The Posy Ring(2)

By: Catherine Czerkawska


Thrice. Like a charm.

Her father wouldn’t willingly have pointed it out to her on the way to the island. She’s sure of that now. So the first sight must have been as they climbed the hill, when they had been intent on the task in hand. She had seen it briefly, in passing, but there had been no time to stand and stare. All the same, it comes back to her with a peculiar intensity as soon as she sets foot in the narrow lane that leads to nowhere but the hill. She can feel her father’s hand in hers, his fingers calloused from the fiddle, and the smooth band of his wedding ring. He smells of Imperial Leather soap and some mysterious, indefinable herbal scent, and he has tied his mane of dark hair back into a ponytail. She remembers the perfume of flowers and wanting to pick them. She was always picking wild flowers in those days and always disappointed that their blooms drooped so quickly in their jam jars of water. She had tried to pull away from him, drawn to campion and vetch, but he had said, ‘No, Daisy. Maybe later. But let’s do what we’ve come to do first, eh?’

He had it stored away inside his T-shirt, the wish.

‘Next to my heart!’ he had said, with a grin that was no grin at all, folding up the white silk with the words written on it. She had copied it out laboriously, sitting at the folding table in the warm van. In marker pen so that it would fade slowly. That was the way the magic worked. As the words faded, so your wish might come true.

‘It’s worth a try,’ her father had said, with a little grimace. ‘Anything’s worth a try.’

She was worrying about the scarf that belonged to her mother, a white silk scarf, a precious possession. But her father said it didn’t matter and scarves were replaceable.

Now, she remembers the lane with its profusion of flowers and this house, glimpsed only in passing back then, behind its wrought-iron gates. She had badly wanted to stop and look at it, momentarily entranced by some quality of mystery. She was a great one for stories, a great reader, even then. ‘Daisy always has her nose in her book,’ her mother would say. The house, glimpsed so briefly in passing, looked as though it belonged in a story. She had wanted to stop and gaze at it, drinking it all in, but her father had pulled her onwards.

She had sensed a kind of panic in his voice.

‘No. No, Daisy, we can’t stop here.’

‘Why not? It’s an interesting house.’

‘Because somebody might see us.’

‘Who? There’s nobody here. It looks empty.’

‘It isn’t empty, Daisy. It isn’t an empty house. I think somebody lives in it.’

Even then, even as a child, she had thought he seemed both certain and nervous. As though he knew who lived there. As though he didn’t want to be seen by whoever might be looking out of those windows. It had been raining that long-ago morning, the kind of torrential Scottish rain that people call ‘stair rods’ after a dry spring, but the sun had come out and the air in the lane was hot and humid and sweet-smelling. The lane was full of flowers: late bluebells, early meadowsweet and, above them, a riot of creamy honeysuckle and wild roses, pink, white and every shade in between. And birdsong. The birds were singing their hearts out after the rain. They had disturbed them as they walked, and she could hear the beat and flutter of their wings among the leaves.

‘No. No, Daisy, we can’t stop here.’

‘Why not? It’s a lovely house.’ But his fear had been infectious, and they had hurried on.

*

Today, she has parked the blue Polo in a muddy clearing, hardly a lay-by at all, uncertain about parking at the house and unsure about being able to turn around at the other end of the lane. She feels a throb of anticipation, and there it is. The house again, just as she has remembered it without really remembering its exact whereabouts: a huddle of stone walls half hidden at the end of a green lane, beyond rusted iron gates. A faded wooden sign, to the right of the gate, has the single painted word: Auchenblae, just visible, although another winter will probably obliterate it completely. The house feels undisturbed, sunk deep in time. Dreaming. She puts her hand into the pocket of her jacket and brings out the heavy bunch of keys that the solicitor has given her. They feel too ancient, too large and unwieldy to be the keys to any real house. She imagines herself walking along the soft, mossy driveway. But she is in two minds. Should she climb the hill or explore the house? Which should she do first? Does she want to climb the hill at all? Why is she so reluctant? Why is she hesitating?