Christie Cochrell: In Suspension

From the train window Elena watched a bird rising out of an English field.  A perfect, ordinary thing—something she half-remembered underlining in a novel once, in some middle school class, profoundly stirred by a presentiment she hadn’t been able to name.  Her first encounter with a bird and field imbued with metaphorical significance, and now after a lifetime of sightings dulled by familiarity and growing weariness, likely the last she’d ever note.  Rising in late sunlight, then gone.

For the moment then it had its mystery back.  Had again become remote, unreachable.  Something she had imagined she might understand someday, and had to wonder now if she had known at all.  The bird, the field, the English summer twilight that held them . . . and busily erasing as it went, the train, its determined velocity, her aching legs and knees, swollen under her travel-resistant cotton knit skirt the color of good Irish peat, the sullen indifference of her near-fifty-year-old daughter who had been railroaded (as it were) into this trip across the countryside where Thomas Hardy had traveled in a more measured time, had laid his distressed heroine on one of the great bluestones of the prehistoric monument.  Where, as befit the son of a stonemason and an architect of stone and then of words, the novelist erected a counterfeit province over the eroded bones of a Saxon kingdom.

They’d stay the night in Bath, Elena and Becca, making awkward small talk over a pub supper before returning to their separate rooms in the disabled-friendly B&B.  And tomorrow they would visit Arthur’s Avalon—no less implausible it seemed than the now vanished bird and the bucolic field.  Though Elena would have to stay below, an incapacitated pilgrim at its fearsome foot, Becca could climb for her all the way up the Tor, the holy Isle of Apples where the king was carried to recover from his wounds, his nearing death.  No island now, of course, the celebrated Tor inland, landlocked, but once surrounded wholly by marshes.

The Arthurian myths had been as much a part of Elena’s spiritual landscape since childhood as that famous circle of standing stones not far from here, or as the pictographs and petroglyphs on Horsethief Lake back home in Washington, one of the camps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  She’d read The Once and Future King the summer after seventh grade, and saw again, in the long shadows cast by the September evening, how singularly relevant it had been to her life—the teachings of Merlin, the fatal betrayals of Lancelot and Guinevere, and now this final journey to the place where the defeated king was taken too, after his final war.

She’d spent her life with literature, as literature; its benevolent lucidity had kept her safe from anything too real.  Had kept her once- or twice-removed from fatal doubts, regrets.

###

Becca cradled the mug of Nescafé, badly wanting instead some of her usual smoky Russian Caravan tea, out on the garden bench at home with Dougal, Toby’s Cairn Terrier, nose up against her ankles.  Her mother (wearing some kind of awful cherry red lipstick on her old lips:  what did she think?) was making a dog and pony show of setting off after breakfast for the Tor, the fabled island of King Arthur—though it was really nothing but a rise of land once surrounded by marshlands, once thick with wild apple trees.  Becca was reminded of field trips back in grade school, the jarring excitement of her classmates adding to her own reluctance.  She used to dread those days, being crammed into the rambunctious bus and juddered and joggled around, when she would so much rather be indoors, quietly reading about rainbows, soil, DNA.

And then, breakfast too soon over, her mother couldn’t get over learning that today’s guide was a stonemason like her favorite old dead author from the area, Thomas Hardy.  A brawny Turkish Cypriot—

“first come to England to install kerbstones and breakwaters,” the man swanked.  He often dived in the Red Sea.  He liked to swim among the underwater statues of lions and sphinxes in the ruins of Cleopatra’s Palace in the harbor of Alexandria.  On the way to Glastonbury he would drive them past a drowned village, he told Elena, ignoring Becca’s tight-lipped scorn—its streets, houses, quite everything, become an ordinary reservoir afloat with waterfowl.

  “Only sometimes when the water gets low,” he said, hamming it up like a provincial actor thinking he knows how to build suspense, “the vanished church spire reappears.”

Having been gazing dully out the side window until then, thinking she’d murder for some strong coffee or tea along the way, Becca was suddenly roused.  Despite herself.  Despite the off-putting manners of this hirsute man with undisguised machismo who was obviously out to charm her mother, and kept trying to flirt (really?), turning his head carelessly sideways to make eyes at Elena, driving the Land Rover with just one hand draped casually, indifferently, over the steering wheel.  Becca wanted to hear all about the reservoir, and the sphinxes.  Back in childhood, in school, in earth science, she had been fascinated at the thought of solids suspended in liquids, particles become invisible.  And now it thrilled her in a weird, uneasy way to think about whole villages and cities suspended.

Funny how certain themes follow a person all her life.  Suspended first in amniotic fluid, born under a water sign, as Becca liked to start her tale, it was as if she’d never quite solidified.  She’d wasted scads of time waiting to be precipitated out—formed into fine crystals, sheer on all sides, lustrous, prismatic, multi-faceted.  Like the peridot crystal she’d worn in the hollow of her throat on a gold chain since she was fourteen, needing its healing power, longing for (re)birth.  But she’d just gone on being invisible, at best amorphous, always.

It wasn’t any accident that explorations in various liquids had become her vocation, that she’d made a career in forensic biology—examining blood stains, serum, distinguishing human from animal, human from other human, in the precipitin test she’d performed so many times. 

Or that her chosen work had to do with the residue of carnage.

###

Becca had first come across submerged ruins—petroglyphs, ancient temples—that Christmas in Hawaii in the week after her mother announced that she was leaving them for her new lover, Rowan, a British Jamaican thermal engineer who had had some top secret spacecraft job at Boeing.  The whole family in shock, her father taking Becca and Leo to the coffee mill, the painted church, the perfect little bay with sea turtles and a big fellow carving gods.  Maybe, Becca remembered thinking, the man could carve a god for her who’d zap her mother with a powerful ancient Hawaiian thunderbolt, to bring her to her senses.  But he’d laid down his tools and walked off barefoot to the achingly blue water for a swim, never seeing the devastated child.  She’d felt abandoned twice over.

###

Now on the way to Glastonbury Tor, which Becca was to climb for her, Elena was confiding to the guide who hung on every word, “This is the last trip I will ever make; I’ve realized I can’t do it any more.  Can’t get around without great pain, and altogether too much fuss.  So England will be lost to me.”

Wanting to ask about the reservoir, the subsumed village, Becca in the back seat couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  It was as if the other two were alone in the luxury SUV.  Invisible to them, she’d ceased to be.  The story of her life.  Another rehash of her mother’s terrible abilities to make her children disappear.  She felt first crushed, her breath held to the verge of dizziness against the deep, annihilating wave of memory; then furious; then mutinous.  Why in god’s name should she be made that insignificant again?  Hadn’t she proved her substance, paid for it in spades, years of therapists’ bills, uncounted time spent agonizing, questioning herself, refusing to go anywhere near forgiveness or moving on?  Was she still, at almost fifty, not to be allowed her rightful presence in the world?

###

She’d accepted her invisibility too often—again when traveling through Italy after graduate school with Piero, the archaeologist she’d thought she loved, stopping for dinner with his relatives in some remote village where fennel grew wild and lizards flickered across the sun-bleached stone of low retaining walls.  With his wife still indeterminately in the picture, he hadn’t wanted them to know that Becca was with him, so told them she was just a hitchhiker that he’d picked up outside Macerata, on her way to the Adriatic coast.  They hadn’t talked to her, any of them; she’d looked on silently, drank acqua minerale senza gas and ate nothing, though she’d sat at the table as the female cousins crowded eagerly around the prodigal.  Not seen, of no interest.  Suspended in the foreign anise-scented air of southern Italy.  Fiddling uneasily with the peridot crystal nestled at her throat that was supposed to give self-confidence.  And forgiveness—another thing she was gravely short of.

A year or two later, not having learned her lesson the first time, she’d gone with Piero to the wind-scoured volcanic island close to Africa where he was one of the group exploring the megalithic sesi tombs.  Where, when he wasn’t working, he led her down to the sea through wild bocca di leone, purple snapdragons.  The second day they’d met a Danish actress and her daughter.  Both were brazenly taken with him, and all but naked gathered little rust-red oysters from the black seabed to feed him after dark with aromatic island wine and indiscreet stories about working with the film director Antonioni.  Becca had said nothing the whole time in their hectic company, had sat in the shade of a scrawny maritime pine tree while the other three swam—wanting above all to be cool, and only after that to comment with cool wit on something meaningful to her.

###

Elena had no idea how miserable her daughter felt, how the sense of inadequacy she’d been dealt had impaired her all of her life.  Elena herself had been unusually lucky, unencumbered with all that.  Besides the safe haven she’d found in literature, where she could reign serene, she’d had Rowan—his validating love, as well as the England he’d given her, months out of every year:  the cool, green, civilized land from which everything seemed to stem.

She hadn’t felt the ache of not belonging since the week in Hawaii that long-ago Christmas, longing to be elsewhere and all but gone already, absent to her husband, children.  Those weeks were the most lonely she had ever been—until this year, again, with loneliness now the only companion in her bed.  She remembered the ache of iniquitous love like a slow burn, the lighting of the tiki torches in the dusk, lights coming on along the coast like low-hung stars with Romeo’s fateful and breathless consequence yet to be written in. 

She’d cut her feet on lava the last morning, helping her single-minded child look for the petroglyphs promised along the beach in the grounds of the old hotel.  Becca had come out looking for her, and they’d explored the pools together, hand in hand—her daughter clinging with clenched determination, not intending to let go.  There’d been an ugly scene after, when Elena had had to pull herself away, for her mortal salvation.

The petroglyphs hadn’t been recognizable.  Not like those she’d loved in her own childhood in the Pacific Northwest. Under water, it seemed, when she’d reread the description—like the village they’d just driven past a lifetime and a world away, in Somerset, England. 

“You see the black stones of old temples piled later into sea-walls,” she wrote Rowan that evening while her family ate without her in the steamy outdoor dining room, “and fallen again—awash with rock-crabs.  Hawaii isn’t in the least my element; it’s got nothing to do with me.  I hate the ungiving volcanic earth, the heat and the humidity.  Each morning I’ve been reading Robert Browning on the beach in desperation, needing terribly to keep my soul intact.”  Her cri de coeur read like something from one of the English novelists, whether consciously or not.

###

Becca had stolen and later destroyed that letter, finding it tucked into the big dog-eared paperback volume of Browning.  Had seen herself as from a reeling distance in her mother’s hateful words.  Had gone, erased, back to the edge of the ocean that night after their awful mahi-mahi supper, thinking she might well drown herself—but realized, as the lapping water soaked her sneakers, she was drowned already.  Like a litter of kittens no one wants.

She’d loved everything about Hawaii that morning while the two of them were walking, and she hated it forever after—the hotel standing empty in the grounds adjoining theirs, the beach with the black lava temples where Elena (as she had become that day) would all week take her thermos of creamy coffee and read Browning in the unwieldy paperback while Becca and Leo hunted bright stripy fish in the tide pools.  Black crabs moving, tenuto, over the black rocks, with the deliberation of her old piano teacher’s hands.

###  

Becca had thought back on those crabs when Piero pointed out to her the octopus in the tide pool on Pantelleria, that other island formed from lava—the sinuous sea creature spooked by a shadow cast like a net over it; the swimming pool at their also empty hotel filling steadily, silently, during the night. 

All through high school, both colleges, into her work years, up until this year—except in work, which was her saving grace—she’d let herself be submerged in the desires and intentions of others, in the lives of the unnurturing men (two more after Piero) in which she had become miserably suspended.

###

After Hawaii Elena’s children, traumatized by her betrayal, had pulled up the drawbridge after her and had nothing to do with her for five years, ten, twenty.  Really until their father’s death, and then, last spring, Rowan’s.  The man they’d never met, and had agreed they never would.  There’d been stilted phone calls from time to time throughout Becca and Leo’s lives, and the cards Elena sent always to arrive precisely on the day of their birthdays with tidy one-sheet letters in her neat hand and her midnight blue ink—the affectation of a fountain pen just what one would expect from the Dorothy Millicent Thurgood Professor of English Literature, as she’d been named.  But the entente had been chilly, protracted, imperfect.  Eventual visits for commencement ceremonies and later in public places somewhere in the cities the children passed through (Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Santa Monica) had been excruciating on both sides.

###

With Elena’s declining health, the genteel hand-written letters had given way to ordinary e-mail messages, which in the new year had become a regular barrage, intended to weaken her daughter’s stiff defenses.  In the end, Becca, living in London with the man she meant to marry, after a decade working for Forensic Services near old Teddington Lock, had given in—almost entirely because of his persuasion—and agreed to accompany her mother to Stonehenge and Glastonbury and the Moors (“but not Othello,” she had quipped, with vicious intent, recalling a joke she and Leo had between them about their mother’s resemblance to story-dazzled Desdemona, lover of adventurers, dark secret-hearted men).  What did it say that Becca had herself fallen for murky adventuring Piero, wrong for her in every way?

It was likely the last time Becca would see her mother, Toby pointed out, unless she made a trip back to the States—the only chance they’d have to heal their division, the gaping fissure down the middle of their lives.  She didn’t care really, but then she thought maybe she would, when it had come to be too late.

###

Now, relegated to the lowering back seat where she’d become an unseen child again, despite the adult reconciliation she’d attempted in good faith with a supreme effort of will, she knew no healing would be possible.

When they got to the reservoir, and got out of the SUV to stretch their legs, Becca refused point-blank to go on.  Her mother had a book with her, of course, Mallory’s Le morte d’Arthur, which she had intended to read while Becca dutifully climbed the Tor for her.  Erol, the Turkish driver, assured Elena now that he could get her to the top in a wheelchair or sling (like one of the bloody gallant knights, Becca thought with disgust, like full-of-himself Sir Lancelot, dauntless and death-defying for love of his lady).  Unlikely as a victorious ascent seemed, the conquest of the mighty Tor—more power to them. Let them have at it, try all they wanted, leaving her out.  The Tor was all about Elena, after all, with no intention in the least of spending time getting to know her daughter, making up for the lost years.  

She couldn’t do it all again, especially here, now, on her own and not on her home ground, feeling flayed, resenting their two against one.

There was a big brouhaha when she balked—Elena in tears, Erol continuing to play the knight-errant, Becca resistant to their protestations, missing Toby frantically.  She couldn’t call him, since he was in meetings all morning, but finally solved the impasse by simply disappearing, as she’d learned all of her life to do.  Invisibility was convenient, and rather fun, when self-imposed.

###

Walking along the lake, Becca willed her true love and protector to be coming towards her with Dougal cavorting on his sea green leash a dozen steps ahead.  Toby, who looked out for her, who was the first person who’d ever really cared what she wanted, what her thoughts were.  He listened quietly, responded with concern—or his best world-allaying laugh.  She could feel him with her when her head wasn’t muddled by other voices, their clamorous assertions that drowned out hers.

It had been a significant upheaval of Becca’s life agreeing to move in with Toby Rush, an art historian who curated exhibits at the Tate Modern, paintings with pigments laid on as thick as the mud once in the Avalon marshes they’d been headed for.  But he was blessedly quiet at breakfast, and understood that strong tea was the only company she could abide until much later in the day.  He was immeasurably kind, to her and everyone; he coaxed her out of hiding, out into the open, the visible world.

She’d even last summer agreed to go back to Hawaii with Toby, while he was there meeting a major donor at one of the fancy big resorts, flown in from Buenos Aires. 

“It’s no more my desire than it is yours,” he’d said.  “So let’s support each other, and we’ll get through it somehow.”

And that, oddly, had been the making of her, in the end.

###

At the lakeside café, sitting eating a cone of chips, the salt reassuring, and cradling the paper cup holding a beatific triple espresso, she saw a distant figure headed slowly towards her—wooly and unrecognizable through tears of anger and reproach.  Toby?  Illogically, her heart leapt.  But instead—and even more astonishing—Elena, hobbling towards her, elegant and slow, in her traveling skirt and chunky oatmeal turtleneck, a royal barge poled laboriously by the hand-carved linden walking stick shown off to Becca on the train.

“I couldn’t go without you to the Tor.”  She sank down in the chair across from her daughter, when she eventually made it to the café.

Becca considered her coolly.

“Where’s your attendant Turk?”  An image came unbidden of a crudely salacious Osmin, the harem jailer, in a production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio she’d seen in Chicago with one of her ex-es.  Elena ignored her subtext.  She was a world champion at ignoring.

“Erol will meet us at the car when we’re ready to head back up to Bath.  We’ve got however long we need.  I hired him for a day trip, not by the hour.”

Becca gazed off beyond her mother’s shoulder, trying to quantify the time needed to make up for the time she’d lost, over the years.  Trying to make out the outlines of the drowned village underneath the waters of the lake.

“You’re here for me,” Elena said, “in spite of all the hurtful history between us, and I’ve wanted more than anything to be with you—just once, together, you and me, if once is all we have.  You’re why I’ve come to England one last time, while it’s still possible.  Though the visit to Arthur’s final resting place did seem—symbolically—a perfect ending to my literary life.”

Becca still said nothing.  The peridot burned like bile at her throat.   Forgiveness was the hardest thing she’d ever known, harder than hurt itself; than her hateful rebellion all those years ago, and its result; than fighting her way out into the living world intact (or arguably so), in passably good working order.

“But I’ve hurt you, again,” Elena had gone on, unconsciously cleaning the rim of the table with a tissue, gnarled hands fretting.  “Somehow, without meaning to.”  She judged, “I wasn’t paying attention of the right kind.  I wasn’t listening.”

“When did you ever?” Becca blurted out, unable to stop herself.  Elena closed her eyes, but not before they had revealed sudden, confounding tears.

“I’m so sorry, Becca.”  She balled up the tissue and tucked it into the now empty paper cup sitting on the table between them.  “I think maybe I just never knew how.  I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good teacher either, in the end—I kept finding the students getting in the way of what I was trying to teach them.  Students can’t help but be emotional, distracted, intellectually messy, and I didn’t deal with that too well.  I was a failure at anything outside meticulous, neatly delineated words.” 

In midnight blue ink, to add insult to injury, Becca thought with a rush of pent-up grief for what had been, and what had never been.  Not bitterly this time but wanting just to tell it as it was, she said–

“My whole life I’ve been at a loss for words, even the ordinary ones—but really, really good at the emotion and the mess.”

It felt freeing to say that to her mother, face to face, that fragment of lucidity she’d salvaged from the murk of endless self-analysis.  The simple truth out in the open, finally, revealed how diametrically opposed they were.

“From when I was little I couldn’t ever seem to make myself understood.  The words just didn’t come.  I got so frustrated at having no way to express what I was feeling, even a ‘yes’ or ‘no’—so I was way too easily swept up into the domineering orbits of whoever I got mixed up with.  That’s mostly why the awful stuff happened.”

“What awful stuff?”  Elena looked at her, frowning concern.

“You never knew?”

Becca suddenly saw what she hadn’t before.  Elena hadn’t known, or she’d have called, done something—never mind that all her earlier attempts to contact them had been rejected outright.  Then after her apparently cruel silence when it counted most, dozens more years of being kept away.

“I was a mess in junior high, high school.  Troubled, rebellious.  ‘Emotional, distracted, messy’ doesn’t half describe it. Dad was too depressed to worry about me, or issue any directives; he pretty much ignored my acting out.”

“I’m dismayed he never said a word.”  That she’d been kept out of their lives to that degree, when she might have helped some, somehow.

“I got in with a bad crowd; some of them—including my best friend—even getting arrested.”  Her junior year, Becca had been desperate for attention, not caring what kind.  “One night, on our way home from the casino and then some honky-tonk bar, the older boys I was hanging around with hit something—or someone—with the car.  A hit and run.  We’d been drinking, with fake IDs, and so of course they knew we couldn’t stop.”

“Oh, Becca . . .”  Elena laid one of her weathered hands on Becca’s arm, then quickly pulled it back again as if it might burn her, instead of just being repulsed.  But Becca hadn’t moved.  Hadn’t, she found, minded the touch.

“It wasn’t me driving; they let me off with a warning.  I had to give a witness statement to the police the next day, though I wasn’t clear on what happened—we were all really out of it.”

“So was the person killed?”  Elena’s face had gone taut, paper white.

“It turned out to be a horse, from one of the nearby riding stables.  Injured badly enough that it had to be put down by the vet.”

From all her years working with language and its concealments, Elena couldn’t help thinking night mare, the words veiling the brute reality, before allowing into focus the enormity of what had happened in the darkness of that lonely night. Or the acknowledgment that all the truths she’d thought she’d known about her daughter’s life were a self-serving fiction.  She’d known nothing.  She’d seen only what she had been allowed. 

Granted, she’d had no claim on any more than the bare minimum; she’d fled from them, to save her life.  She couldn’t have done otherwise, but would like to have done it differently, caringly, not with that panicked cowardice that had resulted in the terrible schism.  Terry, her ex-husband (not a bad man, really, just badly scarred), had been in touch, just, over the years.  Keeping her up—she’d thought—on news, at least the highlights, graduation pictures, Leo’s clarinet recitals and his later concert tours.

“I was in therapy for years, following that,” Becca told her.

Another thing Elena had been lucky to escape herself, with the sagacity of words and the balm of true love as ballast.  She’d been blessed with undeserved and unearned equilibrium.

“But it was lucky in a way,” her daughter hazarded.  “It was my introduction to police science, forensics.  How I learned I wanted to do that as a career.  To save people from crime that wasn’t theirs—or prove them guilty beyond any shadow of a doubt.” 

She saw Elena flinch, her incapacitated hands clench in her lap.

“No proof was necessary,” the older woman said quietly, ravaged.  “My guilt was right there out in the open, for everyone to see.”

 “I didn’t mean you,” Becca said, surprised (and then surprised that she didn’t).  “I meant myself—what I kept doing to myself, remorselessly, so long.  My last therapist but one helped me see that.” 

And somehow for her mother, that was even worse.  That Becca had inflicted still more damage on herself. 

“I’m really sorry,” Becca added, ashamed of her behavior in the car and at breakfast today.  And yesterday, and way back beyond that . . . no matter that there’d been justification, ready excuses.  She was sorry to have made her mother walk all the way here from the car park, dependent on her sturdy stick, and sorry too for messing up the ending of her story.  It had meant so much to her, to be bound for the legendary Isle of Apples, where the failing king had in the various accounts been carried at the last, all his resplendent hopes come down to that.

“It’s fine,” Elena answered her, and found it really was.  She looked out at the water of the man-made lake that held in it the vanished village with its vanished church, where they’d ended by chance or by Becca’s choosing.  She looked at her daughter, unrecognizable except for her grandmother’s gold-flecked hazel eyes (and a suggestion of her father’s perennial frown lines)—this accomplished woman revitalized by the new life in London where she’d made her home, the future with her gentle art historian that was finally at forty-seven opening for her.

“I’ve had this time with you,” she told Becca, “and that’s all that matters.”  She dared to touch her daughter’s gently freckled arm again, and added quietly, letting go any extant claims and expectations, “Though I would have loved more.”

“There’s still tonight,” Becca gestured helplessly, turning palms up and out, empty of solutions.  She felt the ache of that small gift, a feeble (almost reprehensible) offering.  But Elena brightened.

“Yes, you can introduce me to your favorite vegetarian curries and Islay single malt” (which she’d refused the night before, saying “I’m more a gin and tonic sort of person”), “and tell me all about the things you’re finding in London.”  It was a start, one of those small moments of trampled grass that might with time and repetition become the suggestion of a path.

And she’d spend time with Leo too, back in the States, after his San Francisco concert; stay for an offbeat dinner prepared by his sushi chef boyfriend in the Hayes Valley apartment they shared whenever Leo was in town.

She’d seen the bird rising into the last of the day’s sun, up from the English field, and as if by that suddenly freeing movement, on those upswept wings, had been flushed out of hiding too, out of the thicket of reliable old words and ways of being where she had sought cover for so long.

###

“The same with me!” Becca exclaimed, surprised, in response later that evening, over a peaty, smoke-imbued Laphroiag, which they sat sipping, for a good hour or two after a headily spiced meal of chickpeas with garam masala, sweet potato patties with green coriander chutney, and tandoori broccoli.  “So wonderful to be finally precipitated out.  Some days I even feel like those chrome alum crystals I couldn’t get over having made, for my science experiment:  octahedral, beautiful, and regular.  And besides that, such a luscious purple.  Like crystalized grape jelly—which you know I used to love.  More saturated than amethyst, even.” 

Over dinner she had described her work, the art installation Toby was working on, the favorite hill above the London skyline where they walked Dougal on Sunday mornings, and the riverboat they liked to take during the summer months along the Thames to Kew Gardens and Hampton Court.  And then under the spell of the wonderful Scotch and spices, her daughter’s unexpected willingness to share, Elena had mentioned hesitantly how she’d envisioned incipient, almost illegible paths beckoning—like the deer trails she and Rowan had walked near Sammamish, and then through ancient woodlands between Canterbury and the coast, Hearne Bay.  Paths of communication and of possibility.

“I like to think they’re indicating a way through . . . between us.  A new—an untried—way of going.”  Like the path beside the lake today.

And after Becca’s exclamation of recognition, and a wry comment about the love of metaphor she had apparently inherited, the younger woman said–

“Yes, sure.  Okay.  I see that happening.” 

And vividly the memory came back of the trip she’d insisted she would never take—the trip back to Hawaii with Toby, when he persuaded her along.  An acquiescence (giving yourself up to water, as she’d once defined the word) that showed her it was possible to change.  Loath to explore while Toby was tied up in meetings with his wealthy Argentinian, she’d taken the car keys and gone out anyway, avoiding beach-walking and petroglyphs.  She had been met by radiant blizzards of jacaranda trees in full bloom everywhere all over the island—a perfect daze of purple blossom she drove through, enchanted, with her skin and hair and very bones steeped in purple.  She’d been in a daze too of unaccustomed happiness, of being finally, as the lilting DJ on the station out of Maui put it between reggae numbers, “true to plan.”  Herself, and loved.

Remembering that unsought blessing of purple dissolving pain in grace, she reached out for her mother’s hand across the Scotch glasses, ready to lead her out into the new, unwritten spaces, and not let go this time.


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