One year after it happened, we all travelled back to Scotland. An eight-hour journey, accomplished in almost complete silence. We each had too many thoughts we couldn’t share and some we didn’t want to admit, even to ourselves.
Luke, my boyfriend, stretched beside me. He hadn’t known Mum, he was just here for support. Dad was driving. He hadn’t been the same since. But it’s my brother, Carl, who’d taken it hardest. He’d not been able to get over the fact that their last words to each other were angry ones. We’d all argued with her that day, though. And the day before. I guess it had become a habit, especially between her and Dad. I would always remember the end of their last one …
“I’m tired of being treated like I’m of no importance. I’m not your servant, I’m your wife!”
“And don’t I know it. Nag, nag, nag …”
“I wouldn’t nag if you showed some appreciation.”
“Maybe I would show some appreciation if you didn’t nag.”
And then the capitulation and the fatal words … “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.”
Mum never came back from that walk.
‘Here’ was the little log cabin we’d been holidaying in. And, up on that hill somewhere was Mum. Sometimes I pictured her, lying with a broken leg, shouting for help. We’d searched for weeks, but we never found her. Carl thought she must have fallen into a peat bog. I could see her, sinking lower and lower, unable to get out, getting icy cold and knowing there was no chance of rescue, because we didn’t know where she was. But those images were preferable to the other ones. I shook my head to clear it. Everyone was turning to look at me, still sat in the car. “Come on, Mandy.”
“Sorry,” I said, scrambling out and taking a deep breath of chilly, thin air.
Luke came over and took my bag. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just remembering.”
“Yes. Wishing she and Dad hadn’t argued.” We hurried into the cabin, which had the musty smell of little use. Dad already had the kettle on. Carl favoured the stronger refreshment from his hip flask. I flicked the switch on the gas fire and we huddled on a sofa nearby. The tartan blanket thrown over it felt damp.
“That wasn’t the only argument your mum had that day though, was it?” murmured Luke.
“How do you know that?”
“Carl told me.”
“Yes. He had a massive row with her too.”
“He’d just come in from outside and asked her to come downstairs and fetch his snowboard up. Which she didn’t mind. She was good like that. But she minded when Carl came up the stairs right behind her, empty handed. I’d never seen her so mad.”
“I don’t blame her. Why did he do that?”
We paused as Dad came over and handed us each a scalding mug. I only answered when he’d gone again. I don’t know why.
“He said she wasn’t doing anything important, and he was.”
“Yeah,” I said, blowing on my tea. “She said she’d never help such an ungrateful brat again.”
“I didn’t know about all that. The row Carl told me about was the one you had with her.”
“Is it true she was going to start charging you rent if you didn’t start helping her round the house?”
I nodded. I felt bad about that.
“Sounds like you all took her for granted.”
“We did. And she tried so hard to get through to us and she never could.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Dad always treated her outbursts like they were of no importance. So I s’pose we did too.”
“He’s not seeing anyone else? Your dad?”
“No. I think he thought about it. But it’s harder than he imagined it would be.”
Carl approached our corner. “Dad thinks we should go now or it will be too late.” We had to do it that evening since we were driving back home again the next day. None of us had wanted to stay longer.
Carl cast a sideways look at my boyfriend. “Did Mandy tell you we’re going up the hill to where she was last seen?”
“Yes. We’re letting off Chinese lanterns, right? It’s a nice idea.”