I roll down the window and let the wind blast in. It roars over the murmur of the radio, makes my hair dance wild. Trees line the road – tall plumes, black against a blueberry coloured sky. Until now, I hadn’t recognised this place, but now a thought blows in. A memory of sitting in a field, the wheat high above my head, feathery sheaths tickling my arms, a smell of dampness and earth. ‘Hide here,’ mama whispers, her arms hugging for a moment – a garland of safety in her fragrance of violets and half-baked bread. ‘Stay here until I come back.’
I watch the backs of her legs as she pushes away from me through the tall grass, fragments of her blue and white dress visible for a moment through a swaying crosshatch of stalks before they close around me.
I wait for hours, alert for glimpses of her red shoes and her floral scent. But the tall boots come instead – hundreds of them, thundering past, inches from my nose, crushing a muddy path through the field. They reek of leather and horseshit and old sweat.
The sign for the village pulls me back to the present. Back to 1972. I shiver and wind up the window. A jaunty pop tune strains over the drone of the engine. My chest tightens as I make the turn, the car dipping and bobbing over potholes. High hedges on each side plunge me into darkness, the headlights acting like search beams, lighting the way as if through a tunnel.
The radio fizzes with static, the singers becoming disembodied. Distant. They hiss and crackle. Or is that the fire? It roars in my ears again like a monster.
The hedges finally recede, giving way to a wider road and open fields. A scattering of bungalows appear; the ancient half-timbered houses are well gone.
The road bends round towards the village, the car throwing discs of light into a field, washing the dark wheat golden for a second or two. It’s then I see her. She stands between the stalks, her scruffy pale hair blending with the quills.
I reverse the car and spin round. I race through the dark tunnel of hedge and sky, the car jumping and banging over the bumps. Back on the main road, I speed home towards Paris.
My therapist is wrong. I can never return. My five year old self will forever be in that field of wheat. Waiting.
Ruth Ogilvie-Brown lives in Dundee, Scotland. She writes short fiction and has been published in Café Lit and is forthcoming in the Same. You can connect with Ruth on Twitter @ogilvie_brown.
Image: Anna Jakobs