The piece of blueberry cake sat on the bench and got rained on and pecked at and eventually rotted away altogether. But that's the end of my story, not the beginning. And we must always tell a story in order, mustn't we? We must begin at the beginning and end up at the end. That's a pretty tough call when you're dealing with someone as complicated as Bella Pleasance.
OK, then - how did the piece of cake come into existence in the first place? Luke McGregor's mother made it, of course. She put all the ingredients together and baked it in her oven in her house in Strathcarngie. Still not clear, is it? I see I shall have to take you back further, my friends. Much further.
Luke McGregor had been bullied quite badly at his school in Strathcarngie, which is in the Lowlands of Scotland. The boy who had been responsible was called Lullock McRuari. Luke had gone AWOL from his school on a number of occasions, driven by a mixture of rage, helplessness, humiliation and fear to sit by the side of Garth Rollomor, tossing stones into the shallow water. It was during one of these stone-tossing episodes that Luke had first met the Auld Jaud of Inch Rollomor, as she was known. He had vaguely heard tale before of an old Sassunach woman who lived on the little island in the middle of the river. Some said she was in her 80s; some her 90s; some said she was over 100. There were many legends about her, some quite dark, some really positive, but Luke had never bothered about any of them. He'd had other things on his mind. Until he met her, that is.
"Why are you not in school?" she'd asked.
"Och, dinna fash yersel', woman," he'd answered.
"I would like to sit next to you," she'd said.
"Do as ye please."
So he'd continued to toss stones into the river and she'd sat and watched him. Somehow he'd ended up sitting by her, when he was ready, and telling her his woes.
She'd listened without interruption then explained, quite calmly, how he could put Lullock into a headlock that would make him fear for his life and then let him go without leaving any tell-tale marks on him.
He'd gone to school and tried this. His assailant, like all cowards, wisely calculated which side his bread was buttered on and had abandoned his bullying of Luke. Instead they'd gone into partnership together running an extortion racket which had enveloped the entire school.
When threatened with expulsion Luke had come down to the Garth and chatted it through with the Auld Jaud. She'd told him how to turn things around so it was all Lullock's idea, he'd be expelled and Luke wouldn't be.
Great but that still left the problem of Luke's failing marks. The Auld Jaud had tutored him free of charge. She'd been so patient.
This still left one outstandng issue in Luke's life: nobody liked him. The Auld Jaud even sorted that out. He couldn't work his English friend out. She seemed to be fairly emotionless but she had once uttered the phrase, "I like you".
When he'd admitted to his mother that he'd been talking to the elderly lady, instead of the yollering he'd expected, she'd been very pleased he was speaking to somebody and had started baking blueberry cake for him to give to her. She had seemed so stunned and grateful at the first piece that she had been silent for a bit before saying, "I like this" in her slow, steady voice.
The very next time the Auld Jaud left her island house for the river bank for her regular tryst with Luke she's brought him some deep-fried pizza which she'd battered and deep-fried herself, especially for him. On one occasion she'd even brought him a deep-fried hash cake. They hadn't said much to each other that day. They'd just lain by the Garth getting slowly high.
This morning the Auld Jaud was walking around her beloved island. She avoided all the lumps in the ground as she always did. They reminded her of the past, a past which was buried alongside their contents. Better just to let it lie, she always thought. She walked up her little hill. The view from the top was spectacular. You could see everything from here: the high cliffs of Inverrory; the deep water racing towards Stirling and the south; her own beloved house; and of course the bench and pebbly strand where she went to meet her dear friend Luke. Up on the hill were some ashes... but they were the past. Forget the past; let it sail on in the winds of forgetfulness.
She came down the hill, untied her boat and sailed across to the mainland, retying the boat on her arrival. She came into town, meeting various people en route. There was the "new" headmaster of the school. He wasn't so new now, of course - it'd been twenty years since the vacancy caused by his predecessor's disappearance... but that was all water under the bridge now. It had worked out well: the new man had produced great results in the children.
"'Morning," he said. "The bairns are really enjoying that minivan. I can't tell you how much it's changed their lives."
"Don't mention it," said the old woman, managing a smile. "I am sure that anyone else would have doen the same."
Later she met the postman.
"Ye a' richt?" he asked.
She said she was fine.
"Ma wife's awfa grateful for all yer help these last months," he said.
She smiled and said anyone else would have done the same.
When she had bought what she wanted at the shop she made her way back to her island. Eggs; cumin; yes, Luke would like this. She thought about the shop and the fire... but whatever about that now. Eggs; cumin... the people screaming... eggs; cumin; extra virgin olive oil; yes, paprika. She'd made spicy scrambled eggs for Luke once before and he'd loved it. He'd love it again today. It was a hot day. There was no need for him to wear his shirt. She'd tell him that.
The old woman decided to have one last, brisk walk about her island before crossing back to the mainland to meet her friend. She was still fit as a fiddle and in A1 health. Remarkable for her age, really. Maybe due to having had such an exciting life? But whatever about that now.
She was nearly at the top of her hill when her acute hearing picked up a sound. It was the sound of a hoverboat speeding across the Garth. She looked towards the pebbly, shallow water. Yes: hovering just above it was a police boat.
She made her way slowly and with dignity back to her house, put some make-up on and sat by the front door, waiting to greet her visitors.
It didn't take long before her friendly-sounding bell rang.
Taking a deep breath and smoothing her hair into place, she went to answer the door.
"Ah. You have come," she said. "I always knew you would one day. Please come in."
The three police offcers respectfully removed their hats and entered cautiously.
"Do you normally send armed officers around to arrest 87-year-old women?" she asked, smilingly.
The officers said nothing.
"Would you like some tea?"
The police officers politely accepted and, when bidden, sat down on the Auld Jaud's ripped sofa.
Their host gave them a cheery wave and went upstairs.
After half an hour they decided that they should go up and see what the delay was. The sight that met their eyes would haunt them forever.
They also knew that they would be held accountable for the fact that Bella Pleasance would be answering for none of her crimes.
Luke McGregor went to his favourite spot by the Garth and waited... and waited... and waited. Normally his friend was here before him - she was a great time-keeper. He'd been looking forward to eating whatever she'd cooked up for him and to giving her some of his mother's blueberry cake. An hour went past; then two hours. It started to drizzle. He decided to leave but put the piece of blueberry cake on the bench by the Garth just in case the Auld Jaud came later.
The piece of blueberry cake sat on the bench and got rained on and pecked at and eventually rotted away altogether.