I love this time of the year when the birds are busy nesting. Although we have a fairly small garden in the middle of a housing development, we have trees and shrubs that are perfect for birds to build their nests in. The blackbirds are like the Victorians in that their nests are built to last. Last year they nested in the branches of our fatsia japonica directly above the pond. Standing on the pond wall we were inches away from the nest and had a great view of the chicks. They were out of harms way from curiouis cats but not the wisest spot for wobbly little legs still to learn the art of flying!
This year the blackbirds have opted to build behind the tangle of clematis twigs. A much more sensible location but it does mean that we can’t prune the untidy bits that are growing at the rate of knots.
I always thought that the wood pigeons were the stupidest birds ever, apart from phesants, who have no road sense at all. The silly birds nests consist of a just a few sticks plonked in unsuitable spots. Obviously no thought goes into their nest building at all! One puff of wind and the whole thing is in real danger of toppling down! Last year they nested at the top of our spindly tree that sways violently even in a breeze. That nest lasted all of five minutes!
This year a pair of wood pigeons are nesting in the much more sensibly in the hegerow outside of our kitchen window. It’s fascinating to watch them. Whilst the female sits on the nest, the male goes backwards and forwards all day long looking for food. He takes the same route back into the hedgerow, hopping along the same branches in the same order every time. He then hops onto his mates back to pass food to her. This happens all day long. Back and forth, back and forth. We’ve become quite attached to the pair and feel very protective of them. Woe betide any cat who comes snooping!! The blackbirds are much more savvy and good at defending the nest. If they feel threatened they think nothing of swooping down on the attack whilst making a frightful din. We could hear their angry chatter last night after midnight giving short shrift to a curious cat no doubt!
Right, enough of bird talk and back to Maggie’s adventure. You might recall a few posts back that I’d discovered a novel with the same storyline as mine and that caused me to have a bit of a writing wobble. With lots of encouragement from my social media pals, I decided to carry on. Well I have since then read the book, The Runaway Wife by Dee Macdonald and it is really similar to my plot, so I’ve pretty much rewritten in my head the rest of the book. Regretfully my original idea has gone somewhat off piste and I am a little disappointed that my original ideas have changed but the last thing I want is to be accused of plagerism.
Here is part 10 of Maggie’s story. Hope that you enjoy it.
Maggie Thornden Where Are You?
Maggie had woken early and could see no reason to hang around so quietly packed her bag so as not to wake her sleeping room-mates and checked out. Her plan for today was to get to the midlands and to do that she had worked out that she needed to catch eight busses if she had managed to work out the schedules correctly.
Maggie walked with a spring in her step through the throngs of people on their way to work. The day was already warm even at this early hour and it looked set to be a scorcher. Only stopping at a Tesco Metro to pick up a sandwich and bottle of water Maggie made her way to the bus station to catch her first bus to Yate. Today’s journey was going to take her close to home and she knew that it was highly unlikely, but what if Gordon just happened to be driving the same route as the bus and his car and the bus drew up side by side at traffic lights and he looked up and they saw each other at that very moment? What would they do? Wave?
She was being ridiculous. For a start Gordon would be at work until five o’clock and even if he wasn’t he would be keeping his eyes firmly on the traffic lights. There had been times when they were in the car together that Maggie had pointed out something. “Not whilst I’m driving Margaret. Please don’t distract me. Take your eye off the road and that’s when accidents happen. “
She felt a pang of homesickness as her route for the day took her into familiar territory. She’d been away for five nights now. The longest the two of them had ever been apart. There was the time that Gordon had been in hospital when he’d torn the cartilage in his knee after losing his balance playing bowls and had to be kept in because of complications, but she had visited him every day with his clean pyjamas and a Tupperware of sandwiches as apparently the NHS was incapable of putting two pieces of bread together and making it remotely edible. Putting up with his droning on about the terrible state of the NHS and how the old chap in the next bed kept him awake all night by moaning was worth the five wonderful evenings of watching her favourite foreign language films and eating ready meals from their containers in front of the telly.
The ringing of her phone snapped her out of her thoughts. It was Susan calling. She answered the phone.
“Hi Mum. How’s things. I’m worried about you. Where are you?”
It was good to hear her daughter’s voice.
“I’m actually in Stroud and on my way to Cheltenham.”
Maggie could hear the relief in Susan’s voice. “Does that mean you’re on your way home Mum?”
“No darling, sorry to disappoint you but I’m not ready to come home yet. It’s just that my route takes me through Cheltenham that’s all.”
“Oh Mum, I don’t understand any of this. This is just so not you. Dad needs you. We need you. The twins miss you. Surely you’ve had enough time now to think or whatever you want to call it”
“Susan, the twins are used to not seeing me for weeks at a time and they are only little and have no concept of time. I’m really sorry if you’re upset but I have to do this for me. For my own sanity.”
“For your sanity? What about poor Dad? What about his sanity? Have you considered him in all this?”
Maggie sighed. ”Of course I have, but he knows that I’m ok. He knows that I’m not in a ditch somewhere or ran off with a millionaire.”
“Don’t be glib Mum, it doesn’t suit you.”
“Sorry sweetheart, that was a stupid thing to say. Look, I’ll be arriving in Cheltenham shortly, are you free to meet up for a coffee and we can have a little chat and you can see that I’m absolutely fine.”
“Fine. Let’s meet at that little coffee shop near the bus station. I need to get the twins sorted and then walk over so you might have a little wait.”
“No problem. It’ll be good to sit down on a proper chair and not a seat on a bus.”
“That’s your choice Mum. Nobody is forcing you to do so. I’ll see you shortly.”
“Oh and Susan, promise me you won’t tell your dad that we are meeting. This is just between you and me okay.”
“Do you honestly think that Dad would drop everything at work and hot-tail it over to Cheltenham? Reliable, the ‘never take a sicky even if he was dying’ Dad? “
And with that Susan hung up.
Maggie fidgeted nervously with a packet of sugar, rolling it back and forwards between her fingers whilst her flat white sat undrunk on the table in front of her. The small coffee shop was hot and busy. Susan would struggle to manoeuvre the twins’ buggy around the tightly packed tables. Actually it would be impossible. This wasn’t going to work so she grabbed her bags and left the café. Maggie knew the route Susan would take so if she walked towards hers and Tom’s house so she should bump into her daughter and the twins and then she could suggest sitting in the pretty local park where there was a café with outside seating. If she reached the park first she could just wait for Susan to arrive. That was bound to be the case. Getting two toddlers ready for an outing outside took some organising and it was lunch time so no doubt Susan was busy packing little boxes of carrot sticks and chunks of cheese and popping pots of fromage frais into a cooler bag.
The woman waving at Susan looked like her mum but this woman looked younger and where was the sensible, dowdy clothing and comfortable foot wear? This woman had stylish coppery coloured hair and did she spy red lipstick?
“Hi darling” Maggie hugged her bemused looking daughter “It’s so lovely to see you – and crouching down to the cross looking little faces of Lottie and Milly -and to you too my little dumplings!”
As Maggie was making a fuss over the twins she didn’t notice her daughter discreetly tapping away at her phone but she did hear the chime indicating an incoming text message.
“Do you want to get that?”
“It’ll only be Tom asking if he wants me to pick anything up on the way home from work. I’ll get back to him later. Now, come on, let’s pop over to the park café. I think that you’ve got some explaining to do. You can’t believe how worried we’ve all been, but it looks as though you’ve not been worrying about us. So whilst we’ve been here tearing our hair out, I can see that you’ve been having a bit of a jolly whilst you’ve been away. Spent most of it shopping and in the hairdressers did you? Christ sakes Mum, I hardly recognised you!”
With that she took her mother by the elbow and practically frog marched her across the road.
The café was busy with mummies with their blond highlighted hair, oversized designer sunglasses and Boden summer dresses enjoying lunch dates whilst their mini Prince George and Princess Charlotte lookalike offspring ate pitta slices and homemade houmus from Orla Kiely storage boxes. Maggie noticed that Susan fitted in well with the other mummies and wondered if she spent her lunch times meeting up with friends discussing nurseries and yoga classes.
“Let’s sit here. If you keep an eye on the twins I’ll go and get us some coffee. Flat white ok?” And before Maggie could answer, Susan had disappeared into the building. “Actually, I would have quite liked a glass of wine.” Mumbled Maggie to herself, but she was used to people making decisions for her. Nobody thought to ask what she wanted. Silly her for not speaking up!
It was lovely to see the twins again. It seemed like ages since she last saw them and she had missed them. No longer grumpy, the pair of them were giggling away as Maggie strapped them into the wooden high chairs and tickled their tummies.
As she was preoccupied with the twins Maggie didn’t notice the middle aged man dressed in a suit and a crumpled shirt striding purposely down the path towards her.
Damn you Susan. I should have known that you would call your father. How could I be so stupid!
Maggie turned to see Gordon standing behind her. She wasn’t ready for this. She needed to be prepared for seeing her husband and not caught on the hop. He looked slightly dishevelled and weary, and he certainly didn’t look pleased to see her.
“Hello Gordon. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“Obviously not. You do realise that I’ve had to leave work and drive over here from Gloucester. It really is a huge inconvenience but we need to get this sorted out and you definitely have some explaining to do!”
Maggie wondered if he had even noticed the change in her appearance. Somehow she doubted it.
I’m not going to let him bully me. Stand up to him Maggie. Be assertive like you used to be.
“Sit down Gordon. I agree we do need to talk and I’m sorry that you’ve had to take time off work but this as you jolly well know wasn’t my idea, but you are here now so let’s be civil and get things off our chests. I certainly want to!”
Gordon looked slightly taken aback by his usually meek wife’s new assertiveness. He had noticed her transformation but feeling churlish he had decided not to mention it. He sat down in the chair opposite her just as Susan returned carrying three cups of coffee.
Maggie hated sarcasm but couldn’t help herself. “You must be psychic Susan. Very clever to know that you’d need three cups! Don’t you think that you’ve some explaining to do when I specifically asked you not to let your father know that we were meeting. If I’d thought for a minute that you’d go behind my back there is no way that I’d have agreed to see you. You’ve really let me down and I’m so angry with you. I really thought that I could trust you!”
“Oh, for goodness sake mum, of course I had to let dad know. You two need to sort out whatever it is that is going on. Can’t you understand how selfish you’ve been by just disappearing like that. What was it? A midlife crisis? I thought that only men went through that! I’m sorry if you feel let down but someone had to get you two together. Dad needs an explanation and so do I. James is worried too. I can’t believe that you haven’t contacted him especially when he’s your favourite!”
Maggie was shocked. “Susan, that’s just not true and unfair. I know that you’re angry and confused but making statements like that isn’t helpful. Now calm down and let’s talk like grown ups.”
Gordon sat staring into his coffee and was being uncharacteristically quiet whilst his wife and daughter were at loggerheads with each other. Susan could be a bit of a hot head but Margaret hated confrontation and this was most unlike her. He didn’t understand how his wife was so different than the one he last saw in Cornwall nearly a week ago.
“Enough both of you. Susan can you take the twins for a walk in their push chair please. They’re getting fractious and I need to speak to your mother.”
“But Dad….” Susan looked affronted to be asked to leave.
“No but’s Susan. Please do as you’re told.”
With that, Susan huffed but reluctantly did as she was told and left her mother and father to talk.
There was an awkward silence between the two of them. Neither wanting to take the first step to starting the conversation that they both knew that they needed to have. Neither of them wanting to make eye contact. Maggie fiddled with her wedding ring and Gordon with his arms crossed stared into the middle distance.
Eventually one of them had to give in and get the ball rolling.
“Well?” demanded Gordon.
“Well what Gordon? What do you want me to say?”
“Sorry for one thing would be a good starting point don’t you think. I’m totally flummoxed as to why you thought it was perfectly ok to upsticks and disappear, leaving me to think that something awful had happened to you. I was so worried about you!”
“No Gordon, you weren’t worried you were annoyed and put out. Nothing worries you except when the bowls team isn’t winning the local league or that you’ve mislaid your wallet or that you didn’t manage to get one question right on an episode of University Challenge. I could have fallen into the sea at Land’s End and be half way to the Isles of Scilly and you’d be cross that you would have to put people out to go and find me and that nobody would be there to cook your supper!!”
“Oh for goodness sake Margaret, stop being a drama queen. That just isn’t true. I do worry and I was worried. I admit that I was fuming too but that didn’t stop me from caring about what had happened to you. You’re making out that I’m some sort of cold fish with no feelings!”
“You are a cold fish. You’re grumpy, always moaning and you take me for granted. Nothing is ever right and you make me feel this tall.” Which when Maggie indicated with her fingers, wasn’t very tall at all. “I feel like I’m a nobody Gordon. Here just to iron your bloody shirts, cook your meals and trot behind you like I’m your lackey. I’m the silly woman without an opinion, who can’t possibly make a decision by herself or say anything sensible. If you care you’ve got a funny way of showing it and you going on and on with your constant griping about anything and everything at Land’s End was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I snapped and just needed to get away. There I’ve said what I feel and why I did it. I needed to rediscover who I used to be. Not some mousey invisible woman but someone needing to get a life and for once do what she wanted to do. I needed to be me. Maggie not Margaret!”
“So, as I’m such a bad husband you thought you would punish me by leaving me high and dry. I thought that I was supposed to be the uncaring one. I know that I don’t show it enough but I do care. I just find it hard to show it.”
“But the thing is Gordon, you used to. When we were young and when the kids were little, you used to be fun and loving and my friend, but over the years you’ve changed and it hasn’t seemed to bother you. I changed too to fit in with you, more fool me, but it did bother me and I’ve hated it. I’ve hated me and I’ve hated you for what we’ve both become. Boring and dull!”
A silence fell between them. She’s been brutally honest. Had she gone a step too far? They sat and watched Susan sitting on the grass some distance away whilst watching the twins who were munching on their carrot sticks. Maggie could see her looking over now and again, probably wondering when it would be safe to re-join them.
Gordon let out a sigh and grimaced.
“Ouch! Tell it as it is why don’t you. Boring and dull. Grumpy and a moaner. I belittle you and treat you as a house keeper. Anything else? Of course, silly me forgot to include that I’ve pretty much sucked the life out of you over the years!”
Maggie knew though that it wasn’t all of his fault. She had let it happen and she hadn’t stood up to him. She had been weak and that was entirely down to her. They had both changed and allowed their marriage to become stale over the years. She had become the Margaret of her very own Victor Meldrew!
“It’s not all of your fault Gordon. I could have been more assertive. Made an effort and not pussy-footed around you all the time. I became complacent and let myself go. I just saw myself as a wife and a mother and stopped being my true self. I don’t like what we’ve both become. Surely you must feel like that too?”
It was a lot for Gordon to digest. He needed time to think.
“Tell me about what you planned to do once you got on the bus. Where were you going to? I have no idea where you’ve been for the last few days apart from being somewhere in Devon.”
“I was watching a group of cyclists getting ready to do the whole Land’s End to John O’Groat’s thing and then the bus came and I just jumped on and decided to go to John O’Groat’s too.”
“Christ Margaret, that’s an insane thing to do. How the hell were you planning on getting there?”
“By bus. It can be done you know. A chap called Dennis did it once and posted his route with all of the bus details on social media. I figured that if he could do it then I could do it too. I wanted an adventure. I was so angry with you as well and I just needed some space.”
“But you had nothing with you. What about money? How did you pay for everything?”
Gordon was pretty hopeless at keeping an eye on the state of their finances at home. He knew what their out goings were and how much roughly Maggie spent on grocery shopping so he figured that there was no need to keep checking the bank balance and there was little need to use their joint credit card. He would be oblivious of the cash withdrawals she’d made and the times she’d used a card to pay for things.
“I used the debit card and put some things on the credit card. I’ve also squirreled away some money in a savings account for a rainy day. I figured that the rainy day had come.”
Gordon was going to protest but thought better of it.
“And if I hadn’t turned up what would you have done?”
“Susan would probably have tried to persuade me to go home. I would have said no and by now would most probably be on the 801 to Moreton-in-Marsh.”
“And what happens now? Are you still going to carry on with your adventure?”
This is crunch time. Time to make a decision.
“That’s up to you Gordon. Do you want me to stay so that you’ve got someone to make sure your shirts are ironed and that your meals are on the table, or do you want me to stay because you want our marriage to work. That you and I can both work at making changes in order for our marriage to survive. I want to feel appreciated and cherished and loved. Do we still love each other? I want us to love each other. I want us to have a sex life again!”
“Please come home Maggie. I’ve really missed you. I want our marriage to work. Really I do. I want to stop being a sanctimonious old git. I’ll give up bowls, do more about the house, understand that you have needs to and stop being a sad loser. Please say you’ll come home.”
“I’m not asking you to give up bowls. You love going to the club. Just don’t go so often. Let’s go out and do things together. Buy me a pair of binoculars and I’ll go to Slimbridge with you and you can teach me the names of the water birds. I want to be a couple. I want to stop wearing anoraks and only drinking wine on Saturdays. I want to get to choose the wine!”
Gordon smiled weakly “Just as long as it’s not Retsina. You know what happened last time you drank it!”
Maggie laughed “Remember how angry that Greek tavern owner was when I started smashing up his plates!”
“Right Mr Thornden, let’s go and put our meddlesome daughter out of her misery and then go home.”
Gordon reached across to Maggie and squeezed her hand. Walking over to their expectant daughter. Gordon gently removed a stray strand of Maggie’s hair that was blowing across her face.
“Love the new look by the way.”
“Love that you called me Maggie.”