Authors: Daniela Sacerdoti
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Thank you Ross, Sorley and Luca, for everything.
Thank you to my family, Ivana and Edoardo Sacerdoti, and to my dearest father Franco and grandmother Caterina, who watch over me.
Thank you to the Walker clan, especially to Beth and Bill, my second Mum and Dad.
Thank you Irene, the best friend anyone could want.
Thank you to the people of Caravino, in northern Italy, the real Glen Avich … a place full of ghosts, which I was taught, in my long, sunny childhood, not to be afraid of.
Thanks to Sorley MacLean and to Martyn Bennet, whose interpretation of ‘Hallaig’ sowed the seeds of this story.
Thank you to everyone at Black & White Publishing, for believing in me.
Thank you to Alexander McCall Smith and Alison Rae, for encouraging words that I’ll never forget.
And forever thank you, my windswept, dark, warm, complicated, beloved Scotland, my home.
To those who watch over me from the other side of reality.
And to the ones who stand beside me:
Ross, the earth, Sorley, the sky, and Luca, the sun.
The strangest, most amazing day of my life, the day that changed my perception of life and death, started like any other. I woke up in the world I’ve always known, I went to sleep wrapped in a mystery.
All our lives we make ourselves busy, trying to ignore the fact that darkness will come, one day too soon, to get us. Infinity can’t fit in our lives the way it is, too frightening, too huge. We have to cut it to size, doing all the million little everyday things that define the boundaries of our reality – using our five senses the way they’re meant to be used, to touch things, to see things, things that are real and present and on this side of existence, the side of the living. We give the mystery a human face; we give a shape to something that’s shapeless.
We invent rituals to define the passages, turn life and death into ceremonies, making them earthly and somehow easier to grasp, to comprehend. When a baby is born, we don’t dwell on
that little soul is now here, where it was before, what it knows … The new mum comes back from her excursion into the unknown, taking the baby with her from darkness into the light, and both are cleaned and dressed and made to look as if they never were beyond … as if she hadn’t just been underground, in the dark, where life and death touch and mix.
And when somebody dies, the family can mercifully occupy their minds with all the heartbreaking little things we need to do when it’s all finished – the flowers, the food, what needs to be put away, what needs to be given away – while tears fall on the objects left behind: a pair of slippers, a mug, a dressing gown. We comfort each other, holding on to a solid arm, clinging to a warm hand where the blood flows strong, we feel it underneath the skin and it sings so loud, so clear, that it banishes death away.
How could we, even for a second, face what
happened – the way someone was there and then she was not, gone forever, gone into non-existence – without falling on our knees and screaming in terror, thinking one day it will happen to us, that we’ll close our eyes and never open them again? How can we ever be so brave as to gaze into the deep, senseless darkness that awaits us and still keep on living?
darkness is what awaits us.
Because I know now that it isn’t.
The day that started like any other day is the day all the frills were stripped away and I looked straight into the mystery. I saw someone whom I thought was gone, and she was there, standing in front of me. I saw a soul without a body and she smiled.
Maybe I’m naïve, maybe a whole lot of proof and science and thought stands before me to say I’m wrong, but I believe what my gran told me many years ago – that love never dies and that what awaits us is the love we felt when we were alive. That beyond the fear and pain, love is there to catch us when we fall.
This is what I learnt, one spring night in the woods, and since then, I am not afraid.
The day I lost my baby, the weather was so gorgeous, so sunny, that half the town was out, with sunglasses on and a smile on their faces.
I had gone for a walk, wearing my big flowery maternity top. I was only ten weeks gone, it was way too early to wear maternity clothes, but I just couldn’t wait. I had also picked up some groceries, some bizarre combination, sardines and cashew nuts maybe, because I kept telling myself I had this craving or the other. I didn’t, really. I just wanted to be finally able to say things like ‘I’m living on mango and HP sauce and I chew on elastic bands. You get such awful cravings when you are
I really was pregnant. It seems impossible now.
I wanted to experience the whole of it; I wanted every sign, every little symptom – the morning sickness, the swollen ankles, the tops that look like tents, the sleepless nights. I wanted to laugh at how huge my underwear had got and check the likelihood of having a boy or a girl on some silly test I found in a magazine. I wanted to pour over name books, choose the nursery furnishing and discuss the advantages of a sling over a baby carrier. I wanted to buy the little vests, the little babygros, the hats, mittens and socks. All white, until the twenty-week scan, when I’d know if it was a boy or a girl. Tom and I would watch the screen in awe, saying to each other, ‘Look, he’s waving! He’s saying hello!’ We’d call our friends and relatives to tell them what we were having. We’d frame the scans and put them on the mantelpiece. Tom would bring one to his work, where the other doctors and the midwives and the receptionists would coo over it and say, ‘He … or she … looks like you!’ You can’t really tell, of course, you can’t see anything in these pictures, it’s just one of those silly things, the sweet nonsense that people say to each other because it feels so good to be talking about them – the babies on their way to this world, all the hope and joy they carry.
But the thing I wanted most of all was to feel the baby kicking inside me. They’d told me it was like little ripples, like a butterfly flying in your tummy. I wanted to have Tom’s hand on my bump, see the pride on his face and the tenderness for me, his wife, giving him a son or a daughter.
I’d waited so long, so long for this, while everybody else got pregnant and carried their lovely bumps around like a crown, and me in my size ten jeans and a flat stomach. I hated the way I was growing thinner instead of round and full and serene.
I desperately wanted to be
, the pregnant women: my sister, my girlfriends, my colleagues, my hairdresser. Even the postman – well, postwoman – inflicted her bump on me every morning, as I watched her waddle her way up and down our street and clumsily climb into the red post van. Until she told me they were changing her duties, health and safety you know, she was going to sit at the parcel collection desk behind the post office and watch her bump grow. She said to drop by, to say hello.
I’d scrutinize women’s tummies obsessively, to see if they were swollen in that lovely, taut way you get right at the beginning, when your bump is barely there but already visible. I’d torture myself, convince myself that everybody,
was pregnant except me.
Whenever I crossed ways with a pram, I’d look away. I didn’t trust myself to not have that look – that longing, lingering look that mothers recognise, so that they pounce and say with their eyes: ‘This baby’s mine.’
I wanted to be like that. I wanted other women to look at my baby with shining eyes and envy me, and feel like the queen of the whole world, the luckiest woman on earth.
Like my sister. She’s an expert at doing that.