Echoes From The Past – Episode 22

Holly barely noticed the scenery on the drive back to Stirling from Dunskillen. Her mind was full of history, of ancient battles and long-gone families. Back in Bea’s house, however, Holly had to turn her back on historical reflections, and prepare for Bea’s return. When she visited the hospital that evening, she was told when to pick up her aunt, and how to cater for her basic requirements. Fortunately, Bea had a list of instructions as to how to walk, how to sit, how to tackle stairs, and how not to tackle stairs. Holly was reasonably confident that if she forgot, Bea wouldn’t.

The journey home from hospital was conducted at a leisurely pace, with neither of them prepared to admit how nervous they were, and both maintaining a calm demeanour for the other. It was several days before they began to relax, and to get themselves into a reasonable rhythm. Each day, once she had Bea settled for a couple of hours, Holly was able to return to the dining-room, now her workroom, and start to plan
the hanging for Dunskillen.

What with cooking and washing and getting the place tidy enough for Angela to come and clean it, as well as working, Holly’s days passed faster than she expected. At meal times, she and Bea talked a great deal, about the family, and what was in the news, and what were their favourite TV programmes.

Apart from communications with her parents, who phoned regularly to ask after Aunt Bea, she also kept up contact with friends, usually by e-mail. But it was a surprise to boot up her laptop one morning and find a message from Simon, her ex-boyfriend.

“You’ll not believe it,” she told Bea, incensed at the tone of the e-mail. “He wants me to know that breaking up with me was the best thing for his career he could have hoped for and he’s very happy – in case I was worried. He didn’t even ask if I felt the same. Huh!” She deleted the message on the spot.

“You’re well out of that relationship,” Bea said, sitting back in her armchair as if settling for a gossip. “What a loser.”

Holly grinned.

“You sound as if you know all about losers.”

“Oh, I do,” Bea said comfortably. “I have not always led the life of the blameless spinster you see before you.”

“Really?” Holly grinned. “Do tell.”

Bea glanced sideways at her.

“I won’t tell you everything, but I will tell you about the one that got away, if you like.”

Holly gave Bea her full attention. She watched as Bea went silent, then into reminiscence mode, thinking back over the years to her youth.

“His name was Norman, and I met him just after the war. He was from Yorkshire, but he was stationed up here for a while, doing his national service. We met at the local dance hall – nearly everyone did in those days. And he was some dancer. We both were. People used to stand aside to watch us.”

There was a silence while Bea relived the moment. Holly said nothing.

“We were both only twenty. My mother thought we were far too young, but we knew our own minds. We were in love. Norm was going to finish his national service, and we were going to set up home in York.”

“So what stopped you?” Holly asked quietly.

“Oh, the usual. He went home, got himself a job, and I waited for the summons. He came back to see me, just the once. He did come back, I’ll say that for him, but by that time he’d got some girl into trouble and had to marry her.”

Holly frowned.

“Had to?”

“Oh, yes. That was the way it was, I’m afraid. He had to marry the girl, who was a nice enough lass from all I heard. They could even have made a very good marriage of it. But it wasn’t what he would have had with me, I can tell you that. Norm Baker. I haven’t thought of him in years. But he was the love of my life.”

It was the simplest of stories, simply told. But as she watched her great-aunt, Holly could detect just a whisper of the heartache Bea had suffered all those years ago.

The mood was interrupted by the phone, which Holly reached to answer.

“Angela? You sound a bit peculiar. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, thanks. But I’ll be late tomorrow, I’m afraid. The school want to speak to me. They’re threatening to exclude Ryan. He’s got mixed up with something bad this time.”

“That’s OK, Angela. Just come when you can manage it.”

It was as she ended the call that Holly saw again in her mind’s eye the grey saloon that had followed Angela’s car out of the road. What on earth was going on?

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!