It’s been abit of a wait but I’ve finally got around to writing another short story. Actually I lie. This is hopefully the opening chapter of a book idea thats been bubbling away for the last 18 months. It’s a story of rediscovering yourself and the rekindling of a love that has died. The twist is that much of the story is based on a very bus ride.

I don’t confess for one minute being a decent writer so I apologise for any glaring mistakes or waffle. I love my story and characters and to me that’s all that really matters. I know that lotsof you enjoyed my previous short story, My Rabbit Died,so I hope you enjoy this too. Can I just add that my characters are purely fictional and not based on anyone I know!

TAKING THE 1A BUS TO FREEDOM

If there was one thing that Maggie was grateful for when it came to her husband was that he never got up before her. It meant that she could happily leave him snoring away and probably dreaming about one way traffic systems or Neighbourhood Watch and enjoy a couple of hours doing what she loved doing best which was to enjoy the early morning silence, drink a cup of instant coffee and scroll through the little squares of other people’s far more exciting lives than her own on Instagram. The instant coffee and Instagram was her guilty pleasure. Gordon didn’t approve of either. Coffee wasn’t coffee unless it had been ground from beans, brewed in a cafatiere for exactly five minutes and then poured into a cup, never a mug. Instagram was an excuse for people to waste time that could otherwise be used productively like stocktaking the contents of the larder or scrubbing the grouting in the shower cubicle with a toothbrush.

Maggie Thornden had been married to Gordon for thirty long, long years. For someone who was once carefree, adventurous and ambitious it came as a big surprise to everyone including herself that she had said yes to the reliable but frankly dull and anal Gordon when he got down on one knee outside the local bowls club. After the break up with the love of her life who was anything but reliable or dull and feeling that at thirty she’d miss the boat if she didn’t get hitched soon, she didn’t hesitate to agree to be Gordon Thornden’s wife. She had spent thirty years wishing most of the time that she hadn’t been quite so hasty, especially when her husband was droning on about the state of the nation or getting on his high horse about how the committee at Temple Gate bowls club couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.  At sixty she felt that life had passed her by. The dreams and goals of her younger self had never been realised. She’d turned from being gregarious, outgoing and someone not afraid to speak her mind into a timid little mouse who was living a beige existence. To be fair, married life hadn’t been all bad, being a mum to Janet and John…not her choice of names….had been the icing on what was otherwise a sensible, but hardly exciting Madeira cake! Did she love Gordon? Had she ever really loved him? Well they were still together so she guessed that she must love him deep down. The trouble was that it was buried so deep down under layers of resentment, boredom and regret that it was in danger of being lost forever.

Maggie and Gordon annual summer holiday was spent in the far west of Cornwall and had been taken in the same week in July for all of their married life. Much to the annoyance of Gordon, the holiday had to be cancelled one year as Maggie had failed to time her pregnancy with Janet so that the due date wouldn’t coincide with their holiday. Of course the blame lay entirely with Maggie as she should have considered timings when she got herself pregnant.

Gordon might not be flexible about the destination but he did allow Maggie the job of finding their holiday home for the week. As long as it was in Penwith, had a power shower, a decent  sofa and wasn’t in a complex with other, bound to be noisy, holiday makers, he had every confidence that she would choose somewhere suitable.  Being allowed almost free reign in choosing where to stay has always been the one saving grace of having to put up with Gordon every day for the excruciatingly long week, most of which would be spent either bird watching or visiting ancient Neolithic sites. She prided herself in having a great eye for detail and style as far as interior styling was concerned and always came up trumps in finding somewhere very special. The holiday may be an ordeal but at least she would suffer the ordeal in comfort surrounded by lovely things. Pity that same stylish eye didn’t extend to looking good herself, but at sixty did it really matter if she had let things slip a bit and who did she need to look good for any way?

 This year she had found the perfect cottage. High up on a hill with fabulous views overlooking Mount’s Bay Treave House stood alone on a quiet  lane surrounded on three sides by an ancient granite wall. Maggie loved that maidenhair ferns, bellflowers and creeping jenny sprouted from between the stones and that montbretia and its vibrant orange flowers that grew like weeds almost hid the old garden path. This garden was a far cry from their own which consisted of a well maintained lawn, a few shrubs and not much else. Here, nature had been allowed to take over and the garden was a riot of colour and a haven for wildlife. Bees and butterflies fluttered and buzzed amongst the lavender and buddleia. Dragonflies darted above a shaded pond, the water hidden under a blanket of water lilies. An old steamer chair stripped of its varnish from years of being exposed to the Cornish sun, mizzle and winds stood under the spreading branches of a magnolia tree in grass that had been left to its own devices and hadn’t seen a lawn mower in a long time. Maggie fell for the photos of the garden at Treave House on the holiday cottage company’s website as soon as she clapped eyes on them and dreamed of spending hot sun drenched afternoons lounging in the rickety steamer chair immersed in a book.

Maggie sat staring out of the conservatory window at the wall and listened to the rain beating down on the glass roof. Rivulets coursed their way down the window obscuring the view and above the house the clouds were the colour of granite and heavy with rain. She pulled her towelling dressing gown tighter around her and cupped her hands around her mug to keep them warm. It hadn’t really stopped raining since they passed Launceston on the A30 three days earlier and according to the BBC things were not going to improve for the rest of the week and to add insult to injury the wind was now picking up. Maggie was tempted to take a photo of her rain lashed view and post it on Instagram thinking that she might get a few sympathetic comments but her phone was in the kitchen and she really couldn’t be arsed to get up and get it. It wouldn’t be so bad if the summer so far had been a washout, but it hadn’t and until now the thermometer in their Gloucester home had regularly hit the mid-seventies and the sky had been a constant shade of azure blue. Wasn’t this just so bloody typical and the story of her life. Sod’s law that as soon as they’d loaded the Volkswagen Touran to go home, the clouds would break and the sun would metaphorically stick two fingers up at them!

“There’s no point in staring out of the window hoping that the rain will stop” said a voice from behind that snapped Maggie out of her thoughts “according to the Met office it’s set for the day and there’s going to be quite a stiff breeze with gusts of up to twenty one. Look at it as a blessing, we won’t have to put up with inconsiderate parking or queues for the lavatories. People are such wimps at the slightest sniff of rain and instead of wearing suitable wet weather gear they’d rather stay indoors and watch some goddam awful television programme featuring -cue incredibly irritating inverted comma gesture- celebrities!  Now chop chop Margret, the bathroom’s free so go and get yourself sorted whilst I make us a decent cup of coffee. By the way, and please don’t think me picky, but I noticed that the dishwasher hasn’t been unloaded. It’s just a little job that wouldn’t have taken you a minute to do whilst you were waiting for the kettle to boil. Time management Margaret, time management.”

Inwardly Maggie seethed. Fucking well empty the sodding dishwasher yourself you sanctimonious, arrogant pig of a husband! She looked at the clock and saw that it was only 7.15. Gordon would be getting twitchy if they weren’t ready to leave the house by 8.30 at the latest and would start tapping on the work surface and jigging from foot to foot. She could tell a dodgy prostate from a mile off but her husband would never discuss “men’s issues” with her. Funny how he always insisted that they visit the lavatory twice before setting out and did he think she wasn’t aware of him creeping to the bathroom several times a night. Maybe she would drop into a conversation that Sue from Slimming World had mentioned that her Steve had been to the doctors to see about his waterworks and the GP had been ever so gentle when he had stuck a finger up his bum. She could imagine his reaction. It was almost worth giving it a shot just to see him squirm and visibly turn quite pale!

An hour later the sandwiches and tea filled Thermos flask was packed in the boot along with walking poles, binoculars, a guide to identifying British birds, a toilet roll, Ordnance Survey map number 102 covering Land’s End, Penzance and St Ives, Imodium tablets and spare socks. Maggie and Gordon were dressed in matching anoraks, walking trousers and sturdy leather walking boots. Maggie had tied her favourite chiffon scarf around her neck hoping that by doing so the pair of them didn’t quite look so Tweedledum,Tweedledee. 

Why Gordon had insisted they go to Land’s End for the first time after all these years of visiting Cornwall  was beyond her, but he’d read somewhere that you can sometimes spot Buff –Breasted Sandpipers so  he’d pencilled the trip in for today on his holiday itinerary and despite Maggie dropping huge hints that he would get irritated with the commercialism of the famous landmark  and having to fork out six pounds for the parking, nothing but a national state of emergency was going to alter his plans. Gordon was a man on a mission!

As predicted Gordon got on his high horse when he discovered that he had to pay to park at Land’s End and could not use his National Trust membership for free parking.

“When did it stop being National Trust?” Gordon mumbled as he fed coins into the parking meter.

“I don’t think it’s ever belonged to the National Trust Gordon. It’s privately owned so they can charge whatever they like”

“For goodness sake Margaret, why didn’t you tell me beforehand if you already knew that? Do I have to do everything around here? I work incredibly hard all year so that I can finance a holiday for you and all you have to do all day is keep house but I suspect what happens in reality is that you waste time on that damn phone of yours. Is it too much to ask that you pull your weight a little?”

Just shut up you stupid little man. Maggie felt the familiar tightness in her chest that happened when Gordon started ranting in public. It didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest that all and sundry could hear him belittling his wife in public. Maggie wanted the ground to open up and swallow her in one big gulp; instead she walked almost at a trotting pace behind her husband as he stormed ahead in the general direction of the toilets.

Gordon’s mood hadn’t improved after discovering that he had to wait ages in line at the gents whilst a noisy group of teenage French school boys larked around and took selfies rather than waiting quietly in line and not hogging the cubicles. Meanwhile he was becoming more and more desperate to empty his bladder and no way was he going to use a urinal. Where was the person who was responsible for them? Shouldn’t they be supervised in toilets? He had a good mind to go and find whoever was in charge of them and give them a piece of his mind. It was difficult to stop himself from grabbing himself in the trouser area which helped with taking the urge to pee away, but thought it might be taken the wrong way if the boys noticed him with his hand clutching his crutch!

And so the morning went from bad to worse. Gordon continued to rant about anything and everything. The tea was too weak. There was too much mustard on the ham sandwiches, Maggie was dawdling. Maggie was taking too long in the ladies.  Maggie wasn’t listening. Maggie was not looking in the direction he was pointing at. Maggie needed to pay attention to him!

Maggie knew that it was pointless trying to stand up for herself and retaliate. She just didn’t have the fight in her anymore. Once upon a time she would have told her husband what a prize jerk he was and fought her corner, but years of feeling downtrodden, bullied and bored had squeezed out anything that remained of her old self. She felt tears of frustration and hopelessness pricking at her eyes. What she mustn’t do is let Gordon see that she was on the verge of crying, he couldn’t abide women crying, but fortunately he announced that he was going for a walk to see if he could spot the Buff-breasted sandpiper and would meet her back at the car at 2.30 sharp.

It was a relief to have some time to herself, but the stifling feeling of anxiety was tightening  ever tighter around  her chest and she felt all the resentment towards her husband and frustration with herself about to explode from her in one enormous scream. She needed a little time away from the  visitor centre, hotel and attractions and walked towards where the land really did end and finally tumbled down to the sea  where powerful waves crashed incessantly against the rocks. Suddenly a gust of wind caught hold of her flimsy scarf and all she could do was watch as it swirled and looped into in the sky before returning to earth and getting snagged on the rocks far below. Maggie watched it struggle to get free before turning and headed back.

She still had a few minutes to spare before returning to the car so she decided to sit on a bench and watch a small group gathered around a cyclist. It was obvious that from the banner that several of the group were holding that the cyclist was about to start on the long journey to John O’Groats. Photographs were being taken and there was a buzz of excitement.  How wonderful to go on such an adventure and what stamina you would need to do it. Just think of the sense of achievement you would feel when you reached your goal. Maggie felt a pang of envy towards this man who was itching to get going. Here she was sitting on a bench dressed in a bargain basement anorak with greying hair and a chin that needed regular deforesting and holding a backpack holding a toilet roll and Imodium tablets waiting to join her curmudgeonly husband and continue their stale marriage for years and years to come.

She had got so engrossed watching the little group that she realised that she had lost all track of time. It was 2.35 and she was late. She imagined Gordon huffing and pacing next to the Touran and jabbing at his watch as she hurried towards him. As she made her way to the car park she noticed the bus waiting at the bus stop. On impulse she jumped on the bus just as it was due to pull away.

“Where to?” asked the driver

Maggie smiled and showed her bus pass “As far as you go. I’m on my way to John O’Groats”

To be continued……..

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