Changeling’s Island – Snippet 14

“Look, Tim, you’ll just have to get used to it. Maybe next year…”

“A year! You can’t. You can’t!” he yelled his voice cracking.

“You brought it on yourself. Now try and…”

Tim slammed the phone down. He looked at the bare, empty dining room, with its single globe. At the darkness outside the curtainless windows. It still frightened him. He wanted to go off and…and just go. But where? How?

He walked to his bedroom, slammed the door, and threw himself on the bed and lay there.

He didn’t even answer when Gran called him for supper.

He just lay there, wishing it would all go away. Wishing he could make all of them as miserable as he was.

Gran didn’t call him again. And somehow he slept, a sleep full of troubled, angry dreams of burning stores, a weeping mother, and tall people on horses, with lances and pennants, riding across the night sky.

He woke once, enough to think the last part of the dream was weird, but then burrowed back into sleep; even if it was odd in his dreams, at least it was escape from here.

* * *

When the woman phoned, Mary Ryan had been half tempted to give her an earful. Now, after sitting in the kitchen, listening…she really wished she had.

She hadn’t thought how unhappy the boy must be. He kept his feelings in, and she couldn’t see his face well. He didn’t say much at all. Well, she didn’t either. But she’d heard those cries from the heart. It had not occurred to her that her grandson might not think of this place as “home.”

She sighed. He’d also sounded just like her son, his father. Using words he’d used, later, when he’d suddenly decided he had to go out into the wide world, and that anything was better than Flinders Island.

She’d always taken on the knock-downs by getting up and fighting on, even that worst knock-down, when her husband John had been killed. She’d had to, for her boy. Well, she had to now, for this boy. She wouldn’t take help for herself, but, well, that fellow seemed good with Tim. She went to the telephone, wondering just how she’d get the number. She could call Dickie Burke…The phone burred under her hand and she picked it up before it could ring. If it was that woman again…

But it wasn’t. It was young McKay, the very person she’d been planning to call, to remind of what he’d said, and feeling very uncomfortable to do so. “Hello, Mrs. Ryan,” he said. “I’m going to get a few flathead with a mate of mine tomorrow. Would your boy like to come along?” he’d asked.

That he’d remembered impressed her, warmed her. This McKay was like his Uncle Giles, a good man. He’d been one of the few who had never looked down on her, and had done…little things she hadn’t appreciated much at the time, when John had died. He’d also always remembered what he’d said, and kept to it. “It’d be good for him,” she said gruffly. “Tell you the truth, I was goin’ to ask yer. He’s a bit low. Missing home. He’s in bed now, but…where are yer launching from?” That could be very awkward. Driving was not easy or safe, really.

“West End. We’re coming right past. I’ll pick him up if you like. Easier. I’ll give you a buzz in the morning when I leave here, I should be there in twenty minutes. Probably about sevenish for the tide.”

That was a relief! “I’ll try to have him at the gate for yer. I don’t drive much so I’d be grateful.”

“Not to worry. I’ll come down to the house, that way it won’t matter if I’m a few minutes out. I’ll have Malcolm with me — a friend of mine from away — to open the gates.”

“‘Preciate it. The boy needs to have a good time.”

There was a brief silence. “He should be having one. I did when I was his age here. I lived for coming over to Uncle Giles. And if he likes catching fish, we’ll see what we can do.”

“He was a good man, yer Uncle. He’d be proud of yer.”

“He’d give me a thick ear for the state my boat is in, but I’m going fishing tomorrow anyway. I’ll call, unless the weather turns bad.”

* * *

Gran shook him awake. Tim had heard her coming with the cup and teaspoon clatter, and simply burrowed himself deeper into the pillow. He was not going to get up. Not going to dig or weed or carry hay or muck out the milking shed. Not!

“Yer friend McKay will be here in less than half an hour. You need some tucker in you if you’re going to be out at sea all day,” she said. “Porridge will be ready in a few minutes. Better look sharp or he’ll go without you.”

Tim sat up. “What?”

“I said porridge will be ready in a few minutes. And Mr. McKay is on his way. He phoned about ten minutes ago. Not a lazy beggar like you. I said I’d wake yer to talk to him, and he says no, just tell him to have his lunch and hat ready to go fishing. Yer better take a coat too. The weather could come in.” She turned and walked out. Tim could hear her opening the oven in the kitchen. Stirring something.

Tim took a deep breath, and without thinking about it, reached out and took the cup and drank most of it in a gulp. It was half cold. That really wasn’t normal. He usually had to blow on it to not have his mouth scalded. Had…had it been sitting in the kitchen? Had his gran not planned to wake him or something?

That thought got him out of bed and scrambling into clothes. In the kitchen the porridge was ready, along with the smell of new-baked something. Spicy, yeasty and rich, it had been calling him from halfway down the passage. “I made yer some cinnamon buns to take to sea. There’s hot tea in the flask,” she said, pointing to a bag. “Yer take care of it, see. It was yer…grandfather’s flask.” She looked, for once, straight at him. “I’m trusting yer with a lot.”

Gran sounded really a little odd when she said that. Like she was giving him a Blackberry and an Xbox together, and they were made of thin glass. And like she didn’t want to, but still did it. “Thank you. I’ll try my best.”

“You do that, and I’ll be well pleased, I reckon. Now you be polite to young McKay. And make yerself useful on the boat. Don’t wait for him to tell yer what to do; ask and watch. Then he’ll maybe take yer again.”

Tim nodded. “I thought he said he’d take me…just to be polite.”

“His Uncle Giles was a decent feller. Kept his word. Seems like this young feller is like him. I made extra porridge, as I reckon you’ll be hungry after last night.”

He was. Starving, actually. He had three platefuls, and was just finished when his grandmother cocked her head. “I reckon I hear yer ride coming.” She didn’t seem to see too well, but his gran could hear a mouse tiptoe across the barn from inside the house.