And so I find myself walking an unknown yet strangely familiar path – all around me there is a rustling and a fluttering of little birds in the trees and bushes, almost as if they are signposting the way, guiding me.
Along the little lane, surrounded either side by old trees, old country trees, oak, beech, ash and the witch’s own rowan, leaning over me. Along the verges, cow parsley, delicate and as frothily white as vintage lace, ramsons, smelling sharply of garlic and long lush grass, encourages me onwards; my feet responding to some old memory that leads me to an old wooden stile, battered but still sturdy enough for me to cross out of the cool green darkness and into the field beyond.
And somehow what I half-expected wasn’t there. I pick my way across the rough tussocky grass. And as if in a dream, I see it; I am approaching the back of the house, rising in red brick splendour, through the gardens, (the rough remnants, the herbs, the rosemary, the lavender, crushing under my feet and releasing their evocative fragrance) immaculately kept within neat boundaries of shaped box.
“I am come home!” and this thought gladdens my heart as I make my way down the old stone steps, old even then, feet wearing away grooves and leaving echoes of lives gone by, and into the kitchen.
“Cook’s let the fire go out!”
And feeling the bustling dogs, crowding about my knees, my hounds and her little dogs, my father’s wolfhound – I put my hand out, down by my side and half -expect to feel the soft smooth domed head of my favourite Talbot beneath my touch – heart wrenchingly disappointed yet somehow not surprised when she’s no longer there.
More stairs and into the hallway – grass underfoot now, crunching and dry – and with every hesitant step taken the picture is clearer, dark oak floorboards, rich paintings on the walls, a highly polished side table loaded with fresh flowers – she insisted upon fresh flowers for the house always – and linen fold panelling, gleaming with beeswax hiding the oubliette from long ago – but not now.
The curlicue of banister and wide stairs and a memory of small white hands – how proud she was of their dainty appearance, lavishly beringed, small yet strong enough to wring a dove’s neck, poised prettily on the turn of the carved finial. And a memory came then, of the last day, my father’s voice raised in anger, her mocking laughter – the blood and the pain.
I open my eyes to the present day and find I am sitting on a heap of old red bricks, worn and unnoticeable amongst the tough old grass. The sun beats down, burning bright from the cloudless blue sky. Somewhere above me I hear swifts screaming and the clear bubbling song of a lonely lark. I put my hands to my face to wipe away the tears that suddenly, inexplicably are flooding my eyes.