by Jay Hodgkins
Over there you see the Isle of Soay. The permanent population of Soay is currently three, of which I am one. It used to be four, but my wife had difficulties with the isolation. She left. It’s a difficult life, and it’s not for some people. I, myself, have lived there for more than 40 years and, looking back, if I had the chance to do it again, I think I would have done it the same. There’s a quietness to the life that suits me.
‘Soay’ means ‘Sheep Island’ in Old Norse, but I don’t tend sheep. I’ve always found my calling out here, on the sea. For 25 years, I made my living trawling these waters for prawn. This is my first season ferrying people to the islands. I’m delighted to have you on board and will do my best to ensure you have a lovely journey. This is my dog, Pup. He’s a sheep dog by birth, but he’s taken quite well to life at sea. When he watches over the rails, you’re most like to see porpoise jumping or seal basking on nearby rock. With any luck, we’ll see them, but I always say the wildlife finds us, we don’t find it.
You may be curious to know: the other two permanent residents of Soay are not my family. I have two children, but they are grown and moved away. My neighbors are graphic designers. Odd men, really, but perhaps odd is normal on Soay. I live on one half of the island and they live on the other. We’re quite friendly, but we do allow each other our space.
I suppose the strangest thing about them is their telephone booth. When they moved to Soay, they brought with them on their boat one of the old red telephone booths. Part and parcel as they may be to the London cityscape or even Edinburgh, it’s quite strange to see one standing alone in the middle of a field with pink puffs of blooming thistle grown half way up the sides.
I originally supposed they meant it as art. An icon of man and modernity juxtaposed against nature at her most bare and brutal. I’m not very good with art, and I don’t think I was correct because it hadn’t been a year before they turned the booth on its side, door facing up to the sky. I often walk to the crest of Beinn Bhreac – it’s not much of a hill, but it’s what we have on Soay – in the late hours of our longest summer days to watch the stubborn sunsets drag along sideways over the Outer Hebrides. It was during these walks that I noticed one of the graphic designers, Tom is his name, coming out each evening to sleep in the booth. Always Tom, never his mate, who’s a lovely Irish fellow who goes by the name of David. It looked to be as if Tom was stepping into a sarcophagus, and in a way I suppose that’s exactly what the booth had become. In any matter, the booth is still serving its original purpose, keeping him connected to the things he’s left in another place.
I suspect the permanent population of the Isle of Soay may be reduced to two soon. The solitude can be too much. It’s a difficult life, and it’s not for some people.
– ‘Isle of Soay’ is Jay Hodgkins’ first published short story. His work is also scheduled to appear in the Eunoia Review in December. You can read more at www.jayhodgkins.com or follow him on Twitter @JayPHodgkins. He has worked as a speechwriter and as a journalist covering cops and courts, sports, government, energy and the environment, and finance. He holds an M.Sc. in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh and a B.Sc. in Commerce from the University of Virginia.