A Wedding On Skye

Short Story by Willard Manus

This was the third time Ersie had agreed to serve as maid of honor at her best friend Katroina's wedding ceremony. This one took place on the isle of Skye, a long, slow drive from Ersie's home in Glasgow through the bens and glens of the Highlands. And when she and her husband finally reached the island there was lots more driving to come; so narrow and twisting were Skye's roads that it was nearly midnight by the time they pulled into the harbor town of Portree.

Famished, they went in seach of a restaurant but all they could find open was a fish-and-chipper. They ate their supper sitting on the damp pilings of the quay, listening to the sea swirling and crashing beneath them, gulls making loud noises overhead.

When they looked out of the window of their B & B the next morning they saw that the sea had fallen and was shining like liquid gold in the sunlight. It was a perfect day for a wedding.

The civil ceremony took place that afternoon in Portree's town hall. In attendance were the mayor (in a kilt); Katroina (in a pink gown); the groom, Iain (in an ill-fitting tuxedo); Katrina's mother and father (new frock and kilt, respectively); several of Iain's male friends (all in kilts); and his sister Norma (beehive hairdo, too-tight cocktail dress). Then there was Ersie. American-born, she was clad in a Halston pants suit; Neil, her Scottish husband, was handsome in a kilt he had borrowed from one of his cousins.

The Scottishness of it all was further magnified when the ceremony concluded and a piper struck up in the street outside the hall. The piper kept up his skirling as he led the wedding party through Portree to a nearby restaurant, with some of the locals calling out, "Gude luck...health and happiness...here's tae the both ah yiz!"

The owner of the restaurant had turned three adjoining croft houses into an elegant bistro, one that served top-quality Scottish cuisine. Sitting on a bluff overlooking an estuary whose rocky sides were matted with seaweed, the restaurant was framed by the hills behind it, hills that constantly changed shape and color as the afternoon went by.

Glass of champagne in hand, Ersi sidled over to where Katroina stood on the deck of the restaurant, gazing out over the estuary.

"How are you holding up?" she asked the bride. "I'm fine," came the reply, followed by a sharp cry. "Ohmygod, look at that!"

Katroina pointed to where a small grey whale was working his way through the estuary, diving and surfacing rythmically, spouting an occasional blast of seawater. "What's he doing here?"

"He's looking for a good graze, same as us," Ersie cracked. They both laughed and touched glasses. "Here's to your marriage. Let's hope this one lasts."

"Me, too," replied Katroina. "I don't think I can go through all this hassle again." Then, "Where's Neil?"

Ersie pointed to where her husband had cornered Iain’s sister Norma and was urgently trying to find out something about the groom, if only because, as best man, he would soon be called on to make a speech about him.

Because Iain and Katroina had known each other for a mere six weeks before deciding to get married--they'd met at her sports club, where he worked as a personal trainer--Neil hadn't been able to spend any time with him. All he knew was that the groom was tall and strapping, spoke with a broad Scots accent, and was much in love with Katroina.

"What I'd like to know," Neil asked Norma, "is why he picked me to be his best man. Why not one of his mates?"

"I cannae answer that," came the reply.

"Can you tell me something about him? What was he like as a kid?"

"Ach, well, how about this? He was once arrested for flashin'."

"What did you say? He was what--?"

"Naturally, he denied it, just said he was havin' a wee piss when the coppers nabbed him."

Before Neil could fire any more questions at her, Norma turned away and waddled off. Neil was so nonplused that he could only stand there staring after her. It was a while before he could start corraling people and asking questions again.

Neil did his valiant best when the speechmaking commenced. He spoke eloquently of Iain's self-reliance as an orphaned teenager, working various menial jobs to support himself, then volunteering for the British army and serving with distinction as a paratrooper in Afghanistan --

"Afghanistan! What's that ye' said?" The interrupting cry came from a small, plump woman in jeans and a sequined sweater who had just entered the restaurant. "Servin' with distinction in Afganniestan? What a load of shite! The closest Iain's been to the army is when he tried out on the telly for 'Gladiators!'"

Then came another loud cry, this one from Norma's corner. "Ma! What in fookin' hell are yew doin' here?"

Neil shot a hurried look at Iain. "Wait a minute--you told me that both your parents were dead!"

"Deed!" The intruder confronted the groom. "Did you really tell this wee chappie that I was deed?"

Iain flushed red and fumbled around for an answer. Finally he managed to blurt," I, ah, I'll explain everything later."

"Ah'm sure yew will," his mother whooped, enjoying herself now, immensely. "Ah'm sure ye'll have a brilliant story to tell, ya bluidy bawheid, ye!"

* * *

Needless to say, the contentious exchange had an immediate effect on the wedding party. Forgotten now were all thoughts of the dinner--three courses and a sweet, according to the menu. This was a time for whiskey--specifically Talisker, a strong, smoky, single-malt made at a distillery just down the road from the restaurant.

While the local brew was being poured all around, Katroina and Iain went outside and faced off against each other. Although Ersi couldn't hear them, she could infer what was being said from their body language, beginning with Katroina's angry gestures and Iain's defensive responses. These were followed by a mime show of apology and regret, then tenderness and affection, culminating in a suddenly passionate hug and kiss.

Meanwhile, Iain's mother and sister continued to row at peak volume. "Why'd ye' come when yiz wasn't invited?" the latter shouted.

"Aw, why don't you shut yer gob, ye' big fat slag!" came the reply.

That prompted the mother of the bride--a retired school teacher--to cry out angrily, "Would you please stop carrying on like this! It's Katroina's wedding day, for God's sake!"

"Chill out, hen...nae need tae lose the place, eh."

"No, you chill out, damn it!"

The kerfuffle that followed brought the chef out of the kitchen. "Just what is going on here?" he demanded to know. "I've prepared a delicious dinner for all of you, but it's sitting and going to waste! What's with you people? Didn't anybody teach you any manners?"

Unfortunately for him, he delivered these remarks in a plummy British accent, one that triggered a swift and acrimonious response.

"What's it to ye, ye bluidy sassenach," shouted the groom's red-faced mother.

"Yeah, that's right, why don'tcha go back to England where ye' belong!"

"Before you do, though," one of Iain's mates chimed in, "see us another blast of that malt, ye big banpot!"

By the time Katroina and Iain returned to the dining room, several more bottles of Talisker had been poured, prompting one of Iain's mates to burst into song:

"Oh flower of Scotland

when will we see your like again,

that fought and died for

your wee bit hill and glen--"

A roar of recognition went up as others in the wedding party chimed in lustily on the anthem:

"--and stood against him,

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward


Ersi decided that this would be a good time to catch a breath of air. As she was exiting the dining room, she caught sight of Katroina's mother.

"I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to make my speech. I was going to say lots of wonderful things about Katroina."

"No problem. You can use the speech for her next wedding!"

Ersi stepped out on the deck of the restaurant and watched as the western sun began to descend behind a bank of clouds, painting everything with an intense orange light. Some creatures began to take shape before her eyes: grey and white seals, about two dozen of them. They clambered out of the sea and flippered their way up onto the rocky shore, making loud croaking noises.

Once they found some comfortable niches, they stretched out for the night, whiskered faces turned toward the horizon.

As they lay there, the celebration in the restaurant continued, with one defiant and drunken Scottish rebel song following on the other.

The sound of these songs echoed noisily round the estuary, but without drawing any kind of response from the seals. Their eyes began to close and, before long, they fell fast asleep.