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The Walk - Part 3

by Dowland 

Posted: 20 February 2009
Word Count: 1728
Related Works: The Walk - part 1 and 2 • 

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As far as she could remember, her father had only brought up the subject of her mother on two occasions. The first of these was when Rosalind, fourteen years of age, was sitting numbed by the tedium of yet another Sunday afternoon alone in her room. Her father had appeared in her doorway, his approach so silent she later imagined him waiting on the landing for some minutes, reluctant or afraid to enter and form the words he would rather have left unspoken. Then all of a sudden, out of the quietness he was there, a small wooden box in his hand.
I would have Ė should have shown this to you earlier Ė he said coming to lay the box beside her on the bed, but Ė well, there it is Ė
Inside there was a picture of her mother, a copy of the one Rosalind had taken from her Grandmotherís cabinet, the very day Nanna had died. There were several other photographs in the box, and in each one she recognised her mother. Like so many relics Rosalind lifted them with a gentle touch and studied them in silence. There was one with her father, his arm draped casually about her mothers shoulders; dressed for dinner they turned to face the photographer, smiles frozen for the camera. There were several others of her mother alone, some of them out of doors; the most striking with a wooded back-drop, trees and grass awash with autumn colours. Her mother, ankle deep in a darkening mass of old leaves, wore a long camel-coloured coat with large brown buttons, her hands concealed in dark, slim gloves. The camera caught the effect of a momentary gust of wind; a strand of her dark hair was drawn across her face and a swirl of leaves was suspended in the air behind her. She was laughing, her hand reaching too late to remove the hair from her face as the shutter went down.
Rosalind held onto this picture the longest, willing herself into the scene. She felt the crunch of leaves under her feet and tasted their dusty decay on her tongue as they rose about her in the breeze. On impulse she slid her cold fingers into her motherís leathered palm, leaving them there cocooned, then allowing them to be drawn into the protective depth of her motherís pocket.
When he spoke the suddenness of his voice caused her hand to be released and she felt a momentary sense of loss.
I took that picture, he said Ė I remember, it was the year before you were born. She looked up at her father, counting in her head to be sure:
Then sheís pregnant, said Rosalind, her voice almost a whisper. Iím in this picture too Ė she must have been pregnant with me.

Rosalind had kept the photographs, still in their wooden box, and concealed them at the bottom of her wardrobe. She only looked at the photographs on a few other occasions, it seemed enough to know they were there. But even as the years passed, in her mindís eye, Rosalindís mother maintained her youthful appearance. Whenever she was in town or on passing a group of visitors, dawdling their way around the Estate, Rosalind would catch herself habitually in search of a match; for a glimpse of a long camel coat, for a face that was neither lined by the passage of time nor the weight of a heavy conscience.
She often found it strange that, for someone who had disappeared so completely from her life all those years ago, her mother was rarely more than a thought away. Rosalind had been just under two years of age when her mother had left; she went with only her coat and the contents of her fatherís petty cash tin, the one kept on the shelf in the pantry. When, as an adolescent, Rosalind felt the need to drive herself like a nail into the apparent stillness of her fatherís consciousness, to throw a clanging cymbal into the quietness of their home, she would demand from him the reason for her motherís leaving.
Why did she leave me behind? She would shout, Ė Or did she just forget about me in her rush to get away? Rosalindís father had no answers, no information to hold up between them to absorb her anger at having been left in his care.
In all probability her father knew his limitations from the very start; almost as soon as her mother disappeared he took them both up north to live with his own mother.
Rosalindís Grandmother inspired every one of her earliest memories, and also her very first word, Nanna. In Rosalindís mind as a child, Nanna filled all of her horizons. She began and ended each of her days and filled in all the hours between.
It was Nanna that listened to Rosalindís childish ramblings over breakfast, who walked her home from school and most wonderfully of all at bedtime, spun magical tales to warm her thoughts as she fell into sleep.
For Rosalind her father seemed little more than an occasional but benevolent presence in the household;
Heís certainly not one for wasting words, Nanna once said to Rosalind after her father entered and left the room without any form of acknowledgement beyond the briefest of nods. Iím afraid he takes after your grandfather in that way - my David would always rather have been the one to listen; he used to say that he picked me because I had enough words for us both and that he couldnít bare to go on making small talk at all those work socials when he could get married and have his wife do it for him.
As a family, they only came together properly at the evening meal, taken on the highly polished mahogany table in the dinning room. In all likelihood Rosalind would have spent some portion of her day beneath this very table, sheltering from a storm at sea, or else wandering deep in the dark recesses of some bear-inhabited cave, accompanied only by a small torch and Poppy, her pink teddy bear. Whilst they ate, Rosalind would hold court, chatting and chewing in equal amounts, Nana asking questions, her father passing the odd comment but mostly just nodding and smiling. Though always gentle, her fatherí attention seemed to be held at a distance, his thoughts elsewhere, on his work perhaps, or on a design he was in the process of devising for a new bird-table or bat box. His work certainly made few demands on him beyond the limits of an average working day, but the evenings and weekends were spent either on the local nature reserve, where he was a warden, or else catching up with the daily papers or weekly nature magazines kept stock-piled beside his armchair in the front room;
I love you, Daddy, a five year old Rosalind once said thoughtfully, standing on one of the kitchen chairs beside her Nanna, their hands together in the big mixing bowl, rubbing butter and flour into soft, sandy mounds. Her father, pouring out his tea smiled and drew breath to reply,
But, she went on, I love Poppy and Nanna more.

Rosalindís happiness was such that her motherís absence seemed to play little on her mind, until, aged seven and walking home from school one day, she mentioned quite casually to her Grandmother that the other girls in her class had been asking why her mother didnít live with them; then it fell to her Grandmother to listen with an open heart to a little girlís questions for which no answers existed under the sun.

When, increasingly over the next few years, the questions came again, her Grandmother could only bring out the photograph she kept tucked in the corner of her china cabinet for just those occasions; it was the one she had requested and that had duly been sent by her son all those years before, when, at last in middle age, love had settled upon his heart. This is Julia, he had written simply on the reverse. At the time she had hoped for more details but then her son had never been very forthcoming about even the simplest of things. Still, around the time that Julia entered his life, his mother distinctly recalled noting a change in his voice during their weekly telephone calls; was it a faster pace, or perhaps a greater variety of tone, in any case she had determined her son to be happy.

And now, to her sadness and her joy, the passage of time had delivered a young Rosalind into her home. The child would lean into her side on the low sofa in the sitting room and together they would stare at the picture of Julia, the woman smiling blindly out of the photograph. Whilst Rosalind gently traced the features her Grandmother would say,
See - you have your mothersí dark hair and her eyes, and that pretty nose is yours too.

Then, one spring day, when Rosalind was twelve, her father came to pick her up from school before the final bell. Many years later, sitting together in the Lodge, each fingering a small glass of whisky, they shared their memories of that afternoon. For Rosalind there had been the otherworldliness of crossing the deserted playground to the front gate, saying: Whatís going on, Dad? Her father not looking at her, digging into his coat pocket for his keys, Iíll explain in the car, he had said. He had intended on telling her then and there, he said later, outside the school, but he couldnít bring himself to utter the words that would mark such a turning point in her life. They drove out of town and down to the reservoir where they had sat in a lay-by, a keen march wind scrabbling at the side of the car; and then finally, the words were spoken. Nanna, he said, had had a fall, a stroke; she had died earlier that morning whilst on her way down George Street having just picked something up from the butchers. Rosalind, staring wordlessly out over the reed-edged water with understanding seeping ever so slowly through her veins, could only wonder at the silence of the world as it caved in around her.

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Comments by other Members

SarahT at 22:03 on 24 February 2009  Report this post
Hi Rachael,

You seem to have really hit your stride with this chapter. It flowed really well throughout and I thought that it was, overall, much better than the start. I have only a couple of points.

my David would always rather have been the one to listen; he used to say that he picked me because I had enough words for us both and that he couldnít bare to go on making small talk at all those work socials when he could get married and have his wife do it for him.

That seemed to be a lot for a man of few words to say about why he married his wife!

Also, you talk about Rosalind's father handling bat boxes but this would be about thirty years ago? I think that bat boxes are a fairly newish tool in a nature warden's kit. I'm about Rosalind's age and I certainly certainly don't remember them from my youth.

But that was it. I thought the last sentence was achingly beautiful.

Rosalind, staring wordlessly out over the reed-edged water with understanding seeping ever so slowly through her veins, could only wonder at the silence of the world as it caved in around her.

I got a real thrill reading it - fantastic!


Dowland at 13:37 on 25 February 2009  Report this post
Dear SarahT
I'm so grateful to you for taking the time to comment. You're right about the first point - that made me smile. And the second point about the bat-boxes would never have occured to me - so thanks for flagging that up. I'm new to this and I can't say how pleased I am that it's making sense let alone being of interest to anyone (other than my mother!) - Rachael

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