Untitled short story in progress

“Behaviour of this sort is simply not acceptable at Langleys!”

Jessica glanced at her mother who was staring intently at Mr Hunter, the Head Teacher, her face a mixture of desperation and fury.

“Mr Hunter,” she started, the control in her voice palpable, “I appreciate that what Jessica did was both dangerous and-”

“Mrs Bream,” he cut her off, “your daughter brought a weapon onto school premises and threatened another pupil with it!”  His tone was incredulous and angry.

Jessica watched a vein pulse in his neck.  It bulged every time he spoke.

“I know that, but-”

“Mrs Bream,” he cut her off again, smiling strainedly in an attempt to calm the situation.  He had noticed Angela Bream’s jaw clenching and knew from the way she was gripping her chair – with such ferocity that her knuckles had turned white – that he was about five sentences away from facing the full wrath of her temper.  They’d been here before, with her sitting in that same chair in fact, and the verbal dressing down she’d given him on that occasion had left him mentally cowering for days afterwards.

“Yes, Mr Hunter,” she seethed the words, and Jessica was reminded of steam escaping from a pan left boiling for too long.

“I am sure you will understand that I have a duty to protect all of my pupils.”

“Are you saying my daughter is a danger to the other students?”  This time Angela had cut him off.  “I don’t recall you saying that when Marie Rayner was terrorising my child!”

Touché, Mum.

As calmly as he could, Mr Hunter met Angela’s gaze.  Hold your nerve, Gerrard.  It’s not your fault it has come to this.  He was blinking quickly – something he did automatically when under pressure – and thought back to the meeting that Mrs Bream was referring to when he’d faced both her and her husband.  Both of them had practically begged him to do something about their daughter being bullied, but there’d been no evidence and no witnesses to the events which they and their daughter claimed to have happened.  He couldn’t control what pupils did whilst away from school premises.  His hands were tied.

“The reasons behind our previous meetings in connection with Miss Rayner were,” he paused, searching for the right word, “unfortunate.”

Angela rolled her eyes.

“But the issue at hand today is that Jessica brought a knife into school, seemingly with the intention of using it to threaten Miss Rayner.  I have half a mind to contact the Police!”

Angela’s eyes narrowed to slits.  You dare.  Go on!  You dare!

“But I won’t,” he added quickly as Jessica tried to control the wave of panic that had started to crash over her.  “However,” he folded his hands and stared at his intertwined fingers, his voice lowered now as though he were a Judge passing sentence, “I have no alternative but to suspend your daughter from school until this matter is resolved.”

“Suspend?”  Angela was outraged and her voice raised a few octaves.

Jessica supposed she ought to be outraged too, but all she felt was overwhelming relief that she wouldn’t have to go to school for a while.  As she wondered how long for, her mother asked that very question.

“Two weeks initially.  There will need to be an investigation and the feelings of all parties taken into account before a decision can be made as to how long it will be before Jessica can return to school.”

Angela flinched as she unclenched her hands from the armrests and leaned over to pick up her handbag.  She had no desire to listen to anymore of this and gestured to Jessica to stand up as she made to leave.

“Mrs Bream,” Mr Hunter sounded almost apologetic.

“Save it,” she snapped, already turning towards the door, but then she turned back towards him.  “With all due respect, Mr Hunter, this whole fiasco has more to do with the generous contributors to your school than it has to do with protecting your pupils.”

Jessica stood up, glancing back and forth between her mother and her Head Teacher.  The steely glint in her mother’s eyes told her that she’d got the measure of Mr Hunter and he knew it too.  He started to defend himself, but Angela was already exiting his office with Jessica close behind her.  Jessica, who before today had never knowingly broken any school rules – ever – paused to look back at a man whom she had once believed would protect her.  She thought she saw regret in his eyes, but couldn’t be sure.  She dutifully turned back to her mother and left.

“A letter will be sent in the post,” he said weakly before sitting down.

The weapon in question lay before him on the desk and he picked it up – a pathetic looking pen-knife.  It would barely open a letter, let alone do anything else, but rules were rules and he had to follow them.  He tossed the penknife to one side and then slammed his hands down on the desk in anger.  Angela Bream was right.  At some stage – and he was at a loss to pinpoint exactly when – Gerrard Hunter had been bought.  He opened the top drawer of his desk and snatched a mint from the half eaten packet.  It did little to extinguish the putrid taste of shame.

“Duty to protect his pupils?”  Angela’s voice was high pitched as she charged down the school corridor with her daughter in tow.  “Duty to protect his pupils, my backside,” she almost shrieked as she crashed through the main entrance doors into the blazing sunshine.

“Mum!”  Jesica shouted as she only just managed to halt the heavy oak door from bashing into her face.

“What?”  Angela snapped, misdirecting her annoyance, but she did a double-take when she realised what had happened.  “Gosh, sorry, love!  Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jessica answered sullenly, swiping her mother’s hand away from her face.

Now that Angela’s internal monologue of fury had been interrupted she suddenly felt helpless.  Her eyes pricked with tears and her shoulders fell in defeat.  “I can’t believe this is happening,” she muttered, and her cheeks began to burn as she realised people would find out about this.  Her friends, her boss, her neighbours; they would all find out that her daughter was practically a criminal.  What they probably wouldn’t be told was that Marie Rayner had made Jessica’s life a living hell for the past year.  There were reasons things had come to this.  Her daughter had been provoked, pushed to her limit.

They were stood outside the front entrance of Langley High.  Angela looked up at the drab, grey building.  It was so depressing to look at from the outside, but inside were some of the most modern classroom facilities that any schools in the area had to offer.  As her eyes fell on the window of what was once her form room, she was consumed with memories of her own time there.  Such happy years, they’d been.  Yes, of course she’d had her ups and downs like any teenager just trying to make sense of themselves and the world, but overall she’d had a great experience and had been one of the most popular girls in her class.

Her gaze now fell upon Jessica, who stood like a gawky, introverted ten year old as opposed to the confident, blooming fifteen year old that she had been before Marie Rayner chose her as her main target.  Angela’s heart ached.  People always warn new parents about the sleepless nights, the smelly nappies and the terrible twos, but they don’t warn you about how gut wrenching things get when your child is older.  She couldn’t help Jessica make friends and she couldn’t magically make her popular.  Her child wasn’t liked and that hurt Angela like hell; it felt like a personal slight, and it was something she couldn’t just kiss and make better.  Her throat began to constrict.

“C’mon Jess,” Angela held an arm out to her baby, her only child.

Jessica didn’t want her mother’s arm around her.  In fact, she didn’t want to be anywhere near her right now.  She didn’t want to be near anyone, but she’d heard her Mum’s voice waver and knew she was doing her best not to cry, so she put up with it and allowed herself to be fussed over as they walked to the car.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

© www.mypastmademe.com 2012

Think of the Good Times, My Love

It hurt to see her daughter crying like this.  Her poor baby, utterly inconsolable with shoulders heaving erratically as she gulped great big gasps of air as though they were her last; fat teardrops cascading down her sweet face.  Marilyn watched with a heavy heart as her daughter, Lynn, sat on the cold tiled floor, slumped against the kitchen cupboards.

“I … miss … you … so … much … Mum,” the words came from Lynn’s mouth in disjointed breaths, as though each word was stuck in its own little iron cage, fighting desperately to get out.

The hardness of the floor beneath her reflected the hardness of her heart in recent weeks.  Since her mother had died, she’d locked it and thrown away the key.  Her coping mechanisms had completely collapsed and her faith had been profoundly rocked.  She was lost and isolated in a world of grief with no doors or windows.  She had said prayers all of her life, much more so when her mother had become ill, but what good had it done?  Bitterness was taking hold of her.  The people she loved were all going to be taken away from her in the end anyway, or she would be forced to leave them without any say in the matter, so what was the point?  Her face was sullen as she grasped her knees, hugging them in to her chest.  She was a grown woman, yet she felt like a dejected schoolgirl sitting all on her own in the playground of life.  Loneliness was haunting her day and night.

“The Lord, our Father is with your mother now,” Mavis Brentwood had murmured to her after the funeral, her voice packed with sympathy.  She had cradled Lynn’s hands with such affection, but all Lynn had been able to think about was how quickly she could escape from the church and its anguished atmosphere.  She was only there out of obligation.  The Priest had persuaded her that her unwillingness to attend her mother’s funeral was an understandable reaction to the grief, and that being there would help her mother cross over to the other side more easily.  All of it was so dreamlike, so unreal; a horrendous nightmare that she couldn’t wake up from.  Visions of the painful happenings in recent weeks taunted her … the nurse quietly lifting the white sheet over her mother’s beautiful face, the empty hospital bed, the sympathy cards, the leather scented car in which she had sat for the cortege, the church swelling with mourners, the burning realisation that she was sitting in the same room as her mother for the very last time in her life … and the gaping, agonising hole in her slaughtered heart.

Lynn had endured unbearable grief when her father passed away, but this was worse, like having the very core of your soul ripped out and being blind to what people might think of the remains.  She didn’t know who she was any more and felt completely disoriented, adrift at sea with nowhere to anchor.  She had managed to mumble a weak “thank you” to Mavis on that awful day, but she hadn’t truly meant it.  She did not want the Lord to be with her mother!  Lynn wanted her Mum here so that she could be with her; so that she could look at her once more, so that they could laugh together again, and so that she could continue looking after her as she had done for so long.  But where was her mother now?  Her parent, her teacher, her inspiration, her guiding light … where was she now?  Lying in a box, buried in the ground, that’s where.  Lynn crumpled again at the thought of it and was consumed by heavier and more violent sobs than before.

Lynn’s face was contorted, her eyes stinging and her ears ringing.  Wrath was gnawing on her spirit.  Why did her mother have to leave so soon?  Why couldn’t she have stayed longer?  Why couldn’t the doctors have done something more to help her?  Why couldn’t they make it easier for her at the end?  Why couldn’t they have had more time together?  Her mind was drowning in a flurry of questions and she wanted to shout them all out loud.  She wanted to rage at the heavens until God was forced to see sense and return her mother to her rightful place … but she was void of heart.  All her energy had been sapped by the relentless, overwhelming grief.  There were a few sporadic moments of clarity when she suspected she was being selfish … her mother had been in agony and it had almost been a blessing when she remained in her slumbers; an infinite, unbroken sleep from which she would only wake for the stars and the moon.

Marilyn watched Lynn rubbing her furrowed brow and swollen eyes.  She too wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, but she was incapable of feeling anything except an overpowering sense of love.  Yes, of course it hurt that she could only be here in spirit now and not in person, but regardless of her melancholy it was impossible to feel anything except love … an intense, immeasurable canyon of it.

“How I wish you could see me,” Marilyn whispered to her daughter, stroking her hair softly.  “I’m here, sweetheart, it’s okay,” she was kneeling next to her, leaning her head on coconut fragranced hair.  Marilyn recognised the smell of her own shampoo which Lynn had been using since her mother died in a desperate bid to be reminded of her.  It was a futile attempt to convince herself that this was not reality, that there was a blip in the matrix, and her mother was in fact going to call for her any second and she would go running to her.

Lynn had always known she would reach this inevitable phase of life one day and she was conscious of the fact that she’d had much more time with her parents than most, but it did not placate her in any way.  Her father had passed away only a few years earlier so she had been so very lucky having both parents for so long, sharing their twilight years and taking care of them as they had always taken care of her.  So many of Lynn’s friends had lost their parents over a decade ago, yet her Mum and Dad had been inexplicably blessed with an extension to the sands of time and were able to enjoy many more years of happiness with Lynn, her husband and their children.  They were one contented, close knit, multi-generational family.

Suddenly, Lynn felt peaceful and still, a much needed respite from the crying.  She tried to regain control of herself in this eye of the storm, shipwrecked as she was, and smoothed her hair where she kept feeling the oddest sensation on her scalp.  She gazed towards the streak of light pouring in through the kitchen window, dripping off the windowsill, bouncing off a crystal, giving birth to a myriad of rainbows dancing up the far wall.

Closing her puffed, tired eyes she tried to focus her thoughts.  There had not been many times in recent weeks when she had been allowed time alone to grieve.  Someone was always telling her that this had to be done, or that had to be done, or that she should let go of this and say goodbye to that, but she wasn’t going to have it.  What right did these people have in ordering her to relinquish memories of her mother, telling her that she should rid herself of treasured clothes and belongings as if she had simply left town?  No way!  The annexe would stay as it was; she felt her mother could be near to her there and without that feeling she was sure she would be completely bereft.

Sighing deeply, Lynn felt a glow of pride at how she and her husband had looked after her parents under their own roof for so long; she could give herself praise for that much at least.  Taking care of them was something she had always sworn to do and her husband, Ted, had supported her on it without question when the time came.  He had balked at the idea at first (what man wants to live with his in-laws by choice?), but he was devoted to Lynn and knew what it meant to her to repay her elderly parents in such a meaningful and incalculable way.  Being in a position to care for them, as well as Ted, had meant the world to Lynn.  Their own daughter, Melanie, was all grown up with her own family to look after and she did not often ask for or need help from them, so being needed by her own parents had given her purpose.  Her life had become meaningful once again.

Ted was also struggling to get through the days since his mother-in-law’s death.  He had loved her very much and missed being regaled with tales of her young adulthood and the effects of the Second World War, or stories about Lynn growing up.  He still terribly missed his father-in-law too, his expert opponent at chess.  Now that they were both gone, Ted was powerless, watching his wife withdraw again.  She was retreating deep inside herself and he didn’t know what to say or do in order to ease her pain.  In time, he hoped she would survive her grief and not be so devastated at the thought of the empty space her parents used to occupy – physically and emotionally – but for now he did not dare suggest such a thing and knew it was more than his life’s worth to touch or move anything in the annexe.

On his deathbed Lynn’s father, Ernie, had thanked his daughter and Ted for enabling him to keep his dignity (“I want to be in my home, lass, not someone else’s!”), and they had both agreed that this parting sentiment was the greatest gift he could have bestowed upon them.  How distant that angst-ridden day felt now, like looking at life through a telescope.  Lynn still missed him dreadfully, but these days could often reminisce about him with fondness and laughter without ending up a tearful wreck.  It wasn’t that she had found her father’s death any less painful because she had loved him very much and was heartbroken when he passed away, but her mother had been there to help her through it.  Likewise, Lynn had focused on helping her Mum through that traumatic time too, so the grief was easier to bear as they had supported each other and got through it together.

Taking a deep breath, Lynn recalled her mother’s sadness at the loss of her father.  As she’d taken what would be the last few breaths of life, she’d told Lynn she was looking forward to being with her darling husband again, and had managed a weak smile amidst her suffering.  Lynn now tried to find comfort at the thought of her parents’ reunion, but it did little to heal the cavernous, open wound left by her mother’s death.  My God, she was now an orphan!

Lynn stared at the bouncing spectrums on the wall.  Oh, how wonderful her mother had been!  What a special person she was – is – Lynn corrected herself.  Whenever she had needed someone, her mother had been there for her without question.  She had moved mountains when necessary rather than let her down.  A loving, caring and virtuous mother to her own children, Lynn had always felt there to be a chasm between how she saw herself as a parent compared to the memories and successes of her own mother raising her.  Marilyn was always so perfectly modest about being so modestly perfect that Lynn had never been made to feel insecure or inept.  This was part of her mother’s charm, her magic.  She just sort of did it.

When Lynn was engulfed by postnatal depression after the birth of Melanie, swallowed by bouts of extreme doubts and inadequacy at her ability to raise a child, her mother had supported and nurtured her, effortlessly and naturally connecting new mother to baby daughter with a sticky, invisible glue of love which to this day had never dissolved.  Now Melanie had three children of her own.  Thankfully, she had never suffered with any form of depression, but Lynn had often questioned herself as to whether she could have been as supportive a mother to Melanie as her own mother had been to her.

Sometimes, Lynn considered, she had vaguely resented how magnificent her mother had been at handling everything and she remembered the times when Melanie had automatically approached her grandmother for advice instead of her.  She had felt such a failure at those times and had reacted ungraciously.  Images of tantrums, bad moods, and scornful, meaningless words she had inflicted upon her mother throughout her life now conjured up in her mind.  The visions seemed to play relentlessly; a taunting, haunting, recriminatory film that she didn’t know how to stop.  An enormous cloak of guilt was hovering over her, threatening to destroy her if it came to rest upon her shoulders.  She shook her head, trying to eliminate the pictures – the horrid film – from her mind, but the images wouldn’t leave and the film kept on playing.  Her eyes started to well with tears again.  Why had she always been so ungrateful?  Why had she never appreciated her mother fully when she had the chance?  Drops of saltiness trickled down her cheeks, sliding down her ivory skin to her collar where they were absorbed into the soft, pink fabric now sodden with sadness.  The remorse she felt was suffocating and she sank down a little further against the cupboard upon which she was leaning.

Marilyn surveyed her daughter with such sorrow.  “Oh, don’t do this to yourself!” she soothed.  For the first time in her life – in death, she corrected herself – she could do nothing to comfort her.  She could not, as she had done so many times before, talk Lynn through this and make her realise that everything would be okay.  She could not stroke her forehead and lull her to sleep, or cuddle the pain away.  She could not mop her tears, or put an arm round her, or make her a sweet “mother’s tea” which always made her feel better when she was upset.  Marilyn was denied offering all of these things now.

She watched as Lynn’s cat, Smudge, padded over to her and curled up in a ball … a grey puff of intangible smoke.  How she wished her daughter could see him too!  It would make her so very happy; she had loved him so much, her faithful, loving pet.  He had lived to the ripe old age of 19, a great achievement in cat years, and Marilyn knew she still missed him every day.  Lynn had discovered him in a plastic bag abandoned in one of the nearby fields where she and her father always loved to walk.  She had immediately fallen in love with the disoriented, petrified kitten and he had followed her everywhere. 

“Funny,” Marilyn smiled at her daughter, “you always did want a dog before you found Smudge.”  She reached over and let a hand slide over his glorious, silky coat, “But then we always knew you had an identity complex, didn’t we?”

The regal cat threw her a look of disdain.  How fine he looked now, no longer old and frail, and certainly not the weakened mite whom Lynn had been forced to take to the Vet all those summers ago.  On her own, with everyone else at work, she had been burdened with the decision to either have more time with him – a selfish wish – or have him put to sleep.  She had known that the kindest thing to do was let him go, but it had broken her heart to initiate the end of his life.  Marilyn grimaced … that split-second pin-prick of death had left its mark on her daughter who had tortured herself about it in the years that followed.

Marilyn sat down, shuffling herself along the floor until she was facing Lynn who was leaning against the opposite wall.  She stared at her daughter, her precious little girl who was now sixty years old … but that didn’t matter; she was still Marilyn’s baby, her best achievement in life.  What a joy she had been to her!  She had brought such happiness into her life, sprinkling sweetness into each day like the finest sugar you ever tasted, and the peace she had instilled within Marilyn’s spirit was immeasurable.  She reached across to wipe a tear from her daughter’s chin before it fell and watched Lynn’s left hand shoot up quickly, covering her plump lips in mute surprise, a look of confusion washing over her face.  It quickly faded and Lynn’s hand then dropped down heavily to her lap, more tears spilling from her eyes as a fresh wave of grief gripped her.

“How lucky I was to have you as my daughter,” Marilyn sighed, looking at Lynn wondrously.  Marvelling at her child, Marilyn thought of all the happy times they had spent together – a million moments, splinters of memories that she would remember for eternity.  She recalled some of the disagreements they’d had once upon a time.  What battles!  Some of them had been spectacular, particularly when Lynn was a teenager.  She smiled as she thought to herself that even if she could live her life over again she wouldn’t change one single thing … but it was a smile tinged with sadness because she knew full well that her daughter was persecuting herself for all those rebellious instances right now, where by contrast Marilyn regarded those moments as equally special.  From her point of view they were times when she had seen, first-hand, the amazing stubborn streak that her daughter possessed; she had witnessed how her fierce independence surfaced in everything she did; and she had experienced the guilt-edged tenderness lavished upon her when they made up.  Indeed, she smiled to herself, whenever stormy seas had calmed and matters were properly resolved, mother and daughter would sit together for hours, talking and bonding.  They had put the world to rights a thousand times, and those were the times when Marilyn had truly appreciated the extra special relationship she had with her daughter.

Surging with pride, a steely glint in her eye, Marilyn lifted her head to observe her daughter.  She had brought this child into the world and helped create (grow, no less!) the fine woman she saw before her.  She had nurtured this woman who had stood by her through everything in life, who never deserted her or left her to cope alone.  She had given life to this woman who had been her rock when her beloved Ernie passed away several years earlier.  She had encouraged and supported this woman who flourished into a wonderful wife and mother in her own right.  And she had raised this brilliant woman who had been a loyal and loving daughter who’d stayed with her mother, holding her hand continuously while she helplessly watched life ebbing away from her in a hospital bed.  It saddened her to see Lynn sitting there in a useless heap, a rare chink in her gleaming armour.  “Think only of the good times, my love,” she pleaded in vain.

Weakened from grief, her daughter’s sobs lightened to pititful, unremitting weeping.

“If only you could see me now,” Marilyn enthused, smiling at her daughter.  “My legs don’t hurt any more, my back’s just fine, and your Dad’s here too, love!”  She rolled her eyes playfully, “I can barely tear him away from his old friends, but he’s just how he used to be … with his rosy cheeks and everything.  No gauntness, just full of life!”  The irony of those last few words stung.  Her tone lowered and she leaned in towards Lynn, talking faintly, “How I wish you could hear me.”  She placed her hands over her daughter’s, holding them gently, her petite digits splayed out neatly.

Lynn felt a tingling sensation on the backs of her hands.  She looked at them and (seeing nothing there) hoped her skin was not going to flare up again.  The stillness had returned to her.  Again.  How peculiar, these suddenly calm moments!  How odd!  With this sudden notion of the extraordinary, she felt a rush of adrenalin and her heart started to pound rapidly.  A bomb of logic seemed to detonate in her brain, wiping out all common sense in the aftermath, and she couldn’t explain or fathom what she was feeling.

“Mother?” she blurted out, her back arching like a feline princess.

Smudge stood up, purring loudly and impatiently, wishing that his owner would hurry up and acknowledge his presence.

Marilyn did likewise, standing quickly, watching her daughter’s eyes dart madly around the room.

“Mum?”  She was frantic now.  “Mum, are you here?”  Lynn was also standing now, leaning back against the worktop for support, trying to catch her breath.  She felt scared, thrilled, hopeful.  “Surely not!” she muttered to herself, laying a hand on her chest as if to check that her thumping heart was not about to explode right out of it.  “It can’t be,” she mused, as she again felt an enveloping tranquility fill the room.  She looked accross to the door … she could have sworn that was the outline of her mother’s face.  Was it?  “Mum?  Mummy!”  Lynn Wilson wondered if she was going senile, but knew in her heart that she wasn’t.  Could it be?  Was her mother here?  She had begged her to come, after all; they had talked of it often towards the end.  Lynn had even whispered a reminder to her mother as she lay frail and tired on that abysmal day, asking if she would please come to give her a sign.  She knew she’d been heard, and her mother had always promised that she would prove she was still with her.  Was this it?  Was this the sign?  Was she here?

The front door slammed and Lynn jumped, snatched from her thoughts.

“Hi Mum … just me and the kids!”  Lynn’s daughter kept a key to her mother’s house and had let herself in as usual.  She bustled her children into the living room where they amicably installed themselves in front of the television, and then she headed for the hub of her mother’s home.  Melanie was talking as she stalked down the hallway towards the kitchen.  “I was going to ring, but I thought that instead I would-,” Melanie froze as she entered the room, stopping abruptly, her words hanging in the air like motionless birds.  It was as though someone had pressed the pause button on the video of life.  She stood there rigid; the only part of her that moved was her head as she looked over to her mother. 

Lynn was silent, her heart still thudding rapidly.  She watched Melanie take a deep breath in, speaking as she exhaled slowly.

“Granny’s here,” she said restfully.  Not a question; a statement.  She knew.  Melanie knew!  “Don’t you feel it?” she quizzed her stunned mother.

Lynn was stock-still.  “But Mel,” she faltered, eyes fixed on her daughter, “is it just wishful thinking?  Are we fooling ourselves?”  She was overwrought, waiting for an answer.

Immobile, Melanie sniffed the air.

“Mel?”

“I can smell her perfume,” Melanie glanced back at her mother, grinning wildly, her body finally relaxing.

Lynn almost dropped to the floor and Melanie caught her as she lurched forward, buckling with immense sobs of joy.  “I can too, but I thought I was imagining it,” her words were strangled.  “I can’t believe this is happening!”  She clutched Melanie’s arms to confirm that this moment was real, that this was actually happening.

“Mum,” Melanie looked her mother squarely in the eyes and said sternly, “this is happening.  She’s here.

Lynn’s eyes danced as she strived to take it all in.  Yes, her daughter really was standing here in front of her and, yes, this was definitely real.  Her precious mother was here in this very room with them right now.  She had kept her promise!

Marilyn was ecstatic, watching these two darlings hug and console each other as they rejoiced this paranormal miracle, a small slice of happiness in a web of grief.  It was strange … she wanted to cry with joy, but the tears just would not come.  She was still getting used to things like this; the ability to cry was simply not there any more and tears – whether of joy or sadness – were unachievable.  Everything was so different now.

After a few minutes of hugs, tears and happiness, Lynn straightened herself, smiling at her daughter.  “I’m alright now,” she said, gesturing to her that she should check on the children.  Melanie wavered, unsure whether to leave her mother, even just for a second.  Something really extraordinary had just happened, something really weird!

“Go on, Mel … I’m fine,” Lynn lightly pushed her towards the kitchen door.  “It’s what I was waiting for, love.  It’s what I needed … Mum promised she would come.  I can start coping now,” she was self-assured, her face serene.

Melanie was filled with a sense of hope that her mother would now return to her old self, not the empty shell she had been since Granny died.  Relieved, she did as her mother asked and went to the living room to check her children who had been unusually quiet.

Alone again, a few tears escaped from Lynn’s sprightly green eyes.  She felt so strange, this was all so surreal.  As she filled the kettle with fresh water she silently acknowledged to herself that the burgeoning heaviness, the deadweight that she had been dragging around with her the past few weeks, had gone and she felt lighter, normal, sure that she would be able to function properly once more.  She could smile again – albeit a muted smile – and she did not feel guilty about it.  There was no mirror to look into in the kitchen, but she also knew – she literally felt – that her face was transformed.  Lynn knew that she looked like her old self again, the way she did before her mother left this plane.  She flicked the kettle on and clinked two mugs onto the worktop ready to brew some strong, sweet tea.

Marilyn watched Lynn with an impending sense of sadness, aware that it was almost time to go.  Sure enough, the white, infinite light appeared next to her calling her home.  With weighted eyes, she looked back at her daughter to say goodbye once more.  Smudge was passionately weaving around Lynn’s legs, determined for his much-loved owner to feel his touch before it was time to go.  He was getting quite fed up with this!  He had to make so much more of an effort these days, more than he ever did when they were together for all those years, but he would not allow his loyalty to wilt.  None of the leg-rubbing he did on each visit to his sorely missed companion had ever worked before now, but he was not going to give up.  Sensing that he would have to leave shortly, he gave Lynn one last, long caress and then sauntered over to Marilyn.

Lynn was lost in her thoughts as she furiously stirred the tea.  The instant that Smudge walked away from her, she ceased stirring and urgently reached down to feel her legs and ankles, straining to see something that clearly wasn’t there.  ‘Well, surely not,’ she thought to herself, but she could have sworn it felt like … well, why not if her mother was here?

“Smudge?”  She turned towards the dancing rainbows on the wall and drew a sharp breath in as she saw the blurry outline of a hand and the veiled silhouette of a swishy, brushy tail just like Smudge’s.  Holding herself upright, Lynn finally remembered to breathe out.  The exhaled air seemed to spawn a broad, loving smile which swam across her face and then remained fixed.  It was a smile meant for her beautiful, vivacious mother and her treasured, majestic cat.  She believed.  She knew.  “I love you, Mum,” she choked.  “I love you, Smudge,” she looked towards the floor as she spoke, hoping that he was looking back at her with those Egyptian eyes full of love and trust.  She had always found such peace in those eyes.

The white light beckoned; it was time.  “We love you, Lynn,” Marilyn beamed, secure in the knowledge that her daughter would be alright now, that she would survive this grief.  She turned to the imperial cat, “C’mon, Smudge!”  She looked into the white light, asking a voiceless question.

“Really?  Can we?”  Marilyn was all aflutter at the answer and turned to Smudge to tell him the news.  He sniffed at her and yawned, knowing full well that he had all the time in the world to do whatever he wanted.  He already knew that they could come back any time they liked; he didn’t need to ask any voiceless questions.  For such an intelligent woman, Marilyn certainly had a lot to learn about the afterlife!

A final smile to a beloved daughter, an adored friend, then mother and cat started walking into the intense, white light.  Marilyn was already planning their next visit.

“Oh, Smudge, we should bring Ernie with us next time.  Maybe Lynne will be able to smell his aftershave!”

© www.mypastmademe.com 2011

The Invisible Gift

“Give it back, Brian!”  Daisy yelled at her little brother

“No, I won’t!  Why should I?”  He was glowering at her, gripping the DVD remote control against his body where she wouldn’t be able to reach it without a fight.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Jean groaned despairingly, distracted from the book-keeping again by her children.

“Now you’ve done it,” Brian grumbled, sitting back in the armchair.

“You little monster!”  Daisy seethed, her face flushed with anger.  This always happened!  Her spoilt brother always ruined her plans by doing exactly what he wanted.  When were her parents going to realise what a little brat he was and pack him off to some boarding school so she could have some peace?

Jean wearily entered the room.

“It’s her fault!”  Brian suddenly wished he had let Daisy have her own way instead of causing more trouble for Mum.

“No, it’s not!  Mother, tell him, will you?”

“Oh, what is it now?”  This was the third time Jean had been disturbed by their petty squabbling and she really was tired of it.  Didn’t they realise that the books just had to be done?  If she didn’t submit the Tax Return by the end of January, without fail, Jean and Terry Hatton would receive a fine from the Inland Revenue that they could ill afford.  Life was complicated enough without these silly temper tantrums.  She tuned out from the scene whilst Daisy and Brian continued arguing, each of them desperately trying to get their mother on-side before she determined who would be victorious.  They had no idea that she had developed – no, perfected – an expression that not only led them to believe she was listening intently, but which also left them convinced she truly cared about their tiff.  ‘Stop it, Jean,’  she scolded herself.  She was becoming sour with tiredness.  Her sweetness was disappearing, absorbed by a combination of the workload generated by the business and the never-ending list of chores that required her attention at home.  She couldn’t cope for much longer.

“Mum?”

Daisy’s sharp tone snapped Jean out of her trance.  She blinked several times, straightened herself and then brandished an arm in the air to indicate that she couldn’t possibly commit to an answer (which brilliantly disguised the fact that she hadn’t listened to the question).  ‘I mustn’t do that any more,’ she thought, annoyed that now she had become even more embroiled in the quarrel.  It would have been over and done with already if she had simply admonished both children straight away and returned to her books.

Jean studied her offspring.  Brian was only ten.  He could be excused from these sorts of wrangles; it was natural at his age to be defending his corner, rightly or wrongly.  But Daisy!  Daisy should know better.  She was forever whinging and causing problems.  Despite her efforts, she had been unemployed for six months, but her father was adamant that she would not be forced to work in the coffee shop against her will.  It infuriated Jean that a good job was there for the taking yet Daisy was totally against the idea of working for her parents, even just temporarily.

Daisy glared at her mother impatiently.  Was she ever going to answer?  The pause had given Brian time to remember the computer game stuffed at the back of his wardrobe.  He hadn’t played that for a while; it would kill a few hours until Dad came home.  The lull for Daisy, however, had only served to make her feel increasingly hard done by.  She didn’t see what the problem was.  She was bored of listening to music in her bedroom and wanted to watch a DVD instead.  End of story.

After what seemed like an age, Jean turned to her son with pleading eyes, “Brian, love, I really need to get these books done or your father and I will be in serious trouble.  Please find something else to do.  For me, eh?”

Brian nodded.  He felt so sorry for Mum these days; she worked so hard all the time and he was starting to worry about her.  He tried his best to make things easier for her, but he somehow always managed to make things worse.  Last week he had mown the lawn, but nearly electrocuted himself when he’d accidentally mown over the cable.  After examining Brian to check he was okay his Dad had shouted at him for being so careless, then remorsefully patted him on his head and suggested he play on the computer.  A few days earlier, Brian had tried to help Mum in the coffee shop by pricing some biscuits, except he’d forgotten to check the counter on the pricing gun and had added an extra pound on the price of every packet.  Mum had said it was a waste of time and labels although she was glad of his assistance and suggested he read a book for a change.  Then yesterday – and Brian had declared that this would be his triumph – he’d surprised Mum by doing some washing, only he hadn’t noticed one of Dad’s red socks in the load, and it was new, and it bled all through the wash so Mum’s favourite white blouse had ended up a washed-out shade of pink.  She had been dreadfully upset, but had explained it was because she was so exhausted.  Brian had been so tearful afterwards that Mum had worn the strangely coloured blouse to work today to make him feel better.

But Daisy … where had they gone wrong?  She was a good girl, yes, but so lazy.  Lazy Daisy!  It had become a bit of a joke at home in the last few months, but things were getting out of hand now.  The only things she seemed to be interested in were going shopping, surfing the internet, chatting on the ‘phone or watching television – all things that cost money.  Jean shook her head in exasperation.

“Well, Mother?”  Daisy was brusque.

Jean levelled her with her eyes, “Daisy, I’m disappointed in you.”

“Oh Mum,” she whined.

“Oh Mum, nothing … you’re the eldest and you should be trying to help me, not constantly rowing with Brian.  He’s only ten.  Ignore him.  Don’t rise to it!”  Her voice was gentle, but to Daisy it might as well have been a jagged knife.

“But -”

“But, nothing,” her mother interrupted.  “Just stop it please!”

Daisy was feeling exceptionally stupid and embarrassed.  She couldn’t believe this!  Why did she always get the blame?  What made Brian so special?  She gazed at her mother and then her body felt as though it were filling up with liquid guilt – rising rapidly from the soles of her feet right up to the follicles on her pretty, blonde head – and it was so intense, so burdensome, so … horrible.  Her eyes pricked with tears at the injustice of it all.  She glanced at Brian who looked like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and then she quickly ran out of the room, deliberately ignoring her mother’s outstretched hand.  Daisy’s guilt-ridden feet were stomped as loudly as possible all the way up the stairs and her bedroom door was slammed with equal enthusiasm.  She sat on her bed sulking as she surveyed her bedroom.  “I bet my mates aren’t treated like this,” she yelled.  “I hate it here!”  She buried her face deep into her pillow to muffle the stinging, uncontrollable tears and stifle her angry, juvenile emotions.

The next morning was Saturday.  Daisy rolled out of bed and charged into the bathroom.  She had promised to meet her best friend, Angela, in the shopping centre at midday and she didn’t want to be late.  When she later emerged downstairs her mood was good, but the moment she spotted Brian fussing over their mother in the kitchen it deteriorated.  She breezed in, grabbed a bowl and filled it with cereal without any sort of a ‘hello’.

“Morning, love,” her Mum was holding out her arms for a hug as Brian washed dishes at the sink.

“Morning,” Daisy growled, dumping the milk bottle back into the fridge door with the same testiness she had displayed the previous evening.

Jean’s heart sank.  ‘Teenagers,’ she consoled herself, although it wounded her that Daisy could so callously ignore her attempt to make-up.  “I’ll leave you to it then,” she said mournfully.  “I know what you’re like in the mornings.”

“I’m not like anything,” Daisy hissed and jumped up to grab her coat and bag.

“Where are you going?”  It was a miracle Daisy was out of bed at all at this hour on a Saturday, let alone dressed and going out!

“I’m meeting Angela,” she said nonchalantly.  “We’re going Christmas shopping.”

“Of course,” Jean panicked, realising that Christmas Day was less than a fortnight away.  She was so disorganised this year and not fully prepared for the festive celebrations.  At least she had bought all of the children’s presents; she’d found the time for that during her lunch breaks.  “Be careful, won’t you?”

“Oh, Mum!”  Daisy rolled her eyes as she tossed her bag over her shoulder and turned to leave.

“Wait!  Don’t forget you promised to work at the coffee shop this afternoon.”

Daisy froze on the spot, her face pink with rage.  It was obvious that she had completely forgotten.

“Oh, love,” her mother said calmly, reaching to put an arm around her, “you forgot, didn’t you?  I’m so sorry.”

Daisy erupted, pulling away from her.  “Why didn’t you remind me?”

Jean took a step back as she was shrieked at, whilst Brian remained completely silent with the dishcloth stock-still in the water.  This was a biggie; he wasn’t even going to turn round.

“I’m sorry,” Jean offered again, “but you promised, and I did write a note for you yesterday to remind you.”

“Note?” Daisy wailed.  “Where?  I didn’t see a note!”

“I put it here,” she pointed to the memo magnet on the fridge, “where I always do.  I thought you’d seen it.”

“Well, I didn’t!”  Daisy’s eyes were full of fury.  “I’m not doing it!  It’ll ruin my plans!”

“Please,” her mother implored.  She hated arguing and had lost count of the number of times she’d fallen out with her daughter lately.  Who was this screaming banshee standing before her?

“No!” Daisy howled at her mother, resembling a cat ready to pounce.  (Were those claws Jean could see?)  “It’s your fault I didn’t see the note, and it’s your fault I have to work in the stupid coffee shop!  I’m not doing it!”  And with that she spun on her heels and left, leaving poor Jean questioning why life had to be so difficult. 

Brian speedily dried his hands then rushed to give his Mum a cuddle, hoping the power of it would drain the hurt look from her face.  He loved his sister, but why did she have to be so nasty to Mum?

***

When Daisy hopped off the bus in town she was still livid.  What on Earth was her mother thinking?  She had helped out all week at home: dusting the living room – wait, no, she didn’t finish dusting because her favourite television programme had started; but she had done the ironing – well, a bit of it, until Mum came home; oh but she’d hoovered – no, wait, Angela had called round so she hadn’t actually even turned the hoover on.  Flustered at the realisation that she hadn’t helped at home that much, if at all, she excused herself on the basis that she’d had much more important things to attend to.  “I went to the Job Centre twice,” she uttered defiantly.

Her preoccupations were interrupted by noise emanating from a crowd near the newspaper stand where lots of people were eagerly craning their necks in an effort to see what the ruckus was.  An off-duty bus conductor dispersed the throng, but Daisy’s curiosity was roused so she queued for a newspaper in a bid to find out what was going on.  She checked her watch; it was only ten o’clock so she had plenty of time to meet Angela at the rock sculpture near the food hall as arranged.

“I’m not doing any harm,” a voice whimpered.  “Please let me stay!”

A man was leaning over a young boy, hauling him up by one of his arms.  “Sorry, I have to move you on.  It’s station policy.”

“Please,” the frail voice begged.

“I have to!  There’s nothing I can do, you can’t stay here.”  The man’s voice was firm, but Daisy could see sympathy in his eyes.  As she observed, he hastily checked about him to see if the coast was clear and then stuffed a crumpled five pound note into the youngster’s hand before gently ejecting him from the bus station.  Sighing regretfully as he watched the dejected boy trudge away, the burly man with a heart of gold then returned to his duties.

Daisy was unexpectedly seized by the overwhelming desire to follow the youth.  She waved dismissively to the assistant waiting to serve her and ran to catch up with him.  Sensing that he had company, the boy whirled round to confront Daisy and she was utterly amazed by what she was faced with.  “Why, you’re a girl!”

“Yes,” squeaked the stranger.  “What did you expect, lipstick and handbags?”  Her tone was cynical, but friendly.

“I honestly thought you were a boy!”  Daisy was stunned.  “You’re so …,” she scrutinised the bedraggled girl, “… scrawny!”

“Yeah well,” the girl shrugged her shoulders as she shuffled along, unsure which direction to go in.  “What do you expect from someone who’s homeless?”

Daisy recoiled in shock.  “What did you say?”

“Homeless,” the girl answered bluntly.  “As in no home.  As in nowhere to go.  As in nothing to eat.”

Flinching, Daisy put her hand to her mouth.  “I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” she said earnestly, noticing that the girl’s clothes were torn and grubby.

“Oh please!”  The girl laughed incredulously, “Isn’t it slightly obvious?”

Daisy couldn’t believe she found it funny!  It was clear that she bore no hint of bitterness or spite towards the smartly dressed, well-fed teenager stood before her.  The liquid guilt was threatening to return.  “How old are you?”

“Blimey, someone who actually cares,” the girl grinned.  Her teeth were dirty, but in good condition.

Daisy ran her tongue over her own freshly-brushed teeth.  “I do care,” her voice was loaded with sincerity.  She had never spoken to anyone who was homeless before and couldn’t believe that this young woman was living on the streets with no home to go to for a hot meal, no bed to sleep in, no bath to –

“I’m 18,” she cut short Daisy’s internal dialogue, “and my name’s Violet.”

“What a coincidence!  My name’s Daisy,” she smiled, although it was a pitiful smile, the kind that Violet witnessed from people all the time.

The two girls shook hands, ignoring the peculiar looks from several people nearby.  Daisy gestured to a bench where they could sit and talk.  “Why are you homeless?”

Violet sighed woefully as she looked up at the sky.  “I’m an orphan,” she said despondently.

Daisy was mute, partly because she couldn’t think what to say and partly because she was anxious that anything she might say would sound crass, ignorant, or both.

Violet continued, staring down at her dirty hands with broken nails, “My Mum and Dad died in a car crash last year.  The Social couldn’t find anyone to take me in and the Judge ruled that I couldn’t live on my own yet so they put me in a home.”

“Why aren’t you there now?” Daisy whispered with wide eyes.

“I hated it,” Violet’s face was contorted, her eyes welling with tears.  “They took me away from my friends, my college, my life,” she emphasised those last two words with particular distaste, “so I ran away.”

“You poor thing!”  Daisy felt wretched.

“It’s okay,” she smiled feebly.  “I couldn’t stand it.  My parents drummed into me that if I was ever somewhere I didn’t want to be then I could always leave, and they would always be there for me to go to.”  She paused, “Except they weren’t there ….”

“But you ran anyway,” interjected Daisy.

“Yes,” she sighed.  The girl looked so fragile, as though she might fall to pieces any second.

Daisy was growing tired of strangers’ unwelcome interest and was disgusted when someone hollered a cruel joke about fast food.  Incensed, she grabbed Violet’s hand, “You must be hungry!”

Violet stared at her with soulful eyes holding an eternity of pain.  She was speechless, allowing Daisy to guide her in the direction of a fast food bar.  The smell of freshly baked potatoes pervaded through the air, seemingly heading directly for Violet and nobody else.  She stopped dead in her tracks.  “Daisy,” she was hesitant, “do you mind if I have a jacket potato instead?”

“Don’t be daft!”  The urge to break down crying was starting to consume Daisy, but she couldn’t understand why.  She led Violet to a café stand as more repulsed expressions were cast in their direction, but she didn’t care.  All that mattered to her was providing food to this waif of a girl who was the same age as her.  They could have been friends in another life, another destiny.

Looking like she hadn’t eaten for a month, Daisy had expected Violet to wolf down her food, but she was in fact savouring every morsel of the butter-laden, cheese-topped jacket potato.  How delicious the taste!  How delectable the smell!  It pleased her each time she leaned in for a mouthful, delighting in the sensation of steam against her dehydrated skin.

Daisy’s appetite had disintegrated; she merely sipped water, watching Violet.

The two of them talked like old chums.  Violet explained that she had cut her hair, dyed what was left of it, and hitch-hiked further and further north, staying out of people’s way as much as possible.  She said that it was easy to avoid being found as long as she did not deliberately draw attention to herself, which was simple because people acted like they didn’t want to get involved anyway.  It astounded Daisy that this bright, educated girl had so easily drifted into destitution, existing in an abyss of loneliness where she was forced to sleep in shop doorways, on park benches, or in cardboard boxes if she was lucky.  Daisy was so fortunate compared to this poor soul.

“Do you have any other relatives?”

Sinking back into the plastic chair, Violet was relishing the temporary bliss of a normal social occasion.  She could see the security guard hovering just feet away, but knew that he couldn’t move her on since she was evidently with Daisy and he would not be willing to cause a scene or disrupt the other customers unnecessarily.  “I have an Aunt in York, but she was very ill when my case came up for consideration so she couldn’t do anything to help.”

“Would she have helped?”

“I think so,” Violet smiled a lost smile.  “She’s my Mum’s sister, a successful business woman, but I ran away before she was discharged from hospital.”  She was regretful, but resolute.  “I can’t honestly say that she would have taken me in,” Violet said as she stared at the floor, downcast, mourning a life that she would never know.  She seemed momentarily tormented and then said excitedly, “It’s where I’m trying to get to!”

“Where, York?”

“Yes!”  Violet slumped back in her chair again, “At least I was until I ran out of money.”

“But you do know you’re not far away from York, don’t you?”  Daisy was positive, “It’s only about an hour from here.”

Crestfallen, she answered, “I know … so near and yet so far.”

“You’re giving up?”

“Not giving up …,” Violet was stinted, “I just … I don’t know if she will want me.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Daisy was animated, reaching for her bag then sitting up, ready to go.

“What?” Violet was bewildered.

“What’s her name?” she asked optimistically.

“Anne, but -”

“But nothing!”  Daisy anxiously checked her watch.  “What’s her full name?”

Confounded, Violet spelled out her Aunt’s full name (“Anne Margaret Greenwood”) then proceeded to tell Daisy her last known address and other pertinent family details.

“Right,” Daisy was efficient, jotting down the information in a notebook.  “I have to help my parents this afternoon.  How will I find you?”

“I’ve no idea!”

The girls finally decided that it would be sensible for them to journey to the coffee shop together.  Appreciating how this would all sound to Daisy’s mother, Violet said she would wait safely in the nearby park and they would meet at the park gates at precisely four o’clock.  Daisy loaned Violet her watch and gave her five pounds so that she could buy a snack and a drink (but not from her parents’ coffee shop).

It was ice-cold as they said farewell to each other.  A soft, powder-like flurry of snow was sweeping down from the heavy, grey skies above.  Daisy considered her new companion who was poised to walk over to the park.  ‘There, but for the Grace of God …,’ she shivered, and simultaneously registered the inappropriateness of her new friend’s clothes – a thin top teamed with lightweight trousers – so she removed her jacket and draped it around Violet’s bony shoulders.

Suppressing the urge to cry, Violet swathed herself in the cosy jacket, enfolding herself in its warmth.  She held Daisy’s hand briefly prior to setting off for the park, habitually ducking her head.

Standing alone, Daisy felt altered in some way; unburdened.  Was it a physical change that her Mum would notice, or a transformation within her that no-one else would be able to see?  Her mobile rang just as she was about to enter the coffee shop.  “Angela!  I’m so sorry, I can’t make it.  My parents need me to help them today.  I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”  She was remorseful, but unyielding.  With the friendship still in tact she strode into her parents’ thriving business where she was immediately engulfed by the stimulating aroma of coffee, intending to greet them as never before.

Daisy’s industrious father, Terry, was busy with coffee and hot chocolate orders for seated customers, and she was full of a new found admiration for him as he cheerily waved at her.  She didn’t see much of Dad, but he spent time with her whenever he could.  The long hours in the coffee shop were unavoidable and he often told her that the business wouldn’t run itself.  Why hadn’t she respected that in the past?  Moreover, Dad was plainly overworked so why had she been so reluctant to help him?

Her mother was in the stock-room unpacking bags of spiced gingerbread.  Daisy gazed with admiration at the devoted woman whom she was lucky to have as a mother, and wondered how her histrionics had been tolerated for so long.  Jean was startled by her presence, pleased to see her temperamental daughter, but dreading the next venomous outburst.  What happened next left her completely befuddled: Daisy burst into tears.

Rushing over to comfort her daughter, Jean assumed that Daisy had witnessed something terrible or that, at the very least, she had fallen out with Angela.  The whole story of the past few hours gradually came out … somewhat muddled, sometimes hysterical, but there it all was.  Daisy’s revelation was indeed something to behold.  Secretly, Jean was convinced that her daughter had simply succumbed to a well-practised con-artist who was now probably halfway back to town wearing her daughter’s favourite jacket and beloved watch, but she said nothing of her fears as she attempted to calm her and quash the guilty ramblings spilling from her mouth.

Jean updated Terry on the situation then retreated with Daisy to the upstairs office where – after much deliberation – they embarked upon the task of tracking down Anne Margaret Greenwood.  Neither had envisaged there being so many women of the same name in York, but then it was a big place compared to where they lived.  They were concerned that she might have moved districts since Violet last had contact with her.

Finally, after numerous ‘phone calls, they revealed a diamond in the rough.  “Yes, I’m the sister of Maggie Vincent, but she passed away last year.  Who is this please?”  It was only the seed of a conversation, but Jean knew they had succeeded in finding Violet’s Aunt Anne.  Her silent accusations of a professional fraudster were instantly overturned.

It was now three o’clock.  Jean instructed her daughter to collect Violet from the park.  On her return, breathless and tearful, Daisy advised that she was nowhere to be found.  Her mother assured her, however, that as they had agreed to meet at four she was probably wandering around elsewhere to keep moving in an attempt to fend off the cold.  The thought that Violet might not be allowed to loiter anywhere in the vicinity for too long (if she was as dishevelled as Daisy had described) troubled Jean.  The coffee shop was situated in a considerably upmarket area and people could be incredibly unforgiving, even at Christmas.

With a new lease of life Daisy busied herself in the coffee shop, much to the astonishment of her parents who were rather thrown by the capable, well-mannered girl impersonating their daughter.  Daisy glimpsed at the imposing wall clock above the main counter: three forty-five.  What would she do if she couldn’t find Violet?  What if Violet had frozen to death out there in the cold?  At that very moment, however, she became aware of a face at the window; she was thrilled to see her new friend cautiously peering in.  “Violet,” she breathed, her relief palpable.

Jean and Terry’s attention was drawn to the pale-faced urchin lingering outside who seemed frightened of being ushered away.  Daisy hurried to the door and flung it open, embracing Violet affectionately.  She reciprocated and then jerked away in fear when she saw Jean standing in the doorway.  Expecting to be admonished and then moved along as usual, she was flabbergasted when Jean beckoned her inside.

Violet was sped upstairs to the office where a spread of hot tea, sandwiches, crisps and cakes was waiting.  When she saw all of the refreshments her eyes widened, akin to an awestruck child on Christmas morning.  In fact, Violet appeared to be so overwhelmed that Jean shoved a chair underneath her in case she fell to the floor in shock.  The exhausted child began to weep when a blanket was wrapped around her, so Jean gave her a cuddle then soothingly enouraged her to eat and drink.

A short while later, Violet sat smiling appreciatively at Daisy – her stomach pleasurably full – when the office door opened.  Violet twisted herself round, expecting to see Jean who had popped downstairs five minutes earlier, but she was instead met with the sight of an elegantly clothed woman.  The lady was aghast, gawping at Violet with blatant adoration, her eyes welling with tears that began to stream down her face.  Violet’s hand quivered as she placed her teacup on the table.  She stammered, “Au … Auntie Anne?”

“Oh, thank the Lord!” the woman cried as she folded Violet into her arms, clutching her tightly.  “I’ve finally found you, my little love,” she murmured, tenderly stroking her niece’s hair.  After a few moments, she cupped Violet’s tear-stained face in her hands and announced decisively, “You’re coming home with me.”  Facing Daisy then, she gushed, “Thank you!  I will always, always be indebted to you.  I can’t thank you enough,” and then stared into Violet’s eyes again, stroking her hair and holding her the entire time.

~~~

After an emotional goodbye and promises of eternal friendship, Violet and her Aunt Anne were waved off, driving away in the sparkling, iridescent snow.  Turning to her parents, minus her favourite jacket which she had insisted Violet keep, Daisy was unexpectedly serious.  “I’ve been so ungrateful and horrible to you both,” she muttered sorrowfully.

Jean wanted to add ‘lazy’ to the list, but thought better of it.  She could see that the day’s events had greatly influenced her daughter, and she hoped it would be something that would not wear off.

“It took someone else’s bad fortune to make me realise how lucky I am,” professed Daisy, her father lovingly ruffling her hair as she spoke.  “I really enjoyed this afternoon, helping out,” she continued earnestly, “and I’d like to accept the job you’ve talked about for so long.  If you’ll still have me …,” she trailed off. 

Terry and Jean looked at each other then back at their daughter.  They were dumbfounded.

As she looked pleadingly at her parents, it dawned on Daisy that she couldn’t presume there was still a job for her in the coffee shop after the unreliability she had displayed that morning.  “I’ve changed!  I’ll prove it!”

Jean found her voice.  “We can see that you’ve changed, darling, and of course we’ll still have you.”

“Fantastic!”  Daisy beamed, “Thanks Mum!”

Terry, however, could see through Daisy’s happiness and sensed that something was still bothering her.  “What’s the matter, petal?”

“Um …,” Daisy fidgeted uneasily and looked at the ground as she spoke, “Mum … Dad … I’m sorry, but I won’t be buying any Christmas presents this year.”

The statement was met with quizzical expressions.

“I gave my Christmas money to Violet,” she choked.  “She’s gone without so much for so long … I just wanted to give her something.”

Stunned, Terry and Jean silently applauded their daughter’s generosity in the form of a family hug.  Huddled together, Jean and Terry both assured her that they didn’t expect presents from her anyway, and reminded her that the true message of Christmas was peace, love and goodwill, not presents or material things.

“Besides,” Terry beamed at her proudly, “you’ve given a priceless gift to Violet and her Aunt.  Money can’t buy that.  You’ve changed both their lives forever!”

“Yes,” Daisy smiled humbly, lowering her eyes to the ground again.

“In fact, Daisy, you’ll actually be giving all of us an invisible gift,” Terry surmised with a mischievous smirk.

Baffled, Daisy and Jean spoke in unison, “Invisible?”

“Yes,” he answered, pulling his wife and daughter even closer.  “It’s the finest gift you could give to us, Daisy.  The gift of gratitude.”

“Ooooh … I don’t think Brian will agree with you about that being the finest gift,” Jean feigned dismay, a facetious look in her eyes.  “He was hoping for another Action Man!”

The trio dissolved into laughter, the intangible rope of love – which had become so weak and frayed in recent months – was once again strengthened, infinitely tying them together.  Daisy’s parents embraced her fondly, the cold snowflakes dotting their faces and the fires of love within their hearts burning more brightly than ever.

© www.mypastmademe.com 2011