The waves rolling, crashing over the shore only fuelled Emily’s desire for freedom from her memories. She had long realised what an insecure and fragile world it was that she lived in, and feeling lonely and abandoned, she knew nothing but the incomprehensible fear that her past had left her with. Normality was not a word that featured in Emily’s vocabulary; she could never recall normal as being descriptive of her past, or indeed relate it to her present time. She recalled that the house that she lived in was a beautiful turmoil of white washed stone work, crumbling in places, but still reminding her of its former glory.
Undulating countryside was the view that she remembered from her childhood, whilst drinking dandelion and burdock pop from a glass while standing in front of the kitchen window. The distant fir trees, standing defiant and proud to the wind, were only saplings when she moved into the area. Emily didn’t want to recall her past emotions; they were destructive and negligent of how she felt now. Fretful of losing her composure, and if it hadn’t have been for the bitingly cold water from the surf and the fact that the tide was turning; she may never have regained her senses. Someone was watching over her, and like the turning tide was pushing her back to the safety of the recess of her mind.
It had recently occurred to Emily, that the present and future were there as an opportunity to move on and evolve from a chrysalis into a beautiful butterfly; but she lived in the past where the future had no meaning. In fact it was futile to attempt to leave her past behind her. She had no sense of belonging now, only an awareness of surviving as that appeared to be her destiny. She was ‘Emily, the great Survivor’ and those words would be engraved on her headstone when the time came for her to leave this world that she didn’t understand, and pass forward into the light. Hopefully she would pass into a light where all her confusion made sense.
In the distance Emily heard the roll of thunder, deep, growling and imposing and she relished the sight of the lightening. Danger did not faze her, it was her friend, her confidant and she openly embraced it. Emily enjoyed dancing with life, fighting the ambitions of life over death; only then could she recall her childhood to its true extent.
Her fondest memories were all tied to that house. She remembered that the garden was a sanctuary of colours created by loving hands in the most endearing of places. She watched as tall hollyhocks in shades of red and pink caressed the back wall, they seemed to sway with the breeze calling “welcome, welcome” and in such a sweet voice as precious as their colours. Delphiniums in stunning blue, played like a symphony of violinists on the stage; and they supported the gallery of lavender, and lupines in astoundingly bright yellow and rustic gold colours. That only left the foyer of violets and primulas, calendula and daisies to enhance the entrance to another escape. She looked around her with horror, “this can’t be right,” what faced her now faded into a totally obscured view.
Despite the crumbling exterior of the house, and the fact that the garden was an alarming sight of weeds and debris, it had once been a home full of laughter and love, a haven of tranquillity, a welcoming place to escape and feel comforted. The living room was cheerfully decorated in pink and pale green. The two picture windows facing each other allowed a cascade of bright light to enter the room, even the budgie sitting in its cage seemed to be happy and contented in its surroundings. The dark green leather sofa that stood alone in the centre of the room had been her mother’s pride and joy, and every Sunday afternoon Emily’s mother cleaned the sofa with a mix of vinegar and warm water to make it sparkle. Emily thought, “If only I could sparkle.”
Her bedroom was always an adult’s room. Even when she was young everything had its place. No toys could be seen, all her dolls and much loved teddy bears where locked away in cabinets. She was allowed to play with one toy at a time and then she knew to return it before daring to touch another one. But books, that was a different matter entirely. Her mother allowed books, as many books as it took for Emily to sit alone and read, and more importantly not to be demanding of her mother’s attention.; Emily mused to herself that her life belonged on the pages of a book, as it had no bearing amongst the living, or the future, if what her mother had said was to be believed.
Emily stumbled as she walked through the garden, brambles scratched at her legs, nettles stung her arms and she shouted out in pain, “Oh my God where am I?” Blind panic took over, darkness descended like a billowing black cloud and the restrictions caused by the brambles made her struggle for freedom. Suddenly, she could hear voices coming closer and a reassuring hand reached out to her. As she opened her eyes to the sunlight she heard a familiar voice say “hush dear Emily, all is as it should be.” The friendly face before her helped her to become free of her restrains, free from the white sheet in which she had become entangled. She breathed a huge sigh of relief as she realised that this was just another normal day beginning in the routine of Holyoake’s nursing home.
The clatter of tea cups against saucers alerted Emily that breakfast was on its way. She could hear the familiar squeak, squeak, squeak from the hot cabinet’s wheels lurking down the corridor, and the sickly smell of overcooked porridge wafted in through the open door of the bedroom that she shared with Sara. Emily looked over to Sara who was sitting on her bed, “I love that pale pink bed jacket you are wearing dear, who bought that for you?” she asked. Sara was slow to respond, “Was it that nice young girl with the dark brown hair?” Emily continued hoping that Sara would suddenly remember. Sara starred back at Emily for a moment, “No dear, it was my lovely Jim, surely you remember he bought it for me last Christmas?” Sara stared through the open door, a smile crossing her face. Emily thought for a moment, Jim had passed away many years ago before Sara had come to live at Hollyoak’s, he had died of cancer and there was no one left to care for Sara at home. Emily struggled with the lump in her throat, poor poor Sara she thought, how sad it was that her memory was leaving her.
Clatter, the hot cabinet was entering the room now, and Sara gazed upon the young girl pouring the tea. “Good morning ladies, how are we this fine bright chilly morning?” the young girl asked in the general direction of both of them. “Lovely porridge for breakfast,” “but I don’t want porridge, I want a poached egg, I always have a poached egg for breakfast,” Sara quickly replied, “me and my Jim, we always have poached eggs, my Jim won’t eat any of that porridge, it sticks to your ribs like cement he says, take that away dear” Sara was beginning to get agitated. “Now come on Sara, porridge or nothing you know the rules, let’s not make a fuss again this morning.” The young girl slammed the porridge down in front of Sara. Emily looked on at the scene, but could offer no words of sympathy as her own eyes began to fill up with tears.
Emily sat and looked in lost abandonment at her surroundings. Tears cascading down her cheeks, and she watched the sight of the young girl with the trolley fade away down the corridor. There was a figure sitting outside Matron’s office, it was a man wearing a big gray over coat and trilby hat. Her heart skipped a beat, “Pappa, pappa I knew you would come,” her voice rang shrilly into the air, “Pappa I am here,” Emily’s voice was full of emotion as she tried to escape from the confines of her bed sheets.
There she was, that girl who brought the breakfast, Emily looked suspiciously upon her now. “That’s my Pappa, he has come for me, let me pass,” panic took over again and then followed by rage as the nurse attempted to put Emily back into bed. She could feel the breath of the nurse on her cheek, it felt like a warm breeze on a soft summer’s day, but it only provoked more memories from Emily’s past.
“Pappa, can we build sandcastles on the beach, and have an ice cream before we swim?” she could see her Pappa plainly now. He was sitting in the deck chair reading his newspaper. The breeze occasionally attempting to turn the top corner of his page; Pappa was getting annoyed with his paper, and turned his deck chair to face the promenade and out of the breeze. Emily sat and watched in amusement and looking from Pappa’s head to his toes.
She laughed at how predictable he was; still wearing his shirt and braces, shoes off digging his toes into the warm sand. She began to build her sandcastle despite the lack of response from him, she looked at the little red bucket and spade and smiled cheerily at the dancing crabs embellished upon them. Glancing over the shore line, she could see her brother Jack, jumping the waves as they rolled into surf hitting the sand. He was wearing his blue striped swimming suit which reminded her of his pyjamas, and she laughed out loud as she watched him tumble head over heels into the sea. “Papa, watch me jump the waves, Papa are you watching me?” Jack continued to run in and out of the surf, his squeals of laughter loud enough for everyone else to hear too.
There was just one thing missing from this beautiful family day out she thought, her mother. Where was mother? Emily now confused, looked around the area in front of her. Standing slowly she turned to look over at the Promenade, all the familiar penny arcades where there, a mirage of flashing lights and children’s laughter; and the accustomed sight of the Victorian swimming baths was at the end of the row opposite the pier. She could feel the tension in her chest as the stress of not being able to see her mother was causing her, and she was about to run; but standing on the pavement and waving her hand in her direction stood her mother. Emily shouted “Mama look at me, I am building a sand castle, come and see,” but her mother’s figure stood still and continued to wave. “Mama, mama,” she shouted again, but her mother didn’t move.
The sun shone down on Emily’s mother, and made her look almost transparent, but her smile was real, Emily knew that instantly. She looked around the Promenade with its glorious Victorian railings, and glancing towards the manmade lake, she could clearly see the little rowing boats bobbing up and down like bottle corks floating on water. The majestic swans swimming towards the rowing boats, hoping for a share in a picnic basket carefully put together by a loving wife and mother. In the distance she could clearly see the Victorian facade of the majestic Prince of Wales hotel.
The Prince of Wales was the most elegant and expensive hotel in Southport. Its chequered history was famous for the story of the ‘white lady.’ A love story that brought tears to Emily’s eyes, as she recalled her mother reciting the story of a beautiful heroine in the early nineteenth century. The ‘white lady,’ dressed in the most stunning fringed white dress was said to have adored dancing the Charleston.
Her infectious laughter was familiar to all the hotel staff who simply loved her. Apparently, she had the most glorious head of golden curls which bounced with abandonment as she glided effortlessly over the ballroom floor. The story told of how her smile was as wide as the Irish Sea and her perfume of Lily of the Valley hung sweetly in the air wherever she danced or walked; Emily could visualise the ‘white lady’ now, she was wearing white stockings, and golden buckles sparkling on her dainty white shoes, the entire outfit was complemented by a beautiful white ostrich feather in her head dress.
The story has it that her companion was tall, dark and handsome, if not in a rugged sort of way. His well trimmed beard and short hair showing signs of going grey with his maturing years, and his smart dark blue pin striped suit and black shoes made him a vision to behold as he glided smoothly across the dance floor. The couple looked so much in love to everyone who was fortunate to meet them, but beneath the surface lurked a dark secret. Drink! The white Lady’s companion was fond of the old demon drink, and whilst under its influence, he was prone to stray. Emily remembered the story well now, and she could see the twinkle in her mother’s eyes as she sat motionless on the puff in the lounge.
Her mother continued with the story, it was in the early hours of a Monday morning when the white lady discovered her companion was missing from her bed, and in a state of panic she tried to follow in his footsteps downstairs, taking the lift to the ground floor as usual. But in the early hours of that Monday morning the lift was not up to the top floor of the hotel, and in her daze the white lady fell to her death down the lift shaft, to wander the grounds and top floor of the hotel for evermore. Emily turned to look at the Promenade once more, smiling broadly from ear to ear, but her mother had gone. She turned around to speak to her papa, but he too had gone, as was the sight of the Prince of Wales Hotel, and she stood alone in her nightdress in the lounge of Hollyoake’s.
Emily could see Sara in the far corner of the lounge, and as she made her way nervously in Sara’s direction, a young man caught hold of her arm. “Come on mum, let’s get you back to your bedroom and dressed,” the voice was kindly, and Emily looked up into the chocolate brown eyes and felt a sudden rush of overwhelming love for the young man. She wanted to pull him close and kiss his fair hair, and hold onto him as if she would never let him go. But who was he? She felt so confused, but she knew him, he looked so like her husband Alan. “Mum it’s me, come on now it is alright, everything will be alright now,” the voice sounding encouraging. Emily looked in confusion at the many chairs with blank faces which surrounded the walls in the lounge. Her face crumpled as if to cry, but somewhere deep down inside of her she knew that this place was home. Gazing again upon the kind young man, she said quietly “this is my life now isn’t it, this is where I live?” smiling sweetly she walked unaided down the corridor and into her bedroom, where she took a pale blue dress and cardigan out of the oak wardrobe and began to dress.
Emily shed a tear as she looked at the beautiful array of cut flowers that had been placed in a glorious cut glass vase on her bed side cabinet. “Oh how wonderful,” she whispered clasping her hands together over her chest. “Did you cut these especially for me, they are from the garden arn’t they dear, you mustn’t let granny catch you?” Robert smiled faintly at his mother, he had bought the flowers from the garage on his way into town, but he decided not to say anything about that.
Emily lifted her plain gold locket and held it fondly in her hands. “Robert dear, could you put this on for me please, your father bought this for me many years ago, it contains a lock of his soft brown hair?” Robert stepped forward and smiled at his mother warmly. “It is beautiful mum,” Robert took the locket from his mother’s hand and fastened it carefully around her neck. He knew her now. He knew her all along, but his heart saddened when he allowed himself to think about the disease, that on so many occasions had taken her far away from him. He glanced around the bedroom taking in the surroundings, and he was so grateful to know that his dear mother was being taken care of.
The photograph of his late father sat on the window sill next to Emily’s bed; and the Derbyshire pottery mare and foal, “A Spirit of Affection” was shown off to its full advantage on the tall boy in
the corner of the room. Robert recalled how his mother’s eyes lit up with excitement when she unwrapped his present last Christmas. She was so afraid to break it, that she had insisted on wrapping it in brown paper and had carefully placed it in the glass cabinet in the living room at home. He had hoped at the time that she would have placed the figurine on display. It had been the most expensive figurine that he had ever bought for her, but she had deserved it. All of her life she had devoted to Robert and his father, selflessly never asking for anything of her own.
Robert glanced back in his mother’s direction, happy to leave her today as he could hear her humming to herself. She was still a stunningly beautiful woman, whose eyes were filled with love and laughter; like he remembered them to be whilst he was growing up. Today, for a brief moment, dementia had left her still and contented.