My mother had always been an enigma to me. She'd been happy during her marriage and pregnancy, Grand-dad had said, but sometime after my early, sudden, squalling birth, had decided she couldn't handle a second child and had....well, left.
Grand-Dad had searched, using the old boy network, and finding nothing, had quietly hired a series of private detectives to find her. Meanwhile, my father resolutely drank himself to death while staring out the window of Grand-Dad's house, watching for her to come home while I played on the floor. I had hazy memories of him, but mostly it was Maud and Grand-Dad that I thought of as parents.
Few mothers ran away from their months-old daughter. And even fewer just simply couldn't be found.
Grand-Dad said once that she was quieter through the winter as she grew heavy with child, more given to roaming the halls at odd hours and stroking her belly as she talked. They'd put it down to jitters, or fear of a second birth as hard as my brothers, and hadn't worried too much until she'd started laughing in response to conversations no one else could hear. It was decided that she was 'tired' and she spent a month at my aunt Georgia's house, but it only soothed her for a short while and soon she was roaming again, pacing the house in the moonlight.
I tried to imagine her, wide eyed and muttering, stalking the moon from one end of the house to the other, her hair pulled back, her hands clenching and unclenching as she walked. It was hard to superimpose that picture over the few photos I had of her - where she looked out, smiling and calm, dark eyes filled with what I thought of as love as she held me in her lap.
Then one night she'd taken her coat and gone out into the dark, and never come back.
There'd been a search, of course. Grand-Dad had enough pull with the State boys that Mama's face was plastered everywhere for months. But the leaflets had yellowed where they hung, and there was no trail. No body, either - they'd dredged several ponds and the marsh, and old wells and caves were prodded and checked.
She'd been gone twenty-two years. I'm older now than she was when she had me.
Grand-Dad walked for awhile, waving at a few people. We were close to the old railway station when he finally said "Katie, are you happy living here?"
His question surprised me so much I missed a step and nearly walked off the path. "Grand-Dad?"
"Would you like to go somewhere else for awhile? I have a little house a couple of hours away from here - close enough so you could come and visit, but far enough so you could spread your wings and not spend your life taking care of us old folks." His eyes twinkled. "Maybe for the summer?"
I was sure I'd mis-heard him. I'd lived in Rowland almost my entire life.
He was quick to read my mood. "It's not a punishment, Katie. I need someone to oversee a few things for me in Bailey, and I thought you'd be perfect for the job. It's a bit of hard work....but there should be plenty of times for fun too."
He nodded at Mrs. Dailey, who was clipping her peonies. "Just think about it, Katherine." The rest of the walk was pretty quiet. Grand-Dad seemed lost in his thoughts, while I wasn't sure my head could contain mine. Did Maud know? Would she agree to this? Did I want to strike out on my own?
The house was still when we returned. Ford had taken Maud to her club, and Clary must have gone back home. Grand-Dad headed off to his study, and I took the broom with me out on the back porch, but after a few sweeps I gave up and headed for the closest rocker, mulling over what Grand-Dad had said.
Ford pulled in to the driveway, music blaring, and I gave him a grin. "Where's Clary?"
He rolled his eyes. "You know darn well that Maud would rather go to church with mismatched shoes on than be seen with Clary Johnson. You should have seen her when she realized the top was down on the car." Ford was a good mimic. "Fo-ORD! You do NOT expect me to GET in THERE, do you?"
My uncle and I had always gotten along. He came and sat near me. "Did Grand-Dad ask you about the house in Bailey?"
I nodded, still giggling a little about Maud and surprised he knew.
"I think you should do it, Katherine."