Moving Day, a short story by Caroline Lewsey at
Ali Gooya

Moving Day

Moving Day

written by: Caroline Lewsey


I never thought I’d like it here. When I moved to Wales from Canada twenty-five years ago, I honestly didn’t believe I would ever get used to it. Everything here is different. The country, the language, the climate, and especially the people. I was eighteen years old and leaving everything I knew behind me to start a new life. It took a very long time to be able to look around and see the country for what it was.

I have walked down this lane hundreds of times since I moved here. It was where I came when I was sad, or lonely. When I thought I would never recover from the pain I was in, this lane was my haven. The quiet solitude found here was invaluable for me, somewhere I knew I could be alone with my thoughts. Later, when I felt things were getting better, I came here too. I walked here with my husband before we were married, it’s where I told him I was pregnant, and both of my boys loved it here growing up. There were trees to climb and puddles to jump in. Now, I’m here again and I’m not sure this place can ever work its magic like it used to.

It’s so warm today, the first warm day of the year. I shrug my jacket off as we start our walk down the familiar stretch of road. This time of year, in Wales, is unbelievably beautiful. The sun shines through the new leaves on the trees and dappled light lands on the ground in front of me. There is a stream bubbling just down the bank and small daisies and buttercups are beginning to bloom along the edges of the lane.

The smell of wild garlic is everywhere. Its sweet intensity is almost overpowering. It is not a smell I knew growing up, Canadian forests are beautiful and have their own unique scent, but I think wild garlic is something everyone should experience at least once. I’ve heard people say that your sense of smell is intrinsically linked to your memories; that simply smelling something can take you back to very specific moments in time. I think that is true. Today, the memories are coming thick and fast, and I blink away the unexpected tears and look up ahead and try to catch up with Izzy.

‘Hey, wait for me.’ I shout to Isabel who has run off ahead with the dog.

‘Yeah, yeah! Hurry up old lady.’ she shouts back at me, and I can hear her laughing in the distance.

It’s been just over a year since Izzy came to live with us. Just over a year since she lost her mother. My older sister was only forty-two years old when she left her house to go to work one morning and never came home. Forty-two; I still shudder every time I think about it. She was knocked down and killed by a man who was just trying to get home after working a night shift. He wasn’t drinking, he wasn’t speeding, all he was doing was driving home to his family. He came around the corner as she crossed the road and that was it. A tragic accident, no one’s fault, but that didn’t change what happened to us in the aftermath.

When Izzie was growing up, my sister was a single mother, so it was just the two of them. Her father left when she was six and never played a part in her life after that. As you would expect, Izzie was spoiled rotten. A typical only child, she was treated like a princess, and despite all of us spoiling her, she managed to grow up sweet and humble. Everyone loved her and she deserved it.

Isabel adored her mother. Idolised her even. My sister was a nurse and Izzie always understood how hard she worked and never complained about the long hours. She knew how important nurses were. She comforted her mother at the worst of times and celebrated with her when things were going well. As Isabel grew into a teenager, their love and respect for each other was obvious to anyone who knew them. Then, without warning, her mother was gone, and Izzie had to pack her things and move in with me.

I know it wasn’t easy for her. She was grieving, she was angry, and justifiably so. Losing your mother at such at any time is difficult but for a teenager on the edge of adulthood, it was unbearable. I knew she loved us, I never questioned that, but it was obvious she hated everything else.

I can’t say it was easy for any of us. I had raised two boys, Will, the eldest, who was two years into his degree and Finn, who was just finishing high school. I had no experience with teenager girls, let alone one in so much pain. I made plenty of mistakes, I know that. I was struggling too; I’d lost my sister and didn’t know what to do. There were so many arguments. So much anger. We muddled through the best we could. Now here we are, Isabel turned eighteen a few weeks ago and its time for the next chapter in her life and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

Up ahead she’s waiting for me. I watch her lean down to stroke the dog, and I see the toy in her hand. Tears threaten again but, for her sake, I manage to hold them back. She doesn’t need me to lose control today, there will be time for tears tomorrow.

The toy in her hand is a stuffed version of Barney the dinosaur. It was a present from her mother the first Christmas after her dad left and it quickly became her favourite. She took it everywhere. I can remember thinking if we had to watch that show one more time, I’d lose my mind. If she wasn’t watching it, she was dancing around singing the song over and over. When her mother died, even though she was a teenager, she started carrying it around with her once more. Any way to feel close to her mother again, I guess.

I smile at her as I finally catch up to her and the dog. ‘Are you ready for this?’

She looks at the dinosaur in her hand. ‘What? This?’ she asks as she holds it up.

‘No, not that.’ I answer. ‘Are you ready to go off to university all alone?’ Izzy had applied for the summer arts program at her school and had been accepted. She thought it would be a good way to meet people before school started properly in the fall.

‘Well, I have to go eventually. I can’t put it off forever, so it might as well be now,’ she replies. ‘It’s been over a year Auntie; I can’t keep using her death as an excuse to hide away in my room.’ Looking up at me, she blinked away tears of her own. ‘She wouldn’t want that.’

‘Actually, I think you have the right to do as you please. You’ve been through hell, no one, not even your mum, would blame you if you wanted to put it off for a year. Take a gap year; travel a little.’ I smile to myself, I already know her answer, we’ve had this conversation a hundred times. She wins every time. I know she is right, but I worry about her. ‘Have you got everything packed?’

‘Pretty much. I just have some odds and ends to sort out when we get back and I have a few people to go and see before I go.’ She picks up a buttercup from the side of the lane and tucks it in her hair and all of a sudden, she’s six years old again. ‘I’ll be ready for tomorrow though.’ she says.

‘I hope so, your train leaves at eight o’clock.’ I say.

Izzy smiles, ‘You know I’ll be home in a couple of months for Christmas Auntie. Stop making it sound like we’ll never see each other again!’ I see tears in her eyes for the second time this morning and although I knew her leaving was inevitable, I’m struck by how sad it makes me feel.

We wander off towards the gate at the end of the lane, and again, I’m struck by the beauty of this place. The warm spring breeze blows through the long grass in the fields along the side of the road, the sunlight blinking in the reflection of the mirror at the end of the farmer’s driveway in the distance, and just beyond the gate, a lone horse-chestnut tree stands tall as if it’s aware of the joy its conkers have given children every autumn for generations. It is so familiar, this place, yet I haven’t been here for over a year.

‘Give me the dog.’ I say as she hands me the lead. ‘This is your thing, not mine sweetheart.’ I start to cry as she walks toward the gate.

As I stand back and watch, she takes the toy she’s been carrying all this time and leans it against one of the gateposts. She takes a long pink ribbon from her pocket and ties it firmly to the post and I can see her shoulders shaking as she tries to get control of herself. After a moment to herself, she turns towards me, and we start back towards home.

‘She’d be proud of you; she was always proud of you.’ I say through my tears. ‘She wouldn’t want you to be sad.’

‘I know. I’m ok. It’s time to move on from here.’

‘It is.’ I smile at her. ‘Did you have to move on so far away? London seems like the other side of the world!’

‘Oh my God, here we go again! I can’t wait to be on that train just so we can stop having this conversation.’ She says, but at least she’s laughing now.

As we reach the end of the lane, I turn around and took one last look. This place has been such a comfort to me over the years and now as I turn back towards home, I know it will never be the same, my solace in the worst of times has now become something very different.

This lane, this place that has so much meaning, was the road my sister was crossing that awful day last May, and I know I may never be able to see it any other way again.

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