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The rain fell in sheets and the clouds grumbled angrily. I sought cover under a narrow brick awning, but the few moments I’d spent in the downpour had soaked me enough that my hair was sure to poof when it dried. I wrapped my arms around myself and sent the clouds an impolite thought or two.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t used to the rain. I’d been in Scotland for just over a year and I’d seen lots of rain. However, this July storm had caught me off guard.
Also, I was struck with an affliction; I had a hard time remembering to bring along an umbrella—a brollie, as some of my native Scottish friends called it. I’d purchased many over the past year, leaving behind forgotten brollies in my cottage, at my fiancé’s house, and at The Cracked Spine, the bookshop in Grassmarket where I worked and spent most of my time.
After my evil eye up to the clouds, I looked around for a place I could pop in and buy yet another one. There were no shops nearby, no take-away restaurants selling fish and chips or fried haggis; no one seemed to be selling anything. But as I truly took notice of what was around me, my irritation with my ill preparedness as well as my desire to find a shop selling umbrellas dissipated. I’d never before ventured to this area inside the city of Edinburgh. Dean Village wasn’t far from Grassmarket, just a quick bus ride, but it was as if I’d discovered yet another world. I’d disembarked the bus one stop earlier than planned because at that moment there had been no foreboding clouds above, and the walkway next to the Leith River, which ran through the village, seemed like the perfect place to stroll. It had been, just not for very long.
The village’s old stone buildings, stacked on the slopes up from the river, reminded me of something someone would use as a model for a holiday display; sprinkle on some snow and voila! The 12th century architecture was all similar, except for the colors of the stones used. Some were white, some black, others red, and some even yellow. The varied colors gave the village a sense of playfulness and lent a cozy comfort to the close-set structures.
Originally populated with millers and weavers all those centuries ago, it was now mostly a residential neighborhood with old cobblestone roads, and structures repurposed to be apartment buildings and B and Bs. I’d learned that many buildings in Edinburgh had been rebuilt a time or two. The original wood structures had fallen victim to fire from flames that had been used to warm and illuminate. I wasn’t sure if the stone structures I looked at today were original or replacements, and I made a mental note to research the answer.
Just as the enjoyable scenery began to perk me up, my eyes landed on what I suspected was my destination. Between me and the beautiful spires of the church on the hill were not only the river and the walkway, but a bridge and a forest. In all fairness, it was a small forest, exaggerated in my mind by the falling rain. It wouldn’t have been a daunting trip under clear skies, but at the moment it seemed an expansive journey.
Fortunately, just as I was about to utter some unkind grumbles, the rain let up, and it transitioned from a downpour to a mist—the kind that still soaked you but did so slightly more politely than the torrential version.
“Go now!” I quietly exclaimed to myself, knowing my window of opportunity might close quickly.
I scurried up to the Dean Bridge and ran along Queensferry Road as cars and busses passed me by. I thought about trying to hail one, but truly, the church wasn’t that far away. I could see its tall windows and the full view of its spires the second I stepped onto the bridge.
I had been told to use the red door on the side of the building located on Belgrave instead of the front doors. With my head down and my backpack lifted to cover at least a little of my hair, I took the corner onto Belgrave. Out of my lowered peripheral vision I spied the door, but not the person who must have just exited it.
“Oh!” I said as I skimmed a shoulder.
“Gracious,” he said, his voice almost as wobbly as his legs.
I grabbed his arm gently to keep him from falling.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, glad he stayed upright. “Are you all right?”
“Aye.” He blinked up at me with clear blue eyes behind water-streaked glasses. A few strands of gray hair were slicked across the top of his head.
I continued to hold his bony elbow in my hand—I didn’t want to let go until I knew he was steady.
“Aye, I’m fine,” he continued. “Though I’d like verra much tae continue on. It’s a wee bit blashie oot here.”
I knew that “blashie” meant “rainy.” I’d heard my landlords Elias and Aggie use the Scots word more than a few times now.
“Right.” I looked around. “Can I help you get somewhere?”
“I think I’m fine. I live just across the way.” He smiled with false teeth that shifted ever so slightly with the gesture.
He was old. I was caught between insisting on going with him and not offending him. Finally, since we were both so wet we couldn’t get any wetter, I nodded.
“All right. Again, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Not tae worry, lassie. It’s not every day I get tae run into a young lovely.” He winked.
I smiled and let go of his elbow. With sure steps that were a little hitched to the right—though maybe that was because of the big satchel he had over his shoulder—he walked around me. I thought for a moment that he was unsure of which direction to go, but after a brief hesitation, he seemed figure it out. I watched as he made his way across the street to a row of tall, narrow, brick apartments that reminded me of town houses, though I hadn’t heard them described that way in Scotland. I thought about following just to make sure he was okay, but if Elias had taught me anything, it was that Scottish men, particularly those over sixty (and under too, probably), were proud enough that my offers of help might be more offensive than considerate.
I turned again and hurried toward the red door. Just as I put my hand on the knob I spotted something on the ground.
Inside a sealed plastic sandwich bag was a deck of cards. Protected from the rain by the plastic, the deck was facedown and secured with a rubber band. I crouched and carefully gathered the bag. I’d seen the illustration on the back of the top card before, and I knew it immediately. Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, in all her cartoonish glory, rose from the water and sent a vicious sneer to anyone who might be looking. I couldn’t determine when the artwork had been created, but I’d researched enough about the old girl to know the deck of cards might come from as far back as the beginning of the last century.
I thought the cards might have fallen from the old man’s satchel, but that was just a hunch. I took off in a slippery run across the street, but he was nowhere in sight. No one was in sight, probably because it was raining and no one in their right mind would remain outside. At least not without a brollie.
I needed to get in from the rain. I didn’t hurry since I was now drenched to the bone, but with quick steps I made my way back to the church’s door. I was glad it was unlocked as I did what I’d been instructed to do and made my way inside. Once there, I didn’t know what to do but drip for a minute. As soon as I felt semi-presentable, I would seek out who I’d come to find, the woman who would hopefully help.
Despite the rain, the sweet man I’d almost knocked over, and the interesting deck of cards, I had a purpose in mind. I had a wedding to save.
Copyright © 2019 by Paige Shelton-Ferrell