I lie in the grass, my hands propping my head up slightly and look at the house in front of me. It is still beautiful, despite the scars from the fire, and holding up the thin sheet of paper with the architect’s sketching in front, I can see the beauty that can grew up in its place. The man beside me, with the ruffled dark hair and black eyes, rolls over on to his side.
“Shall we go?” I say.
“Hang on a sec. I know you were really disappointed that none of those photos showed Alice; I know you wanted to see her for yourself.”
“Oh, Isak; that doesn’t matter any more; besides, I had her own words.”
“But just look at this,” he says, and pulls a packet from his bag.
“We’ve seen these before,” I say, as I shuffle through the images of the empty flat.
“No; look at this one.” He stops my hand at a picture of me, sitting on the sofa; the only one that he took.
“What? It’s just me.”
“Look closely; there.”
“Oh my god,” I say, and goose bumps immediately pop on to my skin. “Is that…?”
“I don’t know, is it? All I know is she wasn’t there when we looked at them before.”
Standing behind me there is a foggy shape, perhaps only discernable as a figure when searching for it; it’s impossible to see any real features, but the longer I stare at the photo, the more convinced I am of her. Isak gives me a moment more, before speaking.
“Are you ready? Your mother will be here in a few minutes, and Evie and Ethel.”
“Yes,” I say. He takes the photo from my hands, carefully slots it back into the file, and kisses me. A deep kiss; long, slow and satisfying.
“Have you got everything?”
“It’s all in here,” and I point to my own bag.
“Let’s go then.”
The long strands of the weeping willow trees have been tied carefully back and the grass around them trimmed. Evie has been busy setting garden torches deep in the ground and they shine like a beacon, drawing your eyes to the little cemetery.
My mother is there already and Ethel also stands close. Other villagers have also made the journey, each clutching a lit candle, the flames dancing delicately in the light breeze. I walk towards the group, and pause to hug my mum tightly.
“Thank you all for coming,” I say, breaking the hushed silence. “It really means a lot to me, to us. We’re here to honour the passing of Giles and Matthew Blenkinsop; both taken too soon. They are greatly missed.”
I bend down and place a single brilliantly blooming lily on each grave. To the left of my brother’s grave is the white rose bush I planted yesterday, its buds still tightly furled, to remember the daughter that I lost. It’s enough that I know she’s there; she is my private grief. I kiss my fingers and touch the leaves before getting to my knees, and turning back to the onlookers.
“We are also here to honour Alice. Not Mad Alice as the rumours would have us believe. But a Blenkinsop in all but name, buried here, next to her son, James Samuel.”
I walk past the graves of my father and brother, further back into the cemetery and to the older headstones, to one with a single word engraved upon it, ‘Alice’.
“This is for you, Alice,” I whisper, as I put another lily down in the grass before her. “This is for Samuel. I know you, Alice, and I will never forget you, but it’s time for you to go. Be at peace.”
The candles and torches around me flicker, slightly, almost imperceptibly, but I hear a voice calling mine, a familiar voice, just once, and then it is gone. I know I won’t hear it again.