Nicola Geddes is a Scottish cellist living and working in Galway. She took a rather indirect path to a career in music via the Glasgow School of Art and various far flung and wind swept islands and peninsulas. The cello was dragged along through all of these adventures and has gradually instated itself as her profession. She qualified this with a performance diploma from the London College of Music in 02. Nicola teaches with the VEC music scheme, the Galway Youth Orchestras, and in schools in the county and city. She has performed and recorded with many diverse musicians and ensembles, from the Con Tempo Quartet to the Saw Doctors. Although she has been writing for many years, this is her first attempt at publication.
By Nicola Geddes
My body is covered in moles and freckles. Long ago I decided that they were magic reflections of stars and suns across my white skin. Orion across my shoulder, Cassiopeia on my leg, Sagittarius on my foot.
My star maps have led me into a life of adventure; they whispered to me “you are both free and safe”. I understood this freedom and this safety and I steered my ship by magic. Even with maps, you can a take wrong turn. You can get lost anyway. You can rely more on magic.
At the end of the century I took a few turns that changed things. My ship sailed to a flat dry land of red sand. What little water there was moved backwards. The land threatened me with its harshness, and yet duty kept me there for three long months. I dreamt of the freedom of the cliffs and of wet grey limestone and damp mossy grass. I dreamt of my lover and of my dog, so far away in my cottage by the sea.
I dreamt of red dust and blood and flames, and O, who could not see out of her eyes.
And then, out of my dream and into this world came the red dust, and O, her head bloody, stumbles towards me, crying “I can’t see”; the words hit me like a punch. I loose sight of my maps.
Drawn on my body are my stories. But they are more than skin deep.
I returned to the land of limestone as my Saturn returned, and brought with it notions of ambition. I closed the red door to the little thatch cottage by the sea. The tide had changed. My potion jars gathered dust as I gathered acclaim and success. And although I had known heart ache and sadness before, this was a new bleakness of the soul I now faced.
I found a sorceress to help me. Her magic was new to me and I was both impressed and intrigued. Pulsatilla, Natrum Muriaticum, Sepia, Phosphorus. And then there was Carcinosin.
I began to look for my maps. When I had time. When I remembered. But I was very tired. Everyday was a long list of things to do, and will power propelled me from duty to duty.
My dreams were the first to come back. They reminded me of my maps. It was painful to know that the stars were still there, even when I could not see them for the glare of street lights. It seems so obvious now; I must live where I can see the stars and understand how they are reflected on my body. But at the time it was so much harder to see. Visibility for all sea areas: poor to very poor, clearing to moderate.
I woke from a dream, the content of which I did not recall, but the message was clear. Look, it told me. Look now. One of my maps was changing; a dark planet appeared that seemed unfamiliar, as if it did not belong there at all. Orion across my shoulder, Cassiopeia on my leg, Sagittarius on my foot. Cancer on my right arm.
When I was a little child I was planting herbs in the garden with my father. “Dad, do you believe in magic?” He took some time to reply. “I believe in green magic,” he said. “When you are ill, I make you soups and teas from these herbs and you get better. That’s magic, isn’t it?”
And again, another dream. The borders are clear, but it has spread to the lymph. And again, into my waking world it came. I willed the young doctor not to say those words, but he did, he did. You do not understand, doctor. I cannot leave my love and my child. I cannot leave them. Take those words back! I should not have come here. How did I come to be here? Where is my boat? Where is my safety and my freedom?
Are my star maps turning against me?
But I had more on my side than I knew at that moment. My Dad made me soup, and he told me of his journey. I was surrounded by many who wrapped me in a blanket of kindness, crocheted from threads of love and magic, ties of belonging, colours of warmth and comfort.
My sorceress sat at the end of my bed and, after looking hard at me for some time, said, “You’re going to be fine.” She left me with new and strong medicine. I tried to find my magic. I thought she could help. I said, “I need to be very careful; the stakes are so high, I really have to get this right.” She laughed, “How can you get it so wrong? Just live your life.”
I found myself again in my boat. I leaned over the side and looked deep, deep into the ocean. It told me I was free. I was afraid to believe it. It seemed too much to hope for. But the wind, too, whispered, free! Free and safe. And eventually the doctors caught up. Again they told me what I already knew. But they said it in their way: “You can go now. But come back every so often. Take the fear with you, and be wary, be watchful.”
That fear is still with me, an awkward thing; it can unbalance my boat, especially in strong winds. But yet I have found my maps again. They have a sense of true north, but they do not say how to get there. I assume there are lots of different ways.
I am told we can look into the night sky at stars that are long since gone. I understand; we all shine for a while. I understand that whither my star maps save me or threaten to kill me, I cannot live without them. I change, they change, and yet we all stay the same. We shine across galaxies and throughout time.