The Cairn

 

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The girl leant forward. Worn creases snaked across her shoes as she stood on tiptoe, arm outstretched to place an object on the cairn.  Even on tiptoe she could only reach half way up the pile of rocks.

 

The woman walked closer to the child, one of her feet scuffing the dirt and scattering tiny pebbles across the dusty track. The girl turned quickly, the wind catching her hair and blowing it across her face. The sun picked out the red splashes amongst the dark brown hair and although her face was partially obscured, the woman was sure there was something familiar about the girl.

 

They stood eyeing each other. The only two, standing at the highest point of this moorland. As far as the eye could see there were only rolling hills. Overhead a single bird was silhouetted against the sky as the clouds played chase across their vast playground.  That’s when the woman realised that there was no sound. She could feel the wind, feather light across her skin and see the purple flowers dipping slightly under it’s pressure. But not a sound or sigh reached her ears. The girl tilted her head, giving it a slight shake to let the wind brush the hair from her face.

 

The woman stepped closer, slowly, so as not to startle the girl. Some of the stones sparkled as the sun picked out the crystal elements imbedded in them. The girl drew back, giving her space, never taking her eyes from her face. Now closer, the woman could see that the stones had pictures painted on them. They were dusty and some stones were sun bleached from the years sitting there. She picked up a small flat pebble at her feet. Even though it had obviously been painted by a child you could still see what it was. A red butterfly. A red admiral to be exact. She knew it’s name from her summers as a child, cutting through the long grass fields on her way home from playing by the stream. Clouds of butterflies would float up, disturbed by the running, laughing children, their wings eye-catching colours in the low evening light. The scent of sun warmed vegetation reached her and somewhere in the distance there was a faint flutter of wings over the soft whisper of grass. The woman carefully placed the stone back onto the pile. Back where it had fallen from.

 

She picked up another, this time it was a cat and although still childlike in painting ability, there was more detail. The stone felt soft as her fingers traced the rounded surface. This cat had similar markings to her cat. The one she had growing up. How many hours had she sat curled up, cuddling her cat, whispering her secrets into his ear? She rubbed the stone against her cheek, closing her eyes and breathing in warm fur.

 

The woman worked up the pile, picking out random stones, letting her fingers and senses pick out the stories on the stone surfaces. Some were smudged, some missing details, but there was always enough of the painting for her to know what it was trying to depict. Finally she reached near the top. A tiny stone, totally smooth to the touch and nearly worn away, but the detail on this one was still exquisite. A man’s face. His face. Each line, each hair painted with love and accuracy. It was cold, but fitted perfectly between her fingers. A sigh slipped past, a whisper tugging at some memory she couldn’t quite place. The style of the paintings never really changed, they just improved in detail as the artist gained confidence and experience.

 

The woman turned to the small girl “Are these yours? Did you paint them?”

 

The girl laughed and the woman saw the flash of familiarity again. And a wildness.

 

The girl twirled her hair round her finger “Don’t you recognise them?”

 

Her voice was a surprise, a sing song lilt without an accent. And yet also familiar. So familiar. They were so close now that the woman could count every freckle sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. And the dimple right next to the left side of her mouth….just like hers.

 

“They are your memories. The ones you kept.”

 

The woman turned back to them. A lifetime of memories. Painted on stones and placed carefully on this cairn. She was still rolling a stone around her hand. The one with his face. So smooth and cold.

 

The girl shivered, pulling her flimsy cardigan round her as she glanced up at the darkening sky. For the first time she looked scared. The woman turned to face the on coming storm, pulling the fragile girl into her, wrapping her arms around her, placing a kiss on top of her unbrushed hair. “It’s going to be OK little one.”

 

They sat on the floor, sheltering as best they could into the cairn as the storm started. The girl made herself as small as possible within the woman’s arms, pressing her head against the woman’s breast. As the rain gathered momentum the paint from the stones began to wash away, the colours combining to a mud colour which ran past their feet. It seemed important for some reason, but the woman couldn’t remember why. All she knew was to hug the girl, her inner child, and make her feel safe. But she was tired and the rain was thick against her lashes making them feel heavy. She would close them. Just for a second. Rest them.

 

Finally the rain stopped and the sky brightened. An intense sun burnt off the residual water, leaving only a cairn of plain stones and the intwined, motionless two. The world was silent again.

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