Crooked cottages

Bent straight lanes


“Danny, yer smell like a rotten wellington boot!” said Johnny covering his nose.

Danny wasn’t going to deny it, so continued wrestling the wetsuit.

“I like it here,” said Shana pulling on her cherry, fleece sweater.

The group stood on the cliff top overlooking Gardenstown.

“There’s something mystical about it,” said Danny hopping on one leg as he fought to remove his wetsuit boot.

Johnny raised an eyebrow as he loaded the boards on the back of his hulky red Land Rover. “Come on, yer wee girl,” he said to Danny.

Danny folded his arms and glanced at Shana who smiled seductively at him in his towel.

“Move yer skinny wee arse, Danny! We’ll be late for work,” said Johnny noticing how he looked at her. “Get in then!”

“Let me get me pants on then!” he replied, pulling up his underwear and clambering in.

“Get some shorts on, eh,” said Johnny with a slam of the door. With a roar of the engine, he nodded at Marty and Shana as he drove off.

“Are you coming with me then Shana?” asked Marty.

“If that’s okay now,” she said watching Johnny drive away. “It’s not like we have a choice now. Plus Bertha is far more comfortable than that hulky Land Rover. You know… I t’ink Danny must have run here again,” she said glancing down the steep hill.

“Danny’s always running somewhere,” Marty said

opening the camper door and gesturing for her to climb in.

“You’d think he was running away from something.”

With her arms folded, Shana paused and watched Marty closely. Was he talking about Danny or himself? “You know I like the little houses next to the harbour. It really is quaint and reminds me of cream teas or fish and chips,” she said tipping her head to the side.

“I can see that,” he said glancing over his shoulder at the cove and climbing in the van.

“That girl,” said Shana sitting beside him.

“What about her?”

“You like her, don’t you?” said Shana studying Marty’s flushed cheeks.

“Shana, I only just met her and she seemed nice enough,” he said with a shrug but unconsciously rubbing the back of his hand.

“Did yer get a tingle in yer dingle, Marty?” she asked watching Marty circling his finger over his knuckle.

With an amused glance, Marty cracked a grin, “A tingle in me dingle, Shana?”

“Yep, a dingle without a tingle keeps a man single,” she said matter of factly.

With a loud bang, Bertha’s engine exploded into motion.

“Yer going to have to let me sort out that connection, Marty. That bang is just not right!”

“I kind of like it. It makes me feel alive and it lets others know that I’m around,” he relied.

“Marty, the fact is that noise may well give one of the oldens a coronary…”

“Okay… Now can we leave it,” he said slowing for a corner.

With a fold of her arms Shana glanced at the harbour. “So you’re glad to be here in Gardenstown, aren’t you?”

“Yeh… It just takes getting used to. A year ago, I was going to work with dad in the city and then… well then… We know what happened. Suddenly it all seems so ridiculous… So here I am… somewhere completely different with no clue what I am going to do with my life…” Unconsciously he shook his head and sighed.

“Don’t start t’inking again, Marty… You know me gran says that a crisis will bring a person to change. You’ve had the crisis so yer life has changed. When yer look back it will be for the best,” she said glancing at Marty and giving him an affectionate pat.

With a loud sigh, he navigated a steep corner, “I wish that was the case. I would rather have my dad around, Shana. I was finally going to get to spend some time with him – even if it was working.”

He glanced sadly at the empty road ahead as they navigated the desolate streets leading towards the harbour. That heart-wrenching emptiness rose up again making him turn rigid.

“I’m okay as long as I don’t think about it,” he repeated.

“But that is why you got the headaches, Marty; you were studying too much and not resting. Avoiding…” she said.

“I’m okay as long as I don’t think about it,” he repeated.

The cycle was about to begin again. “My goodness Marty – quiet isn’t it? The morning rush is as much as an old man on a bike and someone walking their dog!”

“Don’t you reckon the houses in the village look as though they’ve been piled on top of each other by a giant hand?” said Marty, glad of the subject change.

“If that’s what yer see Marty, then that’s what yer see,” said Shana, quite obviously not seeing it.

“I am an artist…”

“Ach, Marty yer are what yer are…You see a giant hand and I see a cluster of tiny cottages all cosily snuggling up next to each other like baby owls. If we were all the same now…” she said.

Bertha came to a halt by a circular bay near the harbour. Marty attempted to gauge the size of a parking space next to the harbour edge. He paused and glanced up Straight Lane.

“Crooked Cottage on Straight Lane… I love it,” said Shana, hugging herself. “Now you picked well there, Marty. Who would have thought we would live in a cottage with such a nuts name now. It really is brilliant and it is an individual amongst the other cottages. I like things to be unique!”

“I like the fact that Straight Lane suggests it’s straight. How wrong could they be?” said Marty, tilting his head at the lane’s curve.

“Now I reckon it must have been named by someone who was wasted trying to walk in a straight line. A circle would have been straighter,” said Shana with a smirk.

Marty glanced at her. Not only did Shana laugh at her own jokes but she also had a certain way of saying things that made absolutely no sense. She was stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid! Alternatively, even marvellously ridiculous!

“Now let me out before you get onto that damned harbour. I hate that bloody sheer edge!” she said. Quickly she launched herself out of the door and scrambled up the hill. Marty carefully parked with enough room to climb out of the door without landing on the beach. That ten-foot drop to his right left no room for error, only a sizeable descent.

After he had checked the hand brake three times and Bertha was definitely secure, he climbed out of the passenger side. With his hands in his pockets, he strolled up the lane to Crooked Cottage. The curtains either side of the lane twitched. Why didn’t people think they could be seen through backlit net curtains? He stopped and waved at one particular old woman peering through the curtain at him. She looked behind and made a hobblesque run for it. Marty chuckled and fumbled for his keys. When he glanced up at the cottages, he could now see Shana’s three fluffy owl chicks. Cosily nestled in the centre, Crooked Cottage carried a warm, contented glow.

He turned the key in the lock and took a deep breath. He could already hear commotion.

“Get out me way, I’m a girl I need to wash!” screamed Shana, thundering down the dark wooden staircase wearing nothing but a towel. “I’m going to be late Marty. I mean it Danny, get out of me way!” shouted Shana scrabbling for the shower room and slamming the door in Danny’s bemused face.

With a sip of steaming tea, Johnny Boy sat at the rosewood kitchen table in a daze wearing his red trunks and long white socks. He held the blue-striped mug with both hands and sighed. “I reckon she’ll be at least a half an hour Danny,” said Johnny.

While all that was going on, Marty hung his jacket on a hook made of metal hands. He quietly took off his shoes and aligned them with the wall on the dark ceramic tiled floor. Johnny watched and raised an eyebrow, “Marty, yer going to have to let go and get a bit messy now and again. Everything in lines and in order does ney stop the world being in chaos!”

“I like things in order and I like things in straight lines,” he said, re-aligning his shoe.

“Ach, Marty, talking of chaos – I need to get me behind outta this cottage,” he said. “Then you’ll have yer peace and quiet to fanny around with putting things in order n’ nice and all girly tidy! Did no one ever tell yer that real men make mess?”

Turning slowly, Marty smiled to himself, “Did no one ever tell yer that women like clean-cut and tidy men?”

“Get outta me way,” said Shana skidding across the tiled floor, past Danny and up the stairs.

“Have yer got pants on?” asked Johnny launching from his seat.

“Two pairs,” called Shana. “Just in case!”

“Just in case what?” said Johnny glancing over at Marty who was placing toast in the silver toaster and giving it a bit of a wipe.

“Marty, there are three crumbs on the work surface over there and I saw a speck of dust on the wood burner in the corner!” said Johnny. “If you want we can paint these walls absolutely brilliant white – not just white,” he said thundering up the stairs with Danny trailing close behind.

Picking up a damp cloth, Marty polished the brass taps, and wiped down the grey slate surface of the worktops. For an old cottage, it was quite a find with the oak beamed ceilings, crisp white walls, dark tiled floors and black wood-burners in most of the rooms. What made the cottage homely were the heavy crimson drapes and matching rugs with gold thread.

Just as he straightened the rug and picked out some fluff, a flurry of bodies descended upon him. Each hurried about the kitchen grabbing food, picking up bags and slamming the fridge. Why Danny was involved was a mystery, he worked at the local surf shop – a laidback joint where he hung out all day talking about surf. Johnny had ten minutes to make it to the Lifeguard hut on the main beach between Gardenstown and Banff and Shana had nine minutes to run up two hills to reach her apprenticeship at the local garage. Marty, on the other hand, had space and time. His studio was only one floor away. He had paintings to make and plenty of opportunity for procrastination. Fluff on the carpet, arrangement of paints and paintbrushes were the perfect distraction.

“Now Marty, you make some time to relax! You’re always faffing around doing something. Yer need to have a break!” said Shana, as the physical tornados burst out of the front door in an indiscernible bundle. All fought playfully to get onto the lane first.

Marty breathed a sigh of relief, space. He wandered back up to the middle floor and paced about his digital dark room and art studio. He fiddled about for a while with the preparation of pens and paints. After a while, he finally sat on the specifically designed chair – created for his art. For about ten minutes, the blank canvas stared at him. Should he paint straight away or draw stuff in? That already required a decision. He glanced at the computer. He had been limited to two hours in a day. A timing algorithm was supposed to stop him. Of course, he could crack it, but he wanted to get himself better.

“Pencil it in,” he muttered. “But pencil what in?” The potential was endless – so how did a person narrow it down? With a loud sigh, he just began to draw and not think. The over-thinking hadn’t got him anywhere. The final result involved comfort-eating and headaches.

After staring into space and mentally testing out the underwater world, he sketched enthusiastically. Every image he completed he stuck to the wall. On completion of the third sketch, he stood up and admired what he had created: a series of images of Iris under water. One image was a pose that resembled Venus de Milo. With a chew of his lip, he adjusted her legs. What did they actually look like? No matter what he did, he just could not get them right. Were they long, short, slender or defined?

With the urge to fidget, he wandered across to an old bookcase in the corner. He traced his finger across the outer covers. Candide by Voltaire, Nautical Tales and Olde World myths of Mermaids. Marty picked up the third book and flicked through. A section called Mermaids and Muses – a compilation of stories caught his attention. The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson 1836, Ondine by La Motte Fouque 1811, and Mermaids, Sirens and Other Lures 1835. At the back of the book was a handwritten scrap of paper.



‘Never was I so shocked as the day that the little lady came singing at us from the water. She sang so well she mesmerised. The innocent wee creature seemed nervous and hid behind a rock. I thought she was a little strange as she swam, almost bare, with breast like that of a woman. The girl, fair and pale, showed no worries of growing cold either.

Doris, my fellow seaweed gatherer, made her way for a closer glimpse. We thought it strange the wee girl not say a thing and just sing – if that is what yer call it. The eerie hum bore through my very being and swam through me mind. Something about the girl did ney feel right. Fear hindered me making a step forward. There were stories of the women of the sea and their curses. I did ney want to be part of it.

Doris was more adventurous and ventured forward for a closer look. When she saw through the water, she reacted violently. The whites of her eyes and no blood in her skin ended in collapse. The wee girl did ney like the reaction and disappeared under the water. As she departed, we, all of us, saw something strange: her legs moulded together and deformed. She swam gracefully at speed and then disappeared. I… no… I canny say… but the Devil mutates his spawn. There have been stories from the circus when they pass. They say this area provides many a spectacle.



Today a body of a deformed woman washed on the beach. My Cameron caught her in a net. He was distraught, as if he had killed a human and ney a mutation. It was said by Gilbert that we were to keep this finding quiet. It was too late, for the three of us had confessed to the priest the night before. We asked to be released from the Devil. A remembering appeared in the chronicle who published the findings. I canny say who released the information of THE INCIDENT. Nevertheless, on that day, in those empty eyes, I saw my future and it ripped through the depths of my soul…






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