The late morning sun crept across the carpet towards Anna’s bed. It was her day off, the house was empty and she’d brought her coffee back to bed to soak up the peace and quiet. Her only company was Hector who had come as a puppy for Anna’s fourteenth birthday and been a faithful companion ever since. The golden retriever wasn’t as spritely as he used to be but he could still climb onto Anna’s bed where he would lie alongside her, resting his head on her legs. Anna held her book with one hand while absentmindedly twirling her fingers around Hector’s ear with the other. The silence was disturbed by a buzz as Anna’s phone received a message. Hector raised an eyebrow at his owner, as if to question who was daring to disturb them. Reaching to her bedside table Anna read the message and sighed.
“I’ve been summoned,” she told the dog and in response he crept further up the bed to nuzzle in under her arm. The text was from her father suggesting that she come to his office so they could have lunch together.
“So much for my day of rest,” she grumbled, already anticipating the type of conversation that would accompany her meal.
Anna yawned and stretched her arms behind her, glancing up and touching the paper above her headboard. The simple floral pattern which adorned one wall of her room had been there since she was a little girl. Although some might say it was dated she loved it as much now as the day it first went up. Her Mum had helped her to pick out the pattern and after looking at dozens of prints in an afternoon they had finally settled on one they both liked. Anna always liked it when she and her Mum had similar taste, which had been a lot of the time. Not for the first time she wondered how her parents had begun a relationship. In her mind they were such different people with outlooks and ambitions that seemed to have no overlap – or at least as much as Anna could tell from the memories she had of her mother. She had no recollection of her parents arguing and they had seemed to socialise together, and yet somehow in her mind they were chalk and cheese. She wished she could ask her Mum about her Dad, what first attracted her to him and what made their partnership work. She had one vivid memory of the two of them heading out to a formal function, her Mum radiant and glamorous in a deep purple gown and her father coming down the stairs in his full dress kilt.
“Isn’t he dashing Anna?” her Mum exclaimed. “This is what your father was wearing when I first met him. Oh what a handsome sight he was – quite swept me off my feet he did.”
Struan had blushed silently at the praise but as they stood posing in the hallway while Anna took a photograph he gazed at his wife with a look full of love and kissed her. In that moment Anna remembered feeling so safe and proud that these were her parents. Even though the hallway was untouched since that time it felt to her like a different house and her father a different person.
She pulled herself up in the bed and looked around her. Back in her childhood bedroom she could have felt constrained but this room was her safe haven, her sanctuary. When her brothers had moved away she had the chance of a bigger bedroom but there was no question of her changing anything. Anna’s room was at the very top of the house, tucked away from everyone else, having been part of the attic conversion that was done after she was born. There was a set of stairs up from the main landing of the house and Anna’s room was on the right at the top, and across from her was a small bathroom which only she used. This made it feel like her own little apartment, her very own castle in the clouds. Her Dad never came up to Anna’s room any more, preferring to call to her from the bottom of the stairs if he needed to speak to her. She had one huge sash window right behind the door giving a view over the rooftops of Edinburgh’s New Town. There was a small ledge outside, just wide enough to perch on and in the summer she could throw the widow open and sit there for hours at a time. It caught the sun early in the morning, bathing the room in a warm and welcoming light and from her bed she could watch the clouds pass by and listen to the city come to life.
There wasn’t a great deal of furniture; a small bedside table with a jumble of books and an old lamp, a single wardrobe with her sports gear resting on the top, and a desk which doubled as a dressing table. At the foot of the bed, to the right of the window, was an enormous bookcase, a treasure trove of everything Anna held dear. Nestled among rows of novels and history books were framed photos of family and friends, stones and shells gathered from innumerable beach walks as well as trinkets and ornaments from past holidays and birthdays. On the middle shelf, directly in Anna’s line of sight when she woke up each morning, was a picture of her with her Mum, taken just before she became unwell. They were both smiling and embracing each other, and every time she looked at it Anna could still hear her Mum’s laugh and feel her arm around her shoulder.
The simplicity of her small attic hideaway was in stark contrast to the rest of the house. The Ferguson residence was a grand old town house over several floors with high ceilings and generously proportioned rooms. It had retained a sense of grandeur, being furnished with items in-keeping with its size and style but was beginning to look tired and dated. Not much had changed in the décor or layout for many years and although it still felt like home to her, since returning Anna had been able to see it with fresh eyes. Perhaps she would be able to persuade her dad towards a fresh coat of paint in places, or a new suite for the lounge.
“Pick your battles Anna,” she told her reflection in the bathroom mirror before stepping into the shower.
An hour later, she was walking through Prince’s Street Gardens on her way to her father’s office, gazing up at the castle towering above her. She was always astounded that people could walk around this city and not look up, not stop and marvel at what was all around them. Rather than take the most direct path, she allowed herself the time to wander through the grounds of St.Cuthbert’s Church, nestled in the corner of the gardens. Even when the rest of the area was teeming with tourists, the church yard was quiet and peaceful. This was the oldest Christian site in Edinburgh and the grave stones felt like grand monuments honouring those who had come before. Anna loitered for a moment of serenity, enjoying the wild flowers and the warmth of the sun on her back. The clock began to strike the hour calling attention to the fact that she was about to be late and so she set off again at a quickened pace.
Not far beyond the walls of the gardens and up on Castle Terrace lay the offices of the French & Ferguson law firm. Walking through those doors always made Anna feel very small and insignificant. This was her father’s palace, the dominion over which he ruled and reigned. Every inch of the place was sleek and polished, each corner the epitome of corporate excellence. Anna glanced in the window at her reflection before going in. Her floaty skirt and denim jacket weren’t exactly going to help her blend in, but then even if she’d come dressed in a high-powered business suit she’d still feel like a school girl going to see the headmaster. She pushed the door open, checking her watch as she did so.
“Afternoon Miss Ferguson,” called a friendly voice from the reception desk.
“Hi Bob, how are you doing?” asked Anna as she crossed the lobby.
“Ah you know me, just keeping out of trouble,” came the cheery reply.
“You and me both!” Anna smiled over at the man she had known for as long as she could remember. When she was younger and visiting the office was a great treat, Bob used to greet her with all the pomp and ceremony as though the queen herself had come into the building. He would bow dramatically as she came through the doors and escort her on his arm to the elevators. As she left he would always have found some kind of treat to present her with and wished her a very good day. Today she took the lift alone to the top floor and came into a small lobby area where an imposing front desk was manned by a very efficient woman called Natalie. Every part of her was immaculate and as Anna stood waiting for her to finish her phone call, she tried to smooth herself down and stand a little straighter. Natalie was relatively new and Anna an infrequent visitor so she still had to remind her who she was.
“I’m here to see my Dad.”
“Please have a seat and we’ll be with you as soon as we can. This meeting is running a little late.”
Feeling like an anonymous nobody, Anna sat on the plush sofa while twenty four hour news rolled on the big screen behind her. Tatler and the Financial Times lay on the glass coffee table alongside a beautiful vase of flowers. Every detail of the space told you that this was a place for important people doing serious business. She missed the days when this was Jeanie’s domain. Jeanie was of the same vintage as Bob downstairs and had retired five years previously. She was excellent at her job and could schmooze with all the high level clients, but she was also a trusted confidante and collaborator with Anna, tipping her off if Struan had had a bad day and laying the groundwork for her if a difficult subject needed broaching. It was Jeanie who paved the way for Anna to tell her Dad about her first boyfriend, as well as the conversation about studying history rather than law. She had a handle on Struan which Anna found immensely helpful and now that she was gone coming here sometimes felt like stepping into the lion’s den without an ally.
A door opened along the corridor and several men in expensive suits came out each shaking Struan’s hand as they parted before making their way out of the office. As he followed them out towards the lobby he caught sight of Anna and waved at her with one hand to let her know he’d seen her, but finished his pleasantries with his clients and gave instructions to Natalie before finally turning to his daughter.
“Hello darling! You got my message, good, good. Shall we pop across to the Sheraton?”
There was never a chance of grabbing a sandwich and sitting in the gardens with her Dad, even on the most glorious of days. He ‘popped to the Sheraton’ for lunch the way that most people popped to Starbucks. He liked to sit at a table to eat, with cutlery and a cloth napkin, because anything else was simply uncivilised. As they left the building they made their way past the Usher Hall were dozens of office workers and tourists were crammed on to the steps soaking up the sun and enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of an August afternoon in Edinburgh. Crossing the square towards the hotel a few young children had been set free from their buggies and were squealing as they ran in circles, while their mothers watched on and chatted. In contrast the hotel lobby was quiet and sedate.
Just as they settled themselves at a table in the restaurant a deep, bellowing voice called out a greeting. Stepping away for a few moments Anna watched as her father and the other man clapped each other on the back, oscillating between golf-related banter and mumbled business talk. Sitting back down with a flourish of his napkin Anna could guess what her father was about to say.
“Watson’s old boy, you know. You can always…”
“…always spot a Watson’s boy,” Anna said, rolling her eyes and finishing a sentence she’d heard a thousand times before. “So you always tell me Dad.”
“Well it’s true. Good grounding you see. Sets you apart.”
Her father was snobbish about a number of things but none more so than the school he attended. There were several well respected private schools in Edinburgh and it seemed to be the rule that whichever one you attended was considered to be the best. Anna’s two brothers had both gone to Watson’s ahead of her and she had come along behind, always in their shadow. Robert had been head boy and the captain of the First XV and James had rowed for the school, representing them in the British Rowing Championships before going on to become an Oxford blue. Anna had played some hockey and lacrosse but was not exceptional. She was a good team player but lacked any kind of real competitive edge. For her sport was about fun and keeping fit. Besides, there was little point in trying to compete with that kind of history.
“How’s the job going?” Struan asked, finally settling his attention on the person he had invited to lunch.
“It’s fine thanks. Interesting and diverse and with lots to learn, so it’s nice to have a day off. I’ll probably head over to the Meadows after this and read my book for a while and then I thought I’d take in an event at the parliament this evening.”
“A festival event at Holyrood?” Struan asked with raised eyebrows.
“It’s a mini festival of politics over the next few days and this one grabbed my attention. There are some prominent local historians speaking at it and I thought it sounded interesting.”
“I might have known there was some history in there somewhere. You need to stop living in the past and think about your future Anna. You need to take it seriously. I mean what are the prospects in this job, really?”
Anna braced herself for yet another lecture about how she was wasting her time and talent. Her father’s shoulders suddenly slumped.
“And then I hear your mother’s sweet voice in my head, scolding me and urging you to live your own life.”
As his voice faltered his eyes dropped to the table, avoiding his daughter’s gaze. The silence hung between them for a few moments, until Anna slid her hand across the table and laid it on her father’s forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze. At her touch Struan Ferguson stiffened. A few seconds later his face was buried in his hands. Was he crying? Anna hadn’t seen him cry for years, since the night of her mother’s funeral. The mask had dropped for just a moment before he remembered where he was, took a deep breath and composed himself. As he bustled for his handkerchief Anna caught sight of the very badly embroidered pink initials in the corner, a gift from her eight year old self to her father. She started to laugh and then to cry.
“Dad,” she whispered through the tears, “you still have my handky?” Her wet cheeks beamed with joy as she glimpsed a connection that she thought had gone for good. She remembered how proud he had been of the gift at the time.
“I do,” he smiled weakly. “I try not to use it much as it’s getting a little thin these days, but it’s here nonetheless,” he continued, tapping the breast pocket of his jacket, before clearing his throat and straightening his posture.
“Well now, what shall we eat?”
The tenderness of the moment was fleeting but precious to Anna and made her hopeful for a way ahead. Her father, having recovered his equilibrium, moved them on.
They ate their lunch with some slightly stilted conversation about her brothers’ latest achievements before the topic came around to the festival.
“So tell me more about this event you’re going to tonight? A festival of politics – whatever will they think of next?”
In reply, Anna reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved the flyer, laying it on the table in front of her Dad.
“It sounds interesting, don’t you think?”
“I honestly don’t know why you are so fixated with the past Anna. It happened and we’re here now. What’s to be gained by digging it up?”
“We understand ourselves by knowing where we came from. History made us. If we don’t look back we can’t make sense of now, or have any hope of going forward without making the same mistakes all over again.”
Anna hated to have the legitimacy of her chosen passion and career undermined like this.
“This is important to me Dad and I want you to understand that. I’ve also been thinking about investigating our family tree. I know Mum had been interested in that kind of thing. Do you know if she ever looked into it? In to her side of the family, or yours?”
“She wouldn’t have looked at my family tree, nothing much of interest there. I’ve no idea if she looked at her side.”
Struan Ferguson looked at his watch and retreated back into business mode.
“I don’t really remember, why don’t you ask your Aunt Abigail. She could probably help you there, and I’m sure she’d love to see you. Maybe you could go and stay for the weekend some time, really get into it. Anyway, I have a 2 o’clock meeting to get back for. I’ll see you later.”
He patted her on the shoulder briefly as he got up from the table and hurried for the door. Anna sat back bewildered at all that had passed in the space of one simple lunch. It felt like one step forward and two steps back. Emerging into the noise and chatter of the street she paused, unsure of where to go. The clamour of people and traffic collided with the questions swirling in her mind and she knew she needed to get out of the city, even just a little. Her original plan to go to the Meadows no longer felt appealing. On an afternoon like this the grass would be a patchwork quilt of people, sitting in clusters around barbeques and picnics, playing Frisbee and football, a sea of sociable fun. On another day she would have happily found her own small square of space in the midst of it and settled herself down with a book feeling entirely at home, but the lunch time conversation had put paid to that. She needed somewhere quieter to go and be by herself.
Crossing the road she waited for a suitable bus before hopping on board, climbing to the upper deck and collapsing into a seat by the window. The heat on the bus felt oppressive and all around her people were chatting, small children wriggled with excitement or frustration and the heavy traffic made progress achingly slow. Anna was aware of the shops and houses passing by but not really seeing anything, her mind a fog of confusion. Why did her father have to be so difficult to understand? How could they share intimacy and distance in such a short space of time?
Eventually she was able to ring the bell for her stop and escape into fresher air once more. It felt good to stretch her legs as she walked away from the bus stop and turned into a residential street. After a few minutes she turned in through the wrought iron gates of the park, took a left up the steep path before emerging through the trees onto Blackford Hill. To her right the rooftop of the Royal Observatory became visible and so she cut across from the path to meet the sloping green hill as it came down from its peak to meet the historic building. Despite the fact that it was a glorious afternoon the space was relatively quiet. Blackford Hill had the same stunning views as Arthurs Seat, perhaps even better as you see the famous crags from here, and it was largely unknown by tourists. A young couple were sitting off to the side, arms entwined, ignoring the stunning views of the city as they whispered secrets to one another. An older lady came walking down the hill, her dog leading the way. He stopped to sniff Anna briefly and she patted his head, smiling at his owner before making her way towards an unoccupied bench.
Edinburgh lay silently before her. Although she could see it all she now felt a million miles from the frenetic energy the city had at this time of year. She cast her eye over the panorama with the castle sitting proudly above the city to her left, a myriad of spires and rooftops in the centre and over to the right the rugged mass of Salisburys Crags and the peak of Arthur’s Seat. Behind it all lay a thin sliver of silvery blue as the Firth of Forth cut across the landscape, separating the capital from the Kingdom of Fife. Anna took it all in and breathed deeply. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes, listening to the birds singing and enjoying the sweet joyful dance of their song. She looked over her shoulder to the Pentland Hills stretching away into the distance. From this vantage point she could also just make out the rooftop of Julia’s house. The two friends must have climbed this hill and sat on this bench hundreds of times over the years. On more than one occasion they had circumnavigated the park several times in the course of an evening, picking up the pieces of heartache or discussing the trials of life together. Anna smiled to herself, reliving some of those memories and allowing them to comfort and settle her conflicted heart. She sat for half an hour doing nothing but enjoying the view, the birdsong and the sun. Just as she was about to move she saw a familiar figure walking up the hill towards her and waving.
Francesca Cameron, Julia’s Mum, looked a picture of vitality in her bright exercise leggings and t-shirt. In recent years she had been bitten by the fitness bug and now walked everywhere, usually at a speed no one could keep up with. Anna stood as she approached and was soon enveloped in a huge hug.
“Hi Fran,” Anna managed to say while most of her being crushed by the embrace, “it’s so good to see you.”
“Well now, other daughter of mine, where have you been?” Fran exclaimed. “We haven’t seen you in an age! Dissertation, finals, holidays and a new job – have you forgotten all about us?”
In truth it hadn’t been so long since she had last visited but compared to the regularity that had gone before Anna took Fran’s teasing with a smile. Julia and her Mum shared the same playful manner, but Fran’s came with an extra ounce of zest. She wasn’t one of those loud, irritating people, but you always knew when she was in a room. Effervescent was the word that sprang to mind. She was tall, with a strong physical presence, jet black hair and always wore bright, colourful clothes. She settled herself down on the bench beside Anna and put an arm around her shoulder.
“So tell me, what’s been going on?” Fran inquired.
“Oh nothing much,” Anna shrugged looking out over the city.
“No I don’t think so. Here, on this bench, on your own in the middle of an afternoon? Something has prompted this little excursion.”
Anna smiled ruefully and shook her head.
“There’s really no pulling the wool over your eyes, is there?”
“Anna Josephine Ferguson, after all of these years you’re only figuring that out now?”
Fran leant her head in until the two women were propped up against one another and began again, in a softer and more serious tone.
Anna sat back and told her about the lunchtime conversation, her questions and frustrations, pouring out her heart in a way that she only did to Fran. When she finished she looked down at her hands resting in her lap and waited.
“I’m sorry sweetheart. I don’t know how to fix the situation between you and your Dad. You’ll have to figure that one out between the two of you. But you have to be your own woman and follow the things that are on your heart. Embrace who you are and been unashamed about it. ”
The two of them sat for a few moments, silently enjoying each other’s company and the peace of the hillside.
“She’d be so proud of you, you know. If your Mum was here I think she’d want you to know that.”
“And she’d love your choice of career – you know that – and the fact that you want to do the family tree. Don’t let what your Dad says take away from that.”
Anna smiled in gratitude.
“So, before you head off to this thing at parliament tonight do you have time for tea and cake?”
Fran asked as she stood and offered her arm to Anna.
“It’s what has got me through every other crisis in my life, so definitely, yes!”
The two women linked arms and made their way down the hill.