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About the Author
Shetland and Vera are available on BritBox in the United States. An adaptation of The Long Call, the first book in her Two Rivers series, will premiere on BritBox in 2022.
The first Shetland novel, Raven Black, won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel, and Ann was awarded the CWA Diamond Dagger in 2017. She lives in the United Kingdom.
Read an Excerpt
By Ann Cleeves
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Ann Cleeves
All rights reserved.
Anna opened her eyes and saw a pair of hands, streaked and shiny with blood. No face. In her ears a piercing squeal. At first she thought she was at Utra and Ronald was helping Joseph to kill another pig. That would explain the blood, the red hands and the terrible high-pitched sound. Then she realized the noise was her own voice screaming.
Someone rested a dry hand on her forehead and murmured words she didn't understand. She spat out an obscenity at him.
This is what it is to die.
The drug must be wearing off because she had a sudden burst of clarity as she opened her eyes again to bright, artificial light.
No, this is what it is to give birth.
'Where's my baby?' She could hear the words slightly blurred by the pethidine.
'He was having problems breathing on his own. We've just given him some oxygen. He's fine.' A woman's voice. A Shetlander, slightly patronizing, but convincing, and that mattered most.
Further away a man with blood to his elbow grinned awkwardly.
'Sorry,' he said. 'Retained placenta. Better to get it out here than take you to theatre. I thought you wouldn't want that after a forceps delivery, but it can't have been very comfortable.'
She thought of Joseph again, the hill ewes lambing, the ravens flying off with placenta in their beaks and on their claws. This hadn't been what she'd been expecting. She hadn't thought childbirth would be so violent or so raw. She turned and saw Ronald; he was still holding her hand.
'I'm sorry I swore at you,' Anna said.
She saw he'd been weeping. 'I was so scared,' he said. 'I thought you were dying.'CHAPTER 2
'Anna Clouston had her baby last night,' Mima said. 'A difficult birth apparently. She was in labour for twenty hours. They're going to keep her in for a few days to keep an eye on her. It was a boy. Another man to take on the Cassandra.' She shot a conspiratorial look at Hattie. It seemed to amuse Mima that Anna had had a difficult labour. Mima liked chaos, disorder, other people's misfortune. It gave her something to gossip about and kept her alive. That was what she said, at least, when she sat in her kitchen cackling into her tea or whisky, filling Hattie in on island events.
Hattie didn't know what to say about Anna Clouston's child – she'd never seen the appeal of babies and didn't understand them. A baby would just be another complication. They were standing at Setter, in the field at the back of the house. A wash of spring sunshine lit the makeshift windbreak of blue plastic, the wheelbarrows, the trenches marked with tape. Seeing it as if for the first time, Hattie thought what a mess they'd made of this end of the croft. Before her team from the university had turned up, Mima had looked out over sloping low meadow to the loch. Now, even at the beginning of the season the place was muddy as a building site and Mima's view was interrupted by the spoil heap. The wheelbarrow run had scored ruts in the grass.
Hattie looked beyond the disturbance to the horizon. It was the most exposed archaeological site she'd ever worked. Shetland was all sky and wind. There were no trees here to provide shelter.
I love this place, she thought suddenly. I love it more than anywhere else in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life here.
Mima had been pinning towels on to the washing line, surprisingly supple despite her age. She was so small that she had to stretch to reach the line. Hattie thought she looked like a child, prancing on tiptoes. The laundry basket was empty. 'Come away in and have some breakfast,' Mima said. 'If you don't put on a bit of weight you'll blow away.'
'Pots and kettles,' Hattie said as she followed Mima across the grass to the house. And she thought Mima, trotting ahead of her, did look so frail and insubstantial that she might be swept up in a storm and carried out to sea. She'd still be talking and laughing as she went, as the wind twisted her body like a kite-tail until it disappeared.
In the kitchen a bowl of hyacinths was in bloom on the windowsill and the smell of them filled the room. They were pale blue, streaked with white.
'They're pretty.' Hattie sat at the table, pushing the cat off the chair so she could sit down. 'Spring-like.'
'I can't really see the point of them.' Mima reached up to lift a pan from the shelf. 'They're an ugly kind of flower and they stink. Evelyn gave them to me and expected me to be grateful. But I'll kill them soon. I've never kept a houseplant alive yet.'
Evelyn was Mima's daughter-in-law and the subject of much complaint.
All the crockery and cutlery in Mima's house was slightly dirty, yet Hattie, usually so fastidious, so fickle in her appetite, always ate whatever Mima cooked for her. Today Mima was scrambling eggs. 'The hens are laying well again,' she said. 'You'll have to take some with you back to the Bod.' The eggs were covered in muck and straw, but Mima cracked them straight into a bowl and began whisking them with a fork. Translucent white and deep yellow yolk splashed on to the oilskin tablecloth. Using the same fork she scooped a lump of butter from a wrapped packet and shook it into the pan on the Rayburn. The butter sizzled and she tipped in the eggs. She threw a couple of slices of bread directly on to the hotplate and there was a smell of burning.
'Where's Sophie this morning?' Mima asked when they'd both started eating. Her mouth was full and her false teeth didn't quite fit, so it took Hattie a moment to understand what she was saying.
Sophie was Hattie's assistant on the dig. Usually Hattie did the planning and the preparation. It was her PhD after all, her project. She was obsessive about getting things right. But this morning she'd been eager to get on to the site as soon as possible. It was good to get away from Sophie sometimes, and as much as anything she was glad of a chance to chat to Mima on her own.
Mima liked Sophie. The season before the girls had been invited to a dance at the community hall and Sophie had been the life and soul of the party, so the men had been queuing up to swing her around in the eightsome reel. She'd flirted with them all, even the married ones. Hattie had watched, disapproving and anxious, but jealous too. Mima had come up behind Hattie and yelled in her ear above the noise of the music: 'That lass reminds me of myself at that age. I had the men flocking around me too. It's all just a bit of fun to her. It means nothing. You should lighten up a bit yourself.'
How I've missed Whalsay over the winter! Hattie thought. How I've missed Mima!
'Sophie's working in the Bod for a while,' she said. 'Paperwork. You know. She'll be along soon.'
'Well?' Mima demanded, bird-like eyes bright over the rim of the mug. 'Did you find yourself a man while you were out? A good-looking academic maybe? Someone to keep you warm in bed in those long winter nights?'
'Don't tease, Mima.' Hattie cut a corner from the toast, but left it uneaten. She no longer felt hungry.
'Maybe you should find yourself an island man. Sandy's still not found himself a wife. You could do worse. He's got more life about him than his mother, at least.'
'Evelyn's all right,' Hattie said. 'She's been good to us. Not everyone on the island supported the dig and she's always stood up for us.'
But Mima wasn't ready yet to let go of the subject of Hattie's love life. 'You watch yourself, girl. You find yourself the right one. You don't want to get hurt. I know all about that. My Jerry wasn't the saint everyone made him out to be.' Then, lapsing into dialect. 'Dee can live without a man, dee ken. I've lived without a man for nearly sixty years.'
And she winked, making Hattie think that though Mima might not have had a husband for sixty years, she'd probably had men enough in her life. Hattie wondered what else the old woman was trying to say.
Immediately after the plates were washed, Hattie went back on to the site. Mima stayed inside. It was Thursday, the day she entertained Cedric, her gentleman caller. Thoughts of this place had been with Hattie all winter, warming her like a lover. Her obsession with the archaeology, the island and its people had become one in her mind: Whalsay, a single project and a single ambition. For the first time in years she felt a bubbling excitement. Really, she thought, I have no reason to think like this. What is the matter with me? She found herself grinning. I'll have to watch myself. People will think I'm mad and lock me away again. But that only made her smile some more.
When Sophie arrived, Hattie set her to preparing a practice trench. 'If Evelyn wants to be a volunteer we should train her to do it properly. Let's clear an area away from the main excavation.'
'Shit, Hat! Do we really have to have her on site? I mean, she's kind enough but she's a real bore.' Sophie was tall and fit with long tawny hair. She'd been working as a chalet maid in the Alps over the winter, helping out a friend, and her skin was bronzed and glowing. Sophie was easy and relaxed and took everything in her stride. She made Hattie feel like a neurotic drone.
'It's a condition of our work in Shetland that we encourage community involvement,' Hattie said. 'You know that.' Oh God, she thought, now I sound like a middle-aged schoolteacher. So pompous!
Sophie didn't answer. She shrugged and went on with the work.
Later, Hattie said she'd go to Utra to talk to Evelyn about training to work on the dig. It was an excuse. She hadn't had the chance to revisit her favourite places in Lindby. The sun was still shining and she wanted to make the most of the good weather. As she walked past the house, Cedric was just driving away in his car. Mima was at the kitchen window waving him off. When she saw Hattie she came to the open door.
'Will you come in and have a cup of tea?'
But Hattie thought Mima just wanted to prise more information from her and to give her more advice. 'No,' she said. 'I've no time today. But Sophie's due a break if you want to give her a shout.'
And she walked on down the track with the sun on her face, feeling like a child playing truant from school.CHAPTER 3
Anna's baby spent the first night of his life in Intensive Care. The midwives said it was nothing to worry about. He was doing fine, a lovely little boy. But he still needed a bit of help with his breathing and they'd keep him in the resussitaire for a while. Besides, Anna was exhausted and she needed the rest. In the morning they'd bring the baby through to her and help her to feed him. There was no reason why they shouldn't both be home in a couple of days.
She slept fitfully, drifting in and out. The doctor had given her more painkillers and her dreams were very vivid. Once, waking suddenly, she wondered if this was what it would be like to be on drugs. At university she'd never been tempted down that route. It was always important to her to be in control.
She was aware of Ronald beside her. A couple of times she heard him talking on his mobile. She thought the conversations would be with his parents. She started to tell him that he shouldn't be using a phone in the hospital, but lethargy overcame her and the words didn't come out properly.
She woke when it got light and felt much more herself again, a little bruised and battered, but alert. Ronald was fast asleep on the chair in the corner, his head back, his mouth open, snoring loudly. A midwife appeared.
'How's my baby?' Anna found it hard to believe now that there was a baby, that she hadn't imagined the whole experience of giving birth. She felt quite disconnected from the evening before.
'I'll bring him through to you. He's doing very well now, breathing normally on his own.'
Ronald stirred in his chair and woke too. He looked like his father with the stubble of beard on his chin, his eyes slightly vacant from sleep.
The baby was lying in a plastic box that reminded Anna of a fish tank. He was lying on his back. His skin had a faint yellow tinge; Anna had read the books and knew that was normal. He had a downy covering of dark hair and there was a pink mark on each side of his head.
'Don't worry about that,' the midwife said. She assumed she could guess what Anna was thinking. 'It's because of the forceps delivery. It'll go in a couple of days.' She scooped the baby up, wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to Anna. Anna looked down at a tiny, perfect ear.
'Shall we have a go at feeding him?' Ronald was properly awake now. He sat on the bed next to Anna on the opposite side to the midwife. He held out his finger and watched the baby grip it.
The midwife was showing Anna the best way to feed the baby. 'Put a pillow on your lap like this and hold his head with this hand and guide him to your nipple like this ...' Anna, usually so competent in practical matters, felt clumsy and inadequate. Then the baby latched on to her and began to suck and she could feel the pull of it down through her belly.
'There you are,' the midwife said. 'You're a natural. If everything goes well there's no reason you shouldn't be home tomorrow.'
When the woman had gone they continued to sit on the bed and look at the baby. He fell suddenly fast asleep and Ronald lifted him carefully and put him back in the plastic cot. Anna had been given a room of her own with a view across the grey houses to the sea. They drafted the notice they would place in the Shetland Times: To Ronald and Anna Clouston on March 20th, a son, James Andrew. First grandchild to Andrew and Jacobina Clouston of Lindby, Whalsay, and James and Catherine Brown of Hereford, England.
The timing of James's birth had been planned, as everything in Anna's life was planned. She thought spring was the perfect time to bring a baby into the world and Whalsay would be a wonderful place to bring up a child. The process had been more painful and messy than she'd imagined, but now that was over and there was no reason why their family life shouldn't run smoothly.
Ronald couldn't keep his eyes off his son. She should have guessed he might be a doting father.
'Why don't you get off home?' she said. 'Get a shower and a change of clothes. Everyone will want to hear the news.'
'I might do that.' She could tell he wasn't comfortable in the hospital. 'But should I come and visit you tonight?'
'No,' she said. 'It's such a long drive, and then the time on the ferry. You'll need to be in first thing in the morning to take us home.' She thought she'd welcome some time alone with her son. She smiled as she imagined Ronald doing the grand tour of the island, full of news about the birth and his son. He'd have to visit all his relatives, repeating the tale of how her waters burst while they were shopping in the Co-op, the difficult labour and the child who was pulled screaming into the world.CHAPTER 4
Hattie could have done without having Evelyn here at Setter at all today. They'd only been back in Whalsay for a week and she had other things to think about, anxieties that snagged at the back of her mind along with the moments of joy. Besides, she wanted to get on with the dig. Her dig, which had lain covered up since the autumn. Now the longer days and finer weather had brought her back to Shetland to complete the project. She itched to get back into the main trench, to continue the sieving and dating, to complete her meticulous records. She wanted to prove her thesis and to lose herself in the past. If she could prove that Setter was the site of a medieval merchant's house, she would have an original piece of research for her PhD. More importantly, the discovery of artefacts dating the building and confirming its status would give her grounds to make a funding application to extend the excavation. Then she would have an excuse to stay in Shetland. She couldn't bear the idea that she might be forced to leave the islands. She didn't think she could ever live in a city again.
But Evelyn was a local volunteer and she needed training and Hattie needed to keep her on side. Hattie knew she didn't handle volunteers well. She was impatient and expected too much from them. She used language they had no hope of understanding. Today wouldn't be easy.
They'd woken again to sunshine, but now a mist had come in from the sea, filtering the light. Mima's house was a shadow in the distance and everything looked softer and more organic. It was as if the surveying poles had grown from the ground like willows and the spoil heap was natural, a fold in the land.
The day before, Sophie had marked out a practice trench a little way off from the main site and dug out the turf. She'd exposed roots and a patch of unusually sandy, dry soil and levelled the area with a mattock so the practice dig could begin. The topsoil had been dumped on the existing spoil heap. Everything was ready when Evelyn turned up at ten, just as she'd said she would, wearing corduroy trousers and a thick old sweater. She had the anxious, eager-to-please manner of a pupil sucking up to the teacher. Hattie talked her through the process.
Excerpted from Red Bones by Ann Cleeves. Copyright © 2009 Ann Cleeves. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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