My entry for this month is a work of fiction, although I did spend an unforgettable summer on Sark after finishing my finals. Like Charlotte, I have never returned – it just would never be the same, but I have visited the Channel Islands several times since, and caught a hazy glimpse of this most magical island. The house where I stayed has been turned into a guest house. It’s a shame it was a lovely family home.
In her earlier years she wasn’t conscious of making any choices. She was a privileged daughter of privileged parents. She had absorbed their ideas of success and happiness, worked hard to please them and never questioned that they had anything but her best interests at heart. Charlotte did not disappoint. Academically able she enjoyed school, and then university. Her friends did the same: all confident and the product of an expensive private education they knew what they wanted and worked towards acquiring good degrees with dogged determination. Her only relaxation was her early morning workout on the river. Alone in her skiff she felt connected and alive, her rhythm was sure and steady, her movements co-ordinated and satisfying as she sculled. Her senses alive to the beauty of the early morning mist and the perfect solitude.
It was on one autumn morning she met Christopher as she was making her way to the library. The oldest pick up line in the world. He asked if he could take her photograph. She looked at him, standing in front of her. He was polite and earnest, shy but serious and she said yes. It was the beginning of a relationship which was both intriguing and frustrating. He really wasn’t her type, and any attempt to integrate him into her social circle was politely rebuffed. He just appeared when she was alone, and took her to odd places to take her photograph. He was at the Art college studying photography. He was relaxing, reserved and undemanding. He asked her questions but volunteered little in return.
During her final term she was busy with exams, but he dragged her out of the library for picnics by the river and bought her coffee, and surprised her with an invitation to spend the summer on the island. Beyond applying for positions with top London law firms she hadn’t given too much thought to the summer ahead. She accepted, and so found herself on a flight from London to Guernsey and finally waiting to board the ferry to Sark. She was apprehensive, Christopher’s reticence has extended to his family, so she had no idea what to expect. She knew his father was the only Doctor on the island and he had two brothers and a sister.
Her first view of Sark would forever remain with her – it was magical, the sunlight reflecting off dramatic cliffs. She saw Christopher and a dark haired girl waiting as the ferry docked.
Helen had insisted on accompanying her brother to meet the ferry. She was intensely curious about his friend and looking forward to the company of another girl in the house. Her heart sank as she watched Charlotte disembark. She was even more beautiful than her photographs, tall, slim, and so confident, and she feared that her brother would be hurt . The whole family had heard nothing else but Charlotte since he’d returned home for the summer.
Her treacherous Bedlington terrier, Dotty, bounded off to greet the girl with an enthusiasm that was obviously reciprocated. Hell, even the dog fell instantly under her spell.
Christopher took her luggage and threw it onto the tractor trailer, explaining that no cars were allowed on the island. Helen suggested she might want to ride on the tractor up the very steep hill up to the house, but Charlotte preferred to walk.
The Doctor’s house was rambling, untidy, yet utterly charming and homely, so unlike her family house in London and she was captivated by Christopher’s parents.
The house was full of life, the children had invited friends for the summer. They all helped with the cooking and housework and informal though it was, when they gathered for drinks in the evening, the boys and their father all stood up when their mother joined them in the drawing room.
They walked for miles, explored the coastline, climbed the cliffs, went caving and swam daily. Charlotte felt fitter and more relaxed as the days went by and the evenings were spent in lively conversation. She went to her bed tired and happy and before she went to sleep each night, she read a few chapters of the book of the occupation by the Germans written by Sybil Hathaway, the Dame of Sark,
The house emptied as the summer progressed and she spent more and more time with Christopher. He was more relaxed, more comfortable and she grew used being photographed and lost her self-consciousness. She learnt to see the island through his eyes and she appreciated the closeness of the family. They made her welcome and despite a certain coolness from Helen she grew to understand her protective attitude towards Christopher, although they never spoke of it, and Helen left them alone most of the time now, but Dotty dog joined them each day.
She learnt to trust him. His knowledge of the island, its dangers and its hidden charms. He knew the names of the birds, he knew the safe cliff paths and the tides. Despite the growing ease she felt tensions. She longed to touch him but knew it would change their relationship. She wasn’t sure what she wanted so she kept her distance.
They all went to Petit Beauregard restaurant to celebrate Christopher’s birthday.
The Doctor served the pre-dinner drinks in the drawing room and wrote them down in a small book, as they ordered their food. They drank champagne and cycled back by the light of the moon, the girls in their long dresses and high heels. The stars were glorious. Christopher and Charlotte both swerved to avoid a sleeping cow and fell off their bikes in a tangle. He set her back on her feet, lifted her hair and she felt his lips on the back of her neck. She shivered and stepped away. They left the bikes and walked back to the house holding hands but she felt it was comforting, quite unlike the previous contact a moment ago. They talked of the future, her plans to live in London and become a successful lawyer and his plans to become a successful photographer and live in the countryside. It was her last night on Sark and after that conversation they made no plans to meet again. She climbed the stairs and Dottie followed. The dog settled down beside the bed, Charlotte stroked her curly coat and sobbed. For perhaps the first time in her life, she felt she’d failed but didn’t truly understand why. Her last memory of Sark was Christopher, sitting hunched on the end of the jetty, playing something melancholy on his clarinet as the ferry pulled away.
She called in to see her parents but their immaculate house no longer felt like home. She put her Guernsey sweater in her drawer and never wore it again. Her life continued according to plan, and as the years went by memories of the magic of the island faded. She met Luke, another lawyer, who shared her ambition and drive, and she believed they were happy.
It was quite by accident that she called in at the gallery as she was early for a client meeting. She recognised the photograph of herself on the narrow causeway, La Coupée. It was one of many which she’d never seen before. She looked radiantly happy and despite her success and her marriage to Luke, she realised she hadn’t felt like that since. She had given up so much for her dream and now it seemed too high a price. She’d never returned to the island where time stood still and now it was much too late.
She looked at the stunning photographs again. She felt empty, old and so so weary.