Second draft - Finding Mary
She had been running away for so long now that she couldn’t remember why. The sound of her heart thundered in her ears and she was gasping for breath. Looking over her shoulder she realised no-one was following. Her pace slowed as she made sense of her surroundings.
The early morning sun was filtering through the silver beech trees that surrounded her. The golden shafts of light blended with the morning haze to create an enchanting backdrop. She wriggled her toes suddenly realising how cold and wet they felt after running through the dew-covered grass.
She flinched; the silence was broken by the cascading song of a chaffinch which seemed to rouse the other birds to join in chorus. Calmness started to flow through her body as the burbling sound of water added to their melody. 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. Majestic bluebells carpeted the woodland floor, weaving their merry way through the glade. This prompted Mary to think 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 sound of the water flowing was getting louder so she knew the stream was close now.
What a beautiful natural habitat, virtually untouched by human hand. The familiarity of the surroundings provided her with a feeling of comfort which she could not put her finger on. She wished Betty was with her now. Her sister would know what day it was. She was really clever and her passion for nature meant she knew the names of all the flora and fauna. Betty 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 stood and pondered; where was Betty? Maybe she was coming later.
The velvety moss and lush grass banking looked so inviting that Mary felt compelled to lie down. The dampness soaked through the thin cotton fabric covering her back. She shivered but felt so alive; more alive than she had felt for some time. A sweet scent attracted Mary’s attention. She spotted clumps of vetch, bracken and pink bistort by her head; however it was the fresh smell of damp soil mixed with these which created the heady scent of spring. Further away, the sunlight was glinting off 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.
The white flowers should have provided their perfect camouflage, except their fluttering iridescent wings shimmered in the sunlight. Mary took a sharp intake of breath and held a hand to her mouth, stifling a gasp. Her eyes must be 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, spellbound by their antics. They had the uncanny appearance of a human body 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 vanished. 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 and gazed up through the trees to the blue sky beyond. She allowed herself to be mesmerized by the passing wispy clouds. The sun was getting higher in the sky now and she could feel its gentle heat caress her skin. She felt her eyelids closing 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. Tears were not going to help now. She mentally shook herself and tried to remain calm for her granddaughter Millie’s sake. Millie was quite enjoying 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 through the eyes of a stranger and demanded to know who I was. Even though we were prepared for this marked decline the inevitability did not ease the pain.
My Mother Mary had not been the same since Dad died last year. She had started to forget little things like we had just spoken or to bring her washing in which was so unlike her. She had been such an organised woman. She had to be running the village shop whilst bringing three children up. Dad had worked away from home for most of our childhood.
She came to live with us just before Christmas. The final straw had been when she had left an empty pan on the hob. Thankfully her neighbour had smelled the burning before anything serious had happened. So now our roles have reversed and the child becomes the parent. I am also nanny, nurse and now seeker to boot. This is the third time this week her bed was empty at 5am. One problem was mum did not even get dressed, so I was expecting to find her shivering in her pink nighty with bare feet.
Luckily, she seemed drawn to the woodland glade that was at the bottom of our garden. As a child, Mum used to play in the woods with her sister Betty. Unfortunately she seemed to have wandered further this morning, today of all days! The 1st of May is Mum’s birthday. We had loads of family coming over to a party in a few hours. Millie smiled 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 approaching the stream now; oh no I hope she hasn’t fallen in. She was getting so frail that she may not have the strength to pull herself out.
Suddenly, Millie shouted. “Grandma, I can see her, 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 asleep she actually looked much younger. Mercifully, I could see her chest rising and falling. I resisted the urge to shake her awake not wishing to frighten her. So gently, I called her name. Slowly as her eyes blinked open, she raised her hand to shield them from the sun.
“Who are you?” She demanded, shrinking away from me.
Almost immediately the fear turned to joy as her face broke into an enigmatic smile. She had spotted Millie behind me.
“Betty, I knew you would come. I have got something special to show you.”
As Mum started to 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. The photographs of Betty as a child are testament to the fact that Millie bears a striking resemblance to her, especially the beautiful strawberry blonde curls. Sadly, I had never known my Aunt Betty as she died tragically aged only twenty, the year I was born.
Mum’s child-like excitement was infectious. 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. Calmness swept over me as I considered the tranquillity of the wooded glade with fresh eyes. I began 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 with a flash 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.