Tuesday, 2 April 2013
ripples of memory
Her chin came up and she looked like her old fierce self. "I searched all over. Usually she just stalked the paths near the house, but that night I ran all the way down to the lower garden before I saw her."
I didn't dare move. Or breathe. Maud drew a shuddery breath and went on.
"Kitty, I yelled my head off but she just...didn't... stop. She was just ahead of me on the path down to the river, and I was screaming like a banshee. She looked back once - I remember how serene her face looked in the moonlight - but then she turned again and went on."
Clay made a stifled noise. "The river!" he half-whispered. "The river flooded its banks that night!"
My great-aunt looked at him, her mouth trembling. "The river was washing over the edges of the dock there. Alice went out on the dock, tipped her head back to look at the moon," Maud sniffled and went on "stepped off the edge, and went down like a stone."
"I ran after her, of course. It was eerily quiet that night, and if you hadn't seen the ripples, you never would have known anything had happened. I watched and waited but she never....she never...."
"She never came back up."
I was fighting down sobs. "Why didn't you go after her?"
Maud looked ashamed and oddly triumphant.. "I don't swim, Katherine Alice. And your father was ...." she searched for the right word, and I stepped in, icily furious.
She nodded. "I went running back up toward the house, screaming out for him. It wasn't until I couldn't wake him up that I thought of what would happen when people found out."
"When people found out my mother was in a drowning accident?"
"No, Katherine. When people found out your mother was wandering around outside by herself in a nightgown while her child slept and her baby - her starving baby - wailed. What kind of woman would do that?"
Her mouth firmed. "I was protecting you. People would say your mother had a lover. That she was meeting him near the river and after a quarrel decided to run away. That she never loved her children or her husband. Rumours would start, and soon you and your brother would be bastards."
I sucked air down to my toes. "Aunt Maud. They said that anyway."
Before my eyes, she aged. "I know, Katherine." she half-whispered. "What could I do? I moved you out of here. I gave you a new home, a good life. Phillip wouldn't have been any better knowing the truth - he'd still have taken shelter in a decanter - and there was noone else that needed to know." She ignored Clay's indrawn breath. "I didn't realize until a few years later that this man here" - she nodded towards Clay -"had cow eyes for your Mama, or that she had been such friends with Minna Clairborne."
"I regret hurting them."
Porter's arm was around my shoulder now. I didn't feel alone.
Looking at her, I could see the toll this had taken on her. The years of secrets. The years of regrets.
"Maud," I said, leaning forward, "what did you tell Grand-dad?"
She leaned back in her chair, surprised. "Stanton? He knew Alice was going downhill. He knew she couldn't handle being a mother. He knew she...." she trailed off.
Drily, I filled in the obvious blank. "That she was thinking of leaving?"
Maud snapped."That she'd decided to leave. She was going to go home. She was going to give up. Stanton knew she was unhappy. He didn't need to know she was dead. It was kinder to let him think she'd just left without saying goodbye."
All the years of not knowing where my mother was. The years of whispers and taunts, of not thinking I was good enough, that I'd been left... came down to one woman's fears. All of them.
I heard the clicking of toenails and then Wood shoved his head into my lap. Smiling a bit through my tears, I petted his silky ears and ruffled his neck fur. "Oh, good doggie. Such a good boy." He broke the tension nicely and gave me a moment to recoup before I thought again to speak. Still stroking his worried head, I asked her the question burning through me.
"Do you regret it?"
She opened her mouth, then shut it again. "When I see you? No. You grew up fine."
She grew insistent "Katherine, there was nothing I could do. She was gone.It was easier on your father and your grandfather to just....say she left."
I leaned forward again. "Maud, where's her coat?"