This is the visual prompt for Magpie Tales this week.
Here is my story –
Ash had prided herself for years on being able to sink into the shadows, melding, winding back fluidly as if she wasn’t flesh and bone at all. She had mastered the art of walking as if her feet were made of velvet after watching her mother’s cats pad through the house. Little cushions, silent as will o’ the wisps.
It was important no one see her.
It was important no one notice she was there.
Sometimes on windy nights she became convinced he was standing at her door. Ready to break it down.
The man. The black-hearted man who had taken it all away. All the good things.
When she found her mother lying there in the kitchen, cake mix spilled all over the normally pristine cabinets and blood, blood everywhere; Ash thought her heart was going to drop right out of her chest and fall on the floor making her turn white, then grey, then completely to stone.
The cats lay piled on the back step, little furry throats cut.
It was worse than losing her mind.
It was like losing the earth.
She remembered the kindly policeman talking to her. Your father will be in jail for the rest of his life. You will never see him again. You are safe.
But she didn’t feel safe. It was a horror more grotesque than cruelty to know her father was a killer.
Blood is thicker than water. She knew it to be true. She had seen it and because she had seen it knew it meant that part of her, her blood, maybe her thoughts, maybe even the shape of her tears had been formed by her father’s blood.
And the blood would eventually draw him to her. She knew it.
So thank you very much, Mr. Policeman, but she didn’t feel safe at all.
It was best to stay in the shadows.
The watch helped. A fob. Such a funny word. Like something a character in a restoration play would carry. It had been her mother’s. She had been left it by her grandfather who had worn it with a three piece suit. Ash saw a photo of him once, poking out of her mother’s box of keepsakes. He had on a paisley waistcoat and pinstripe trousers. He was holding the watch proudly, his chest puffed out like a soldier on parade.
Ash loved the watch. It still worked after all these years. She was very careful of it, keeping it away from damp and dust. It had to keep on working. It was all she had left of her mother.
Sometimes it seemed as if the night was everywhere and the only sound in counterpoint to her own breathing was the watch shuffling like soft slippers on wooden floors.
I am alone, she said as the clock gently ticked. And time just passes.
People went on about love all the time. In songs. In books. The girls in the office were always going on about the latest guy who had stolen their heart.
There is nothing greater than love, they said.
Ash knew they were wrong. There was one thing greater than love.
It was fear.
The watch held her and repelled her at the same time. If her mother was still here it would not belong to her. How could she love and hate something so equally?
There were days Ash liked to forget who she was. On those days she sat in the park, feeling a wash of blue against her back, transformed, smiling. She imagined people walking by, seeing her, thinking what a pleasant looking, happy person she was, never believing for a moment she was all alone in the world, never believing she was nothing more than what they saw.
The wind, full of the brightness of the sun, filled her head with light. For a time she forgot that the days ran into one another from nowhere to nowhere. For a time she felt hope grow into something she could almost grasp.
One day the old man was there. Sitting on the bench beside her. He had a shiny walking stick that caught the light, throwing filaments like stars onto the grass. He wore a three piece suit, perfectly pressed. He kept feeling in the interior pocket of his jacket as if he had lost something. There was a flash of paisley and silk.
A younger man sat down beside him, bringing coffee and pastries.
What time is it? the old man asked him. What’s the time? I never know the time any more.
The younger man looked at Ash, shrugging.
He lost his watch, he said.
My watch was stolen, the old man said. Out of my bare hands as I was checking the time. It’s a dirty, cruel world when an old man’s watch is stolen as he’s checking the time.
The old man was at the park the next day and the next. He kept asking passersby what time it was. His aged fingers hunted around in his jacket pocket for the stolen watch, lost, clutching at nothing.
The younger man – his grandson Joel – told Ash how he had tried to find a watch the same as the one that was stolen but his grandfather constantly rejected any replacements.
Ash’s throat was thick at the pale blue sadness in the old man’s eyes. At night she dreamed of time. Its harshness. Its straightforwardness. How it offered a choice between memory and ghosts.
She also dreamed of two pairs of pale blue eyes. Belonging to a grandfather and his grandson.
The morning everything changed the clouds were leaping, pushed by spring breezes. The sun touched Ash’s face like the gentle hands of a mother. Fresh pain fluttered into her chest but she continued to walk to the park where she knew the old man was waiting.
She pulled her mother’s watch from her pocket and handed it to the old man. He leaned towards her, his eyes alight.
It’s my watch, he said. You found it.
Yes, said Ash. I did.
The old man checked the time then put the watch in his jacket pocket.
Ash felt like a prisoner, released back into the world, facing the depth of the day with only a suitcase filled with old clothes and a toothbrush.
Joel came along with three coffees and three pastries.
She found my watch, said the old man, his eyes as blue as the sky between the clouds.
Thank you, said Joel. I hope you won’t miss it.
Ash thought of all the years full of absence, when all she’d had to remember what was lost was the sound of time trimming the long nights.
I won’t miss it, she said. I won’t miss it at all.
They drank their coffee. The grass glittered blue-green in the sunlight. The old man checked the time, counting down the minutes with joy.
Ash and Joel laughed at his enthusiasm.
And just like that the day stretched from nowhere to somewhere, opening gently like the hand of a friend.