‘Oban the Perfect Destination’

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Is the title of Strontan writer Sylvia Hehir’s short story which beat more than 60 others to win at Tarbert Book Festival.

Before collecting her prize of a residential week at Scotland’s creative writing centre, Moniack Mhor, Ms Hehir had the daunting task of reading her story, last Friday evening, to an audience which included BBC travel presenter Paul Murton.

Ms Hehir’s ‘Sea Change’ was also short listed for this year’s Caledonia Novel Award.

The presentation at Loch Fyne Gallery with master of ceremonies, Anne Hamilton from Lothian Life, saw an international assembly of writers make the fifth festival’s shortlist of six.

Simon Cowdroy from Melbourne Australia, started the readings with his thrilling ‘Click,’ followed by Dollar’s Kate Donne with Frae a Haggis, Linlithgow’s Mary Easson’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are,’ Ms Hehir was next and her full story is reproduced below, Mike Hunter, from Nova Scotia was unable to attend and his Barbie and Me was read out from a Kindle, Mid-Argyll author, Sue Stubbs from Kilmichael Glassary finished with her tale: ‘The Mad Crone of Comriach.’

‘Oban the Perfect Destination’ by Sylvia Hehir

Duncan angled mother’s chair at the dining table. She liked to be able to see the bird table through the bay window, although this blustery morning the only visitors were the resident blackbirds and the ubiquitous chaffinches.

In the kitchen, Duncan filled the kettle before turning on the gas, striking a match and placing the kettle amongst the blue flickering flames. ‘Coffee or tea for the flask,’ he called, but any answer was drowned out by the spitting of the bacon in the frying pan. It was an unnecessary question anyway. When had Mother wanted anything other than tea? Still the day might come, he considered, when he would have a say.

He turned round suddenly; a shadow had passed behind him. And was that the smell of mother’s Gardenia perfume? He chastised himself, knowing full well that mother couldn’t get out of her chair by herself.

He watched a jay fly past the kitchen window and counted out loud, but there was just the one.

He disliked their unnecessary noise and their tawdry colours were decidedly out of place around here. Still, they were preferable to those magpies. He wondered if there was a superstition attached to the number of jays seen. He hoped it wasn’t the same as for magpies. One was not a good number to see, not today of all days. But as he recited the rhyme in his head, no other number seemed appropriate either. He was thankful, at least, that he’d not seen two.

They had decided on Oban for today. They’d tried Mallaig first – the fish and chips there were the finest in all of Scotland, Mother had always commented when they’d been there for family holidays – but the wind had been far too strong. And at Kilchoan – another favourite holiday destination – the waves had been thrashing the rocks. So, Oban it would be.

After clearing away the breakfast things, Duncan selected appropriate outerwear. Pushing aside his anorak, he opted for his father’s old overcoat, hoping the weather wouldn’t get too warm as the day drew on. Then gathering up his backpack, they set out for their bus.

He’d been right. Oban was the perfect place. A gentle ruffling onshore breeze caused him to push his hat on more securely as he settled Mother into a secluded spot behind the seafront wall. Unused to such an action at his age, he spread out the overcoat and sat down beside her on the rounded pebbles.

The lid was a bit stiff, the thread sticking as he unscrewed it. But in a few turns the contents of the ornate jar could be seen. He upturned the jar gently and tipped Mother out onto pebbles at his side, letting her mingle with the sand and the tiny empty crab shells. A seagull squawked at him. That was all right too – you expect seagulls at Oban. He took out the flask from the backpack and poured out the weak tea. He could have coffee another time.

From left: Moniack Mhor’s Richmond Clements with short story short listed writers: Simon Cowdroy from Melbourne, Australia, Sue Stubbs, Mary Easson, winner Sylvia Hehir, and Kate Donne. Missing is Nova Scotia author Mike Hunter. 25_c44bookfest03_short_story_winners