The Life We Choose – Episode 54


Sarah stood at the top of the Waverley steps, her thoughts somewhere between delight and dread – a flutter of excitement at the bustle of the city, the leaden feeling when she thought of her father and what she might find when she reached Marchmont.

Walking along Princes Street, she paused several times to set down her portmanteau. A smartly dressed gentleman lifted his hat and asked if he could be of assistance, suggesting that he might find a cab for her. Sarah politely refused his offer and hurried on. She had visited her Aunt Bertha in company with her parents only a few times, but she had her aunt’s address tucked securely in her purse and felt sure that she could remember the way there. Besides, she reflected ruefully, she couldn’t afford to take a cab.

The large, double-fronted house with its bay windows looked forbidding in the fading light, its outer storm doors firmly closed. Sarah rang the bell and waited.

There was no answer. She felt the bile of rising panic. Was her father so ill that he was in a hospital bed, her aunt keeping vigil over him? Had she left it too late to make her peace with him?

Tears welled up at the very thought as she rang the bell again.

“Oh, Sarah, why didn’t you let me know you were coming? Come in. Let me take your bag.”

Her aunt stood there, wreathed in smiles. She paused for an instant and peered past Sarah.

“Is Daniel with you?” Bertha asked, looking slightly disappointed when she didn’t get the answer she obviously hoped for.

Sarah warmed her hands by the fire and looked round the cosy sitting-room. Remembering her few visits with her parents, her memory was of being seated on the edge of a chair in the chilly splendour of the front parlour while the adults engaged in a stiffly formal conversation.

This little sitting-room, tucked away at the back of the house, was completely different. A Paisley shawl was thrown over the back of a chair, a piece of tapestry in its frame on a side table beneath a lamp with a rosy shade, already lit against the gathering gloom of the day. There were framed watercolours on the walls, a bookshelf, a scatter of books on the top. This room belonged to another Aunt Bertha, Sarah reflected.

“Your father has the upper floor of the house, Sarah. He values his privacy, so it’s the best arrangement. He comes down for meals and we eat together in the dining-room most days. But recently . . .” she hesitated, then sighed heavily “. . . recently, he hasn’t come down and I’ve had to take him his meals on a tray. He eats very little.

“He is unwell, but he refuses to see a physician,” Bertha went on. “He just sits there, hour after hour, reading or staring out of the window. He had plans to teach here in Edinburgh, but these plans have come to nothing. He seems unable to make any effort.”

She turned away from Sarah then, but not before Sarah had caught a glimpse of eyes that shone with tears.

“I’d best go up and see him,” she said quietly, trying to fight the fear that was rising inside her.

Her father was seated in an armchair, facing the window, a rug over his knees. He seemed to be asleep and didn’t stir as Sarah approached. For a moment she studied him, feeling the hot rush of tears beginning as she did so. His face was hidden, sunk on his chest, and in the subdued light she could see an unfamiliar glint of silver in his hair.

Instinctively, she sank down beside his chair and took his hand.

“Father.”

She was at once fixed with a direct gaze. For what seemed a long time, father and daughter looked at each other with not a word spoken.

“Are you happy, Sarah?” Master Ogilvie asked finally.

Sarah smiled.

“Daniel and I are very happy together, Father,” she said quietly.

Master Ogilvie gave a sigh.

“Then I’m content,” was all he said, closing his eyes again as if in dismissal.

“I’m staying for a few days, Father.” Sarah got to her feet, releasing his hand. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He gave the slightest of nods and leaned back in his chair, the hint of a smile on his face.

Sarah made her way downstairs to Aunt Bertha’s sitting-room. She suddenly felt fatigue envelop her.

“You’re worn out, Sarah. I think rest is the best thing for you.”

Bertha Ogilvie took charge and a weary Sarah was soon settled into a cocoon of warmed sheets and plump pillows, the curtains drawn against the light of the streetlamps outside.

Sleep wrapped her in its warm embrace. As she slept, she dreamed of Daniel.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.