Mystery flash fiction
‘Estelle’ by Sarah Ann Hall
It wasn’t until she was thirty that Estelle found the one she wanted to spend her life with. She’d never been fussy: her one desire for a life partner was someone who would be emotionally strong, and few fitted the bill. There had been whispers about Estelle for as long as she could remember. She was hard and cold, aloof and taciturn. In a small gossipy village, the suspicions weren’t likely to end once she settled down. More likely her partner would become the subject of speculation and rumour. What did he or she see in Estelle? What did the two of them get up to in that isolated house on the hill?
The villagers didn’t like strangers as a rule; so incomer Geraint, flitting where the wind took him, should have had a hard time. Instead, his honest, open face won them over. Everyone, from the cold-hearted potter to the narrow-minded water diviner, fell in love with him. It took her some time to trust him enough to let him really know her; and when he did, she knew she had found the one. He made her happy and laugh, but more importantly she never considered that he would leave; no matter how much she teased and warned him off. Even so, it was unnerving for Estelle the morning the baker’s assistant smiled at her, letting her know what joyful news it was to hear that Geraint was moving in. Not that many years previously, people would have told Geraint to stay away from the harpy in the bindweed bedecked cottage who had buried all her family long before their time. Where Estelle was concerned, the villagers had been protective of newcomers in spite of their antipathy towards them.
When the wedding came it was well attended. The faces beamed wide at Estelle, where she had formally seen only scowls in her direction. Estelle may have been considered an enchantress by the villagers, but little did they know Geraint was the one casting spells.
Two years into married life, they had a well-stocked and tended cottage where villagers often gathered to discuss herbs and remedies. As they lay in bed each morning, Estelle would comment to Geraint how much he had changed things; how she almost missed the bitter, barbed comments that used to fly her way. Geraint would shake his head and say it must have all been in her imagination; then carried on naming the tens of children they would have in time.
His dreams were not to be, fate had dictated. Geraint’s light went out just as the seed he had planted started to grow. One morning Estelle rose, and Geraint didn’t follow her downstairs. She made fennel tea; he didn’t respond to its tempting aroma. She let him sleep and climbed the stairs at lunchtime with bread and cheese. When he still didn’t wake, the tray clattered to the floor and Estelle’s heart shut to the world.
Geraint’s body stopped working. There were no suspicious circumstances, no fingers pointed Estelle’s way. Geraint was taken away, the funeral organised without her. Estelle was escorted into and out of church by watchful, tender elders. The wake went on around her. Estelle was numb to what had happened, and what was still to come.
Every day the women of the village took the steep path to visit, carrying cake and soothing advice. Estelle remained quiet, just as she always had, the seed in her belly putting down roots. When the aunts and mothers became aware of Estelle’s condition, they stopped their cake baking and took to inviting themselves to dinner. They brought stews or hearty broths on occasion, and sat with the distant one to make sure she ate every mouthful.
It seemed that with Geraint’s charming of the village, Estelle and any offspring, would be cared for; no matter her quirkiness and discomforting stillness. She was now shy, they claimed, not stand-offish as they had once thought. The poor girl wasn’t evil or wicked. Her mother had died young and Estelle hadn’t been taught all she needed to know or the right way to behave. People should have made allowances. Better a late start than none.
When the time came for Geraint’s daughter to be born, Estelle put the red and purple rug on the line as she had been directed. The women of the village trailed up the path, two-by-two, to take their allotted shifts. Not many hours later, Roisin arrived screaming, the spit of her father. Estelle watched her grow, knowing Roisin was never truly hers. Of the two things Estelle loved most in her life, one was given to her by the other, and she could keep neither.
Roisin was schooled and spoilt by all, a gift to the village with her ready smile and quick wit. Everyone loved her as they had her father, and through her they continued to reach out to her mother. When Roisin left the village to see the world, Estelle was alone again, knowing she would never share her home with another. Nevertheless, mountains had moved in the twenty years since Geraint had stumbled into her life. Instead of retreating, as she might once have done, Estelle chose to bask in the love and care of those around her. She used her knowledge of herbs and nature to make life better for others. In time, Estelle was referred to as an old sage, not the crone or hag she might once have become.
About THis Mystery flash fiction
This wonderful flash fiction was selected as the Mystery Category Winner in Lore Fiction’s 2018 Launch Writing Contest! Having been first published on Lore’s medium page, it has been ported here to Lore’s new online home. This moving tale was written by Sarah Ann Hall.
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