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A rose for the past

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Picking his way over, Bill mopped his forehead and tilted his hat forward to shade him from the fierce heat. He should have been used to it by now. He reckoned he was getting old. That scared him a little. He found what he was looking for and wandered over to the neglected plot. No one had been here for years. Donna said she had visited once but she'd barely set foot on the mainland a year after great aunt Sophia died. He took some time to clear away the dead grass and leaves, crisped to tinder. Cleared the pebbles and washed away the dirt form the modest tombstone. There she was. Great aunt Sophia. He'd only met her once in his life. 21 years ago. He'd grown up seeing a picture of her on the mantlepiece, the one where she was a young woman of 25. A tall handsome woman. His mother had never seen her again after she'd married his father and moved to Australia. Letters went back and forth since then until Eleni died. They'd never heard from her again. His father had written to her to tell her what had happened, but they never heard back. She died a few years later, her worldly possessions had gone to family, so they had been told. They didn't know who was left from Eleni's family but accepted the solicitor's confirmation. They'd barely thought of her since.

Bill sometimes had dreams about his mum. Only once did Sophia appear, in a shadow in the background. They were sepia dreams, made hazy with never realised promise. Eleni would have loved to have known she had a strong-minded granddaughter named after her beloved aunt. He still had the ornate turquoise and silver crucifix that had hung in the kitchen of his childhood home. He'd taken it with him everywhere since the funeral.

He sat down in the clearing and stared at the stone. He knew he was sitting on her grave but didn't think it mattered. Closing his eyes, he thought back to when he told Rosie about why he'd come to Greece. His mum was dying and wanted him to see her aunt, for her. Rosie had understood how it felt. He didn't know how but she did. There was a lot she hadn't told him about her past. One day he was going to ask her.

Lost in the memories of his childhood, he jumped as something snaked across his hand. Opening his eyes, he saw a ginger cat staring right at him. It was well fed for feral, likely to be given scraps by the priest. The cat wound himself around Bill's arm, purring for ear scratches. Bill happily obliged. His mum had spoken of having a cat around when she was growing up. He liked to think that this was one was from a related litter. It had the softest fur.

He stayed there for a while, thinking of the one and only time he had met Sophia. She had shrunk, he could tell, but she had tremendous energy still and one of the strongest grips he'd ever come across. One of the local boys translated for him as his Greek was elementary. He'd always regretted not learning more about this side of the family. There was a fire in the old woman's eyes as she spoke about all sorts of things; her favourite niece, living through the war and traditions of the town. He'd learned such a lot and couldn't wait to tell his mum. He still had the notes he'd made about it. He had had a fantastic trip; got a slice of history with a dab of very pleasant company from Donna and a spark of the future. He couldn't have known what was to play out so many years later. When the sun started falling and the air got chillier, he finally placed the wreath of roses that Rosie had organised for him, on the gravestone. Of the deepest darkest red, it bloomed like a ring of energy around the stone.

The cat slinked off as he got up and stretched. He didn't know if he would be back again. Buried here was a piece of the past he'd barely got to know. But here was the start of a future he never thought he'd had. He silently thanked great aunt Sophia for the magic she had woven to bring him back and direct him from here. She had considered a young woman and her baby to be her family and had repaid Donna's kindness and generosity by looking after them in turn. She couldn't possibly have known Bill had a chance of being the father of that baby.

He looked back one last time as he left. The roses glowed like they were on fire. Protecting Sophia's spirit and keeping her tethered to memory. Then, away he went, striding over the parched graveyard and he took several steps towards Sophie, towards Rosie and to his new horizon.