The Posy Ring(3)

By: Catherine Czerkawska


She dredges up the memories of that previous time.

It had been hard to breathe beneath the stunted island trees. Airless. And besides, she had been holding her breath. Now, she has no very clear memory of the climb. Her memories of the walk are just a jumble of green leaves, the track winding on and on through willow and birch, rising beneath their feet. She had grown tired in the airless lane. The hill had seemed steep, but probably wasn’t. Just that she was smaller back then. Maybe he had carried her for a little while, giving her a piggy-back. It was what he had done so often, her tall father, carrying her easily.

‘Gee up,’ she would have said, clinging to his ponytail. ‘Gee up, horsey!’

Viola Neilson. That was her grandmother’s name, the grandmother she had never met, never known. Jessica May. That was her mother’s name. Jessica May Neilson, born in 1960 when Viola was forty and still unmarried. A nine days’ wonder, surely, on this island. A scandal. But Viola was alone in the world with inherited money and a house and she wanted the child. She could and did make her own arrangements. Sweet Jessica May. Daisy remembers her mother’s warmth, her gentleness, the flowery scent of her, as though she had somehow absorbed the scent of her own name. Sweet May. Thinking about it now, she can see that Jessica May must have inherited Viola’s determination at least. Perhaps the mildness had been deceptive after all, or reserved only for her husband and her small daughter.

Home for Daisy at that time was the van. Warm and cluttered. If it had been shabby and a little less than clean, she didn’t remember. Children seldom notice such things unless they impinge on their comfort. And the van was comfortable, with cushions, throws, the scent of patchouli and ylang-ylang. Joss sticks. Candles. Nineteen-year-old Jessica May Neilson had met Rob Graham when he was playing the fiddle at a folk festival on the island. Bravely, she had stood up and sung with him at an open mic session in one of the pubs. It must have been love at first sight. A coup de foudre, the French call it. Irresistible. Soul mates right from the start. But Daisy had never been able to talk to her mother about it. Jessica had died too soon, much too young, so she had only her father’s word for it, and Rob’s account had been patchy at best. ‘She had a voice like a skylark. She sang and the sun came out. She was magic.’

Daisy had used her imagination – and the few surviving photographs – to fill in the rest, to fill in the gaps in her knowledge of the pretty woman, long red hair blowing in the wind, smiling indulgently at Rob. But there is so much she doesn’t know. So much still to find out. And perhaps the key is here, now. Along with this bunch of ridiculously heavy iron keys that weighs down her pocket.

When Rob left the village with his fiddle, his bodhrán and his suspect cigarettes, he took lovely Jessica May with him in his painted van. She left without a backward glance. She left her mother, she left her home, she left the village. She would sing and Rob would play, ‘Gypsy rover came over the hill, down to the valley shady.’ It was their song. ‘He whistled and sang till the green woods rang, and he won the heart of a lady.’

They were married long before Daisy was born. Her mother had emphasised that. ‘We were married a whole year before you were born, Daisy Daisy.’ Her father still does that: the affectionate doubling of her name like the old song about the bicycle made for two. Not that it would have made any difference to Daisy whether they were married or not, but it seemed to make a difference to Jessica May. They had travelled about and Jessica May had home-schooled Daisy for a while.

‘I always thought,’ said Rob, many years later, ‘that they would meet again, make up the quarrel. Viola didn’t approve of me, the little she knew of me, which wasn’t much. She presented your mother with an ultimatum. Bad move. They were so alike. But Viola would have loved you. I’m sure of it. I never thought it would go on that long. I tried to persuade your mum to do something about it, but she liked to do things her own way. At first she didn’t want to contact home and then she didn’t feel she could. Too much water under the bridge. She was afraid, I think. Afraid of rocking the boat. Afraid of upsetting things.’