I didn’t mean to get separated from the tour group, only I’d lagged behind because I couldn’t take the incessant nasal tone of the pinched faced little man from York Tours by Moonlight a moment longer.
I wanted to be on my own for a while, to try to make sense of what I was feeling, or at least what I thought I felt. An instinct that I wasn’t alone, that something or someone was guiding my thoughts.
Why was I here? What had made me step over the threshold of the Travel Agents? I had no intention of taking a holiday; my diary had been full of appointments with not an inch to spare. I remember speaking with a voice, firm and with conviction,
‘I need to go to York, this weekend please, have you anything?’
The girl had been very helpful, my appointments had been re-scheduled, and here I am on a warm summer’s evening at the foot of the city wall, with the cathedral casting a deep shadow on the flagstones on which I stand; uncertain of which way to go.
‘You have been here before’ I whirled round in response, but found no one there, the tour group a distant blur in the gathering darkness.
‘You won’t recall the time of course, but trust me and I will help you to discover your past, a past that was buried long ago, before you were born’
My mind wanted to doubt, to disbelieve the voice, to question its existence, but how could I answer myself? For it felt as though the voice was speaking from deep within me, from my own subconscious. I felt unnerved, but strangely calm, as my feet of their own volition, turned off the main thoroughfare into the cobbled streets of The Shambles.
Passing the lighted window displays of the antiquated shops, my eyes only briefly registered their wares, such was the compulsion to keep moving. I made a mental note to return in daylight and explore their inner sanctum; of printed tea towels and gifts, aimed at tourists that now tread its path, boosting the income of this cultural city. Darkened cafés and tea shops hold no welcome now.
Enclosed in protection of the proximity of its buildings and wanting to explore more, I did not question my feet as they took me of the main thoroughfare, into the myriad of the adjoining alleyways; the voice, always there urging me on.
‘You’re here’ it said, breaking my trance like state. I tried to focus exactly where I was; strangely being aware that I had not met another soul, since parting from the tour group. I shivered, feeling the sudden chill in the air, an unnatural chill that had crept its way into my bones. The buildings here were different, paint peeling from their window frames, dusty and unoccupied. Except one, whose door lay slightly ajar, stood out from rest; its façade freshly painted. Above its bowed window, a metal sign hung, swinging to and fro in perfect symmetry.
‘ROLFE’S ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS’
So I was not altogether surprised, when the voice, stronger and clearer now, spoke from its inner depths,
‘Do come in, I’ve been waiting for you….’
I pushed the door tentatively, feeling little resistance from its hinges as it opened fully allowing me entry. Here the newness vanished. Damp musty air assailed my nostrils and I wrinkled my nose in distaste. The only light came from two rusty gas lamps, their flames flickering with a rhythmic hiss. I strained my eyes to locate the body from which the voice had spoken, but could see no one in the shadows
Running my fingers along the spines of the leather bound books that filled the wall to wall shelves, I felt part of a time long ago – a connection – I couldn’t describe, even to myself, and yet? My hand came to rest on a deep green, slim volume of collected poems. With heart pounding I slowly prised the book from its tightly packed neighbours. I stared at the gold block lettering on the front cover - more preserved than those on the dog eared spine – they were complete and unbroken. To confirm what my eyes were seeing in the poor light, I traced the letters with my finger;
The Cycle of Nature in Poetry by Mary Florence Bradley. 1912.
Every hair on my body bristled as a tress of hair briefly brushed my cheek, as if someone was resting their head on my shoulder. I heard the quietest of whispers, speak directly into my ear.
‘Open it, my sweet, dear girl. It is why you are here’
I found myself obeying without question and with shaking hands; I turned to the first page.
‘This book is dedicated to my grand-daughter, Janet Dearn, in the hope that one day she may gain as much pleasure as I myself have in the composing and love of the poetic word.’
The emotions, I had held in check, flowed freely now, my tears making a clean circle on the dusty floorboards.
‘Dry your eyes child, I am your comforter. There have been times, I’ve feared for you grand-daughter, sensed your confusion in your identity. Oh what joy I felt, when you picked up a pen and started to write as I did; nature at the heart of your words. But, then other words came; poetry with hidden meaning, thoughts in turmoil, from your own soul. I wanted to reach out to you then, but it was too soon. You needed to find your own way. So I watched you. I am proud of the woman you have become. The woman I never was, my life given for the first breath of your father, so you could be born.’
Such a gentle loving voice, soothing, stills my tears. ‘Grand-mother? Can I see you, touch you?’
‘No dear girl, for I am only a voice, a voice for your words.’
With a sense of clarity, I knew what she wanted me to do. I placed her book back upon the shelf, and removed another. Taking from my bag, my own first published book; Words in Imagination – poetry for all the family, I slotted it neatly beside hers, in the space I had created.
A relaxed sigh, tickled my neck. I reached back with my hand and felt the softest kiss, as the voice bade me goodbye.
One day, I knew I would read her book but for now I must continue to write my own words. I owed her that.