I’ve been wondering lately if I should carry on posting instalments of my story. I know that some lovely people enjoy reading it, but the numbers who are, are dropping. Is this a bad omen? Am I fooling myself that I can write an actual book? I have just finished reading The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore. Romantic fiction isn’t usually a genre that I go for when choosing a book, but as it’s set in Italy- where we are going on our holiday this summer- and that there’s a cookery school involved- yum, Italian food- I thought I might give it a go. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it but it also made me wish that I had a way with words. Until now I would just read a story to see what happened. I now find myself looking for how the writer has written the text. I’m having a bit of a wobble at the moment that what I’m writing is inadequate and not “wordy” enough despite loving my characters and how the story is developing.
At school, even though the children in my class are only six, we are already encouraging them to edit their English work and see how they can improve it by adding more interesting adjectives, using time connectives or extending sentences with and, so, because etc. We encourage them to use words other than “said” or “went” and use adverbials. Quite a big ask when you have only been at school for two years!
So if they can do it, then I must practice what I preach and edit too. Of course a proper writer will edit,edit and edit again until he or she is satisfied. I will of course do the same. I’m already thinking of bits that I will discard as they serve no purpose to the story. Don’t be surprised if the finished story is a subtly different from the one you read here. Looking back I discovered that Maggie’s children have two different names. Oops! They are Janet and John in the first instalment and Susan and James elsewhere!
If you choose to read on then that makes this novice writer very happy and that the one finger typing haven’t been in vain!
Maggie Thornden Where Are You?
It had been a long time since Maggie had been able to take a stroll anywhere without Gordon striding on ahead and berating her for dawdling. He was a man who walked for the sole purpose of getting somewhere. Eyes front, head up and quick march – one, two, one, two – Keep up Margaret. Chop, chop. Stop slacking! He couldn’t understand her need to stop once in a while to take in their surroundings, to admire a view, to pause for breath! Without him she could amble slowly through the village, pausing every now and then to admire the pretty cottage gardens filled with hollyhocks, aquilegia, pinks and roses or to read the notices in the village shop window. It was Saturday evening, usually a time when the roads near their home in Gloucester got busy with people heading for a night out, but the roads of Winland were empty bar a few tractors on their way back to the farms after a busy day in the fields. Every now and again she would exchange a “good evening” with a villager walking their dog. Were they taking a backward glance at this lone stranger, wondering who she was?
The church graveyard seemed an idea place to stop. In a quiet corner centuries old gravestones stood tilted at drunken angles to each other, their owner’s names almost invisible from years of being slowly erased by wind and rain. It had been many years since anyone had come to tend these long forgotten graves. Long grass dotted with buttercups almost engulfed the stones which were bathed in dappled light as the golden evening sun found its way through the leafy branches of ancient trees whose gnarled trunks were almost covered with ivy snaking its way ever upwards. Maggie marvelled at how still and peaceful it was. Butterflies flitted searching for their last feast of nectar and a blackbird sitting on a lofty branch was singing its final rich, melodious song before roosting for the night.
Maggie read the small tarnished brass plate nailed to the bench that she was sitting on
In memory of my sweetheart and wife Elsie
Forever in my heart
Any feelings of contentment Maggie had were suddenly replaced with an overwhelming sense of sadness. How Frank must have grieved for the love of his life. How lost he must have felt when she was no longer there to keep him company, to scold him for not picking up his dirty socks, to hold his hand as they sat on a bench. How long had they been married? Was Frank still alive and waiting for the time that they would be reunited? She wondered if they had sticky patches in their marriage when they grew bored or resentful of each other. Was it possible to rekindle love that had waned?
Rubbing over the names gently with her thumb Maggie felt a lump forming behind her sternum and rise up into her throat before being released as a loud sob. Another sob followed, then another and another. The sobs kept coming in great waves and tears flowed steadily down her cheeks. Her shoulders shuddered with the grief she was feeling for Frank and for her own marriage. Since leaving Gordon two days ago, she had gone through a whole range of emotions, from anger to feeling elated, but up until now she hadn’t experienced the overwhelming sadness that she was feeling right now.
Eventually the sobbing subsided and she delved into her bag in search of a tissue. As she searched her fingers touched her mobile phone at the bottom of the bag. She hadn’t looked at it since booking tonight’s stay at the pub. Pulling it out she noticed the screen was full of missed call and voicemail alerts. Finding a tissue she mopped her eyes and stared at the phone. With a sigh, she knew it was high time to stop the radio silence and she put the phone to her ear.
As Maggie listened to her daughter’s ever increasingly frantic messages she knew that she had been wrong to not let her family know that she was okay and give them some reason why she had suddenly taken off the way she did. Guilt niggled away at her. It had been selfish of her to be thinking about herself and not given it a moment’s thought about how others might be feeling. Being angry with Gordon and getting carried away with this mad idea of going to Scotland by bus had certainly got the better of her. What on earth was she thinking. What a stupid woman she was.
Taking a deep breath she phoned Susan’s mobile number and secretly wished that it would go through to voice mail. She knew that she owed it to her daughter to explain what the hell was going on, but she didn’t know if she had the courage or energy right now to face up to Susan who sounded besides herself with worry.
Stop being such a prize wimp you silly cow and talk to your daughter!
“Mum, where the hell are you? I’ve been trying to get hold of you ever since I saw Dad earlier. What’s going on? Are you all right?”
Maggie could hear one of the twins in the background. Of course it was around now that they went to bed which was always a stressful time. Neither of them was very good at settling and the last thing Susan needed was her mother upsetting the routine that she was trying to put in place.
“Sorry Susan, this is a really bad time. I’ll call you back later”
“Oh no you don’t Mother” Susan quickly shot back “Stay there and don’t move” and with that the Susan put the phone down. Maggie could hear her calling Tom and then the two of them having an exchange of words that she couldn’t make out. The twin’s cry suddenly became muffled and Maggie assumed that Susan had closed the door on the commotion that was bedtime and had left Tom to sort out Lottie and Milly.
Susan picked up the phone again. “Mum, we’ve been worried out of our minds about you. I really don’t understand what’s going on. Dad showed me the text you sent him. Something about needing space and being away for a few weeks. Is that true? He said you got on a bus and just left. I’m so confused Mum. What on earth possessed you to do such a thing?” Susan’s voice was getting shriller and Maggie felt her daughter’s bewilderment. She paused whilst she scrambled together an answer in her head.
“Sweetheart, I’m absolutely fine so please don’t worry. I just needed to get away for a while”
“What, by hopping on a bloody bus and leaving dad wondering where the hell you were. Nice one Mum. Really considerate. Do you know that he thought that you had drowned? He got the frigging coastguard out to look for you!”
Maggie suppressed a smile as she pictured Gordon getting in a flap on a cliff side, but knew that she owed her daughter an explanation, although she wasn’t ready to explain in too much depth as to why she had left over the phone.
“With hindsight I know what I did wasn’t fair to your father, but I just snapped and knew that I needed to get away. The bus was there at that point and I got on it.”
“What made you snap Mum? What happened at Land’s End? I’m trying to get my head around this. It’s just so unlike you to do anything so ridiculous!”
“I can’t really explain right now.” How do you tell your daughter that it was her father himself that was the cause of her mother abandoning him. She had never thought it right to burden her children with her worries and feelings. Susan had enough on her plate with exams, university, work and now the twins. And as for James, well he rarely phoned or visited these days and when he did you could cut the tension with a knife. Gordon didn’t approve that James didn’t have what he considered a proper job. Their son worked as a care worker in a residential home for people with dementia in Manchester, a job that he loved despite the long hours and poor pay. Maggie was immensely proud of her kind, gentle son but her husband made it very clear that he was disappointed that he hadn’t chosen a career with “prospects” or “financial security.” It was no wonder that James chose to stay away when every time he came home he was lectured about making poor choices.
Susan was aware that pushing her mum for an explanation wasn’t going to get her anywhere and she knew that Maggie hated confrontation so she decided to leave it for now. It didn’t mean that she wasn’t going to get to the bottom of why her mother had left her father but she did need to think of a way to get her mother to open up.
“Mum, I need to go in a mo. If I don’t read a bedtime story to the twins, they’ll never settle. Just tell me for now where you are and that you’re ok”
Maggie explained that she had spent a couple of days in Penzance “to think” and was now on her way up north by bus. Susan interpreted this to be that her mother was on her way home to Gloucester but what she didn’t understand was why she wasn’t travelling by train. The good thing was that she was heading in the right direction.
“I’d better let you go and see to the twins sweetheart. I need to go too. Supper will be ready at the pub and I’d better not be late. I’ll call you soon and I really am very sorry for being so thoughtless as to not letting you know sooner.” Maggie was relieved to be ending the call before Susan pressed her for more information.
“One thing before I go Mum” Maggie held her breath. She could guess what was coming. “What about Dad? You haven’t asked once how he is. Shouldn’t you be phoning him to let him know you are okay? He’s worried sick.”
“I somehow doubt that.” And with that, Maggie put the phone down.
It was obvious from the moment Maggie walked back into the pub that the Star Inn wasn’t where the villagers spent their Saturday evenings. Apart from a man stood at the bar nursing a pint, the room was empty. Just as Maggie was wondering if she should sit down at one of the tables, the landlord burst into the bar carrying a large tray. He was wearing an apron around his expansive stomach, his sleeves were rolled up and his face was a deeper shade of crimson than it had been earlier and was glistening with perspiration.
“Ah, good timing Mrs Thornden. Take a seat” He noticed Maggie looking around, wondering which table to take “Any seat, as you can see you’ve got plenty of choice. We’re not exactly inundated with diners tonight!”
Or anyone else thought Maggie. Despite the distinct lack of customers her landlord seemed jolly and not in the least bit concerned.
Maggie decided to sit at a table in the corner of the room where she didn’t feel exposed in the empty pub. The landlord busied himself with laying her table. To her surprise, from the tray was still holding, he placed in front of her a beautifully laundered napkin, ornate silver cutlery and gleaming cut crystal goblets. She hadn’t expected such fine looking tableware.
“I take it you will be drinking wine with your meal Mrs Thornden”
“Maggie please, absolutely. What can you recommend err….?” She still had no idea what her host’s name was. The poor man looked aghast and proffered his rather clammy hand for a handshake “Oh, I do apologise. Can’t believe I never introduced myself. Charles Newson at your service.” Maggie shook his hand that was hot and clammy and then hoping he didn’t see, wiped her own on her trousers and hoped that they didn’t stain.
Maggie was expecting to be simply offered red or white wine, but Charles rattled off a selection of French wines which she had never heard of. Her knowledge of wine ran as far as Shiraz, Malbec, Chianti and Rioja. Gordon tended to buy the wine for their weekend meals and rarely bought white and most definitely never rose.
“Tell you what Charles you choose for me.” Charles looked chuffed at being given the task of picking the wine. “Splendid. How about a rather good 2014 Beaujolais-villages? It’s fruity, medium bodied and goes splendidly with rabbit.”
It occurred to her that she was being pretty pompous for being surprised to discover that Charles was a bit of a wine connoisseur. Had she been expecting him to dig out a bottle of cheap plonk from under the counter?
“That sounds perfect; can I have a glass please?”
Did she notice a hint of a scowl cross Charles’s face? “I’m afraid I only sell by the bottle. It doesn’t tend to keep well once opened you understand and then it’s a terrible waste of a very good wine. I think you’ll really enjoy it but can understand if you’d rather have a soft drink or a beer.” said Charles apologetically.
“Do you know what, I think I’ll throw caution to the wind and have the bottle. You might have to carry me up to bed later though!”
Maggie groaned inwardly I can’t believe I just said that!!
It was one of those awkward silent moments. Neither knew quite what to say next. Charles shifted from one foot to another with embarrassment. “Well, if you’ll excuse me I’ll just go and open the wine and see to supper.” And with that he almost bolted to the kitchen.
The man at the bar finished his pint, wished her a good evening and left, leaving Maggie alone. She hoped Charles wouldn’t be long as her stomach was rumbling loudly. She looked around the soulless pub and wondered how Charles made a living when he had no customers. The pub had so much potential. It was in a pretty location and the building its self was charming. It was just so unloved. She felt very sorry for her host.
She didn’t have to wait long until Charles arrived with her supper. Before it even reached her she could smell the delicious aroma coming from the plate.
“Here you go Maggie, roasted rabbit with baby artichokes, tomatoes and a pepper puree, hope you enjoy. I’ll just go and get your wine for you.”
Maggie looked at the beautifully presented plate of food. Wow, she thought. She had been expecting a bowl of rabbit stew, but this was a dish that you would find in a fine dining restaurant.
“This looks amazing Charles. Did you cook this yourself?” She asked him when he returned with her wine.
Charles looked a little sheepish. “I did indeed. Does it really look okay? I don’t get much of a chance to cook for others but it is a little hobby of mine. Try it and tell me what it’s like. I won’t be offended if you don’t like it. I can always make you an omelette if you prefer.”
Maggie cut a slice of meat from the rack of rabbit and ate it with a little of the puree. It tasted heavenly. She took a sip of wine and Charles had been spot on with his recommendation. It did indeed go splendidly with the dish.
“Oh my, this is absolutely delicious. You are a genius. Did you say that you caught the rabbit yourself? Did you do all the skinning and jointing bit too?”
“Yes I did, although I know that people are a bit squeamish about eating poor bunnies, but I’m a gamekeeper’s son and grew up surrounded by game that my dad had bagged. He taught me how to shoot, hang birds and skin rabbits. It was just a way of life for me. I know people don’t approve but it’s what I’ve always done. Right, I’ll leave you to enjoy your meal. Time for me to don the Marigolds and wash up. If you need anything just holler.”
Maggie savoured every mouthful of the delicious food. It was the best she had ever eaten. She realised that she hadn’t seen a menu in the pub, nor any signs that Charles served food. No bottles of sauces, trays of cutlery or salt and pepper pots were to be seen. She was puzzled. Here was a man who was an excellent cook who didn’t serve food in his pub. It didn’t make any sense at all!
Maggie slept very well that night. She slipped between the bed’s cool cotton sheets and it was no wonder that after the day’s journey, the wonderful meal and a whole bottle of wine, that she fell asleep the moment her head touched the soft feather pillow. She woke feeling very refreshed despite drinking all of the wine. If the cockerel had crowed then she must have slept through it. The bed was so comfortable and Maggie could easily have stayed lying there for a long time. She glanced at the phone by the side of the bed and chewed at the skin on her thumb. She couldn’t put calling Gordon off for much longer. No doubt Susan had called her father once the girls were asleep. He was probably not best pleased to be disturbed on a Saturday evening. As far as he was concerned, phone calls, unless a life or death situation, should be limited to the hours before six o’clock.
It was still early. She would phone him later. She needed to get up and going. She had a bus to catch.
The breakfast Charles had prepared for Maggie was fit for a king. The bacon was thick and the rind crispy. The eggs were perfectly poached with orange coloured yolks that oozed when cut into and the sausages had been made by Charles himself. The bread it seemed came from the kitchen of Mrs Partridge from the WI. Her apple pie had been sensational the evening before and her bread was as equally as good. Charles and Mrs Partridge were quite a team.
As Maggie was finishing off her tea Charles came to clear away her empty plates.
“Tell me to mind my own business but didn’t you come by bus?”
“I did indeed.” Maggie replied smiling at him.
“I see, and is someone picking you up this morning?”
“No, I’m catching the bus to Taunton.”
“Ah, you’ve got a bit of a problem there. You see the bus doesn’t run on Sundays.”
Maggie couldn’t believe that it hadn’t occurred to her that there would be no bus to catch from the village. Such a stupid oversight on her behalf. Damn!
“I could call a taxi for you if you like?” Charles suggested.
“That’s very kind of you but I’m travelling on from Taunton and the odds are that other buses aren’t running either. Oh dear, I seem to be in a bit of a predicament!”
“Won’t somebody be expecting you? Could they possibly come and pick you up?”
“No, there’s no one.” Charles looked at her with a quizzical expression. “It’s a long story.” She told him. “Is there any chance I can stay another night?”
Charles felt surprised and pleased at the same time. Guests staying at the pub for one night were a rarity. Nobody had ever wanted to stay for two.
“Of course you can my dear. It’ll be a pleasure to have you stay for a bit longer.”
With his hands full of plates and bowls Charles disappeared into the kitchen.
“Well Hero old boy, it seems we are going to be acquainted for a little longer.” Hero who had been sleeping in his basket in the corner of the room opened one eye on hearing his name and promptly shut it again to carry on with his snooze. “Time to go and make a phone call.”
Maggie pushed back her chair and made her way up the stairs and to her room.
To be continued …….Perhaps!