Monday 31 December 2018

The Last Visit

by Alyson Faye

elderflower cordial 

Memories wrapped around Lucia, like the variegated ivy embracing the open jaws of the garden house gates. A flurry of images – her three daughters racing each other, shrieking as they streaked across the close trimmed lawns, splashing in the fountains, licking diamond droplets from their lips. Parties with parasols; funerals with pallbearers. 

Lucia stomped in her wellington boots across the sodden grass, whilst broken masonry tried to trip her and the quiet of the place owned her soul.

“It was terrible what happened,’ she muttered lost in the past. “He shouldn’t have come back. I told him not to. He never listened.”

She shivered in the damp shade of the glasshouse, not seeing the jagged jigsaws of glass, instead remembering Oliver’s forearms; the golden hairs, his wiry strength. His touch. The smell of the oranges he peeled for her on their shared flesh. That summer tasted so sweet; unlike any she’d known since. 

“He’s a gardener! A workman! How could you, Lucia?” Her mother’s tearful shock. Her father’s more pragmatic fury. Her sister’s silent snubs. Her brother’s fists at night, under cover of darkness, took their vengeance. Oliver was nothing but a memory. A silent wound in the family’s womb. Her own rebellious fury, being tethered then smothered. 

Lucia stepped over a fallen metal bar, heard glass crunching under her feet. She extracted a Mag-lite from her Birkin bag. Its powerful beam illuminated the graffiti emblazoned on the walls - not all of it the work of invading vandals. Huge figures, drawn in faded chalks loomed, peopling the corridors once more. 

Lucia clicked her tongue, irritated at her own failing memory. “How much farther is it? I’ve forgotten.”

Voices murmuring behind her, at the entrance. “Mother, where are you?” Anxiety, tinged with exasperation shading her youngest’s voice. A common tone these days.

The silhouettes of two entwined figures outlined in white chalk appeared in the torch’s beam. Faded greenery sprouted from their heads, pastel flowers emerged from the man’s fingers. The woman wore a crown of hawthorn. She remembered how Oliver had bent it to his will. Swallows swooped around them and a sun, as big as a sovereign, shone. It was the pictorial record of a memory of a perfect summer’s day- long gone, but not forgotten, by Lucia. The survivor.

“Goodbye my love,” Lucia traced the man’s figure. Kissed her chalky fingers.

Turning, she glimpsed her youngest daughter approaching, in her impractical navy signature suit, tottering in heels. Lucia smiled at the sight. “Ma, what on earth are you doing skulking in here? Daddy’s waiting by the car with the estate agent. The contract’s ready to sign at the office. You knew that. So why did you go running off? You’ve kept us all waiting. You know Daddy’s hates being kept waiting.”

Lucia allowed her daughter’s tutting to chivvy her into the present. Her own hands, chalk-stained, dangled at her sides, smearing her clothes.

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