Desert Isle Keeper
Island Fling is like a luxuriant dessert hitting complex notes with different textures. And I can’t believe I had approached the story with trepidation. This was my first romance short story, and I’d assumed that I would not be able to believe in the longevity of a Happily Ever After in a relationship executed in such a tight space. Ros Clarke has proven me wrong by demonstrating that even the implausible is possible in the hands of a great storyteller.
This short story is told in an expansive style that allows the reader to dream into the story and savor the writing, the characters, and the story. Despite the short space, it doesn’t feel hurried. The characters’ emotions are fully explored as are the conversations about their feelings of the past, the present, and their future. It’s a very romantic tale.
Andrew is an art gallery owner in Edinburgh. Maggie is an artist on the Island of Muck.
The opening salvo to the story is the arrival of Maggie’s newest work at Andrew’s gallery, her first communication with him seven years after she ran out on their relationship. When she first disappeared, no one knew where she was and he suffered torturous nightmares of what might’ve happened to her. Then he found out from her parents that she was safe somewhere secret. The nightmares still haunted his years as did the loss of the love of his life and the wound of her betrayal.
And yet, when he sees her painting and sees how much she’s grown as an artist and fulfilled the promise the art world had seen in her young years, he knows this is not just an artist sending an unsolicited painting to an art gallery to exhibit. It’s Maggie’s way of reaching out to him across the years;it’s as much about her sharing her growth as an artist with him as it is about their relationship and her regrets. Despite his anger and anguish at her, how can he not go and see her once again, perhaps for the last time?
Being with Maggie again reminds Andrew that the love he thought had died, had lived, and the anger that he thought had lived, had died. He is filled with a sense of the rightness of his love for her, the rightness of having her in his life for always. He bargains one night of loving with her in the hopes of persuading her to the rightness of their togetherness.
She agrees with him wholeheartedly. She agrees she loves him. She agrees he’s the only one she would ever consider being in her life always.
But his life is in Edinburgh; hers is on the island, both too far away for either to commute. She’s too afraid to risk her growth as an artist on the island to the indifference and callousness of the city. He’s too afraid of not being able to run a successful art gallery remotely. And he has an utter distaste of their relationship being reduced to a series of holiday flings. So they part sorrowfully.
A few weeks later, Maggie’s second painting arrives and brings her with it. Their reunion makes you sigh and smile. They both talk over each other detailing their plans on how they can make their life work in the other’s space.
And here comes the only stumbling block for me with this story. I would’ve liked to have seen them both compromise to make their future work for both of their needs, rather than only seeing her take the huge risk of stagnating her artistic growth by moving back to the city for him. Wouldn’t she resent him long term? – I wondered. It’s very true that she is now mature and being in such a loving relationship would be a positive aid to her art. But she could not know that. While he was continuing on with the life he has led before, she is taking this huge risk.
This is my personal feeling about the conclusion of the story, but on an objective level, the final scene is written with care and tenderness and romance. It’s a great ending to a great story.