The grey sky filled the expanse of window. Jenny watched as the winter winds blew another blanket of thunderous clouds across her vista. Normally she loved to watch the world from her window seat it; never normally mattered if it was the rain beating against the glass or the sun shining in her eyes as it sailed across the day. It was usually an endless pleasure watching the hills and trees change colour and cast incredible shadows with the shifting sunlight; the crops in the fields growing and changing from season to season, and all the routines and squabbles of the birds and animals as they went about their daily lives, Jenny watched it all from that lofty perch; it had always made her heart sing, but not today. Today there was nothing to see but the endless grey. She felt restless, imagining herself as a tiger pacing a groove behind impenetrable zoo bars and resenting the people free to wander beyond the confines.
The wind and the rain had been relentless, for weeks on end there had been no let up. She missed being outside, she felt trapped, worse she felt bored. Despite all her pleading and promising to be careful her mother would not let her go out walking, because of all the flooding she said, so she had been relegated to the house. Mother had tried to placate her trying to persuade the girl to make cakes with her and the boys, but Jenny wouldn’t be shifted from her ranker and had stomped off to take a moody refuge in her room.
In sullen mood she viewed the patch of garden below her window, it looked battered and sodden; even the chickens would not come out of their hen house to rummage through the boarders, it was so wet. She sighed, wrapped her arms around her knees then rested her chin on them. She could hear Joseph and Jamie running about the house making their usual racket and resented their lack of concern for the enforced imprisonment.
“Boys” she snorted and dove deeper into the dark well of resentments against the weather, her mother and the world in general.
“If Dad was here he would let me go out”. But he wasn’t here was he, and there was another resentment to add to the list. She buried her head in her knees and let the tears fall.
“So much pain in a little heart”. The soft voice penetrated the darkened room. Jenny opened her eyes and glared into the gloom “Mum?”
She must have been imagining things, had she fallen asleep? She got up carefully unfolding her stiff legs, rubbing at her cold arms as she searched for a cardigan.
“It’s been a long dark winter, hasn’t it child?” Jenny span round, her heart pounding out of her chest, and glared in the direction of the voice. It had come from the darkest corner of her room. She could just make out the shape of the chair that resided there and the shadowy figure of a woman. She seemed to be watching the girl impassively from the shadows.
Who was this and what was she doing in her room? Jenny felt the rise of righteous indignation at her space being invaded by a stranger.
“Who are you? I didn’t hear you come in and why’s my mum let you come in here without asking me first?”
“Your mother doesn’t know I am here.” The voice was soothing and utterly unconcerned by the girl’s bluster. “I’m here for you Jenny. I heard you crying. I felt you needed me.”
“But who are you and how did you get in here without mum knowing?” the girl’s voice vibrated with confusion and fear. “And how could you’ve heard me crying?”
“I hear all those in pain and in need of healing. Jenny there is so much pain in this house I could not just walk by, not on this evening.”
“I don’t understand, I don’t understand what you’re talking about and I don’t know how you got into my room. I’m calling mum.”
“She wont hear you.”
“Mum, mum there’s someone in my room, mum.”
The child backed up against the door keeping her eyes fixed on the shadows and waited for her mother come running. When nothing happened she dragged the door open and launched herself out of the room expecting her mother to meet her in the hallway. She stopped short in the middle of the empty space, the house was eerily still and quiet. There was no sound of the boisterous brothers charging about the place, no radio or T.V, either from the kitchen or lounge, nothing at all. She threw a glance back at her room then charged headlong for the stairs. Leaping down the stairs two at a time she landed hard at the bottom and headed for the kitchen where her mother was most likely to be found. She skidded to a halt in the kitchen doorway transfixed by the scene that greeted her.
The kitchen was a frozen tableaux of chaotic events. Her mother stood at the kitchen table still as a statue frozen. Her body was contorted from trying to steady herself and the table whilst avoiding the boy shaped missiles that had fired through the room, and at the same time she was trying to wipe her face with a floury hand. The table was awash with cake baking stuff all of which had been knocked for six: butter, sugar, flour, tins and paper cases, all in various states of tip and slide. Jenny noticed that eggs had broken and were also mid slide heading for a messy rendezvous with the floor.
The culprits for the disarray, her brothers, had been caught like a 3D photo, in the act of barrelling around the table having knocked it sideways. One of the boys, Joseph, was now hung in the air, suspended in the act of falling. His face was contorted with the certain knowledge that a world of pain of various kinds would be dominating in his immediate future. Meanwhile his twin, having made it safely to the other side of the table, had pulled up sharp and was mid turn toward the action behind him. The girl looked at his curious expression, it seemed caught between several emotions.
Jenny stared wide eyed and open mouthed at the frozen room. Curiosity overtook fear, she walked carefully into the room afraid to disturb the air lest the whole scene should collapse. She bent and looked at her falling brother’s face and laughed. She examined the frozen drip of egg white and spray of flour suspended in mid air. Every detail was crystal clear, a moment trapped in…trapped in what? She moved further around the room examining everything in detail ending up beside Jamie. He was looking at their mother, his expression was so confused, Jenny was not sure why her stomach turned over as she studied his face. She could see in his eyes the feelings of hilarity at his brother’s falling, also the knowledge that his mother was going to be so mad, but there was something else. When she looked deeper and could see an edge of fear and confusion in his eyes, she followed his gaze.
Her mother was the fulcrum point of the chaos. It all pivoted around her, and as she studied her Jamie’s expression was more understandable. Their mother’s eyes were red, she was crying, tears where in the process of making tracks down her floury cheeks. Why was her mum crying? She never cried, she shouted and yelled and told them to get out, but she never cried. In all that frozen chaos her mother, in tears, was the thing that struck Jenny hardest.
“She does cry you know, all the time, but only when she is alone.”
Jenny drew in a sharp breath; she had forgotten about the woman in her bedroom. A tall, elegant woman stood in the kitchen doorway dressed in clothes that seemed out of date by a hundred years. Her skin was old and almost as white, like snow; the effect was etherial, she almost shimmered. But it was her dark, deep set eyes that had made the girl gasp. No whites, there were no whites to her eyes! The woman made no move into the room, but stood regarding Jenny with gentle concern.
“Who are you? And what’s happened to my family?” The child’s voice was full of confusion and fear. “I don’t understand what’s happening, how is this happening?” She caught a sob in her throat not wanting to give the woman the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“I am here because you all called me.”
“I don’t know who you are or how I could’ve called you and I don’t care right now. What I do want to know is what’s happened to them?” She thrust an indignant finger toward her family and went to continue.
The woman raised her hand to stop the indignant railing. “They are fine, they are not hurt, just suspended. Every one of you, in your own way, has called me this past year. I heard your prayers as you sat by the well in the garden. You gave me offerings, flowers and coins, but I can’t give what you have asked for. I can’t turn back time, I cannot bring your father back and take away all the pain. This pain is a gift, though you will not understand that for a long while, just believe me one day it will help you.”
Jenny stifled another sob rising in her throat and blinked back a tear. “The well in the garden?” She whispered remembering how she had sat for hours talking to the water, they had all done that? Mum and the boys too? They had all felt the same?
They had all known the stories about the White Lady of the well, how she helped people, could this really be her?
The well itself was far older than the house and in the spring every year they would dress it with flowers and sing the old songs; it was a tradition in the family. Grandma and grandpa had done it, and their parents too. “Honour the Lady of the well, tell her your troubles,” grandma had said whenever Jenny had regaled her with how cross she was with her brothers or her parents, “she’ll always listen, even if no one else will.” So she always had taken her cares and woes with a flower or a coin down to the well.
This past year she had needed to talk to someone so many times when she was feeling alone, adrift. Dad was gone, mum was angry all the time and the boys? They were just too young and, well, just boys, how can you talk to them? So she had talked to the well, there had been no one else to understand or so she had thought, till now.
But, she says, they had all called her? Did her brothers feel the same as her?She had often caught one or other of them watching her out of the corner of her eye as she leaned over the well’s edge, looking into the water through the iron grill. Were they waiting for her to leave, or wondering what she was feeling? She hadn’t imagined they thought or felt anything at all, how can you feel anything crashing around the place as if nothing had changed at all? Were they really that unhappy too? Was her mum just as sad and lonely as she was?
All these thoughts flashed through her head. She questioned every feeling, all the sense of loss, anger and upset she had believed to be her’s alone, now she realised that wasn’t true, everyone had been feeling the same. They had all felt every bit as unhappy it was just that no one had known how to speak to anyone but the White Lady. She looked around the room at her family and felt a pang of guilt. She looked at her mother and realised how hard it must have been to hold it all together on her own. She had never regarded her mother as having feelings before and she wondered how she could have been so blind.
“You mustn’t think that way Jenny.” The gentle voice chided. “You have been a child and entitled to think just of yourself for a while, but you are changing.”
She stepped forward into the room and took the young girl’s hand and continued. “You are ready now for the transition from child to young woman. Soon you will want to put childish things to one side. You are more open and able to feel and see things than you have ever been, which is why I can help you. You have the power to help yourself and all of them too.” As she was speaking the dark eyed woman swept her gaze around the room looking at each person, coming back to rest on Jenny’s puzzled expression. “It only takes one small act of kindness to change the world, but it takes a brave person to make it happen. How brave are you Jenny? Can you find it in yourself to change your world?”
“I don’t understand, what do you want me to do?” The girl was feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by all this, this weirdness, what did this woman want? Why was this all happening? None of it made any sense.
“I want my mum”. She cried, the sound coming right from the bottom of her boots, up through her gut and out through her mouth.
“I want my mum and I want my dad and I don’t want this. I want everything to be ok again.” She howled out a cry of raw pain and she kept on howling. Her knees buckled as out of her poured every emotion she had been keeping to herself since her father’s.
The world exploded, the silence shattered into a riot of clattering tins, falling eggs and children hitting the floor all at once. From far away Jenny heard her mother shout. “Oh my god girl where the hell did you spring from?” At the same time Joseph yelped in pain as he hit the cold tiles.
The children’s mother’s instant reaction was practical first, making sure Joseph was not badly hurt, before turning back to Jenny sobbing on the floor.
“Jamie put the kettle on will you and get me a cloth please.”
Jamie filled the kettle and retrieved a cloth from the sink, whilst Joseph sat on the floor rubbing his elbows looking from Jamie to his mother and then to his shuddering, howling mess of a sister, he was utterly confused.
Jenny felt her mother lift her onto a chair and stroke her hair, then set too mopping up the scrambled eggs under the table; it took her a few minutes to scrape up the sticky mess. As she sat on the chair Jenny realised the only real sounds to be heard in the kitchen were that of the gas under the kettle, that was building a head of steam, and her own sobbing. The atmosphere in the room had become calm concern, everyone was watching her. A sudden urge to make a bolt for the stairs and the sanctuary of her room rushed over her.
“Do you have the courage to change your family’s future Jenny?” The voice was in her head, she knew it, but she looked around the room anyway.
Another loud sob caught in her throat as she took the plunge into the resentment well’s depths. She couldn’t look at her mother as the verbal rush of feeling spilled from her, everything she had thought or felt or wondered in the past year spluttered out between the heavy sobs. How angry she had been with her parents, both her dad for dying and leaving them, her mum for always being angry, her brothers for being boys, it wasn’t fair, none of it was fair. “Why couldn’t it all just be like it was?” She had wailed.
Her mother stood listening quietly until the tirade abated then she pulled another chair close to her daughter’s and sat down, wrapping an arm around the girl, then beckoned the boys over to join them. They held each other for a long time as the kettle whistled away on the stove and Jenny sobbed into her mother’s lap.
Jamie was the first to break the spell, he pulled away from his mother’s arm to turn off the gas, silencing the whistling demon. He made them all tea and put the mugs down amid the scattered remnants of the cake baking, then he began to clean up the kitchen.
“I am so sorry, I promise you things will be different this year.” Their mother’s voice was hoarse and faltered as she spoke, “This year has been so hard I have been angry and sad too. I thought if I just kept life normal we would get through and everything would be okay.” She sniffed and wiped her nose with the eggy cloth. “It doesn’t feel normal though does it? And I really don’t think any of it is fair either?”, she looked down and stroked the tousled head buried in her lap. “It cant ever be like it was Jenny, you know that, we all know that. Daddy can’t ever come back. We have to let him go and get on with living our lives without him; you, me and the boys together.” Her voice caught in her throat as she spoke the last sentence.
Joseph drew closer still to his mother and brushed some of the flour off of her face. “S’all right mum” he grinned “we’ll manage, you’ve got us to be men of the house now, hey Jamie?”
“Yup” Jamie confirmed as he picked up the paper cases and dropped them back in the baking tins then went to the fridge to find some more eggs.
“Oh, no more eggs, shall I go and see if the hens have laid any more mum?”
Mum looked down at Jenny who was mostly quiet now, only the occasional shudder of emotion.
“Maybe Jenny wants to go?” Jenny lifted her head from her mother’s lap and looked into her eyes. “ You wanted to go out earlier and it’s still just about light enough to see, you could put the chickens to bed if you like.” They both managed a weak smile.
“Make sure you put your wellies on love.”
“And your coat, and don’t go too close to the well, it’s really treacherous out there with the water so high.”
“Don’t forget the egg basket”
“I’ve got it” And the backdoor slammed behind her.
Making her way across the twilit garden toward the henhouse, Jenny breathed in great lungfuls of cold, clear air. Her head was spinning from tiredness and spent emotions, but it felt good to be outside.
What had happened? Was any of it real? She must have fallen asleep on the window seat and had some kind of mental dream. Maybe she had walked down to the kitchen while still asleep, at least that would make some kind of sense.
“Cos none of it makes any sense, things like that don’t happen, life just isn’t Harry Potter, is it?” She threw the rhetorical question at the chickens as she rummaged about the nesting boxes gathering any eggs lying hidden in the straw. The chickens stayed remarkably mute on the whole subject obviously preferring to keep their normally raucous observations to themselves for once.
Jenny exited the hen house and made sure the bolts were firmly slid into place; much as she loved the foxes they were not going to make a meal out of her chickens. She picked up the egg basket and was on her way to the backdoor when something stopped her dead in her tracks. A movement over by the well, turning slowly she imagined seeing a fox or badger on patrol. A little early in the evening for either of them though, she mused, then almost dropped the egg basket. Walking toward her was the woman from her dream, at least she thought it was the same woman.
As she drew closer Jenny realised the woman was wearing a dark cloak with the hood raised and, even though the wind was still quite gusty, the cloak hardly moved at all.
The woman’s face and hands were not covered by the cloak and her white skin seemed to shine even brighter in the open air. She smiled broadly at the girl and reached a slender hand out toward her. Without thinking Jenny took the proffered hand and allowed herself be lead toward the well; her boots splashing through the pools of standing water. As they walked she gazed up in stupefied admiration at the woman’s beautiful face. It was younger, less weary worn than before.
“Why wouldn’t you tell me who you were earlier?”
“I didn’t need to tell you child, you already knew.” The woman laughed.
“You were old before.”
“I still am, but the world is turning and things are changing, so I will look younger day by day for a while at least.”
They reached the well, the water was almost overflowing. Jenny had never, in her whole eleven years, seen it so high. It made her feel uncomfortable as the muddy earth sucked at her boots; now she understood why her mother was so touchy about her getting too close. Jenny’s boots were immersed up to the middle point, but the White lady’s feet seemed to be a dry as a bone.
“Life is not like Harry Potter” the girl intoned inside her own head, but another look at the lady’s apparently dry feet put pay to that statement.
“This place will never harm you Jenny, it loves you as much as you love it, but listen to your mother anyway. I wanted you to know you did a brave thing today. Someone needed to say the things you said.”
“I didn’t feel brave” the girl protested, “I felt angry and frustrated, it wasn’t brave to shout at them all.”
“Sometimes words that seem angry are actually full of love. If you learn to truly listen you will begin to feel the real meanings beneath the overflow of emotion; you will come to hear more than just the words the speaker says. If you can respond with kindness you may just give them the chance to view their situation with more clarity. The well of emotions will often overflow, but if you are careful it need never overwhelm you. Today you lifted a dark cloud from your home and made some clear air for your family to breath again; if you keep talking and listening to each other, you will all be fine.”
“Jenny, where are you? You’ve been out there for ages.” Her mother’s voice was strained and sounded cross.
“Cross or frightened?” The white lady smiled.
“Both I think” grinned Jenny. “I’d better go”
She set off through sucking mud as quickly as possible, trying desperately not to loose her boots or the egg basket on the way; after a few steps she turned to say thank you, but the woman was no where to be seen.
“You’ve been up by the well, I thought I told you not to go too close”
“Sorry mum I thought I saw something, I’ve got the eggs”
“Come on get those muddy boots off and leave them out here. What am I going to do with you?”
Jenny stood on the back step and looked toward the well again, she whispered “Thank you” as she pulled off her boots and went in side.
“So this is the new normal is it? Well, maybe life could be just a little bit Harry Potter after all.”