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© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland  

This story evolved from a dream. In the article entitled 'The Dream Ascending' the author gives an insight into how dreams can be used by a writer to provide inspiration.


For Maria, and for those dearest


It happened a very long time ago.
And only the once, do you see.

I came from far off to a new school.
I was eight, going on nine years old.
That first day at school I saw her, and I was enchanted.
Her name was Sencha. She was, how can I tell you?
She was. She was.
She wore a lavender muffler about her neck to keep out the biting breeze that threatened to blind her with her own blonde-dark hair.
Her hand was raised to ward off the wind; the pale palm turned outward, the delicate fingers splayed against the tangles.
She was laughing together with several other girls but her face was turned toward me, as if in welcome.
As if she already knew me.
As if we were friends already.
I wished to be bold enough to stride up and say my name to her. I already knew hers, having heard one of the others call her by it.
But I am shy by nature, yes even now, and I was even shyer back then.
She was wearing a tunic of some dark green material, with buttons down the front, and a lemon blouse beneath.
And the pleats of her red plaid skirt were fit to slice butter, and that's a fact.
She danced a jig and a twirl on her neat black-shod feet, the white of her knee-socks contrasting with her tanned legs as the skirt billowed up, and I was smitten all at once.

In the many weeks that followed, I watched her. Watched and marvelled at her blithe ways, her good-will, her delight with others.
But we never actually spoke, each to the other. Yet there were times when I felt... I don't know... perhaps as if there was no need to speak.

And so I dawdled through the days of school, until one day our grade began the folk dance classes.
We boys stood about uncertainly, whilst the teachers mustered everyone together in the open air of the green and the girls looked upon us with varied expressions of idle curiosity and complete disregard.
It was the ritual, do you see, that the girls should each choose a partner for the dance and stay thus so until the classes ended.
The first two or three girls picked their partners with indifference, almost embarrassment, at the task.
Then it was Sencha's turn.
I was at the rear of the group, peering over and around basin-cut hair and protruding ears, and the snickering of boys caught up so in a situation that was best to ridicule that they remain aloof from the process.
She walked toward the first rank of grinning, nodding, freckled faces. And easing them aside, she slid betwixt their slight frames and ventured beyond, until she came face to face with me.
'I choose you.'
That was all she said.
But when we were together, stamping away: heel and toe, heel and toe, pivoting and touching, clasping hands, circling and bowing and circling again and again, I felt her soft, strong, supple wrists and smelled the sunny warmth of her hair and her fresh washed skin.
And I loved her, even then, as only a child can love another child.

I laboured through the days of school, each day a treasure to be there in sight of her, where she laughed and teased with her friends, and I, working at my lessons, hoping to excel, so that I might elevate myself in her eyes.
There was no need.
As I found out, to my surprise. And though I did well enough to keep up and better those of my level, it seemed to make little difference to Sencha. For when we came together at folk-dancing, it was as if we had never really been apart.

We walked home together after school, all the long miles to her village. I met her parents. She introduced me to them without reservation, without secrecy, without a second thought.
She was an only child. But she had a dog. A cairn terrier. Corrie was his name. And such a stout and robust little beast was he that I soon made friends with him.

And on the long, balmy evenings before nightfall, we would take him across the meadows and out beneath the lee of the trees that swayed under the milky sky at dusk.
Then I would say my goodbyes, and take the low paths all the way to home and supper.

And so it went for many a month. And I watched her eyes glinting, and her lithe form flitting, and her agile limbs disporting by the bright of day and the hint of autumn.
My Mother and Father had no cause for displeasure at these events. I always did as they bade and was there when required.
Though I was aware that Father could be posted somewhere else sometime in the future... Never now... Never until... 
Sencha and I were benevolently observed: though we may not have been that much aware, by adults who were trusting and yet not unmoved by our adolescent tryst.

On the many times of our walks together, we would speak of our lives and our hopes of what might become us in the future. And Sencha would take me by the hand and turn my head toward the setting sun and say, 'There, my dear, is where you and I are bound together: out into the sunset, looking forward to the next new day. Let us walk that way together.'
And we would cry and laugh, and hug each to the other.
'Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life... '

By the hard days of winter's turn, when the leaves were all gone and the grasses rattled with the death of autumn, it happened.
Sencha did not come to school.
I ran through the misting rain, as hard and swiftly as I could, to her tucked-away village, to her cottage house, and there discovered Corrie, moping about at the low door that was the threshold of his home. I picked him up, brushing away the slick upon his back.
He whimpered, as I knocked and was let inside.
Sencha was very ill.
What it could be, no one seemed to know.
The doctor from a larger, more prominent village, could only shake his head.
It was some kind of malady, the like of which he had never encountered.

Days and days, and weeks wore on, and never did she improve enough to break that dreadful spell.
True, at whiles she could rise for a time and take a short turn outside; long enough for her little Corrie to follow in her footsteps.
But the wasting away continued, and Sencha fell ever closer to... 
I could not bear to contemplate that final thought.

I walked every day from home to school to her house, and then to home again.
A long and weary way.
There was now no folk dance. And those at my school were all still and silent with me.

Once, as I held her hands beneath the coverlet, she managed the faintest smile.
'Corrie,' she said. 'Please take care of my Corrie.'
I did as she had asked.
I took him from her bedside and begged her parents to release him to me, and they, in their grief, agreed.
Mother and Father did not mind, and that was a relief for all in a way.

During the bad weather of winter, I would go home after school and gather him up, and tuck him beneath my mackintosh and clump away in worn gumboots to Sencha's village, and they were reunited every evening that I could manage.
Sencha slipped from good to bad, from peace to restlessness, and her parent's faces mirrored their grave concern.
Nothing, no cure, was to be found that could produce a remedy.
At school's end, before Christmas, she rallied and hope revived us all. Yet try as hard as she might she could not shake the thing that returned to bear her down.

After Christmas, I and my parents and the little dog went to stay with an aunt for a short holiday beside the sea. But all the while I remained miserable and longed for home, for Sencha.

With the burgeoning of springtime we returned and I took Corrie along to the village, hastening as swiftly as I could, only to discover that Sencha's house had been closed. The windows were shuttered and all sign of occupation was gone.
The next door lady informed me that Sencha had been taken away by her parents to a place where doctors of great repute practised, and there they hoped and trusted a cure might be discovered that would bring her back to health.
Into my hand, the old lady thrust an envelope, a tear glistening in her eye as she nodded in a knowing way.
I took it from her, still holding Corrie in my arms, and tore open the seal.
'My dear one,' it read, 'Mother has written this on my behalf, since I am too weak. I assure you that I will make every endeavour to return to you, and to my lovely Corrie. Wait for me.'
Then, from her Mother, the message went on, 'We have to do this thing. It may be the only way to save her. Please tell your parents of our plight. We trust them and you to take good care of Sencha's Corrie. Hopefully, we will repay you all very soon.'

And thus the summer came and went and autumn loomed again, and school began and I went about it with little Corrie now always somewhere close by.
Then the news came to Father that he was to find a post in India, working for our government in the India Office as an Administrator.

And it was time, soon enough, for us to pack and leave our simple lodgings.
I made an arrangement with a neighbour to take on Corrie. She was in fact an elderly lady who was happy to have a companion, and though he looked at me so sombrely, I steeled myself to this last and final parting.

The end of days.
The end of school at least, where I had found happiness with Sencha.
It was now late autumn, though the sky belied it. The sun fell through the day, strewing it's light across the fields; showering them in a brief, final display before the roll of winter's thrall.

I made my way slowly now, over the rolling hills, down toward the low road that wound on to the home that was to be mine for just a short while longer.
I lifted my gaze, and there on a grassy crest she was.
My Sencha.
She raised her arm in a liquid motion.
When I reached her, she said, 'Here, come sit by me,' and touched the green quitch that moved, almost like seaweed beneath the surface of placid waters.
I saw that she was wearing the plaid skirt. Its sharp pleats fell over her legs where she had tucked them beneath her.
The wind ruffled her tawny hair as it tumbled about her shoulders and the navy blue roll-neck of her thick, woollen sweater.
I knelt down beside her. And she looked into my eyes and said, 'For your kindness,'
and touched her soft lips to mine. I remember how cool and moist they were.
I remember that instant as if it lasted for an hour.

I lay on my back with my head upon her lap, only the twill of the pleats between my neck and her legs.
I looked up into her face, the blonde brown hair framing her features: the unblemished skin, the hazel eyes beneath the dark tufts of her brows. And I saw that she was smiling, almost as if to herself.
And beyond her, high up and winding ever higher, I glimpsed a lark, and I heard its faint, sweet cry come, rolling down the wind.
Sencha's fingers were stroking my hair. Gentle fingers.
We were.

Corrie is now long gone. Yet I think of him often, lying up there, asleep beneath the heather.
It was so very long ago.
Was it a dream.
Perhaps. And maybe.
But ohh.
Such a dream.

Yes, I'm almost done now.
I shall be along presently my dear.
My dearest.
My Sencha.


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