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Nick grabbed at his chest as he ran the last few yards towards the shore calling her name. 'Bernice! Be-r-nice!' His calls went unanswered.
'It's not a good time for skinny dipping in Scotland,' he mumbled as he glanced from left to right and left again before spotting her in the water. Scrunching the fabric of his shirt tighter he sprinted towards her.
Bernice turned at the sound of his voice. She rose with the sea at waist level and began walking towards him with slow, deliberate strides.
'Bernice!' Nick stumbled, falling to his knees with the effort of his mad dash. She flopped down beside him, her hair tumbling like seaweed across her face.
'Sleep jogging?' She laughed.
Nick pulled at his tie and spluttered. 'Looking,' he coughed, 'for you.'
She pressed a finger to his lips and pulled his head onto her lap. Pushing her hair behind her ears, she let the heavy mane drip down her back.
'For me, you came looking for me?'
Nick cleared his throat and nodded.
'How did you know I was here?'
'Bernice! I thought you were at the last stop before the terminus.'
'Eh, you've got it all wrong, Nick. I wanted away from the bedlam, that's all. I needed a bit of space.'
'Bedlam? They're all there for you. You asked them to be.'
'So? Now I want to be here.' Bernice pulled an atheme from her bag and began to draw a circle on the sand. 'Sit with me, Nick.'
Nick shuffled closer. He blew on his hands. 'You must be freezing.' He slipped off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Bernice continued to carve the circle.
'What's with the knife?'
'Atheme, Nick.' She paused. 'A-tha-may.'
'What are you like with your weird language?'
'It's Wiccan not weird.'
Nick watched closely as Bernice placed four candles on the sand. She trod softly around the circle, setting a candle at each of the four quarters. 'North, South, East, West.'
Nick admired the colours as she lit each one. 'Traffic Lights?' he asked.
'Green for earth, red for fire, yellow for air and blue for water,' Bernice explained.
'Bernice? Don't you think we should be getting back to your guests?'
'I have guests?' Her throaty laugh was almost melodic. 'I want to connect with the deities not the dafties. Will you join me?'
'No. I'll sit here and make sure you don't get arrested or measured for a nice white coat with lots of buckles.'
'It's your loss. You know, the universe has a pretty good sense of humour and we mortals are fallible. You need to open up to new ideas, embrace challenge.'
Nick lay back on the sand and stared at the dark sky, barely aware of Bernice as she moved within the circle, her voice soft and low. He closed his eyes and thought back over the previous few weeks. No wonder Bernice was losing control. Nick could see why she might want to end it all, but no, she leaves her own granny's wake to prance about the beach in a circle of candles.
Bernice poked him in the side with her toe. 'Come on Rumpelstiltskin, suppose we should head back. I'm done here for now.'
Nick helped Bernice pack away her tools. Her hand brushed his and he looked into her eyes a bit longer than he probably should have.
'I know it's been difficult and exhausting but those folk back at the farm are on your side.'
'You think?' Bernice asked.
He let his gaze drop, confused by the effect that Bernice was having on him. 'Okay. I've a bar to run. We need to make plans to get back to Glasgow. Life goes on.'
'Life goes on for some,' Bernice whispered. 'This island is where my life began.'
Nick sighed. 'Look, this has all been very stressful. I get that. But surely you feel better knowing that you still have family. Liam?'
'I don't believe that nonsense about Liam. He can't be my brother, and I can feel he's not my son.'
'It was 20 years ago, Bernice. You were young and afraid, your head wasn't in the right place. Dermott wouldn't lie. Why would he? If he says Liam is your brother, just accept that. Your son, Humiel, you need to let the past go. You lost him, Bernice. Hanging onto false hope is driving you crazy.'
'I'm not saying Dermott's lied knowingly, but Granddad worked him and Robbie like puppets. They're not the sharpest lemons in the gin. Think about it. If Liam is Granny's son, he's my uncle, not my brother. They say he's my brother?'
Nick scratched his head. 'Unless? Unless McShane and your granny had a relationship?'
'This isn't a Hollywood film script. This is my life. Someone is lying. It just doesn't add up. None of it does.'
Look, we really need to get back. That note you left at the farm tonight? A bit cryptic don't you think? Or was that your plan? Looking for attention? You made it pretty difficult for Maggie and Stacey. We thought you were off to top yourself.'
'Like mother like daughter?'
'Your mother's death was an accident.'
'Was it? You know, until tonight, I was terrified of the sea. Those waves can drag you down. All that space below. Ever heard of the term "Ordeal by water," Nick?'
'Something about witches being thrown into water to prove they were in cahoots with the devil?'
'That's about right. Suspected of being a witch you were thrown into deep water. If you drowned you were innocent, floating meant you were guilty, and sentenced to death, probably by fire. Bit of a raw deal, eh? '
'We're in a different century, Bernice. Things have moved on.'
'No they haven't. Society just made up new words for persecution: apartheid/homophobia/anti-semitism/sectarianism /racism, and don't start me on bullying. Do you realise how many folk suffer in silence because schoolmates, workmates, even family and friends tease them to the point that they just can't face another day?'
'Oh, Bernice, please, it's not the same.'
They walked back to the car park without speaking, a bedraggled couple with an invisible, widening gap between them.
Neither noticed the car that followed a few lengths behind as they pulled out of the parking bay.
Back at the farmhouse, the wake was well and truly over. Granny had been mourned and praised and most of the buffet was gone. Maggie was busy clearing away the debris. Stacey and Liam lay snuggled under a duvet on the sofa.
'Honey, I'm Home!' Bernice called out as she came through the front door. 'Just off for a quick shower.' She took the stairs two at a time, leaving Nick to find Maggie in the kitchen.
'Is that it? She's just going upstairs? She gives no explanation, nothing?' Maggie wiped down a worktop.
'Have you been crying, Maggie?' He touched her shoulder and she pulled away.
Stacey hobbled into the kitchen still draped in the duvet. She rubbed her eyes. 'Is Bernice okay?' she asked Nick.
'Of course she is.' Maggie poured dregs down the sink. 'Bernice is always okay. Goes off like a firecracker and leaves us to clear up the mess.'
'I said Liam and I would help in the morning, Mum.' Stacey pulled the duvet tighter.
Maggie banged a tumbler down so hard that it splintered. She gasped.
'You've cut yourself.' Nick grabbed Maggie's hand and pushed it under running water. They both watched her blood swirl like raspberry ripple down the plughole. Maggie pulled her hand away and grabbing a tea towel pressed down hard on the cut.
'This is all so crazy,' she sobbed. 'I want to go back to Glasgow. I don't want any more to do with this spooky island. It's full of psychopaths and half breeds.'
Liam stood beside Stacey. 'You're mum isn't talking about the mess from the party, Stacey. Are you?'
Maggie sucked her bleeding finger and turned away.
'Why don't you and Liam head upstairs? Things always look better after a night's sleep.' Nick scooped coffee granules into two mugs.
Maggie wiped her nose and leaned against the sink.
'Come on, let's go through and have a cuppa. It's been a long night.' Nick led the way.
The ceilings in the farmhouse were low. The walls whitewashed but stained with nicotine. An old hearth warmed the small room. Years before, the situation could have been quite romantic.
With the two youngsters out of the way, Maggie began to speak. 'How strange is all of this?'
Nick shook his head.
Maggie continued. 'It's like a nightmare, but real. I thought Bernice was coming to terms with it all. I thought she'd found closure.'
Nick glanced around the cramped room. He felt like he'd travelled back in time with the heavy furnishings and brassware. He noticed a small tapestry on a side wall and leaned closer to admire it. The delicate needlework made the image look three-dimensional: a cluster of bluebells, tied with the palest ribbon.
Bernice walked into the room. She wore a dark purple kaftan trimmed with gemstones and a towel wrapped around her head like a turban.
'This is cosy. You two want to be alone?' Bernice smiled.
'Grab a coffee, Bernice. We need to talk,' Nick suggested.
Bernice sat beside Nick. 'I'm tired. I'll skip the caffeine. What do you want to talk about?'
'You invite the village idiots and their cronies here and then go wandering off for a midnight swim. Have you any idea how that went?' Maggie snapped.
'No idea, tell me.'
'They already have you down as a screwball. This just added fuel ...'
'To the fire?' Bernice glanced at Nick. 'They were getting a fire ready for me?'
Nick rested his hand on Maggie's knee. 'The fact is, we've all tried to support you through this, but Maggie's right, we need to get back to our own lives in Glasgow, with or without you, Bernice.'
Silence hung like cobwebs from the beamed ceiling. Bernice settled back on the sofa. 'You know how much it meant for me to come back to the island. I really thought I could find the answers but I'm no further forward. I need to know what happened to Humiel.'
'Humiel? You lost your son in childbirth. Just accept that. He's buried with your mother in the church cemetery.'
Maggie gasped. 'No. He isn't. I can feel him close to me at times. Grandad was a liar through and through, and as for McShane, he's so pickled in Poitin he'd sell his soul to the devil, although, I doubt if even he of the cloven hooves would want a soul as dark as McShane's in his collection.'
Nick pressed his finger to his lips. 'Shush.' He spoke slowly. 'Bernice. What happened to you was horrific. You don't want to bring charges against McShane and that's your call. The old guy's on his way out anyway. He has The Grimm Reaper stalking him. He's told you where Humiel is buried. Unless you want to go to court and get the grave exhumed, you need to accept what he says. Accept and move on. Look, I know you don't want your grandad buried anywhere near, but what about Granny? Why do you think Grandad wanted her cremated?'
'Because he had something to hide. You can't do an autopsy on a pile of ash.'
Maggie stood up sharply. 'So now you think your grandad murdered your granny? Are you serious? You couldn't make this up.'
Bernice turned to her friend. 'Has no one ever told you fact can be stranger than fiction?'
'The only fact here, Bernice is that you have lost the plot, totally lost it.' Maggie's face flushed as she clenched her fists by her side. 'I love you. I support you.' She paused.
'Now for the Abbott theory,' said Bernice, 'ah, but ...'
Nick interrupted. 'You have to admit this is way too creepy to make sense.'
'I don't think Grandad murdered Granny. I never said that. Maybe it's you two who are jumping to conclusions.'
Maggie drank her coffee and stared into the mug.
'You're right. I don't want Grandad anywhere near my true family. But then I don't think the church cemetery is where they are. '
'So where are Granny and Humiel buried then?'
'Grandad did me a favour in a way. It would make him cringe, but really, until I find out the truth, better that I give Granny the send-off she would've wanted.'
'We've had the funeral service, Bernice, the reception afterwards and the crazy shindig last night. How many send-offs do you plan to have?'
Bernice plucked a pouch of Tarot cards from a shelf and began to spread them on a low table between herself and Maggie.
'You seem stressed. We all need a little guidance at times. Shuffle and choose six cards.'
'I don't need guidance. I need to get back to normality.' Maggie lowered her voice. 'Oh go on then if it shuts you up.'
Bernice watched closely as Maggie turned each card in sequence.
'Now let's see what we have. A quick look, humour me,' Bernice said. 'How you feel about yourself now, The Hierophant. What you most want at this moment, The High Priestess, Your fears, The Tower. What's going for you? Judgement. What's going against you. The Star. Last one, to show the outcome according to your current situation or the question you asked, The Magician. Are you sure you don't want me to explain the reading?'
'Just give me the bottom line,' Maggie replied.
'It won't take long to go over each card?' Bernice smiled.
Maggie knew very little about Tarot despite Bernice having explained the basics to her on various occasions. She bundled up the cards and handed them to Bernice. 'I don't understand any of this. Just tell us what you plan to do about your granny's ashes.'
Bernice rubbed the cards with sea salt and tucked them back into the velvet pouch she had taken them from.
'I'm taking Granny's ashes to a memorial forest, way over on the north side of the island.
'Of course you are.' Nick stood, stretched and yawned. 'Sorry, but I'm struggling to keep my eyes open.'
'I'm shattered too,' Maggie agreed.' We'll talk in the morning.
They left Bernice sketching funeral urns on a pad in the glow of the log fire.
Mrs McEwan sat on a deck chair outside the post office: not a usual sight in the village on such a cold morning. On the pavement beside her lay a bale of newspapers. She plucked one at a time from the pile, scribbled on the top right corner, folded the paper in three and stuffed it into a canvas satchel, stopping only to blow on the fingerless gloves she was wearing.
'What you doing out here?' The postman asked, arriving at his usual time.
Mrs McEwan bent her head towards the door. 'He's tarting up the shop, I can't stand fumes.'
'Away with you, woman, paint don't have fumes nowadays, get yourself inside.' He brushed past her.
Mrs McEwan continued with her task. 'Fiddly this is,' she murmured.
A voice called from inside the shop. 'Tea's ready! No licence for a pavement café, so you'll need to come through.' Mr McEwan and the postman were already engaged in conversation when Mrs McEwan toddled towards them. She had the satchel slung across her back and was nudging the stack of newspapers slowly across the floor with her foot.
'Sit down, woman,' Mr McEwan said.' You'll be doing yourself an injury.' He steered her towards a chair and handed her a cup and saucer.
'So what's this really about?' The postman asked.
'Oh, she's scared she'll miss something. Parking herself outside to make sure she doesn't.
'Am I missing something?' The postman asked.
'It's all that carry on up at O'Hanlon's farm, with their Bernadette still hanging around trying to stir up trouble. Sure, did you not hear about her shenanigans the night of the funeral?' Mr McEwan asked.
'Which funeral would that be? It seems like they've a standing order with the hearse lately.'
'Oh, she never went to her grandad's, just gave strict instructions he was to be buried outside of the church grounds. Dermott took charge of all that. No, she only goes and throws a party to say her goodbyes to her 'aul granny on the very night the old man was laid to rest. Open invitation. Of course, we only went out of curiosity.' Mrs McEwan bubbled over with excitement.
Mr McEwan grunted.
'Disrespectful you think? You've no idea about that man – blood of ice and a heart of stone.' Mrs McEwan's interest was reignited. 'I've tried talking to her, but Bernadette O'Hanlon is not one to open up easily.
'Should my ears be burning?' Bernice smiled as she entered the shop.
'Not at all love, sure I'm on your side. Good friend of your granny, you know.' Mrs McEwan bustled behind the counter. 'What can I get for you?'
The two men turned away.
'Nice colour.' Bernice tapped an open paint tin. 'Puce is it?'
'None of that fancy pants stuff. It's magnolia. You can't go wrong with magnolia.'
'No, don't suppose you can. You class yourself as a good friend of Granny's do you?'
'Of course, Bernadette, anything you want to know, you only have to ask.'
'Bernice. Please. Bernadette is long gone. I'll have two bread rolls and a copy of the rag.' She pointed at the newspapers. 'Are you still taking adverts for the window?
'One fifty a week or a fiver a month. Are you clearing the house?'
'No. I want to place this.' Bernice handed over a postcard.
Mrs McEwan shook her head. 'I'm not sure this is the kind of thing we want to have in the window. Maybe The Courier would be better?'
Bernice paid for her goods and tucked the postcard inside the newspaper. 'You could be right. I'll give them a bell.' She turned to walk away and paused. 'For the record, Granny never regarded you as a friend, an acquaintance perhaps, but never quite a friend.'
'I know more about your life than you want to hear,' the older woman replied.
'Really, you know or you have a patched up Chinese whisper version to tell me?'
'Well, if that's your attitude, go ahead - search away, but without my help you'll struggle to make any sense of it.'
Excerpted from "Don't Doubt the Magic!"
Copyright © 2016 Cathie Devitt.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Novel, 1,
Definition of Tarot cards: The Fool and The Empress, 125,