Mi­gra­tion Pat­terns

A drowned vil­lage is the set­ting for this ob­ser­vant short story by Re­becca Holmes.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

Heather was feel­ing rest­less, but could she take that huge step?

ARE you sure that map’s right? I thought the shop was nearer the church.” Heather knew who had asked the ques­tion with­out look­ing. The tall vis­i­tor with the Aus­tralian ac­cent had shown a lot of in­ter­est dur­ing the tour round the reser­voir’s vis­i­tor cen­tre.

He knew a sur­pris­ing amount about the drowned vil­lage for some­one who clearly wasn’t lo­cal

“It could well have been,” she replied. “The plan’s based on Ord­nance Sur­vey maps of the time. These in­cluded pubs, churches and so on, and con­tour lines, show­ing the val­ley as it was in the 1950s. Post of­fices were on there, too, but the vil­lage shop didn’t have one.

“De­tails like that had to be filled in after speak­ing to for­mer res­i­dents, but by then there were fewer peo­ple in the area who re­mem­bered, and a lot of mem­o­ries had faded.”

“You said a mem­ber of your fam­ily was from the vil­lage,” some­one else said. “Don’t they know?”

Heather nod­ded.

“My great-grand­fa­ther grew up there, but he moved to an­other part of the coun­try be­fore the dam was built and only vaguely re­mem­bered the shop from buy­ing sweets there on Satur­day morn­ings.”

She led ev­ery­one to the next stage of the ex­hi­bi­tion, il­lus­trat­ing wildlife that had colonised the man-made lake along with the woods and wild­flower mead­ows planted around it.

“The os­preys are our proud­est achieve­ment, but don’t let them over­shadow ev­ery­thing else. We have a hugely di­verse range of flora and fauna, both in water and on land.

“I hope you con­tinue to en­joy your visit here,” she con­cluded. “There are sev­eral walks round the reser­voir, and of course the two cafés, pic­nic area, shop and chil­dren’s play area.

“The os­preys and swal­lows will be leav­ing soon, so this might be your last chance to see them this year.”

Al­though a hand­ful of vis­i­tors re­mained to ask ques­tions, she felt dis­ap­pointed that the tall stranger was nowhere in sight.

****

After the long day, Heather savoured the early evening peace on the shore be­fore head­ing home. With most vis­i­tors gone, calm set­tled over the reser­voir.

How­ever, she could al­most sense the rest­less­ness of birds get­ting ready to leave.

They would be re­placed by win­ter vis­i­tors – ducks and geese, red­wings and field­fares, es­cap­ing the harsher con­di­tions of

Rus­sia and Scan­di­navia. The hides were as full of ea­ger bird­watch­ers in win­ter as in sum­mer.

It wasn’t only the birds that were rest­less at the mo­ment.

When Heather had re­turned home just over two years ago, after three away at univer­sity and join­ing con­ser­va­tion projects dur­ing the sum­mers, it had felt strange, es­pe­cially liv­ing with her par­ents to save money. But she had soon set­tled.

She loved her job work­ing on the na­ture re­serve and help­ing to pre­serve some of the past, even if, phys­i­cally, that had been lost.

“The past is never re­ally gone, so long as mem­o­ries re­main,” her great­grandad, Bob, had told her. “When­ever I feel sad about the vil­lage, I re­mind my­self that some­thing good has come out of it all, as well as mak­ing sure we have a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of water,” he’d added.

She had al­ways been close to him. He had re­tired to the area when she was small, after liv­ing away for forty years.

He had been some­one to turn to, grow­ing up, when her par­ents hadn’t al­ways had time to lis­ten.

He had been rest­less at her age, too. She won­dered if his­tory was re­peat­ing it­self. Re­cently, an ad for a more se­nior po­si­tion on a re­serve in Scot­land had caught Heather’s eye.

It was a long way from home, and she sus­pected the weather would make Der­byshire seem al­most trop­i­cal by com­par­i­son, yet she couldn’t help think­ing about it.

The sound of foot­steps on the peb­bles be­hind her in­ter­rupted her mus­ings. “Mind if I join you?”

She looked round to see the Aus­tralian vis­i­tor from ear­lier in the day.

“Not at all. I won­dered where you’d got to.”

“Oh?”

“Don’t worry.” She laughed. “I’m just cu­ri­ous as to how you know so much about the vil­lage.”

Close to, she reck­oned he was in his mid-twen­ties, prob­a­bly back­pack­ing round the world be­fore set­tling down to real life.

“That’s easy. My great­grand­mother, Polly, comes from there.”

This time it was her turn to look sur­prised.

Her com­pan­ion grinned. “I know. Small world, eh? Let me in­tro­duce my­self. Chris Storr.” He held out his hand.

She took it au­to­mat­i­cally. “Heather Wat­son. How old was your great­grand­mother when the vil­lage went?”

“About twenty, I think. She and my great­grandad, Ge­orge, had

just mar­ried and were liv­ing in the town where they both worked.

“Ge­orge didn’t come from the vil­lage, but they wanted to move there.

“When they re­alised that wasn’t go­ing to be an op­tion, they had a chance to em­i­grate to Aus­tralia and took it. Polly still speaks of Eng­land as ‘home’, even now.”

“She’s still alive, then?” “Very much so. Eighty­five and gets stuck into ev­ery­thing. She says stay­ing busy keeps her go­ing. Ge­orge passed away four years ago. We all still miss him.”

“That’s sim­i­lar to me. My great-grandad’s eighty­four, but my great-gran went nearly six years ago. I won­der if they knew each other.”

“You never know. Crikey, it re­ally is a small world, isn’t it?”

“You’d be sur­prised how many vis­i­tors tell us their rel­a­tives ei­ther came from the vil­lage or re­mem­bered it.” She hes­i­tated. “Do you think your great-gran would be will­ing to tell us some of her rem­i­nis­cences if we got in touch? We’re al­ways try­ing to find more his­tory of the place.”

“I don’t see why not. Mind, I re­mem­ber her telling me she was re­ally up­set about the vil­lage.”

“A lot of peo­ple were. Most of them came to terms with it grad­u­ally, once the na­ture re­serve got go­ing. You must ad­mit, it is beau­ti­ful on a day like this.”

“It is. I’ve just walked right round the perime­ter. Those hides are bril­liant, like win­dows to an­other world.”

They both fell quiet for a mo­ment as they looked over the lake, shim­mer­ing like mer­cury in the early evening light. Its still waters were bro­ken only by the con­cen­tric rip­ples from fish ris­ing to the sur­face.

“I’ll Skype Polly when I get back to the hos­tel, and ask her then. She’ll want to hear about my day. I promised her I’d come here, as a kind of pil­grim­age.”

Heather watched as he skimmed a stone ex­pertly across the water, to the in­dig­na­tion of some pass­ing ducks, safely out of reach.

An idea formed in her mind.

“How long are you here for?”

“An­other cou­ple of days. I’m tak­ing some time out to ex­plore be­fore I start on a year’s con­tract fur­ther north, not too far away.

“The com­pany I work for posted me there. I wanted a change after a re­cent rough patch, so it suited us both. Why do you ask?”

“As our rel­a­tives are about the same age, I was just won­der­ing whether they could chat. Rem­i­nisc­ing about the vil­lage might bring back some old mem­o­ries.”

“Which you’ll fran­ti­cally be scrib­bling down?” Heather smiled. “Prob­a­bly. It might be nice for them to talk, any­way.”

He looked thought­ful. “I reckon she’d en­joy that. I’ll men­tion it to her. If you give me your num­ber, I’ll let you know what she says.”

The text came as she was get­ting ready for bed.

“The an­swer’s yes. To­mor­row evening OK?”

****

The next day, Heather con­tacted her great­grand­fa­ther and re­layed his re­ac­tion to Chris.

Seven this evening at his house, she texted. She gave the ad­dress. Fancy fish and chips?

I’ll be there and hun­gry after hik­ing in the hills ,he replied.

Her great-grand­fa­ther’s bun­ga­low was on the edge of town, with a neat gar­den where he still grew veg­eta­bles.

She was pleased to see the two men take to each other straight away, and tried not to blush when Gramps winked at her as they tucked into their fish sup­per.

The meal was much ap­pre­ci­ated by Chris, judg­ing from the way he pol­ished off a large help­ing in next to no time.

Duly nour­ished, and after chat­ting about Aus­tralia and his great-gran, he opened his lap­top.

A minute later an­other tanned face, with sharp eyes that Heather sensed missed noth­ing, ap­peared on the screen.

Polly peered across the room.

“Bob? Bob Pre­ston? Is that you? I guessed it might be when I heard what Chris said.”

Bob leaned for­ward for a bet­ter look.

“Polly Broad­bent! Well, I never. What have you been up to?”

“Plenty, as I’m sure my boy will have told you. Is that your great­grand­daugh­ter? Let’s have a look. Oh, she’s nice.

“Do you have a boyfriend at the mo­ment, love?” she added.

Heather was too sur­prised to re­ply.

“I’ll take that as a no. Get in there, Chris. It’s time you got your­self a new girl­friend after that floozie left you high and dry.” “Polly!”

His cheeks were pink even through the tan.

Polly rolled her eyes. “Turn me back to Bob. I might get more sense out of him.

The two of them were soon catch­ing up on gos­sip about their lives and mu­tual for­mer ac­quain­tances.

“I think we’re sur­plus to re­quire­ments,” Chris mur­mured.

“This prob­a­bly isn’t a good time for me to ply your great-gran with ques­tions,” she replied. “Do you think it would be OK for me to chat to her an­other evening?”

Chris snorted.

“I have a feel­ing you won’t be able to stop her.”

“There’s a nice pub a few min­utes away. Do you fancy slip­ping out for a drink?”

As they left the older cou­ple to it they heard glee­ful laugh­ter be­hind them.

****

After­wards, after pick­ing up Chris’s lap­top, they drove to the reser­voir and walked along the dam in the moon­light. The hoot of an owl in nearby woods and a fox’s bark some­where in the dis­tance added to the sense of time­less­ness.

“It’s mag­i­cal,” Chris whis­pered, as if any­thing louder would be sac­ri­le­gious. “Now I can truly tell Polly the place is at peace with it­self.”

Heather knew what he meant. What was more, she felt at peace with him, and soon knew he felt the same way, as they joined hands.

The moon set a sil­ver path on the sur­face.

Who knew? Per­haps its eerie light even reached the depths, in its own way bring­ing to life the ru­ins of the vil­lage that been there and in some ways still was.

She re­mem­bered her great-grandad’s words.

“The past is never gone, so long as the mem­o­ries re­main.”

“When do you start your job?” she asked, still look­ing out over the water, held by its spell.

“In about ten days. That should give me enough time to visit some other places around the coun­try as I make my way to Ed­in­burgh.

“I’ve al­ready ar­ranged for some­where to live there, so I don’t need to worry about that.”

“Ed­in­burgh? That’s in Scot­land.”

“I know.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t far.”

“It isn’t by Aus­tralian stan­dards. I’d love to see you again,” he added, after a brief pause. “Maybe we can keep in touch.”

Heather laughed.

“It’s funny you should say that.”

She told him about the job she had been think­ing about, and felt a surge of hap­pi­ness as his eyes lit up. At that mo­ment, she made up her mind.

After all, birds flew away from here and flew back when they were ready. Per­haps it was time for Heather to set off on an­other mi­gra­tion of her own.

The End.

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