As I park up the sky darkens. I turn off the ignition and tell Tone we’ll have to wait. We watch the squall pass over. Beyond the rough fence, mounds of dune grass bounce and billow, luminous in that strange light, the sea slate blue with jumping jagged lines. Wind grabs the van and the suspension creaks. While I sit there with the keys still in my hand, something in the wing mirror takes my eye. It is the calm of the inland strath, untouched somehow by the squall. A snapshot of the Halladale shining its way through the valley, the unmoving green of treeless hills, and the low sand banks. Again, the van rocks and I feel like I’m perched on the divide – with the prescience of the world as a billion parallels, one for each life on it.
We cross the scrubland, free today of the cows that sometimes plod its worn paths. Coming out of the dunes, my view opens on the river and the bridge over to Big House. A Keep Off sign propped against its steps, the bridge seems to be sinking back into the landscape, its untreated wood the same colour as the sand, and the watermark on its cement piers as dark as the river’s glossy surface and thunderous sky to the north. An exposed cable runs the length of the parapet, dangles the last few feet and disappears into the sand. ‘Where electricity goes to die,’ I say. I’m thinking of last winter and the power cuts – the north’s distances tricky to span. With the sun high above Beinn Ruadh, the pebbles on the shore gleam. One last throw of the ball and we make our way back to the van.
At home, my mum calls. My dad has a sickness bug and has spent the day in bed. The cordless handset crackles so that it is hard to tell how worried she is – the two hundred miles that separate us spanned by phone lines, looping, looping. I hang up thinking of worlds glimpsed in mirrors – their wholeness, their immediacy nothing but reflections.
A trick of the light.