Story a Day for a Week in May…4

Edinburgh at night

The photograph is of Edinburgh, taken one December night by my son, Andy.

My story today for Story a Day for a Week in May, features a character from one of my Works in Progress, a novel, the first in a series of three.

The working title of the novel is ‘Have You Seen My Daughter?’ and the main character’s name is Mirabelle. I thought this short excerpt might introduce her to you. I hope you like her. And the milk? Well, she certainly sets out to buy milk…

***

Have You Seen My Daughter?

By

Christine Campbell

  

Mirabelle was only passing: only intended buying a couple of things for her afternoon tea: a cream éclair and a pint of milk.

Usually, she preferred shopping late at night when the supermarket was sleepy, almost silent. Then, she could take her time, the aisles to herself, no one to watch her haphazard wander from item to item as she randomly remembered what she needed: bread, toilet rolls, milk, oranges, washing-up liquid, cheese, apples; back and forth from end to end of the shop. If anyone were to ask her, she’d tell them, ‘Only exercise I get!’ she’d say. But it wasn’t true. She walked everywhere, occasionally jumping on a bus if going further afield than Edinburgh’s serried city centre, but mostly huffing and puffing up its hills and along its streets, watching people, searching faces.

Mirabelle loved living in Edinburgh: loved the atmosphere created by a city whose main shopping street looked across the road to a castle. The Castle standing guard over Princes Street, its severe façade softened by the gardens that skirted it. The gardens themselves cocooned from the bustle and noise, folded into their own tree-lined valley, the paths dipping into and out of its depths. Almost daily, Mirabelle lingered on one or other of the benches tucked neatly against the edges of long stretches of grass, sometimes with tears coursing down her face as regrets stung her consciousness. Her need to turn back time was a fierce, swirling whirlpool that could never be satisfied. It dragged her down to the depths of her despair where pain would break over her in shuddering waves that paid no heed to where she was and who was watching.

She never tired of the secrets hidden in the Royal Mile, its cobbles leading from the Castle Esplanade to Holyrood House. Should she walk its length every day of her life, she reckoned she’d uncover something she’d missed before: wynds, alleyways that snaked behind old buildings; ancient doors leading who knew where; tiny stairways spindling up into special places. Tourist shops and museums served those without time or inclination to wander from the street, tiny theatres and history rewarded those who did.

From Lawnmarket to Cannongate, the Royal Mile buzzed with visitors, students and lovers. She barely noticed the tourists; studied the students and lovers. As she searched their faces, looking for that one special one, they’d sometimes turn, a smile warm in their eyes, happy to share their glow with someone they must have imagined a tourist herself; her colouring declaring her part Jamaican, her loose, colourful clothing more suited to the Caribbean than Edinburgh’s austere Calvinism.

Up the Bridges and down the Cowgate, Mirabelle showed her photograph, asked her questions and raked through second-hand shops for her scarves and shawls, bags and boots, sandals and skirts.

She knew the adage—that Edinburgh was ‘all fur coat and no knickers’. She was well acquainted with its underbelly, its darker side; saw its dirty linen but loved the city of her birth anyway. She walked its streets with pleasure. But her reason for perambulation was pain. Always looking but never finding who she truly sought.

Today, her wanderings had taken her down to the Stockbridge area, in and out of charity shops and bookstores, dodging heavy showers of rain, and now she was nearly home. She was laden with wonderful treasures and interesting volumes: an oriental fan, its Geisha smiling shyly out at her when opened; another bag to join her collection, this one beaded and embroidered in swirls of purple and lilac, its handles long and soft, comfortable on her shoulder. She’d found a biography of PG Wodehouse, in good condition but obviously read and enjoyed, its pages well thumbed, its spine like a well-oiled joint. And her prize: an ancient volume of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, its brown leather binding caressed and worn, speaking as eloquently of love as its contents.

One last stop at the supermarket down the road from her flat. She needed a pint of milk and was partial to a fresh cream éclair. Her taste buds tingled in anticipation.

She was heading through the car-park when her steps faltered, her mouth dried.

Without thought or care, she dumbly shadowed a young woman who walked from her car carrying a couple of clinking bags.

Halting, unable to move away, she watched as the woman threw bottles in the recycling bin, Mirabelle flinching with each crash as they smashed on top of the pile. The uniform jeans and tee-shirt gave nothing away and she couldn’t see her face properly, but the woman looked the right age: eighteen or thereabout.

Mirabelle took from the depths of her bag the small, pocket-sized photograph album and studied the picture again, though she hardly needed to, she knew it so well. The photograph was old and crumpled but the features were clear. With little imagination, it was possible to age the sweet young face looking back at her by two or three years. She replaced it in her bag and continued her observation.

The girl’s hair was almost the right colour, the colour Summer’s hair could be now, assuming it had darkened and dulled with the months and the lack of care and nutrition Mirabelle assumed her to be suffering. Reddish-light-brown, but that didn’t count. Hair colour was unreliable for identification: it could be changed on a whim. And the loose curls falling round her shoulders, they could be manufactured too. Height about right: father tall, mother average. At an estimate, the young woman she had followed in the supermarket car park was slightly above average, about five-six or seven.

Mirabelle sighed. She’d need to see her face properly, study it up close. It was not enough to approach her just because she had a hunch.

“Do I know you?” the woman asked.

Mirabelle stepped back, startled.

“Only, you seem to be following me or something?”

“No… No… I…”

“Tommy!” the woman called. “Gaunae git yerself over here! This wuman keeps starin’ at me!”

“Sorry! Sorry,” Mirabelle stuttered, dropping her bags, her hands raised in front of her face, her flight hindered by the van she’d loitered beside. “I thought you were someone else.”

‘Tommy’ placed his bulk between Mirabelle and his partner.

“I thought she was someone else.”

“Why? H’ve ye lost someone?” The woman looked around.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Aye well, ah jist dinnae like being followed or anything, ye ken.”

With a sigh of relief, Mirabelle picked up her purchases and retreated from the car park, watching as the couple gathered their kids and headed for the shop. She shuddered, realising the woman was far older, probably mid-twenties. Mirabelle was suddenly aware she could be losing her touch, losing the subtle skills she usually employed. She’d have to tighten up. Be more careful.

 

It wasn’t difficult to get used to losing things. Some things seem so trivial, as though they’re meant to get lost and not be missed when they’re gone. Like the paper slip that flutters from a box of chocolates, its information repeated inside the lid or on the bottom of the box.

She was used to losing her door keys. It used to be a frustration: the hour lost every day hunting them down in the chaos around her. She’d found a way of coping with that: she stopped locking her flat door, leaving it open in case Summer had lost her key, leaving the stair door on the latch too when she went out, buzzing a neighbour to open up if it was closed on her return.

She learned to cope with other losses: people, places, names, what you went through to the other room for, what you meant to get at the shops.

She even learned to cope with bigger losses: when her father died, her baby sister, her brother, her mother. She missed them. She found the passing of years had softened the loss. Or maybe it was just she had learned to live with the pain.

But, after almost three years, she hadn’t learned to live with the pain of losing Summer.

And no amount of milk or fresh cream éclairs could soften it. She didn’t bother entering the shop.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. marianallen
    May 23, 2013 @ 01:35:24

    Even if I weren’t a Mom, this would have hurt. You bring it home, right to the heart.

    Like

    Reply

  2. jcckeith
    May 23, 2013 @ 21:49:50

    Awesome story! And… I’m nominating you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

    Like

    Reply

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