Featured Story

THE ARRIVAL, THE DESTINATION, THE JOURNEY

By Jan Pike

The arrival at the destination of this journey will be too late – two years, ten months, and three days too late.

The anticipation leading up to the journey was a weight that sometimes Jenny thought she could no longer carry. It had taken her twenty years to pluck up the courage, but the decision had now been made. She was driving the 376 kilometres alone. Her husband, Barry, was blasé about the whole matter, disappointing for Jenny when she needed some moral support.

A bit of research into the journey provided Jenny with details of the route, the distance, and the time it would take her. She also learned that often radio reception was sketchy and because she would need something to occupy her mind, she visited the local library and borrowed two Talking Books. Her car had a CD player and each boxed set contained ten CDs. She’d calculated one book there and one book back.

“I’m leaving in the morning early,” she told Barry on Thursday night.

On Friday morning, after breakfast Barry left for work calling out as the screen door slammed, “Don’t forget to ring me when you arrive in Dubbo.”

The kids called out as they left for school, “Hope the relos are rich!”

Jenny sat at the table, the breakfast detritus all around her, wondering was she doing the right thing? Should she just leave well enough alone? Then she stood up and said out loud “Bugger them, I’m doing this. They can clean this up when they get home.”

After loading her bags into the boot, checking that the fuel tank was full and the windscreen free of bugs, she settled herself into the driver’s seat. Disc One was removed from the box of Jodi Piccoult’s Small Great Things and she pressed play.

The kilometres rolled by quickly beneath the tyres and it wasn’t too long before she was over the Blue Mountains and arriving in Bathurst where Jenny would stop for coffee and a sandwich. After parking the car, she noticed a Quilting Shop nearby. A brief visit here and before she knew, she had purchased a kit to make a bag for her friend’s birthday and a new pair of expensive scissors for herself.

It was another 190 kilometres from here to Dubbo so after her coffee and sandwich, it was back into the car, another disc slipped into the player, and she was off.

Reaching Dubbo, finding Wentworth Crescent was relatively easy. She had a description of the house: red brick, window shutters and a yellow front door. And there it was! Sitting comfortably on the block amid a picturesque cottage garden. Her anxiety was at a maximum, heart palpitations and sweaty palms. “You’ve come this far, don’t back out now,” she told herself.

This was the home of her birth mother’s sister, Maureen. Although Jenny had known since she was eighteen that she was adopted, the search for her birth family didn’t take precedent over other things happening in her life at the time. She met Barry, married, bought a home, and had the children. It was only recently that she felt a hole inside that needed to be filled. Barry was a loving husband but not empathetic to how she felt. After all, he had his large extended family, he knew his heritage.

Before Jenny could change her mind and drive away, the yellow front door opened and two women stood together, smiling towards her. Jenny had no choice now other than to leave the car.

“Hello,” said the older woman, stepping forward and kissing Jenny lightly on her cheek. “Welcome to my home. I’m Maureen and this is my daughter, Helen. Please come in and have a cuppa.”

This was not the arrival Jenny had expected although she didn’t really know exactly what she was expecting. They didn’t squeal at the sight of each other nor fling their arms around, buckling at the knees and sobbing, like reunions on some television shows.

“Did you have a good trip?” Helen enquired shyly.

“Yes, thanks. I stopped in Bathurst for a short while.”

The conversation lulled. After all, they were strangers. But they were also family.

Maureen brought out scones, jam, and cream, as well as a date slice and shortbread biscuits.

“Mum loves to cook,” said Helen.

“Yes, I was up at six this morning especially,” replied Maureen. “Help yourself, love.”

Having had more than her fill of scones and slice, Jenny sat back and listened to Maureen tell her about her mother, Marsha. Marsha had spent the last seventeen years of her life living in this house with Maureen, after Marsha’s second marriage had failed. She wasn’t married when Jenny was born, and she never had any children after that time.

Maureen went into the bedroom and came back with a box then handed it to Jenny. Taking off the lid, she could see inside two photographs of Marsha as a young woman and a small red velvet drawstring pouch. Inside the pouch was a ring and a pearl bracelet set in filigree.

“This is all I have belonging to Marsha. I saved it in case you ever came looking,” said Maureen. The only other item was the service booklet from Marsha’s funeral. Jenny felt a cold shiver when she looked at the date on the booklet. On the same day as she was celebrating her fortieth birthday with three of her best girlfriends in the Rock Lobster Restaurant in Sydney, her mother was being buried in Dubbo. This was two years, ten months and three days ago.

The afternoon passed quickly with a visit from Helen’s daughters and two neighbours. It was awkward for Jenny. She felt like an exhibit in a carnival sideshow passing through town. She had reached her destination but the connection with these people was just not there.

After breakfast the next morning, Jenny said her goodbyes to Maureen and Helen.

“Please do come again and stay in touch,” smiled Maureen. “It’s been lovely meeting you.”

Jenny sat in the car, slipped her mother’s pearl bracelet onto her wrist, and put Disc 1 of The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham into the CD player before starting the return journey home.

Jan Pike © 2021

 

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