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?"

Monday, 1 April 2013

out in the moonlight

Maud's face was taut with rage. "Katherine Alice. How could you sit here and listen to...to this nonsense! I loved your mother."

I goggled at her, unsure if I was really seeing her or not. "Maud? Why are you here?"

She snorted, delicately, and stepped into the seat Clay scrambled to offer. Ignoring his furious blush and his protests that he hadn't meant it, that he'd only thought she was involved in the beginning, she looked straight at me, seething.

"I came here.....because Minna Clairborne called me. She seems to think you needed me to be here for this festival of yours, that you needed me to see what you've done over your summer. Now I walk in here and you're listening to lies. Katherine Alice, did I raise you this way?"

Porter's hand was warm around mine, his presence calming. His eyes when they met mine were confused but steadfast. He had no idea what was happening, but offered love and support.

"No, Maud, you didn't. I'm really glad you came for the festival. This is, though, my home, and you should have called to let me know you were coming.Clay and Porter and I were discussing the night my mother disappeared. Do you have something to add?"

Maud made a rude noise. "I'd love to hear this conversation."

Porter looked over at her, his dark eyes flashing. "The night Katie's Mama disappeared, you were here. What happened, Maud?"

Maud was vibrating a little in her chair, the anger pulsing up from her clenched hands into the taut cords in her throat. I could tell she really wanted to tell the gardener's son that he was meddling in things that weren't any of his business, but she held it in. "Katie? You call her Katie?"

Porter nodded. "I do."

Maud dismissed him with a flick of her eyes and centered in on me. "You know she was wandering out of the house at night, right?"

I shook my head. Clay nodded. "I did hear something about that."

I shot him a narrow-eyed look but kept silent.

Maud snorted. "Two gorgeous babies, a husband that adored her, a new house, gardens to play in. None of it was enough for her. She wouldn't sleep, wouldn't eat, wouldn't nurse you - she said she could feel her life being sucked out of her when she did - walked all over the property in her nightdress (Maud's voice was scandalized. You'd have thought poor Mama had been caught voting Democrat) and wouldn't tell us what was wrong. I begged her, Katherine Alice. She was asleep. Like her light had gone out. We'd bring her the baby - you - and she'd smile and coo but the minute we left her with you she'd just let you cry.

She started stalking the grounds soon after that. You were hungry all the time. We tried you on goats milk and cows milk and honey and water, but you were never full. Never happy. Always red-faced and screaming. It got so your Daddy was the only one who could talk Alice into feeding you at all, and only if he distracted her long enough. Most of the time she'd listen to him for awhile then reach down and yank you away, and you'd squall loud enough so she'd leave. Go walking in her gardens, her blouse all rucked up and barely covering her.

Maud went on, her finger stabbing the air for emphasis. "She was going to leave your father, you know. She was going to move back home - Stanton tried to talk her out of it, but she was determined - and leave Dover with a toddler and a baby. And Alice wouldn't have looked back."

"There was something broken in her. And she was getting wild. There were nights when I'd come up to Bailey and she'd not come to bed all night. Dover would rock you and rock you and rock you, but even though you were wailing loud enough to wake the neighbors - Minna even offered to feed you, since she'd just had Julia, but your father wouldn't hear of it - your mother was indifferent. She'd coo at you during the day, but the night times were different. It was like she was made of stone."

Clay handed me his handkerchief, and I realized then that my cheeks were wet. My heart and my head hurt.

"So Mama didn't want a baby. Where did she go, Maud?" Maud looked down at the table and I knew. Cold ice shooting down my spine, I let go of Porter's hand and sat up straight in my chair. "So...your niece wasn't doing well with motherhood, and she was going to leave her husband and go back to her parents' house." My voice was eerily calm. "Great-Aunt Maud? When did you decide you had to kill her?"

Maud's head snapped up and she focused a look of loathing at me. "Can you really see me murdering your mother? My brother's daughter?"

 I blew out a breath. "No, I can't, really. But I'll bet you do know what happened to her."  I could tell by the way she looked away from my gaze and winced that I wasn't wrong.

Clay learned forward. "Maud, it's been so many years. Where did Alice go?"

I opened my mouth to snap that I knew Alice hadn't just gone away, but Maud blew out a long troubled breath and I stilled.

Maud's voice was so quiet we all leaned in as one. "I would never have hurt Alice. I couldn't. I was furious with her, angry that she wouldn't see what precious gifts she was throwing away and broken-hearted when she wouldn't let any of us get close to help her, but hurt her? No."

"It was almost two in the morning, and Alice was up, pacing the house. I had sent your father to bed an hour before. This was getting to him, too, and he'd been hitting the whiskey. I was standing in the kitchen holding you, and you were screaming so hard your face was blood red, and it was like we weren't even in the room. She was like an animal. And all she wanted to do was escape."

Maud was looking at her hands folded in her lap. She sucked in a deep breath and then focused on me. "Kitty, I let her out of the house. I thought it would do her some good to get out in the fresh air (the rain had stopped for a bit that night) and while she was gone I could try and get you to take a bottle and maybe you'd fall asleep." She sighed. "You didn't like the bottle. I didn't realize how long Alice had been gone until I heard the clock chime. I put you in your bassinet there by the stove and went out to find her."


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