The Sleeping Giantess (3/3)

It didn’t look like her idea of a public library – a small, pink-washed building on one side of the main square. There wasn’t a sign saying ‘Library’, but then, if you lived on a very small island you would know where such places were.

She had imagined Alex putting books back on shelves, or being one of several assistants standing behind a desk, date stamp in hand, but it seemed Alex was the librarian for Tullaclough – at least, he was the only member of staff. He was absorbed in cataloguing something, but looked up and smiled when she came in. Apart from him, there was an old lady in gumboots and a mackintosh, and a man with a dog.

“Ah, the lovely lady from the hills!”

Once again she needed to check to see if he was making fun of her, but his face was grave. Alex had a knack, she noticed, of giving you his complete attention. He was gazing steadily at her now, waiting for her to say something.

“Do you by any chance provide access to computers here?”

“We do indeed – at least, to one computer.”

“Oh – I expect it’s fully booked then?” She was thinking of the library nearest to her flat in London, where it would have been necessary to book a week in advance.

“No indeed. It is very rarely used. The younger people tend to have their own computers, whilst the older ones regard them as having been sent by Old Cloots himself.”

“Don’t tell me…”

“The Devil. He of the cloven hooves. A cloot is one division of a cloven hoof, did you know that?”

“No. It seems there are an awful lot of things I don’t know.”

“And an awful lot of things you do. You could probably teach me a thing or two about Norse Mythology, for example.”

“I suppose so,” she said, returning his smile. And then, because somehow it was important, she couldn’t help asking. “That thing you said on the hills this morning about – my height. You called me a fine figure of a woman. Did you mean that, or were you taking the mickey?”

He looked at her for a moment, surprised.

“I had enough of mickey-taking when I was at school. I was really skinny then, and what with the red hair, the slippery glasses and the scruffy clothes – my family weren’t exactly well off, you see… It taught me one thing, though – always to be looking on the inside of people for beauty, rather than the outside.”

She flinched.

“And in your case,” he said, saving the day rather nicely, “it is both.”

“The idea for this article I’m writing came from a comment I overheard on the radio,” she admitted. “I was working on my computer, with Woman’s Hour on in the background, and there was this woman telling a story about a ceilidh that took place one evening in the Highlands. The most eagerly-awaited part of the evening was a beauty contest. The woman telling the story was a visiting southerner, like me, and she was struck by the fact that the winner of the contest was a huge, gawky girl, and quite plain by her standards. When she remarked on this, she was told that the men around these parts were hill farmers and the sort of girl they favoured was one who looked – as if she could carry a heifer under each arm.”

She had spoken lightly, but Alex could hear the hurt and anger underneath.

“It just so happens there is going to be a ceilidh tomorrow evening,” he said, “in the Victory Hall, just down the road. I would be honoured if you would accompany me, Marika.”

She looked at him for a moment, still uncertain.

“I can’t guarantee to be able to lift a heifer, Alex.”

“I can’t guarantee not to tread on your toes, Marika, since I am the world’s worst dancer. But I would enjoy your company all the same. Most of the young ladies round here wouldn’t be seen dead at a dance with a scrawny, carrot-topped chap like me. What they’re after is a man who can pull a tractor out of a ditch single-handed, then sprint from one end of Tullaclough to the other carrying two ewes and a lamb.”

This time, she thought, there was definitely a twinkle in his eye.

 

(Illustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)

 

 

 

The Sleeping Giantess (2/3)

It hadn’t been easy growing up a Giantess. Mercifully, Marika had stopped growing around the age of twelve but by then, at six foot five in her stockinged feet, she had towered over her classmates. She blamed it on her Scandinavian heritage. Her father Gejr, was Danish; her mother was a Scot – but both of her parents were above average height. She had inherited her father’s thick, fair hair, her mother’s athletic physique and a disastrous combination of both their heights.

It was bad enough being a tall schoolchild. At junior school teachers asked her to reach things down from the top of the art cupboard. On the assumption that a child that tall would be able to run fast, they’d entered her for the sprint on Sports Day every year: she had always come last. At senior school they made her Shooter in the netball team. Humiliatingly, she was forced to make a show of ‘jumping’ when everyone knew she could just have walked over to the net, reached down and put the ball in.

But the worst thing was boys. Groups of them followed her, sniggering, down the road. She knew none of them would ever ask her out. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t find her attractive; it was that they didn’t want to look conspicuous. What would a boy look like, trying to walk with his arm round a girl like Marika. If you made her wear flat shoes and walk in the gutter? No. She would still be towering over you. In the end, her father gave her the best advice.

“You are not ugly, Marika, just tall. I understand that this is difficult for you, and probably always will be. But remember that you are clever. Also, you can walk, you can see, you can hear – you are fit and healthy. Many girls are not so lucky. Walk tall, datter.”

Marika had taken his advice. She had bought several pairs of high heels. When she passed the boys she had stuck out her chin, and her not-inconsiderable bosom, and sashayed past them. They should at least see what they were missing.

Back at the bed-and-breakfast she stripped off her outer clothes and made herself a cup of coffee, using the mini-kettle and sachets provided. She wrote a page of shorthand notes and got out her laptop. She really had to get cracking on this article. The magazine’s deadline was at the end of the week and copy needed to be emailed at least twenty-four hours in advance of that.

It should be possible to get at least the first draft done today. She had amassed quite a few notes already, although there was still something missing – she wasn’t sure what, but it would come to her. She knew from past experience that inspiration tended to strike when it was most needed.

“Oh why can nothing ever just work?”

Her laptop would not co-operate. She was furious at herself. She should have brought a back-up device to such a remote place. At the very least she should have allowed herself time to write the thing out in longhand, take the ferry back to civilisation and fax it. She doubted whether Tullaclough would have such a thing as a computer repair shop; in fact she couldn’t actually remember seeing a shop of any kind. Was it possible that everything was mail order here, and came in by boat? She made another note. Something else she needed to find out.

In the meantime, what was she going to do? She had to get this article typed, then emailed.

Suddenly, inspiration struck. The library. Didn’t that Alex say he worked in the library? There could only be one library on Tullaclough, and surely nowadays most libraries had computers.

 

(Ilustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)

The Sleeping Giantess (1/3)

“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.”

“Nell?”

“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.”

“Danish?”

“I’m sorry?”

“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)