To return and to depart

As we turned into Morel Road and came in sight of the house I said a prayer of thanks. Leo backed the car into the drive then helped Jamie out while I opened the front door. There was no post in the porch and I could smell fresh bread.

"Joanna must have been in," I said over my shoulder. We left Jessica asleep in her seat, the doors left open.

There was fresh milk in the fridge and Joanna's home-made bread, still warm, was on the kitchen table next to two weeks’ worth of post, polythene-wrapped magazines and a stack of letters. On top was a pink envelope "to Paula". I put the kettle on and opened the letter.

Leo came in behind me, dumping cases.

"The kettle’s boiling. Are you making tea?"

"Yes." I shook myself out of immobility and moved over to the sink. "Leo, Joanna’s coming round for Jessica today."

"I thought we’d agreed she’d stay here till tomorrow, and we’d hand her over at Mass in the morning?"

"Everything’s changed. They’re going at once." I warmed the teapot, mechanically.

"What, to Bermuda?"

"Yes. It’s all happened really fast. The university want Tim to start creating the new course immediately, and Joanna says she’s so excited about the cathedral project that she doesn’t mind if they have to live in a beach hut for the first few days."

"I don’t suppose she means that!" said Leo.

"Not quite. They’ve been offered someone’s beach house while they look for somewhere of their own. Sounds wonderful. Jessica won’t remember her French holiday when she’s out on the beach in Bermuda!"

Leo stood behind me, and put his arms round me. "Oh, Paula." he said gently.

I threw teabags into the pot and put the kettle back on. "She won’t remember us at all! She’ll have such fun in Bermuda. Lots of new friends - watching Joanna build her cathedral…"

I wriggled out of his grasp, and poured boiling water on the teabags, splashing, and scalding my hand. I stuck it under the cold tap.

Leo picked up Joanna’s note. "I see she’s designing cathedrals already."

At the bottom of the page was a sketch of a building with one great sweep of a roof, curving toward the sky and culminating in a delicate cross.

"She’ll produce a wonderful design." Leo said. "She’s really come into her own on this project!"

"Jessica’s got the model of the first design as a doll’s hou..." I said, but I couldn’t finish the sentence.

"You promised you wouldn't be bitter," Leo said, dropping a kiss on my forehead.

"It's been so lovely as a family, this holiday..." I pulled myself together. "I’ll check on Jess…"

Jamie had seized on his box of toy cars with screeches of delight, and was dragging it across the hall. I sidestepped the obstruction and went out to the car. The hollow sound as I opened the door echoed in my sinuses. Jessica was still asleep in her carseat, her head turned to one side, hair damp with sweat. One hand rested on the ridiculous blue rabbit I’d bought her in Brittany.

Leo came out of the house unwrapping a fat journal. "Look, your paper’s in here! You’re famous!"

I blinked hard, and turned with an attempt at a smile. "Am I?"

He found the page: "Look, look! You should be proud, Paula."

"I am," I said.

"You’ll be responsible for preventing thousands of late miscarriages," Leo said. "That’s an amazing achievement."

"It’s not just me, it’s the whole team."

"But you were the driving force and you know it."

I smiled.

"And if it hadn’t been for Joanna’s experience," he went on. "You might never have started it. Joy out of sadness. It’s wonderful."

"We haven’t done it yet!" I said, taking the journal from him. "We’ve only identified the receptor. There’s a lot more work before we can produce a blocking agent."

"Jessica’s waking up," Leo said.

I turned and looked in the car. Jessica stirred and dislodged the rabbit. It fell onto the tarmac at my feet.

I picked it up. "Why don’t you bring her in," I said to Leo. "I’d better ring Joanna and tell her we’re back. She'll want her daughter."

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Helen Whitehead

Part of this work was submitted as the Dissertation for the MA in Writing

Nottingham Trent University

The End

Start Again

Last amended on 8th September 1998 / copyright H. M. Whitehead