They have to move fast is what Maggie was hearing all over the neighbourhood. She guessed, of course she guessed. No one was going to spare her this juicy gossip bit of gossip, not her, the stuck up Maggie Donnelly, who had married so far beneath her because she had to. Well, like mother like son, she knew they were whispering. It was late in the evening and Maggie sat staring into the flames of her kitchen range fire. The only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock, the one good piece of furniture they still had which had not been sold or broken. She had brought this to the marriage, and feared for it most of the time. But what’s the point now? she thought. It won’t be wanted by Bridget.
Maggie had lost count of time. She nursed the last set of slowly darkening bruises given to her just before Billy left for the pub. ‘This is your fault,’ her husband had said as he slammed the door. The pain of the bruises was almost a relief compared to the pain of disappointment she felt in her son.
Stephen was supposed to make up for everything. He was the one most like her. He had her love of nature, colour and learning. Of all her sons he was the only one she loved. The others were just smaller, meaner copies of their father.
Maggie painfully climbed the stairs to their bedroom. She had a ritual for dealing with the pain of her everyday life. After her husband had gone to the pub she would come and stand by this window, looking out on to the fields and stream and taking some comfort in the beauty of them. Then she would open the bottom drawer of her old dresser, lift up the linen and take out the childish pictures Stephen had drawn for her. She would dream that she was in one of Stephen’s paintings, maybe sitting under that tree or afloat on that stream, standing under that rainbow. Right from the first time he had bought home a picture from school she knew he was born to be an artist. The colours were amazing, the perspective was right, the lines were beautiful. They had the power to stir emotions and take her to another world. He is a true artist, Stephen’s teacher had told her one day. That was the proudest day of her life. Of course Billy ruined it, saying, ‘Don’t turn him into some pansy.’
‘Are you a pansy lad? Well, pansies need dirt and water,’ Billy had said as he pushed Stephen into the muddiest puddle he could find.
After that Maggie would hide Stephen’s pictures, and Stephen had learned to play down his intelligence until he was able to leave home.
‘I’ll come back for you Mum. You can come and live with me and Bridget.’
That was his promise, and now it would never happen.
Maggie carried her favourite picture of Stephen’s downstairs and out of the cottage. It was one of the many versions of the stream by the cottage. It was unusual because it was set on a sunny day, and the water was peaceful and calm. The allure of the water was so strong, and as she felt the cold water on her feet and the tug of the strong current start to pull her skirts she knew she would be in this picture forever and the water would not disappoint.