There are no turtles in the Outer Hebrides. That was the main and most disappointing piece of information that Josie had managed to ascertain about the next family holiday. That and that she was going to meet her future husband there. But at the age of six, turtles were much more interesting.
Two months earlier Josie had asked, ‘What does Claire-Boyant mean?’
‘A clairvoyant, darling, is someone who has special powers and can see into the future. Your mummy is a clairvoyant, just like one of the magical witches and wizards in your books,’ Michael beamed at his wife. Marlene nodded back at him but Josie hardly looked up from the coloured cards she was arranging on the floor.
Her parents hadn’t intended for Josie to know about Marlene’s prediction for the holiday but as her grandmother had warned, children pick up more than you realise.
They were going to stay near small town called Stornoway which would forever tug Josie’s insides each time she saw the little dot marked out on the weatherman’s map.
It rained for most of the time they were there. But everyday they were out, the three of them in their matching macs, strolling the streets, hiking the cliff tops and skimming pebbles in the sea. It was all vanilla ice cream soaked in rainwater.
Their cottage was on a drab windy beach and it was old and creaked in the night. In the mornings, the local children would play along the shore while the adults sat in the dunes and sipped coffee out of thermos flasks.
Josie and two boys from the village are climbing on the rocks and dipping their toes into freezing seaweed filled pools of water. Josie points to the shore,
‘My mummy is magic.’ she declares.
‘If your mummy is magic, why aren’t you magic too?’ says the small boy with the snot-crusted nose.
‘I am magic.’
‘No you’re not.’
‘What can you do?’
‘I can talk to animals.’ she says quickly.
‘Bet you can’t.’ He’s all gums and no teeth this boy.
‘There are no animals here.’
‘There are fishes in the sea.’
‘We’re not allowed to go swimming.’
‘What’s your favourite animal?’
‘I like lions and zebras.’
‘Can you talk to turtles?’
‘Probably.’ she says, shrugging her shoulders.
They hop over rock pools, prize limpets out of cracks and conclude that they wouldn’t be able to speak any way, they fashion walking sticks out driftwood and inch further out of the view of the adults. Josie pushes them onwards.
‘Let’s just see what’s round this bend.’
They turn, climbing a craggly rock face, into a secluded cave. And there, lying beached upon the sand is a giant turtle. Its colours are the same as the rocks around it and it looks like it’s had been there for a thousand years.
‘Tah-dah’ Josie says hardly missing a beat. The sun pours over the little crevice. The boys look at each other. And all the magic in the world fills the small space with the little girl, two boys and the turtle.
That is how Josie came to remember it. She never remembered what had happened next, all she remembered was the magic.
In her teenage years Josie will be mouthy and quick witted and, unlike other girls her age, she’ll care little as to whether the boys like her. She’ll go out with men in her twenties and always ask on the first date if they’ve ever been to Scotland. Not many will make it to a third date. She will cover her body in tattoos, her favourite, a single line whose shape is reminiscent of a turtle. And when people ask her about it, she will say it’s a symbol that means destiny.
After university, she’ll work for a little while in a cafe. And a tall man with a wispy beard will fall in love with her dark humour and the way she makes him feel small. And he’ll squeeze himself into all the crevices of her life.
When people say to her ‘have you been living under a rock?’ which they’ll say all the time. He’ll pretend that he lives under that rock with her too.
Despite herself, she’ll think about him when he’s not around, she’ll notice the way his eyelashes curl upwards, she’ll have imaginary conversations with him as she lies awake in bed.
They’ll move in together, buy a cat and she’ll ask him repeatedly if he’s ever been to Stornoway. She’ll even ask his parents too.
Two weeks before her thirtieth birthday, he’ll bend down on one knee while she’s reaching for spaghetti in the kitchen. She’ll hug him so tightly and warmth with envelop her. But later in bed she’ll cry and ask him if he would mind if she had some time to think about it. He’ll say ‘Of course.’ But his eyes will fill with tears in the darkness next to her.
She’ll catch a flight to Stornoway and spend five days walking around and finding nothing familiar at all. She’ll sleep with two men, both men she met in a bar on two consecutive nights. One will smell faintly of rum and neither will lie in bed with her afterwards and stroke her hair like David.
She’ll try to find the beach and the cave with the turtle. She’ll chat to some local fishermen in a cafe where the tables have remnants of dried ketchup hidden on their edges. They’ll laugh at her when she tells them her story and say that there certainly ain’t any giant turtles round here. When she returns home, she’ll tell David she can’t marry him and she’ll try to explain that she just isn’t ready.
Five years later, on a beautiful summer’s day she’ll watch him marry a woman named Lucy who laughs at things that aren’t really funny and she’ll feel him look at her for so long while he waits for Lucy at the altar.
After the service Marlene will hug her tightly and say, ‘I’m so sorry love. I always thought you’d marry David.’ And she’ll sob and stain mascara into her mother’s blouse.
She’ll meet a nice man that night whose face is all neat and symmetrical, who’ll take her home when she’s drunk too much. Two days later, he’ll come round to return a lost shawl and ask if she’ll join him for dinner. She’ll smile and grab her coat. And as she gets into the taxi, she’ll say: ‘Have you ever been to Scotland?’
Having studied Creative Writing at Oxford University, Alex Amey has gone on to have works published in a number of literary magazines including Litro and Popshot Quarterly. She writes in a range of genres including flash fiction, short-stories and creative non-fiction. She is currently working on her debut novel, Meantime. Alex lives in Oxford and works as a Marketing & PR Manager.