Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SEA CHANGE or TREE CHANGE (07/13/17)
- TITLE: Poet Incognito
By Melanie Kerr
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Allan had heard about these kinds of offers. A crofter he might be, but he was not a fool. There was trouble involved somewhere. A debt incurred. Threats to rearrange body parts. The need to lay low for a while. Allan congratulated himself on not being born yesterday – but he did like the look of that ewe.
The ferry ride back to Armadale was rough. What was the boy’s name again? Ajax? Who calls a kid after a household cleaner? Allan didn’t have the best of memories. He pictured himself on the doorstep of his croft house shouting Dettox or Flash up the hillside. The last name might be a better option – O’Sullivan. Shorten it to Sully maybe. Sully hung his head over the side of the ferry and emptied his stomach contents into Armadale Bay.
Grey clouds assembled above the cottage. It was a remote place. The twisting road up the hill was scored with deep ruts and potholes. That could be a job for Sully. You didn’t really need to know what you were doing to fill in potholes with gravel. There were fences to be mended. Anyone can wield a hammer. Or perhaps not. No doubt Sully knew things you could do with a hammer that Allan could only dream about. He realised he knew nothing about the boy. Any attempt at conversation had been met with grunts. It occurred to Allan that Gaelic was not Sully’s mother tongue.
He pushed open the front door. It led into the low beamed sitting room. It was tidy. He saw Sully’s quick inspection. A bookcase filled an entire wall from floor to ceiling. It held a mix of modern novels, old classics, almanacs of crofting statistics going back decades and a collection of poetry books. There was a low sprung leather sofa with a crocheted blanket thrown over to conceal the bare patches. A couple of high back chairs covered in a pretend tartan stood at right angles to the sofa. An oak coffee table was marked with its own solar system of mug and whisky glass rings.
“Poetry?” There was a noticed absence of scorn in Sully’s voice that Allan usually detected in boys his age.
Allan went over to the bookcase, caressed the spines of the books, and selected a thin volume.
“This is one of mine,” he said handing the book over to Sully. The cover, some artistic nonsense Allan’s publisher said was all the rage, was a picture of his croft house, a small building on the high hill with orange clouds.
“Allan McKinnon? You’re Allan McKinnon?” Sully’s tone was almost worshipful. He began to turn the pages. “Oh look, it has “Northern Goose” in it. I heard that once on Radio 4. Some famous actor read it.”
“Actually, I read that one,” admitted Allan. “Peter O’Toole read “Winter Lighthouse”.
The truth was crofters really couldn’t live off the land. Crofting was like the hobby, jumping through the government regulation hoops, putting the croft to agricultural use by raising a herd of rare sheep, or growing shitake mushrooms. The real job, the money spinner for Allan, was writing award winning poetry and tutoring occasional classes, hence the fence that never got repaired or the potholes on the road that never got filled.
Ajax placed his hold-all on the bed in the spare room. He was already missing the ebb and flow of Glasgow’s busy city traffic. The sky here was too big and the air was too clean and there was no chip shop at the end of the road.
Of course, Ajax knew it was Allan McKinnon. His Uncle Adrian had come up with the plan, the city suit and the thousand pound bribe. Didn’t his nephew, the boy with the heart of a poet, deserve the best teacher in the country?
Ajax only hoped he hadn’t already blown his cover as he slid the folder with his own poems beneath the mattress.
He promised himself he would learn to love sheep.
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