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Old Wooden Rowboat

Losing a sister can cause the dark pain of loneliness.

It was early morning. The fog still clung in patches to the tips of the hills as I walked down to the edge of the lake. I felt chilled. Pulling my jacket closer around me I trudged on. Used to the hustle and bustle of the city with its constant bombardment of noises, I hadn’t slept well. There I slept like a log, deafened to the sirens and traffic and never-ending stream of people. Last night was absolutely still; the only sound that of my own breathing. It was unnerving.

On the far side of the lake the hills rose from the water’s edge in jagged formations and all around were dense plantings of trees. It was an isolated spot, one I’d chosen carefully. The lease on a small cottage for a few weeks offered me much needed peace and quiet after the past months of strain.

I followed a rough path that ran around the lake shore, breathing deeply of the crisp air. It felt good to be walking. Rounding a slight bend, I found a dilapidated wooden boat drifting at the end of a mooring rope. It hadn’t seen a coat of paint in many years. Water slopped softly against its sides. A simple rowboat with just two wooden strips to sit on, it obviously had not been used for some time.

Just ten when my parents died, I was left at an orphanage by an uncaring aunt from New Zealand. She wanted my sister, Amy, who was six, but not me. Feeling abandoned, I was fed and clothed but there was no love in the cold, stone buildings of that orphanage. There was only the darkness, the black emptiness of a life that held no joy. Never again would I stand with my sister, at my mother’s knee, listening to her play the piano, transfixed by the lilting flow of the music that emanated from her fingers. Never again would I finger the tassels of the purple cushion that mother sat on while she played, twining and twisting them as I sat enthralled. Never again would Amy and I share the laughter and closeness of life as sisters. My happy childhood was confined to the deepest recesses of memory, so that it would not hurt to remember.

I missed Amy terribly. There was no news; aunt never wrote. The carers said that she had her life and there was no place in it for me. “Just forget her Samantha, she will forget you.” But I never forgot her.

There was a river on the edge of the orphanage’s grounds. The orphans were not allowed to go near it and until the age of twelve I obeyed that law, too scared of the dark and frightening trees that loomed near it. One night however, after a very bad day, I crept out of my dormitory and down to the river. There was a rowboat, old and unused, but still solid. This boat became an escape.

Every night I went down to the river and mucked around. My rowing technique was ungainly at first and finding a steady rhythm took time. I’d row for several hours before hiding the boat and sneaking back to bed. The rowboat kept me sane in that cold place. It gave me a chance to dream, to dream that maybe one day I would find my sister again and ease the darkness of the pain in my heart.

I left the orphanage and moved to the city when I was sixteen, worked hard and eventually built a successful business. Many times I tried to find Amy, episodes which always ended in failure. It seemed that the trail ended when she left Australia. My latest disappointment left me so low that a long break was needed. I came to the lake to find some peace.

I stared at the old rowboat. The bottom was sound, despite its age, and the oars were intact. Could I still row? It had been a long time. With difficulty I untied the rope and pushed the boat out into the water. I clambered in and began rowing slowly out into the lake. City muscles complained at the unusual workload, but having not forgotten how to use the oars, progress was relatively smooth. An hour passed quickly out on the water, leaving me feeling invigorated by the fresh air and exercise.

Over the next few weeks more and more time was spent out in the boat. Arms and shoulders toughened up. I began to relax and to unwind. The rowboat worked the same magic as in my childhood. Soon I would return to the city and to my search for Amy. In the meantime, rowing was a solace.

Then one morning, things changed. The boat was in the usual position, lazily drifting at the end of the mooring rope but something was different. A purple velvet cushion reposed on one of the seats, its tassels trailing over the rough edge. The cushion was not new.

Long buried memories of mother seated on her piano stool flooded back. One glance at a simple cushion was all it needed for them to resurface. I was ten, standing at my mother’s knee, listening to the music, Amy sitting cross-legged on the floor beside me…

A slight noise startled me. Turning, I noticed a woman sitting on a rock nearby.

“Oh I’m sorry,” she said as she stood up. “Is the boat yours?”
I stared, unable to speak. Mum…the piano…her cushion…her purple cushion…memories, happy memories…all cascaded through my brain like a never-ending fountain.

“Do you own this boat?” The woman asked again. “I’ll get my cushion.”

My voice managed to croak, “Your cushion?”

“Yes,” she said. “It was my mother’s.”

I gazed at the cushion. It was uncanny. This cushion looked like the one I remembered. My mother’s. Could there be two cushions exactly the same?

“She used to play the piano,” the woman volunteered. “My sister and I would stand near her and listen.”

Thoughts whirled in my head. Her mother’s. My mother’s. Having searched for so long, I was disbelieving. “Amy?”

She came closer. “I haven’t heard that name in a long time,” her voice quavered. “How do you know that name? I haven’t been Amy since I was six. Aunt changed my name to Amelia, even changed my last name.”

“My mother…same cushion…sister was Amy,” I stumbled. “I’m sorry, thought you were her.”

Her hands went to her face. “Your face, familiar some how...It can’t be…Sam…is it you?”

“Amy,” I gasped, holding out my arms, sobbing. I hugged my sister, the sister not seen in so many years. The sister my aunt did not want me to find. Somehow, in this out of the way place, I had found her. A blinding light of joy and happiness lifted the dark pain of the intervening years and we were together again. The gods of fate had deemed that a wooden rowboat and an old purple cushion would be the links in the chain that reunited us.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © C. Vickie Walker

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