The Shifting Fog | Chapter 13 of 50 - Part: 1 of 4

Author: Kate Morton | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 106306 Views | Add a Review

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This morning when I woke, the thread of nervous energy that had infused me all week had overnight become a knot. Sylvia helped me into a new peach dress—the one Ruth bought me for Christmas—and exchanged my slippers for the pair of outside shoes usually left to languish in my wardrobe. The leather was firm and Sylvia had to push to make them fit, but such price respectability. I am too old to learn new ways and cannot abide the tendency of the younger residents to wear their slippers out.

My hair, always pale, is now flossy white, and very fine, finer it seems with each passing day. One morning, I feel sure, I will wake up and there will be none left, just a few fairy threads lying on my pillow that will dissolve before my eyes. Perhaps I am never going to die. Will merely continue to fade, until one day, when the north wind blows, I will be lifted and carried away. Part of the sky.

Face paint restored some life to my cheeks, but I was careful not to overdo it. I am wary of looking like an undertaker’s mannequin. Sylvia is always offering to give me a ‘bit of a makeover’, but with her penchant for purple eye shadow and sticky lip glosses, I fear the results would be catastrophic.

With some effort I fastened the gold locket, its nineteenth-century elegance incongruous against my utilitarian clothing. I straightened it, wondering at my daring, wondering what Ruth would say when she saw.

My gaze dropped. The small silver frame on my dressing table. A photo from my wedding day. I would just as happily not have had it there—the marriage was so long ago and so short-lived, poor John—but it is my concession to Ruth. It pleases her, I think, to imagine that I pine for him.

Sylvia helped me to the drawing room—it still rankles to call it such—where breakfast was being served and where I was to wait for Ruth who had agreed (against her better judgement, she said) to drive me to the Shepperton studios. I had Sylvia seat me alone at the corner table and fetch me a glass of juice, and then I filled time rereading Ursula’s letter.

Ruth arrived at eight-thirty on the dot. She may have had misgivings about the wisdom of this excursion but she is, and has always been, incurably punctual. I’ve heard it said that children born to stressful times never shake the air of woe, and Ruth, a child of the second war, proves the rule. So different from Sylvia, only fifteen years younger, who fusses about in tight skirts, laughs too loudly, and changes hair colour with each new ‘boyfriend’.

This morning Ruth walked across the room, well dressed, immaculately groomed, but stiffer than a fence post.

‘Morning, Mum,’ she said, brushing cold lips across my cheek. ‘Finished your breakfast yet?’ She glanced at the half-empty glass before me. ‘I hope you’ve had more than that. We’ll likely hit morning traffic on the way and we won’t have time to stop for anything.’ She looked at her watch. ‘Do you need to visit the loo?’

I shook my head, wondering when I had become the child.

‘You’re wearing Father’s locket; I haven’t seen it in an age.’ She reached forward to straighten it, nodding approval. ‘He had an eye, didn’t he?’

I agreed, touched by the way little untruths told to the very young are believed so implicitly. I felt a wave of affection for my prickly daughter, repressed quickly the tired old parental guilt that always surfaces when I look upon her anxious face.

She took my arm, folded it over hers, and placed the cane in my other hand. Many of the others prefer walkers or even those motorised chairs, but I’m still quite good with my cane, and a creature of habit who sees no reason to trade up.

Ruth started the car and we pulled slowly into crawling traffic. She’s a good girl, my Ruth—solid and reliable. She’d dressed formally today, the way she would to visit her solicitor, or doctor. I had known she would. She wanted to make a good impression; show this film-maker that no matter what her mother might have done in the past, Ruth Bradley McCourt was respectably middle class, thank you very much.

We drove in silence for a way then Ruth began tuning the radio. Her fingers were those of an old lady, knuckles swollen where she’d forced on her rings that morning. Astounding to see one’s daughter aging. I glanced at my own hands then, folded in my lap. Hands so busy in the past, performing tasks both menial and complex; hands that now sat grey, flaccid and inert. Ruth rested finally on a program of classical music. The announcer spoke for a while, rather inanely about his weekend, and then began to play Chopin. A coincidence, of course, that today of all days I should hear the waltz in C sharp minor.

Ruth pulled over in front of several huge white buildings, square like aircraft hangars. She switched off the ignition and sat for a moment, looking straight ahead. ‘I don’t know why you have to do this,’ she said quietly, lips sucked tight. ‘You’ve done so much with your life. Travelled, studied, raised a child … Why do you want to be reminded of what you used to be?’

She didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t give one. She sighed abruptly, hopped out of the car and fetched my cane from the boot. Without a word, she helped me from my seat.

Ursula was waiting for us, a slip of a girl with very long blonde hair that fell straight down her back and was cut in a thick fringe at the front. She was the type of girl one might have labelled plain had she not been blessed with such marvellous dark eyes. They belonged on an oil portrait, round, deep and expressive, the rich colour of wet paint.

She smiled, waved, rushed toward us, taking my hand from Ruth’s arm and shaking it keenly. ‘Mrs Bradley, I’m so happy you could make it.’

‘Grace,’ I said, before Ruth could insist on ‘Doctor’. ‘My name is Grace.’

‘Grace,’ Ursula beamed, ‘I can’t tell you how excited I was to get your letter.’ Her accent was English, a surprise after the American address on her letter. She turned to Ruth. ‘Thanks so much for playing chauffeur today.’

I felt Ruth’s body tighten beside me. ‘I could hardly put Mum on a bus now, could I?’

Ursula laughed and I was pleased that the young are so quick to read uncongeniality as irony. ‘Well, come on inside, it’s freezing out. ’Scuse the mad rush. We start shooting next week and we’re in a complete tizz trying to get things ready. I was hoping you’d meet our set designer but she’s had to go into London to collect some fabric. Maybe if you’re still here when she gets back … Go carefully through the doorway now, there’s a bit of a step.’

She and Ruth bustled me into a foyer and down a dim corridor lined with doors. Some were ajar and I peered in, snatching glimpses of shadowy figures at glowing computer screens. None of it resembled the other film set I had been on with Emmeline, all those years ago.

‘Here we are,’ Ursula said as we reached the last door. ‘Come on in and I’ll get us a cuppa.’ She pushed the door and I was scooped over the threshold, into my past.

It was the Riverton drawing room. Even the wallpaper was the same. Silver Studios’ burgundy Art Nouveau, ‘Flaming Tulips’, as fresh as the day the paperers had come from London. A leather chesterfield sat at centre by the fireplace, draped with Indian silks just like the ones Hannah and Emmeline’s grandfather, Lord Ashbury, had brought back from abroad when he was a young navy officer. The ship’s clock stood where it always had, on the mantlepiece beside the Waterford candelabra. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get it right but it announced itself an impostor with every tick. Even now, some eighty years later, I remember the sound of the drawing-room clock. The quietly insistent way it had of marking the passage of time: patient, certain, cold—as if it somehow knew, even then, that time was no friend to those who lived in that house.

Ruth accompanied me as far as the chesterfield then cast me adrift with an entreaty to sit while she found where the toilets were, ‘just in case’. I was aware of a bustle of activity behind me, people dragging huge lights with insect-like legs, someone, somewhere, laughing, but I allowed my mind to drift. I thought of the last time I had been in the drawing room—the real one, not this façade—the day I had known I was leaving Riverton and would never be back.


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it's very good good luck
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