The Camping Trip
Rose finished scraping the last dish, put it in the open dishwasher, and then straightened with a sigh. Her house was uncommonly quiet this evening, her entire family disappearing outside to enjoy the last vestiges of a rare sunny spring evening as soon as supper was consumed. Every now and then she could hear squeals of childish laughter, so she knew that Jon was keeping them well entertained.
She dried her hands, smiling. Jon was absolutely the best father a child could ever hope to have. She liked to tease him that it was because he was still such a child in many ways; but he always just gave her that beaming, dimpled smile before dashing out the door on some new adventure with the tribe.
Today had been a prime example. Jon had received a mysterious, large package from Amazon just after noon, something in a box about six feet long and a foot deep. He had glommed onto it immediately, hurrying it out of sight before Rose could even dare to ask him what was in it. She figured it probably had to have something to do with one of the horses or a cow, and promptly forgot about it, too busy enjoying a beautiful Friday afternoon off from the clinic.
Rose smiled a little wistfully, remembering how her Friday afternoons used to be spent in Jon’s arms, making love any time and anywhere they pleased. What a difference six years and four children made! Still, she couldn’t complain. She was deliriously happy with her life. Jon treated her like a queen, and she had four beautiful, healthy children that kept them both very busy.
She was just settling down on the sofa with a novel, when the door to the mudroom banged shut, signifying someone had come in. She heard scurrying footfalls, and looked up to see her four year old daughter Jels running into the room.
“Mam, come quick!” Jels cried, grabbing Rose by a hand. “Ye hafta see what Da’s done!”
“I’m not sure I want to,” Rose hedged playfully. “Is it good or bad?”
Jels hugged herself excitedly. “It’s the bestest, Mam! Ye’ll love it! Da said come noo!”
Rose had no recourse but to allow herself to be led outside. They were halfway up the hill towards the Harkness place when she saw It. A blue canvas dome tent was erected just off of the path, nestled beneath several Caledonian pine trees, a very large blue dome tent. Where the hell had that come from? Ah, the mysterious box explained,
Jon was just dumping an armload of firewood into a large area encircled by stones when he caught sight of his lasses. A big smile crossed his handsome face. “Rose! What dya think?” he called, just as excited as his daughter.
“Erm…it’s a tent. A very big tent,” Rose observed.
“Aye, it’s a tent, and we can make it have twa bedrooms! We’re camping oot tonight!” Jon grinned, giving her a brief hug before scooping up Jels for a quick hug as well. “It’s all ready, lassie,” he told his daughter, setting her back down. “Go pick a spot before yer brothers get back wi’ more wood.”
Jels ran for the tent and disappeared inside, Jon turned to Rose, catching her by a hand “Sae what dya think?” he repeated. “I havena set up the second bedroom for this inaugural event, sae we can be wi’ the bairnies in case they get scairt. Ready for a new adventure?”
“Camping. Ya said camping, like sleepin’ outside, on the ground, wi’ the midges and bats,” Rose said flatly. She wasn’t exactly a city girl anymore, but she still had her limits.
It willna be sae bad,” Jon enthused. “We’ll be inside, awa from all the wee crawlies and such, and I got extra thick pads to go under the sleeping bags fer our auld bone’s sake. We’ll ha’e us a fire, burn some marshmallows, and tell stories. The weans will love it!”
Before Rose could answer, the rest of her family appeared, trudging up the path from the woodpile, arms laden with loads of wood almost bigger than they were. Five-year-old Graeme noticed her first. He hurriedly threw his logs towards the fire pit and ran to her side.
“Mam, isna it brilliant? We’re gonna sleep ootside tonight!” Graeme smiled, his father’s exact smile, Rose noticed for the billionth time. It never failed to warm her heart.
“Aye, Mam, it’s great!” Ry, Jel’s twin, chimed in, his fair four-year-old face red with his effort of carrying the heavy wood.
Bringing up the rear, with just two logs in his arms was three-year-old Alexander. He gave his mother a beatific smile. “I brought wood, Mam, so ye willna be cold,” he informed her.
Rose looked around at the sea of small faces looking up at her expectantly. How could she say no to such an appeal? Jon had played his hand perfectly. Even now he was grinning at her, that knowing smirk that she’d love to snog off of his gorgeous face. That would have to come later, after the little ones had fallen asleep. She took a deep breath, and then smiled broadly. “I think it’s gonna be a real adventure, fellas. Why don’t ya show me more?”
Two and a half hours and a package of severely incinerated marshmallows later, the MacSmith family were in their new tent ready for bed. Rose was sure that she’d missed some marshmallow cremains in one of the boys’ hair, but Jon had stopped her search with a quick, “It’s campin’, lass, no kirk,” at her attempted ministrations with a damp flannel. Now, the dying fire was casting eerie shadows against the canvas walls, giving off just enough light to see each other and setting the stage for perfect story telling.
Each child had a sleeping bag, and they had contrived to put all four of them in between Rose and Jon. The kids looked sleepy, but were still obviously excited. They had never been allowed to sleep in their regular clothes before. Rose had tried to get them into pajamas, but Jon had promptly said, “no one wears pajamas when campin’,” so she had lost that battle immediately as well as the no clean-up. Evidently, camping meant being as filthy as possible and sleeping fully clothed.
“Sae who’s turn is it to choose a story?” Jon finally asked his rapt audience. “I canna remember the rota, what wi’ all the fun we’ve been ha’in’.”
“It’s mine!” declared Alexander, before any of his siblings spoke up.
Jon grinned. His wee lad was feisty, more like his mother than any of the other three. “I believe ye’re right, lad,” Jon said. “So what will it be?”
“Um…selkies!” Alexander exclaimed. “Ye’ve never telt us all aboot selkies.”
“No selkies,” Graeme grumbled. “That’s all he e’er wants to hear aboot ‘cause of that stupid book he has. Bluidy selkies.”
“It’s his turn, Graeme,” Jon retorted. "Those are the rules, ye ken. And watch yer language, aye?”
“He’s such a babe,” Graeme argued. “Always gets his way.”
“Any more remarks like that and ye’ll lose yer turn on the rota,” Jon replied sternly. “Those are the rules, too, remember? Sae no cheek!”
“Aye,” Graeme sighed dramatically. Rose had to hide a smile. Graeme and Jon were exactly alike in temperament, and as a result, were often at loggerheads with each other. Jon was a fun father, but he was a firm father, too, determined to raise children that would meet the strict requirements for proper behaviour that he himself had been raised with.
“Okay then…selkies,” Jon started. “Erm…a long time ago, when the world was still full of dark and mysterious things, a lonely fisherman was oot late one night checking his crab pots. All of a sudden, in the moon’s bright light, he saw a beautiful woman standin’ on the beach in nowt but her skin. She was…”
“Does that mean she was in the scuddy, Da?” asked Ry.
“Erm…aye, I suppose it does,” Jon answered.
“That’s sae naughty! No ee’n her knickers?” gasped Jels, scandalized.
“I…erm…I dinna ken, lass. Probably not, as selkies dinna go to the shop as a rule. Anyway, there she was, standin’ in the moonlight. The farmer thought she was the maist beautiful woman he had e’er seen. He was instantly in love wi’ her, but when he ran towards her to tell her, she ran awa. He looked everywhere for her, but couldn’t find her anywhere. The next night, he was checking his pots again, when there she was, standin’ in the same place she’d been last night. And again, when he tried to approach her, she disappeared wi’oot a trace. So it was then that he realized that she must be a selkie.”
“Tammas Beauly at school says there’s no such thing as selkies, faeries, or water horses,” Graeme said.
Jon gave Graeme a parental glare. “Tammas Beauly doesna ken any better. He’s a Lowlander, and he…”
“Jon!” Rose interrupted. “Don’t project your own cultural bias onto your small son.”
‘It’s no a bias, it’s the truth. Lowlanders think we’re nowt but drunken, illiterate, barbaric sheep shaggers!”
“What’s a sheep shagger, Da?” Alexander asked.
“Now see what ya started?” Rose asked.
Erm…a sheep shagger is someone who…chases sheep, lad,” Jon explained to his three year old.
“So we’re all sheep shaggers?” Graeme asked. “Tammas Beauly said that, too.”
“Like I said, he’s a Lowlander, and ye…” Jon tried.
“Jon!” Rose admonished, interrupting him.
“But he is, I met his faither the other day at the chippy. They’re from Dumfries, fer Christ’s sake. That’s as Lowlander as ye can…”
“Och…”Jon gave Rose an elevated eyebrow, and tried to get back on track. “Noo, a selkie is a beastie that usually lives in the ocean as a great, sleek seal. But every once in a while, one will get curious and come onto land, take aff their seal coat, and walk aboot as a human bein’. If ye…”
“I shagged a sheep once, Da,” Jels interrupted. “I chased it all the way doon the hill to the burn.”
“That’s lovely, lass,” Jon said, “but ye shouldna chase the sheep unless we’re trying to change folds; it puts them aff their feed. Noo, back to the selkies. Like I was sayin’, they take aff their seal coat and they can walk aboot on land, lookin’ just like humans and…”
“Like Ariel,” Jels interjected dreamily, an expert on all things Disney princess. “She gots legs on land, too.”
“Aye,” Jon agreed, “I suppose. “Noo, when a selkie takes off it’s coat, it…”
“Does a selkie’s coat have buttons or a zip, Da?” Ry spoke up. He still had occasional trouble with both of those fasteners.
“Erm…I dinna ken. I suppose…”
“I wanna be where the people are…” Jels sang softly.
“It doesna matter, ye wee coof,” Grame interjected. “They dinna ha’e hands to use either one… they ha’e flippers.”
“Graeme!” Jon growled. “Dinna call yer brother names. Anyway…when the selkie takes its seal coat aff , they hide it, because if anyone finds it, the selkie has to stay in their human form until they get their coat back. Sae the farmer decided to stay up the next night to watch for the selkie, to see if he could find oot where she hid her coat, because he was mad in love wi’ her, and wanted to take her to wife. Sure enough, here she came again. He noticed that she footered aboot wi’ somethin’ in the rocks near the shore a bit, before she set aff walkin’ doon the beach. He waited until she was oot of sight, then went to the rocks, where, to his delight, he found her selkie coat.”
“I wanna see, wanna see ‘em dancin’,” Jels continued, lost in Ariel’s world.
“Why was he delighted, Da?” Ry asked.
“Weel, he kent that selkie women made verra good wives, kind, and faithful, and lovin’, like yer mither.” Jon gave Rose a sly grin before continuing, “He was verra lonely, but he was gonna be able to ha’e a family noo with his lovely selkie wife, and…”
“Was her arse and breests as lovely as Mam’s?” Graeme snarked.
Jon sat up straight, and turned to his oldest son. “Christ! Where’d ye get such a question, lad?”
“I heered ye when ye telt that to Mam the other night,” Graeme answered nonchalantly.
“What?” Rose gasped.
“It’s true. Ye were in the livin’ room. I got up to pish and I heerd ye laughin’ so I went to look. Ye were wrestlin’ on the floor in front of the fireplace. Da was bumpin’ up and doon tryin’ to shake ye aff, but ye had him pinned deid proper. And then he said ye had the most lovely arse and breests.”
“Walkin’ along on those what dya call them…oh, feet,” sang Jels.
“Jels, lass, yer singin’ is lovely, but I’m tryin’ to talk to yer brother…” Jon said. “Graeme, yer language…”
“Well, that’s just rude!” Jels spat crossly, folding her arms across her little chest with a massive put upon sigh.
“Ye said it first; I’m just repeatin’ it,” Graeme continued.
“I’m a grown up. I can use that sort of language, ye’re just a wee five year old who’s no likely to see six if ye dinna shape up and…”
“Jon!” came Rose’s voice.
“So did the fisherman and the selkie woman get marrit?” asked Alexander, in the momentary silence.
Jon ran his hands through his already disheveled hair in frustration. “The fisherman…och aye, they got marrit and had many bairns together. And when all of their bairns had left home, thankfully, the auld fisherman gave his wife back her selkie coat so she could return to the sea, and then he died a verra happy mon.” Jon finished, ignoring Rose’s little eye roll she’d given him when he’d made the ‘thankfully’ remark.
“So did their bairns look like selkies or humans? Alexander asked.
I’m no sure,” Jon replied. “Probably human, since his wife was in human form, but mebbe they had webbed fingers and toes.”
“Ariel’s daughter Melody was a human but she got turned into a mermaid by the sea witch,” Jels informed them all loftily, still in a huff.
“Good thing, that,” Ry offered. “School’s hard enough wi’oot havin’ flippers instead of hands, aye?”
“Mermaids have hands, Ryan!” Jels told her twin, rolling her eyes as well as her mother could.
“I was talking aboot selkies to Da, Jels, no yer stupid mermaids!” Ry retorted.
“Mam! Ry called mermaids stupid,” Jels wailed.
“Dinna be a clype, Jels!” Graeme sneered.
“Keep oot of it, Graeme! I’m no tellin’ tales; he just said it!” Jels defended herself.
“I was askin’ Da a serious question,” Ry explained. “Mermaids are make believe; selkies are real! Ye just canna…”
“Haud yer wheest, all of ye!” Jon shouted. All four faces plus Rose’s turned as one to look at him. He took a deep breath, fighting for patience. “The next one of ye that utters a word wi’oot permission sleeps alone in the hoose, get it? Noo go to sleep!” He met the five sets of eyes squarely, daring each one in turn to speak up.
He was just about to settle down in his sleeping bag when Alexander raised a tentative hand. “Ye have somethin’ to say, Alexander?” Jon asked, not unkindly.
“It’s no like my storybook, but I liked yer selkie story fine, Da,” Alexander said.
“Thank ye, lad.”
The boy raised his hand again.
“Aye?” Jon acknowledged.
“I like campin’. Can we do it again tomorrow wi’ all our cousins? Except fer wee Katie, cos she makes too much noise. And no Caden, cos he’s ten and calls us snot nose bairns. So just Merida and JJ, aye?”
“I’ll ha’e to think on it lad. Uncle Jack and Auntie Aileena may have other family plans. Lay ye doon, noo, let’s ha’e a sleep.” Jon started to lie back in his sleeping bag once more when another hand went up. He sighed. “Aye, Ryan, did ye need somethin'?”
“I just want to ken, Da…does the selkie’s weddin’ ring fall aff when their hands turn back to flippers? If they do, we could go to the beach and look for them, like buried treasure!”
Rose couldn’t suppress the giggle that bubbled from her lips. Jon shot her another look before answering his son’s question.
“I’m pretty sure the ring slides right off, lad. I’ve ne’er seen a seal wearin’ a weddin’ ring before. We’ll look online tomorrow, aye? Noo, all of ye, no more questions! Good night, sleep tight, dinna let the wee crawlies bite.”
There was a small chorus of “good nights”. Jon slid down into his sleeping bag, trying to ignore the large rock or whatever it was that was poking his arse through the padding. He looked across the four children at Rose to blow her a kiss, and noticed that she had her hand raised.
“What?” he asked flatly.
“I need to wee,” Rose informed him.
Immediately, four little voices echoed the sentiment. Jon, biting his lower lip to keep from saying anything, crawled out of his sleeping bag to the big door, unzipped it, handed Rose a torch, and then watched as one by one, his family abandoned him, a mother duck leading her ducklings.
He waited there, somewhat patiently, for about fifteen minutes before realizing that no one was planning on returning. Sighing, he contemplated just knocking back in his sleeping bag, but he was too curious about what had happened to everyone. He made his way down the trail, and entered the house via the back door. He wasn’t surprised to see Rose sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of her, and an opened bottle of Irn Bru at his spot.
“Waitin’ fer someone, are ye?” he asked. “Where are the bairns.”
“We got inside, everyone had a wee, then Graeme said it was too cold to sleep outside, then, of course, the other three agreed, so they’re all in their beds.”
“A mutiny, then,” Jon grinned, taking a long swallow of his fizzy drink.
“Sorry, love. It was a good thought, but maybe campin' needs to wait until they’re a bit older.”
“Aye, I suppose ye’re right,” he agreed, and then laughed. “Christ, what an experience! They’re sae funny. Ry and Alexander wi’ their questions, Jels wi’ her sheep shaggin’ and wee mermaid song, and Graeme…Christ, I nearly busted a rib when he talked aboot us “wrestlin’”, with me “bumpin’ up and doon” tryin’ to get ye aff.”
Rose smiled dreamily. “Well, ya were trying to get me off,” she quipped, “just not in the way Graeme thought.”
“Aye, and I did, if memory serves me,” Jon grinned. “Care to go upstairs and try fer another match?”
“What, and take a risk of me havin’ ya pinned ‘deid proper’ again?” Rose said coyly.
Jon climbed to his feet, and held out a hand to Rose. When he pulled her up, he kept pulling until she was close enough for a lingering snog before answering. “How aboot best twa oot of three then, aye?”
“I think that will work,” Rose agreed.
They turned the lights out and headed up the stairs, Jon following behind. They got to the top of the stairs before he spoke again. “Just so ye ken, yer arse and breests really are the loveliest I’ve ever seen. A selkie has nothin’ on ye, lass.”
Rose giggled. “Thanks, I think.”
“It would be handy if ye were a selkie, just fer a bit, though,” Jon remarked, sitting on the bed to kick his shoes off.
“Why’s that?” Rose asked.
“At least ye could tell me if yer weddin’ ring slides aff yer flippers,” he grinned. “I dinna think I’ll find the answer to that on Google tomorrow, and Christ ken’s that’s the first thing Ry will ask me tomorrow.”
“It’s not easy being a parent,” Rose replied, pulling her tee over her head.
“No, but it sure as hell is fun makin’ the wee beasties,” Jon laughed, sliding beneath the covers. “and verra entertainin’. Noo, c’mon, let’s see if ye can pin me again!”
“Only if you’ll bump up and down and try to throw me off,” Rose retorted.
“Oh, I’ll bump ye, lass,” Jon growled, reaching for her. “Up and doon, and all around. Or mebbe…I’ll try to pin ye first before all the bumpin’! How would that be?”
“Sounds like somethin’ a drunken, barbarian sheep shagger would try,” Rose teased.
“I am a Heilander,” Jon countered.
“You most certainly are,” Rose grinned, “ and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Even if I’ve given ye barbarian children?” Jon asked, reaching for her.
“At least it’s never borin’,” Rose replied. “Now c’mon, Heilander, pin me deid proper!”
Chuckling, Jon rolled onto his back, lifted Rose straight into the air in an impressive display of strength, and then tossed her, squealing and giggling, back onto the mattress beside him.
“What was that?” she laughed as he rolled on top of her, effectively pinning her “deid proper”.
“A Heiland fling,” he retorted, kissing her nose. “Try doin’ that wi’ a selkie! Let’s dance, aye?”
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