don’t doubt that.’ His mouth curved, briefly. ‘She gets that from our mother. My dad was the one who had all the ideas, but Mum was the person who saw things got done.’
He’d remember his mother, of course. He’d been eleven when she died, whereas Susan had still been a baby and I’d just started nursery school. My earliest memories went no further back than his stepmother, Claire, and Claire had always been so wonderful I’d never given much thought to the woman who’d preceded her.
‘My dad was rudderless when Mum died. It’s a good thing he met Claire; she really set him on his course again.’ Mark’s eyes crinkled faintly with fondness. ‘She’s a different sort of woman than my mum was, though, is Claire.’
‘Well, she’s an artist.’
‘That she is. So was your sister,’ he informed me. ‘Even back when we were young, before she ever started acting, she still had that spirit in her, same as Claire. They need the space to spread their wings. Like butterflies.’ He squinted at the brightness of the sea as he looked westward, where the restless wind had blown Katrina’s ashes. ‘Ever try to hold a butterfly? It can’t be done. You damage them,’ he said. ‘As gentle as you try to be, you take the powder from their wings and they won’t ever fly the same. It’s kinder just to let them go.’
I looked at him, and asked, because I’d always wondered, ‘Is that why you stopped writing to Katrina?’
‘She had bigger wings than most,’ he said. ‘She needed room to use them, and she couldn’t do that here, now, could she? Anyway, it worked out for the best. She found her husband. They seemed happy.’
‘Yes, they were.’
‘Then that’s all right.’
We fell to silence once again and might have gone on sitting there all afternoon if overhead the clouds had not begun to thicken and to threaten rain.
Mark stood first, more steady on his feet than me, and reached a hand to help me up. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘We’d best head back.’
He carried the now empty box for me, walking a few steps ahead down the field. Getting over the stile in the pasture fence took a bit more concentration this time, I couldn’t get my legs and hands to coordinate in quite the same way as before and I nearly flipped headfirst down into the dirt, but luckily Mark didn’t see that. Recovering my balance, I followed him carefully into the woods.
It was cool in here, quiet with ferns and the thick press of trees, and all the little flowers that I hadn’t noticed coming up, but that I noticed now since I was keeping such a close watch on my feet and where they landed. There were little white wildflowers close by the edge of the path, and I wanted to ask Mark their name, but I suspected that he’d just come back with something long and Latin, like he always used to do. Show Mark something as lovely as a tiny star of Bethlehem, and he would take one look at it and without blinking say it was an Ornithogalum umbellatum . No, it had been my mother who had given me the names of all the grasses and the flowers I had brought back from my afternoon adventures in the woods and fields. I still remembered some of the old names she’d taught me—tailor’s needles, feather-bow, penny-cake, and ladies’ smock.
Ladies’ smock used to be easy to find at this time of the year. I was looking for some when we came to the clearing where Claire’s cottage sat with its windows wide open and welcoming. We hadn’t bothered stopping in to see her when we’d come through here the first time, on our way up to the Beacon, because what we had gone up there to do had been a private sort of pilgrimage for both of us. But it would never do to pass Claire’s cottage twice and not stop long enough to say hello.
Mark went to knock but got no answer.
‘She’s gone out,’ I guessed.
‘Most likely.’ Still, he took his own keys out and stepped inside and called out from the entryway, then had a quick look round to