Northwords Now Issue 40

The FREE literary magazine of the North

McPhee’s Day Trip

by John Robertson Nicoll

Not so long ago, McPhee was able to travel much further afield on his jaunts, but he was getting on in years now and of a mind to follow the line of least resistance when taking his pleasures. Besides, he never got tired of the ferry trip from Oban to his beloved Mull. The island was visible from Oban harbour and today it sat blue and purple in the early summer sun like some wonderful promise waiting to be delivered.

It was the start of the tourist season and the ferry was appropriately busy.  McPhee watched the cars, lorries and vans jostling for parking space on the deck below with a certain amount of distaste. He resented all the noise and the fumes tainting this, his favourite part of his world. For the umpteenth time, he wondered why people couldn’t leave their ghastly metal boxes behind for one day. Did they actually like living in these metal cages? Did they draw some sort of comfort from them – was it a security thing with them? He decided that if he lived to be a hundred he would never understand the human race, so he decided to give up trying -  at least for now. He looked up at the blue sky overhead and his spirits soared.

The ferry left the pier bang on time and made its stately way out across the water. McPhee closed his eyes and breathed-in sweet air. He was just thinking that he was approaching Nirvana when the day trippers started pouring on to the Upper Deck. He wished they wouldn’t. He would have preferred to have this space all to himself.

It may have been his advancing years that made McPhee so grumpy and hypercritical but he was sure that the holiday crowds got louder and coarser with every passing year: men with beer bellies and trousers that ended just below the knees, women with…. well pretty much the same really and every year more of those infernal electronic devices that beeped and whirred and whistled. It was all too much. There should be no room for such things in this little corner of heaven.

Instinctively, he moved as close to the back of the boat as he could and hoped against hope that people would respect his space. He thought it might keep people at a distance if he scowled at them and so for a while he looked from left to right and back again with a malevolent glare etched on his features so strongly that he feared he might never be able to erase it.

The ploy seemed to work. It was as if there was an invisible border running the width of the deck between McPhee and the holiday hordes and for a while this suited him fine. He looked back across the water. If Oban was getting further away, Mull was getting closer. His heart raced. All that the place meant to him came to mind in one glowing image after another and he was looking forward to dining out in Tobermory again, but now that the Ferry was halfway between its two destinations his mood began to darken. People were still respecting his space as they put it nowadays but that very fact only served to remind him how alone he was these days. He was the wrong side of middle age and many of his family and friends had passed away – at least one of them in violent circumstances - and these days he barely saw any of the old crowd.

There was a cloud above his head now, both literally and metaphorically. He was staring at the deck, appalled by how suddenly sunshine can become shadow in this life, when he became aware of a small figure standing just in front of him. It was a child of about four or five in a little yellow summer dress. She stood smiling at him – a small sun to counter the cloud filling his head. She had crossed his ‘line’ because she didn’t know that he had one. He looked at her and knew immediately that love had not vanished completely from his world.

The two stood there, clearly beguiled by one another. McPhee thought that with her fine golden hair and her beatific smile, she was the most innocent and lovely creature he had ever seen. She stretched out her hand. A gift? he thought. A gift from this little angel? Surely kindness, like love, was not dead after all.

 “Shelley, get away from that dirty, filthy craitur!”

Their moment was invaded by a large woman with a wide expanse of bare midriff and a tattoo of a bluebird on her right breast. She lunged at the child and pulled her away with some force making her drop the crust of her cheese sandwich. Then she returned to kick out at McPhee with such force that one of her sandals went flying, but McPhee had already risen high in the air above the Mull-bound ferry. He hovered for a moment out of respect for his earth-bound angel and hoped that she would feel the rays of love that he was sending down to her. Her mother was still holding her hand but with her free one she waved and smiled at him. It was enough for McPhee. This kindness would give him comfort for a long time to come.

Heartened, he would head for Tobermory now and the overflowing bins behind Burrell’s Seafood Restaurant. Dining out in Tobermory was always a pleasure.