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Grace and Rose : Jackie Kay



Our wedding is drawing nearer and in three peerie days time I will have married her, after twenty years of saying I do and I love you in as many ways: in the Shoormal restaurant on the ferry coming back and going away; walking the coast curves along the southern shore of the voe, round the wave-battered Braga Ness; by the great Standing stone of Bordastubble; in the Wind Dog Cafè over a bowl of soup in Yell. Dem at waits, guid befides.

I wouldn’t have believed that we’d ever get a chance to say it in front of other people. I’m already nervous about it; we’ve been so private for years, so secretive.

We started off pretending to be colleagues - for goodness sake!

Then we progressed to chums.

Then it was best pals and then we said ‘we’re like sisters’ though of course we were nothing like sisters at all.

And then - when would it have been maybe six years ago? - we both told our parents. It was a silly thing because we were women in our late and middle forties, still feart o’ telling oor mammies the truth!

When you love somebody, you want your family to love them just as much as you do and, of course, they hardly ever do, not in the way you want, because nobody measures up, I suppose. Because the family is its own wee measurement; it doesn’t think anybody else fits. But once I saw my mother notice the way that Grace threw back her head when she laughed and my mother smiled alongside her, and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

But in three days time I am to marry Grace, the woman I love.

When I first met Grace I felt I had known her forever and a day. I felt like all my life I’d missed her and now here she was come to be with me at last. I’ve never felt any differently. Our love is delicate like these islands, a fretwork of rock and heather and water.

At night, I can hardly sleep. We decided we would be apart for this last week. It seems a silly thing to have decided on because we’ve hardly been separated the whole twenty years. I can’t sleep now without Grace. The day of our wedding I’ll likely have big bags under my eyes!

Oh, well. It’s not me that’s the beauty. It’s Grace. A bonnie bride is shun buskit, they say here. But Grace was never interested in marrying a man; once, she said to me she liked the idea of men but not their apparatus! Grace, as well as being beautiful- her grandfather was Italian and she has lovely olive skin and dark black hair and a pretty mouth- has quite a turn of phrase.

It’s her that has planned our wedding, detail by glorious detail. At first it was great fun planning everything, and then it got stressful and we’d find ourselves waking up in the night worrying about scallops and oysters and flowers and rings. And whether or not we had remembered to invite the local councillor. We’d go for a drink in the Queens and watch the winter sea heave and lash at the old building and count for the umpteenth time our list of one hundred and fifty guests. It was like counting the waves themselves. Old people would be forgotten; new people would be remembered. The list shifted and reshaped itself until we had everybody we wanted.

Goodness me, I said to Grace, knocking back my pint one night, how on earth have the heterosexuals managed all this wedding stuff for years? It could give you a heart attack. It could leave you bankrupt!

Grace decided we had a big advantage because both sets of parents would have to pay seeing as we are both daughters, so we can afford to go to town, she said.

So - doesn’t she want to turn up at Lerwick Town Hall in a Vintage Rolls Royce? (The Rolls Royce had to be brought from Aberdeen across on the Ferry) Doesn’t she want her brother in a kilt and her father in a kilt, and me in a kilt too! She bought me beautiful cufflinks for my shirt, made with opals, my birthstones. And doesn’t she want the most beautiful dress, in gold and green silk, handmade for the occasion? Oh, doesn’t she want pipers and fiddlers!

And why not, my love, I said, perspiring and shaking with fear and anticipation, why not, why shouldn’t you have anything you like after all the years we have waited?

Is it any wonder I’ve not been sleeping?

I said to Grace, ‘Well if we have all that, we’ll have to forgo the honeymoon?’

‘Forgo the honeymoon!’ she said to me. ‘You can’t be serious. We’ll need a holiday. We’ll be exhausted. I’m only getting married so that we can have a honeymoon and so that people can throw confetti as we get driven away.’

‘I thought we were getting married so that our relationship can be acknowledged to the world.’

‘To the world?’ Grace laughed. ‘This is Shetland, darling.’

‘Yes, well’

‘I’m teasing you,’ Grace said, patting my leg and rubbing my inner thigh. She knows if she does that I can’t concentrate on anything. Grace knows me through and through.

But funnily enough, planning our wedding has shown us both a new side to each other. A more vulnerable, more tender side. I don’t know how to say it exactly. I tried a few nights ago.  I said to Grace, ‘I never knew you were so soft,’ but that wasn’t exactly what I meant. I suppose I never knew that things mattered in the way they matter until we decided to get married.

We went out for a walk the last night we had together, a week before our wedding, under the swooning moon, under the sharpest of stars.

Do you love me? Grace said. I knew it wasn’t a question. It was because she was in love with the words.

I do. I do, I said. I stopped and kissed her lips in the cold night air.



People are talking. People are talking. Our wedding is the talk of the islands. Those that didn’t get invited wanted to be up among da rhubarb. I can’t wait to tell you all aboot it. It’s a story, our love. We’ll tell ourselves the story when we have surprised ourselves by taking up knitting and are sitting watching the tides in Bressay and the fulmar, the puffins, the black guillemots arrive to make their homes in the summer on the east cliffs of Noss. I said, Rose I never knew you were so romantic. Isn’t romance a wonderful thing? Romance is like a wee cove that nobody found but you. Rose makes me feel like the first woman on the moon. We’re no that far away from being that, actually. Being the first women to marry in Shetland is not so different from being the first women to land in the moon.

I remember the first time I came to Shetland, twenty odd years ago, how strange the peat bogs looked after Glasgow, like something my imagination dreamt up, how astonishing it was never to be further than three miles from the sea.

Let me tell you aboot our day. Both sets of parents were there, all dressed up to the nines. My father in his kilt and long socks and sporran. Oh a man looks handsome in a kilt. Rose wore a kilt too, and I told her to promise me not to wear anything underneath; that was our secret too, the whole wedding day long. Rose looked as if she could die of desire. Was I glad I had insisted on oysters!

 I arrived at Lerwick Town Hall in the Rolls Royce, a beautiful cream coloured car. Rose went on ahead with her father so that she would be there before me. My father walked me down the aisle. He had tears in his een. He was proud of me, he said. Prouder than he could be and he never thought he’d see the day, he said, when he would be giving me away. ‘I’ve waited a long time for this Grace,’ he said. Tears sprung to my eyes with gratitude. To think of all the years I worried what he’d think of me!

My father walked me down the aisle and we had lovely fiddle music playing. Ali Bain played a slow fiddle version of John Anderson my Jo. Then we said our vows to each other. Rose said to me: Grace I love you. I loved you from the minute I met you. I think I even loved you before I met you. I want to walk with you to the end of time.

My mother’s eyes filled with tears and Rose’s mother’s eyes narrowed and sharpened a bit.

I said to Rose: I never thought I would know this in my life, what it is to be loved by you. I want to be loved by you always, forever, always.

Then Rose put on my ring and I put on hers. Then we kissed; it seemed the whole island cheered. I imagined we even made the puffins and the whales and the seals happy that day.

Rose and I had the best time planning our wedding feast. ‘We’ll all be paying for it until we look like auld fish wives,’ Rose said, laughing. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to have a feast for the whole island to feast their eyes on.

Our feast: five tables, each laid for thirty people, long trestle tables with red crepe covers over each one. To begin with, a soup: smoked haddock, potato and sliced onion soup. Then oysters steamed in almond milk – hand-reared Pacific rock oysters, fresh, plump, very juicy and very clear. Rose and I sucked the flesh out of an oyster in the same pearly minute of time.

Angus, big with a bold stomach, said ‘Do you know there is no way of telling a male oyster from a female by examining their shell?’ Nobody really answered him. A few lassies giggled. Then Angus said, ‘While oysters have separate sexes, they may change sex one or more times during their life span.’ Jessie, Angus’s wife, shifted uncomfortably. ‘Whit are you saying Angus?’ Angus knocked back his dry Spanish sherry. We were serving small tall glasses of dry sherry with the oysters. Perfect. Then he said, ‘A pearl is just an irritation for an oyster.’ Then the fiddlers started again and the music drowned Angus out. I smiled at Rose and she smiled back at me.

There was bread flavoured with ale. There was plenty bannocks. Gilded peacocks and festooned boar’s head. Tarts filled with veal and dates. Shetland lamb cooked with fresh coriander; seared salmon with walnuts and thyme. Stuffed roast suckling pig; goose cooked in a sauce of grapes and garlic. Stewed cabbage flavoured with cinnamon and cloves and grilled asparagus.

For desert there was fruited custard in huge friendly-faced, born-again pies. We asked our guests to bring small cakes and pile them in the centre of a table. When everyone finished eating, but not yet finished drinking, Rose stands up and takes my hand and leads me to the table with cakes. She stands around one side of it, fine and sturdy in her kilt, and I stand over the other. We lean towards each other and we kiss, a long, soft, melt of a kiss, and after a minute’s lovely silence, everyone cheers. Someone shouts, ‘Hurra fir da bride and da bridegroom.’ The fiddlers start playing faster and faster and people get up and dance in the middle of the hall. Choocking and whooping and spinning. Hooch. Da whisky wis flowin oot da door.

By the time our wedding feast wis over everybody wis jist pleepin. ‘There are days and there are days,’ Rose says to me when we drive off for our honeymoon at the Buness House in Unst where we will walk and talk and go over and over our day, telling it in the present tense, in the past. ‘Oh Rose,’ I say. ‘What if we still hadn’t had it yet and we still had our wedding day to look forward to?’ Rose groans and shudders, reeling. ‘Oh I’d do it all over again, again and again and again!’ She is laughing, helplessly. ‘ I swear the stars look happy for us’ I say to Rose. ‘Grace,’ she says. ‘Oh my dear Grace.’