Tuesday 6 June 2023

Will and Testament by Sarah Hills, an Italian single espresso, black with sugar, drunk standing

I, Ann Martin, of the Isle of Mull, author, make this my final Will and Testament, confirming that it replaces all other wills and testaments I have made (there are none, but I understand this is the necessary formulation) on 25 December 2025 (I pay no attention to tinselled events others invent to celebrate).

In the event of my death, I leave my household possessions, such as they are, to my neighbours who have given me support over the years. This does not include any books found in my house or the contents of my study. These I leave to my surviving daughter, Rev. Stella May Martin. To my daughter, I leave the rest of my estate and any and all rights and income that arise from my writings, including my as yet unpublished writing.

I ask Stella to read this Will together with the enclosed letter.

Signed Anne Martin


Dear Stella,

Your God knows, Stella, that I have had real doubts about leaving you outright both my money and the rights to my books, and that I would stop you wasting your inheritance on your chosen profession or stop you spending it all on trying to protect the bloody sea creatures you so love, if I could. I thought about leaving it in a trust for you, but you would see that as a lack of trust, of course.

I know you are frowning reading this. The irony is not lost on me that I should sound concerned about money which has meant so little to me during my life. At the end of my life, however, I find myself needing to make things clear. You will smile, no doubt, when I tell you that I can hear your father laughing in my ear even as I write.

Doing the right thing, he would have called it. Have I ever told you that you laugh just like him?


Just a year ago, if I had thought about it, I would have chosen to die intestate, without will, without caring. My legacy, I believed, lay in the books I had written. Completed and done; they were out in the world long since, doing what they could. This island had become my refuge away from the world’s noise – that incessant compulsive communication, a tsunami of words. It had proved impossible to empty my mind of other people’s words in order to find my own: radios, TV, tablets, phones, texts, Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, e-mails. The chattering monkeys had never loved language more. I could no longer hear myself think.

After the accident, there was no reason for me to stay. I took myself away to this island. Here I could live without internet and telephone. Communication went back to paper. I emptied my head, filled it with endless sea and sky, cries of seabirds and howling winds, but my own words did not come back to me. I did not expect them to.

Now I cannot look at the sea without seeing you. It was very clever. You always were the clever one. I scan the sea for that seal head that bobbed into view, getting bigger and bigger, until you were walking up the beach towards where I sat, wrapped in blankets, holding my mug of tea. You pushed up those diver’s goggles, unzipped your wet suit, reached over and took my cup of tea.

‘I wrote, but you never responded,’ you said, taking a swig of tea.

‘What is there to say?’ I said. It was already wrong. Between us, since the accident, before the accident, we never got the words right.

You looked at me and I looked back. Your gold cross glinted like a piece of barbed wire.

‘I heard you got ordained,’ I said.

Your face lit up as if a lover had arrived. My toes curled inside my boots.

‘I didn’t think you would approve.’

I shrugged. ‘Atheist me? I don’t. Does it matter?’

You shrugged too. “I’ve a favour to ask you.”

‘Oh,’ the moment of sunlight disappeared behind the clouds. ‘You’d better come inside.’


In the cottage, by the fire, you talked to me about your mission. I say nothing about my once-a-month trips to the library to access your blog or that I know about the campaign to save the Moray Firth dolphins. Spaceport! I had snorted, but the librarian, Mandy, passed me articles and reports about the huge telecommunication company wanting to build a spaceport where it would disrupt the sea life for miles. How they plan to send people for trips up above the atmosphere.

You had turned your gift for creating uncomfortable challenge on the company’s tycoon owner. In a dramatic live TV debate, he had pledged that, if you could complete that fictional round-the-world-in-80-days trip without taking a plane, he would preserve the Moray Firth himself. He promised millions to establishing a national marine sanctuary if you could make it. To prove no one could live without air travel these days. To discredit you.

I recognised his discomfort, watching his eyes glance towards you as soon as he had spoken.

‘So, you want money?’ I said.

Your eyebrows rose. ‘No. I never want your money. When have I ever asked you for money?’

That is true. You never ask me for anything simple. Other people, my son, Dan, could be satisfied with money and gifts, easy tokens. Stella, no. You always wanted a pound of flesh.

‘I need you to come with me.’

I gaped then, like a surprised fish out of water. I remember I laughed. It had been quite a while since I laughed, and it was shockingly loud in my head.

You crossed your legs before your chest, hugged them. ‘He said I had to take you. He said, you’re the priest with the famous novelist mother. Take her with you. It must be both of you. She’ll be ancient now and slow.’ She was not looking up; she was holding on to that cross. ‘You know me, mum, I always double down. I said, that’s worth twice the money, and he said, OK – a sanctuary here and another one wherever you choose. Double or nothing.’

‘That’s ridiculous. I’m 69. I’m not travelling round the world at my age.’

‘I’ve got your tickets. Permits, visas and invitations from all over the world. We leave on Monday. Once we start, we’ve got just over 11 weeks.’

I looked at you as you stared at the fire. I’ve known this face through all your ages, and I’ve only seen that expression once before. When you got up to do the oration at the funeral for your father and brother. It is a face that says you either do this or break. I ask myself whether I can bear to lose another child and I know I have no fight left, otherwise why would I be here, hiding from the world on the Isle of Mull?


Time moves on, taking me with it whatever I might want. Clouds slide over my head and the sun comes out. The world is pleased with itself whether I care or not: dead things rot and new life grows out of them. I could already feel station platforms under my stocking feet. We were going round the world.

And when I got to the Moray Firth, I was going to slap that man as hard as my arm would allow.


We went. The journey and its ups and downs are a whole other story, or a multitude of stories. Now people buy our books about it – all proceeds to charity, of course. For a recluse like me, at the start, it was like exposing skin to sandpaper. Languages of the world battered me. Trains and buses rattled me from side to side. I washed the dirt of continents from my skin with water from the seven seas. Throughout it all we wrote – you typed endlessly on social media: where we are, what we are doing, why we are doing it:  the compulsive modern chat. But I could see you, with your words, building a marine sanctuary, mile by mile, wave by wave, out of bravado and sustained belief. And I wrote too. I surprised myself, me, who believed the fountain of creativity long dead. I found stories in trains and stations, watching people and cities. In our mad dash across continents, multiple blessings of stories floated down on me.

Throughout it all, you and I regarded each other like opponents over a chess board, pacing round each other like dancers in those medieval dances, where no one touches.

Until the train on the last leg from London. Do you remember? When we were racing for the line, minute by excruciating minute, with railway companies pulling everything to one side after public demand, speeding us back to Aberdeen, the world watching with panting breath.

You said, looking out the window, ‘I never seem to be able to impress you.’

I stop writing, turn these words over in my hands, unable to see them. ‘I do not know what you want me to say,’ I reply.

‘Why is that?’ still looking out. ‘Why is it - with all your words - that you are so good with, you struggle with my words? You loved Dan so much. Why not me?’

I stare at you but no words spill out of my open mouth.

After a pause you go on, in the reflection in the window your eyes glitter. ‘You poke at my faith. Yet you go on writing, creating story after story, world after world. When you must know, you must feel, these are the same thing. My faith and your creativity,’ your hands lift and fall, ‘these are all just reflections of the same thing.’

I cannot understand your words. I buried the best part of myself in a cemetery in Devon, yet the train takes me onward, the world rolls and my heart somehow keeps up. My heart, which I hide inside my pen and trace inside the shapes of my letters, wrote on the notebook in front of me, tore off the page and slid it across to your clenched hands.

I write it for you again: I have always loved you, never doubt this. You always amazed me; I called you star. Dan only needed a hug to know he was loved. You want the thoughts inside my head, words from my soul and I am no good at speaking. Your father did the talking. But I should have written this before: I am proud of you, even when we do not agree, I am proud of you.

I go to the buffet car then. I buy two teas. I take time straining the teabags, stirring in milk. When I return, you are back on the ubiquitous laptop, because we are nearly there, we are going to make it. The whole train appears to be cheering.

We made it to the finish line with ten minutes to spare. I did not slap the rich tycoon, mostly because you were holding so tightly to my arm as we collected the cheque.


Now, I write this, my will, and this, my last letter to you, in case of accident. In case I die in the next six months crossing South America on foot with you to try to save the remaining Amazon rainforest. In the event of my death, I leave all my wordy and worldly goods to you, Simone, beloved daughter.

Ann Martin


About the author

Sarah lives in the North of England and has recently started taking her writing seriously. 


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