The Crime Readers' Association

The Mist Rolling In

by J G Harlond

“We can live off the land here.”

“On what?”

“Look down at your feet, Dan. Rocket, lamb’s leaf lettuce. Look up. Blackberries. There’ll be other fruits in spring and summer. Apples, damsons. Strawberries under the hedge.”

“You want to turn me into a new-age hippy?”

Laura laughed. “No. Silly. We are what we are. I’m just saying it would be a good place to live.” She spoke without thinking. Because she knew it to be true. Because she had lived here before.

Dan looked at her hard, his eyes narrowed, sensing something. “Would you like that? To live in a little place like this? A thousand miles from your gossipy friends and designer handbags?”

“Yes,” Laura said. “I ought to be here.” Living by the water, watching the sunset from her small window before going to bed, watching the summer sun rise before she put the bread in the oven . . . The croft was dilapidated, it would need repairs inside and out, but it would keep them warm in winter . . . She peered over the gate, nobody had lived here in a long time, dog roses had crept up around the door.

“All right then. Suits me,” Dan said. “We can give it a go.”

They rented the cottage, still owned by the local inn, cheap as well – because of its reputation – and created a market garden and watched golden sunsets together from the porch on dry evenings. As mist rolled in off the sea one night, Dan put his arm around Laura’s shoulders.

“Thank you,” he said. She thought her heart would burst.

First, they had a puppy, a spaniel crossed with something wild and local. They called her Ginger. Then a collie arrived with a broken paw. She was called Scout. Then a daughter named Alba for Scotland and a son named Gregor for Laura’s other, secret, son.

Dan’s parents came and talked of good schools: said children needed the right sort of playmates. They left a large empty case behind the sofa bed.

“They’re getting too old to sleep on a sofa like this,” Laura said when Dan commented on their hints.

“Yeah,” he sighed, “me too.” He turned away from her. “I’m meeting a guy at the pub about a rotovator. It’s a sort of mechanical hand plough.”

Laura knew what a rotovator was. Anything was easier than a hand plough on this land.

“We haven’t got any money,” she said quietly, but Dan was gone.

Laura’s memory-daydreams started one afternoon while making the next day’s bread. As she kneaded and folded, kneaded and folded, a charabanc parked on the edge of the loch. Tourists in bright anoraks stumbled out, oohing and ahhing. Laura imagined herself stowing away in the back seat while they took their photographs. A bit like she had before, except that had been on Tam-the-tinker’s cart.

The next time the coach stopped outside the cottage, she saw herself get on and wave goodbye to Dan and the children as it drove away. The guilt turned her cold, but the thought was there: she had done it before. She could do it again. Except differently this time. Less drastic. She’d miss the collie with the broken paw most. Not that she didn’t love her children, but they did whine and squabble so . . .

But no. What happened before . . . She wouldn’t let that happen again – if she could help it. This was her test and her punishment. Getting it right, making it right, would be her salvation. Besides . . . she shook her long auburn hair off her face, wiped her hands and reached into the back of the cutlery drawer for the crochet hook her mother (that mother) kept for shellfish, pinned it up with an instinctive twist – no elastic bands in those days . . . besides, her thoughts ran on, these children were happier and healthier here than in any town.

But oh, the need to escape – even for a short whileto be somewhere with proper street lighting and three buses at a time. That would be so good. She could wait until September, though, until Alba started school . . . Leave one morning while they were both at their lessons. They would be safe then, until Dan collected them. There was no need to harm anyone this time.

One afternoon, not long after they acquired a television, Laura packed a few things in the abandoned suitcase. Clothes she hadn’t worn for years – towny clothes she probably couldn’t get into any more. She put in some underwear and a nightgown. Pretending it would be a holiday. There was a shout then a squeal. Gregor was pushing Alba’s pet hedgehog around the front of the cottage in a wheelbarrow. Laura went to investigate.

“Where’s Daddy going?” Gregor called as soon as he saw her. Alba joined him, rosy cheeked, cross and curious. “Where’s Daddy going?” she echoed.

Ginger bounced around them, woofing with excitement. Scout watched from the porch mat and turned to look up at her with wistful eyes. Laura laughed. It was a happy sight. “To the pub, I expect.”

Dan appeared from behind her. With a blue suitcase. A new suitcase. It had wheels. He licked his lips, looked away. The children approached slowly now, an instinct warning them something was wrong. They stared at him.

“Daddy is going to Glasgow to do some work, then he’s . . .” Dan ran out of words.

Laura turned sharply. “Then what?”

“It’s no good,” Dan said. “You tried to make me into someone I’m not.”

“What are you going to do?” Laura’s voice was a squeak. Panic rising in her chest. This was not how it was supposed to be. She wasn’t safe on her own.

“Remember that guy with the rotovator business?” Dan replied.

“Yes. We couldn’t afford one.”

“No. Well, now we can. He’s given me a job selling them, seeing as I know about difficult land. I’ll send you some money.”

With the greatest of care, Gregor lifted the hedgehog from the wheelbarrow. “Do you want to take Prickles, Daddy, so you’ve got a friend?”


Weeks later, as she struggled back from the only local shop with Gregor and Alba running on ahead, Laura paused, exhausted, to catch her breath. Looking beyond her small children crouched over a snail shell treasure or a dead mouse, she noticed the mist rolling in off the sea. There was a chill in the air. Autumn had arrived. Alba would be going to school. There was a school bus now. Not like it used to be, when only town children got an education. Laura let out a heartfelt sigh. This was the moment to go. Return home to London.

Return home. But she had. It had taken three lifetimes, but she was back here on the loch now.

The heavy white mist swallowed the road, devoured her feet, rose and filled her mind, pushing out evil, murderous, intrusive thoughts. This was where she belonged. Where she must make amends. She couldn’t leave again.

Alba suddenly appeared, running towards her. “Daddy’s home!” she called.

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” Laura said as she closed their gate.

Dan pulled her into his arms, reached out for their children to join the hug. “People shouldn’t try to change people,” he mumbled into Laura’s hair.

“I didn’t try to change you,” Laura replied. Adding silently, I am the one who must change.


Author’s note: This story was originally written with the lyrics of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Paul McCartney in mind, while on vacation on Loch Fyne three years ago.

J G Harlond’s most recent historical crime novel is A Turning Wind. You can read more about Jane and her books here.

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