Tuesday, March 18, 2014

THE CHILD by GLORY WATTS (THIRD PLACE WINNER OF FLASH FICTION CONTEST)

The Child by Glory Watts

Helena sits by the window, her thin fingers pluck at the folds of her grey skirt.  Her restless blue eyes search the field beyond the garden – a child?    Resentment flares, hot bile fills her mouth and her hands clench tight, the fine skin stretched taut across pale white knuckles. The child shouldn’t be there, not in her field.  She wants . . . needs a clear view across the field to the small red-bricked village where the tall spire of the old church rises high into the summer sky.  She cannot see the churchyard but knows it’s there.  Maybe she will visit it today, yes maybe today.
 
‘Do try to take a walk today darling. Just a short walk will be good for you.’  Jim’s voice, heavy with his own sadness, crosses the room. 'Please darling, I’m worried about you. You must try to get out. Why not walk into the village; I’m sure Mrs Foster at the vicarage would be pleased to see you.  Helena, are you listening? We can’t go on like this.’
 
She doesn’t answer but hears his sigh as he leaves the room.  Later, when he leaves the house guilt trembles on the waves of relief that sweep through her; his closeness troubles her, his tender kindnesses irritate.  His concern hangs always suspended between them, cloying, suffocating, and forcing her ever deeper into melancholy. He cannot see that to let go, to surface from her icy world would be betrayal. 
 
By mid-afternoon the sun is high, the air still.  Helena still sits, stiff-boned and drowsy from the warmth of the sun. Her eyes move to the child sitting with her skirt spread, her head down. What is the child doing?

Helen leaves the house. She crosses the garden, and through the bower with its white roses, the fragrance fills her head. She moves through
the small white wicker gate into the green field, and walks towards the child. The untamed grass is soft beneath her feet; it throws up a sweet delicate scent as she flattens its abundance of wildflowers. The child, dark-haired with apple-red cheeks, sits with downcast eyes – dimpled hands pluck green stems from the spread of multi-coloured flowers that stretch across the field.
 
The sudden low sound of a childish laugh brings tears to Helena’s eyes. Tenderness she has kept hidden deep within seeps into her mind. She feels an easing of that bitterness secreted for so long.  Her pain, let loose, flows freely, mingles with the tears that course her thin face.

Helena draws closer to the child and looks into the slender heart-shaped face. The child’s eyes are dark, deep pools flecked with hazel. They stare back into the pale blue of Helena’s own.      
 
‘Why are you crying?’  The lilting, childish voice breaks the silence.
 
Words come unbidden from somewhere deep inside Helena.   ‘Today I’m feeling very sad.’
 
‘Why are you sad?’ 
 
‘I had a little girl, just like you but she went away. That makes me sad.’
 
‘What was her name?’
 
‘Ellie.  Her name was Ellie and she was eight years old. She had long fair hair like yours but she had blue eyes.'
 
The words echo in her ears, why has she hidden them for so long?
 
 ‘I know her.’ said the child smiling, keeping her eyes locked with Helena’s.
 
Helena shakes her head.  ‘No … no you couldn’t have known her.’
 
Her eyes trace the child’s face.  She isn’t a village child. What is she doing in this field alone? 
 
‘Where do you live?’ 
 
‘Over there.’  The small hand points to a belt of trees far across the adjoining fields.
 
‘How did you get here? Did you walk all that way?’
 
The child starts to hum softly.

'Why are you here in this field?’
 
An elusive look flashes in the dark eyes, ‘I came to pick flowers.’ 
 
Helena stares at the mixture of wild flowers in the child’s hand.  As she focuses, the field, the child, everything but the simple bouquet fades into quiet shadow. She sees only the flowers, their fragrance drifting to fill her head and drench her being with calmness.  Her mind etches the picture so clearly; the one she’d been frightened to look at. She could look now, see herself and Ellie midst the sea of wildflowers, laughing as they picked and chained the fragile buds.  Helena turns to the smiling child and holds out her hand.
 
‘For me?’
 
‘Yes,’ says the child as she hands the bouquet to Helena. ‘For you.’

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