A moment in time.

We have had had some unseasonably hot, albeit pleasant weather in Scotland the last couple of weeks. This has resulted in a flurry of activity in our allotment and because it stays light until very late this far North, we have spent some lovely evenings rooting contentedly around our little plot.

A couple of days ago, on one of these fine evenings, we bumped into one of the other allotment plot owners, let’s call him Paul for the sake of anonymity. Seated at one of the battered picnic tables near the shed, he was enjoying a cup of tea from a flask that had seen better days. He had brought his mum, Moira, with him — a tiny, old lady who never quite made eye contact during the conversation. Introductions revealed that she was already well into her nineties, and it didn’t take me long to realise that she had Alzheimer’s disease.

As they strolled around the garden, Paul would patiently point out the different vegetables growing in the plots, and his beautiful mum, wrapped in a heavy winter coat despite the heat, would make appreciative noises, but would then turn to look him in the eye and exclaim that she ‘wished Paul could see this’, to which he would gently reply, “Mum, I am Paul”.

We watched them walk, Paul’s hand on her elbow as he pointed out the different plants and vegetables growing, patiently drawing her back to him each time that she did not recognise him as her son.

It was beautiful, and it was tragic.

A reminder of the cruelty of a disease that can strip a mother of the ability to recognise the child that she birthed and raised, and yet, a poignant reminder of the determined power of a love that can never be destroyed by the monster that is Alzheimer’s.

With us that afternoon, was our 9-year old son, Daniel, who happens to have Autism. Daniel struggles with social interaction, especially with strangers, and so, you can imagine how my heart contracted with a surge of emotion that I still cannot adequately put into words, when he gently took Moira’s frail hand in his and without either of them making eye contact with each other, softly whispered, “Look at her hands, Mom, they are so soft. Is she very old?”

And Moira, quietly stood there, not saying a word, except for the almost bird-like noises that would escape her lips every so often, whilst my son’s fingers explored the transparent skin on the back of her hand.

The moment didn’t last long, but it had a magical quality about it. A sense of something other-worldly taking place between these two strangers — boy and woman — who both inhabit a world that is, at times, inaccessible to the ones who love them.

We spoke a little more until it was time to leave, Moira looking at her son, nodding every so often at what he was saying, and Daniel, tugging at my hand, asking to go home.

And as we said goodbye, I had a sense of something deeply special having happened. I cannot give a name to it, but then again, I don’t think I need to.

— A moment in time.

(Warrior) Mum.

i mourn

the things

that

(this)

life

will not give

to you.

but,

i do not

mourn

you.

— (warrior) mum.

There are days that I mourn what my beautiful boy will never have in this life.

But, I do not mourn him.

He is joy and sunshine and innocence, and my heart is attached to his by an invisible umbilical cord.

He is the answer to desperate prayers and hope fulfilled — treasure in the shape of a boy.

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