The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 72

The Linnet´s Wings holidays and County Durham offered both country- side and coastline in abundance. I had been to the uni athletics club for a training night; I was tired and a bit dispirited by the November gloom. Even at twenty one years old and in the peak of fitness, the training run had been demanding; keeping both the fitness side and the degree revision afloat was not easy. As I walked up to the house, it seemed to be unusually quiet and sombre; at times, I could hear the cheerful rattle of the lads from half way down the street. This impression was confirmed as soon as I en- tered the front door. The television was on, in the main living room on my left as I went in. In the room itself, my three house mates were all standing, almost as if in respectful tribute. They only seemed to hear me when I whammed my bag down on a chair just inside the door. The Canadian guy, Brad Deanes, as easy going a lad as you can imagine, turned his face to me and it was almost pale. ‘Oh, God’, he said. ‘Duncan – buddy –‘ The other two turned together, and my particular friend here, Mike Wellfield, took a few steps towards me and started to say something, but he didn’t seem able to get the words out. ‘What is it, boys? What’s happening –‘ I said, just before the words on the televison started to seep into my weary brain. ‘It is thought Mr. Murray’s fall was the result of a faulty harness; there is little else that could explain such a catastrophic accident happening to such an ex- perienced climber. Dougal Murray had climbed almost every challenging mountain in the world without inci- dent; this Himalyan fall, of some 8000 feet, was both his first and his last’. I stood aghast, feeling as if I’d passed through a portal into some ghastly parallel universe. They even had footage, from a distance, of the group of medics and fellow climbers gathered around my fallen father. An awful feeling came over me that next they would ac- tually be taking a camera in to look at his broken body. 72 Whether I should have been exhibiting some stiff necked Scottish self-control or not, I didn’t know, or care. I was down on my knees, and preparing myself to howl my head off like a beaten dog, when the phone suddenly rang. Brad went to answer it, and came back seconds later, looking even paler. ‘Duncan, it’s your uncle. Are you sure –‘ I got up, strolled into the hall and grabbed the phone. ‘Duncan, terrible news, I’m afraid – ’, Stuart started saying, in that so matter-of-fact voice of his, which infu- riated me even more than it usually did. ‘Yes, Stuart, I know. I’m watching it on the news’, I said, calmly enough, but with an emphatic and deliberate sarcasm on the last five words. Something in- side me screamed crazily through my whole system that this man, who spends half his life with my father, has not managed to get a single word to me until I’m watching a public news bulletin. I was about to unleash a whole broadside of obscenities at him before, for the first very conscious time but by no means the last, some force, some entity, outside me made my stay my hand. ‘I know it’s not easy for you either, Uncle, but could you not have got some word of this to me before now, or organised someone else to do it? Honestly?’ ‘I’m sorry, boy, O.K.?’ That ‘boy’ again. ‘This is the Himalayas – smooth communications are impossible –‘ He kept talking, but I didn’t hear him any- more, because at that moment, bursting through the front door using the key I’d made sure she had, was my girlfriend already becoming more than a girlfriend, Jo- sephine Reynolds, known to all the world except her parents as Josie. ‘I’ll talk with you later, Uncle’, I said to the phone, and the next instant I was on Josie’s slim shoul- der, her arms were around me, and I was crying like a big, heart-broken baby. She exchanged a few words with the boys, which I can’t remember, and then we went up to my room and I cried myself dry. She got hold of a bran- dy from somewhere and eventually, we just sat on the