Between the Bluebells

by Vicky Turner

Competition theme: 'Between'

Sarah looked out at the garden as she drank her coffee.  The grass had just been cut for the first time this year and the blackbirds had been in a worm-eating frenzy since the moment the mower had whirred into life.   As Sarah cradled her cup to warm her hands, she watched a blackbird on the ground pulling, pulling, pulling until he was rewarded with a fat, juicy worm.  It was the end of March and the end of a long winter.  Sarah could almost feel the spring thaw, like an ice cube melting in her heart.   She felt a tiny thrill of anticipation; the bluebells would be here soon.  Bluebell season was her favourite time of year.  Since she had moved to this area as a newlywed in her early thirties, the bluebell woods had become an annual pilgrimage, a much-anticipated event, a reward for enduring winter. 

Sarah put down her coffee cup with an uneven ceramic clink. Her hands were still morning stiff. She was keen for the warmer weather, so that her fingers didn’t take until lunchtime to unfurl. Sometimes, in the middle of the long, cold winters, when the sky was the colour of dirty dishwater by mid-afternoon and her fingers were never fully warm, Sarah would close her eyes and think of the bluebells, the dappling of the sun throwing tides of light over the sea of blue. The fact that spring would follow winter and the bluebells would bloom gave Sarah the strength to endure the short days and the long nights. They gave her a reason to carry on.

She looked over to her family photos, framed on the wall. Her favourite was the one of her children grinning widely in front of a forest of blue.  It seemed so long ago. It seemed like yesterday. When her children were very young, they had gone on ‘bear hunts’ in the bluebell woods by their first home. They would have picnics of cream cheese sandwiches and sticks of red pepper and take crayons and paper for the children to draw the bluebells. She still had some of their drawings in her memory book. When they moved house, proximity to a bluebell wood was non-negotiable and they were delighted by the expanse of their new blue woodland on their first year’s bluebell pilgrimage. The children were still young, but too old for ‘bear hunts’, and would run further and further each year, testing the boundaries of their bravery within the safety of the bluebell woods. But they knew not to trample on the bluebells and would always stick to the paths.

Sarah remembered their children turning into teenagers, when the bluebell walks would start in a grumble of silence, until the bluebells worked their magic and the sullen teens turned into excited children again, texting about blue aesthetics and taking multiple selfies to send to their friends.  Sometimes they would even consent to a family selfie.  Drinks and bar snacks at the local pub afterwards kept everyone happy and led to hours of scrolling endless bluebell photos in the pursuit of the perfect shot that showcased the beauty and summed up the experience. The impossible shot.

When the teens turned into adults and moved away from home, one or the other would often return home for a visit at bluebell time, bringing a steady stream of partners who would be judged (by Sarah and her husband) by their appreciation of the bluebells. Most enjoyed tramping through the blue and only one had refused, never to be seen on a return visit.

There were then a few years when Sarah and her husband wandered alone in their bluebell walks, able to reminisce, breathe in the fresh, dewy scent, behold the wonders and the peace of these blue woodland cathedrals. Alone with their thoughts, but together, they would hold hands and feel a thrill of satisfaction at their children making their own way in the world and a tingle of excitement at the prospect of the empty nesters’ adventures and travelling. Their love of nature, their love of each other, their love of their family was never stronger than when they were immersed in the big blue. 

For one month every year, for over forty years, the bluebells had drawn Sarah like magnetic north. She would get up early to see their misty morning hues when their blue was like smudges of watercolour paint. She would go for after-dinner walks when light beams were slanting through the trees onto the bluebell carpeted floor or even later, when the light was fading, and the bluebells had the inky hue of benevolent malevolence. She couldn’t get enough of them, she drank them with her eyes, committed them to her memory banks, imagined the beautiful images unrolling like a movie reel when she was an old lady. For one month of every year, she forest-bathed among the bluebells and felt at one with the world.

Eventually, the bluebell woods echoed with the sound of Sarah’s grandchildren. This was a special time for the adoring grandparents, introducing these miniatures of themselves to the beauty of the bluebells and the family’s bluebell history. That they still lived in the same house, near the same wood, and were able to show their grandchildren the places where their parents had walked through as children gave a pleasant sense of completeness. The ‘bear hunts’ were re-instated; picnics of cream cheese sandwiches and sticks of red pepper were devoured. There was laughter and fun amongst the blue, happy shouts of ‘Grandma, look at these!’, ‘Grandad, chase me over there’.

And then there was silence. 

First there was a long flight to the other side of the world for their daughter and her children. And then came their son’s accident.  Suddenly, Sarah and her husband were alone again. But this time they had no adventures in their future. When Sarah tried to think about this time, her memory always went numb, and colours were only black or grey.  It was like everything disappeared from her world. If someone had asked her whether bluebells existed during those years, she wouldn’t have understood the question. There was only a dark, endless winter.

Eventually, she and her husband returned to the woods and the bluebells chimed their magic. Laughter started to zoom over the miles and occasional visits from the other side of the world were arranged for springtime walks in the bluebell woods. Every year became a little easier, every year the blue became more vivid. The colour and light returned to their lives. Mostly.

Sarah was now the old lady she had imagined all those years ago, complete with her interior movie reel of bluebell memories. Her husband had been gone for five years and she missed him terribly. Bluebell time was the only time of year now that she felt truly connected to this universe. The rest of the time, between the bluebell seasons, she wondered what the point of her life really was now that she lived alone amongst strangers. But having the magnificent display of the bluebells to look forward to once a year was still enough to give some small purpose to her life. She read books, watched TV, ate the soft food brought to her on a tray by the busy staff.  But she slept more and more these days and wondered how many more bluebell seasons she would see. When her daughter had found this place, Sarah’s first question had been, ‘Are there bluebells nearby?’, and yes, there certainly were. When the peak of the bells came, she would go once more to the edge of the wood, which was next to the home, breathe in their fresh scent and drink in their magnificent blue, maybe brave a short walk with one of the staff if they had the time. She would remember the happy times and once again be submerged in the blueness.

But for now, she would drink her coffee, press play on the movie reel in her head and wait for the bluebells to emerge.