R L (Rebecca Louisa) McKinney was born in Boulder, Colorado and was raised in Northern California; she came to Edinburgh as a student in 1995 and never left. In various incarnations she has been a bartender, horse trainer, teacher, researcher, community development practitioner, and local government dogsbody. Her first novel, Blast Radius, was published in 2015.
The following excerpt from Rebecca’s second novel, The Angel in the Stone, gives us a look at Calum as he manages the complicated responsibilities of his life in the West Highlands, working to preserve a present still haunted by the past…
Mary MacDonald’s Farewell
As Calum drove, his mind was a confusion of memories and emotions, all punctuated by the same sense of falling through open space that came to him in dreams. Sometimes when he took a corner too fast, he felt the wheels lift off the road and the vehicle turn in slow motion onto its side, roll and sail out into nothingness. The loss of control frightened him, forced him to lift his foot from the accelerator and wipe his sweaty palms on his jeans.
He found his mother on a bed in A&E, turning the pages of a gossip magazine. She was dressed in a hospital gown and sitting on top of the sheet, knotted white legs sticking out in front of her. Her toenails were long and neglected and he wondered for the first time whether she was even managing the basics of personal hygiene. The acrid stench of burnt plastic radiated from her hair.
She looked up at him and seemed surprised. ‘I wasn’t expecting you. How did you get here so quickly?’
He sighed. ‘From Glendarach. What did you do?’
Her eyebrows drew together. ‘What do you mean?’
He pulled up a chair beside her bed and sat down. ‘You started a fire. Jesus… I knew this would happen. You promised me you wouldn’t.’
‘Ocht, don’t be daft. I’ve done no such thing. I’m here for tests.’
‘Right.’ Calum sighed and glanced around for a nurse.
‘Well if you visited more, you’d know.’
He looked at her again.
‘I saw you last Sunday. I spent most of the day with my head under your sink.’
‘Well I don’t remember. I must have blocked it out because you were unpleasant, as usual.’
‘Aye, no bloody wonder.’
‘Language!’ she said in an exaggerated stage whisper. Nothing wrong with her hearing, anyway.
‘What’s happening then? Are they keeping you in?’
She made an exasperated sound. ‘They don’t tell you anything in these places. I expect they’re waiting for Finn to arrive to take me home.’
Calum rose from his seat. ‘Jesus Christ, what’s the matter with you?’
People in surrounding beds stared. Calum drew the curtain beside his mother, sat down again and took a deep breath. ‘Finn’s gone,’ he said, very softly. ‘Don’t you remember?’
‘What do you mean he’s gone?’
‘Mum… he’s dead. You know that.’ It was not news he’d expected to have to deliver a second time.
Mary’s hands shook as she fingered the sheet. ‘He’s… no… that’s not right, Calum. Why would you say that?’ Her voice crumbled and she moved her head back and forth. ‘Why would you do that to me?’
He lifted his hand and held it above hers, afraid to touch her. ‘It’s been twenty-one years.’
She continued to shake her head, but her eyes had filled with tears and her lips trembled. ‘I… of course… I do remember now. I don’t know what I was… oh dear… I don’t know what came over me. I think I must have dreamed about him last night.’
Calum allowed his fingers to settle over hers, tried to expel his temper with a long, slow breath. ‘It’s all right.’
Her eyes narrowed as the recollection seemed to solidify in her mind, and he turned away from her so he didn’t have to see the accusation that would inevitably accompany it. Perhaps this creeping amnesia would cure her of the need to blame him for something that had never been his fault, but right now he could feel her gathering her energy for an attack.
The arrival of a young doctor diverted her attention. By the state of his stubble and crushed shirt, he looked to be nearing the end of a very long shift.
‘Now then, Mrs MacDonald, I see your son has arrived. I’m Dr Robertson. You must be Finlay.’
‘No, I’m Calum,’ he replied tartly. He wanted to walk away and leave Mary to the mercies of the NHS and Highland Council’s Social Work Department. He wanted to claim no further knowledge of his mother or the dilemma she now posed for ever-dwindling public budgets. He gripped the sides of his chair and held himself down. ‘My brother Finlay passed away in 1993.’
‘Oh… ah… ’ the doctor glanced down at his clipboard and quickly composed himself. ‘I’m sorry, she… asked for him.’
‘Mrs Macdonald is having some problems with her memory,’ Calum said, and glared at his mother.
The Angel in the Stone arrives in stores via Sandstone Press on August 17th; you can follow Rebecca on Twitter and you can stay up to date on her book’s release by following Sandstone Press on Twitter and Facebook.