‘You couldn't make it up,’ says Aly.
He's sitting at the table in our kitchen, looking out over the hills. ‘It's like a short story,’ I reply. ‘Only if I write it as one, I'll have to change the names of the estate, the people. You, even. We couldn't, you know, let it get around. How you feel about the changes they are making. You'd be out of a job.’
‘I'm out of a job anyway,’ says Aly. ‘I reckon. But, yeah. I see what you mean.’
He takes a sip of his coffee. Spends a long time settling the mug back down on his plate, just so, beside the scone sitting there he's barely touched. I've known him and his wife for thirty years. More than thirty. They've looked after the Ben Mhorlaich estate for most of that time. His wife, Margaret, is one of the most practical and far-sighted people I know. If there's something I want to find out about – from pruning an apple tree to making a time-and-place line of all the characters in War and Peace – Margaret is the one who can tell me.
Right now, I wish she was here to comfort me about this news Aly's just served. While I was getting the scones out of the oven – a particular sort of scone I make – he told me then, while my back was to him and I couldn't react straight away with holding the hot tray, and then dealing with them, taking them off and getting them onto a cooling rack.
Only to say, ‘What?’ and, ‘I don't believe it,’ while I was putting them onto a plate and getting out the butter and cheese. Normally Aly loves these scones. I put herbs and olives in them. Today it was one bite, and that was it. I didn't feel like eating either.
‘It is like a short story,’ I say again, and break off a lump of olive and fiddle with the crumbs around it on the plate. ‘It has all the elements. A lovely place, a way of living that seems unchanging, and then in one summer …’