The girl was eighteen when she first read Wuthering Heights. It was a battered copy belonging to her mother, having been read and eventually neglected after the first enthusiastic reading, but still carted from flat to flat with the other oddments of a life. Books had always been there in their lives, papering the shelves; never new and shiny and crisp but always spine-creased and faded and yellow, another find from another obscure little bookshop. Her mother had always refused to buy anything from ordinary shops. Not books, not clothes, not food – everything was second hand or passed on or charity shop or local or community-run. It was partly from the necessity of a single parent part time income, partly from the frayed remains of a hippie idealism. Her mother liked to know the names of the people she bought from, their families, their stories.
So when her mother saw her reading it, curled cat-like deep into the well-loved armchair with the rainbow-striped crochet rug wrapped around her, she handed her daughter a mug of tea and commented, “I bought that when I was your about your age and at university.”
The girl grunted, already on the moors of North Yorkshire and unwilling to be dragged back to reality.
Her mother gazed out of the window at the beech tree on the street which overshadowed their living room with dancing light. “Your dad and I went to Castleton for the afternoon and I found a wonderful little bookshop with some gems in a half price basket. Apparently an old lady had died and left hundreds of moulding books and her daughter was desperate to get rid of them all. Virtually paid shops to take them.”
The girl sipped at the steaming tea and mumbled incoherently, purposely not raising her eyes from the book, willing her to leave. Turning her gaze to her daughter, her mother imagined what she was thinking: Don’t contaminate my reading of this with your memories. I don’t want to imagine you and him there, then, students, not knowing what was to come, not knowing he wouldn’t last the long run; not knowing anything, just being impossibly idealistic…
She smiled wryly and remembered the elation and fragility of that day, the blossom in the trees and the sun almost warm, the promise of summer, the excitement of something new budding into being. She was there again, almost nineteen, the first full spring day the two of them had been able to grab for wandering together, their hands almost touching as they walked, the peaceful silence between them full of comfortable understanding. Her seeing the bookshop, feeling that jump of excitement within, and the possibility of exploring and uncovering a secret treasure. Pulling him – amused by her enthusiasm – into the shop.
Then the moment of finding the classic book, smoothing the surface and flicking the pages, the anticipation of revisiting the story she had read so often as a child compelling her to make the impulsive purchase. Handing the book to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, hearing his soft greeting and comments about the book’s journey, was part of the pleasure.
She knew that as those long fingers turned only a few more pages, her daughter’s hands would brush the small and fragile head of blossom pressed there between Cathy Earnshaw’s words of passion, and she would have somehow unknowingly touched the story that now lit her mother’s memory.
Then they had walked slowly and sweetly by the river, like children on an adventure. Her eyes repeated caught on the blossoms, pink and white and freckling the bright sky. He jumped to reach a small sprig of white blossom, which he tucked into her hair while looking with a steady gaze into her trusting eyes. On coming to a particularly beautiful spot he insisted they stop so he could draw. She took out the book and began to read, occasionally turning her head to the long figure beside her, stretched out on his front and frowning in concentration.
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
She read the passionate outburst of the novel and smiled, with a smile that only youth and infatuation and romantic ideals can give, and softly placed the bloom between those pages and shut the book.
“Are you finished?” he asked her.
Now, as she stood in the doorway of the kitchen and watched the golden light of the early autumn evening play on her almost-grown daughter’s face as she held the book and turned the pages, balancing the tea on her leg, she saw possibility and pain and regretted so much, but not this. She did not regret the man who left her with this endlessly fascinating human, did not regret holding onto this book like a promise.
The moment had passed for reliving the past aloud to unhearing ears. But she knew that as those long fingers turned only a few more pages, her daughter’s hands would brush the small and fragile head of blossom pressed there between Cathy Earnshaw’s words of passion, and she would have somehow unknowingly touched the story that now lit her mother’s memory. She smiled through her bittersweet memories, left her daughter to her solitude, and closed the door behind her.