Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Had her mother not been dying, the visit would have been Will’s best homecoming ever. Although just nine, Becky exhibited a maturity that might have been disquieting in a more ordinary family, and she made an excellent companion on Will’s tramps in the wild. One morning, Will let her niece lead the way, and she chose an old, familiar route. They crossed a wooden bridge and stepped onto a path leading into the trees. They walked in silence as the air grew dark and the path narrowed. Becky stopped frequently to add wildflowers to her basket, but still managed to stay several steps ahead. Will wondered if her niece felt the same pull into the woods that had drawn her as a child. It was sad that she didn’t have a little sister for company — or a cousin, she thought with a stab. Becky clambered down a muddy trail to the stream, and Will followed. They moved swiftly and silently toward their destination and soon found themselves in a clearing where the stream ended in the Bottomless Pool. Will didn’t know if she had actually named the spot or if she’d overheard it from someone else, but decades later, “the Bottomless Pool” was how everyone in the community knew the deep water hole. It was far from picturesque. The grass was a little greener around its perimeter, but no wildflowers grew there, and Will never saw woodland creatures stopping by for a drink — not even birds, in spite of the profusion of insects. Will and Becky stood close to the edge, looking for anything of interest in the murky depths. “If you dove in, would you come out in China?” Becky asked. “That’s what Ryan said.” “It’s not really bottomless,” Will replied. “Just deep. That’s why the water looks so dark. I would have to have my scuba gear to breathe, of course. Even then, I probably would just get tangled up in a bunch of weeds and stuff. I wouldn’t travel very far at all, and there wouldn’t be much to see or do.” “I would like it if it did come out in China,” Becky persisted. “Then, if you were on an expedition there, you could still live with us. Just jump in to go to work, and jump out to come home.” Will idly wondered why Becky wanted to consign her to a future of deep-sea diving in China. Then again, maybe her ruined reputation wouldn’t follow her there. She felt a mosquito on her arm and smacked it. Its plump body popped, leaving a smear of her own blood. “Okay, kiddo, let’s move on before we get eaten alive.” They continued on the path through the forest to a clearing lush with wildflowers — blue gentians, brown-eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace. Becky began reciting as she gathered the blooms, her voice high and melodic: “There is a willow that grows by the brook, that shows its leaves in the glassy stream…” “That’s very good, sweetie,” Will interrupted. “I’m impressed. Where did you learn that?” Of course, she knew. “It’s Ophelia — one of Mr. Shakespeare’s girls,” Becky said. “Gran tells me everything,” she added, as though sharing a secret. “Does Gran tell you your future?” Will probed. “Uh uh. Not so much.” Becky’s face clouded. “Just ‘in your darkest hour, you must never give up.’ She says that a lot.” “Oh.” Will saw the strained look on Becky’s face and felt a flash of anger toward her mother. “You don’t have to worry about that, Beck. She’s talking about herself — not you. I guess this is her darkest hour, because she’s so sick.” An uncomfortable silence grew between them. “That’s not right,” Becky finally said. “Gran’s going to the light. It gets brighter every day. Don’t you see it, Aunt Will?” Will did see it, she realized with a jolt. She just refused to believe it — like so many things. She pushed the thought away. “You’re right. Gran’s going to heaven to be an angel,” Will said lightly. “She’s going to the light. So no more talk about darkest hours, okay? No more sad stuff.” Becky’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you get it?” she blurted. “Gran knows stuff. It’s a warning, and it’s for us. It’s important. For cripe’s sake! She knew you wouldn’t listen!” Becky stalked away, leaving Will utterly perplexed. I have to get her out of this place, she thought. She hoped it wasn’t too late. Will’s immediate plan of action was to keep Becky from being alone with her grandmother, ever again. So she joined in the ritual bedecking with flowers that afternoon, waiting apprehensively for Cora to say something unacceptable to the child. Will was ready to pounce with her only weapon — her scientific logic. She was a little deflated when Cora contrived an excuse that sent Becky from the room after a cheerful, giggling fifteen minutes that ended with the young girl all smiles and the old lady working hard to cover up her fatigue. Will felt a moment of tenderness for her mother, and the accompanying flow of guilt over her own stoniness. “Do you remember Copernicus?” Cora asked. “Sure,” Will said. “Your first death. You were inconsolable.” Copernicus was a muscular orange tabby whose favorite sleeping arrangement was on top of Will’s feet. He had kept them toasty warm. “Then your father — “ “Please don’t,” Will said. Any guilt she might feel over speaking rudely was overwhelmed by the threatening tidal wave of anger and grief she had been holding at bay for years. She wasn’t about to let it come crashing down now. “You didn’t shed a tear. Not in public, anyway. My guess is not in private, either — am I right?” Will turned away and went to the window, where she could look at anything that would allow her to tune out the conversation. Sunlight glancing through one of the hanging crystals fractured her face into prisms of colored light. “That was when you stopped loving me,” Cora said matter-of-factly. “That’s not true.” “I have been patient with you, daughter, but I’m running out of time,” she said sharply. “I wanted you back, but I’ll settle for you present. Now stop working so hard to shut me out for a minute, and pay attention.” Okay, this is it, Will thought. She’s going to say it anyway, so I might as well get it over with. But she stayed at the window. “You have to take Polly and Becky home,” Cora ordered. That was it? Her dying pronouncement? Will turned toward her mother. Her anxiety evaporated, and she saw her for the confused old woman she was. She walked over to the bed and tentatively picked up her hand and held it in her own. It was an awkward gesture, but it helped Will feel in control again. “They’re here, Mother. We’re all here.” With unaccountable strength, the old lady squeezed Will’s hand until it hurt. “None of us is home,” she hissed.
This is Excerpt №8 of The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady
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