Authors: Daniela Sacerdoti
I looked up to the sky and a million snowflakes kissed me. Finally, I had made it. I was outside, and not walking slowly, anxiously, holding Clara's hand â but unafraid, and standing on my own.
The walls of my prison had broken open, at last.
I was free.
Clara stood there. There was a strange luminosity coming off her body, like a warm, golden glow. I thought it had to be the reflection of the snow, shining white and dazzling â it took me a few seconds to realise it was
, that the glow was coming from within her body. And then she turned around, and all of a sudden, I recognised her.
All of a sudden a memory emerged from the depths of my soul, the memory of a beloved face, a scent, a voice â it all came back to me.
And her eyes.
Those eyes that were so similar to mine, moss green.
“Well done, pet,” she said to me in her tranquil, soft voice.
I knew who she was. I knew who she was, and my lips opened to say her name, to call her, but nothing came out, because before I could say anything, she disappeared into a soft, sweet light.
I stood, watching her dissolve, holding Angus's hand, still and silent.
“What . . . what happened?” Angus murmured when we were alone. A bird flew from a snow-covered tree, in a flurry of wings.
I told him who she was, and he held my hand tighter, his eyes wide in disbelief.
The snow was falling, falling, falling on us both.
I shed Clara's body and my soul is bare again, translucent and naked like a sea-creature out of its shell. It breaks my heart to be away from my Isabel, but now she is free, and so am I. And now soft yet mighty ripples of wings and light surround me.
There will be no more wandering for me, no more eternal loneliness. They hold me in an embrace of light and I feel their love, and the love I feel for my daughter melts into it, and I'm full of joy.
I'm ready to finally go.
That night, Angus and I lay on the sofa wrapped in a throw, watching the flames dance in our fireplace and the snow fall outside the black window. We didn't speak much. We didn't mention Clara at all, not yet, though we knew the time would come to do that.
For now, it was all too strange, too raw for me.
I knew she wasn't coming back. I also knew she'd been there when I needed her most.
She hadn't abandoned me.
All of a sudden, an intense desire, an intense need took shape inside me.
I stood up without saying a word and wrapped myself tighter in my woollen cardigan, as the air got colder away from the flames.
“Where are you going?” Angus said lazily, trying to hold on to the folds of my cardigan. I placed a gentle kiss on his forehead and said nothing. There was a call I had to make, and I couldn't talk about it, not yet.
In the semi-darkness of the kitchen, I dialled a number, and a familiar voice answered the phone.
“Hello, Gillian? It's me.”
From [email protected]
Just wanted to say, Marina
from Usborne is delighted with your illustrations for
. They say they're a bit dark, but very beautiful
. And something else; they want
too! Will write to
you with all the details as soon as they're
finalised. Good job, Isabel. It's great to see you
doing so well and I hope I'll see you
at the London Book Fair this year.
Isabel, four months later
After our freezing dip, Emer and I sat wrapped in the same blanket on the sand, shivering and drinking our scalding coffee, made on a camping stove. We'd just been for a dip in the freezing sea, and I felt so alive, after the cold water had made my cheeks rosy and my blood run faster. Fatina lay beside us, mellow as ever.
We were in Connemara, not far from Emer's house in Galway. I'd been to visit my sister, after years of not seeing her, and I'd finally met my nephews.
It was all like a dream, having my life back.
“You're doing so well. I'm in awe of you, Isabel,” Emer said, taking my hand with her sand-covered one. Her unfocused blue eyes looked somewhere towards the sea, and her black hair, wet and hard with salt, blew across her lovely face.
was in awe of
? With all the challenges she faced?
“What? In awe of someone who used to be too scared to leave the house? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Because you had one hell of a monster inside you. And you fought it,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. The wind danced on our faces. “You know, I often think of what is normal. To be healthy, to be sorted. To have a job and a house and stand on your own two feet. Not all of us can do thatÂ . . .” Her hand went to Fatina, stroking the dog's wet fur. “Some of us need a lot of help. Some all throughout their life, like me. The ones who manage to stand on their own are rare.”
“Are you about to burst into song?” I teased her to hide my emotion. It wasn't like Emer to be so sweet; usually she made a joke of everything.
She laughed. “Call Angus for a tune. I'll sing my heart out.”
Angus was still in the sea with Donal and his fiddle rested in its case in our tent. As if he'd sensed us mentioning him, he waved and called.
“Hey! Come back! It's wonderful in here!”
We laughed and shook our heads; we were too happy with our warm coffees and our blankets to get back into the cold again. I gazed at Angus's lean body and his auburn hair like a little flame in the grey of the sea. I could never express in words or even images, though it was my trade, how much I loved him. How loyal he'd been when I was ill. And I looked at Donal, and smiled, thinking of all the years he'd pined for Emer and how everything had worked out for them.
How everything had worked out for all of us.
We spent the evening chatting around the camp fire. Angus played his fiddle and Emer sang, her lovely, haunting voice rising up in the Connemara night, accompanied by the sound of the sea.
That night Angus and I crawled out of our tent, while Emer and Donal slumbered in their own, and we sat huddled up into each other. The sky was incredible, black and pure and completely limpid, dusted with a million stars.
“Oh, this is better,” Angus said. “We can't possibly be inside and not look at this sky.”
I snuggled even closer to Angus, my head on his chest and an arm around his waist â he was the perfect pillow.
He began listing constellations. “Orion . . . the Big Dipper . . . CassiopeiaÂ . . .”
While he whispered, I considered how far I'd come. Only a few months before, I couldn't step over my doorstep. But after I finally managed to go outside into the garden, then I started going for walks in Glen Avich, and for coffee in La Piazza, where I finally met baby Eoin, Aisling's son. Apparently, Kate and Pablo were now working on a cruise ship, after Pablo had decided acting wasn't for him but singing was the way forward. I went shopping in Aberdeen with Margherita, at last creating and shaping a friendship with her. Finally, I went to the London Book Fair to launch
meant so much to me, because it was the story I'd started when I was still ill. There, I also met the representative of Usborne, who were thankfully not holding a grudge in spite of my previous delays in handing in the
book. In fact, they'd loved the illustrations, saying they were dark but very beautiful.
I was still taking my medicines religiously and I had started counselling to try to talk out all that happened when I was a little girl, but now I had a hold on the monster inside. In fact, I'd realised I never really had a monster inside; she was just a wee girl, the wee girl I used to be, screaming to be listened to, needing to speak out about her pain.
Finally, I'd made the momentous decision to go to talk to Gillian, my estranged sister â although there was still a lot to be explained, and a lot to be forgiven, we had at least taken a step in the right direction. We had so much to talk about, and she was as willing as me to try to understand each other, to find common ground. To mend what was broken.
And now I was in Ireland with Angus and my friends, gazing at the stars.
The mystery that had been Clara, coming to save me in my hour of need, was to remain a mystery. I could have asked myself over and over again why she disappeared, how had she come to me in the first place, what loving will had sent her to me; but there was no point. I was in desperate need and my mother had come to help. Maybe it was all I needed to know.
My mother and her green eyes, her soft hands, her silvery laugh, the way she held me when I was a baby â she'd come to me when I was desperate.
I did ask Torcuil what he knew about Clara â after all, he'd always had a “feeling” about her. He told me about seeing her in a vision at the window of my house but nothing else. I pressed him a little â but he said no more. He only said something I didn't really understand: “What you told me after the fire, let's forget about it.” I had forgotten; I'd been too frightened and sore so it escaped my mind. I did ask him what it was â but he didn't reply.
Angus placed a kiss on my hair and then turned his face up to the sky again. I studied his handsome profile at the light of the glowing embers; that night his fiddle had been the sweetest sound, and once again, as always, I'd felt so proud of him. Of course, he'd gained a place in the orchestra. I knew it wouldn't always be enough for him; I knew there would be times he'd want to spread his wings even further, and travel away from me â but I felt safe in his love and I would always let him go.
I closed my eyes, letting myself drift away slowly. The best way to sleep was on my husband's chest. It was an undisputable fact.
I suppose that was the truth about love.
That night, close to Angus and wrapped up in a blanket against the breezy night, I had a dream.
My mother came to me. She stood in a field of swaying grass, a red handkerchief in her hair and her long skirt blowing in the breeze. The light of spring danced on her face. She was smiling, wrinkling up her nose, her eyes like almonds as she squinted in the sun. I was a little girl trying to stay upright in the grass that came up to my chest. I was scared for a moment, and I fell. As I lay on my back, I saw that the sky was so, so blue, and I felt her body close to mine.
She held me in her arms, and our noses touched. She was my mother.
She was Clara.
A whisper resounded in my ears, and I woke up at once, as if she'd really been whispering to me:
From the days of pain to the days of liberation, this is what I learnt: that coming on to this earth is a gift. A gift we receive through no merit of our own, the bestowing of a blessing for no other reason than love. For no other reason than life overflows, life spills out of this planet, the sky and the sea and every living creature, in an act of creation that renews itself every moment. We come into this world alone; we stand on its surface for a moment, bathed in light, and then it's all over. And every second we stand in the light, every moment is sacred; every atom of our body is sacred. From the cradle to the grave, we sing our song, brief, beautiful, unique. We are part of a force so much stronger than we can ever be â all we have to do is fall back and surrender. While the song is sung, there is no reason to be afraid, but when the song is finished, when darkness falls and fear envelopes us, that is the time to remember that still there is no reason to fear. Because when darkness comes, it's only for a moment â our atoms dissolve and renew into more life, and soon the song begins again. But until then, we live.
My mother came back to save me. She touched my eyelids with loving hands and I could see again â I could see the seasons, I could see the sky and the hills, the moon at night and the sun in the day, and a promise in the winter sky. I could see the hope of joys to come; I could see a child sitting at my table; I could see friends sitting around my fire and hands holding mine. My mother knew because she lived and she died, and what she told me when she saved me was the most simple, the most essential wisdom of all:
t be afraid
This world is full of mysteries. We believe we can decipher everything, understand everything, dominate everything. We speak and sing and scream and talk, talk, talk, so loud that the whispers of our hearts are all but lost. But when silence descends at last, that's when finally we can hear them â if we remember to listen. We trace the patterns of our lives and discover that nothing happens by chance, and nothing is just mundane, or unnecessary. That all of us were meant to be, all of us play a part in this powerful, intricate, all-encompassing web of lives and events. All of us, our lives and deaths, are miracles, and we need to make every moment hours. We need to put our regrets to rest â