I stood scowling on the cliff’s edge, behind the fence where it was safe. Birds circled below. Sparkles glinted off the ocean. The breeze swooped down over the manor roof bringing the aroma of roasting oats. I heard the tapping of Granny Sula’s canes on the rocks as she passed from the lawn to the granite leading up to the fence. I turned. Granny was dressed in wool trousers and jerkin, shirt sleeves billowing. Her massive patchwork silk scarf was tied around her head and shoulders. I longed for the day I could dress as comfortably.
Clack. The cane in her right hand swished to shoulder level, pierced a lump of moss and flicked it through the fence and over the cliff. I had always understood that Granny’s canes were not to aid her in walking. I had seen them slice through the air as she rounded on a servant who fumbled clean laundry into a puddle while trying to hang it on a line too high for the poor thing to reach. I had seen the canes ward off father’s hounds when they chased the chickens, or skewer a chicken that had visited the vegetable garden once too often. I had felt their points in my own back when I slouched over my reading. “A lady must retain her posture no matter how weary.”
Clack. So here she came to pass the morning with me. I sighed. I loved my grandmother and yet conversation with her was rarely easy. But the ring of the cane tips on the stone assured me that this would not be one of those days. Clack. “Bethina Rose!” Clack. “What are you doing there?” Clack. “Gawking at the clouds and waves!” Clack. “Catching flies?”
I adjusted my face and smiled, remembering to widen my eyes in joy at the sight of her. “Granny” I said. “How will you brighten my day?”
“I have a surprise!” she said. “Your fate is about to take a turn.”
“Is this the engagement Father has been planning? Has he finalized the terms, then?” I kissed Granny’s cheek and offered her mine. She gave me a kiss, then patted me on the hand.
“Not everything is about you and your dratted marriage.” Granny’s hand moved to my shoulder and bore down as she hoisted herself to sit on the top pole of the fence. The canes leaned between us.
“Should you be doing that?” I asked. Granny had beaten me herself the last time she had caught me sitting astride the fence.
“It all depends on whose opinion you are seeking,” She said. “Since mine is the only one that matters here, then, yes, I should.” She raised her legs, one after the other, and put them on the seaward side of the fence. She unwound her scarf and began to tie it to her feet.
“What on earth are you about? You’ll trip and fall.” I asked, sounding just like Granny. But her talk of changing my fate distracted me. “So has father done the deal? Has he found a suitable liason?”
“My gracious,” said Granny. She tried to control her scarf as it flapped in the wind. “Why ever would you think that mess with your father was finished? That could go on for years. Men are so fickle, and he is no different.”
“You said that today my fate would take a turn. I assumed marriage.”
“It will indeed, one day. But your father’s arrangements will have nothing to do with it. You young people are so self-centered.”
Granny stood on the lowest rail, leaning back against the one on which she had sat. The scarf remained tangled around her ankles as she captured the flapping ends. I grabbed the back of her jerkin, pulling her down. “Watch out there! You’ll fall.”
The pieces that made up the scarf were culled from scraps. It was a history of the family clothing flowing left to right as Granny wore it now. Nearest to me was the brilliant green of the overdress I now wore. I had helped dye it with weld and indigo. I stroked it now. Granny looked from my hands to my face. She patted my sleeve. “Such a beautiful job you did.” Rare praise, indeed. She took the left hem in her hand and inched her way up, searching. I knew she was looking for another scrap of apple green cloth, the one my mother had dyed when she made my first clothes. “Here it is. And these.” Granny pointed to pieces of mid-day blue embroidered with gold, and one of red with green vines and yellow flowers. “Strong colors for a strong girl.” She patted my cheek.
“Thank you,” I said, not sure how to take the praise, falling back on politeness.
“And here is your mother’s wedding dress,” a pale lavender, “and mine,” grey with swooping birds on the farthest border of the scarf. “The one that started it all.”
Granny stood again. “But, never mind about that,” said Granny. “Just hand me my canes.”
I kept hold of her jerkin and passed her the canes. “Let me help you back over the fence.”
She shook her head. “No, I’m changing your fate, today,” she said as she jabbed the cane tips to catch in the corners of the scarf, “your fate and mine,” she said. Granny twisted out of my grasp, clasped the cane heads together, and leapt. The glory of her flight and the sureness of her death warred in me.
The scarf snapped out taut, a giant kite with Granny and her canes making the spines. She called out as she fell, caught an updraft, and swooped out toward the sea, scattering the birds and rising above them. The gaudy scarf was unmistakable even in the distance.
I stood, hands grasping the fence, and wept. I watched my grandmother soar and dive, gaining distance from the land, but not casting into the ocean. Then I saw a gray and silver sail emerge over the horizon. It turned toward Granny and she dove toward it. The two merged, Granny and the ship.