Island Fling

Seven years of separation. One night to reconnect.

Years ago, Andrew and Maggie tumbled into love too hard and too fast until one harsh collision with reality shattered everything between them. But now they’re older – and maybe a little bit wiser – is there a way for them to make peace in the tranquility of a remote Scottish island? Or is this one night fling just a way to finally say goodbye?

Island Fling is a 10,000 word short story.

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The brown paper was creased and a little torn at the corners, revealing the layers of bubble wrap beneath. Andrew frowned at the neatly typed label and the unfamiliar return address. It wasn’t addressed to Fraser Fine Art, the prestigious Edinburgh gallery he’d inherited from his grandfather. Instead, the hopeful artist had typed out Andrew’s own name, perhaps thinking it would get him a better chance of a viewing, since the gallery didn’t normally accept unsolicited submissions at all these days. He picked up the large package with both hands, intending to hand it over to Darren to sort out the return postage.

That torn packaging kept catching his eye. A hint of vivid green lurked beneath the translucent plastic of the bubble wrap. Whatever waited inside wasn’t an insipid amateur watercolour, at least. Of course, the hidden artwork could be a hideous amateur acrylic, but those were rarer in Andrew’s experience. In the first few years after he’d taken over the gallery, he’d insisted on viewing everything. He hadn’t trusted anyone else to judge what was good, what was bad, and most importantly, what would sell. Now they curated exhibitions of selected artists from Scotland’s artistic elite. It was an honour to be invited to show at Fraser’s on Queen Street, and one that was rarely refused.

He missed the rush of adrenaline that came with the unexpected discovery of a truly great work. Sifting through the piles of dross, there were still nuggets of gold to be found. Maybe this would be one of them. And if not, well, he’d lose a couple of minutes and some packing tape to put the parcel back together. He reached for his penknife to slit the tape then felt his way through two layers of bubble wrap with increasing caution, ensuring that the blade stayed clear of the canvas. When the canvas was clear, he turned the painting over.

For several seconds he simply stared, unable and unwilling to believe what his eyes were telling him. The painting depicted – in the loosest sense of the word – a seascape of one of the Scottish islands. He didn’t know them well enough to identify which one, but they were was a common subject. Artists of all talents – and none – loved the clear light and the drama. He’d seen hundreds, maybe thousands of similar scenes.

He’d never seen a canvas like this. The artist had performed that particular brand of magic called chiaroscuro, creating a dark, foreboding image punctured by occasional glimpses of brilliant light. The contrast gave the work an intense, compelling quality that drew him into its deep heart.

And at the heart was a woman, lit up like a modern Rembrandt angel as she emerged from the dark water of the sea. Her hair was slicked back from her forehead, her swimsuit clinging to her lithe body like a second skin.

Andrew couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. It was as if he were there, on the pebbled beach, waiting for her to come to him. He’d grasp her wet body and crush it against his. He’d lock his arms around her and press kisses against her warm, salted mouth. And this time, he wouldn’t let her go.

Maggie Fiona Mitchell.

It had to be her. He didn’t need to search for the MFM in the corner to confirm the artist or the subject. He’d known the instant he turned the canvas over. The unique fingerprint of her brushstrokes hadn’t changed in the seven years since she’d disappeared from his life.

Her work had improved immeasurably, though. She still saw the world in all its dark glory, but now she had the clarity she’d previously lacked. She used to see so much, feel so deeply, that she couldn’t help but throw it all into her work. Every thought, every emotion, every image, every colour creating a clashing, clanging, unbearable disharmony.

The painting on Andrew’s desk had such utter, breathtaking beauty precisely because of its restraint. Maggie used to argue that restraint would lead to simplistic work, but she’d proved herself wrong. This was a work that a person could live with and learn anew every day for a lifetime. It was complex and yet it dragged a single, simple response from Andrew’s heart.

For seven years, he’d heard nothing of her, and seen nothing by her. He still kept an eye out for her work in the catalogues, but when the years passed and nothing turned up, he assumed she’d built a new life and in it found a different way of being. A different way of painting. But now she was here, in his gallery, in acrylic on canvas, in colour and light, in a pose that set his pulse racing.

He picked up the discarded brown paper, searching for the return label. White Cottage, Isle of Muck.

Andrew glanced back at the painting. It looked an invitation to him.

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March 2014
10,000 word short story