'The Watson Women' excerpt

She never expected to be here after all this time. And yet, as she traced the familiar path to the porch, Emily Watson knew this was the only place she belonged. The weatherboard cottage was just as she remembered. Eternally fresh white paint touched every picket and crevice, contrasting with the vivid blue front door reminiscent of the Grecian isles. Iceberg roses continued their slow climb past the French windows to the roof. How they grew so well out here was beyond her. Then again, she never did have a green thumb. Gran could grow anything. Emily couldn’t even be trusted with succulents. Frilly flower boxes lined the windowsills and were filled with the season’s blooms. Inside, lace curtains cast floral silhouettes across the grey hardwood floors. She had expected to see Benji sniffing around the front door. But no one was home. Emily turned on her heel to face the sea breeze. It splashed her face awake with its invisible kiss and tossed her long brunette ponytail over her shoulder. She could already taste salt on her lips. Memories of her summers here washed over her. ‘Emily!’ a wistful voice gasped. As Emily turned, half a dozen leads flapped into the wind like ribbons and dogs burst from Gran in all directions, their pup enthusiasm still intact. Wearing a white turtleneck knit and the broadest smile known to man, Gran stumbled over the scurrying canines before climbing the steps to close the space between them. ‘Oh, Emily…’ Gran pulled her into a firm warm hug then, before letting go, squeezed her tight for good measure. ‘Oh!’ Gran’s joyous voice chimed. ‘Oh, come in, darling. You’ll be swept away out here.’ She flicked her dark pixie-like fringe out of her eyes and eased the bright front door open. ‘It wasn’t locked?’ Emily asked. ‘Oh, no. Who’s going to steal from an old granny like me?’ She whistled once and all the dogs clambered inside. Emily straightened her black jacket and followed Gran into the kitchen. ‘Are these all yours?’ Gran immediately filled the kettle. ‘Oh, darling, I wish! No, I’ll return them to their owners soon. I just brought them home for a drink. Speaking of which… tea?’ ‘By any chance, do you have coffee?’ Gran’s expression fell for a moment. ‘Hmm yes, somewhere in here… let me see…’ Emily watched her rummage right to the back of the upper cabinets. Stacks of boxes of Yorkshire tea were accompanied by some malt and sugar but no coffee. ‘That’s okay,’ Emily said swiftly. ‘Is there a café nearby? My shout. We can return the dogs and head there.’ ‘Oh, that sounds lovely! Let me find you some walking shoes. You can’t possibly walk all that way in those…’ ‘Walk?’ Before Emily could offer the comfort of her SUV, Gran was handing her a ball of socks and an old pair of white sneakers. ‘There!’ Gran said proudly. ‘I’ll find you a hoodie, then we can be on our way. You can’t go in that smart jacket of yours.’ She brushed Emily’s suited arms in appreciation then drifted away again to search the beach cottage. ‘Just hang it on the coat rack by the door…’ By the time they – and the six canines – left the cottage, the only items of clothing still belonging to Emily were her knickers, bra, and skinny jeans. And that was only because Gran’s wouldn’t fit. ‘Good morning!’ Gran swept into the town bakery. ‘Good morning, Mrs Watson!’ the barista said with smile. ‘What would you like?’ Emily asked as they approached the counter. ‘I’m still thinking,’ Gran said. ‘You order first.’ ‘I’ll have a large triple-shot flat white on almond milk,’ she said, well-rehearsed. ‘And could I please have a quarter strength skim cappuccino with two sugars, please? In a mug, if you please?’ Gran asked. ‘Oh, and could we also have a slice of carrot cake and chocolate mud to share, please?’ Emily reached for her wallet. ‘Gran, I’m on a diet.’ Gran pushed her hand away. ‘Your money’s no good here. Why don’t you go find us a seat?’ ‘Gran,’ Emily warned. ‘Let your grandmother buy you a treat,’ she said, giving Emily one of her best mock-scolding looks. Emily sighed, understanding all too well that it was a hopeless argument. She would just slip some cash into Gran’s purse later when she wasn’t looking. Gran eventually joined Emily at the outside table for two overlooking the main road through town. Benji helped herself to the complementary bucket of water before resting beside Gran’s chair. ‘Aren’t you going to ask why I’m here?’ Emily asked as Gran sat down. ‘Darling, you are my family. My blood. You are welcome here, anytime. You know that.’ Emily nodded. Once upon a time she had known that, but time and space could change one’s perspective on such things. ‘I bought a copy of your latest book,’ Gran said, beaming. ‘It’s lovely. I’ve recommended it for my book club. They’re into romance and all that.’ ‘Gran, I would’ve given you a copy, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, to be honest. Eat your heart out Mills and Boons…’ ‘Oh, enough of that. Besides, I wanted to buy one.’ She shrugged. ‘I would so love for you to sign it for me, though. Then I can show all my girlfriends.’ Emily stifled a laugh. ‘Of course, but perhaps they would like to see one of your multi-award-winning novels.’ ‘That was a million years ago,’ she said dismissively. ‘I only write a poem here and there now.’ ‘Poetry is making quite a comeback. I’m sure a publisher would love to claim the long-awaited work by esteemed novelist Felicity Watson. I swear, your name is the only reason anyone even looked at me…’ ‘Nonsense. You write beautifully.’ ‘Maybe I used to.’ Emily offered a tight brief smile. ‘But churning out saucy romances under strict guidelines isn’t exactly my idea of writing. Do you know the heroine has to meet the hero within the first three chapters or else they won’t even look at it? And forget changing up tenses or point of view…’ ‘Why do you do it then?’ Gran asked with genuine curiosity in her kind face. ‘It doesn’t sound like you’re enjoying it very much.’ Emily swallowed hard. She felt too ashamed to verbalise the real reason. Not when Gran made it into the publishing world with pure literary talent and meaningful novels that changed the way people viewed the world. The only way Emily had changed the world was by setting unrealistic relational expectations. Before she could admit this to Gran, the barista placed two plated cake slices and coffee mugs before them with after-dinner mints on the side. ‘Thank you, darling.’ Gran eased the chocolate mud cake closer to Emily. ‘I do love this place. The service is always so good.’ Emily sipped her flat white and absentmindedly sighed. The service station coffee just hadn’t cut it at 4am. ‘How’s your mum and dad? I feel like I haven’t seen my dear son in ages.’ ‘Good.’ Emily licked her upper lip, relishing in the strong bean. ‘I spoke to them on the phone the other night. Dad said he drove down to see you last weekend.’ ‘Oh yes, he did, bless him. Still, any time not seeing your children feels like ages. You’ll understand one day when you have your own.’ Emily changed the subject. ‘How’s Aunt Margot?’ ‘Oh, I actually have a letter for her right… here…’ Gran tugged a pile of envelopes from inside her Scottish terrier print shopping bag. ‘It is Wednesday, after all.’ ‘What happens on Wednesday?’ ‘Oh, all sorts of things. After I walk the dogs, I send my letters. Every second Wednesday I go to the bank, do the grocery shopping,’ she said then added, ‘Pension Day, you see…’ Emily took a guilty bite of chocolate mud cake. The sweetness hit her like an oncoming train. Meanwhile, Gran tore two more sachets of raw sugar and sprinkled the crystals into her mug. ‘Why, hul-lo Felicity,’ an elderly gentleman said as he strode past, tipping his grey hat. ‘Fancy seein’ you ‘ere.’ ‘Barry!’ Gran smiled broadly – Emily couldn’t imagine Gran being blasé about seeing anyone. ‘How are you?’ She continued before waiting for an answer. ‘This is my granddaughter. She’s come for a visit.’ ‘Oh, that’s grand, that is! I thought this fine young lady looked like you. I saw her and thought, she must be a Watson!’ Gran laughed. ‘How’s that daughter of yours goin’? Margot, wasn’t it? You know, my son took a shine to her last she was down. Good fella, he is. Come to think of it, I have a nephew just about your age, too.’ Old man Barry winked at Emily. ‘Oh, hush you,’ Gran said with a wave of her hand. ‘She’s only been here five minutes.’ ‘Alright, alright, but you just say the word.’ Emily cleared her throat. ‘Thanks.’ ‘Well, you ladies enjoy your day.’ He tipped his hat again and headed off down the street, no doubt in search of a woman to look after him, his son, or his nephew – whichever age bracket the lucky woman happened to fall into. ‘Insufferable man,’ Gran mumbled. Emily coughed, choking on her coffee. ‘He asked me to marry him once,’ Gran said, wide eyed. She grinned. ‘Of course, he did. Why wouldn’t he, a catch like you.’ ‘Hush you,’ she said, playfully tapping Emily’s hand. ‘Eat your cake.’ After they finished every sugary crumb, they walked the footpath up to the bank. Gran didn’t bother with the ATM but was on first name basis with the manager. ‘Password?’ Michelle asked. Gran gave her a sly look. ‘It’s to keep your memory sharp,’ Michelle said. ‘Fine then, Psalms.’ ‘Good. How much would you like?’ ‘How much have I got in there?’ Michelle glanced at Emily. ‘Oh, this is my granddaughter,’ Gran said proudly. Michelle nodded once. ‘About thirty-four thousand in this account.’ ‘Maybe give me a thousand then,’ Gran said decidedly. ‘I’ve got a few things to pay.’ Michelle looked wary again, and Emily turned away. ‘Gran, I’ll wait outside for you,’ she whispered, taking Benji’s lead. The last thing Emily wanted was for anyone to think she was taking advantage of her. Perhaps coming here was a mistake? Still, she couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. ‘All done,’ Gran announced, then continued to hum and sing beneath her breath all the way to the post office. An old-fashioned bell announced their entrance. ‘Ah, my favourite customer,’ the man said from behind the counter, bowing his head. ‘Good morning Mrs Watson!’ Gran laughed heartily, bending to pet Benji beside her. ‘Oh, good morning! I have my beautiful granddaughter staying with me, as well!’ Gran stepped aside and Emily locked eyes with him for a moment. Green or brown, she couldn’t tell. ‘This is my granddaughter, Emily.’ ‘What an introduction,’ she said quietly. ‘I see your grandmother still dresses you,’ he said with a chiselled grin. Gran looked over at her and shrugged. ‘I usually wear that hoodie on Wednesdays.’ Emily nodded and forced a laugh. ‘I see…’ ‘This is Huan, my favourite postman.’ Gran placed her envelopes on the counter. He didn’t ask any questions but tore three stamps from the perforated sheets and stuck them on the respective envelopes before placing them in a box behind him. ‘I’ll take care of these for you, Mrs Watson.’ He grinned at Emily again and nodded his head once. ‘Miss Watson.’ Emily heaved the shopping bags onto the kitchen counter then slumped into a dining chair, limbs burning and abdomen strangely tight. ‘I feel like I’ve walked into a Jane Austen novel. Miss Watson…’ ‘Well, there are no Mr Darcys with thousands of pounds a year, that’s for sure. Barry’s your Sir John, of course, with a hearty dose of Mrs Bennet in him.’ Gran then proceeded to sing as she unpacked the shopping. Benji danced around Gran’s feet, her tail wagging frantically. ‘Well, that post office guy seems a bit odd, too,’ Emily said. ‘Huan is more of an Edward Ferris type,’ Gran said before adding, ‘at the end of Sense and Sensibility, of course.’ Emily’s nose wrinkled. Gran was comparing the over-courteous postman to Hugh Grant. ‘I suppose he has some of his manners,’ Emily concluded. ‘Oh, you’ll get used to the bowing all that. Huan is Korean, it’s a sign of respect…’ Gran flicked the kettle on and took two floral mugs from the lower cabinets. Without question, she made two cups of Yorkshire tea. Piling teaspoon heaps of sugar into her own, she set the Royal Albert sugar bowl on the round white-lacquered table with a matching milk jug beside it. Gran placed the mugs on ivory doily coasters and sat down. Emily expected her to begin an interrogation. Gran never had before, of course. But then again, Emily hadn’t been M.I.A for two years before. Gran simply smiled. ‘So, how long do I have you for?’ ‘A while.’ Emily released a weighted breath. ‘I have a suitcase in the car… well, several, actually…’ Her hazel eyes ignited, and she clutched Emily’s hand. ‘Really?’ She couldn’t help but return the childlike grin. ‘Well, it is almost your birthday.’ Emily half expected Gran to remind her that she had missed the last two. But Gran didn’t. ‘As much as I adore the fact that you’ve come home for me, I get the feeling that’s not the only reason.’ Gran averted Emily’s gaze and sipped her tea. When she did meet her eye, she was still grinning. ‘You don’t have to tell me. I’m just happy you’re here.’ ‘I needed to get away from everything, I suppose,’ Emily replied quietly, cradling her mug with both hands, and staring into its blackness. ‘I made a mistake. And now I can’t take it back.’ For the first time that day, Gran’s smile faded, and she took Emily’s hand in hers. Gran’s hands were weathered and darker. Emily often wished she had inherited the Watson complexion. Still, it caused her to wonder, what would her baby look like? ‘Gran, I’m pregnant.’

* * *

On Wednesday’s tide

The wind returned your heart to me.

But in your eyes, a sadness deeper than the sea.

O child, you’re safe now.

On Wednesday’s tide

The waves sang of your exodus.

The blood, the salt, the coming of your genesis.

O child, you’re safe now.

On Wednesday’s tide

The water held a baby’s cry.

But even now, you’re held in Love’s soft lullaby.

O child, you’re safe now.

My child, you’re safe now.



The Watson Women by Elizabeth Calder, with poetry by Elizabeth Snow

When Emily Watson returns to beachside cottage of her childhood carrying her own little family secret, she doesn’t expect Gran’s memories to awaken the writer within her, nor her old love of Jane Austen. And Emily certainly doesn’t expect to find herself in a church pew admiring the handsome man at the pulpit – her own Korean Mr Collins.

But Gran’s joy and faith is contagious – even if her illness isn’t. As the Watson women journey through bittersweet endings and new beginnings, they are forever connected by blood, poetry, memories, and tea.

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