The car started first time, which was rather surprising. April fumbled for a moment with the gear stick and slowly moved out of the garage and into the open. Immediately, the sound of the rain hammering on the roof hit her ears and she paused in the driveway for a moment. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all. However, she took a deep breath and, clicking the remote to close the garage door, slowly made her way into the street and drove off.
The windscreen wipers were now on full speed, but it was still difficult to see. The constant thumping on the roof, the hiss from the radio and the wash from traffic as it passed close by worried her. She had made her decision, however, there was no going back, she was going to go, she was going to see the place one last time.
There was a loud noise, of a sudden. It reminded her of that first time when she’d met Graeme in the small air-raid shelter.
I was so frightened, she remembered, not knowing if it was perhaps my house that had been hit, perhaps next door, perhaps a street away. Father was away, in France I’d been told, and Mother was rushing around helping everyone else, as usual. Graeme had spotted me and came over, putting his arm around me. He might only have been 17 or 18 himself at the time but he was so kind.
I remember looking up into his soft, brown eyes and melting. I felt safe for the first time in years. I think I fell asleep in his arms. What was I then, 15?
Outside, lights, colourful lights merged together in the wash of the windscreen. It reminded her of the first time she’d come to Hopeside Manor.
I remember seeing the house for the first time. Gosh, it was huge. I mean, I knew Graeme was from a wealthy family, but this! This! There were lights in the garden! Who would have guessed you could have lights in the garden? And meeting his mother for the first time, my she was a stern woman.
I remember being introduced to her, rather formally I thought. I think I might have curtsied I was so nervous. I spoke to her about books and how upset I was that the library had had to close.
‘A terrible mess this war isn’t it?’ she’d said, and then I remember so distinctly her turning to Graeme and saying, ‘She’s very pretty Graeme, wherever did you find her?’
I remember Graeme holding on to me tightly then, squeezing my hand to reassure me that all would be fine, he was always reassuring me that all would be fine.
There was a sudden stillness outside, save for the patter of the rain, quieter now. A small tear escaped from her eye as she remembered him more.
Then he had to go away, called up on his 19th birthday. I thought I’d die.
‘Wait for me’, he said, as he walked away in his uniform. So handsome. I have a picture still, somewhere, of him in that uniform, looking so young. I thought my heart would break waiting, always waiting for letters, for postcards, for the war to end.
The rain continued. She seemed to be stuck in a traffic jam now as nothing was moving.
I remember going down to the docks, when the ships sailed in. I remember looking at every single man as they came off that boat wondering if I’d even recognise him. Worried that he’d no longer love me. When I saw him finally, my heart almost stopped beating and I couldn’t move. I stared at him as he simply strode over to me, smiled his big cheery smile and held me so close I couldn’t breathe. I remember his first words to me on that return, ‘Marry me April, marry me now and let us never be apart again’.
Now, outside, there were strange sounds. Could it be bells? Why would there be bells? She remembered the bells ringing out at her wedding.
Growing up as a girl on a little estate, who would have guessed I’d ever have a huge society wedding? I still don’t know, to this day, what that dress cost but it was beautiful, and so heavy to wear. We stood there, together as man and wife on the steps of that massive church and I felt as though I were a princess in front of adoring crowds. My only wish would have been for my father to have given me away, but he never returned from France.
Were there now the sounds of crying? A small child?
When Jane was born I was the happiest woman on the planet. She was a difficult birth but it was such a long time ago I almost can’t remember. She’s been good to me Jane, best daughter a mother could ever have asked for. It was just after she was born we moved into Hopeside Manor and made it our home. How long did we stay there? Long after Graeme died.
The cars were not moving. The rain had not stopped completely but the windscreen wipers were no longer moving. It seemed calm for some reason. Someone was at the door. Why would someone be trying to get into her car?
Something snapped the day Graeme died. It was peaceful, sitting at his desk in the small library, Hamish curled at his feet keeping them warm, but the paper unread and the tea cold. When I saw him I knew straight away, and I think Hamish knew as well. He lifted his head and looked at me, and flopped back down.
I sat with him for a while and chatted about Jane and the children, how they wanted us to spend Christmas with them that year. But I loved Christmas at Hopeside, and besides, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to leave it. I don’t think I was ever the same again.
The car door opened and for a moment April was confused. She murmured something about, ‘a Graeme come to reassure her that it would be alright’.
It was Jane who finally persuaded me to leave Hopeside and into the small bungalow. It was closer to her place and I could see the grandchildren more easily, though Iain had gone to the University soon after I moved in. Hopeside was too difficult to look after, the servants all but gone, and it was sold. I read in the news some time ago there’d been a fire and it had burnt to the ground, which upset me greatly. However, I still wanted to see it one more time but it doesn’t really matter now that Graeme’s back.
The ambulance finally arrived and April was carefully removed from the wreckage of her car. Who knows what went through her mind in those last few moments of her life, but to everyone who saw her, it looked as though she’d died peacefully, with a gentle smile on her face.