Six miles from the coast of Massachusetts Bay - May 1680
Water lapped against creaking wood. The scent of fish began to overpower the salty air. Arianwen closed her eyes and let the sound of the ocean wash over her. A sharp pain shot through the back of her head. She gripped the rail and tried to steady herself as the vision pierced her thoughts and blacked out the peace. Keeping her eyes tight shut she allowed the images to flash through her mind. A gravestone, Hope kneeling, praying. Then a swirl, and grief turned to fear. A gavel crashing down. Children screaming, everyone crying. The sight made her gasp. Cold, damp, darkness. Bodies swinging from trees. Arianwen bit her lip and tried not to scream. A small hand touched her arm. She flinched.
“Ma? Ma, what is it?”
A young voice filtered past the images. Arianwen tried to breathe slowly. No vision had ever been so vivid or violent before.
“Ma? Are you well?” Hope tried again.
Arianwen forced her eyelids open and looked at her daughter’s face, without letting go of the rail.
“Yes, yes of course. Forgive me.”
“You have gone pale, Ma. Should I fetch Papa?”
Arianwen shook her head, the pain easing and her vision clearing.
“I think not. I think perhaps we shouldn’t tell him of this. The vision is gone now anyhow.” Hope looked up at her mother with her large grey eyes and nodded. Arianwen smiled at her gratefully. “Best your father doesn’t know.”
There had been nothing since the shores of England, but now, as they approached land once more, the visions were back. There had been one the previous night, just as she had closed her eyes in their bunk. A town, larger than expected, wooden buildings crammed in along the shore line, chimneys smoking and people gathering to meet them. And now this. Arianwen was not yet sure what it meant, and she was not anxious to find out.
Robert had wanted to follow his sister to the new world. He said it was in search of religious freedom, but Arianwen knew that much of his desire to leave was for her. Her husband was convinced that her ‘headaches’ would be gone once they left the devils and oppression of England. He did not know that the headaches came with visions, or at least did not appear to recall the one occasion she had told him of them, and he had been afeared she were bewitched. But that was many years ago now, before Hope.
“Look, Ma.” Hope was pointing and dancing about. Her dark hair wafted like a long scarf behind her in the breeze. Arianwen sighed. She would have to make her wear a cap again now they were nearly there. “Ma!” Arianwen laughed and looked out to sea. Past the endless silvery sheet of water a rolling line of land rose up from the ocean like an invitation. But instead of the relief she had expected, a nervous twist gripped at her stomach like a rotten piece of meat. She took her daughters hand and prayed that everything would be as Robert hoped.
Venice Beach, California –27th February 2015
Warm sheets, a cool pillow, and the smell of coffee drifting in from the kitchen; I opened my eyes and smiled. My thesis was finally done and there was nothing standing between a PhD and me, well, except the review. I had worked every day since September, even Christmas and Thanksgiving to get to the end, and now I could finally take a day to relax. I snuggled down beneath the covers and closed my eyes again. But just as my mind began to wonder into a light sleep, a sharp ring rudely interrupted me. Grumbling I pushed back the comforter and slid off the bed towards my desk.
“Hi Mom. You’re up early,” I said, trying to sound awake. My Mom never did have a great concept of time difference, though she usually began with a ‘how are you?’ However, today she went right in with her point.
“Ash honey, I just had some sad news.”
Considering this was probably just another delay on the dig, I sank into the squeaky black leather at my desk chair, and spun around to look out of the window at the clear blue sky.
“I’m going to need you to go to the east coast for a week or so.” At this I straightened up with curiosity. “Aunt Etta passed away and I can’t get away from the dig ‘til the 12th.”
“Oh, that is sad Mom. What was she, 80, 90?”
“Err, 94 I think,” she answered hurriedly then carried right on, “Someone needs to go out there and arrange the funeral. Sorry to ask. I know you haven’t seen her for years, but you finished your work right? And we are her only family.”
I sat for a second, unsure what to say. I had only met Etta a handful of times. She had been kind to us, and I had fond memories of playing hide and seek in the huge brownstone she and her husband had lived in at Back Bay. I’d always meant to go back, but there was always something else I had to do. Now the realization that I never would began to create a guilty feeling in my stomach. I had spent much of the past four years burying my emotions. Yet, despite my usual numb reaction to bad news, I felt a sting of tears in my eyes and heard my voice crack a little as I said,
“Course, Mom. My review isn’t for weeks. I’ll sort out a flight this morning.”
“No need,” Mom replied. “I booked it for Monday for you. I’ll send you the link later, just as soon as I can get decent Wi-Fi again. Oh and pack warm, it’s forecast snow.”
I nodded as though my mom could see me. My mind was picturing the batty old lady with crazy purple hair that she had said matched her name; Violetta, and her yappy little dog that she often carried in her purse. We had spent a summer with her when we were seven. Remembering made me think of my brother and I wondered how much of the guilty twist in my gut was about Simon rather than my elderly aunt. Mom sensed my distant response,
“You okay Ash?”
Not wanting to worry her I wiped my eyes quickly and forced a smile on my face.
“Course. Just unexpected news is all.”
“You sure?” Mom has always been a bit of a worrier. Not that it ever stopped her going off with Dad for months on end, but the last few years she had gotten worse, perhaps for good reason. I wasn’t about to let her fret over me while she was thousands of miles away in the middle of the jungle though.
“How’s Columbia?” I said, changing the subject. To my relief Mom’s voice brightened with enthusiasm.
“We’re doing really well. Made quite a lot of progress. Your dad found an intact jar yesterday!”
I laughed. The small things that make an archaeologist happy will never cease to amaze me.
“I meant how are Abuelita and Pops? Weren’t you going last weekend?” The line began to crackle.
“Oh, sorry. Yes, good, Abuelita tried to feed us up as usual. You should come back with us after Etta’s funeral, they would love to see you.”
I hadn’t seen my grandparents since starting the PhD six and a half years ago, and it had been Christmas when I’d last called them. A further pang of guilt pinched at me. I had just found it so hard to know what to say of late, and I couldn’t bare the sad expressions when they looked at me.
“I’ll Skype them later if Pops has figured out…” I began to offer, but someone in the background at Mom’s end called out ‘Angie,’ and before I could finish she rushed off with the usual excuses,
“I’m loosing the signal honey, and I think one of the students just found something. I’ll try and call you tomorrow night before you go.” Sometimes I thought she buried herself in archeology as a way not to think about Simon and me.
I set down the phone a little shell-shocked. Not wanting to allow myself to dwell on sad things I pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of panties and went out into the kitchen.
Standing at the stove was Max. He turned and pushed a plate along the breakfast bar in my direction.
“Thought you might want breakfast,” he grinned. “There’s coffee in the pot.” Max always seems to know what I need even when I don’t. We have been best friends since the very first day of collage. My favourite mug was sitting next to the coffee pot. I poured out the steaming black liquid and breathed in the lovey rich aroma.
“You’re awesome,” I said grabbing the Boston Crème from the plate and sinking my teeth in happily. I may have been born in California but there’s definitely a Bostonian in me underneath. I’ve always loved a good donut.
“Don’t say I never give you anything sweetie.” As he spun back to face the pancake he had on the stove I admired his apple-round butt. He wiggled it at me, well aware I was looking.
“Cheeky,” I laughed, “pun intended.” Max grasped the panhandle and in a single deft swish of his wrist, flipped the pancake. “I wish I knew how you do that,” I grinned. “Jay gone to work already?” I added, remembering that Max’s boyfriend had still been there when I had gone to bed the night before.
“Ash, sweetie, it’s ten thirty. Everyone’s gone to work but lazy ass students.”
“And lazy ass artists,” I laughed. “Man, I thought it was earlier than that.”
“Why, what else you gonna do today Dr. Velez?” Max asked shooting a wink over his shoulder.
“I have to pass the review yet,” I reminded him. Then I realized I didn’t actually know what to do. It had been so long since I’d had any free time I seemed to have forgotten. For a second I pictured muscle beach and considered using the gym that I walked past every day but had never tried. Then feeling that was a little too strenuous to start with, I considered driving down the seafront to Santa Monica for a bit of shopping, or to sit on the peer and watch the world go by, or read a book for fun. A slight sense of panic clawed at my throat and I felt my chest tighten. Forcing myself to breathe calmly I concentrated on the donut, grateful that Max wasn’t looking my way.
“Who was on the phone?” He asked, flipping the pancake onto his plate. “Want one?”
I shook my head, took a swig of coffee and explained what had happened.
To my surprise, rather than look concerned for me or offer condolences, Max looked at me with a smile broadening over his lips.
“What?” I asked, trying to work out what plan was hatching in his mind.
Well, I can’t let you do that on your own now can I? He said. “Time for a little vacation. I’m coming with you!”
(C) 2019 Liah S Thorley; all rights reserved