I thought to write this because it relates to my Scottish friend Lulu, who I met up with in London last month. Lulu lived with me and a boyfriend for a summer in Philadelphia while she was doing an internship. I’m always grateful to her for making me realize that the boyfriend was an asshole.
Lulu’s family owns a rustic cottage in the Highlands which they generously let me and a group of friends stay in during a trip to Scotland in 2006.
It’s also the right time to tell this tale because my friend Jenny’s then two year old daughter, who features prominently in this story, just graduated from high school. So, it’s high time to get this highland story on the books.
Prior to our trip up North, we’d spent a few days in Edinburgh and I think we were all ready to detox after the urban excess. But before heading up to Glenshee, we had to stop at Lulu’s parents’ house in Dundee to pick up the keys to the cottage. It was a marvelous, rambling old house and we stayed longer than we’d planned, chatting and drinking tea. By the time we made it to Glenshee, it was late and very, very dark. My friend Carolyn, who is always the bravest one among us, managed to unlock the door and turn on a light. We all tromped in behind her. Immediately, it became clear that something was amiss. Lamps were overturned, dishes were knocked off shelves. Something had happened in the cottage. My first thought was that Grendel had been there. That’s right. My first thought was that a troll from an Anglo-Saxon epic poem had trashed the cottage.
Carolyn started investigating while I hung back in the doorway meekly suggesting that this was unsafe and we might try to find a bed and breakfast back in the village … But Carolyn was on the case. She started investigating and musing aloud that perhaps some birds had flown down the chimney and knocked things about. But then we saw the delicate skeletons littering the ground. And again my mind went to Grendel, smacking his lips and licking the bird bones as he tried to get every last scrap of meat. I must have looked pale. Carolyn suggested I go upstairs with our friend Jenny’s two year old daughter. She thought I might want to try to entertain the child with a book. But they just wanted us out of the way. We were a liability. But I obediently climbed the stairs with the toddler in my arms and, with a trembling voice, read a book about a dog named spot. I kept an ear out for news and an arm tight around Isabelle should we need to flee. Then I heard some raised voices and knew that the case had been cracked.
I crept down the steep, narrow stairs to see my friends circled around something on the ground. Grendel? No. An owl. Face down on the floor. We pieced it together. It must have chased some birds down the chimney. And then they all died. Very sad. But the killer had been identified and it wasn’t Grendel. I was gleeful with relief. Carolyn found a shovel somewhere and dug a shallow grave for the owl behind the house. And so began our highland holiday.