Going Home. A Short Story.

I wrote this story as a submission to the Bristol Short Story competition and the Scottish Arts Club Short Story competition. It did not make the long list for either, and now that I am over the disappointment I can share it with you.

It is a very special story drawn from a real-life experience.

I tend to research the details in my stories and I include little bits of symbolism that become the golden thread throughout the narrative. Names of characters are chosen for their meaning, as are the plants and trees featured. I love details.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

They walked in peaceful silence, her small companion’s gloved hand nestled trustingly in hers. The air was so cold it felt brittle on her face. Occasionally, the crisp crunch of the boy’s red wellingtons on a frozen puddle was the only sound announcing their presence.

It was a clear morning. The memory of last night’s frost still glistened on the skeletal hedgerows. With a slight shiver, she folded the collar of her coat against the February chill.  A sigh escaped her lips—her warm breath a fleeting vapour. Within seconds, a mere memory. The bones of a shabby cottage came into view. It was much like any of the other cottages dotted along the country lane, but for the presence of an immense yew tree, its gnarled branches held aloft like an ancient guardian.

The sudden snap of a twig in the mossy, damp undergrowth beneath the yew, drew her attention. She gazed groundward—a robin—recently fledged, dull brown feathers hopping along. Fearless, its beady eyes seemed to examine them quizzically.

A baby robin in February!’ She exclaimed. ‘And all alone. It would be a miracle if you survive. Poor wee thing.’

Miracles. There would be none here today.

Sensing that he was being ignored, the boy tugged insistently on her hand, rewarding her attention with a lopsided, snot-covered smile, his blue almond-shaped eyes twinkling mischievously.

Too cold to be daydreaming out here, Noah. Let’s knock. Get inside where it’s warm, eh, my boy?

Flecks of blue paint stuck to her bobbly gloves as she knocked on the tired door. A shambling step within held the promise of relief from the cold. Reluctantly, the stubborn lock gave way to the scraping insistence of a key.

Reverend.’ A voice like gravel. ‘I’ve been expecting you.’ A sudden smile took life on the weather-beaten features as the small boy peeped shyly at him from behind the woman’s black coat.

Hello, Fergus.’ She stumbled over her words. ‘My son… the babysitter cancelled. I had to bring him with. He won’t be any trouble.’

The old man shook his head, ‘you’re alright, Reverend, the lad can sit here by the fire. I can do with a bit of company.

How is she, Fergus? Any change?

Shoulders bowed. He was a tired man in need of relief. ‘She hasn’t eaten in days. I can’t even get her to drink a bit of water. She’s just hanging on. Always was a fighter, my Nell.  I thought, maybe if you could pray with her…?’ What remained unsaid, hung naked in the air between them.

Of course,’ she nodded, taking his trembling hands in hers. Desperate to give the old man hope, but knowing she had none to give. Times like these her dog-collar seemed to expose her worn faith. For Fergus and Nell, the season for hope was long gone. ‘I’ll go through and sit with her. Say a prayer.

The old man nodded at her and shuffled to the sink to fill a slightly-battered kettle with water. ‘I’ll put the kettle on, then, make us some tea, eh, Noah? And a biscuit would be just the ticket today.’ Smiling at the boy, he patted the seat of a rocking chair near the kitchen window. The boy scrambled onto it, beaming a satisfied toothy smile as the chair started rocking back and forth.

The woman, now divested of the encumbrances of winter—coat, hat, gloves, boots—turned towards the doorway. Her stockinged feet cold on the flagstones, she padded gently towards the bedroom at the far end of the dimly-lit hallway. Reaching the entrance, she paused and drew in her breath. As if to inhale courage from deep within.

The muted strains of a cello concerto were playing somewhere in the room. Elgar.  Faded lace curtains at the window were open wide allowing the pale wintery light to dance gently on the bed quilt. The figure in the bed so slight. So still. Nell. Already, it seemed as if she were waiting on her passage home. Not quite ready to go, but almost… Waiting.

Gently the woman folded herself into the deep armchair beside the bed—enveloped by years of worn comfort. Someone had placed a bone china jug of sweet violets on the nightstand. Fergus. The handle had a crack and the gilt had rubbed off in places, but the fragrance of the delicate purple flowers was sweet and smelled like spring. A defiant sign of life.

Hello, Nell. It’s me,’ she whispered, ‘I’ve come to see how you are. It’s cold outside today. I saw a young robin. Fancy that, eh? Just hopping about in the undergrowth. Early for robins, I think.’ Softly she let the words fall from her tongue. Like a fragile offering to her friend. I see you. You’re not forgotten. Reaching for Nell’s hand, she gently stroked the paper-thin skin with her thumb. Skin barely covering the bones of once-proud fingers now cruelly twisted with age.

Shall I read to you? A poem, or a psalm? Psalm 23? That was always… is, your favourite, not?

Up, down, up, down the frail chest rising and falling to its own rhythm. Breaths so shallow they were almost imperceptible. Eyes closed to this world. Life, barely there. Just waiting.

It was as she reached for the dog-eared bible just behind the jug of violets, that the boy suddenly appeared next to her. Startled, she jumped up, took his hand ready to guide him from the room. Ready to shield him from the starkness of impending death. There was too much life oozing from his little body. It felt wrong, here. In this place. But the boy resisted and with a stubborn shake of his head, lips puckered determinedly, he shuffled right up to the edge of the bed. His face so close to Nell’s that their noses almost touched.

A sharp intake of breath from the doorway. Fergus.

The woman looked over her shoulder at the old man. His face was grey. Fatigue. Shock. Probably both. His eyes fixed on the scene playing out before him.

The boy was stroking Nell’s cheek with a chubby hand that still carried traces of the shortbread he had been eating earlier. A pale crumb stuck to the velvety skin under her left eye.

A hush fell over the room.

And then, her voice a raspy whisper, ‘You’ve come… I knew you would.’ Her breath came shallow. One last effort, ‘my boy…

Silence.

The boy’s hand gently fell to the quilt.

Come, Noah.’ The woman, hands resting on her son’s small shoulders, stepped back as Fergus, with raw tears finding their way down leathery cheeks, slowly took his place next to the bed where his entire life lay.

It was much later, after Donald MacLaine from the undertakers had been, and the boy had woken from an exhausted nap in her arms, that Fergus had carefully placed the black and white photograph of the boy, on the kitchen table in front of her. The corners rubbed bare from years of desperate longing.

We had a son. Over the years we had given up hope of ever having children, and then when Nell was almost forty-five years old, our Ewan arrived.’ He glanced away at the boy happily rocking back and forth once more in the old rocking chair.  ‘He also…’ meeting her gaze with a tired smile, ‘He also had Down Syndrome, but that didn’t matter to us. Never was a child loved more. He never left Nell’s side. He was the greatest gift we could have ever wished for. Nell adored him.’ His voice started shaking. Tears fell onto the smiling image of his little boy. A child; frozen in time. ‘We were so happy, until one winter, he fell ill. Some sort of chest infection, they said. He died that winter, and so did a part of my Nell. He was only five-years old. She never got over his death.’

 His gaze came to rest once more on the young boy seated there in his kitchen, as his heart remembered another boy from another time. ‘She was waiting for him. She was waiting just for him to come and fetch her.

That afternoon, as the sun caressed the horizon, the woman and the boy made their way home. A sudden shaft of light broke through the branches of the yew tree. And there, bathed in the last rays of the sun, was the young robin. He was no longer alone. A flash of crimson revealed the presence of an adult robin, perched in one of the lower branches.

You’ve found your mum,’ the woman whispered, ‘all is well here, little one, fly home now.

©Liezel Graham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chosen.

A slightly longer story than my usual. Less than 1000 words, so a lovely quick flash-fiction read that I hope will convey my heart about children with special needs and (dis)abilities.

I have been wanting to write this for such a long time. My son is autistic and as most parents who have walked the diagnosis road will know, everybody has a different reaction to that initial diagnosis; those first words spoken over your child can be a breath of hope, or they can feel like the weight of all your dreams being crushed.

I have spent many hours asking God why my son has autism. Yes, it is part of who he is and I would never trade the incredibly quirky, beautiful personality that he has, because of autism, but he faces challenges that I would give my life to remove from him, if I could, also because of autism.

This is how my heart has made sense of the ‘why’s and the ‘how’s’ that stumble through my heart and my head at 3h00 am.

I hope that this story blesses you, and finds a home in someone’s heart.

Liezel

Come little one,’ He whispered,It’s time.

‘…I am so afraid,’ the small voice came haltingly.’ How will I know what to do?’

‘You are never alone. I will always be with you. You are so precious to Me.’

‘…but, how long? When can I come home?’

‘That, I cannot tell you, little one, not yet. You don’t need to know that. Yet. But, in the blink of an eye, you will be home again, and I shall be right here waiting for you.’

‘…can someone else not go… please?’

‘No. I have chosen you. You are the right one for this. In all of time there has never been anyone more perfect than you. Trust me. I have hand-picked you. My people have forgotten how to love each other unconditionally. I showed them once, but it is not an easy lesson for them to learn. They have built walls around their hearts for fear of each other’s differences. They look, but they do not see. They hear, but they do not listen. They strive for a yoke of perfection that I never placed upon their necks. Life has become trite. Expendable. Cheap. They need to be reminded just how precious they are, how fragile life is. How every little thing is a gift from Me. They look to the gaudy, the shiny tinsel, the outer; instead of the most important thing: that which is inside. Somehow, they have learned to weigh each other up according to some ridiculous scale of worthiness… and that which I value the most, a pure heart, they have disdain for. I am sending you, to remind those who you will encounter that I am the Author of Life. That every life is precious. That every life has value. That every life is from My Hand. That every fragile heartbeat is the melody of heaven. This will not be easy, little one, but I am with you. No matter what happens, remember that I will never forsake you. I will never abandon you. And soon, you will be home again.  I am so proud of you. You are perfection. And when they say that you are not perfect; not normal, remember this: You are perfect. You are a copy of Me. You are on a most important mission, little one, for you will show them how to love again. Without expecting anything in return. And they need to learn to trust, that I have made you perfectly, just the way you are. That I intended for you to be exactly the way you are. And some of them will question whether your life has value. Whether you might not be better off dead. They will say that it will be a mercy. And it will be frightening, I know, but trust Me. I am with you. Always. Now, go. I love you.’

The baby’s mewling cries finally filled the delivery room. It had been a hard labour for the exhausted woman, but she had waited so long for this moment that the pain that had almost torn her apart was already fading from her consciousness, driven by a flood of emotion. Finally. After years of waiting and hoping, she had given birth to her son. Her husband exchanged proud smiles with her. He was a father. At last. A lifetime of cricket games and fishing on Saturday afternoons lay before him. He thought his heart would burst with pride.

The infant had stopped crying and was now making soft snuffling noises. Wrapped in what had once been green sterile cloth, he was systematically being assessed by the paediatrician on call.

Abnormal characteristics were noted on a crisp checklist:  Apgar scores hovering disappointingly low; epicanthic folds on the almond-shaped eyes and a flat little nose. Assessed. Deviations from the norm noted with clinical impassion.

The doctor sighed. Such a pity. A shame, really. Now he would have to relay the bad news to this couple. Why couldn’t they all be born perfect? Medical science still had a long way to go towards ensuring that genetic diseases were eradicated, but, that was life for you. Taking a deep breath, he turned to the new parents with his verdict:

I am so sorry. But there’s something wrong. We’ll run some more tests to confirm the genetics, but your son has Down’s Syndrome. I’ll give you a bit of privacy. I know it’s a shock. But, with time you’ll grow to accept it and well, we’ve come a long way from putting these children into institutions.’ He gives them a forced, slightly too-bright smile. A panacea for the lifetime of hardship ahead of them. ‘He might have a happy, contented life, one never knows, but we can chat about your options once you’ve had some time to deal with the shock. Again, I am so sorry.

Quietly, unseen by human eyes, a Presence was standing next to the plastic crib that held the tiny little boy. A whisper through the ether heard only by soft, downy ears.

I am with you, my little one. I will never leave you. You are perfect. You are loved. I am here, and I will never leave. You are my chosen.’

— Chosen.