Mary was excited. Her complexion, normally pale and rather sallow, was flushed. Her movements, usually rather stilted and methodical, were rushed and unrestrained. She was surrounded by some of the local residents and, as she related her news, her voice rose to a pitch that nearly deafened her nearest neighbour. Her audience listened with interest. This was the most stimulating event to happen for a long time. Each wanted to hear about it firsthand, not via the usual gossip trail.
“The bridesmaids’ dresses sound dreamy. Rachael has chosen soft pink and the girls will carry white orchids instead of posies. She hasn’t told me much about her dress. She wants to keep it secret. I hope it’s white. I know she will look heavenly in white with her blue eyes and long black hair.” Mary’s expression became more pensive and her voice more hushed. “When we last spoke she started crying. I said ‘don’t you worry pet. I will be there to watch you walk up that aisle! I’m just sorry that I can’t come earlier to help. It’s a long way to travel, I know, but I’ll definitely get there.’ Then I sang her favourite lullaby and she went off to have a rest.”
Clenching her hands, her fingers turned even whiter than normal. Close to tears, Mary moved closer to a large woman hovering at the edge of the group. She whispered to her friend. “Oh Jenny, what am I going to do? I’ve got to escape and get to Atlanta. How can they think that I would miss seeing my daughter’s wedding?”
The older woman gave her a sympathetic hug. “But Mary, you know what Peter said. You can’t leave. It’s forbidden. Anyway, how are you going to get there? It’s such a long way and you know how weak you get. Look at you now. You can hardly breathe and soon, if you aren’t careful, you’ll be fading away. Come and sit down and let’s figure out what you can do.”
Mary shook her head and cried out “I don’t care. I am going to be there to watch my darling baby get married to that nice boy of hers?”
Mary shuffled off to think on her own. The others dispersed quietly. Sometimes living in a community like this was hard. It was rare to be alone and, despite the peaceful ambience, it was often difficult to keep one’s privacy. The fragrance of summer flowers was strong. Mary drew in a deep breath to fill her lungs with nature’s gift. Clearing her mind of all other thoughts, she started to work out her plan. She had three weeks in which to get to Georgia in the USA. She must decide on a way to get there. The light faded. Mary felt cold. As her plot came together Mary’s shoulders straightened. The headstrong side of her nature that had been so obvious when she was a stubborn youngster reappeared. Had any of the others been nearby they would not recognise this forceful personality in the normally meek shadow of a woman. For the first time in years she had a purpose in her life and no one was going to stand in her way.
Late that night the noise of a creaking loose step on the stairs was the only sign that anything was unusual. Each inhabitant, except one, was resting on his own soft downy mattress. The colourless shape moving slowly down was disguised by the darkness. No one heard the departure of timid, gentle Mary.
In the grey light of the morning Mary picked her way amongst the other travellers at the train station. “Excuse me,” she said as she bumped into an old man carrying his newspaper and steaming cup of coffee from the platform buffet. He climbed up onto the train ignoring her subdued apology. The 06:30 to Liverpool left on time and Mary found herself a comfortable seat in the mobile free carriage. She hated to listen to all of that horrible noise of people chatting and laughing on their phones. It distracted and confused her and she liked to keep her brain clear for her own thoughts. The conductor came along the aisle and collected tickets. A young boy in front was trying to persuade the official to let him travel for free. Shaking his head and smiling as he turned, the man made his way further down the carriage, bypassing the area where Mary was sitting.
Mary clutched her hands together and sat quietly thinking about her journey ahead. She prayed that the departure time of that lovely cruise ship hadn’t changed. Many years ago she and Tom had such a wonderful time on that boat. Reminiscing, with her eyes closed, she could almost smell the sea and hear the sound of the gulls. Her favourite trip had been that last holiday before Rachael was born. Tom loved to dance and every evening after dinner they would stay until the members of the band put down their instruments and headed for their own cabins. Rachael was conceived on that cruise during a night of wonderful passion, which Mary blushed even now to recall.
Liverpool was far busier than Mary remembered. There was nothing she recognised! The old station was gone and a new shopping precinct had replaced the row of lovely old stores. She walked in the direction of the sea, trying to avoid the crowds. ‘Where is the port?’ She began to panic and found herself trying to run to get there on time. Her chest hurt and she could feel her strength ebbing. ‘Where is it? Why didn’t I try to take a taxi? Oh no. What am I going to do?’ Lost and confused Mary sat on the bench and buried her face in her hands.
“Go down the street and turn right. You’ll see the loading bays in front of you.” A deep voice said in her ear. Mary lifted her head up to the light and smiled. “Oh thank you. It’s kind of you to help me.” As she shuffled along the road she looked back and waved but there was no longer anyone in sight.
On board Mary finally had time to rest and think about the remainder of her journey. Once she arrived, there would be three days left to get to Georgia from New York. With a little luck the Greyhound would be running that day and she would get there with a day to spare. Rachael was in touch with her again that night and they had a long chat. The wedding was to be held at St Luke’s where Mary and her darling Tom had married all of those years ago. As a young bride she had been so nervous in this strange country with its loud friendly people and busy roads. Tom tried to understand and had stayed by her side while she became used to her new home. His mother had welcomed her as one of her own family and had given Mary her own wedding dress, worn when marrying Tom’s dad. Mary fell asleep with a smile on her face remembering the voluptuous young girl trying to squeeze into the white dress with its 20-inch waist.
The sight of the Statue of Liberty lifted Mary’s spirits and she could feel her energy returning. Only a few more days, she thought, and I will see my darling girl. Even though it had been many years since she had been in New York, Mary managed to find the Greyhound station. Settling herself into the comfortable seat on the coach, she closed her eyes and her thoughts drifted to Rachael and Tom. Theirs had been such a contented family. Rachael was a good baby, happy and a joy to look after, and Tom adored both of his girls. His dying words were regret that he would never be able to take his daughter up the aisle. She did miss him so even after 24 years. She had searched for any way to reach him but without luck so far. Mary’s breathing became more regular and as it deepened she floated into sleep with the image of Tom’s face bending down in front of her to kiss her gently on her lips.
The August day was hot and humid and the churchyard was colourful with confetti. Two exquisite orchid displays adorned the entrance to the church. Golden edged labels announced the wedding of Rachael and Mark. The bride and groom walked along the aisle smiling at each other and their loved ones. Rachael caught sight of a mature lady in the pew to her left and, compelled by a mystifying attraction, turned to stare at her as she glided past.
“Do you know that lady there walking through the churchyard?” she later asked her new husband.
“No. I thought she must be one of your relatives, Rach” he said as he grabbed her playfully around her waist.
“No, but do you know, it’s strange. I feel sure I know her but I just don’t know where from. It’s as though we’re connected in some way. I wonder if she is distant family.”
Some of the guests lingered in the church grounds, laughing and chatting. The ladies fanned themselves with wedding programmes while the men undid ties and loosened collars. ‘The bride looked beautiful’ they said. ‘What a wonderful wedding. They make a very handsome couple.’ The voices drifted away and the sounds of car tires on the gravel road leading to the main highway faded.
A shadow fell across Mary and a man’s voice said “Mrs. Wright? Are you Mrs. Wright?” Feeling as though she was coming out of a dream, Mary looked up at the two policemen standing above her and slowly nodded her head. She was confused. Why were they here? Had she done something wrong? Where was Rachael? She had disappeared again. Why did she do that whenever anyone else was near?
One of the men leaned down and touched her gently on the shoulder. “Come on ma’am. It’s time to go. There are a lot of worried people looking for you. Apparently you even made the news over there in England.”
Mary smiled sadly and turned to kiss the cold engraved marble stone in front of her. She placed some orchids on the ground. Her eyes were red and full of unshed tears. “Goodbye my darling baby. You were a beautiful bride today. I know your dad’s spirit was also there beside you the whole time.” She smiled fondly at the larger stone at her daughter’s side.
Surprised, the younger of the two men looked with raised eyebrows at the other. “But I thought her baby daughter died in that accident with the husband 24 years ago.”