The meandering road, disappearing over the hill, seemed a more interesting route from the crossroads where Harry had stopped the car. So, he slipped the car into 1st gear and headed off nowhere in particular. The September hills appeared like a painting as he drove on through the undulations, breaking out on the flatness of endless cattle pastures with the early afternoon light, golden, bleeding their mixtures of greens and blues through the branches overhanging the road.
He had left the highway in search of tranquility, greenness, space, clean air, and a chance to be alone with his thoughts. Winter rains, he loved, but for now, under a transparent stretch of azure sky, the afternoon had extended a patchwork quilt of color over the Mendocino hills. He had driven his Austin Healey into the valley with no positive direction but the one the road itself had commanded. No signposts, no roads joining…Harry succumbed to the joyous feeling of being lost.
Coming round a bend in the road, he witnessed the face of a little darling standing on the grass verge, stick in hand, with ocean-wheat locks; some of which fell around her shoulders. He raised his hand, smiling from his open-top sports car. A lick of happiness came on her face. It was a smile that reached back through the sun-shot shadows and touched him. He watched in his mirror, seeing her hand raised, not in goodbye, but hello, before the corner finally swallowed her.
The day seemed timeless. Farther down the hill, where the moss-covered walls converged, he pulled the car over at the place where there was a gate. It was open. A narrow path led away from the gate across the field, and he felt drawn to see where it finished. The ambiance, he felt, was nature’s order and beauty. He stepped from the car, viewed his surroundings, and for a moment felt inadequate.
For the past week now, every meeting with another human being had been little more than a collision. He felt too much, sensed too much, and was exhausted by the simplest of conversation. He left the car and passed through the gate, turned right, unable to stop himself, and walked as if called. Everywhere he looked, the majesty of nature appeared crisscrossed with the handiwork of men. He could feel the scenery lifting him, lifting his heart, giving him a sense of balance, something about the natural rhythm of life. He’d thought a time or two about turning back but didn’t.
She was standing at the gate into a cemetery, the girl from the lane…but how? The path ended at a church. Harry stood, motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Perhaps there’d been a pathway over the back of the hill. But that was five miles back. His thought was to approach the darling. But what if his presence frightened her? Why was she here? Where were her parents? He felt a heart panic.
Good morning. Beautiful day, is it not? A woman’s voice said.
Harry’s attention then became immediately focused on her coming nearness.
Yes, yes, fine indeed. Good morning, he said. He touched his cap, a gesture of politeness.
The girl’s mother, maybe?
He had been rigorously preoccupied with his thoughts…and quite suddenly, those thoughts were putting together this picture before him: the summer frock, the smiling face, the shoulders, her straight back, hips, the white skin and her tousled hair. None of it familiar — all of it familiar, framed by the trees, the flowers, the uniqueness of the walls, the benches dotted throughout the cemetery, and the day itself, all as if playing trombones.
Do you have someone…you know… in the cemetery? Harry asked.
She let her eyes gaze over the clumps of grass, over the headstones leaning. No, she said, in hesitant manner… no…she said again, this time, sure. You? she asked.
Harry didn’t know why, except that his thought was for the child, turned his attention back to where she stood. The darling was no longer there, no sign of her walking away.
No, I come here to enjoy the tranquillity, that’s all, he said. Then asked, did you see a child, just there, and he raised his arm in that direction, alone, carrying a yellow bonnet?
The woman’s gaze followed the pointing. I didn’t, I haven’t seen anyone, she said.
A child, carrying a yellow bonnet, she stood just there. Harry again extended his arm.
I’m sorry, I never saw anyone, she said.
Harry had woken, fed the horses, walked the dogs, drank his tea and eaten his toasted bread. Still no idea had come to him. He felt a burning in his eyes as he sat at his computer and stared at the screen. After ten minutes it was still blank. He picked up the keys to his Healey car and driven through the morning; through the lanes that turned and buckled and disappeared around curves, and finally walked, unknowing of reason, toward a cemetary on top of a hill.
You don’t have a child with you? Harry asked. It’s just, well, not a moment past; a child stood Right there. Really, just before you bid me a good morning, he said, with deep sincerity.
I’m sorry, she said, again. She held her pretty head slightly cocked, like a dog trying to understand what the human is asking.
Maybe it’s just a thorn in the day, yet the woman’s voice sounded as a flute. Was there really no child? Harry felt a physical remorse. Had he been drinking the water all night! He couldn’t sleep, waiting for the morning. Is this why no-one could be with him? Some day, he too will disappear miraculously.
He cannot wait in his heart to go back up into someplace, so that one day he will say again, my darling boy.
Harry looked around. The woman had gone away without walking.
He felt deeply moved.
Harry is a writer, he craves affection…his kisses and his friendly arms around you will feel like heaven. He wanders his own sweet way, sometimes entering a Paradise of sadness… of beauty, another world.
Make him promise he will never leave you. Build a fence of love around him.
The Austin Healey twisted onward through the lanes. Behind him, slow kisses rose from the sea.