by Joely Dutton
I felt unstoppable. Adrenaline, that by-product of hard work, made hard work seem easy. As the boulder-strewn summit of the Pikes grew closer, exhilaration had started to kick in.
The mountain didn’t disappoint during the last, clambering ascent. The clouds of that morning began to clear as though heralding applause from the heavens, parting the stage curtains so that I could take a bow. A few final bounds to the stony trig point and then – then I’d done it. We were there. I closed my eyes and raised my face to feel the sun’s rays kissing each cheek like an absent friend.
When I opened my eyes again, I took off my rucksack and produced three slightly crushed daffodils from inside, which I laid on the ground next to the veteran boots I was wearing. Their fabric was faded from years of use and scuffed with wear. Discoloured patches where dried-in soil resided bore the souvenirs of exploration, of finding a hidden-away sanctuary and returning with its impression left on the memory and on the boots.
“Her eyes sparkled when she talked about her plans. Best-laid plans.”
Halfway through her treatment my mum conceived The List. Illness had reminded her to value health, and she’d spent much of her healthy life like a workhorse – taking the demands that everyone placed upon her without complaint. She looked forward to the time when she could fulfil her own demands.
Climb Scafell Pike – The highest mountain in England, in her beloved Lake District, which she’d never attempted.
Dye her hair blonde – It was going to grow back and it was going to be blonde for the first time when it did.
Book a holiday abroad, for all us girls together – The next summer, passports would be needed.
The three thoughts helped her through the days when she felt sick. And though she looked slight and different, her eyes sparkled when she talked about her plans. Best-laid plans.
I hadn’t doubted The List; my mum had been so enthused. But the day she was taken ill, the day they found the spread, no explanation was needed. I understood before the test results were translated what that meant. It meant that The List was gone.
She smiled lovingly each time she saw me or my two sisters, until the very last day. She lost her words some weeks before that, but her smile radiated still.
I shared the moment over brisk mountain air. ‘I’m at the top of Scafell in your boots.’
Sunlight was glinting off the lake below, making it appear precious. Reflections stirred, and I remembered the last time I stood on the pier watching the lapping waters dispersing.
Such a blue sky in Cumbria was striking. It was usually a calm but dismal grey. That day though there were beams illuminating me. They shone through my hair and located each auburn strand.
As I glanced at the familiar hue I imagined how the new shade might look.
Joely Dutton | @JLDutty
Joely writes short stories and has recently completed the first draft of a novel, after dreaming about it for a long time but never acting on it. She also works with a Spark Young Writers group in Telford and is amazed by the talent of our next generation of poets and storytellers.