My father stands on a branch high up in the sweet chestnut tree outside, peering through a telescope at the village along the valley. Way past my bedtime, I watch from my window, bare feet turning blue on the wood floor.
Dad leans forward. Maybe he’s searching for my mother. She hasn’t been around so much, and I wonder why. Is it something to do with him? Or me? Shifting his weight, he tries to find a firmer foothold. The branch creaks, then cracks, and he topples headlong. I catch my breath, yell to him, press my palms against the cold glass.
Outside the City Library, I’m singing in the school choir. I moved here to live with my foster family after Dad died. It’s Harvest Festival. We’ve drawn a big crowd. Second song in and there she is, standing at the back, my mother, in a red trench-coat and matching red beret. My voice breaks up, I stand taller, try to make eye contact, but she keeps her head bowed. I want to ask, Why are you here? To see me? After all this time?
She glances up. I can’t help myself. I run from the stage, plow through the crowd. Turning, she hurries away. I follow, my eyes on the red beret bobbing among the Saturday shoppers, but she doesn’t look back and I lose her in fog.
Christmas, and I’ve heard she’s moved back into the old house. I get up before the family wakes. I cycle all morning. From the top of Snowdrop Hill, the place nestles in the valley. I imagine how it will be inside. Warm. Carols on the radio. A tree, dressed in baubles and lights. The smell of turkey roasting in the oven. And her, standing at the kitchen counter, preparing vegetables, a rich cranberry sauce.
I pedal down and prop my bike against the fence, stopping to gaze at the sweet chestnut tree. From my rucksack, I take the gift I’ve bought her: a bottle of Charlie Blue. Always her favourite perfume. At least, it was. The side door isn’t locked, and I let myself in. Everywhere is cold, silent. No Christmas tree. No cooking smells.
In the living room I find her, crumpled on the sofa, sleeping. Bird’s-nest hair, smudged mascara. I kneel beside her, smooth her creased black dress. Resting my head on her chest, I feel her heartbeat, her breath cool against my face.
Digby Beaumont‘s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, Blue Five Notebook, Bartleby Snopes, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review and 100-Word Story among others. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.