Christmas Day at Emu Hill was as enjoyable as they could make it, for Jess’s sake, mainly. Alan kept himself busy outside at the barbecue, Susanne and Jess entertained themselves with a new game and Beryl managed to keep a smile on her face. But underneath she was close to being heartbroken.
There were two reasons for that, she reflected as she sat on the sun-bleached steps of the veranda, glass of mulled wine in hand. First, she missed her mum so much nothing felt quite right. And secondly, she sensed that something close to a seismic shift had taken place between her and Alan. Where before there had been disaffection, now there was a chasm of discord. He wanted her to forget about Scotland. But she couldn’t, and his indifference stung.
“You’re going on a pilgrimage, aren’t you, really?” Kate ventured the next day when the two families got together for a Boxing Day picnic at the creek. “In search of your roots.”
“You could say that,” Beryl replied. She and Kate were sitting under a shady tree on the bank. The sun was blazing in the cloudless turquoise sky, and the sounds of Jess, Denny, Susanne and Walker splashing about in the waterhole filled the humid air.
Sam and Karen had gone for a walk. Alan, unsurprisingly, had refused to attend the picnic. He said he had an irrigation pump to repair. Beryl knew that was just an excuse, and she was disappointed, but glad to be in the company of friends she felt very close to. She wanted to feel close to Alan, too, but she wasn’t sure how to connect with him any more.
“You go and explore the Mother Country,” Kate said, glancing at her with a reassuring look.
“Jess will be fine with us. Walker has heard that Councillor Murrow is going to make an announcement about the hall early in the New Year. Who knows, by the time you get back, we might be celebrating its reprieve!”
Beryl was silent for a moment. She was ashamed because the Anzac Hall was no longer at the forefront of her mind. The revelations of the past month had taken over, and, truth be told, she had only just kept tabs on the campaign. But maybe everything that was happening was happening exactly the way it was meant to.
“The past does matter, doesn’t it?” she said, watching for Kate’s reaction.”
“Yeah I reckon so.”
“Enough to justify travelling to the other side of the world?”
Kate considered this before answering.
“Beryl, I’ve known you for as long as I can remember, but I can’t think of a single occasion when you’ve been selfish or done something you shouldn’t have. It doesn’t matter what any of the rest of us think. You make this journey for your own sake.”
She’s referring to Alan, Beryl immediately thought. She knows I don’t have his support. It had been hopeless trying to explain her enthusiasm for researching the family tree to him, a man who didn’t think history mattered. But it did. The lives her Dundonian descendants had led, their experiences, the hardships endured and the decisions they had to make life-changing decisions that was part of who she was. The past was intricately woven into her present.
She told herself now, despite the aching sadness in her heart, it was a good thing to have the chance to travel to Scotland, and she wouldn’t let Alan’s negativity overshadow that.
“I suppose,” she said, “sometimes we have to follow our hearts.”
Kate nodded, her face showing understanding, and the two friends sat in companionable peace for a while.
Beryl watched a green parakeet feeding on the flower of a eucalyptus tree. What would Dundee be like, she wondered. It was so far from White Rock, she couldn’t imagine what it would be like, or how it would feel to walk the very same streets her mum had walked as a child.
With total certainty she understood then why she had to follow her heart all the way to Scotland. That was where the truth lay, and she needed to know the truth in order really to know her mum.
“If Walker doesn’t change his mind and come back from London within a month to declare his love for your daughter, I’ll eat my hat!” Kate changed the subject.
Past, present and future: human emotions were timeless.