Firth of Tay

The river is tidal for many miles upstream, and the current strong. To an observer on the southern shore the island midway across the estuary’s breadth is deceptively close. You might think you could swim to it, and explore undisturbed its unpeopled expanse. But whatever anecdote your reaching the island inspired, the journey back would prevent its being told. No-one’s luck could hold for two such crossings and you, like so many others, would be lost to the silvery waters. The river is mighty, and not to be trusted.

As treacherous as its strength are the sands: stretches of river neither land nor water, vaster than the towns that dot the fertile plains of the northern bank, and with names as old: Kerewhip, Eppies Taes, Sure-as-Death.

The island in their midst was like them, once. An accrual of sand, silt and mud washed down from the Highlands over centuries, piling up and thickening until life took root. Now a silent dagger in the narrowest part of the Firth, the island conceals its grassy heart with a fringe of reeds.

The reeds. For fully ten miles on either bank they line the river, broken only along the waterfront at Newburgh where jetties that once hosted merchant ships and pleasure boats are worn imperceptibly into the waves. Wildfowlers know the reeds, birdwatchers too, and treat them with respect. The mud from which they sprout is dark. Untrustworthy, it shifts and sucks. A hundred metres thick the reeds stand in places, and twice your height. The reeds have seen much, swallowed much, conceal much. They do not speak, only hiss.

 

I wrote this a year ago as the introduction to a short story. When I recently came to revise the story this had to go – an example of “killing your darlings” – but I thought it stood up well on its own.

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