We scramble out of the cheapass futurism and warped windowframe must of the hotel as early as we can and make for the harbour, where Pluvialis will be meeting The Man with The Gos off the ferry.
We kill time. Or Stranraer kills it, I can't tell. Pluvialis smokes distractedly. Men with clippered haircuts wait in cars with things on the rear-vision mirrors, breakfasting from brightly coloured aluminium and heat-sealed plastic. A cormorant fishes among the boats, disappearing prehistoric ninja-style in the barest hint of concentric ripples. Black-headed gulls snooze and preen sleepily on tubular steel, some smudgy in winter plumage, some still sleekly balaclavaed. Ashy juvenile herring gulls coast massively overhead with parents white like optical brighteners in detergent.
I am absent and gummy for lack of sleep. I sit in the car while Pluvialis alternately wanders the waterfront and leans against the car, sprung tight with anticipation and the seismic weirdness that has been everywhere since we got here. I lean my head against the car window. There is a tap at it, and a spare man ten years younger than me with eyes that skitter and tobacco smoke shadows under his cheekbones wants £2 for the bus to Dumfries. He wouldn't ask, but his grandmother you see ...
He has a broad, lilting voice like singing or a child. He can't understand my accent. I break his long familiarity with the cadence of these exchanges and his face comes oddly alive from its almost graven, sooty impassivity. With a twinge of a surprising mixture of embarrassment and amusement I realise that he is annoyed. How dare I be difficult to understand! I look at him and raise my eyebrows in the universal language of fuck off. He plants his hands in his pockets and leaves, disconcerted.
The Man With the Gos arrives, enormous box in each hand. He and Pluvialis get the hawks out for a look on the waterfront. The air fills again with the thundering low thrum of the tacit. They turn their heads and speak to the hawks and their hands move and their gazes fix suddenly like catching sight of a lost contact lens, and what I know is happening becomes a single free electron on the enormous charged sphere of what is actually happening.
She chooses. The hawk goes back into the box.
We get into the car and drive 400 miles. We rig shade and open and shut windows and crank the AC up and down like an AI-governed climate control system on speed. Every now and then there is a rustle and a thump from the box and each time I am overcome with relief. At the services 25 miles from Scotch Corner, I eat a Solero and Pluvialis has a cigarette. I contort myself like a buttonhook to get a glimpse through the slit at the bottom of the box. A pair of yellow feet, planted like she means it, and perpectively enlongated feathery flanks like ermine. Sigh of relief. We get back to Cambridge like painted wood stripped with steam and overexcitement. Pluvialis takes the bird home.