Letter from an Island in the Middle of an Unknown Sea
Author(s): Dee Rimbaud
Copyright holder(s): Dee Rimbaud
Husband ay mine, ahm missin ye badly, for thair is a gapin hole in ma haert whair ye are not. Ah huv cried masel tae sleep these past three nights wi oot yir airms aroond me. It hus bin a rare long time since last we held each other, but since ahv arrived here ah huv fair noticed yir absence. An if ah fear that yir sleepin wi somewan else this night, as the sun sinks red intae the red ocean, it’s coz ah still hope tae see ye again.
This is tae be ma fourth night on this island. Ah dinnae know how many other nights ah’’ll bide here. Ah keep waitin tae see some ship passin, but the oceans are aw empty, empty as ma haert.
Danu is deid. She died in ma airms as ah wis strokin her hair, her fine blond Irish hair. She just stopped breathin, an ah sensed her spirit leave. Ah saw it wi ma other eye. It wis gold an pink an shimmering. Beautiful. An ah knew she wis off tae a better place. But it didnae stop the tears fae fallin fae ma eyes. An the salt ay thaim made me thirsty as a mariner, an ah dooned the last ay oor stale watter as a mournin ay her passin.
Robert, ah hud tae throw her overboard, coz ah knew that maybe eftir a few days mair ay hunger ahd huv hud tae eat at her. An ah couldnae huv bared the thought. Coz ah knew in ma haert that the urge for survival grows on some an diminishes on others wi the passin ay time. An ah knew ah wis a survivor, an that in the end ah would dae anythin tae survive, an it would be an abomination on ma soul tae eat the dead flesh ay a dear friend.
Oh Robert, when ah lugged her overboard ah didnae think straight. Ah thought she would sink doon an that’d be her, but she just floated thair, oot ay reach, but e’er so close. What wi the winds huvin died doon tae nowt, it wisnae till yon night that ah lost sight ay her. Ah fell asleep, knowin full well she wis bobbin aboot somewhair just oot thair. Ah fell asleep till well eftir the sun would huv risen, wi ma haert in bits. Ah woke wi the wind an rain lashin ma face an ah wis so pleased tae slake ma thirst that ah didnae think ay Danu wan time. An ah wis fair afeart an aw, for it wis a fragile craft ah wis in an it felt like it wis made ay matchsticks an rabbit glue on that heavin ocean. Ah wis sure ah wis for the sharks or whatever dreadful beasts that live under the skin ay the ocean.
Well Robert, the light is failin awfy fast the now, so different fae back hame. Ah’ll huv tae wait till the mornin light before ah can write ye any mair.
Husband ay mine, Robert ma love, it is not the mornin eftir, nor the wan eftir that, nor am ah sure how many it is eftir. When ah awoke, that ah can remember, ah wis bathed in a dreadful slimy sweat an ma boadice an skirts were soaked in horrible skitters, the thinness ay pish, an ah wis so cramped up wi the pain ay it aw ah wis sure ah wis goin tae die. It wis terrible. The fevers were ragin on me an ah wis seein demons an faeries an all sorts, an ah wis prayin tae the Lord like ah nivir did in all the times ah wis drummed up tae the kirk wi ma mammy an daddy an aw ma sisters an brithers. Ye would laugh at me, wi yir heid full ay aw that modern thinkin, but ah think maybe the Lord did get me through it, an in ma haert ah think it is providence an wan day ah will see ye again.
Ah think aboot Australia an wonder what it is like, an ay how yir earnin twa times what ye were earnin in Glesga, an ahm so proud ay ye bein an engineer on the railroads. Ah often imagine ye howfin they big sleepers wi yir big airms. An how ah wish yir big airms were roond me now, ma darlin. Ye say it’s hot in Australia. It’s hot here tae, awfy hot. Thair are many strange things on this island, an sometimes ahm very afeart, but ah know with ma other eye ahm tae see ye again. Ah know it with ma haert tae. Ah love ye, Robert MacRae.
Ah huv nivir felt a heat like this. It is tae hot tae wear claes. But ah huv made a coverin fae the linin ay ma skirts, an while it is thin an cool, it is baith modest an becomin. An besides ma airms are burnt raw red wi the sun, worse than the hottest days ay summer when we’ve bin a roondin an shearin the sheep or cuttin doon the grain. Ahm sittin under the shade ay a tall tree wi the hugest, fattest leave ye huv e’er seen an nae branches or nowt, just a long lean stem.
For a while eftir ma fever broke, when ma heid wis no quite fair, ah wis dancin like a gull, nakid as the day ah wis born, along the edge ay the beach, wi aw ma shitey skirts washed oot an leein oot in the sand tae dry, an ah felt a strange kind ay happiness come down on me, the like ahv nivir felt before. Only the next day wis ma heid screwed on right again, an ah hud tae taste the shame for ma wanton ways. But it is ay hot here, ma dearie dear, an a wonder if it’s such a sin, wi no fowk tae see.
It is no a big island, aboot forty or fifty acres only, an thair is naebody else camped here, but strange birds an small dragon-like beasts that bathe on the rocks by the heat ay the day. They are but two foot long an should prove nae danger. The island is thick wi aw sorts ay trees an thair are fruits an nuts ay many strange types in plenty. But ah miss ma meat an feel a strong hunger for it. Though ah couldnae find it in ma haert tae devise ways ay killin these weird brightly coloured birds that caw an yammir, each tae its fashin.
An ah think wi shame now that the day eftir the storm ah wis cryin ma stupidity at throwin oot Danu’s puir wee boady ontae they watters, what wi the hunger gnawin at ma belly worse than hellfire an the sweat pourin oot ma hair roots an blindin ma eyes. Ah tell ye Robert, ah would huv eaten at Danu’s pale flesh wi oot thinkin that day. An ah gie thanks tae God that He found me this island the very next morn, coz ah swear ah would huv died. That night Robert, ah wis sair afeart. Ah couldnae sleep for the pains in ma belly an ah wis mortally minded ay oor child hae ah lost on the third day ay the sailing. Ye nivir knew that ah wis carryin, but ah knew the night yir seed touched mine, ah just knew, an ah wis sair grievin for losin it, sair grievin an sair tae the pit ay ma stomack, like a hunger ah nivir knew until ah knew hunger for real. What a night. Ah dinnae remember sleepin, but ah must huv, for the next thing ah knew, the wee boatie wis stranded on a sand spar, but twenty yards fae this island, an the sun wis blazin intae ma eyes so fierce ah thought it wis the light ay the Lord. An for a wee second thair, Robert, ah thought ah wis deid an hud come tae paradise, but then ah felt the cramps in ma neck an shoodirs an ah knew ah wis still of this mortal coil. For thair will be no boadily pains in the world here eftir. That ah know.
Oh Robert, ahm sair grieved by Danu’s passin an sair grieved for yir brither. Ye must tell Sandy that her passin wis painless an that her soul now resides in heaven. She wis a puir soul, afflicted by weakness ay the bones an the rickets, but she hud a strong will tae survive, like me. An even though ah knew she wouldnae, wi ma other aye, ma haert did but hope. Robert, thair were seven ay us in that wee craft an only ah, by the grace ay God’s love, did survive. An ah cannae help but wonder why ah wis so graced. Does the Lord huv a purpose for me?
Ah huvnae written now for several days, Robert ma love, for ma haert hus bin full ay sorrow an anger, an ah couldnae write ye wi that burden on me. Even now, ah cannae bring the light intae ma haert. But ahm filled tae burstin wi love for ye an cannae lee ma pen dry any longer.
The news ay oor ship’s dooning must huv reached ye an Sandy by now an ah know ye must be heavy heartet at the death ay me an Danu, an ye willnae, bein the men that ye are, bide wi false hopes ay oor survival.
Ah huv bin watchin for ships, an the day before did see wan, far on the horizon, but it didnae come anywhair near tae this wee island, an ma haert sunk tae ma knees for seein it so, an ah wondert if ma angels were feedin ma ears wi ungodly lies, tae lift up ma hopes an dash thaim cruelly against the rocks. But ah hear thaim an they are talkin soft in ma ears, liftin away ma fears as ah sit here wi ma ankles in the warm foam ay this huge sea, an ah know in ma haert that it willnae be long before a ship takes me tae Australia an joins me tae ye once again.
Ah huv aw yir buiks, but wan. Ahv lost “The Rights Of Man”, but yir Ruskin an Dickens an aw the others are safe in ma bag. Ahv torn the blank pages fae thaim, an ah know ye’ll be sair aboot that, but thair wis nowt aw else tae write on. Ah huv leafed through they buiks an can only make a wee bit sense ay thaim, for they are writ in the sassenach tongue an ah hud but few years ay sculin an hated the dominie’s ways for aw that, wishin only tae be daein the milkin or collectin the chookie’s eggs. But ahv bin thinkin ay ye readin they buiks by the haerth, eftir yir twelve hoors at the shipyairds, an thinkin so, ma haert hus bin filled wi wrath for the injustice ay it aw. When ah think ay they wee nancy malkies wi thair heids in the clouds up Kelvingrove, just a mile away fae Pertick, wi ye sweatin away at the shipyaird an wi ten times the sensibility ay they wee twats. Thair, ahv said it now. Shame on ma cursin mouth. But when ah think ay the injustice ay it aw it gets me right in the gut an ah want tae lash oot an smack they wee nancy malkies wi the back ay ma haun, wi thair plummy voices an safty boadies which huvnae done a days labour in thair lives. Honest tae God Robert, ah could curse till the cock crows for it aw. Ah wish we’d nivir gone doon tae Glesga. Its dirt hus got intae ma soul, an even on this island, hunderts ay miles fae it, ah feel its poison on me. We would huv bin happy if we’d steyed on the ferm, puir but happy, if yon bastarn factotum hudnae pit us oot on oor erses.
Is Australia really the paradise ye say it is? Is thair nae puir, nae starvin, naebody pit oot ay thair hames? It’s hard tae imagine, an empty paradise just waitin for the findin. An ye say it’s a hundert times and mair the size ay Scoatland. Ah cannae tell ye how hard that is tae picture. Ah mind oor trip fae Inversnoddy tae Glesga. Three days walk it wis tae Inverness, an a full day’s ride on the train fae thair tae Glesga. How long must it take tae cross Australia? An ye say that the middle part ay it is just burning stane, an that thair’s nae watter tae be hud, an that many huv died thair prospectin for gold.
Ah wish ye hud writ mair Robert, ma mind is fair taken wi this strange land that is tae be ma new hame. Ah huv yir letters here, baith ay thaim, but the ink hus ran wi the salt watter. But ah know what ye say in thaim by haert. Ah think aboot Australia wi its haert ay fire an skin ay velvet an wonder if aw is really guid thair. Tell me it’s so Robert. Tell me it’s better than oor wee ferm in Inversnoddy.
Yesterday, Robert, wan ay they red an blue birds wis walkin along the edge ay the clearin an ah spoatit it wis carryin its wing an ah knew it wisnae a far cry fae death, so a clobbered its wee heid wi a muckle big bit wid an ah roastit it guid at the fire. It tuik me many long hoors tae get the fire goin, but ah got it usin stane as flint an wee bits ay dried grass an now it’s blazin away guid style. The meat on the bird wis better than anythin ah e’er tasted fae a chookie, an ahm determint ah’ll huv another before the night is oot. Wondrous as they are tae behold, thair are hunderts ay thaim an ahm fair ravenous for meat.
Ahv collected enough wid tae keep this fire goin for a couple ay days. Ah know thair’s another ship near an ma smoke will draw it nearer still. Ma angels huv shown me.
Ahm goin tae pit this note in the boatil an set it off tae sea. Ah know fine it willnae get tae ye, but ah hud tae write it for ye, hud tae write it, for ma soul wis achin wi the pain ay it. Ma ship is comin an soon we will be thegithir, an ay aw this ah will tell ye nowt. For how can a wife unburden her haert? A woman’s haert is nae empty vessel, but it is capable ay haudin mair grief than any life can gie it. Ah love ye Robert MacRae, yir a guid man, but ye cannae carry ma burden for me.
Wi love an fond kisses,
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Letter from an Island in the Middle of an Unknown Sea. 2022. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1522.
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