A welcome mat whodunnit

Arriving back in Orkney is always a pleasure. This time it’s different. Out of respect for those who always live on Westray I’ve kept myself to myself for the last two weeks. Imagine the horror if I arrived with Coronavirus and killed twenty people. I’m not convinced I’d be welcome here again. There would be pitchforks and wooden torches on my doorstep. Even more than usual.

I do my usual thing of sleeping in the car before getting the early ferry from Kirkwall to Westray. I have friends who would offer a bed and I have money to pay for a hostel but in summer I like the possibilities of being in the car all night. This time there’s no rain on my window:

The public toilets at the Harbour are closed due to Covid-19, so I decide not to drink the litre of water I have with me. Just for one millisecond I have an insight into what it’s like to be a woman and then it disappears. As I walk back to my car at midnight I almost step on a huge dog Otter which is making its way back to the sea from the Peedie Sea. The Peedie Sea is a freshwater lake separated by a ‘busy for Orkney’ road. The Otter slaps off with great wet sloshing footprints and a flopping tail. I cross the road to look at it, back in the Peedie Sea. It looks at me and paddles inquisitively closer. I video its progress. Despite the simmer dim here, with sunset after 10pm and sunrise about 4am, my video is almost entirely black. A dark Otter in dark water. Perfect. That’s one of the possibilities I crave.

Dawn is less intense than other times I’ve been here:

I get the 7:20am ferry to Westray and I’m home before 9am. There’s usually something dead in the Hall or something wild trapped fluttering or scuttling within; I just have to find it.

This time is different, though. In the lounge, on the mat is half a fresh rabbit. It’s the back half; and it’s very fresh. Its cute, cotton-wool tail is still perky.

Dead Rabbit - The Hall of Einar

Then I notice a neat set of coiled intestines. Way over to the side is a pool of scarlet blood which is rapidly congealing.

How did it get *here*? It’s like playing a game of Cluedo. Was it Professor Plum in the Library with the lead pipe, I wonder? The house is locked, there’s no way for a rabbit to get in. There’s certainly no chance of a predator getting in. Why have I got half of a freshly dead rabbit in my lounge? The back half.

Will there be a horse’s head in the bed? In fact, where is the rest of the Rabbit? Maybe I was wrong about the Islanders’ pitchfork and wooden torch strategy.

I look around the room and then at my fireplace and walk outside and look up. There’s a group of disappointed-looking gulls hanging around my chimney pot. That must have been very upsetting for them. Imagine such a prized meal just disappearing down a hole. I wonder if they’re indulging in a blame-game? They fly, calling with disenchanted chants.

Now, where’s my dustpan and brush?

I’m sweeping up the Rabbit remains when I begin to have doubts. How did the body, the intestines and the blood get where they are from falling down the chimney? It’s not possible. There’s a pile of soot and earth and building materials at the base of the empty fireplace. The back end of the Rabbit would be covered in dirt. And that fresh pool of blood; surely there ought to be a splatter from the direction of the body.

I’m trying to imagine how blood could pool without splattering. If I watched television then I would probably feel as if I was stuck inside a Groundhog Day CSI.

Meanwhile I’m distracted by my solid fuel fire. Every time I’ve had family or guests to stay they’ve been incredulous at my refusal to light a nice fire in the stove. “Why don’t you put a fire on?” and “It’s cold, shall we have a fire?” are the usual ploys. My excuses are usually met with disbelief. They say that if you’re explaining you’re losing. I’m usually losing. “It needs new fire glass”, “I haven’t had the chimney swept and the flue might be blocked and we could get carbon monoxide poisoning”, and “I haven’t got a carbon monoxide alarm fitted yet”. I sound pathetic, don’t I?

I move the stove out and look in the flue. Does this look dangerously blocked to you?

Fireplace - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

People really hate it when I’m right.

It’s as I’m walking into the kitchen and admiring the glass Puffin which adorns the kitchen worktop that I see it.

Glass Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

There’s a tabby cat’s tail disappearing into the hole in the kitchen floor.

It was a cat. A cat brought the rabbit in, after all. I put another cupboard door on top of the hole in the kitchen floor, nonchalantly, as if it’s an everyday thing to do.

I put the back half of the rabbit out in the middle of the small field at the back of Einar. Later I realise that it will make a perfect first setup for my new trail camera. It’s a motion activated camera, perfect for catching passing wildlife heading in for the rabbit bait. I walk out with the camera and find that the half a rabbit has already disappeared.

I pop to the local shop. I’ve arrived with no food and intend to spend all my food budget on the Island. I walk in with my face masked wondering if anyone will recognise me. The other people also have face masks on and I can’t recognise them. I fill two baskets and pay. Then I go back in again and buy an Orkney Ice Cream, raspberry flavour, and sit on the sea wall and eat it; for breakfast.

Orkney Ice Cream - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I’ve arrived.

I’m looking forward to you joining my adventures.

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