All around the crowd pushed past her, as she looked up at the imposing brown stone building. Through her feet she could feel the heat of the pavement. A slight breeze that had little right to be here teased tendrils of her golden hair. Her reached up and tucked the offending wisp behind her ear. Two steps and she was in front of the door. Inside the receptionist watched her faulter. Sympathy that was given but not asked for on her features.
To go inside would make it all real. She didn’t want real. She wanted to pretend he would walk through her door again. Throw his coat and hat on the antique chair. She knew that was gone but couldn’t she–just a while longer. Pretend.
‘Come on you can do this,’ her lips moved the words in her head. With a sigh she pushed the door open and stepped into the air-conditioned lobby. All around people bustled about going about their business. Some cast a glanced at the dishevelled person. Most ignored her.
‘Good,’ shuffling her feet forward she didn’t need or want recognition. Standing in the lift her eyes strayed to the glass panels on the wall. Sunken eyes now wide in the reflection. She watched her bony hand touch dull sallow skin. Highlighted by her bright halo of hair.
‘A ghost,’ she mouthed as the reflection mocked her in its mirror. A longing to be a ghost came over her to be with him for one more moment. To say all the things, she had left to say. Things she thought she had a lifetime to say. A huff escaped her lips he would be disgusted at the state of her. Of her thoughts. Even in death she had let him down.
‘Sorry Robert,’ mumbled out as the shimmer of tears threatened.
She didn’t need to look at the rest of her appearance to know her clothes were a little too big. Her frame now that side of skinny that made her look ill rather than fashionably elegant. The bags under her eyes betraying her lack of sleep. While her shirt strained to contain the only indication that kept her functioning. Keeping the black void stalking her every thought from sucking her in.
Walking along the hall she stopped and knocked on the door. Her wait was short.
‘Elizabeth how lovely to see you,’ Elizabeth was engulfed in citrus scent that reminded her of home. As solid arms held her tight in the sort of hug only close family would deliver.
‘Uncle Richard,’ her voice wavered as she desperately held her composure.
‘Come in,’ ushering her inside she soon found herself in a padded chair. ‘Tea?’ His large frame far nimbler than it had a right to be.
‘Oh yes please,’ she managed to utter. As he placed the cup and saucer on the table next to her.
‘How is my little goddaughter?’ his voice a soothing balm as his whole being a comforting familiarity.
‘I am collecting her after this,’ the smile pulled at her lips but never reached her eyes. A forced reaction to social norms that good breeding infused into her.
‘Good…good. Right well I have this for you,’ he pushed a large iron key toward her. Picking it up she rubbed her fingers over its smooth surface. Feeling it’s weight in her hand.
‘She is giving you a chance to grieve in private. Bond with your baby daughter. You need this sweetheart and June knew one day you would. That’s why she left it to you with such explicit instructions,’ His smile was gentle as he watched her run her fingers over the key.
‘Thank you, Uncle Richard,’
‘Now go and I will check up on you in a few months,’ Standing he held the door for her. Clutching the key, she leaned up and kissed his cheek.
‘Elizabeth you will get through this and be a stronger person for it,’ his smile gentle while her chin quivered, and her eyes filled with tears.
‘I know,’ her whispered reply.
Car headlights light up the overgrown lane bumping through yet another pothole. Each time illuminating the shrubbery surrounding the road. Leaning over teasing the car with twigs and leaves, scraping and fluttering. Turning a final bend, the lights glow in the clearing that herald the property ahead. Falling on the stone cottage like something from a fairy-tale with its overgrown garden almost smothering it out of existence. Roses scrambling to the light, their tenacious grip on the stonework. Dropping petals like confetti.
‘Oh, Aunt June, what were you thinking?’ The cars occupant whispered into the vacant night. Turning the car off she gingerly pushed the door open manoeuvring herself out. Standing upright she surveyed the once familiar surroundings. In her hand the large iron key that Uncle Richard had handed to her in his plush office. That now seemed a million miles away from here.
She breathed in the familiar scent of the sea that crashed against the rocks a few meters further along the lane. Wrapping her arms around her body a shiver trembled it. The damp mist clinging to her claiming her. Licking her lips she could taste the salt.
A small mewling cry pulls her attention back to the car. The small voice quivers from the interior of the car. Sleep still wrapped around it.
‘Sorry sweetie,’ opening the car door and bending, unlatching the restraint on the car seat and lifting the baby girl free of the seat and into her arms holding her little body tight to her own. ‘This is our new start baby girl,’ her lips pressing to the soft curls on her head her even breathing indicating sleep has claimed her little body again.
Sliding the key into the lock and turning it as Eliza pushed the door open. Reaching along the wall with her fingers until they brush a light switch relief as the room is bathed in soft light. The familiar whitewashed kitchen. She moved to the Arga surprised that it was warm lifting the doomed lid to reveal the hot plate beneath. She picked up the kettle moving to the butler sink and filling it with water. Placing it on the hot metal ring to boil. All the while rocking the baby asleep in her arms. The gentle heat welcomed although it was summer the sea that rumbled below the cliffs kept the temperature cool.
In the centre stood the pine table. A note lay with her name scrawled on it. Picking it up she scanned its contents a slow smile pulled at her lips. Aunt Betty her name’s sake had been and aired the bed and put basics in the fridge. As well as inviting her to lunch on Sunday. Could she cope with this place filled with her previous life. The life before him?
Her mug of milky tea on the scrubbed pine table. How many drama’s had it witnessed. Tears of a heartbroken young girl who had lost her parents had dripped onto its surface. Tears of anger and indignation when Sean Travers had declared he didn’t love her even though she had given him her first kiss. The gentle tick of the grandfather clock in the hall the only sound. Its melodic constant soothing. A reminder of a bliss filled childhood.
Picking up the mug she sipped her tea as the gentle suckle of her baby lulled her. Gazing down she stroked soft skin with her finger. ‘This is our new start,’ she whispered into the gathering dusk. Adjusting her clothing while climbing to her feet. Laying the baby against her shoulder rubbing its back. A giggle bubbling up at the burp such a small thing could make.
‘Is that better,’ her voice still laced with mirth.
Moving along the hallway she stopped and pushed the door to the living room open. Letting her eyes gaze around the room taking in its chintz like décor and the layer of dust that lightly covered every surface like a protective blanket. The furniture still shrouded in sheeting giving the room an eery ghostly feel. A job for tomorrow.
Her legs moved her through the room of their own volition as her mind retreats into the past. The last time she was here. Surrounded by her people as they imparted their condolences at the passing of her aunt and parental figure. He hadn’t accompanied her, she could still feel the disappointment tinged with anger at his thoughtlessness. Now she was glad. His presence couldn’t haunt her as it did everywhere else. This place he hadn’t visited, contaminated with his craziness. That thought had her smiling.
Stopping at the only other door, revealing another small hallway and stairs, stepping lightly up the stairs to be confronted by four doors. Pushing the first open to reveal a bathroom moving to the next pushing it to reveal the bedroom beyond filling her head with more happy childhood memories. Floral wallpaper with accents of pastel pink the theme of the bedroom. Pulling back the comforter on the bed and slipping the sleeping infant under the blankets, snuggling into the bed her thumb firmly in her little mouth.
Moving back through the house and making her way to the car deciding to only retrieve the essentials and to unpack tomorrow. Pulling the bag from the car and dragging it back into the house before closing and locking the door, exhaustion slowly creeping up on her from the long drive down to this remote village. Assembling the small travel cot she gently transferred the sleeping infant into it. Shucking her outer clothing and rummaging in a bag Elizabeth slipped a vest and sleep shorts on. Crawling into the bed that held a slight scent of her beloved aunt.
Breaking glass falling around her as the car tumbled and bounced on its roof, the screech of tyres as all around chaos took its gruesome hold as death swept through ripping families apart. The smell of blood mingled with petrol and still nature had her way as the next contraction held her body in its ridged grip as she scrambled to get free and reach for Robert, but she knew that Robert wasn’t going to wake up would never see his daughters face.
The cry of the baby was so real. That wasn’t how the dream went, bolting upright the cry sounded again, through the open window. Carried on the summer breeze not from the tiny form in the cot. Climbing to her feet wrapping her aunts dressing gown around her as she gingerly made her way through the house opening the front door, poised as she listened for the plaintive wail.
The bright moon light illuminating the overgrown garden and small woodland that nestled the property. There it was, without thinking she drifted into the garden. Her bare feet cool in the grass as she followed the path to the small copse of trees that flanked the left side of the cottage. Shielding it from prying eyes. The rolling sound of the sea greeting the beach below the cliffs the only other sound. As the screech of a seagull tore the silence apart.
Weaker now the cry came again, pushing through the undergrowth to a large oak tree that dominated the small wood. Eliza knelt and gently brushed the leaves away to reveal a small wriggling bundle. Picking it up and pulling the blanket down to reveal an angry face its cheeks drenched in tears. Large golden-brown eyes held her gaze. As if the baby knew its future hung in the balance. That this moment would define its whole existence.
‘Hello sweetheart where did you come from?’ Pushing to her feet she clutched the tiny bundle to her chest and made her way back to the house. Elizer turned at the sound of a vehicle and dogs barking. Through the air the sound of gunfire spat into silence. Its brash, alien noise making her jump and the baby cry. Running back to the house fear in her every step. Shutting the door and bolting it she leaned back catching her breath.
Comforting warmth of the kitchen brought her heartbeat down as she staggered to the sink on unsteady legs. In her arms the precious bundle. Safe. Placing the kettle to boil. The ordinary action another calm. Filling the Belfast sink with warm water, testing it before unwrapping the baby. Its little body trembled with cold and indignation at being naked. A plaintive wail stilled as the warm water enveloped its small body.
‘There you go sweetie, how good does that feel, hmm,’ keeping her voice gentle.
Washing away the dirt before wrapping up in a warm towel. Holding the baby in the crook of her arm. Snuffling her breast, the smell of milk its focus had her chuckling.
‘Impatient little thing,’ Rummaging in one of the baby boxes pulling out a yellow sleep suit and a half pack of nappies.
‘Right then young man let’s get you comfortable and then maybe we can all go back to bed hmm,’ dressing him she slipped her breast free helping him latch on feeling the bond as he suckled his eye lids drooping as he sucked. ‘Tomorrow we will find who you belong too,’ Elizer gazed at the tiny form and wondered how exactly he ended up at the bottom of her garden and where his parents were.
Slipping him into the cot with her baby daughter tucking the blanket around them as her tiny daughter fidgeted until her hand touched his, there tiny fingers linking together as they settled into sleep. Dropping the dressing gown to the floor she climbed into the large bed swiftly falling to sleep.