The painted door of the old house revealed layers of time stripped bare by wind and rain. The summit of faded yellow with a rusted trig-point bolt, surrounded by contours of blue and red and grey, led back to driftwood days upon the shore…
She added another peat to the fire, stirred the pot hanging from the strong links of the ancient chain; and sighed. As she turned to step away from the heat there was a knock on the open door, where a silhouette stood surrounded by sunlight. The shadow-man apologised for startling her, stepped back into the fragrance of summer, and was unpacking his wares even as she emerged to join him.
There were pots and dishes and hooks and lamps and colanders in an array of shapes and sizes, but the woman needed none of these to add to those already held safe within the stone walls of her warm, welcoming, cosy thatched home. She offered him tea and scones, laced with butter and crowdie, and listened to his news, from other islands, from the mainland and beyond as they sat together in the sun.
He reached into a bag within a bag and placed a small, flat leather pouch on the grass beside him. Untying the heather-cord, he carefully removed a rectangle of metal, no more than four inches long and perhaps three inches wide, and handed it to the woman. She took the plate and admired the fine engraving of knotwork, complimenting the craftsman on his work. He smiled and asked her to turn the object over. She gasped. A face gasped back, a face framed by raven hair, a face with two blue, sparkling pools, a face she knew only from the still waters of the loch, her face.
She handed the precious plate back to the man, who returned it with great care to the soft leather pouch, tied the plaited string in a bow, and gave the gift to her.
“It is yours”, he said, “given in thanks for all the kindness your family has given to travellers for generations past, and given in the hope that you may pass that kindness on to those who follow.”
And with these words, he repacked his things, stood, and waved goodbye before continuing his wanderings…
The car shook and shuddered between the potholes of the track. It couldn’t be far now, he thought, as another rabbit ran before him, weaving across the way uncertain in its panic. The track made a final turn to the right before he glimpsed first the gable, and then the bleeding red and grey undulating face, of the house. He stopped the car, relieved to have arrived, and wondered. The twin dormer windows, the vacant eyes of this home, the holes where corrugated iron had been stormed away to reveal stout, straight timbers, the discarded debris overgrown by grass and moss, the rowan rooted in stone.
He opened the car door, holding it firm against the gale, and crunched over forgotten panes, past undelivered damp-decaying flyers until he reached the portal. The bakelite knob turned easily but the door stood fast. He leant against it, keen to get out of the wind, heard the swollen naked wood grumble, and half fell into the house as the strap holding the iron bolt tinkled on the floor. The gale fell silent.
He was in a small porch, made even smaller by the presence of a hall-stand that could have graced a stately home had it not been sawn to fit within the less stately dimensions of this, his family home. He stepped forward through another doorway, whose door lay propped upon the remains of a chair, and saw the place frozen in time from the day his aunt had died thirty years ago. Except that the ravages of time and weather, of teenage-trysts and nesting rock-doves, of raiding rats and over-inquisitive owls, had smudged and smeared the pristine forms and colours into an impressionist still-life in three, maybe four, dimensions.
He felt a little unsteady, overcome by musty odours, the sickly-sweet smells of decay adding to the nausea of disorientation in this unfamiliar place. His hand, seeking certainty, steadied him against the solidity of a dresser, its racks now empty of plates, one drawer collapsed, the other still in place. He opened the drawer, saw a pair of scissors, a comb, a box of matches, a few cotton reels, and a small flat leather pouch. He took the pouch, which appeared to have once been secured by string, and felt the firmness and lightness of its contents. His fingers touched the cool metal inside and he withdrew an exquisitely engraved piece of metal work, the design being intricate, interwoven knotwork that mazed the exploring eye.
He turned the rectangle of metal over…
The girl stirred the steaming water and wool in the great pot sat upon a fire surrounded by sand and watched as her mother added the crotal that they had scrapped from the nearby rocks just an hour or so ago. Then, together, they took more soft, warm wool and placed it too within the magic of the cauldron. The mother guided the girl’s hand as she gently agitated the mixture, ensuring every fibre was infused by the dye, allowing every strand to bathe within the waters of mystery. In a few hours they ladled the laden form onto the grass to dry under the smiling gaze of the midday sun as the girl smiled at her mam.
The sound of hammering ceased, a voice called, and the two women, for in truth the girl was turning towards womanhood as surely as the off-white wool was now turned ruddy-brown, ran together up the dunes and across the grass towards the smoke that rose vertically in the calm of summer.
The smoke came from the hole within the thatch of the old stone house that had welcomed many generations to the world but which now was deemed unfit for habitation. Alongside were the new corrugated walls of the new tin house and the sight of two men fitting a door of fading dark-blue within its newly-finished frame. The door was from the old house and, although intended as a temporary measure until new wood could be found, its familiar form gave the new house the name it would forever be known by and thus Taigh Buidhe was complete and now ready for occupation.
After they had moved everything from the old house, which would now become the byre, the woman decided it was time to pass her most treasured possession, which had been passed this way for five generations, to her own daughter, who promised to pass it in turn to her daughter …
He looked deep into the polished tin mirror, past his jet-black hair, beyond his pale blue eyes, far deeper into the smoke of time which began to clear, revealing the devotion of his aunt, the happiness of the two houses and the stories, songs and laughter that had been had behind the multicoloured door. Waves of time, caught as corrugations, wove through him as the ancient gift revealed its magic within tin walls that his grandfather had constructed and that he would now reconstruct around the yellow, blue and red driftwood door.