The cottage was closing in on Kathleen. Its four walls surrounded her like a prison. Then she was stepping out of the door, teetering on the edge of a great precipice. She was sinking under the veil of water.
Lotte was calling to her from a distance, but she found herself unable to answer.
She could picture it all so vividly. Right there in front of her was the great mystery of her life.
Kathleen awoke quite suddenly, trembling and drenched in a cold sweat. She threw off the covers and tore herself from the bed and the dream that had recurred so often. It was always about the cottage that she had never been to before, always a looming obstacle in her dreams.
“Who is Lotte?” She could hear herself asking, perched on the edge of her bed. "She has never been in it before."
She stumbled to the bathroom and filled the sink with ice-cold water, splashing it all over her face.
Kathleen arrived at work an hour late, still sleepy from the bad night she'd had. She managed to make her way, unnoticed, passed the endless rows of desks in the large office, until she found her own, quickly beginning her work.
Lotte was holding her hand. The sound of her skirts rustled in the breeze. They walked around a bright and colourful garden and it was a hot summer's day.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed Kathleen's shoulder and started shaking it. The voice of her employer broke into her thoughts. She must have fallen asleep on the job.
Kathleen couldn't let the matter of who Lotte was drop so easily. She brought the subject up with her mum that weekend where she stayed until the following Tuesday.
"Lotte, did you say? I can't remember ever knowing anyone of that name," her mum had told her. She sounded genuine enough, yet Kathleen couldn't shake the feeling that her mum was holding something back.
The subject of the cottage they had discussed on many occasions and her mum always came to the same conclusion; that they must have seen it while away on holiday somewhere when she was a child and it had stuck with her for some reason.
“Was it very pretty?” She asked.
Kathleen smiled dreamily. “Very pretty. It was like one of those chocolate box cottages.”
“Then that must have been why.”
“How do you explain Lotte?”
Her mum got to her feet and started busying herself with some chores as she answered. “Well, she must have been in the garden when you saw the cottage. The name is probably something you heard on T.V.”
She sighed. “That will have to do for the present.”
But she didn’t leave it there. Remembering her gran kept lots of photo albums in a cupboard she called on her after work and asked to see them.
After she got over the shock as Kathleen had never shown interest in them before, only looking at them when forced at family gatherings, she answered, “you go ahead, Kathy. May I ask what you are looking for?”
“Not you as well.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Never mind. There is a secret in this family. I’m going to find out what it is on my own.”
Her gran put her hand up. “Wait.”
Kathleen turned to face her.
“Is it about the cottage again?”
“Are you plagued by dreams?”
She nodded. “Me too.”
“You?” Kathleen was surprised.
“It’s not a dream, it’s a memory.”
“I knew it. Why didn’t mum tell me the truth?”
“It’s not her secret to tell, but mine. She has always wanted to protect you.”
“Will you tell me?”
“I must. That’s the only way to stop your torment. It’s time you were told.”
Kathleen sat down.
“Fetch the albums, Kathy. I can tell it better with pictures.”
“Lotte died when you were only a little thing, a tot. The cottage is in the Lake District. It was her home. I don’t know who has it now. Don’t want to, really,” her gran said, a photo album opened on her lap with pictures of the cottage and the woman called Lotte Kathleen saw in her dreams.
“Who was she, though?” Kathleen asked, intrigued.
“My mum’s sister?”
Her gran was silent.
“Why didn’t you tell me about her?”
“We don’t talk about her. We decided that was the better way.”
She sighed. “You are old enough to understand now, so I’ll tell you. Lotte was unstable. She almost drowned as a child and the trauma of it sent her over the edge.”
“How awful for you.”
“There was a lake at the bottom of the cottage garden. She liked to paddle in it. I think it somehow helped to be around water after what happened.”
“I’d expect the opposite.”
“Not with Lotte.”
“How am I involved in all this? Why do I remember it so vividly?”
“Because you almost drowned in that lake.”
Kathleen gasped. “Did Lotte save me?” She covered her face with her hands.
Her gran slowly nodded. “She saved you. A strong bond developed between you after that. It took its time, but it was there in the end.”
“I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“You are Lotte’s daughter, Kathy.”
There was a long pause. Kathleen was shocked. She stared at her gran, open-mouthed.
“It will take a while to sink in.”
“I can’t believe it. My whole life has been a lie.”
“You mustn’t blame your mum and I, we were only trying to protect you.”
“But she’s not my mum, is she?”
“That’s not quite fair. She brought you up. Lotte couldn’t have been a good mother to you. She needed care. A nurse lived with her at the cottage.”
“Who was my father?”
“No one knows. Some lad from the village, most likely.”
“How did my mum die?”
“An overdose. She got hold of some pills.”
Kathleen shook her head sadly. “What happens now?”
“It’s up to you.”
Kathleen drew herself up with renewed determination. “I want to try to find my real father.”
“If that’s what you want. Who am I to argue? But you have to remember he might not want to know you. He may even be dead.”
“I must take that chance. I’ve always felt I never knew myself. There was something missing in my life. Now I can see why.”
“Do you feel finding him will help?”
“I’ll find out. I’m determined.”
“What about your present mother and father?”
“I won’t blame them. There’ll be always a place in my heart for them, but I must do this. Settle the dreams of the cottage and Lotte once and for all.”
“I wish you luck, Kathy.”
Kathleen was right. The dreams would never subside until Lotte was really laid to rest in her mind.
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