The Steep Approach to Garbadale

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Authors: Iain Banks
inside at the poacher’s pockets.
    Then she goes through the outside door of the room, into the shining grey of the early afternoon. The door slams shut behind her, leaving him where he’s been for some time now, screaming unheard at her; silently and hopelessly, begging her not to leave.
    He woke from the doze and the dream - the recurring nightmare, he supposed, if it hadn’t become so familiar and if he didn’t know the ending so well by now - to find Fielding humming along to the last Coldplay album. They were just turning off the M8 where it passes through the centre of Glasgow, about ten minutes or so from Beryl and Doris’s house.
    Fielding grinned. ‘You okay?’
    Alban rubbed his face, scratched through his beard and yawned. ‘Fine.’
     
He stood, resting a moment, in the sunken garden, south-west of the house on the far side of the abbey ruins, the rake held at the top in both hands and snugged in under his chin. He breathed deeply, taking in the sharp tang of wild garlic. A strong gust of warm wind moved the branches of the Scots pines along the western edge of the garden, shifting their shaggy, asymmetric tops slowly while the nearby stand of birches swayed together, like dancers. Blackthorns and wild roses rustled in the breeze, white and red blooms bobbing over the long grasses and the herringbone patterns of the brick pathway.
    He looked at the wall of the abbey, hanging over the little valley like a grey cliff surmounted by the pointed arches of its empty windows, like a series of giant grey whalebones leaning against the sky. There was some ivy in a few places on the abbey’s ruined walls, but last year he’d been to the gardens at Dunster Castle, not far away, just south of Minehead, and seen much more interesting climbers on the walls of the castle; stuff like Solanum laxum, Clianthus puniceus and Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’. They’d look good on the abbey’s walls. He knew he’d taken notes at the time of his visit to Dunster but couldn’t recall offhand in which direction the wall with the climbers had been facing. Had it been south? This was the abbey’s south wall he was looking at. South should be perfect. They weren’t the kind of plants that needed a lot of shade. He’d have to see about getting cuttings.
    Movement on the path from the house.
    Cousin Sophie, in a long white T-shirt and black leggings. Limping. She waved and hobbled down towards him. Looked like she could barely flex her right knee at all.
    ‘What happened to you?’ he asked.
    ‘Fell off me ’oss, guv.’
    Her gleaming red hair was held back in a ponytail. Her mega T-shirt said, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome . One of his school pals, Plink - Robbie Alford - always seemed to find a double meaning in everything. Alban could just hear him saying something like, You can pleasure my dome any time, love. Alban thought about saying this, then thought perhaps not.
    ‘See,’ he said instead. ‘Horses. Dangerous animals. Could have told you.’
    He meant it lightly and he’d thought he’d been smiling when he’d said it, but she seemed to take it badly, scowling and saying, ‘Anyway, how are your balls today, cousin?’
    He felt himself rock backwards slightly. ‘Ahm, they’re, ah, fine, thanks,’ he said, thoroughly fazed.
    ‘Super,’ she said acidly, nodding at the rake he was holding. ‘Well, don’t let me keep you.’ She turned and started back up the path.
    He didn’t say anything. He watched her go. When she was almost out of sight, near the corner of the ruined abbey, she stopped, still turned three-quarters away from him, only her upper body visible, and looked down and seemed to nod downwards once, very sharply, as though she was angry or upset. Then she went on, copper hair bobbing slowly away out of sight.
    He was annoyed with himself. He should have said something like, Great, actually; had a couple of really painful wanks last night, thanks. That would have got her back. He shook his head and

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