I have been here twice already, after a quick pilgrimage to Nice, France. I collect a seashell there, clean it and go back to a church that blesses it. The priest has seen me twice before, and sometimes he invites me in for coffee and, if I'm late, a supper of daube and red wine. I stay for a few days with friends and leave for England, arriving in Heathrow and hiring a car for Yorkshire, and Settle.
Settle is a beautiful name for a beautiful place. I have been here many times, but now when I climb the hill to the house I can no longer truly call my own, the steps are hard.
I am greeted by two Great Danes, who forget they're not lap dogs and bowl me over with their enthusiasm. I say hello to the housekeepers and make my way into my bedroom, unpacking the few bits of luggage I have. I sit on the bed with the seashell in my hand, turning it over and over and over.
It's his birthday. Another birthday I shan't have with him. Another birthday where I go to the graves of his family and clean them all before I get to his. I will glue the shell to his tombstone, a third one, for the three birthdays we have missed together. I will clean his grave, clearing away debris and dead leaves. The grounds-keeper, Matthew, saves this job for me, and I am forever thankful that he does.
The dogs will be out, running around, ignoring this chore of mine. The cemetery is surrounded by trees, centuries old. They'll hold their secrets, as well as mine, as I sit and tell him what he's missed. I tell him about my life, what I do, and where I've been. I tell him I've spoken to his mother, and how she implored me to come back to Settle, to settle. It's a long old joke.
When there is nothing left to say I will get up and collect the berries and go inside. The house will be quiet, and I will listen to the silence. If I listen closely, I can hear our vows spoken on the sands of Nice those three years ago.
But perhaps it's just the wind. The tea is warm, and the berries are delicious.