She sips a sherry in the lounge bar of the Crown Hotel. Leaning against the panelled walls, she peers through the window, where leaves are falling into the gardens. Sighing, she places the glass on the window sill where the light can fall through it. The sherry looks like distilled autumn.
She had promised she would wait till he returned. But it has been a long wait. Picking the glass up, then putting it down again, she walks back to the fire and then out into the foyer. Looking up the stairs, she sees the whisk of black skirts and rolls her eyes. That woman is about again, poking her nose into the bedrooms, looking for someone who can talk to her. Best stay downstairs. He can’t be much longer.
Back at the window sill, she looks past the staggering, swaggering man in the courtyard and beyond to the bridge over the Stour. There is a girl there, or perhaps a woman. Squinting, she shakes her head. Is the desperate creature really considering throwing herself in? To squander a precious life, what a terrible waste. If only she could…
The main doors open and a blast of cold damp air swirls in with a small group of people and though the room is already full, their entrance makes her turn round. She watches a man and two women find a table as a younger man approaches the bar and orders a pint each of Tanglefoot and Golden Champion and two glasses of dry white wine which he takes to the others.
Her hand on the sherry is shaking and she tenses.
The older man takes a box from his pocket and puts it on the table. The four people raise their glasses in a toast.
She draws nearer and hovers behind the older man.
“Go on Dad,” says the young woman, “Open it.”
“It’s a bit disrespectful,” admonishes the older woman.
“Mum, what’s disrespectful is that he was blown to smithereens a hundred years ago and the only thing they’ve found is a finger. And that finger and who knows what else has been ploughed up year after year until a few months ago.”
“I know but… it’s a bit gruesome.”
“Mum, it’s our great great grandpa. It’s your great grandpa. It’s family. He’ll be back under ground later.”
Glancing at his wife, who shrugs and thins her lips, the older man opens the box. The four people look inside and tears are forming in their eyes.
But she doesn’t notice them. She couldn’t see past them into the box if she wanted to but she does not want to, because he is standing before her, sweeping his cap from his head, bowing as if she was a duchess and then sweeping her up in his arms. Just like he always does. He has come back. Just like he promised he would. And tonight they will lie down together and sleep in peace.
Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission