“Mirages”, read by the author (Also linked on the “Tell Me A Story” Page)
Cairn Island, as if strangely reversed, appears to rise like a mirage of land far out in the shimmering water of the Saint Lawrence river. I stand on the dock and find myself transported back to the last time I looked out on that scene. I was about 6 years old.
We were staying with our grandparents at their beautiful, grand riverside house while my parents were away on a trip. The afternoon was hot and the water in the river had brought a refreshing relief when we children had played in it. I had gone in for lunch but was almost too excited to eat. After continual (and no doubt annoying) begging and pleading by us, my young uncles had finally agreed to take my brother and me in their boat over to explore Cairn Island. It was just far enough away that we couldn’t really see what was on it, except for a shape like a tipi that jutted up mysteriously and so we had invented all kinds of tales about what it was and who had built it there. We could tell it was not a natural phenomenon, it must have been put there for a reason, but by whom?. My uncles who were not much older than we, perhaps 15 or 16 years old at the time, wouldn’t say anything about it except that we ‘would see’ when eventually we were permitted to go there with them. It was too far to swim and so we had no choice but to pester them to take us.
I was a little girl and that was enough to make me irritating to those two grown boys. Worse than that, I had really got myself into their bad books only that morning as I had gone into their room uninvited. (As I was never invited that was the only way to get in there.) Once inside I had discovered the stack of records that were beside their record player and had taken a few out to look at them. I had also opened my uncle’s saxophone case and peeked inside. My timing had not been good and they had discovered me in the act and none too kindly thrown me out with serious threats as to what they would do to me if they ever caught me in there again. What a way to treat a budding music enthusiast!
When the offer of the trip to Cairn Island came up shortly after that, I immediately forgave them for their rough treatment, not wanting to give up the chance of finally getting to see this magical place. I remember that it had taken me longer than my brother Gary to get ready and so by the time I arrived at the boathouse clutching my life jacket and towel I was a little out of breath. I flung open the door and stared in disbelief at the empty mooring bay.
I ran outside, sure that they would be there, holding the rocking boat to the walkway down the side of the building, waiting for me to arrive. And then I saw them. They were far out into the river, well on their way to the little island. I could make out the two figures of my uncles standing up in the speeding motorboat, staring ahead to where they were going. In the back of the boat, small and overwhelmed by his bulky orange life jacket was my little brother, his face looking towards me. I turned from the scene and threw myself on the grass, sobbing my heart out.
By the time they got back, a couple of hours later, I was no longer hysterical. I didn’t say a word to any of them and never even asked my brother what he had seen. It was never mentioned between us.
Shortly after this we returned home and I don’t remember going back to the house by the river again. A year or two after this visit my parents separated and I didn’t see my grandparents, my uncles or indeed my mother, for many years. I was grown up when I next met my grandmother and grandfather, who had missed almost all of our childhood. We were strangers to each other, polite, a little strained and distant, both wishing it had been different. But how can you make up for those lost years? You can’t. How sad it was that we as children had lost our grandparents and they had lost their grandchildren. How it must have pained them to know that we were growing up not far away in a house in the city, but that they were forbidden to have any contact with us. How could I have known that, in the sad way that history has of repeating, I would become an unknown grandmother – a distant mirage – myself?
As I walk around that property, it seems that little has changed. My grandparents and parents died many years ago, but the house looks almost the same. The boathouse is still there, I’m happy to see, with the water of the river lapping against the sides. I am even more pleased to look out over the water and see Cairn Island with the pyramid of stones on it still in place as though no time has passed.
There is a beautiful weeping willow tree that has been planted in the place where the vegetable garden used to be, at the edge of the lawn where I lay and wept as a child. It stands tall and graceful, bending to touch the ground with the new leaves of Spring. This melancholy symbol is strangely comforting.
As I got into the car to leave, the following poem came to me:
Weep not for me, willow.
Weep not for the child on the grass, sobbing for the boat, for the island mirage in the distance.
Weep not for the island forever out of reach.
Weep not for the sad eyed, brown eyed boy in the boat, looking back to the shore.
Do not mourn the broken records, the tracks repeating without end the sad history.
Weep not for the lost child, lost children, the lost labours of love, the lost mothers, lost grandmothers.
Weep not, Willow!
The spring, (like hope) springs eternal with the new and the green.
© Ellie Kennard, 2016