the selkie, swam through the shoals in search of cockles and sea snails.
by Thea Mair
Elliot Douglas, outgoing Editor-in-Chief, reviews Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the last of this year’s Mermaids productions.
O tempora, o mores – I am now old enough that this semesterhas seen a number of re-runs of Mermaids shows which took place in my firstyear in St Andrews – amongst them TwelfthNight, The Importance of BeingEarnest and now Edward Albee’s seminal 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Some plays, of course, are wellworthy of re-visiting, and it was a joy to watch another version of this showfor my last ever theatre review in this town. To put it plainly, this is one ofmy favourite plays, and seeing it adeptly staged by Charlie Flynn and his teamwas a wonderful way to bow out of the St Andrews theatre scene. Despite someslight incongruity in acting styles, this production did not disappoint.
As Flynn pointsout in the director’s note, the play is – quite simply – not easy. Running tothree hours of wordy, drunken dialogue, Woolfrequires dedicated, focused actors who are afforded little let-up. The castrose to the occasion admirably and in the three long acts, not once did Inotice anyone coming out of character or slipping up a line. George Watts andAnnabel Steele created an originally nuanced version of the O.G.couple-from-hell, George and Martha. Often these characters are reduced tobickering stereotypes of themselves, especially in the opening act, but for Steeleand Watts the keyword was subtlety.
Watts’ quietenergy, suggestive of years of repressed caged anger and resentment, made themoments where George really does lose control all the more powerful. On morethan one occasion, where I would have expected Watts to shout, he opted insteadfor a hoarse, calm whisper. This had the audience leaning towards the stage inorder to catch every word. His bowed body language and self-conscious handmovements hinted at an advanced middle age, without labouring the point. Combinedwith his perfect timing and clear understanding of the wit of the character, thiswas a truly astonishing performance of an incredibly difficult role.
Similarly, Mermaids’ stalwart Steele did not disappoint. Again, she brought an intimacy and genuineness not always seen in performances of the "braying" Martha. She retained a weary control of the character even in her most off-the-wall moments, reminding the audience of the most important conceit of the play – that, in some way, the viciousness of George and Martha’s dynamic is nothing new, perhaps a drama which is played out every weekend. Martha has perhaps the most complex journey of any character, going from nit-picking wife to sexy seductress to a broken woman within the course of one evening. Steele’s performance allowed the audience to empathise with this sad woman even in moments where her actions verged on the downright evil. The famous “Getting angry, baby?” speech (which even Liz Taylor approached as a competition in how many decibels can be reached) was freshly quiet and her third act “recitation” had me (predictably) in a flood of tears. I laud her immensely for this mature take on the part.
The foils of George and Martha come in the shape of the younger Nick and Honey, played by Griffin Godsick and Brittany Barwise. In many ways, these parts are even more difficult than the older couple, requiring just as perfect timing and understanding of complex characters while also calling for the ability to react to the “fun and games” of George and Martha. While both actors maintained solid characterisation, I was left a little disappointed by their limited scope. Godsick, looking to all intents and purposes like a cross between a Kennedy and a Ken doll, was suitably smarmy as the successful, handsome Nick, but I could have done without his self-conscious glances at the audience and repetitive facial expressions as he reacted to George and Martha. Barwise similarly left me wanting something more. Honey is an incredibly difficult role to keep realistic: she spends most of the play almost too intoxicated to speak legibly and her reactions to the others are deliberately childlike. Barwise maintained the character fantastically and played well in the more absurd comedic moments, but where the dark history of Honey’s hysterical pregnancy is revealed I would have preferred a more subtle take, especially given the parallels the character is supposed to draw with Martha. Whether these aspects of the performance came through Flynn's direction or the actors' choices, the play definitely took on a more pantomime-like feel when this couple were on stage.
The play, ideally suited to the claustrophobic Barron, was beautifully staged, with appropriately cluttered set dressing and frumpy, early '60s costumes. The show calls for little technical prowess, but everything ran smoothly in that department and the music of the time period was a nice touch. All in all, it moved me as it should. There are few plays which are so low-key which can maintain the attention of a 50-strong audience for over three hours on a Friday night, but judging from the gasps and standing ovation with which the show ended, this one certainly did. I commend the cast and crew for bringing such a fantastic play to life with alacrity, charm and a big dollop of pathos.
Lucy Robb reflects on the impact of the 'Rainbow Magic' series on her as a young reader, reminding us that we all started somewhere.
I had been trying to think of a suitable response to this theme for quite some time, weighing weighty intellectual and aesthetically-pleasing works of literary creation and invention and trying to establish their life-defining impact. It slowly dawned on me that, actually, my answer perhaps was not going to be as highbrow as the others of this series. If I was going to be completely honest with myself, the answer was hot pink and sparkly, and charmingly emblazoned with a segment of a rainbow arching across the bottom far right corner. Yes, the truth to be told is that the book that has probably had the most far reaching impact on my life belongs to that remarkable series ‘The Rainbow Fairies’ written by Daisy Meadows. ‘Daisy Meadows’ being in fact four separate individuals; Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman and Sue Mongredien. The Rainbow Fairies branched out into quite an extensive enterprise, with The Weather Fairies, The Party Fairies, The Jewel Fairies, The Pet Keeper Fairies and many, many, many more following suit. There has even been a ‘Meghan the Wedding Sparkle Fairy’. But yet, what can I say, it was the start of my love of literature and a completely unquenchable addiction to books (much to the detriment of my bank account, but perhaps of benefit to my mind). The storylines of these books are fairly straightforward: Kirsty Tate and Rachel Walker are young girls who are best friends. They typically go on holiday or on some kind of outing, only to encounter one lone fairy of a group of seven who needs their help. They are at risk of losing their magic due to the devious machinations of Jack Frost, the archvillain of the tale, and his goblin groupies. The goblins normally have stolen some kind of special object or talisman which the girls then endeavour to recover, only encountering Jack Frost at the series crescendo in the final book of the series. Naturally, once having defeated old Frostie and his clumsy crew, Kirsty and Rachel are duly rewarded with a trip to Fairyland where its monarchs congratulate them and give them a ‘thank you’ gift and souvenir such as a snowglobe (I think that was the Weather Fairies, if you are at all interested). This may all sound quite simple, but this was what got me reading. I used to absolutely loathe learning to read, many a scream and outburst of tears was brought on during a singular rendition of The Cat Sat on the Mat or one of the Biff, Chip and Kipper books of the Magic Key series. I struggled to decipher all these meandering squiggles, memorising that when the line curved around and then down in a little dash it meant ‘ah’ or that a certain wiggly formation was apparently synonymous with a dog. This all seemed rather pointless, especially when at the end of the day all you had learnt was that at some point a cat had sat on a mat somewhere, then had somehow instantaneously grown in size to be labelled as fat, and that an unfortunate rodent was now to be found underneath the aforesaid floor ornament. To a five or six-year-old me, this was all quite ridiculous and a waste of time, thank you very much. This changed when a visiting family friend left behind her copy of Amber the Orange Fairy. As the knowledgeable of you might know, this wasn’t even the first book of the series (that honour belongs to Ruby, the Red fairy), but it was where my love of literature started nonetheless. It was probably the cover that first attracted me, I loved trying to draw fairies, princesses and mermaids and I think I wanted to copy the fairy, hovering in all her orange-jumpsuited glory, and the flourish of her high ponytail. It was the tale, however, that transfixed me. It was filled with excitement, fairies, friendship and with all the comfort of a happy ending. I was hooked. I promptly set off on reading to discover the fate of the Rainbow Fairies, and from there to the Weather Fairies and so on until I then began to encounter other books and other stories. Ultimately even though I now read Virginia Woolf, T.S Eliot, David Foster Wallace and other such eminently respected writers, it gives me no shame to admit where I started. After all, if you look up quotes from Amber The Orange Fairy on Goodreads, the only word that comes up is ‘magical’: and that is what it was to me once, and what books are to me still. Lucy Robb
In Phoebe Roberts' 'The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn', a girl's mind drifts back to the days when she used to dance as she lies awake with insomnia. This piece was selected as the short story winner for the Tribe's creative writing competition last semester.
For a long time I used to go to bed early. It was an easy little pattern, to go to bed early in New York, the place known as the city that never sleeps. By day I danced and took the 2/3 line from the downtown platform at the 72nd street station towards Brooklyn, towards school, rising on weary legs at the familiar call of “Borough Hall, Borough Hall, next stop Hoyt Street!” beneath the constancy of opening and closing train car doors. By night I thought of dancing and occasionally tried to stick my finger down my throat. At the hour of ten or eleven sleep is simple when there is nothing left in your body but pain, pain in little ecclesiastical aches which cry out to remind you that you are a ballerina (“perfection’s broken heart”), which cry out as if to sing again all the fallen notes which you’ve borne in your every last limb and finger. Sleep, with Tchaikovsky in my head and bloodied blisters on my toes, was indeed very simple.That all stopped suddenly when dancing came to an end, and I tried to sleep again, only there was still Tchaikovsky in my head, still aches in my every last limb and finger; but now they were crying for nothing, for the notes which fell and died and lived anew somewhere outside of them. Days passed as the cry in the night lessened and lessened, and went silent. At first the silence only kept me up an hour or two later, ringing like a shrill alarm clock left unattended. Then three, four, five hours later, it went on ringing still.I don’t think it’s too good for a person to be up all night. Especially not me. I have too much I could think over. Sometimes I believe that being unable to fall asleep must be punishment for all the years, the dancing years, that I slept very well and didn’t need to remember anything other than to point my feet (which in the end I didn’t seem to do too well either). Now, lying here with wide eyes, I feel as though I could be twelve again or some age like that, because everything I once forgot I remember over and over. Over and over.I tell myself Nabokov was an insomniac, and make note to look up what other geniuses suffered from habitual sleeplessness - or, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, habitual sleeplessness (semicolon) inability to sleep - in the morning. The Oxford English Dictionary also says that the origin of the word insomnia is early 17th century: from Latin, from insomnis ‘sleepless’, from in- (expressing negation) + somnus ‘sleep’. I wish I remembered more Latin. Dead language and all. I studied it for three years in middle school and not even the dregs of the dative declension remain within me today. The only things I can remember with any clarity are my sixth-grade Latin teacher chastising me once in front of the whole class for momentarily wavering in my belief of the Greek Gods, and that he died suddenly before he could grade my final project. It was the best project I ever made: a model of Pompeii in a glass box, with the ruins on the bottom half and sand resting on a shelf up top, so that when you looked in you could see the whole city buried beneath the ash and pumice. I even went to this baking store downtown to buy all these miniature plastic figures and vases and columns. I spent hours dusting them in a coat of thin black paint to give that “buried alive” effect. It wound up being very heavy, and I had to walk with it the five blocks to my middle school while making sure the shelf of sand stayed in place so that Columbus Avenue would not suffer the same fate. I knew it was an A, A+ quality Pompeii, and all my classmates knew it too as soon as I unveiled the box to Mr. - Mr. my-since-deceased-sixth-grade-Latin-teacher. It was the last time I ever saw him. They didn’t even bother to tell us that he was sick and had died. He disappeared and we knew. That year everyone in the class ended up receiving a final grade of B+. I guess some of them just got lucky. Meanwhile, my Pompeii was forgotten, abandoned to further decay.I wonder now if he was visibly sick and I just didn’t know how to tell. Pretty soon after that I would know exactly what a sick person looks like, but not then, not yet. Maybe if I had, I would have spent a lot less time painting those plastic cake decorations.I tried to talk this all over with my older sister, Amanda. My sleep problems, not the sixth grade, or any sick people. Amanda is a great sleeper and was, in her time, an exceptional Latin student. Tonight, it was still early when I went into her room, and she was up reading with the lamp on. I sat on the foot of the bed and spoke.“What do you think about when you’re trying to fall asleep?”If she was disturbed by my presence she didn’t move in the slightest to show it. She hardly even turned her head from her book.“I don’t. I just fall asleep. Or I breathe. And then I’m asleep.”She said it as though it were the only answer ever imaginable for such a question. Like that, coming from her, it almost made sense.She didn’t ask me what I think about when I am trying to fall asleep. If she had I don’t know what I would have told her. I think of New York, of dancing, of the 72nd street subway station, of all the music I used to dream of dancing to, of some of the people I used to know. I think of each and every other night when, from the blackness of whatever room I inhabited then, the very same visions burned impossibly bright and far. I couldn’t have said all that though. I would tell her I was thinking of sheep. But she never asked me anyhow.That was hours ago. A short while later I saw her light flicker out beneath my door, settling our flat into complete darkness. I have barely moved since. I feel my arms and legs and heart pinned by a certain shrill, ceaseless ringing. Why my sixth grade Latin class and all the sick people I knew entered my mind tonight, I cannot say. I didn’t want them. I only wanted Tchaikovsky and the fallen notes and the call of “Borough hall, Borough Hall, next stop Hoyt Street.” I’ll have to keep on thinking of them, so that when that night comes when they finally return in all their fullness, as those earlier memories now have, I’ll be ready to welcome them with open arms. I didn’t know to do that before. I didn’t think to do that. And now I am awake to it all again, awake, awake, awake.... I am lying here and an old song is playing upon my head, with the lyrics that go:While I'm far away from you my babyI know it's hard for you my babyBecause it's hard for me my babyAnd the darkest hour is just before dawn.Each night before you go to bed my babyWhisper a little prayer for me my babyAnd tell all the stars aboveThis is dedicated to the one I loveThis is dedicatedThis is dedicated to the far away girl who rode the 2/3 train and stuck her finger down her throat and spent her days dancing on the points of her toes. I think I almost love her, in this darkest hour, as I lay drifting away from sleep, writing to all the stars above. "Insomnia" by Alyssa L Miller is licensed under CC by 2.0