Erika had the following prompts to choose from:
Amy- A parasol in an English garden
Cameron- Herman the hermit crab found a new home.
Jen- Buckle Hairy Fin
Wendy- What really happens when you fall down the rabbit hole.
After much agonizing and a couple of inspirational running sessions, she chose… Amy’s
I hear voices on the wind. Once in a while, they call me still.
It started the summer I turned sixteen. My ten-year-old brother, Charlie, and I were staying with a great-aunt of ours in England while our parents toured the United States in support of my mother’s latest book. Aunt Cora was our father’s aunt, the much older sister of his mother, my late Grandma May.
“Don’t worry, Lucy,” my mom reassured me as she helped me pack. “Your father has always been Aunt Cora’s favorite. She dotes on him. Poor old thing never really recovered from the loss of her younger brother. He was only twenty-two. Grandma May said Cora always blamed herself for his death.”
“What happened?” I asked. To my teenaged self, the tragedy of dying young seemed romantic and intriguing.
“Hmm,” Mom said, folding pants with brisk, precise movements. “I don’t think I ever heard exactly. Some sort of accident, in the garden.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling deflated. A gardening accident hardly had the dramatic punch I hoped for.
“Nancy!” Came my dad’s voice. “Would you please explain to Charlie why he cannot bring Indiana Jones on the plane?” Indiana Jones was my brother’s pet snake.
“Be right there, dear!” My mom smiled at me. “You can finish up here? You must be so excited– just think, England for the whole summer!”
A week later as I gazed upon Aunt Cora’s home outside Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, I was less than thrilled. From the moment we set foot in merry old England it rained. It poured when we got off the plane, as Aunt Cora met us and drove us east from Manchester, and it was drizzling still as we unloaded our bags from her Land Rover.
Our family were minor aristocrats at some point, now we could only be called middle-class, but Aunt Cora’s home was large, old and had the look of a small-ish country manor house nestled between gentle hills and a canal leading to the River Don. Eight bedrooms, she told us in the car, which was impressive, but only two and a half bathrooms, which was less impressive, especially as one of those was exclusive to Aunt Cora. At sixteen I spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom looking in the mirror. Laugh all you want at those eighties hairstyles, they took a lot of time and effort to achieve.
“Tsk, tsk,” said Aunt Cora as she pulled into her circular drive with an expert hand. At eighty-five she was a straight-backed, tall figure who oozed practicality and competence. “Such a shame it’s raining on your first day. Still, you’ll have ample time to explore later and I have plenty of indoor projects you’ll be a great help with. Now, let’s see about getting the kettle on. A cup of tea is just what we all need.”
Charlie and Aunt Cora, loaded down with luggage, headed into the house, but I hesitated, staring at the grounds around me. The garden was gorgeous, everything you could want an English garden in June to be. At that moment the clouds parted and for the first time since Charlie and I arrived in England, the sun shone.
The flowers were still wet from the rain and the drops on their petals sparkled in the sunshine like diamonds. Transfixed, I set my bags down next to the car and walked through the formal flower beds around to the side of the house where the foliage was more natural. On the left side I followed a gold gravel walkway along a hillside with a gray rock wall, covered in flowers. At the end of the path was a gate. As I headed toward it, a girl just a little older than me emerged from a path to my right near a tumble of ruined stone behind the house. “Hello!” I called.
She turned at the sound of my voice. I was struck by her clothes, so different from my acid-washed jeans, sweatshirt and red Keds. She wore a white calf-length skirt that flared below her hips, black thick-heeled pumps with an ankle strap and a V-neck lavender blouse with long sleeves that puffed at the shoulders. A necklace of some kind caught the sunshine for an instant, the metal glittering around her throat. Her long, black hair fell in soft waves down her back. There was something about her struck me as strange. Standing in the welcome sunshine I felt cold, but could not understand why.
The stranger also froze and for an instant our eyes met. “Lucy?” I heard my brother’s voice calling me. At the sound the girl turned and ran out the open gate, her fleeing feet not making a sound. On impulse I ran after her, ignoring Charlie. I raced along the path to the river. There was no sign of the girl anywhere. Feeling foolish, I hurried back to Charlie.
That night, trying to fall asleep in the soft feather bed of my light-blue guest bedroom, I replayed the odd encounter again in my head. As I drifted off to sleep a worrisome thought passed through my weary brain. I remembered what was off; in the bright afternoon sunshine the girl had not cast a shadow.
The next morning, I stared out the window. It was raining again. “Come to England, they said,” I muttered. “It’s summer, they said. Ugh, I say.”
“You said it,” grumbled Charlie from behind me. “You done with breakfast?”
“Aunt Cora wants to see us.”
“I’ll clear for you, my dears,” said Mrs. Hardy, a capable, pink-cheeked middle-aged woman who served as Aunt Cora’s daily help, secretary and sometimes nurse all in one friendly strawberry-blonde bundle of energy. She reached for the dishes with a broad smile on her plump face. They made quite a pair: Mrs. Hardy so short and round and our great aunt so tall and spare.
“Oh, Mrs. Hardy?”
“I saw a girl in the garden yesterday, but she left before I could talk to her. Do you know who she was?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh, that’s Stella, neighbor down the lane a bit. Nice sort o’ girl,” said Mrs. Hardy, wiping down the dark wooden table with care. “You best be getting to your aunt now.”
I went, shaking my head at myself. What a dork I am, I thought.
Cora’s bedroom was on the second floor and overlooked the canal as well as the green vista of the tree-filled countryside around them. It was a pleasant room and displayed an unexpected streak of sentimentality in its owner, being full of mementos of her past. Charlie gazed around with unabashed curiosity while Cora observed him from her desk with a certain tolerant humor. “Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to two paintings above the fireplace of a man and a woman both with light brown hair and brilliant blue eyes very like Cora’s own.
“Those are my parents, your great-grandparents,” she said with a smile.
“And those people?” he pointed a series of three group portraits hanging on the opposite wall. They showed a young woman and two children. In each successive picture the woman changed little, while the children became teenagers and later young adults.
“That is me, pictured with your late grandmother, my younger sister May, and your late great-uncle, my younger brother, Thomas,” she said, her smile fading as she regarded the paintings. “He was a very handsome young man. May and I were never close, but Thomas and I shared a special bond. Your father reminds me of him.”
I walked over to study the painting, wanting to a get better look at this namesake of my father’s who died so young. Like me and Charlie, Thomas was fair-haired. Cora was equally fair, her shining flaxen hair piled high on her head. My grandmother had her parents’ light brown hair and bright blue eyes, but Thomas’ eyes were deep brown, a striking contrast with his blonde hair.
“Strange to think I should be the last one left of us,” she murmured.
“Was he ever married?” I asked. Once again, I had the feeling that I was overlooking a crucial detail, but I couldn’t see what.
Aunt Cora raised one eyebrow at me. “Thomas? Certainly not! Of course, there were plenty of girls chasing him around. They came from all over the county. None of them were worthy of him… definitely not her.” She spoke with vehemence, as though continuing an old conversation.
“Her?” asked Charlie in a bright voice, coming to stand next to me before the portraits. “Who her?”
Cora rose and said, ignoring his question, “Come, come, as it is raining I thought you might want to poke through the attics. I need you to bring down boxes so I can organize what is to be donated to next weekend’s church sale. I am sure all those old toys and things will be quite amusing for you and it will spare my old bones immeasurably.”
“Okay,” said Charlie, with his usual good humor. “Can I keep anything?”
Our aunt smiled once more. “Perhaps, but please check with me before you pocket your spoils.” She glanced at me. “Lucy, dear, I hope you will feel free to find something for yourself?”
I shrugged. At sixteen I considered myself far too adult for old toys. Aunt Cora seemed to know what was passing through my mind for she added, “There may be some jewelry or other trifles that would be more to a young lady’s taste.”
“Oh, um, okay.” That did sound more interesting. So I skipped the usual morning primping, pulled my blond hair into a high ponytail and joined my brother in the attic.
Aunt Cora was right, we had a grand time that morning. I will never forget the thrill of unpacking the boxes and finding new items. Most possessed the hilarity implicit in one generation’s perceptions of what previous generations found to be stylish. For me, the clothes from the fifties, sixties and seventies were a riot. Charlie was like a prospector, exclaiming on one find after another and then squirreling away his treasures.
Time went so quickly we worked right through lunchtime and Mrs. Hardy had to come and tell us to stop as she and our aunt were already done eating and she wanted to start clearing up the kitchen.
At lunch, as we enjoyed hearty sandwiches and tomato soup, Aunt Cora took a break from her boxing of our finds to have a quick cup of tea with us. “So,” she said, setting her clipboard down on the table and sitting across from us as Mrs. Hardy handed her a mug. “How did it go? You’ve brought down enough for a half-dozen sales.”
“No problem, ” said Charlie, his face covered in grime, as he finished chewing. “I’ll even put stuff away again. Look at everything I found!” Leaping up, he began showing off his stash, littered on the floor around him: a pogo stick, tinker toys, an Erector set, army men. I glanced at Aunt Cora and rolled my eyes. She smiled and gave an almost imperceptible shrug before leaning across the table and tapping it with one bony finger. “Well done, Charles, although I cannot imagine however you will get all this back to the wilds of America with you.”
“Don’t worry, Aunt Cora,” he said with a grin. “I’ll figure it out.”
“Indeed,” she said. “Now wash your hands again before you eat after touching all those dirty things.” She stood and took her cup to the sink. Rinsing it, she called over one shoulder, “And Lucy, were you able to find anything for yourself?”
“Well, sort of, just one thing,” I said pulling my find out from beneath the table.
“Yuck, that dirty umbrella?” said Charlie, shaking his head at me as he waited for the sink.
“It’s only because it was so far back, hidden in the rafters,” I retorted, stung. “Besides, this isn’t just an umbrella. I think they call this a parasol.”
There was a crash and the sound of breaking china in the sink as my aunt dropped the cup she was rinsing. “Wow, Aunt Cora!” said Charlie. “You okay?”
She dried her trembling hands on a dish cloth and then placed the pieces of the broken mug in the waste bin. Smoothing her shirt, she said, “I am quite fine, Charles. Now, Lucy, what have we here?”
I held up my treasure. “May I keep it, aunt?”
“Well, I quite agree with Charles, what a piece of rubbish,” she said, pressing her lips together in a thin line.
“See?” said Charlie. “Told ya’.”
“Shhh, Charles,” said Aunt Cora. “While it is quite dreadful, if you would like it, I can hardly deny you your choice, especially after so much hard work. I do wish you had chosen something more suitable, but then, there is no accounting for taste.”
I felt myself flush and wished I could crawl away and hide. It was awfully dirty, but somehow, when I touched the parasol I knew it needed to be out of the attic. This was something that had to see the light of day. Running one finger over its delicately carved wooden handle, I felt it again, the powerful impulse to clean away the grime and take it out– take it out in the garden.
I spent the afternoon returning rejected items back to the attics and the evening cleaning my new parasol with great care. To my surprise, and delight, under its patina of dirt was an item of surpassing beauty. The wooden handle was carved with graceful lines and the hand painted screen was white with lovely flowers in light blues and purples. Exhausted, I gloated over my prize that night in my room. Vindication replaced my earlier embarrassment as, other than a faint rattle in its handle, the parasol was perfect.
The next day broke sunny and fair and Charlie and I bolted for the outdoors. He quickly found a friend in Mrs. Hardy’s youngest son, a twelve-year-old imp named James and the two disappeared to the Hardys’ home. I did not mind being abandoned in the slightest. I was longing to explore the garden and then envisioned a pleasant afternoon reading outside. Seeing a few clouds on the horizon I brought my parasol. The flowers seemed even brighter and more exquisite today in the sunshine. As I went down the narrow track to the back of the house, I saw the dark-haired girl, Stella? She was once more coming from the path to the right near the ruins. I raised a hand in greeting, but, just as yesterday, after a startled glance my way she ran out the back gate, soundless, her white skirts disappearing in the greenery toward the canal.
As I investigated the various walks and secret corners, I found just the sort of bench I had hoped for, near some glorious pink hollyhocks. I settled down with my book. After a time the bright sun made it difficult to read, so, feeling quite well-prepared, I opened my beautiful parasol to shade my pages.
Like a murmur in the next room, I heard the sound of a man’s voice. Glancing around, I saw that I was alone. “Hello?” I called, but all I heard in response was the chirping of birds above me.
Returning to my chapter, I heard the voice again. It sounded like he was calling someone. I stared at the garden around me, but no one was there. I shook my head, returning to my book, but no sooner had I begun reading when I heard the voice, clearer and closer than before. This time I could make out words, “Where are you?” Responding to the deep sadness in the tone I closed my book and parasol and, setting them aside, I got up to investigate. Heading up the walk back towards the more formal gardens near the house I ran into a vigorous older man crossing my path, his hair streaked with silver.
“Hullo,” he said with a wide smile, lighting up his wide-set gray eyes with a twinkle. “You must be young Lucy.”
“I am,” I said. “How did you know that? I’m sorry, Mr….?”
“I’m Graham, friend of the family, no need for titles with me,” he said, sticking one hand out in greeting. “Cora told everyone you and your brother were visiting. Come, it’s time for a spot of lunch. I’ve been sent to fetch you.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said as we headed for the house. “So that was you I heard.”
Graham raised grizzled eyebrows at me. “I didn’t say anything.”
Frowning, I followed him inside where Aunt Cora was waiting for us. Mrs Hardy had gone home to check on the boys. “Ah, Lucy, I see Graham was able to find you,” my aunt said. She placed a hand on the arm of the tall, dark-haired girl next to her. “And here I have one more local to introduce to you. This is our neighbor, Stella. She lives a few houses down the lane.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Stella, dimples springing to life in her pink cheeks as she smiled.
“You, too,” I said.
“My greetings to your mother, Stella,” said Aunt Cora. “I hope you will pardon us.”
“Sure- time I was off,” said Stella, waving amiably. “Afternoon, Lucy, Graham.”
As the door closed behind her, I frowned. Her hair was dark alright, but it was short and curly. This was not the girl I had seen in the garden.
Before I could comment on this, Cora beckoned me to join them at the table. “Graham is one of my oldest friends,” she said. “Why, he grew up on my parents’ lands back when this was still an estate.”
Graham smiled as we all sat down to eat. “Aye, you should have seen this place before the war.”
Aunt Cora’s smile faltered. “Yes, everything was different before 1939. Seems like another life.”
Seeing her mood change Graham launched into a series of funny anecdotes. He worked as a university professor and he shared many wry observations on his students’ foibles. Aunt Cora’s smile returned.
After our meal she went to lie down. I offered to show Graham out. He was an intelligent, humorous bachelor with kind eyes and a self-deprecating, dry wit. Despite the difference in our ages, I found him easy to talk to. As we stood by his car I felt comfortable enough to ask him, “I don’t mean to pry, but what was that bit about 1939?”
He leaned against his Volvo and pursed his lips. “Well, it was the start of World War II.”
“Oh, of course, stupid of me not have known,” I said, feeling my face turn pink.
“No, no, it’s part of the history books for your generation, but Cora and I lived it,” he said. “More than that though, 1939 was the year Cora lost her brother, Thomas, and it was the year my sister disappeared. It was an awful time.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Was she younger or older?”
“Older, by two years,” he paused, his eyes far away, “Lorna was eighteen when she disappeared. I was away at school at the time. The term was just ending. I came home a couple of days… after.”
“After Thomas died and Lorna disappeared.”
“Wow. What happened? I mean, sorry… if you don’t mind me asking.” It occurred to me that this might be a painful subject.
He seemed to understand. “It was forty-six years ago. I’m fine.” He drew a deep breath and continued, “Of course, your aunt never got over Thomas’ death. She always blamed herself.”
“I heard it was some sort of gardening accident?”
Graham snorted. “You could say that, stones for a gazebo his parents were have built fell on him, the back of his head was crushed. Cora accidentally dislodged a cart with the building materials that hadn’t been unloaded yet. It rolled down the hill and into Thomas. He had never had a chance. ”
“I thought gazebos were made of wood?”
“Not this one,” said Graham. “It was to be quite the grand affair, but it was never finished. Cora was distraught and refused to allow her parents to continue with the project- too many painful memories. Then that September the Germans invaded Poland and the war changed everything.”
There was a silence and then Lucy asked, “But what happened to your sister?”
“No one knows. The night Thomas died was his twenty-second birthday party. This place was packed with people, celebrating. My sister never came home. Between the gala and the accident, no one realized Lorna was missing until the next day. Cora has always been convinced Lorna left with a broken heart.”
“Why would she think that?”
“Thomas and Lorna were an item. Cora said it wasn’t serious and that Thomas broke things off earlier in the week. Lorna couldn’t accept the break-up and tried to see Thomas at the party, but Cora asked her to leave. Thomas backed Cora up and my sister was distraught. No one knows what happened next, only that the next day, she was gone.”
“What do you think happened?”
Graham spread his hands out in front of him. “After so many years wondering, I have no clue. Her last phone calls with me were so lit up, she seemed so happy. I can’t imagine her leaving, but there was no hint of any harm coming to her and my family were never able to trace her whereabouts. Of course, with the war, the chaos it brought, it was easier for a young person to disappear and start a new life as someone else. After all, she was an adult.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Again, after so many years, it’s something I live with,’ replied Graham. “Thank heaven for Cora, she’s twenty-three years older than me and she’s almost been like a third parent over the years. First Lorna, then my folks died in the war. Cora stepped in and helped with my education. I know people think she’s stern, but she was always good to me.”
I smiled, thinking of my tall, strict aunt. “She does seem pretty formidable.”
Graham wagged one finger at me in a chiding motion. “You just say that because you are so young. I’ve heard rumors of Cora herself being quite the social butterfly in her youth. Why there are even stories of her parents shipping her off for a European tour so they could extradite her from the evil influence of some tall, dark and handsome local Lothario!”
I tried to picture my aunt as a young girl and stifled a giggle. Graham opened his car door. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Lucy. I hope you have a wonderful summer.”
Looking back, it was a wonderful time. Our days passed and a kind of routine came about. We had chores, “projects” our aunt called them, but we had free time, too. Charlie and I got to know Stella, Graham, Mrs. Hardy and her son, James, quite well, but not so with our aunt. She was strict and fair, but held herself aloof. She also had no patience for what she termed, “my girlish fancies.”
I continued to see the dark-haired young woman in the garden. No one else had seen her and Aunt Cora seemed quite insulted that I should be “telling tales” when I asked after the stranger. My aunt stared at me, as though trying to contain herself and then said in a flat, expressionless voice, “Lucy, you will keep these delusions to yourself. You are far too old for make-believe. People will believe you have gone soft in the head.”
Seeing her opinion was so adamant, I decided not to tell her about the voice I heard in the garden.
On sunny days as I read under my parasol I could hear him, my stranger. He was only a voice and he always said the same thing, in the same heartbroken voice. “My very own, where are you?” I would sit listen so hard, trying to figure where out where the voice came from, but it seemed to be all around me and I knew, if I closed the parasol, the voice would disappear.
So it happened that one late afternoon I sat on my bench with the parasol open, listening. I no longer bothered with the book. What did some made up story matter when I had a real mystery to figure out? Graham came striding up the path and stopped, gaping at me. “What’s wrong, Graham?” I asked.
He pointed at the umbrella in my hand. “Where did you get that?”
“What? This?” I looked at the parasol, closed it and then I regarded Graham. “I found it in the attic.”
Graham’s face turned red, then went white. I stood, worried that he was having a heart attack when Aunt Cora followed Graham up the same path. “Ready for supper–,” she began, but stopped when she saw Graham staring me. “Oh, dear.”
“What’s wrong with him, aunt?” I asked.
Graham collected himself. When he spoke his voice was flat, matter-of-fact. “That is Lorna’s parasol. It was a gift from Thomas and her favorite possession. She went everywhere with it. It disappeared with her. Why was it in your attic?”
Cora held up an imperious hand. “It is nothing. I found it the day after the party. I knew it would raise questions so I hid it. Easier for everyone.”
Graham continued to stare at her. A muscle in his forehead ticked.
“Every time I open it in this garden, he calls for her,” I said. The two adults stared at me. “Don’t believe me? Listen.” I opened the parasol.
For a moment there was silence, not even a bird spoke in the fading light of a summer evening. I saw Aunt Cora shift in impatience just before the voice came, calling her. “Where are you, my very own?”
The blood drained from Cora’s face. “Thomas,” she whispered.
“I’ll be damned,” said Graham. “He’s searching for Lorna, too.”
“I don’t understand, Thomas is dead, Lorna is dead. Why is he searching for her?” I said, staring at Aunt Cora’s wretched expression.
Graham’s face twisted in pain. “Thomas was buried in hallowed ground, given a service in accordance with his beliefs. He’s unhappy, but at rest, as he expected to be. Yet Lorna has none of that.” He glared at Cora and thundered, “What did you do with my sister? Where is her body?”
“Honestly, Graham,” she said, turning away as though in distaste. “She was never up to your intellectual standard. You were so much better off without her. As Thomas would have been.”
“She was loving and kind. More than that, she trusted you.” His voice was now a steel whisper, taut with feeling. “She was my sister!” Gray eyes met bright blue ones in a battle of wills. “Now, where is Lorna?”
I had a flash of understanding. Things I had been trying to figure out for weeks aligned themselves like puzzle pieces waiting to be fitted in a predetermined design. “She runs to the river, she always runs to the river.” I realized out loud.
“What, Lucy?” said Graham.
The picture was becoming clearer. “I thought she ran away because she saw me, but that’s not it. She’s stuck, reliving the same moments again and again. Like a phonograph needle on the words of a song.” I stared in horror at Aunt Cora as she drew herself up proudly. “She’s running away from you; she’s always been running away from you.”
“I do not know what you are referring to,” my aunt said not meeting my stare.
“I’ve been seeing the last moments of her life. Dear God, Aunt Cora, what did you do to her when you caught her?” I thought for a minute. “You killed her, didn’t you? And Thomas, he must have… did he see you? So you murdered him, too?”
“Tsk, tsk, Lucy. I would appreciate it if you would endeavor not to be so melodramatic. It was a moment of deep pragmatism. Thomas simply would not allow me to protect him from these crumpets that chased him. Lorna was just the latest of a long line and she would not be frightened off. Fancied herself in love. I did my best for Thomas, I held her under. When he found us, Thomas wasn’t sure if I had disposed of her or was trying to save her.” Aunt Cora’s disdain was biting. “When he realized the truth and would have betrayed me by allowing his weakness to control him, well, I had to protect my interests and his character. My parents were always emphatic: you are nothing without your reputation… it was a simple thing. Men always underestimate women. I used a brick on his head. I hope, I pray that he never knew. Later, I released the cart and it crushed him. My poor darling.”
She stared at us and then raised a revolver. I swallowed, my heart rate rising. I had no idea she carried a gun.
“You must understand,” Cora continued, “after all this time. I simply cannot allow Thomas’ good name to raked through the mud and I certainly will not allow his final memory to be associated with that chit of a girl. She was just like the others I drove off.” Her face twisted into a grotesque mask. “None of them was good enough for my Thomas.”
“Why?” asked Graham. “Why did it matter to you? Why was it so important who your brother married?”
My breath caught as the next piece of the puzzle slipped into place, something that had bothered me since the first time I saw my uncle’s portrait. “Because he wasn’t her brother. Thomas was her son.”
Graham turned to me. “Lucy, what are you talking about? I knew them growing up. Believe me, Thomas was her younger brother.”
I looked from Graham to Cora and saw in her eyes confirmation that the puzzle pieces spoke the truth. I shook my head. “I should have known when I saw the family portraits. We just studied this in biology. It is not physically impossible for two blue-eyed people to have a son with deep brown eyes, I mean, gene mutation does occur, but it is genetically highly improbable. Graham, you yourself told me Cora left the country to escape an entanglement with a dark, presumably, brown-eyed, ‘Lothario.’ In that time she did not tour Europe; she had a child, whom her parents introduced to the community as her younger brother.”
“Oh, good God,” said Graham.
My aunt’s square shoulders slumped, but then she straightened. “You are just like your wretched sister– all about yourself, never thinking about other people’s lives. You’ll have to go, too.”
“What?” asked Graham. “Why me?”
“Lucy is a child. No one will believe her, especially with her babbling about seeing women in white this summer– most unstable, my dear– but, you are something else, a professor, well-liked, respected. I cannot have you ruining everything. After all this time, no one can know.” Cora’s eyes burned with fanatical fire and she raised the pistol again, pointing at Graham’s chest.
“Aunt Cora!” I screamed. “No!” As her finger pulled the trigger and the handle went back, I raised the only weapon I had, my parasol, and I cracked Aunt Cora over the head with it as hard as I could. She went down, bleeding at the temple, her eyes closed. I gasped as pieces of the handle clattered on the patio stones at my feet.
One of these pieces was small and shining. Graham glanced at my fallen aunt, but instead he bent and picked it up. It was a ring of gold, set with a single diamond. Even at sixteen I knew that it was an engagement ring. Another puzzle piece came together in my mind. “We only have Cora’s word that Thomas and Lorna’s relationship wasn’t serious, and she’s the only one who said they broke up. Remember, you said your sister was so happy. Maybe they knew Cora would protest their engagement, so Lorna hid the ring in the parasol handle. A large party like Thomas’ birthday was the perfect place to announce their marriage plans. Cora might be unhappy, but it would be done, public. They would be able to move forward.”
“There’s something engraved,” Graham said. Squinting in the fading light he read, “To L- For Always- Yours, T.”
As he spoke the words the golden sunshine of dusk seemed to gather itself together, forming the shape of a young man. The air around him crackled and popped with electricity as, for a few fleeting moments I saw my great-uncle Thomas as he must have looked the night he died. His eyes searched the garden, passing over Graham and me. “Lorna,” he called, as I had heard him say so many times this haunted summer, his voice breaking on the words, “where are you, my very own?”
I was not surprised when a faint miasma appeared above the ruins of what would have been a very fine stone gazebo. It grew stronger, outlines of silver light and sparkles of lavender. All at once, she was there, a graceful specter wreathed in smiles, floating, almost dancing toward Thomas. Lorna reached one hand out to Graham as she passed and pressed a ghostly hand to her lips, breathing a kiss to her brother before she joined hands with Thomas. “I am here, my love,” she said. “I never left you.”
Looking back I suppose that the ghosts should have scared us, but they never did. Aunt Cora with her burning, hateful eyes was far more frightening than these two spectral lovers, dancing for a brief moment in the summer air. I had the sense of destiny being nudged back into place.
The images dissolved as the gold and the lavender joined, sparkling in a graceful phantom ballet, swirling in the twilight before disappearing, never to be seen again.
I am forty-four years old now. I’ve had twice the number of days as Thomas and even more than that were stolen from Lorna. My parents decided that Aunt Cora was simply a sick old woman. I think she was sick alright, but it happened long before she was old. She lived the remainder of her days in a very special hospital. I’m told she was a model patient. I often wonder what her life would have been like if she could have raised her baby as her son, instead of with the stifled longing of a pretend-sister.
They found Lorna under the ruins of the gazebo that never was. Around her neck was a locket– the necklace I caught a glimpse of every time I saw her. Inside, Graham showed me, was a miniature of Lorna and Thomas: laughing, alive and in love.
Still, this isn’t a sad story. Not any more. Because now and again, as I am outside, in a garden, any garden, I will hear a man’s loving murmur on the wind and then the answering musical laughter of a young woman drifts across the breeze, and I know that they are together. I do not know theology or religion and I do not hold the answers to life after death. I can only say that somehow, somewhere, in the universe, Lorna and Thomas are together… for always… at last.
This post was written by Erika Gardner. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog or on her personal site www.erikagardner.com. You can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.