On the way out of Aberdeen, Cassie picked up a stone. It was smooth and gray, like the sky above her, and she put it in her pocket as the bus driver said, “In you get, if you please, miss.” There was a pleasant burr in his voice. There was a pleasant burr in everybody’s voice, and Cassie decided that her favorite thing about Scotland so far was all the Scottish accents. What a lovely decision, to come here.
The bus had almost arrived at the Elgin station when Cassie saw something that made her press her hands against the glass and stare. It was a cathedral; it looked like a million English cathedrals only it had no roof, and some bits had fallen off the top. It was broken. Cassie’s eyes tracked it all the way to right until it vanished behind the bus.
“Wow,” she said softly to herself.
Her uncle and aunt met her at the bus stop with nervous and kind smiles, respectively, and her uncle took her bag while her aunt chattered away about all the work they’d done cleaning out the spare room and putting up nicer curtains. Cassie smiled widely at them and gushed about the weather and the ocean and the lovely cobblestone walls everywhere. When they arrived at the house, her aunt insisted that she go into her room and “put your feet up” while they got dinner ready.
To distract herself from the nauseating smell of cooking food, Cassie went exploring. She looked behind her bed and her wardrobe and discovered some electrical outlets. She got down on her elbows and knees to examine the corners and discovered some lint that had escaped her aunt’s vigorous makeover. She discovered the startlingly fuschia curtains. She discovered a tired-looking toothbrush which she threw away since toothbrushes had started making her gag again. She got up on her desk chair and discovered a large glass jar on the top shelf of her closet. This last was such a delightful reward that she ended her explorations early and got down off the chair clutching the jar in her arms. It had a swinging handle and it was beautiful and empty.
Cassie dug in her pocket and took out her single, perfect stone. It clinked into the jar like a bell. She smiled a little and whispered, “Miss you, Sid.”
The next morning filtered in through the curtains like a pink haze, and Cassie was so happy to be awake and somewhere new that she basically jumped out of bed.
“Hello,” she cried out her window. A distant car engine started.
She pulled on a sweater, some striped tights and cargo shorts and talked her aunt down from making a huge traditional breakfast to letting Cassie walk out the door with a single apple. There was a slightly triumphant spring to Cassie’s step as she made her way down the walk. Already everything was going so well. She could tell that Scotland was going to be totally good for her.
“Hi there,” she said to the first person she came across, a middle-aged man without much hair left, poor thing, and shoes that clacked on the sidewalk as if they had heels on them. “Do you know where I can find a gorgeous, big, broken palace? Only it’s my first day here, and I’m on a quest to find it.”
He cleared his throat a little before answering her. “Well, I think you must mean the cathedral, and that’s just three blocks from here, on King Street.” He pointed behind him, the way she’d been going anyway. “You can’t miss it.”
“King Street, how perfect, wow,” Cassie said. “Thank you.” She gave him a glowing smile.
He smiled back, a bit uncomfortably. “All right,” he said, dipping his head at her, and he clacked away down the street.
Cassie took the whole three blocks skipping, the apple thumping in her pocket. And when she got there - well, it was so beautiful she couldn’t believe it. The belfry was mostly intact, as was the lower part where all the people would have sat. But big sections of wall were simply missing, and all the stained glass windows had been blown out, as if there had been an explosion. The complex architecture of the windows remained, like exposed ribs.
Cassie walked all the way around the block, fingers trailing along the fence, taking in the gravestones that dotted the grass all around the cathedral and the lonely entrance to the property, with a plaque that informed her there had been a fire long ago. There were no doors in the archway. No doors. No windows. No privacy, Cassie thought with a sudden lump in her throat. She sat down in the entrance and leaned her head against the arch.
“Sorry,” she said to the missing doors, to the bones of the cathedral. “Sometimes people don’t want you to close yourself up. They want to see inside, you know? And if you pull away...” She wrapped her hands around her knees. The apple felt tight in her pocket. “They’ll make you open up to them. Even if it’s not fair. People don’t like hearing no, you know?” She stared at the gardens on the opposite side of the street. “You might want to remember that next time.” Cassie gave the archway a quick kiss and stood up, taking the apple out of her pocket. “Here, I brought you this,” she said. She placed it exactly in between the two doorways. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.” She smiled up into the sunlight where the roof used to be.
Next to the cathedral was a biblical garden, which was like a normal garden except all of the plants were very old and there were funny statues everywhere. Cassie went around making faces at the beatific shepherds, the glowingly feminine Marys, and the Jesuses, who all seemed absorbed in examining the plants. One Jesus in particular, who was leaning over some ivy exactly like he wanted to garden it, was so amusing that she took a picture and sent it to Sid.
There were mosaics of bible scenes, and one that Cassie liked very much of two large hands holding a small tree. There was a lovely display of flowers arranged like a rainbow. And there was a rock garden, which Cassie thought maybe was supposed to be “zen”, although why they would put anything zen in a crucifix-shaped garden she had no idea. Her phone beeped, and the message was from Sid. Haha. Where r u, looks like ur in the hospital garden again lol. She barely had time to sigh before she received another message: Bugger I’m sorry that wasn’t funny, ilu sry?
Crazy to think, wasn’t it, that all these plants were here two thousand years ago. Cassie looked around the rock garden and she did feel zen. ilu too Sid, it was funny, she typed back, and then she turned her phone off and breathed the garden air in deeply. There was a whiff of brackishness, which she supposed was from the ocean. How exciting to have the ocean so nearby to one’s house. She couldn’t wait to go.
Cassie leaned down and picked up a stone from the rock garden. It was smooth and gray, just like the one from the airport. She wondered if all these stones came from the cathedral. Maybe they were its teeth, or finger bones. She pocketed it as she walked towards the exit, already thinking about the clear sweet sound it would make going into her jar. Two stones in her jar, two days in Scotland. Two days away from Sid. Two days of the new and improved Cassie.
The next breath she took in was a little shaky as the reality of her move sank in a bit, and she plunged a hand into her pocket to find the stone. She held it tightly and breathed through pursed lips. She could do it. She didn’t need pills, and she wouldn’t skip more than two meals a day, and maybe on the way home she would even buy another toothbrush. She could do this.
Even as she thought the word “pills” she could feel desire begin to rumble inside her, like a far-off thundercloud, but she walked fast and she held onto her stone and she made it back to the house, without the toothbrush but in time for lunch. She told her aunt and uncle all about the cathedral, and she ate, first a slice of bread and then half a slice of tomato. She almost pushed it too far by taking some cold cuts, but her stomach lurched dangerously and she put them back with a smile and an excuse about having filled up on pasties. She told herself to cool down. She could take it day by day. She had plenty of them, and a whole glass jar to fill.