She missed the smell of bluebells the most. The small planters Mrs. Hopkins arranged for her did wonders for the ambiance of the room, but there was a staleness about their scent. What she wanted was to feel the sunshine as it kissed the skin on her forehead and temples. What she wanted was the tickle of the petals as she bent too close. What she wanted was the possibility of surprising a bumble bee. She wished once more to be jealous of its nectary work.
Lydia Sykes tilted her head and looked out the far window. The decision to place her bed in the center of the room benefited only those that needed to scurry about her, the people that did the work of maintaining the “lady of the house.” It left her cold and distant from the grounds she so loved. A cushioned chair and tea table sat under the far window and until recently she’d spent most of her day there, reading, writing letters, and above all, watching the grounds. She occasionally waved down at the groundskeeper, Alexander, as he carried out her requests, handed to him daily in her own writing. Now, without the ability to see the results herself, she fell back from the responsibility just as she’d fallen back from sitting by the window. The air that reached her now felt old, like it traveled across chasms while blowing into the center of the bed. She pulled the quilt closer to her chin and shivered. Now all the air brought was cold.
A soft knock announced the entrance of Daisy, one of Mrs. Hopkins’s new girls in the house. “Please, ma’am, I’ve brought you some tea and a bit of pastry. May I set it down for you?”
She quite liked Daisy and had requested that she spend most of her time helping her and watching Caleb. “Thank you, Daisy. I would love some tea. Is the boy awake yet?”
Daisy sat the tray on the empty side of the bed. “Miss, he’s out in the garden with Lord Sykes right now. I believe ice cream was mentioned.”
Lydia smiled, “no doubt that’s Lord Sykes doing. He’s got an awful sweet tooth.” She sipped at Mrs. Hopkins’s special blend and let its warmth push back some of her earlier despair. “It’s good to have the boy home. It’s good to have all my boys home.” She pulled at the end of a croissant and tasted it. Her appetite left her months ago and at most she could take in some broth and a bit of fruit. The pastries were Daisy’s idea and their delicate sweetness had been a welcome addition, so long as she took small, deliberate bites.
“I heard quite a bit of discussion happening downstairs.” She eyed Daisy over her cup, giving her permission to gossip.
“Aye, ma’am, yes. I thought it was an argument at first, but, well, the American is a bit loud.” She blushed a bit and Lydia chuckled over her tea. She was anxious to meet this American. Daisy continued, “the Lord and your son, your middle son I believe, were talking about him being away so long.”
Lydia nodded and held up her right arm, trying to point to the small closet on that side of her room. “Daisy, if you would, there’s a blue box on the top of the closet. Could you bring it to me?”
Daisy set the box on the bed near the serving tray. Lydia removed the lid and took out one of hundreds of hand-written envelopes, addressed and stamped, but never sent. “Grayson has been in America for several years. I’ve written him at least once a week in all that time, but never sent them.”
“Why, ma’am, if you don’t mind my asking?”
She flipped the envelope back and forth wondering which letter she held. Was it the one where she complained about the dampness last November? Or the letter where she praised Alexander’s newest batch of workers and how their acrobatic antics entertained her from her window? Perhaps it was the one with the funny anecdote of Lord Sykes trying to finally learn to ride a horse? She laughed to herself. “That poor beast wanted nothing to do with my husband, that was certain.”
“Sorry, Daisy, I was just remembering.” She returned the envelope to the box. “Make sure this gets to Grayson before he leaves. I want him to have these for later.” The puff of air that escaped as she replaced the lid felt like sealing a coffin. Lydia understood the cliché, but in the last few weeks, clichés were the only accessible images. She needed to ration her energy for her family.
“I didn’t send them because he wasn’t responding to his father. He has a responsibility to, if not obey, at least honor his father, who has been nothing but generous and kind. Have you met others of Lord Sykes’s rank, Daisy?”
“No ma’am,” she said, pouring another cup of tea.
“They’re not worth it. I got the pick of the litter, as it were.” She smiled again and leaned back into a mountain of soft cushions. “The mornings I spend with him-” she trailed off and looked at Daisy. She grabbed the girl’s hand into her own and squeezed. “Oh Daisy, may your life be full of those mornings.”
Lydia could feel the heaviness in her eyes and she slowly closed them, letting the tears slip out instead of cascading. She laid there for a while and listened to the world move around her. She heard Daisy put the box back in the closet, then gather the service tray. She heard the distant shouts of Alexander’s men working somewhere on the grounds. She heard footsteps out in the hallway, the creaks as known to her as the rhythm of her own heart. Two voices, one soft and hesitant, one rougher, more insistent. She opened her eyes as Daisy opened the door.
Grayson’s height startled her, though it hadn’t changed in the last seven years. The tallest of her boys always seemed to slouch a bit, trying to constrain the overwhelming presence he had. It was as if the moon was trying to hide behind a mountain. The shape may be indistinct, but the diffuse light reflected from the sun remained. A young man entered the room and stood beside him. He looked at her bed, the medicine cabinet, the IV drip, the bandages that covered her arm, her thinning hair, the abundance of cushions, the small toilet in the corner, the sitting area at the window, Daisy and back to her. He grabbed Grayson’s hand and beamed at Lydia.
“Ah. Here comes the sun,” she thought and lifted her arms out to him. “I finally get to meet you. Tell me your name.”