My feet slip along the path to the beach where the snow is light. The edge of the sea is close at hand; I must be careful not to slide too far. I look out on the ocean, and nothing keeps the fierce wind from blowing against my face. The waves are breaking on the shore and scouring the rocks free of any loose debris; the sediment falls to the sand to continually feed the beach.
I’m weary of this far-flung northern Scottish island. It welcomed me at first, but the mystery of my husband’s death has changed the islander’s welcome. Being American, I am not the native son Bill was. I’ve done everything I can to settle his estate; his parent’s croft house was left to him years ago when they both died within months of each other. Bill was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I met him on my journey through Europe on a tourist visa. Our marriage was quick, but wonderful.
It was the beginning of summer when we came to Unst on a lark. He wanted to see the croft and try his hand at starting a B & B. The tourists, surprisingly, were coming to Unst in flocks during the warm months, so, not counting the archeologists who claim a strand of sand from time to time to look for Viking relics, we had a steady stream of guests. But then, while walking along the shore one night, Bill vanished.
I spent agonized days and nights, along with the islanders, walking the beaches repeatedly, calling his name and searching the angry waves for any sign of him. Weeks of investigation led the authorities to assume he had slipped off the cliffs and drowned, but the mystery of not really knowing made the islanders grow distant toward me.
Now as I turn away from the sound, I decide to go to the Baltasound Hotel. I have aching memories of the times I spent with Bill in this small island restaurant. From outside, I can hear the sounds of the local band playing a Shetland reel.
The boisterous group of people pay me little mind, but as I make my way to the table in the corner where Bill and I spent many a happy evening, faces turn to watch me. I seat myself with my back to them. I instantly retreat into the memories of Bill and me listening to the bands and whispering our future plans, our heads close together as we dream. How I long to hear his voice again.
I feel a wince of pain as the familiar strains of the Mavis Anne waltz spreads through the room. I remember how Bill pulled me to my feet on the night of the Up Helly Aa* at the village of Uyeasound. The bonfire on the beach roared and provided the fiddles and the bass guitars as fitting backdrop to our firelit waltz.
My memories consume me until I feel the soft touch of a hand on my shoulder. I look up at Shelley, a wait staff girl, who seems to be one of the few willing to speak to me.
“You’ve had your dinner, then?” she asks with her soft Shetland accent.
“No…I was walking by the sound.”
She eyes me sympathetically and sits across from me. “You have to let it go, now; you have to move on,” she said quietly. “You need to be with your family in the States.”
“I can’t leave…Bill.” I shake my head miserably.
“The investigation has run its course…staying here…it only makes you suffer.” She glances at the patrons in the room. “And this lot…well…they could do to stop having a gossip at your expense.” Her frown shows the disgust she feels toward the other islanders.
“I wish they understood…I wish I could go…” I sigh and drop my eyes to the worn tabletop.
She says nothing but stands and walks to the kitchen. A few minutes later, she’s back with a plate of fish and chips. “Eat, please, Emily.”
I nod absently. After a while, the low murmur of voices interrupts my daydreams of Bill, and I stand awkwardly. The music pushes me out the door…it is too happy.
Outside, the wind catches my breath; once again, I turn toward the cold ocean and stare out at the frothing waves.
“Where are you, Bill?” I whisper through tears. The steely waves pound and the ferocious wind roars, but the cold Atlantic keeps her secret…still.
*Up Helly Aa : Is the largest fire festival in Europe. This event celebrates the influence of the Vikings that arrived in Shetland many years ago. The festival features a procession of torches carried by islanders wearing costumes as they parade through the streets. They end the ceremony with the burning of a full-sized replica of a Viking longship on the beaches. The festival is often repeated for tourists in the summer months.
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