Hertfordshire – 28th August 1646
A blank page can be a daunting thing, especially when the words one is about to write may endanger the lives of others. Perhaps I should not begin at all. Yet the quill itches in my hand as though being drawn to the ink, and I find the need to record the events of my life overwhelming. In so doing, I can only pray for the safe keeping of those who have shown me great kindness, and for the child whose weight grows heavier in my belly with each passing day.
It is a glorious afternoon. The day is bright outside and the room in which I must sit is filled with light and warmth. But there are happenings out there, beyond these walls, that sour the air and strike fear into the best of us. Despite all I have experienced in my twenty-three years of life, I never envisioned that I should face England in the midst of the Civil War, and yet here I am. You may wonder at my lack of foresight on this account and I cannot blame you for it, for surely someone who lived through the events of the last twenty years would have expected such a thing. But there is the rub, dear journal. I did not grow up here. As queer as it may sound, I cannot say for certain from which century I truly hail; I can only say that it was not this. Time, you see, has played games with me, sweeping me here and there and all against my will. I have no understanding of the manner of these actions and never a warning as to where or when I shall go next, only a continual feeling of inevitability that one day I shall be moved on once more.
Perhaps this sounds bizarre or bemusing right now and my story is a peculiar one, tis true. But I shall tell it to you, and I promise it will all make sense. I have learned to keep my eyes, ears and mind open over the years. All I ask is that you do the same.
It was the first of the month and the year still held the promise of a good summer. By eleven o’clock the sun was glowing high in the sky. As I approached the heavy doors of St Mary Magdalen’s, the sweet scent of damp grass drifted on the breeze and a blackbird serenaded me from the tree by the church wall. Nervous and alone, I paused in the doorway clutching a posy of pink roses. A single thorn remained and stabbed at my palm. As I stepped though the porch into the peaceful cool of the church, a small blue butterfly hovered in the doorway as though about to follow me in, but it changed its mind and fluttered away. I took a deep breath and walked down the aisle towards Daniel More. At that moment my life seemed to be of little consequence to the world, and it never occurred to me that things might not stay as we planned.
Oxford - 13th May 2012
The kettle was boiling with increasing urgency, sending a spiral of hot steam up the window and coating it with condensation. Michael put down his slice of toast and flicked off the switch. He leant forward, wiped the window with the tea towel and sighed. Upstairs the ageing floorboards creaked. He looked up in surprise. He had not expected his wife to rise so early. But then the toilet flushed and the footsteps made their way back across the landing. Michael ran his hands over his face and rested his elbows on the worktop. Three years to the day and it felt like only yesterday. A knife-sharp pain twisted in his gut as he fought back tears.
“You OK, Dad?”
Michael turned to face his son. Paul’s sock-covered ankles were showing beneath his grey school trousers. Must remind Imogen to buy some new ones, he thought, he grows so damned fast. He put his arms around the boy and hugged him tightly.
“Ouch, I can’t breathe... Dad!” Paul gasped, patting him on the back.
“Sorry,” Michael said, releasing his son. “Just be good and don’t be late home today, will you?”
Paul picked up his dad’s toast and took a bite.
“She doesn’t blame you,” he offered.
Ignoring the toast theft, Michael looked at his son’s ocean-blue eyes and ruffled his dark hair.
“I know, son. But I do.” There was a pause as he watched Paul munch on the toast. “She would be nine today,” he added.
“Is, Dad, she is nine today.” Paul poured hot water from the kettle into his dad’s coffee mug. “You always say she’s still out there somewhere, and I believe you.”
Michael forced a smile. “I just wish I knew where,” he replied.
Paul took a swig of the coffee and looked up at him.
“You will find her. Mum thinks so.”
Something dropped through the letterbox in the hall. It ought to be birthday cards for Catherine, but it wouldn’t be. Michael wondered if any of her friends even thought of her now.
Paul seemed to read his mind.
“I saw Millie and her mum the other day. She’s having a birthday party on Saturday. She said she wished she could share it with Cat, just like before...” His words petered out.
Michael recalled the streamers, frilly dresses, High School Musical playing on the MP3 player and the birthday cake iced in bright Barbie pink. He thought of his younger child’s pretty little face beaming up at him as she and her best friend blew out the candles. That had been her fifth birthday. Her sixth he had tried to block out.
Paul glanced at the ceiling.
“Is Mum taking a sicky again?”
Michael took a deep breath. “Too many anniversaries today.
“You’re going to school, though.”
“I know, but your Mum has to deal with things in her own way. Let her be.”
There was a knock on the front door. Paul swallowed the last bite of toast and grabbed his book bag from the kitchen table.
“See you tonight, Dad.”
“See you...” he called as Paul vanished down the hall, the front door slamming shut and sending a vibration through the walls and rattling the crystal vase on the hall table, “...later.”
Michael sighed again and shook his head. It was going to be a very long day. Perhaps it would be better if Imogen went to work; the kids would surely distract her. Perhaps I should stay home with her, he thought, but he knew she wouldn’t move all day and he needed distracting, even if she didn’t. He dropped another slice of bread into the toaster and peered out of the window to the bottom of the garden. The outhouse stood dark and louring behind the blossom-covered apple tree. He checked his watch: 8:15. Not enough time.
The toast popped up. Taking it out, he buttered it, picked up his briefcase and made his way to the front door. As he passed his study he glanced in. There were papers everywhere, sketches, calculations, books left open and the photograph of Catherine. Next to the frame stood the brass Eiffel Tower paperweight she had insisted on bringing back for him when Imogen took her to Paris, six months before she disappeared. Upstairs his wife stirred. He considered popping up and saying goodbye. He put a foot on the first step but Imogen saved him the time.
“Try to have a good day,” she called.
“You too, love,” he yelled back with a forced smile.
(c) 2010, Liah S Thorley, all rights reserved