Fergus looked out the large picture window at the Norwegian tundra rolling by. The morning sky was still dim, with a faint splash of dusty rose dawn chasing the train. The sea was behind them now, the sea: his longtime friend.
Before he’d left home, the water had been like a playmate, a brother on lonely days. He’d take the rowboat out into the bay, which was just steps away from his family’s home, and visit the shoreline features he knew so well: that boulder, this inlet; the small tide pools with families of tiny bright orange crabs. Then there were the craggy outcroppings along the bay, lush with luminous green lichen, each indent providing homes for nesting birds. Some days he would climb up and nestle himself onto a rock shelf, and watch over the chicks while the mother bird left the nest in search of food—sometimes a long wait, until dusk. Then he’d scramble back down to his rowboat, and paddle gently home, the last light of the day mirrored in the calm water below him.
The bits of Norway he had seen so far—from the water, on the ship—had been familiar to him. Small fishing villages, mountains carving out steep chasms, verdant valleys, waterfalls.
Did every place in the world look like Scotland?
He turned his eyes inland: forward. To glades of trees, and the unknowable cities beyond: Oslo, then, he was told–after a long journey on an aeroplane!–the cities of Portland, and Camas.
Fergus closed his eyes and leaned on the window, to make the others think he was sleeping (he did this when his temples throbbed; when all the new things piled up too high for him, forcing him to close his eyes for relief) and tried to picture what Oslo might be like. He couldn’t come up with any pictures, so he used the Edinburgh he knew—barely–as a stand-in: there would be rough cobbled lanes lined with horse-drawn carriages; narrow and muddy. There would be the shouts of merchants, and mighty smokestacks of industry, gurgling and churning.
But he had very little experience of Edinburgh, so instead he pictured a mash-up of a busy but friendly city, with pastoral, manicured parks; wide boulevards lit by gas lamps on a damp evening. Oddly, the buildings all resembled his Aunt’s manor home on the Isle of Skye. One particular building had a handsome red brick façade, covered with crawling green ivy, thin and tall, with a rooftop conservatory, glass on all sides, that was lit up from the inside, like a beacon atop a lighthouse.
It was a hotel; their hotel. On the topmost floor, the glass room housed a large swimming pool, and several lemon trees lined the perimeter of the pool, giving the air a tropical perfume. You could stand at the large paned windows and overlook the city, where snow was falling. Dashiell and Fergus swam in the warm pool, playing catch with an inflatable ball, taking turns jumping in, laughing. Mrs. Pierce sat in a lounge chair, her sketchbook on her lap, capturing the scene. Somehow when Fergus looked at the sketch later, it’d become a watercolor, and it depicted the two boys in Fergus’ rowboat, a pane of glass behind them, or was that the reflection of the lake?
Dashiell put his fingers to his lips and stage-whispered to his parents, indicating that Fergus was asleep next to him, and to not disturb him. They gave him the thumbs up, and his mother adjusted Fergus’s coat so it covered his shoulders, his gentle snoring causing them all to collectively yawn.
Fergus felt something wet on his face, and looked around. The sun was high in the sky, and it was overly warm on the train. Dashiell’s father was asleep across from him; his mother’s seat vacant, and Dashiell was not next to him. The landscape had changed, too: now, there were mighty evergreen trees and a rushing brook of icy blue water next to the train. He wiped the drool from his face, and that’s when he noticed the parcel in the empty seat next to him, wrapped in brown craft paper and tied with a shimmering golden ribbon, with an inscribed card attached: For Fergus, it read.
He opened the present slowly, savoring the suspense.
Inside was a hardcover book, called The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Fergus was aware of the books by C.S. Lewis, but, like other books, he hadn’t ever really given them much of his attention. He much preferred to draw, or calculate sums.
He opened the cover, and saw an inscription written in an elegant cursive hand:
April 7, 2017
Aboard the HMS Friendship
It was C.S Lewis who wrote: There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
May you find them all.
Fergus began to read, and was so engrossed in his book he hardly noticed how hungry he’d become, until Dashiell returned and suggested they have dine lunch in the cafe car. “They’ve got mac and cheese, and Mom said I could have it, so that means you can too, right Mommy? And afterwards,” he explained, “we can play with the Legos in the kids’ car! Wait until you see it! They have these giant—and I mean giant–tubs of Legos in there.”
Fergus, beguiled by what ‘Legos’ might be, gently marked his place in the book with a napkin embossed with the train logo—and has he did so, a single tear fell from his eye, but was caught and dried almost instantly by the page of the book.