by Michael Ross
Coming full circle. That makes it sound something geometrically perfect. Not this raggedy mess of a journey which has brought her here, back to where she started.
Downstairs she can hear her father scurrying around the house; old noises, predictable squeaks of doors, the clanking of a teapot on the clapped out Aga. But sadly just one pair of feet shuffling from room to room.
She closes the bedroom door, applying the usual pressure to get past the aged door frame. She closes her eyes, not sure if she wants to travel back, but knowing her head has no choice. The delicate dampness of the rectory’s old walls smells no better or worse, the bed creaks in agonies as she lies on it for the first time in twenty odd years. How long ago? The maths make her a thirty six year old schoolgirl, the oldest school prefect in the world, hiding away from the real world which batters away outside these walls. Nothing has really changed. Maybe some things, as she realises she has been waiting for her mother’s soft murmuring of Methodist hymns as she potters around the house. It used to irritate her like mad, now she would give anything to hear her sweet distant voice again. Father must miss it a million times more, a million times more. As if he is reading her thoughts he breaks into song: “And did those feet in ancient times…” word perfect, pitch perfect. He breaks off and shouts up the stairs.
“Jenny. Tea’s ready. Do you want a toasted tea cake?”
A few more minutes to compose herself would be good.
“Yes please Daddy, I will be down in a minute.”
She walks to the bedroom window, resting her left hand on the dull pink wash basin as she stares out at the world. In twenty years the oak tree has grown strong, thick and bushy. Thin branches which she used to look down on her are now firm and strong, and meet her at eye level. A spindly branch, full of leaf, brushes a scratchy welcome on the window pane; her head turns and twists as she studies this one leaf which is saying:
“So you’re back,” scratch, scrape, scuff.
“Jenny – it’s ready.”
She opens the window and snaps the end off the branch; it cracks like a broken finger. Then she throws the leaf and its family onto the lawn. Sometimes it is easy to end a relationship without too much pain, she thinks, and then shivers as she pictures the broken branch with bark torn like broken skin.
The sweet smell of the teacake passes her on the stairs as she makes her cautious way to the kitchen. The clutter of the room remains a homage to her mother; pots, pans, jars, bottles, colanders, graters, herbs, spices, magazines, books fight a rearguard action to retain their sovereignty, although their ruler passed away more than five years ago.
She studies her father from behind as he fusses away with a blunt knife buttering away at the teacake, his back slightly hunched, his hair lank and thinning, his shirt unknowingly flapping outside his crumpled trousers. Not so long ago a hundred strong congregation would hang on his every word. The same hymn is whispering over the kitchen table, he spins about to call out to her again, then sees her stood before him. His eyes thunder feelings of love across to her; she cannot meet his gaze, because he knows her too well, he reads those lying eyes and still forgives her every time, every single time.
They share the table, chit-chatting about everything and nothing, when the kitchen clock emits the sound of a robin warbling, it must be six o’clock. He leaps to his feet, “Come, come.”
The old routine, every evening whenever possible the whole family had to sit down together and watch the evenings news, followed by vigorous debates between the six of them, their father acting like a chairman, stimulating conversation, provoking thought amongst them. They had all been glad to grow up and leave those evenings behind them, now she ached for just one more chance to hear brother John’s strident liberalism, Ann’s feminist dogma, her mother’s silent observation. Her father’s joy at the family community.
The national news drifted by, bank profits, fires in Spain, royal visits to Pakistan. Not a word meant anything to her. Then the local news; another local factory closed down, a man’s unidentified body found in local woods.
She walked over to the television and pressed the off button and turned to face her faithful father.
“Daddy, I have something terrible to tell you.”
Michael Ross is a mature (very old) student at Bristol Uni who loves writing short stories.