This story is one of the October Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Sally often felt happiest amongst the autumn leaves out in the countryside. She had memories of a magical place filled with trees, sea, mermaids, and cake. It was somewhere in the depths of her memory swirling in sepia tones, slightly out of reach but always present in the corners of her mind, bordering her childhood memories like a frame to a picture. Sally fondly remembered the sea salt carrying in the breeze onto her cake that she would eat on the seafront, staring avidly at the sea, waiting to see the fin of a mermaid tail that she knew was out there somewhere.
She felt lost if she hadn’t been near the sea in a while, which was why she was so excited to hear that Grandma Lily had demanded, not asked, but demanded that she came to stay one last time. Sally hadn’t liked the sound of ‘one last time’ but agreed with herself that one last time was surely better than no time at all. Grandma Lily was old, wrinkled, and only slightly soft around the edges; she had a kindly smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eyes that transported her back through time and made you feel like you were talking to nothing more than a teen of a girl. Grandma Lily still wore her hair long but wrapped it up like ice cream in a cone onto the top of her head. She would fill the coil of hair with whatever little magical trinkets she found lying on the table; today it was silver bells and a star that had fallen off a Christmas decoration many years ago.
Cakes were baking in the stove when Sally bounced through the door. “GRANDMA!” she bellowed, even though Grandma Lily sat in the chair near the door — such was her excitement.
Grandma Lily smiled, her eyes lit up, going aqua blue just like the sea outside. The lighthouse shone a beam through the house, bathing the room in a sunlight glow. The lighthouse never seemed to switch off, and rather than being annoying at night, there was a comfort to its glow – like the moon was doing a slow Morse code through the windows whilst you slept, keeping you safe.
Sally picked up a photograph from the table. It showed a man in shirt and trousers with dark hair slicked back, bent on the bonnet of a car; next to him was a beautiful woman beaming with her eyes screwed up and nearly all her teeth on show. Grandma Lily smiled. “That is the photograph of an angel, my dear.” She lost herself in memory of her true love for a moment.
Sally waited for Grandma Lily to come back into the present, bent down, and gave her a big hug. “Now what’s all this talk about one last time, Lily? You aren’t planning on going anywhere, are you?” Grandma Lily just smiled, a slight twitch of her face if that is called a smile. She just nodded and got up to get the cakes out of the stove. They ate their cakes out on the terrace, wrapped in big thick wool blankets to keep the night chill out, watching the sea, getting lost in the sound of the waves breaking against the shore.
“Grandma, I really wish we could spend all our days like this – it’s magical…. Grandma? Grandma?” Sally turned around to find her Grandma Lily fast asleep, a big smile on her face, clutching the photograph and a pure white feather, murmuring something about wings and angels. Sally didn’t think she could move her by herself, so she went in to the cottage and brought out every blanket she could find and some string and ten wooden pegs. Within half an hour, she had rebuilt the blanket forts of her youth and wrapped them both up so no cold was going to get to them tonight! She smiled as the lighthouse shone its light onto them. Illuminated in the glow, Sally realised she could not be happier and decided she would stay – so it would be that she’d come to stay one last time, as this time she had no intention of leaving.