Guest post by Fruitcake @barjan
Josie wandered tentatively down to the stream and sat down on the bank, shielding her eyes from the strong July sun, as it’s rays sent fingers of light through the trees on the other side.
She watched as the warm breeze played with the top of the water, forming ever changing patterns. As she stared into the water her mind wandered to a time before, when children’s laughter echoed back and forth as they played, always so happy to come to this place whenever they stayed at the cottage.
She choked back a sob as she pictured the little girl’s blond curls bobbing about as Billy chased after her. Billy was a sensitive boy, loving and caring and very protective of his little sister, who adored him.
Josie’s heart gave a lurch, “I shouldn’t have come here, I don’t know why I did” she muttered in the direction of the stream. She had been talked into coming to the cottage, of course she knew why, to find closure and move forward, but right now, at this moment, she felt it was a huge mistake!
A noise startled her out of her reverie, she turned and gasped in awe as she saw four roe deer emerge from a thicket a little way upstream. She kept very still, the better to watch them and marvelled at the soft beauty of such lovely creatures. As she watched, enthralled as they browsed the overhanging branches, warm tears slowly rolled down her cheeks.
Once the deer were far enough away for her not to startle them Josie slowly rose and quietly made her way back towards the cottage.
As the familiar sight of the cottage came into view Josie was filled with mixed emotions, the bright red door peering through the laurel hedge, almost like a jewel, as usual felt as though it was beckoning her through the hedge. She let out a long sigh, thinking “Why does everything have to change?” She had always felt unsettled by change, as a child her father’s work meant several moves for the family, Josie hated having to start new schools and make new friends, which she readily did, but it was always so sad to leave them behind, oh they always promised each other to keep in touch, some did, but mostly not – she sighed again.
As she reached the cottage she saw him anxiously looking out of the window and give her a wave as he saw her, she waved back and tried to shake herself out of her melancholy mood, but how could she? She knew that he would look at her anxiously with unspoken questions in his mind, knew that he’d want her to have come to terms with things, knew how much he loved her and worried about her.
She could tell that he was making an effort to try and look nonchalant as she entered the cool cottage, she found the coolness a little calming and a welcome relief, as the walk up from the stream and no doubt her emotions had made her quite hot. “Would you like a cold drink?” he quietly asked, Josie gladly accepted the drink, not just because she was in need, but also because she thought it would delay a little the discussion she knew would follow.
“Did you enjoy your walk?” he gently asked, “Yes, I saw some beautiful deer, which was such a delightful surprise, there were four of them, such gorgeous, gentle creatures”, “How lovely!Where did you see them?” he asked.
And there it was, the question that, when she gave the answer, would confirm, no doubt, what he already guessed, “By the stream” she said in a whisper. He came to her then and took her in his arms, she was thankful that he made no further comment. When he eventually released her he touched her face and said quietly, “Suzie Strong the agent rang to say she will be here in about an hour”, a dull “Oh” was the only reply that Josie could muster and she left him and went upstairs.
Later a car drew into the little parking area by the cottage and a smartly dressed, dark haired woman got out, carrying a small briefcase she headed purposefully towards the cottage door, Josie watched from the upstairs window and her heart sank, “So this is it” she sighed.
She could hear him talking to the woman as she came down the stairs, “ ………. taking it rather hard – ah! Here’s Josie now, this is Suzie darling” he said introducing her. Suzie Strong had many years of experience and on certain occasions in similar circumstances she had seen sadness in some of the people she dealt with, but she thought that Josie looked particularly haunted. She extended her hand towards Josie, saying with a smile,”I’m pleased to meet you Josie”. Josie limply took the proffered hand and muttered “Hello”, she knew that she was being rude but couldn’t bring herself to be otherwise when inside she was screaming “I’m not pleased to meet you – I don’t want you here!”
Suzie opened up her briefcase, removed several papers and spread them on the table, “Sorry” she said with a smile, “I’m afraid this is the bit where I make you work”. Her attempt at humour was met with a frosty silence from Josie. He broke the silence saying “Darling we have to both sign these papers that Suzie’s brought, are you okay to do that?”
Josie shakily took hold of the pen, looked at the first paper, then suddenly threw down the pen “I can’t, I just can’t!” she said choking back tears and ran out into the garden. He apologised to Suzie and went after Josie. When he finally caught up with her he once again gathered her into his arms. Stroking her hair soothingly he said quietly into the top of her head “I know this is hard for you darling but it isn’t easy for me either, had you thought about that?” There was a catch in his voice as he finished.
Josie jerked up her tear stained face and looked into his eyes, glistening with tears, she felt a tug in her heart to see him upset, how selfish of her to not think of his feelings too “I’m so sorry daddy, I’ve been just thinking of me, I know it’s hard for you too, I’m sorry, it’s just ………” , “I know, I know, but selling the cottage is the right thing to do, we spoke about it and you did agree, we’re only selling the cottage, it doesn’t mean we’re selling the memories does it? Those are ours to keep in here” he said, pushing his fist into his chest. She hugged him tightly, he gently released her and wiped his eyes, “Shall we go back now?” He asked, she nodded and they made their way back to the cottage.
Meanwhile Suzie, back at the cottage, was thinking about what had brought this about, her boss, who knew Josie’s family, had told her the story and she felt empathy for them today, knowing that it must be a difficult time. It was a sad story – last year Josie’s brother Billy had been staying at the cottage with a couple of his pals, they’d come for a long weekend to have some unwind time and do a bit of fishing in the stream. On this particular day they were each set up in their different spots along the bank, having the odd bit of banter now and again when baiting up their hooks. One of them saw Billy go to stand up as he rubbed his hand across his forehead, “You alright Bill? You look a bit white!” “I don’t feel great” Billy muttered, then collapsed and fell face down in the stream, both men ran over and pulled him out, tried disparately to resuscitate him, but he was dead! It was found that he had suffered an aneurysm, his distraught friends were assured that they couldn’t have saved him.
Back at the cottage Josie attempted to compose herself and started to apologise to Suzie, Suzie put her hand up and shook her head in a gesture to indicate that no apology was necessary..
After Josie’s mother died, her father decided to have the deeds changed so that he, Josie and Billy equally owned the cottage. Because, after Billy’s death, neither he or Josie could bear to come any more, he persuaded Josie that they should sell it. Josie was never happy about it as she felt disloyal to her adored brother.
The papers were, however, eventually signed, Suzie, seeing how painful this all was, thought it appropriate to say something that may be of comfort.
“I’m aware that this has not been an easy day for either of you” she said “May I suggest that you don’t think of this as turning the key for the last time on something that you shared with Billy but instead think that you are turning the key to open a box of wonderful memories, a box that you can take with you wherever you are and open whenever you wish.”
Josie and her dad were moved by her thoughtfulness and thanked her. Through a watery smile Josie said to he father “Daddy do you remember when Billy caught his first fish, then, after you’d taken it off the hook for him, he chased me with it before he put it back?” Her father smiled at the memory, “Yes I do, let’s put that in our memory box..”