Authors: Elenor Gill
Tags: #Fiction, #General
If we do not expect the unexpected, we will never find it.
Greek philosopher, late 6 BCE
HE FIRST DREAM CAME
to him when he was fourteen. It came slam in the middle of adolescence, as he tottered on the brink of manhood, terrified and elated, with the future laid out below, daring him to jump. As hormones raged through his body, awakening emotions that amazed and betrayed him, the dream came and formed a calm eye at the centre of the storm. It came and overrode the daily joy and despair of youth: the triumph of academic prowess; the shame of athletic mediocrity; the siren call of long-limbed girls giggling in the school corridor. The dream came and his life turned, like a compass needle pivoting on a pinhead to seek its true north. An oasis of peace amid the tangle of nightly images thrown up by his subconscious, it gave him that first experience of an inner stillness that would transcend any quiet moment his waking life would offer.
Hands, that’s all it was. Two hands, cool and pale and long, that danced with paper, bending and shaping it like a pair of birds building a summer nest. Suddenly, as if by some graceful alchemy, a third bird appeared in their midst, formed from the whiteness of the sheet. That was the first dream. There was such a clarity about it that, despite his being sure he had been dreaming, it became fixed in his memory more firmly than any waking recollection. And whenever he was caught
up in the stampede of teenage years and feared being trampled in the crush, he would return to it. He had only to remember how the hands had arced and curved around each other, and how they seemed pleased with themselves when, in that final flourish, the bird became manifest. Somehow the image steadied him, helped him to think clearly, to gather his strength.
Unable to understand why he should dream of folding paper, he naturally questioned the source of the dream. What obscure fear or longing had caused his mind to throw up something so deceptively trivial? And would it ever do so again?
He found the word for it.
There was a book in the library.
Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding, which is as old as the craft of papermaking itself,
The name is derived from two Japanese words:
meaning to fold, and
Were the hands Japanese? He had no idea.
For 2000 years it has been a source of interest, enjoyment and intellectual stimulation. In recent times, origami has become an educational tool and a symbol of peace and remembrance.
He flipped through the illustrations. Yes, there was a bird similar to the one in his dream. All sorts of things: boats, lanterns, even dragons. He took the book home and tore fresh sheets of paper from his art project book, carefully folding them step by step, according to the diagrams, producing boxes and lanterns and cats and dogs. He lined them up on the windowsill and contemplated them long and hard. They told him nothing. A
symbol of peace and remembrance?
He had felt the peace right enough, but what was he supposed to remember?
When it was time to return the book, he renewed it for another month.
It was a full year and more before the dream was repeated. It had the same quality, the inner tranquillity, the dancing hands; only this time they created a bridge. He woke with a clear memory and with the awareness of a seed of joy deep inside him, like a grain of sand that would one day provoke a perfect pearl. This time it was the fact of dreaming itself that caught his curiosity. By coincidence, if coincidence it was, he stumbled across a quote by Carl Jung: ‘Your vision will
become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.’ This sent him back to the library, where he took out Jung’s
Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
He struggled through most of it, understanding little; after all, he was still only fifteen. But there were certain lines that shot into his brain, rocketing around like steel balls in a pinball machine, setting off bells and flashing lights.
Another discovery: apparently Jung had written an introduction to the
the Chinese book of divination. So he bought a copy. Naturally he wanted to experiment, but he was too impatient to bother with the traditional manoeuvring of yarrow sticks in order to make a reading, so he opted for the easier method of throwing three coins. A dealer in the old part of the city showed him some antique Chinese tokens with holes through their centres, genuine and ancient but not rare enough to over-stretch his allowance. And that was the beginning.
There were many books that took him down the path, and many teachers, some true, some false. And there were experiences, some more helpful than others. But he always came back to the dream. Over the years it began to happen more frequently, although often there were long spaces between, sometimes months on end, during which he feared it was all over. But it always returned eventually.
He was almost twenty before he became aware of someone beyond the hands. Even then he only sensed her presence. Many dreams passed before he became aware of the merest smudge of an image, and many more before she came into focus. He felt her laughter before he heard it; he knew the deep violet of her eyes before she looked up from the paper lily she had formed for him.
‘Hello, Gideon Wakefield.’ Her voice was like spring water dancing over bright pebbles. ‘My name is Cassandra and I have come to help.’
T WAS TWELVE-THIRTY-FIVE
on the afternoon of Tuesday the tenth of July when Matthew Caxton disappeared.
Triss, his wife, had been sitting at the kitchen table painting the porcelain birds. She stretched to ease her back, and looked up at the clock, surprised to find that the morning had gone already and that they had both been working for over three hours without a break. No wonder she felt stiff. That’s how she was so certain of the exact time. She had been wrapped up in her own thoughts, distracted only by the painting, and hardly aware of noises coming through the door of the adjoining workshop where her husband, Matthew, was re-covering a Victorian armchair. He had been tacking rows of brass studs through red velvet. The regular tapping of his hammer was as constant and subliminal as the ticking of the old railway-station clock on the kitchen wall and the incessant Fenland wind scraping at the windows. But now, she realized, she was hungry.
‘Matthew? You ready for lunch?’
‘Oh, already?’ The tapping stopped. ‘What time is it?’
‘It’s gone half-twelve. There’s some carrot soup left from last night, and the bread I baked earlier is still warm.’
No reply from next door.
‘Or I could make some bacon sandwiches.’
Triss stood up, arching her cramped spine. She swirled the brush in a jar of water and wiped it carefully on a cloth, smoothing the sable hairs into a fine point, before returning it to its slot in her art box. Then she walked over to the open door and stepped down into the workshop. Motes danced in the rays of sunlight that filtered through the high, arched windows. The air was always alive with ancient dust, the debris of centuries of domestic wear and tear. It was inevitable that it should be set free to wander the room as Matthew stripped down and tore apart the pieces of antique furniture and restored them to their former beauty. The chair he had been working on was up on the bench, the new velvet cover pulled taut across the seat.
There was neither sight nor sound of him, only a handful of brass tacks scattered across the bench top, his hammer beside them, its handle worn dull by the sweat of his palm. Triss looked around, vaguely puzzled, not concerned yet, although the outer door was still closed. Surely she would have heard if he had opened it to go out? But that’s what must have happened, as he certainly wasn’t there. Even so, she looked behind the pieces of furniture stacked ready for his attention or waiting to be delivered back to their owners.
There was nothing big enough to conceal him. She opened his tool cupboards, knowing there was no room to hide a grown man even if he were playing some silly trick on her. But that wasn’t like Matthew. He had to have gone outside. Still, strange that she didn’t hear him go, and that he didn’t say anything. Well, he couldn’t be far away; there was really nowhere to go. Nevertheless, she thought she would take a quick look.
The old school door was tall and wide, a blessing when trying to manoeuvre pieces of furniture in and out, but it must have intimidated the children in the old days. And when it was opened it was as if half the wall had been taken out. Cold wind blasted through the whole house, another reason why she was convinced Matthew had not opened the outer door. Triss wrapped her arms around her body, clutching her
elbows. The wind was bitter, the sun giving little warmth despite the blue sky and the golden cast across the fields. The promise of a harvest to come, although it would be late this year, and a poor one at that, or so the farming people told them. Crazy weather, they said, even for the Fens, more like early winter than summer. Even so, the grass around the house was getting long. She’d have to persuade Matthew to cut it soon. Now, where the hell was he?
‘Matthew?’ she called, but her voice was snatched away by the wind. She looked up the lane towards the main road and the farmlands beyond. The flat fields stretched away from her, cut across by roads and low hedgerows. You could see for miles around, but there was no sign of anyone. For a moment she thought he might have gone with someone, driven off somewhere in their car. But the only vehicle in sight was the bus in the distance, the size of a child’s toy, heading for Newmarket. She sometimes used it on the days Matthew had the van, but it was nearly a quarter-of-a-mile walk to the bus stop, and there had not been time for him to get halfway there, never mind catch the bus. In any case, why would he do that? He would have told her, not just walked out. Besides, their own van was still parked in the driveway.
A neighbour? She looked in the other direction, along the length of the two rows of cottages facing each other. Yes, that’s possible. Most people were out all day, but there may have been someone at home. An emergency, perhaps? Some domestic problem requiring a strong, male hand? Still, he should have said, not just gone off like that. It wasn’t like him. She shivered and pulled her sweater up around her ears before circling the house and workshop, looking in their only outbuilding, which held garden tools and a collection of general clutter that spilled over from the house. She didn’t find him.
‘Well, Matthew Caxton, I’m hungry even if you’re not.’ Back indoors, she put the saucepan on to heat up the soup and cut a small loaf of bread into hunks. Despite the cold and the wind, there were many things she loved about their new life here, not least of which was the time she had to do things properly. She had learned to make soup with fresh vegetables collected from tables at the side of the road in exchange for a few coins dropped into a box. Then there was the daily
ritual of making bread. OK, so it was an automatic breadmaker, but there was still the measuring out of the ingredients and the setting up of the machine. The house would be filled with the fragrance of freshly baked bread to mingle with other smells of wood and varnish and hot glue filtering through from the old schoolroom.
Triss poured her own soup into a bowl and spread butter on a piece of bread, thinking Matthew could help himself when he came back. Or she could reheat it; it really depended on how long he was going to be. But she found she couldn’t eat. She sat and crumbled the bread in her hands, listening to the clock ticking through the hollow house and waiting to hear the outer school door open.
The phone. Of course, the phone. He’d taken to carrying a cellphone when he went out on deliveries, partly to communicate with customers, but also so she would not feel entirely cut off from him. He was still worried about her, after…after all that. She took the house phone from its cradle and tapped in Matthew’s number, then almost screamed when the ring tone jangled out loudly right behind her. It took a moment to realize what was happening. His cellphone was in the pocket of his coat, still hanging on the back of the kitchen door. She silenced the phone, then searched in his pockets, finding his car keys and wallet. Of course he would have had to come back into the kitchen to collect his coat before going out. It was bitterly cold. She tipped her soup back into the saucepan, reached for her own coat, and snatched her house keys from the dresser.
A minute later, Triss stood in the middle of the lane, scanning the landscape in all directions. There were a few cars passing on the main road now. A cyclist turned into Gainsborough Street and began to battle against the wind. Triss began her house-to-house search, judging that it would be several minutes before the bike reached her.
Gainsborough Street meandered through open fields on its way to the old farmhouse. Apart from the small clutch of buildings, seemingly put down in the middle of nowhere, it was edged on each side by a grass verge and drainage ditch, then the bare border of earth that ran around the fields of ripening barley. As well as the schoolhouse, there were nine cottages; one larger that was set slightly apart from twin
rows of terraced homes facing each other across the roadway. Each row was divided into four adjoining dwellings sharing a single slate roof. Tiny they were, like two chains of dolls’ houses, barely big enough for one person even though at one time a whole family had lived in each. Now they had kitchens and bathrooms added onto the back and were fashionable country retreats. One of the cottages stood empty; two others were weekend homes for Londoners. The remainder were all occupied, although at this time of day most of her neighbours would be out. Triss started knocking from door to door, and had already worked her way down one side of the road when Audrey Stanton came along, pedalling and puffing.
She dismounted and walked towards Triss. ‘Hello, my dear,’ she called. ‘You know, I swear this road gets longer every week.’
‘You’ve just come from the village, haven’t you? You didn’t see my husband there, by any chance? Or pass him on the road?’
‘No, not many people about today, and he certainly wasn’t in the village store. Why, what’s up?’ Audrey saw tear stains on the young woman’s cheeks, and suspected they were not caused by the wind.
Triss explained about Matthew while Audrey leaned on her bicycle and got her breath back. They seemed inseparable, Audrey and her bike. Like her, it was solid, upright and without adornment, although the paint was starting to peel in places. And, like its owner, the bike probably had a few good miles left in it.
‘I don’t understand.’ Fresh tears were washing Triss’s face. ‘Matthew just wouldn’t go off like this, not without telling me. He’s always very careful about letting me know exactly where he is and how long he expects to be. He worries about me, you see, about leaving me alone. He wouldn’t do this.’
‘How long has he been gone now?’
‘I don’t know. About twenty minutes, I suppose.’
‘Sounds odd, I grant you. All right, then. You check the rest of the street. I’ll drop my bike and shopping home, then come straight over to see if he’s turned up.’
Audrey reached the old schoolhouse just as Triss was turning in the gate. Triss shook her head. ‘No. There’s only old Mr Abercrombie at
home, and that new woman at the detached cottage, she’s off work with the flu. Neither of them has seen him.’
‘Right, then. Let’s start again and do a thorough search.’
‘But I’ve looked—’
‘What about indoors? Have you looked in the attic? Well, start there and work downwards.’ Audrey took command of the situation, searching methodically through the house and workshop before moving to the outside, although Triss assured her that she had already looked everywhere. ‘You’re right,’ she conceded eventually. ‘Still, it didn’t hurt to double-check. Come on, let’s get back inside.’ They closed the workshop door against the cold and walked through to the kitchen. ‘I wonder if he went up to the Hendersons’ farmhouse. Mind if I use your phone?’ But as she listened to the voice at the other end, Audrey looked at Triss and shook her head.
A few moments later, a battered old Land Rover drew up outside and Bill Henderson got out. Bill had answered the phone at the farm, although he no longer lived there but had moved into one of the small cottages. His son had taken over the working of the land, and his family lived in the farmhouse. But Bill, a widower, still spent much of his time up there, keeping his hand in while valuing his new-found independence.
Fen farmers know the land, and when the situation was explained to him he was concerned. ‘You women stay here.’ He gave Audrey a look. ‘I’ll take the dogs and check around outside. I know it looks as flat as yer hat, but ma’be there’re hidden ditches, gotten overgrown, like. Could be an old well shaft you don’t know about. Not that I’m saying there is, mind, but we’d best be sure he’s not still here afore we start looking further afield.’
‘I’ll make us a cup of tea.’ Audrey took the kettle to the sink. ‘Your Matthew could use one when he gets back. Wherever he’s been.’
Triss sat down at the table and started to pack the little porcelain birds into a cardboard box.
‘What’s all this?’
‘I paint them. It’s for a woman in Suffolk. She runs a company. Something to keep me occupied while Matthew’s working. I sit here and he’s through there with his furniture. That way we can talk to each
other while we’re working. Keep each other company. And we each know where the other is—’ It was all too much for Triss. She lowered her head, shoulders jerking with silent sobs.
Audrey finished making the tea, and was taking it to the table when the door opened and Bill came in, banging the mud from his boots and shaking his head. ‘If he’s out there, I can’t find him. How long’s he been gone now?’
‘Well over an hour.’
‘And you’re absolutely sure you didn’t hear a car?’
‘I didn’t even hear him go out. And when I went outside there was no one. You can see for miles from here. It was only a few minutes, no time for him to go anywhere. Even if he’d got in someone’s car, I would have seen it.’
‘Well, it do seem a mite odd, I’ll give ye that.’ Bill rubbed his chin. ‘But there’s bound to be an explanation. Now don’t take on so, girl, he’ll turn up right as rain, ye’ll see. Look, I’ll tell ye what. Can you hang on here, Audrey?’ They exchanged looks over Triss’s head. Audrey nodded. ‘I’ll take a drive into the village, have a look around. Perhaps I’ll call in and see if that young police officer’s about.’ Triss looked up, alarmed. ‘Not that I think we need the police. It’s just that the officer’ll know if there’s been anythin’ going on, like.’
The clock dragged its hands around towards three, the ticking seeming to grind slower and slower. Audrey made fresh tea and admired Triss’s hand-painted greenfinches. Still no Matthew. Bill had returned from the village without news, and had decided to go up to the farm to have a look around and ask his son if he knew anything. He was tempted to make light of the whole thing, to try and cheer the young lass along, tell her they’d all be laughing about it later. But somehow he felt they wouldn’t. Bill knew the Fenlands; he had lived there all his life. It’s a strange and naked place of open skies and sunken fields, a place that would seem to hide nothing. But there were mysteries here. Matthew Caxton wouldn’t be the first to disappear.
At half past three, a vehicle pulled up outside and Triss ran to the window. It was a police car, and she gasped and bit the side of her hand. But the officer shook his head and said he’d come to see if her husband was all right now. When they said no, he asked to come in.