A hollow trunk lay beneath the snow-laden trees, a place where I had hidden many times since I was a child. My brothers never found me there.
I would often become sleepy, waiting for a sign they had gone home out of the cold, leaving a line of footprints I could follow.
I do not remember what woke me, a sound, birdsong, something.
Following the fading footsteps, I heard a sound. A distant chime.
But there is no church here. With fine snow continuing to fall, I knew I was lost. I let the song of a robin lead me on, for they know where food can be found. Soon I could see lights, the outline of a house. Smoke drifted, someone must be home.
As I drew nearer, the burnt house still smouldered.
We play here most days and I knew the forest well. My brothers, older than I would have told me about it. How could they not know we had forest dwellers this close to town?
I could hear our church bells ringing for evening mass. Why hadn’t anyone come looking for me?
I knew my way home from here and would give them what for when I saw them. Brothers indeed! They were supposed to look after me.
Finally, I made it home and opened the front door. I could smell lunch cooking and hear my brothers laughing. Making my way to the kitchen I could see they were helping mum to lay the table.
“You are just in time, sweet pea,” mum said. Turning to face me, she reminded me to get out of my damp clothes.
It was still light outside. I realised I could not have heard our church bells. I couldn’t have been dreaming either, for I had the rosebud I found in the burnt out house. I handed it to mum and was taken aback by the strange look on her face. The smile, the way her eyes lit with memory as she placed it in a small vase. “Get on with you now, lunch is on the table. “ I had the feeling mum knew about the house.
Over lunch, she cleverly avoided each question I asked.
The next day I asked the vicar, as he knew more than the local library. He told me there had never been a house that near to the forest edge or this close to town.
His answer made me feel strange. Where had the rosebud come from?
Someone had put it in the broken vase that lay in the ash, in a house I am told doesn’t exist. I vowed to take another look for myself.
Snow crunched beneath my feet as I left the church.
I wanted to find something to prove the house was there. I found the spot easily, remembering the oak tree with the initials L S carved into it. Touching the letters I realised they could be my mother’s name, Lilian Small.
Searching through the junk on the ground, the only thing I found was a tiny piece of the vase with a blue flower painted on it. But no ash, no house, no sign that anyone had ever lived there.
I could not shake the feeling that my mother knew something, but I would never be able to prise it out of her.
I left the broken piece of vase beside the rosebud on our kitchen windowsill, hoping that when mother found it she would say something.
That afternoon, I watched as she held it, turning it gently in her hands and as I left the room, I saw my mother brush a tear from her cheek.
I knew I would never be able to ask her about the house or the rosebud I found there.
There is one thing I knew for sure, I was not dreaming…