Louise gasped at the altered landscape. A flight of stepping stones, puddles like silver pennies scattered in a line across the ribbed wet sand, rising to meet the full moon bellying low. Black and white and silver, Greyling Bay in negative.
Each day a stepping stone; an outing with ‘Call-me-Gwen’ – ripe for adventure, her grin cynical. “Greyling Bay might be new to you but I’ve lived here eighty-seven years. Besides, the old mill does decent coffee, just outside town.”
Another footstep: massage, accompanied by peals of laughter. Gwen Parry telling dirty jokes. Again. “Gwen, you’re awful.” Louise mopping her eyes, massaging Gwen’s frail shoulders.
“I know far worse than that.” A triumphant chuckle banished by a purr of pleasure as the strong young hands resumed their work, sending warmth and power and healing into the knotted muscles and sparrow bones. The pleasure, as always, two-way; Louise giving and receiving, her own tensions slipping away.
Earlier stepping stones: escaping after Father’s funeral. But the house! How had her mother dared? Father, unforgiving as the icy God he made in his own image, too lofty to be troubled with details, making Mum act as his secretary. Getting his signature, forgery perhaps? Just in time before his stroke. ‘All yours.’ Mum’s last whisper. ‘The house, everything - provided he lasts the seven years.’ And he had, just. The second stroke relieved them both – and here she was.
Wherever here was.
“You have healing hands, Louise,” Gwen told her and twisted round to stare, with shrewd, narrowed eyes at Louise’s harsh gasp. “Don’t worry, child,” she said. “I can keep a secret. But I do know who you are.”
“Insatiable curiosity, see?” explained Gwen, shifting painfully. Louise hastened to help, her mouth still sour with denial. “Something about you,” Gwen told her. “Intuition, auras, moments of clarity, not limited to the Scots, you know; plenty of Welsh witches.” That warm, knowing chuckle again. “Besides, I’ve an excellent memory for faces when they come with an intriguing story.”
Her knobbly, blue-veined hand covered Louise’s small, strong one. “You stood on the quayside, bathed in light.” The quizzical amusement vanished and Gwen’s blue eyes were grave. “I knew you at once, God knows how; then you saw the celestial city and I knew it was meant.”
And that was another step forward; Gwen knew, and the sky hadn’t fallen in.
Shivering as a cloud drifted across the moon, she closed the window, suddenly craving company. The spicy warmth of Curry Night at the café beckoned.
Another stepping stone here: a tentative welcome from Chelsee whose brother, about Louise’s age and calmer now after yesterday’s drama, shot her an abashed smile and showed her to the last remaining seat in the café.
“It’s a new thing,” he handed her a menu. “Curry night. Chelsee’s brainwave.”
Louise loved the lilt in his voice. “Seems very popular,” she smiled then the colour drained from her face as she glimpsed a face on the television screen on the wall.