When Catherine moves several hundred miles away from her sister, Helen says, ‘Phone calls aren’t enough’, but they make it easier to edit the truth. Helen can dismiss Gilbert and his enchanted Factory as ‘weird’ when she’s never met him, and Catherine think Helen foolish for loving the unreliable and dangerous Joe. Neither sees the perils concealed in what they have not told each other, or guesses at the sinister connection between their separate lives. A Message from the Other Side is a novel about love and marriage, but even more about hatred and the damage people do to each other in the most ordinary of families.
Moira Forsyth grew up in Aberdeen, lived in England for nearly twenty years, and is now in the Highlands. She is the author of four previous novels and many short stories and poems published in anthologies and magazines. Waiting for Lindsay and David’s Sisters, originally published by Sceptre, are now available as e-books from Sandstone Press, which also published Tell Me Where You Are in 2010 and The Treacle Well, in 2015.
A MESSAGE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – MOIRA FORSYTH
Catherine has just moved to the Highlands, and at a party given by her friend Hugh, she meets Kenneth Sinclair. He’s too sure of himself, she thinks, but despite herself is attracted, while finding him very different from his brother Gil, whom she’s already met. She agrees to give him a lift home as he’s been drinking, and she has not.
When she found him again, Kenneth was with two women and George Macallum. George was flushed and ribald, one of the women in the circle of his arm, leaning on him. The other woman was focused on Kenneth.
‘Do you want to stay a bit longer?’ Catherine said it so coolly, he raised his eyebrows. Then, abruptly, he seemed to make up his mind.
‘Let’s go,’ he said, turning, his hand under her elbow. ‘Night all.’
Her car was nose to tail with two others. Damn, she thought, and must have muttered it aloud, for Kenneth said, ‘I’ll guide you out.’
She did not want to rely on this, given how much he must have had to drink, but he was competent, and saw her safely onto the drive. He got in.
‘Thanks for this,’ he said.
‘What about your own car?’
‘Somebody from the works will pick me up in the morning and take me through later to get it.’
‘The business. Where I work.’
‘Someone told me you’re an engineer. Who do you work for?’
‘Myself,’ he said.
‘Oh.’ Glancing sideways, she saw him afresh, a man with employees, responsibility, even power.
‘We usually subcontract, he added. ‘For the bigger boys.’
Not having any idea what this meant, or who the ‘bigger boys’ might be, Catherine drove out onto the main road, not answering.
‘Anyway,’ he said, sounding bored, ‘work. No need to talk about that.’
The road was empty so late at night, the sky pale violet, a full moon translucent and high.
‘How late the light stays here, when the summer begins,’ Catherine said.
‘You’re from the south of England?’
‘Hertfordshire – but London for years now. What about you – you’re a Highlander?’
‘Yes. But I graduated at Aberdeen, and worked down south for ten years. Then came back – gave in, you could say, and joined the family firm.’
Before he could ask her another question, she said, ‘You and Gilbert – you’re not at all alike.’
He laughed. ‘That’s the understatement of the year!’
When they reached his village, she slowed. ‘You’d better give me directions.’
Up a steep hill they drove past Victorian houses with long driveways, half hidden by trees as old as they were. He must have money, she thought, living here. After this there were fields on both sides, then on the crest, several modern houses, looking raw and barely finished, but large, on substantial plots of land.
‘It’s the one furthest along on the left,’ Kenneth said. Only the moon lit the sky now and she could not see the house, only that there was a veranda in front and huge windows. The house was split level, garage and basement below the level of the approach, built into the side of the hill.
‘You must have a wonderful view,’ Catherine said. Below, the fields had vanished in darkness but she had a sense of open space facing the house, with perhaps fields or hills rising on the far side of the distant road.
The engine was running softly. Kenneth leaned over and turned the key. Silence. Something shot through her like electricity, his hand on her knee briefly, his voice that she was to come to know too well. ‘Come in and see it,’ he said. ‘It’s a bit basic yet – I only took possession a week ago.’ He unbuckled his seat belt and opened his door. ‘You’re right about the view. You’ll have to come back and see it in daylight.’
She felt reckless as she got out of the car. The air was soft and cool on her face. Kenneth went up two steps onto the veranda and opened the double front doors.
Inside, he switched on lights. The hall was large and square, floored in oak. The smells of new paint and new wood permeated; everything was fresh and unused. She followed him into one room after another, each leading to the next, open half-empty spaces waiting for furniture, curtains, rugs, to make them seem like someone’s home. Even now, beneath bare electric bulbs, she sensed how much natural light would wash through the house.
‘It’s beautiful,’ she said.
‘It’s my present to myself.’ They were in the kitchen, a long room running the depth of the house on one side, probably overlooking the backs of the old houses, muffled with mature trees. She guessed the living rooms at the front would have the best view.
Water drummed in the kettle. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘there’s nowhere to sit – my table and chairs arrive next week. We’ll take this through to the front room.’
‘Could I have tea?’ Catherine asked, forestalling him with the cafetière. ‘I won’t sleep if I have coffee this late.’
‘I won’t sleep anyway.’ He grinned at her. ‘I can’t get used to being here. But I’ll have tea too.’
When they were seated at either end of the long leather sofa in the room at the front, Catherine asked:
‘What did you mean, the house is a present to yourself?’
‘It’s a place of my own again.’ He shrugged. ‘My marriage broke up two years ago. I was living in a cottage that belonged to my folks, my grandfather’s place. Then Gil turned up after being in London for about five years, so I went back to the family home, just west of here, to let him have the cottage. It wasn’t a great arrangement, but better than letting Gil live with my parents. ‘
‘You couldn’t have shared the cottage with him?’ She knew the answer to that already. ‘I couldn’t live with my sister,’ she went on. ‘I mean, I love her, but—’
‘We don’t automatically love people who happen to be in the same family.’
‘Well, usually…’ She hesitated. ‘It’s the shared history, isn’t it, belonging together?’
‘Not in our case.’
She thought he was probably the one difficult to live with. ‘I’d better go.’
He watched her for a moment. Embarrassed, she got up.
He rose too and held out his hand for the mug. ‘Let me take that.’
‘Thank you. And thank you for showing me your beautiful house.’
‘You haven’t been upstairs yet.’
Was he teasing her?
At the door, the outside light came on, illuminating the veranda, some scrubby bushes, and her car in the broad turning area, still unsurfaced. It lit up their faces too, as she turned to say goodbye. He was not smiling, but there was an amusement in his expression she did not trust.
He went on standing there as she drove away. In her rear mirror, her last glimpse outlined him in the doorway, a dark figure.
To have a house like that, she thought, I begin to see what Helen means. Though for Helen they must have draughty bedrooms and original fireplaces and cornices you can’t dust.
She kept her mind on the house, all the way back to her own, dissatisfied now and restless. She had hardly drunk the tea, but would not sleep anyway.
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