A family is reunited in this tender complete story by Rebecca Mansell.
IHAD been gazing out of the kitchen window when the phone rang. It was strange, because it rang a couple of times, stopped, then rang again. I frowned. Was someone playing a game? Caleb had a mischievous sense of humour and frequently liked to surprise me with his boyish behaviour, even though he was twenty-one now. They do say that men never grow up! It couldn’t be him, though. He was home from university, along with his dirty laundry and endless tales of student nightlife – with a little bit of studying thrown in for good measure. To reassure me, of course.
The phone stopped. Perhaps someone had the wrong number and had accidentally rung it again.
Minutes passed and then it shrilled out once more, making me jump. “Honey, are you going to get that?” My husband’s voice from the study was muffled. No doubt he was still rummaging through the paperwork in the boxes he’d retrieved from the loft the day before.
He was intent upon finishing the novel he’d begun 30 years ago. It felt like the right time, he said.
He was being very secretive as he wouldn’t let on what it was about. I’d find out when it was published, he said confidently.
I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm by reminding him how competitive the publishing world was. “Honey?” The phone was properly ringing this time, so I picked it up. There was silence. “Hello?” I wasn’t even sure if there was someone at the other end of the line. “Hello?” I said again. Perhaps the phone was playing up because I couldn’t hear anything at all.
Just as I was about to put it down, a quiet voice spoke. “Um, hello. It’s me . . .” There is a part in films where, for effect, the characters begin to move in slow motion. The world slowed down like that for me in that precise moment. I found a chair and slumped on to it. I always knew I’d recognise her voice. That no matter how much time had passed, how many experiences she might have had or changes that might have taken place, her voice would create emotions in me that I would perhaps struggle to contain.
“Mary Jane?” I whispered. “Mum?” a voice said. I covered my mouth with my hand so she wouldn’t hear me gasp.
“It’s been a long time,” she stuttered, “but I wanted to hear your voice. Are you there?” Tears had begun to well up in my eyes. I swallowed. “I’m here,” I replied hoarsely. “Mary Jane, how are you?” There was a pause and I heard a small sob. “Mary Jane?” “I’ve missed you, Mum. I’ve missed you so much.” At this, the tears rolled down my cheeks. “Oh, darling, I’ve missed you, too.” “I’ve wanted to contact you for so long, but Dad . . .”
“I understand. You respected his wishes. How is your father?” Another long pause. “He died last month, Mum. Suddenly.” I was shocked into stunned silence. I’d known Mary Jane’s father when I was just sixteen years old. We were childhood sweethearts. My parents never took to him because he rebelled at school, but for me that only added to his irresistible charm.
Eventually we’d run away together, got jobs working on a farm, and when I turned eighteen we married. I thought we’d be together for ever. “I’m so sorry, Mary Jane,” I eventually managed. “I really am.” “I found your letters,” she said softly. “Did you?” I answered tremulously. “You hadn’t read them before?”
“No,” she replied, a catch to her voice. “Not until the other day.” I sighed, feeling the sadness in my heart. That explained so much to me. Edward and I had had Mary Jane when I was just nineteen, but straight away there were problems. I became very ill and found it so hard to take care of a crying baby.
It wasn’t long before Edward grew weary of my moods and anxiety. I wanted to contact my parents for help, but he stopped me, saying we had to make it on our own.
He knew how much they disliked