“Sorry, but I can’t quite work it out. Which end is supposed to be the head?”
“Try looking at her through half-closed eyes. That’s what artist’s do when they’re looking at a work in progress.”
Marika did as she was told, and it worked. The great range of hills resolved themselves into a Sleeping Giantess. Marika could now see the curve of the woman’s hip and the long, low stretch of her legs. She was lying on her side with her massive head resting on her arm, as if she’d just decided to take forty winks.
The young man in the cagoule grinned at her. His tortoiseshell spectacles had slipped down his nose in the excitement of pointing out his beloved local landmark to her. He pushed them back with his forefinger. I bet he has to do that a lot, Marika thought, amused for a moment. He just looked like the sort of chap whose glasses wouldn’t behave themselves.
“Alex,” he said, extending a hand to her. “I work in the library, and I live just down the hill.” He pointed vaguely downwards, towards the scattering of mostly white cottages, which, like the island itself, called itself Tullaclough. It looked as if one good gale would scatter such ramshackle dwellings like a pack of cards, yet apart from a handful of modern bungalows most of them had been here for several hundred years. Must be tougher than they looked.
Islanders too, Marika thought.
“It’s my day off,” her companion said. He seemed eager to talk. “I quite often walk up here and have a chat to Nell on my days off.”
“Oh, that’s my pet name for her – like Dickens’ Little Nell, you know, only – bigger. She hasn’t got an official name.”
“Isn’t there some sort of legend?” she asked. She had rather hoped to be alone this morning, to form her own impression of the Giantess for an article she was writing. However, it didn’t pay to be inflexible. Alex might be able to help her.
“Ah, legends,” he said. “There is more than one. More than one Giant, too – one in Wales, one in Hawaii, one in Canada and at least two in the USA – but as far as I know this is the only Giantess.
“Now, legends. There’s the usual one – if you make too much of a commotion or injure her in any way you risk waking her from her long sleep. Imagine what a catastrophe that would be, if a whole range of hills sat up and started roaring…”
He tailed off, gazing up at his Giantess. It sounds almost as if this funny little chap believes it could happen, Marika thought. I do believe he’s viewing the event in his mind’s eye in Glorious Technicolor.”
“Then there’s the other legend,” he said, suddenly. “The Giantess might become so angry that she decides to get up and leave us altogether.” Once again he fell silent. Presumably he saw his beloved Maiden striding off into the sea, taking thunderously long paces, showering boulders to the left and to the right, in search of a new home.
“And where would Tullaclough be then? We’re a bit out of the way here. Nell is our main source of income, apart from sheep and hand-knitted jumpers. The B and B’s would go out of business without her.”
Perhaps spending your whole life on a remote Scottish island sends you a bit daft, in a nice-ish sort of way, thought Marika. She eased her notebook out of her pocket and made a shorthand note.
“Would you be a journalist?”
She hadn’t realised he was watching her.
“Yes, in a way. I’m a freelance. I’m here to do some research into island life. It’s an article aimed at a magazine called Explore Britain. It’s not going to be just about Tullaclough and The Gian… about Nell, though. My name’s Marika, by the way.”
“Your name. Danish origin, variant of Mary.”
Was there anything this man didn’t know, she wondered. Could Google decided to go walkabout and transformed itself into a bespectacled, red-haired little chap in a green cagoule and woolly hat?
You must stop labelling people small, she reminded herself. Even inside your head. Alex was probably getting on for six foot. It was just –
Marika took a deep breath. She had an awful feeling he was reading her thoughts. But surely he wouldn’t actually mention the obvious? Most people never actually said anything about it.
But Alex was not most people.
“You would have a personal interest in Nell, of course – a fine figure of a woman like yourself.”
(Ilustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)