A Daughter Returns
after fourteen years lost - 📖 FICTION
El Dorado County, California, 1949
On a late November morning, the newly-married Clunes’ awoke to the first snow of the season gently falling past their window, thin as tattered gauze. The bedroom was mostly dark at six a.m., everything in the room outlined in shadow. The two of them, tangled together like kittens under the old quilts, were disinclined to leave their bed. They had felt the same reluctance every morning now for ten days, their first ten days as husband and wife.
The house was quiet except for the gentle snoring of Maggie, asleep on his carpet next to them. A woodpecker was already at work battering a tree in the back yard. There was the creaking of wood against wood as the house contracted in the cold. A mocking bird, oblivious of the snow, had been in his own insomniac world all night, and was still at it on the highest tree, singing out words as fast as he could think them up and combine them: “Giggle. Giggle-giggle. Cheek! Cheek! Giggle-Cheek!” These were the morning sounds that brought the Clunes’ back into the waking world.
But they couldn’t loll about today. Today was the 21st of November! As they lay there wrapped up in each other, Louvina said, “Bartle, think of it - that California Zephyr is carrying Ayla home to us this very minute. She will be dropped into your arms today after 14 years gone. Imagine!” She jumped quickly out of bed, found her wool slippers, and went to make coffee. Maggie followed her into the kitchen. Bartle would meet his daughter at the Sacramento station about one o'clock.
Louvina insisted that Bartle and Ayla have their first meeting without a third person along. She told Bartle she would stay home. “I am going to get caught up on all this ironing,” she’d told him. “Then I will make a rhubarb pie and a pot of chicken stew with dumplings.” She would keep busy and stay calm. Her heart went out to her husband, and her thoughts were with him the entire day as he drove down to the valley to get his girl.
Bartle stood on Platform 2 as the sleek orange and silver Zephyr Streamliner pulled in. It was right on time. He stood back as scores of animated passengers alit and pushed their noisy way through to the lobby exit. He waited for what seemed like hours, but were really only minutes. Finally, he saw her.
The porter carried down the steps two small, heavy metal trunks which he stacked on a cart for her, and she stepped down off the train. Bartle recognized her, of course, from the photo she had sent, but more from his memory of the large brown eyes and crooked smile that were his baby girl’s. They were not unlike his own.
He found himself ill-prepared for the intense wrenching of his heart at the sight of her walking toward him. Standing in front of his daughter, he found no immediate words. He didn't even try to hide his emotions. Ayla, old enough to recognize both his joy and his sadness, stood quietly for a moment.
“Ayla,” he said, shaking his head and pulling out his handkerchief. “My Ayla. I cannot believe you are here.” She walked up to him and they put their arms gently around each other.
“Hello, Daddy,” she said.
Bartle would later describe to his wife the overwhelming feeling of grace that had flooded through him at that moment, the freely given and unmerited favor of God.
Bartle held his daughter for a minute. She felt very thin to him, her jacket too light for winter. She smelled faintly of pine soap. Her head fit just under his chin. After a moment, she gave him a sweet self-conscious smile and put her hand in his. “Are you hungry?” he asked. “We have a two-hour drive.” Ayla had been en route from Salt Lake City for over fifteen hours, and had eaten little. They stopped first at the station cafe and picked up sandwiches and bottles of ginger ale to take with them.
Driving through the low winding hills, neither knew what to say. Bartle kept looking over at her and smiling. Her hands were clasped securely around a small leather bag on her lap. The word ‘Idaho’ was worked in tiny glass beads across the front of it. She fiddled with the fringes. Bartle, taking the lead, said, “Well… tell me something about your life, Ayla, if you would, please.”
“I scarcely know where to begin,” she answered.
“Well, I don't know... maybe you could just begin with some things that you want me to know right off? Where have you been? Have you been happy?” Bartle wanted to know everything about his daughter and the childhood he had missed out on. He hoped he was prepared to hear it. Though she was nearly a woman now, the image of his two-year-old brown-eyed girl clinging to her rag doll and crayons was what he saw.”
This is a favorite excerpt from Bartle Clunes. His entire tale is listed chapter by chapter in the Bartle Clunes archive. CLICK HERE for a quick look.
Thank you for reading 🍁LEAVES! Subscribe to receive posts on Saturday and Wednesday. It is free.