Little Wishes by Michelle Adams


On her favorite day of the year, Elizabeth Davenport awoke alone, as she had done every day for the best part of five decades. Home was a small cottage nestled on the very cusp of the Cornish coast, north of Land’s End and south of just about everywhere else. If you looked at the cottage from the outside, which she doubted many people did, it seemed too small to house two floors and a set of stairs, which ran straight up through the middle. It was almost as if it were hunkered down, fearful of being swept away by the Atlantic currents that simmered only feet away. But it offered Elizabeth more space than she needed, and a perfect view from which she could paint the mercurial scenery without ever having to open the front door. Few reasons existed to venture far nowadays, and little in the outside world concerned her anymore. But today was a different story. Today she cared about what was out there, because it was the one day each year when Tom came back.

Her eyes adjusted to the sunlight marbling through the lace curtains as a few cheerful voices rose above the lull of the ocean. Being careful to keep her body within the warmth of the covers, she let her hand drift to the empty side of the bed, stroking the sheet, crisp as the day it was ironed. Although Tom had never slept in this bed, she was struck by the feeling that somehow, he was missing from it. And while his absence remained a lifelong void that she could never fill, it was eased by his annual return to Porthsennen, when he came to leave a blue crocus on her doorstep, a wish attached to the pot with a length of garden string. The wish was always for something they would have been doing if they were together on that day, like lounging in bed, eating at a restaurant, or seeing their family grow. And although they had never fulfilled any of those wishes, his return meant that for a short time each year, their lives coalesced. It was a day when everything felt right, when she felt truly like herself, in a way that for the remaining 364 days she did not. And what Elizabeth knew, what made her heart beat each time she saw that little blue flower, was that to go to such effort, to never once fail in all that time, meant that they loved each other just the same now as they had done on the day they first kissed. With her head on the pillow and her eyes closed, she recalled that first wish:

1969: I wish that today we could lounge in bed all morning, listening to the sound of the waves.

After a while in bed, Elizabeth rose, her feet cool on the bare wooden floor. Reaching for the pink silk robe hanging on the back of her door, she couldn’t help but smile as she slipped her arms into it. That was something else Tom occasionally did, left other gifts along with the flower. One year it was a pair of hiking boots, another year a bottle of champagne to celebrate a decade of love. So many years had passed that she was no longer sure if she could remember when exactly he’d left that pink robe, but she knew she had worn it every day since. And today marked fifty years since he’d made that promise to love her for the rest of his life, when he gave her the very first crocus flower; her stomach was somersaulting at the mere thought of what he might bring for a day as special as this.

Pacing carefully down the stairs, Elizabeth drew back the curtains, and light flooded the small living room. A view along Whitesand Bay filled the alcove window, and ahead, just above the rooftops of the old fishing stores, the vast gray of the Atlantic Ocean surged and receded on the tide. A breeze brought forth the scent of whitecaps breaking offshore, and Elizabeth could just hear the clatter of fishing boats rocking as waves danced against their wooden hulls. Cookie, her British Blue, purred for his breakfast, all the while nuzzling against her legs. Getting a cat was certainly one of Tom’s better wishes; Elizabeth and Cookie had enjoyed seventeen good years together now, and his presence was often the only thing to ease the relentlessness of being alone.

Sunlight catching at the mirrored edge of a photo frame drew Elizabeth’s attention to the windowsill. The image of Kate as a child stared back at her. To think of such happier times with her daughter was bittersweet, painful now to think how long had passed since they had spoken. Of how she missed her. Overcome for a moment, she placed the frame back on the sill and wiped the corner of her eye, lost as to how to help her daughter forgive the most terrible mistake she had ever made as a mother.

“I suppose you’re hungry, aren’t you?” Elizabeth said at last, following the welcome distraction of the fluffy bundle still fussing at her feet. Cookie’s tail rose poker straight in appreciation as she stroked her hand along his back. Elizabeth set a plate of fish on the floor, then located a half bottle of champagne that she had placed in the fridge the night before. Although she could never bring herself to open the bottle Tom had left on the doorstep many years ago, each year she bought a replacement to toast their memory. It was difficult with her arthritis, but she managed to send the cork flying across the room with a loud pop. Cookie didn’t even flinch. “You must be going deaf,” she told him, laughing to herself as she poured herself a flute. It was too early for it, really, and the alcohol didn’t agree with her blood pressure tablets, but it was just one day out of the year. This was how their special day began, she thought, remembering the wish from 1978: I wish we could sip champagne for breakfast while we sit and gaze at the ocean. Each year she tried to realize Tom’s wishes in whatever way she could, but every year she was reminded that some were more easily fulfilled than others.