Peter stared out across the Atlantic Ocean. From the vastness of the horizon it was easy to dream of adventure and wonder of the sea monsters lurking beneath. With rough weather the ocean was alive, whitened waves were visible even at deep sea. Like snarling teeth bared against the dark rippling wet. Raining heavily, the sky was grey-blue and clouds raced in toward land amongst the turbulent wind. Thunder sounded as though colossal invisible boulders collided mid-air, high up behind the veil of clouds.
Peter knelt down. Both knees sank slightly in the dark wet sand. From the boy’s weight, moisture was forced from the surrounding sand; two paler, discoloured ovals spread out around his knees. After watching this with curiosity, both hands reached down to excavate some sodden sand. He considered his collection and pushed each hand together to create a wet ball. It was dropped. A larger wave swelled towards him. After crashing against the beach it smoothed flat with speed and channelled through his knees; it was cold and sharp. The unexpected temperature of the water came as quite a surprise. Peter was distracted from the ball of sand. He suddenly reeled in the cold, all balance was lost; afterwards falling forward onto his hands. Some rest was sought in this position as the cold swell retreated back to the shoreline. Looking down between his legs the misshapen ball was smoothed away; only a faint anomaly visible where it once lay. Both hands were largely clean spare some grains of sand; he held his hands out to the falling rain and stared upwards with his tongue out to welcome the rain.
Peter turned to locate the source of a voice he recognised.
A small dark silhouette stood visible atop the sand dunes; the sun was low against the backdrop of rolling sand dunes. Frustration could be sensed in the calling. Peter looked to quell the worries of his little sister.
“Wweenddey!” Peter mocked, emulating her last call; standing up from the wet sand he turned to face her. In a panicked fashion, both hands waved to further mock the needless sense of urgency. “Come Down!”
There was a long silent pause as his sister was likely not amused. “It’s raining! Come back to the house! … Mummy said!”
Peter saw that there was no convincing her from such a remote location. There was no use in staying by the shoreline; he ran toward her. After meeting the base of the sand dunes there was a lengthy scramble to the top. The dunes were difficult to climb. Slow progress was made. The reeds were gripped for support. As the dune bank was sodden wet, his hands grew dirtier. It was a large dune. Sharp, low-lying brush scratched his calves. Taller bushes caught his loose white shirt attempting to hold him hostage. He stumbled several times however eventually made it to the top.
“What are you doing? You are crazy,” the girl remarked. “Mummy said that you are going to get a cold.”
“Bah” Peter crossed his arms and looked out to the sea. The light shone onto their backs. It was raining however still warm. The sun was setting behind the dunes; a long shadow loomed from the base of their perch blackening the causeway out to the shoreline.
Peter stared out to sea. He saw what appeared amidst the mix of rain and sunshine; a beautiful uninterrupted rainbow stretched out to sea. “Look!” His arm outstretched pointing towards the rainbow.
Wendy was distracted completely from the rain and looked out to consider the rainbow, a novel sight for one her age. She stared out, consumed by the excitement her brother expressed.
“It means gold!” Peter played, “there is always gold at the end of a rainbow.”
“Gold? … You are a liar!”
“No … gold there is,” he took her hand smiling. After a pause a smile beamed back. “Let’s go.” he walked towards the start of the steep sand bank. “Let’s take a closer look.”
Peter felt a firm pull from his sister holding onto his arm like an anchor
Wendy said “I know a faster way.”
Wendy pulled Peter down. They meandered down a clearance in the dunes. Wendy ran on guiding Peter, still pulling firm on his hand. The two dark shadows raced down the dune side. Eventually they reached the edge of the beach. Laughing in the excitement they now separated both running to the shore edge. Clumps of sand flicked up as they picked up speed. Peter, a much faster runner, pretended to race to the sea. When they reached the shore edge the waves were still relentlessly rolling. They threw off their shoes and socks. Peter knew the sea was cold however they both ran straight into the sea. Standing with waists submerged they paused. They were both out of breath. The short sprint along with the coldness in the water caused a shortness of breath. After turning to face each other Peter looked a little doubtful.
“Quick,” Wendy said, “let’s get the gold.”
Peter held out his hand in restraint to stop Wendy from jumping in further however she was gone. Full paddle ahead towards the rainbow. She swam out deeper to sea in excitement. Peter stood aloof and looked concerned. Although very young, Wendy was a fast swimmer. He had little time to think. Although much older he knew he was slower in the water. Both arms were crossed to keep warm. Shivering in the cold Peter shouted out, “Wait! Wendy wait for me!” Diving into the shallows head first he swam out a bit further. The waves were high and the rain had picked up. It was causing such a disturbance against the water visibility was lost. Wendy could no longer be seen, previously her fair head of hair was clear against the dark water. Swimming out further the impact and scratch of a large cluster of boulders was felt against his foot. The waves made him feel sick but enough strength gathered to stand. A large wave knocked him from the boulder into the deep. He quickly swam back to his perch and stood, staring out to sea, continuing to shout. Every minute that passed the clouds grew denser and the sun set further against his back. He stood continuing to scream out her name. Whilst the storm worsened the rainbow faded, rain and thunder drowned out his cries.
ϴ ϴ ϴ
Some years later Peter was staring out of a train window. Smartly dressed, immobile, sitting on the commuter train to work. The morning was dark and blanket rain covered the horizon. Peter’s reflection was observable; staring back at him in the sterile lit train carriage. After running through rain to catch this train he was warm. The smell of his clothes and hair clung in the air, damp from the soaking rain. The humidity in the train carriage filled both lungs with a wet feeling. His reflection in the window was sat stooped. Dark hair dripped and lay loose over his forehead. Rows of trees by the train tracks flew past silently, blurred stripy shadows. The train continued to plough on towards the city. Peter was grown. Many years had passed since that night in Ireland so long ago. Not a boy. He stared out of the window looking at nothing in particular. His eyes did not track any of the houses, trees or fields that flew past his view. Habituated to the daily grind Peter sat immobilised. The unrelenting rain continued; occasionally the train lurched around a corner and rain pelted the window. Peter was morose as his thoughts were held deep upon Wendy. The sky reminded him of that night in Ireland so long ago. The grey-blue hue on the horizon reminded him of the view from the beach; there was no rainbow. His stomach still churned and tied itself in knots over his feeling of regret. As the train clumsily meandered down the track his body stiffly rolled about. Both knees were pressed together supporting a brown leather satchel. Both hands lay on the satchel clasping. Instinctively the grip responded to bumps throughout the journey.
“Fifteen years … Wendy would be twenty five,” Peter whispered to himself.
Distant in thought he did not notice that the train had reached its final destination. This took him quite by surprise, oblivious that all other passengers were rushing to get out into the station. Hastily he bolted upright. The satchel was placed carefully to one side whilst a sodden jacket was thrown around his back and shoulders. Tying his jacket at the front he grabbed his bag and quickly fled the train. All focus was on rushing to work. He checked his watch. Still raining, no time to stop. No time to buy an umbrella. He tied his jacket closer to his body, held the lapels closer to his chest with one hand and made his way to work. Peter was a missing persons’ detective for Lambeth city council. Not a single day of work was taken as leave throughout his tenure. Inside the satchel were files of all who he was responsible for. One casefile would never leave the satchel, Wendy’s. Paused to regather thoughts, Peter needed to be ridden from this negative emotion. With the satchel placed on top of a wide limestone wall; both hands were pressed against his face. Peter sighed heavily and finally shook all emotions away. After grabbing all belongings the walk continued, focussing on the files ahead.
“Peter, you must make the 10 o’clock meeting,” he muttered to himself.
Close to his office, soon to enter the building. It was just on the next street. Significant speed was gained making a beeline to the apex of the street corner. After turning around the corner there was a sudden trip. He nearly fell over a homeless lady begging on the floor. Although sympathetic, an angry exchange took place to make her aware. However Peter was suddenly struck with emotion.
Her face … Her hair, is it her?
“…” She looked back confused and concerned whilst he stared. The stare persisted for quite some time.
Directly on the other side of the street Peter’s office stood warm and welcoming. There was no sensible resolve to this scenario. Peter remained looking at the lady, exasperated. Eye contact was maintained for a prolonged period. Peter stood rigid, completely hesitant. Embarrassment rose in her expression, slight fear caused her to turn away. There was a sudden sense of urgency that arose in Peter, after checking his wristwatch he turned to make flight towards his office. The rain had paused. This removed some guilt which allowed his decision to turn away. The office now directly ahead. Whilst crossing the road a car pressed its horn loudly and stopped short of colliding with Peter. There was a fast non-verbal exchange; Peter shook with frustration and finally entered the lobby of the office block. Remaining in the lobby the wet coat was pulled off; Peter shook it and placed it on the hat stand. He waved to the receptionist as he walked past with an aloof arm outstretched. Two flights of stairs. He walked to his desk. Still dripping wet and exhausted he sat back in his chair. The satchel was required, dumped on the desk and opened. Peter needed a casefile from within. After unbuckling and opening the briefcase he checked his watch again. A meeting with the family of a missing person was soon. The case file was drawn delicately from the satchel to avoid tearing the wet card. The front of the casefile was rough card, a small photo paper-clipped on the top right corner. It was unclipped and viewed closer. Peter held the small creased image between two thumbs. Clumsy thumbs covered the sides of the image however the boy’s bright smile was unobscured, shining white against his olive skin. His jet black hair was curled and shined.
He paused, put the photo down and looked out the window. The lady still sat begging, head down, nothing visible but her hair. The rain ceased but her hair still wet, dripping from the rain. It was the same colour as Wendy, could it be? He placed the boy’s photo carefully on the desk and went to the window, a long window. He was clearly visible to her. He rested his hand against the glass pane. She suddenly re-shifted and looked up as if aware of the onlooker, the pale oval face stared straight up at him. Peter returned the stare feeling slightly guilty that he had intruded her privacy, her space on the street. He looked at her face searching for any further sign of recognition. Resigned he thought it can’t be her. He stepped back from the window and she sank her head down again. Peter’s hand left a steamed outline against the window that slowly faded on the return to his desk. He had read some of the case file on the journey into work. He sat staring at the case file again, rough recycled brown-green paper. He recited in his head some of the finer detail about the case. The boy missing. The boy lost and out of contact suddenly – and the mother … he remembered and pulled out a second case file. The mother’s image showed a face with rounded eyes. Clear dark pupils. An expression of experience, wisdom however a slight grieved look in her eyes. He lined the case folders flat alongside each other neatly and slowly whilst thinking, his thoughts wondering after trying hard to concentrate, – his eyes wandered to the window, to the lady in the street.
“RING RING – RING RING”
Startled by the loud ring of the phone the receiver was pulled to ear, “Good morning Peter here.” – Some reply could be discerned in a high pitch squeak. – “OK let him in, I am ready for Dr Hussain.”
From the street the homeless lady looked up. Peter’s meeting could be observed through the large windows. Dr Hussain took Peter’s hand and shook it twice firmly. The two case files were opened. Dr Hussain an elderly man offered further information over the hour. Several phone calls were made. Finally the man was taken back to the lobby and given a farewell. Dr Hussain looked out to the sky. It still held the threat of rain, afterwards his gaze fell to the lady ahead on the street. After crossing the road a coin was dropped into the lady’s cup. He continued on his way round the corner.
It started raining again and Peter looked with guilt out of the window. He resolved himself into welcoming her out from the rain. Rushing down through the lobby he grabbed his coat from the hat-stand. Assuming she would like to get out from the cold, he walked over to her in the rain. She was begging by holding her arm out. He put the coat around her and took her in, out of the rain. Into the warmth. The receptionist looked gravely concerned about this action. She did not want to be responsible for this … situation. He sat her in the lobby with his coat on, still dripping wet, whilst he made her a coffee. The lady tried to smile nervously as the receptionist, a sharp look was returned. Peter called her through to the back; into to the kitchen they went to sit at the table. After giving her the coffee he vacated the room. Closing the door he went back to the reception lobby.
“Who is that? I have seen her on that street corner”
“A possible missing person” …
“How is she missing she is in the kitchen area?”
“Its … compl-“
“This is not a homeless shelter, we can’t take people in.” The receptionist was conclusive and returned to typing at the computer. “Not like that.” She tilted her head towards the kitchen not looking.
“I know I know I just need to think” – he reassured her. Peter held the palms of his hands up walking backwards towards the kitchen.
Opening the door to the kitchen the lady remained where she had been left. Peter sat down at the table to join her. Cheap strip lighting made the scene feel almost fake – a replica or creation. “What is your name?”
There was a tone that took the lady aback. Such friendly actions coupled with such distrust. “I’m Amelia.”
Peter nodded, and looked away to the left. This name provided no further clues about Amelia. Frowning, searching within for a question that might identify her. “How did you come about your current living situation?”
“I … am not sure. I was found, taken into care.” Amelia struggled to make sense of the memories. Seeming sad she didn’t want to venture further into the recollection. She released her grip from the cup of coffee and placed both hands on the table, flat and palms downward. She was looking downward however then faced up to see Peter. He was staring at her right hand and looked stricken.
“That! On your hand what is it? The … the brown Mark?”
She suddenly pulled her woollen sleeve further down her arm to cover her hand. She withdrew her hands crossing her arms. “Look what do you want from me? Please tell me now or I go.”
Any sense of fear she had suddenly vented into frustration. Peter now resigned with some certainty that this was Wendy. He told her all of his thoughts. The whole theory explained. Eventually Wendy agreed to hold out her hand. The birthmark on her right hand below her thumb was shaped like a toy bear sat upright. It was a dull brown. Such a distinctive shape it was no coincidence.
“I want to help you. Please wait and I will take the train h …”
“No look here I am a grown adult and I am not your little sister. What’s wrong with you?”
“Let me help you please.”
“How so help? I can’t be helped I am …”
“Come back to mine to at least have a meal and a shower”
“That is not the first time I have heard that, please just let me be.”
“Stay here, I will go back to my wife and let her know. You can meet. … Meet another time.”
Peter insisted, “Stay here I will get some food and leave you alone around 5pm.” He stood up and went to the door to leave, turning back he searched for some assurance she would stay.
“…” No response from Wendy as she sat cross armed across the table. She was trying to avoid any form of eye contact. But she was hungry so shrugged in approval.
Peter looked to have struck on success and waved his fist in victory. With a look of relief he left the room. He walked out to reception and strode to the exit. The receptionist was on the phone but quickly shouted to grab his attention. He waved his hand and darted out to the street.
Peter arrived back in the lobby sometime later. He was carrying a stuffed Sainsbury’s bag full of groceries. Slightly out of breath he placed the shopping aside and hung his coat on the hat-stand. Happy and distracted he did not acknowledge the eyes following him around the room. Turning to get into the kitchen he realised the receptionist was not particularly happy.
“Peter, explain. Although I know that you get results and sometimes think outside the box to find the lost. … But she is not lost, she is sitting in our kitchen between myself and the kettle.”
Peter held a couple of palms up to try to calm the mood, “She is my sister, I am sure of it. My sister, her body was never recovered. There has always been a hope deep down that she was out there somewhere. That seed of hope has blossomed, and I do apologise for the spontaneity.”
The kitchen door opened and Wendy darted for the exit in a fast walk. Continuing to avoid eye contact.
She turned just before going, “I’m not Wendy, I’m not your sister!”
“Wait I can help you, financially help you.”
Wendy looked immediately less defensive. The receptionist resigned that the situation was hopeless, rolled her eyes and got back to work. Peter arranged that Wendy could stay one night whilst he spoke with his wife at home. It was due to be a cold rainy night and even a space on the office floor proved to be more habitable.
ϴ ϴ ϴ
Peter returned for work the next day. He had spoken to his wife and was engaged in quiet conversation with the receptionist. It was explained that his wife didn’t believe him, thought he was going mad.
“I despair Shannon. Is she upstairs?”
“Yes, she can’t hear us Peter, I put her in conference room 2A, with the heating up.”
Peter was leaning against the reception desk, using it for strength and support. His paled face looked tired and had clearly been up due to stress or arguments, or both.
“I can’t let her go out on the street, I need to support her. Anne doesn’t even want to meet her and is demanding a DNA test.”
“Well that’s not such a bad idea, if she comes into your life she is coming into Anne’s too, don’t demonise her for voicing concerns.”
“Yes, voice. Look I’m going to go to tell her the situation, conference 2A?”
[BAM] The kitchen door swing wide open. Wendy was there in the kitchen red faced and leaving the building with speed. Crying she wiped the wet from her nostrils and turned left out the door.
Peter looked slightly angry at the receptionist unsure if he had been deceived and went to chase after her down the street.
“Stop Stop Stop, please let us talk.”
“I am not some specimen to be tested, some rat for your own gratification. I am going, you said you wanted to help me, do I look helped.” She shoved him backwards and continued down the street.
Peter shouted down the street, “I have a cheque for you now!”
Wendy stopped striding off. She froze and in frustration turned around to listen. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a cheque?!”
“I have set up a bank account in your name, registered at my address.” Peter took his chequebook out and waved it before ripping out a cheque. “Take this cheque into any Halifax. This will allow you to get settled. If you ever want to reconnect with your wider family come to the address that the account is registered with.
She walked towards him. After receiving the cheque she looked down holding it in both her hands. She seemed grateful but cautious. With such a gesture it would be rude to express any other emotion but gratitude. With that Peter turned back and walked down the street to his office. Before entering his building he looked up the street to see her gone. His shoulders were alight from years of burden and he was overwhelmed with emotion. He went up to his desk and collapsed in his chair. He looked down at his desk and saw that his casefiles had been disturbed. One file amongst them looked familiar, the file of Wendy. Aged it was a file he had so longingly wanted to close, he opened the lowest draw at his desk and carefully filed it away.
ϴ ϴ ϴ
The girl on the street continued to walk. She was now some distance away from Peter. She looked down at the birthmark on her hand. It was peeling around the edges. She scratched at the edge of the fake birthmark and peeled it away. After discarding it she reached into her acquired jacket retrieving a wad of photocopies. From the photocopies she started to search for her next victim.