Fanfiction - A Lifetime of Her (Part I)
Part I – “And in my chest you know me best”
Claire was born to me the day I buried my mother. As Ellen Fraser’s body started the trajectory from life to dust, my tears - mingled with the punishing earth that had swallowed her - started the alchemy that made finding her possible. Inevitable. She was the cure for the disease that would afflict me, relentlessly, for years - she was the decisive matter elapsed from my grieving heart.
Too bad celestial bodies have no clue about the translational movements and light-years between them – how they will overcome it all to collide and change the cosmos. And so we had been too – oblivious of the outcome of a somber day in a forlorn graveyard in Scotland.
I was ten years old and stood alone in front of the fresh patch of soil, revolved to embrace another tale’s end about humanity. The air was filled with the smell of carnations and moss – a cemetery being just another form of garden, after all. Seeds of broken hopes and shortened lives, springing into the sky in white marble tombstones, akin to eternal sprouts. My father had taken Jenny away, to wait in the car – they longed to go home, to feel the scarce comfort of the beloved ghosts of Lallybroch.
I don’t know why I stayed behind. Maybe I wanted to tell her something, too personal or too foolish to be told in the presence of others; perhaps I just feared to leave her alone, abandoned in a place where no one would hold her hand, as she had held mine countless times before. Standing there it was all too real and definitive – I couldn’t pretend she had gone on a voyage or build up a story about her laughter spread on a different house somewhere. She was definitely gone – dead - and that meant that millions of aspects of my life had died with her.
I think it was raining – being Scotland, odds are that it was. I remember the moistness on my cheeks, reminding me I still had skin to form boundaries around my loss – rain or tears, because at ten years old crying was the most visceral form at expressing what is bigger than words. I wiped them stubbornly, furiously, irrationally mad at myself.
“You can cry, you know.” A voice echoed, haunting as the croak of a raven, close enough to make me startle. I looked around and saw a girl, as young and misplaced as myself. She was shorter than me, but probably a bit older – her eyes reminded me of butterscotch, sweet and forbidden. Her hair was a riot of curls and unlike the lasses I knew she hadn’t tried to tame it by placing a bow or a headband on it. Her face was strikingly beautiful and she was serious, even if there were hints of softness there. “It’s alright to cry.” She repeated in a perfect English accent, nodding in encouragement.
“What are ye doing here?” I asked, more decided than ever to stop crying – and failing miserably.
She raised her brows and shrugged slightly, her scrawny shoulders moving underneath her blue woollen sweater. “Visiting.” She answered, as if it was perfectly normal to be strolling across a cemetery on a Sunday morning. “Who died?”
Her bluntness made me shook in repressed grief – but there was something irresistible about her, so I answered through clenched teeth. “My mother.”
“Oh.” Her eyes darkened, just a bit – like caramel that had marginally passed the perfect point, turning slightly bitter under the heat of the stove. “I’m sorry.” And in her voice I detected a true empathy about my loss, which went beyond every void word and gesture I had received during my mother’s wake the previous day. “Was she sick, then?”
“No.” I blinked away a new bout of warm tears. “She was pregnant.”
The girl nodded in unspoken understanding – she seemed to be remarkably sensitive and perceptive. She licked her lips and looked straight at me again, a soft smile dawning on her pretty-shaped mouth. “Crying will definitely help. I’m sorry to say the pain won’t go away – but it will be transformed into something you can use. And each day it’ll get a little easier not to cry anymore.”
“How do ye ken that?” I said a bit harshly, pursing my lips in bitterness. I was convinced, as most people of that age would, that my story was unique and my pain the worst in history – no one ever hurt the way I did.
She sighed and turned around, preparing to leave – my stomach contracted at the thought of being left alone again, to discover by myself what to do with my grief – but she urged me to follow her. “Come with me.”
I obediently followed her, my feet dragging numb at my command. We dodged tombstones, making our way through a path filled with mud and scattered flower petals. Eventually, we came around an ancient mausoleum – built to be the ultimate house of a great poet, who would probably frown upon such ostensive arrangements – and arrived at two black stones, placed neatly together as sleeping twins.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.*” - It read bellow the name “Henry Beauchamp”. The other one was marked with “Julia” and a simpler phrase was her epitaph – “We loved, so we were.”
“What’s your mother’s name?” The girl asked, kneeling in front of the stones with ease. I noticed how her fingers sought to touch the marble, a caress undoubtedly repeated hundreds of times before.
“Ellen.” I babbled, desperately thinking if I should kneel next to her to show my respect, but deciding against it – I dinna wish to trespass her sacred space.
“Hello Mama! Hello Dad!” She said cheerfully to the stones. “I was wondering if you can take care of a woman named Ellen? You know, show her whatever you do in the afterlife?” The girl waited, as if giving them time to answer. “Her son misses her, but he looks strong – I think he’ll manage just fine. Tell her I’m watching over him.”
“Do ye do that often?” I asked, mouth slightly open in bewilderment. “Talk to them?”
“Not really.” She patted one last time the stones and got up, offering me a defiant glance. “Only when it’s really important.”
“Hmm.” I croaked, placing my hands inside my pockets. “Do ye really think they listen?”
“It’s not so much for them, as it is for me.” She whispered and smiled, content of sharing her secret. “Either way, they haven’t failed me so far.”
“I thank ye.” I whispered, as she touched my shoulder with her small hand. It was a brief contact but enough to root me, to ground me – like a force field that would, in time, make my scattered pieces fit together again.
“I’ll see you around.” The girl announced, beginning to walk towards the gate of the graveyard. She stopped and waved at me, her curls dangling around her face, strangely luminescent in a place robbed of all light.
Only hours later, lying on my bed – hearing the distant muffled sobs of Jenny in the room down the hall – I realized I never asked her name. I wondered if I’d see her again someday – as I held on to the guiding wisdom she had borrowed me from her own experience of loss.
For years she was there, in the background of my mind – a memory of light in the most terrible of days. Our encounter was so uncanny that it became a dream half-remembered, that I struggled to keep in my hours of wakefulness.
It would take me ten years to find out her name.
*The Great Gatsby
The title is part of the lyrics of the song “No One Knows Me (Like The Piano)”, by Sampha.