She had been running away from something for so long now that she couldn’t remember what. The sound of her heart beating fast thundered in her ears and she was gasping for breath. Looking over her shoulder she realised no-one was following her. Her pace slowed as she made sense of her surroundings.
The early morning sun was finding its way through the oak and beech trees that surrounded her. Beams of sunlight tried to break through the morning haze hovering over the ground. She wriggled her toes which were feeling cold after getting soaked with the dew which covered the grass she had ran through.
She started, as the silence was broken by the cheerful sound of a chaffinch chirping his tuneful song which seemed to rouse the other birds to join in. A feeling of peace and calm flowed through her body as the burbling sound of water reached her ears. She realised a stream must be close by and as her ears tuned into the sound, she was guided towards it.
Her pace slowed to a halt as a wondrous haze of blue greeted her. The majestic bluebells carpeted the woodland floor, weaving their merry way through the glade. Mary thought, it must be the end of April maybe early May? Why couldn’t she remember the date or even the day, yet she knew the season for bluebells. The water was gushing louder so she knew she was quite close to the stream now.
What a beautiful natural scene, so untouched by human hand. The familiarity of the surroundings provided her with a feeling of comfort which she could not explain. She wished Betty was with her now. Her sister always knew what day it was. She was really clever; Betty loved nature and knew the names of all the flora and fauna. She would love it here. In fact, as she saw the stream opening out in front of her, Mary suddenly realised she had been here with Betty many times before. She pondered; wondering where Betty could be. Maybe she was coming later.
The velvety moss and lush green grass banking looked so inviting that Mary threw herself down on it. The dampness soaked through the thin cotton covering her back. She shivered however felt so alive; more alive than she had felt for some time. A sweet scent attracted Mary’s attention. She noticed the clumps of vetch, bracken and pink bistort by her head, but mixed in with this the fresh smell of damp soil which made the heady scent of spring. Further away, the sunlight was glinting off the dew drops on a patch of cow parsley, sparkling like diamonds. Their white flowers, dipping gracefully in the breeze, were as delicate as Chantilly lace.
She wouldn’t have noticed them as the white flowers were the perfect camouflage however the sun beams caught the fluttering iridescent wings. Mary took a sharp intake of breath and held a hand to her mouth, stifling a gasp. Her eyes must have been playing tricks on her; if only Betty was here to share this moment. Betty had often speculated about fairies in the Woods but Mary had laughed this off as sheer fantasy. Two fairies appeared to be playing under the canopy of the cow parsley. Mary reckoned they were no bigger than her hand. She stared in wonder, mesmerised. Their bodies had the uncanny appearance of a human but they were pure white, all over.
A loud croak broke Mary’s reverie, looking down; she spotted a fat warty toad sat on a rock, not far from her feet. His bulbous eyes blinked belligerently, obviously offended by her intrusion. She quickly looked back at the cow parsley, the fairies had gone. She returned an equally ferocious stare back at the toad, as now she was not sure whether to believe what she had seen.
Sighing, suddenly tired, Mary laid her head back staring up through the trees to the blue sky beyond and allowed the passing wispy clouds to hypnotise her. The sun was getting higher in the sky now and she could feel its gentle heat caress her skin. She felt her eyes close as the soothing sound of the babbling stream started to recede…..
June felt the panic rising from her stomach; she tried to catch it in her throat, where it stayed causing a dull ache which could trigger tears if she wasn’t careful. She mentally shook herself and tried to remain calm for her granddaughter Millie’s sake. Millie had got used to these increasingly frequent early morning expeditions. The Doctor had warned us that mum could start wandering in the night or early hours. She had started to get more confused by the day and this week had been particularly heart breaking. As I helped her dress she had looked at me with the eyes of a stranger and demanded to know who I was. Even though we knew exactly what was going to happen it still did not ease the pain.
My mother Mary had not been the same since dad died last year. Then she kept forgetting little things which had been so unlike her. She had been such an organised woman. She had to be running the village store whilst bring me and my two brothers up. Dad had worked away a lot when we were growing up. Anyway she came to live with me and Michael just before Christmas. She had left a pan on the hob for we don’t know how long but thankfully her neighbour had smelled burning before anything serious had happened. So I have become her full time nanny, nurse and seeker to boot. This is the third time this week her bed was empty at 5am. Millie had spotted it first this morning. The trouble was mum did not even get dressed, so I was expecting to find her bare foot in her pink nighty.
Luckily she seemed drawn to the woodland glade that was at the bottom of our garden. Mum, like me had grown up in this village and she used to play in the woods with her sister Betty. Unfortunately she seemed to have wandered further today. It would be today of all days. The 1st of May was Mum’s birthday. We had loads of family coming over to a party in a few hours. Millie looked up at me and laid a reassuring hand in mine.
“Mum” I shouted for the umpteenth time.
“Mary’ Millie called, perhaps more sensibly.
We were getting near the stream now, oh God I hope she hasn’t fallen in. She was getting so frail that she probably would not have to strength to pull herself out.
All of sudden Millie shouted. “Grandma, I can see her there, lying by the stream”
I ran with Millie, praying that mum was just asleep but imagining the worst. I got to her before Millie. She looked so serene and peaceful lying with her face turned up to the sun. In fact in her sleep she actually looked much younger. Thank the lord, I could see her chest rising and falling. I resisted the urge to shake her awake as I did not want to frighten her. So gently, I called her name. Slowly her eyes blinked open and then she raised her hand to shield them from the sun.
“Who are you?” She demanded, shrinking away from me.
Then all of a sudden her face broke into an enigmatic smile, as she spotted Millie behind me.
“Betty, I knew you would come. I have got something to show you.”
As Mum started pull herself up she held her hand out to Millie. Millie who was so much better at this than me happily took her great-grandma’s hand. We can see from photographs of Betty as a child, that Millie does have a striking resemblance with her beautiful strawberry blonde curls. Sadly, I had never known Betty as she died tragically aged only twenty the year I was born.
Mum had a child-like excitement about her as she pointed to a patch of cow parsley by the stream. I could see a couple of orange tipped butterflies fluttering gently nearby. Mum, bless her, thought they were fairies! Oh well, it could be worse. A calmness swept over me as I considered the wooded glade with fresh eyes. I started to understand why mum kept returning here.
Gently I held my hand out to mum, “Mary, come on now, it’s your birthday today and you have presents to open!” Mum turned to me. There was a moment of recognition; maybe it was the love in my eyes she responded to. She smiled back and took my hand, as together we all strolled back to the house.