Note: The previous part of this story was posted on Monday 3rd December
Lizzie has that glint in her eye after I’ve picked at my Christmas dinner, the disapproving one that thinks I’m just an old fool, she’s right, but not in the way she’s surmised. I know it’s hurting her, and for that I am sorry, I should have told her years ago of course but it’s too late now.
Her red-lipped smile had grasped my heart before I’d even dared to ask her out. She was a woman encapsulating joy, just what I’d needed, flirtatious, fun, bursting with energy. She wore a yellow dress, a bouncy ray of sunshine, linking arms with her sister when I’d first seen her walking on Blackpool prom.
We exchanged a brief hello, but her smile over her shoulder told me she was interested as her sister pulled her away, laughing.
She stamped out my shame with her carefree antics, daring me to drive her to the seaside in my Dad’s car or help her scale the huge wall to watch the race-horses parade, she thought I was a bloody hero. But that was nearly 50 years ago, a lot has happened since then. Her mischievous smile no longer bright, replaced by tuts of annoyance and a furrowed brow, I can’t blame her.
We’d never discussed whether there’d been anyone else before, we were only 19 and didn’t want to spoil the infatuation, we needed to believe it had only ever been ‘us’ and it suited me to leave that well alone.
But the secret I’ve buried all these years slammed back into my consciousness the day I received the letter, the contact I’d feared yet also yearned for, was like a time bomb from the past.
She’d signed the letter Amelia and it took several readings to realise that it was my grand-daughter, not my daughter, that had finally found me. One page of writing that sucked me straight back like a vacuum, making me shake and feel queasy, thank god Lizzie was at one of her WI coffee mornings, oblivious.
It came with her picture, a pale, ethereal girl with large wide eyes framed by a shock of copper hair that cloaked her shoulder.
Amelia was just 18, the same age I first became a father. I took her in, the image of her grandmother, and slumped to the chair, breathing hard in shock. I read the letter over and over before the news finally sank in and I broke down and sobbed.
I cried for Marie, my first love I lost to child-birth, for the daughter I’d too-easily handed over to her foster parents when I was too young to understand the years of burden that would bring and now for my beautiful granddaughter who had just lost her mother, my daughter, to a dreadful freak accident.
Too much for her to bare at such a young age and too much for me to deal with now I no longer have the resolve of my younger years. That day I lost everything, my past and my future; I’d never meet my adult daughter, and I’d never meet my granddaughter, how could I?
How could I explain this to Lizzie and the boys and look them in the eye, knowing what I did?
But everything has changed since that letter, I’ve changed, and of course Lizzie has noticed. When I see young women walking down to the woods or in town shopping, I just see Marie or Christina and now Amelia, a trio of women that mean so much to me, yet I can never talk about, never explain that they are a part of who I am.
Lizzie thinks that it’s something else, even at my old age, laughable really, she always was a touch on the jealous side, and I know I need to stop. To her it’s odd behaviour, I understand, and I know it’s doing us no good.
I’m not here, not really, I live in a parallel universe. I’m back there, heartbroken that the love of my life is no longer by my side.
Days after she died, I kissed my tiny daughter goodbye whilst gently wrapping her in the blanket my mother knitted, her name embroidered on the corner in pink, ‘Christina’, Marie’s choice after she’d found out she was due on Christmas day.
I fled my home town, escaped the hurtful comments and disapproving glares and met Lizzie just two months later. It was meant to be a new start and was for a long time. Now I can’t move forward, I’m stuck in the past with no reprieve, no let up. Lizzie’s frustrated sighs are the least of my worries, the picture of Amelia hanging over me, a ghostly reminder of all I’ve lost.
Now it’s Christmas day, I’m here with my family, but not really, on what should have been Christina’s 50th birthday. The boys are fussing, what is wrong Dad? Even Evelyn, Lizzie’s sister keeps throwing side-ways glances and is unusually quiet. They seem genuinely concerned. Lizzie shakes her head and tuts as I take another slug of whisky.
‘Oh, I forgot!’ she says rummaging under the tree, ‘This came for you the other day, a present from your brother I think?’ My heart rate quickens, my ruse of an estranged brother who’s recently gotten back in touch, the one I write to each month, my only connection to Amelia.
Lizzie passes it to me with an anxious smile, hope in her eyes that this might cheer me up, a wave of guilt washes over me. The writing now so familiar as I tear open the brown paper wrapping, wondering what on earth could be in the parcel? My fingers begin to shake as I feel soft fabric.
‘Well? What is it?’ asks lizzie, impatience in her tone. I clear my throat but cannot speak as I look down and lift the white bundle from the paper to my face, breathing in the smell of cotton and lavender, taking me back to the day I let her go, I unfold it and there it is, in baby pink thread….Christina.