Sleet was driving across the headlamp beams as Lucy crossed the border from Scotland to England. She sighed as she realised there was still an hour and a half of the A1 to travel before home. It had been a strange couple of days, it was only last week that she had made the snap decision to drive to Thurso.
The pain of losing Jon was somehow made worse by Christmas approaching, it had been a year since they had said their final goodbyes in the hospice, it felt as if it were yesterday. His dear face so pale, his fingers had wound around hers as he whispered “Love again Lucy, I’ll always be close but I don’t want you to be alone”. Lucy’s mouth turned down as she fought the tears and tried to bring happier memories to mind.
That summer after they had married in Thurso, how they laughed like naughty children as they ran down the beach at Dunnet, she with her shoes in her hand and he running ahead with her bouquet of roses shouting back to her that now she was Mrs McKay she had to obey and stop chasing him! Her lips broke into a smile but the tears still fell.
Lucy cleared her throat, straightened in her seat and reached to turn the radio on. It had been the right thing to do, she knew that. Scattering Jon’s ashes along the clifftop at Dunnet Head had been a bit of a disaster for her really, she smiled as she stood outside herself and viewed her figure on the clifftop, tears streaming down her face as she opened the plastic container and tossed the contents into the air..which had blown straight back in her face making her cough and gag and finally collapsed onto the glass laughing until she thought she wouldn’t be able to stop.
“Oh for goodness sake Chris, just for one year take the bloody train” she muttered as she smacked the off button on the radio and the music stopped abruptly.
She knew she had a right turn up ahead so slowed down as the sleet continued to blur her view. She leaned towards the windscreen as if that would help then jumped violently as the radio sprang into life. Michael Bublé crooned that he’d be seeing you in all the old familiar places, Lucy gasped with frustration and reached for the off button again. Her eyes flickered down to the radio and back up onto the fast disappearing road as the unrelenting sleet turned to a purposeful snow.
“Oh Hell!” she squealed as a large animal ran into her headlight glare, she hit the brake and braced as she slithered to a stop, her heart pounding as the engine stalled. Had she hit the creature? Would she find a bloody mess of animal under her wheels, was it a deer? Cautiously she opened the car door, reaching into the door pocket she grabbed a torch and silently thanked Jon for making sure she always kept one there.
The road was deserted, well it was Christmas Eve, any one who had any sense at all would be snuggled up waiting for Santa she thought as she trudged to the front of the car. She flicked her torch around her into the silence. The beam picked up a shape on the side of the embankment and a dog crept into view with its tail wagging faintly. It looked like a wolfhound to Lucy, its beard dusted with snow and its eyes fixed on hers as he edged forwards. Lucy sighed with relief, thank God, he looked uninjured.
“Come on sweetheart” she whispered “What are you doing here fella?” she crouched down in the snow speckled grass and the dog grew in confidence and trotted towards her, tail wagging. Lucy reached out with her hand and the dog snuggled up close nearly knocking her to the ground “Oi! Steady big boy” she said as she pushed the dog aside. The dog dragged a wet tongue across her face and then whined as he looked away from her and into the darkness of the embankment. Lucy stood up and shined her torch to where the dog was looking, nothing.
She couldn’t see if the dog had a collar on so she stepped careful towards him, he then took a few steps away from her towards the embankment. “Come on fella, I can’t help you if you don’t come with me “ said Lucy and held out her hand again “although God knows what I’m going to do with you if you do come to me “ she muttered. Again the dog leaned towards her then trotted off whining to the edge of the embankment.
This time Lucy felt the dog was trying to show her something “It’s turning into a damn episode of Lassie “ she sighed as she followed the dog to the edge of the darkness. She shone her torch down onto the other side of the embankment and caught her breath as the beam picked up the side of a car, it had clearly slid down the embankment and come to rest against a bunch of scrawny trees near the bottom of the ridge. Lucy quickly followed the dog to the car and wrenched open the driver’s door. Slumped sideways was a figure bundled up in hooded Parka with a scarf across the face.
“Are you OK? Can you hear me?” shouted Lucy , the body moved with a grunt and a male voice growled “I’ve broken my bloody leg but there’s nothing wrong with my ears”
“I’ll ring for help”
Lucy fumbled for her ‘phone and quickly dialled 999. “Damn, no signal” “I’ll be back in a minute” she shouted
“Not to worry” came the rich Scottish burr “I’m going nowhere just now”
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Lucy scrambled to the top of the bank and tried her ‘phone again, this time it connected. The next half hour was full of flashing lights, men and women in reflective coats and a kind of quiet intensity as the man was removed from the car and stretchered to the waiting ambulance. She had gone back to the man once her call had been made, he said his name was Eamon but then he had fallen into a daze and muttered all sorts of unconnected words as she tried to keep him awake, she worried that most of her first aid knowledge had come from watching American hospital drama but having checked no one else was in the car and after she had piled most of the contents of her overnight case over him to keep him warm all there was to do was wait for real experts. When the Police arrived they told her to get back in her car to keep warm, the dog appeared by her side and together they climbed into the back seat of her Audi. It was a bit of a squeeze, the dog was actually bigger than her but his warmth and presence was comforting as the blue lights around her flashed. She buried her face into the dog’s warm fur and tried to breathe deeply, smelling the musky sweetness of his skin and remembering the last dog she had owned so long ago.
A tap on the window and a policewoman showed her a plastic mug of coffee , she part opened the door and gratefully accepted the steaming drink . “It won’t be long now” said the young policewoman “They have him out and he’ll be on his way to hospital soon enough” “Shall I follow?” asked Lucy “after all, I still have his dog” she gestured to the hairy, smiling hound beside her. The policewoman bent down to look into the car “Ah well” she said “I’ll tell you what , we’ll drive your car to the hospital, we can’t leave it here on this road in this weather and you look exhausted” Lucy nodded and thanked the Policewoman , watching as she turned and spoke to an older Policeman to confirm the arrangement. The older man turned to look at her and smiled reassuringly and gave her a small wave. Sometime later the young policewoman climbed into the driver’s seat saying, “we’ll soon be there and you can get your head looked at too” Lucy felt her forehead, she had given it a bit of a bash on something when she had stopped so suddenly but the ambulance crew had checked it and said it was just going to be a bruise. She shrugged and once again sunk back into the hound’s warmth as he gently licked her forehead.
By the time they reached the hospital and she was escorted into A&E she felt very much better, as she walked through the corridors the usual hospital Christmas detritus of drunks and unfortunates thronged the way but she was seen quickly and taken through for a CT scan before being given a seat in a quiet waiting room. She thought about the dog, he had to stay in the car while she was in here but what on earth could she do with him when she reached home?
Her thoughts were interrupted by a nurse popping her head around the door and inviting her to come and see Eamon who was asking for her. Eamon was sitting up in bed , his leg raised in a cast and he greeted her with a wry grin. He was probably around her own age, thought Lucy and really quite good looking in a Scottish kind of way.
She smiled back. “How are you feeling?” she asked. Eamon rubbed his scalp and said “I could have died if you hadn’t found me, I need to say thank you “ he reached out for her hand, Lucy looked down and placed her hand in his, he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “This means I owe you “ he said.
Lucy laughed “Nooo, you owe your dog”
“my dog?, I don’t have a dog”
“the big shaggy wolfhound “ Lucy blustered
Eamon looked blank
“big bushy beard, huge feet” she continued as if describing the dog would jog Eamon’s memory
“Lucy, I do not have a dog “ Eamon said gently.
“That’s crazy “ she broke off “I’ll go and get him” She rose quickly and ran down to the A&E entrance where her car had been parked tight up against the wall.
She clicked the unlock button on her keyring and the interior light illuminated the darkness of her car.
She pulled open the back door, she knew the dog had no where to hide but she had to be sure. Was she going loopy? Had she hit her head harder than she thought? The light glinted on metal in the footwell and she bent to pick up the silver disk as she turned it over in her fingers her hand found its way to her mouth unbidden as she read the engraving on the reverse. Just one word “Jon”
The summer sun made the waves glisten and sparkle as the couple walked along the sands at Dunnet. Their shadows short and you could hear their laughter as you drew near. From the dunes came a joyous bark and a leggy grey dog flailed his way like a windmill down to the flat sand. He bounced over to the couple and they greeted him with cries of “Good boy! What a clever man you are!” Eamon turned to Lucy and lifted her chin as he kissed her, the young puppy sat and watched each one in turn before spotting a seagull and raced off down the beach.