Seasons flow into one another, miss one here and there, before you know it, a decades been lost. Mist clouds flowed up from the river in the early morning, dampening the cottages scattered around. With fingerless mittens, she wiped the condensation from the centre of the kitchen window. Warming herself on the kettle steam, she lent forward and peered out. Below in the valley, the Jackdaw flew towards its chimney top, twig in beak, ready to build.
Inspecting her tumbler, she dropped a spider to the floor, blew into it and pushed a dirty cloth around the edge. The clock on the side read ten to eleven, time for a small one, get her prepared, boost her mood. With a two fingered measurement, plus a third; she unscrewed a new whisky bottle and poured.
Standing over the phone, waiting for the chimes, heart beat quickening in time with the clock, she started dialling. It rang several times before the receiver was lifted, a lifetime of waiting followed, before the click, and the buzz of a dead connection. Rose knocked back her drink and went for a second.
Outside the Jackdaw had returned to her nest, and, with interest, wondered where her last twig had gone. With a shrug of her wings she placed her new find and watched it wobble and fall into the depths below. Annoyed, the bird flew off to find a better starting branch. Year after year it returned, building its nest over several days. It would fall at least twice. Never perturbed, she and her partner would patiently start again.
“Stupid bird, fancy making it on a chimney, one cold snap and the Missionaries would light up below,” she muttered to the empty room.
Stephen had got up early, spring was running late and it was below zero. He had put on his puffer jacket, slung a rucksack on his back and walked out into the icy morning. That was eleven years ago, no, maybe twelve now, it was hard to keep track. The boy was only sixteen. It was probably for the best. Sadly, it was not until late the following day that Rose had noticed him missing. He often stayed out. But on this occasion, he never came back.
Three glasses later, Rose fell into a slumber. A chequered blanket fitted around her shoulders to keep out the chill. At the start of autumn the boiler system had died. But with kettles and heating water on the electric hob, she survived. As the New Year came, the washing machine span its last. With a hard scrub, the stains faded, as the water in the sink grew gray. From a distance her cloths appeared clean, if slightly worn. Then again, the neighbours knew and when she passed, commented on her smell. Children caught the mood, shouted names and ran for cover. However hard life was, she was not deaf and her grumbles did not stop the words from cutting.
Mark had been dead for three years, a tragic accident. Her husband had been on a crossing, but the car had not stopped. He had always taken care of the house and bills. Rose was lost without him. Luckily the insurance had paid the mortgage with enough over to cover the direct debits. After this, she had savings that kept her loaded up with beans and whiskey.
She kept herself busy moving dust around the rooms, and redistributing it again over the following days. Exhausted after a short while, she stood and became hypnotised by the flight of the birds. Their constant movement, always working on their home and the chatter as the nest grew.
Cold weather outside and the lack of heating in, had done nothing for her skin. Rose was old for forty seven years and the drink had made her decline quicker. Through murky mirrors she fixed her features and was reminded of her perfect skin she had worn in her youth. The summers lasted all day back then. But that was a life time ago.
She had been pecking at the donkey down the road and returned to her nest with a bundle of hair. Dropping it in place, she bobbed her head and moved it to one side. Happy with the decor she left to get some sheep's wool.
Wearing the same clothes Rose filled her glass and stared at the clock. It was time. Again the receiver lifted, neither party spoke before the line went dead and she sat on her chair necking her alcohol.
“He needs to toughen up, bloody wimp. Boy, come here.” Mark was back after his Sunday lunch session. Before his father slept, Stephen would get a hiding. Quite as a mouse, hiding in his room; his father would fall up the stairs, enter and clout him one. After, the man’s knuckles would appear as bruises on the boys’ torso. The routine carried on week on week, but as Stephen turned eleven, and at his mother request, he would be ordered on an errand. Returning after his father was asleep on the couch.
Rose would catch it instead, but to her, better that way than the other. Always around the ribs or stomach, but the cracks would heal. At bedtime she sat down besides the boy and explained that they both had to try harder not to upset his father. ‘He was a good man who worked hard for them both and because of this; they had a good home and food on the table. Beside, where else would they go?’. Stephen nodded, smiled weakly at his mother and pulled his blanket up around his head.
The screen had long since seen a picture as she sat in her usual spot on the sofa. At an easy arms length she kept her bottle, but being a lady she still poured into her glass and added a touch of lemonade. Supermarkets never kept count of her basket of goods, but she covered her drink with bread and beans to ease the embarrassment. Before shopping she fixed her face with bright red and drew in her eyebrows.
But home in the evenings she span and sang slowly, half remembering the words and the other half of a tune. Dizzy she fell into her seat and where she landed she would spend another night.
On the first day of his leaving, or the day she realised, a part of her died. She grabbed a double vodka and numbed the pain. Slowly over the next few years, hiding her dependency, she increased the dosage. Mark, too occupied with himself, never mentioned her boy again. He drifted into his own world of hatred and of the situation he had landed in.
Seasons ticked over and the calendar changed from cats to ships to landmarks. His dinner on the table when he arrived home, Rose spent the days in Stephen’s room, tidying and cleaning but mostly sitting on his bed, drifting.
Three years ago, half drunk, her feelings came back out of her bottle. The car sat in the drive and with tears streaming the engine roared into life. Through mist, and separated from her own body, she planned the time ahead. Cool and decisive, her emotions on pause, she went over the directions and then acted on it.
Out of the side street and towards the school, she drove and pulled in with the car ticking over. Music danced in her fingers, she hummed along, patiently waiting, ignoring every passer-by. Rose lived alone and now she could live alone.
Checking the mirror she fixed her lipstick and brushed her hair with her fingers. Mark strutted around the corner to the crossing, on his third step, her foot hit the floor and the car hit him hard. Without blinking Rose returned home and stood watching out of her kitchen window. He had pushed her son away from her and then left her alone to stew. She did not care about him. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts. And from that time onwards she was.
That year the Jackdaws lost their eggs as the nest collapsed down the flue, landing onto the fire set below.
Seldom, if ever, did Rose receive a letter, but last year one dropped through the door. Postmarked USA, Chicago and written in a feminine hand, she carefully split the edge. A small note fell and folded inside was a print out picture of a grown man, smiling woman and a new born.
Elisa introduced herself and informed Rose that her grandchild was Lillian. They were well and lived in a lovely house on the outskirts of Chicago. Stephen had mention his mother and talked briefly about his childhood. Elisa had written on her own accord and had not told him, but if she wanted she could attempt contact. It was brief, not much on detail and no emotion in the lines. The address had been kept vague but the number was there and an ideal time to ring. Keeping the picture safe, she held it close and felt warm.
Rose brushed the dust from the clock face, wound up the mechanism and wiped the condensation from the window. Her mitten had stayed on all night and the skin underneath sweated black.
Moving her lounge furniture around the nest, the Jackdaw sat and waited for her husband to return. The morning bird song had awoken her from the sofa and she had waited several hours for her first drink. She unscrewed the top of her whisky bottle, tipped out two inches, swirled it around the glass and drank it back.
Eleven arrived and for the two hundredth and twenty sixth time she dialled the same number. Four rings and the receiver lifted.
“Mum, I’m not ready to talk just yet.” And the tone went dead. Her heart jumped and she sat frozen at the sound of his voice after so long. Then slowly it returned to its normal rhythm, she gazed out the window where the Jackdaws where continuing their cycle of life.
She would try again in the morning and again the morning after that.