Well here we are at the start of another week. The year is flying by despite the fact that life is at a slower pace these days. To think that when this all started we were still wearing socks and the central heating was still on. This week we face temperatures into the thirties and cloudless skies. It’ll be too hot to sit outside for long during the daytime, but I’ll look forward to eating outside in the evening without the need of a cardi!
I went to see my mum and dad for the first time since lockdown yesterday. Apart from a weekly trip to Morrisons they haven’t seen anyone apart from my brother in law who used to drop off groceries for them until Mum decided that she needed to see somewhere other than their own home. My sister only lives around the corner from my parents but she was shielded until recently so wasn’t able to pop around to speak from the garden gate. It’s very hard on everyone who has had to endure isolation to keep themselves safe. We need human contact and we to escape our four walls, no matter how comfortable our homes might be. Like so many of us, I’ve really missed seeing them. Dad is 91 and not well and time with him is precious. Being there with him on Fathers Day was very special. He’s always been there for me and we’ve always been close. My dad is simply The Best!
I’ve had a busy week writing and managed, for me, to really get that word count up. I feel that the end is almost in sight now. I had no idea how much writing a book takes over your life. If I’m not writing then I’m thinking about what to write next, or printing out and filing a hard copy. I’ve joined social media writing groups which are a mine of information and a great support network. I still have doubts about the quality of my writing especially if I’ve been reading something that’s beautifully written, but I will make improvements when I edit. Just getting the story written down is enough for now.
So here is part 18 which I just finished half an hour ago. I hope that you enjoy reading it. Remember it’s not the finished item so if you see any typos or grammatical mistakes then apologies.
Have a good week and don’t forget to slap on the factor 30!
Maggie Thornden, Where are you ?
Maggie sat at the kitchen table in her towelling bathrobe nursing a hot cup of tea. It was still early and it was dark outside. In the garden patches of snow lay on the lawn. They were all that was left of the thick blanket of snow that had covered most of the country only a few days previously. Gordon had insisted on driving to work despite everyone being advised to not venture onto the roads unless absolutely necessary. Sorting out the accounts at the council was obviously deemed as a necessary reason to travel in Gordon’s eyes and after throwing a shovel and a blanket into the boot of the car he had set off for work. Maggie had smiled as she watched as their car travelled down the road at a snail’s pace, occasionally sliding perilously close to parked cars. Foolish he may be to attempt the drive into work but she had to admire his determination to not let a bit of snow stop him from getting to the office and putting in a day’s work. It had taken him hours to make the short journey only to discover that he was the only one who’d made it in. He’d phoned Maggie to tell her that he would be late home as he needed to make up the hours that he’d lost by being late in.
Christmas had been and gone. It was probably the best Christmas that they’d had in a long time. Susan, Tom and the twins had come for lunch as usual. The year before had been a bit fraught as Lottie and Millie had just started walking and nothing was safe from their inquisitive hands. This year they had been content to play with the toys that Susan had brought with her or sit on the rug in front of the television and watch Cbeebies. For the first time in many years James had come to stay. He’d finished working at the care home and in a few weeks’ time they would be jetting off to South America. Emily spent Christmas Day with her parents but came to spend Boxing Day in Gloucester. Gordon had wondered about sleeping arrangements and was a little surprised that Maggie was quite happy for them to share a room.
Gordon had bought Maggie a wok for Christmas. She didn’t show it, but she was a bit disappointed that that was all she got. She’d bought Gordon new binoculars for his bird watching and an Italian cookery lesson that the two of them could do together. He’d been delighted with the binoculars, less so about learning how to make pasta and tiramisu.
Despite the indulgences of Christmas Maggie had noticed that Gordon looked as though he’d lost some weight. Lucky him, she’d thought as she struggled to do up the top button of her jeans. He was also wincing now and again and was rubbing the small of his back. He put it down to old age when she mentioned it and said that it would go, but it didn’t seem to be getting any better. Next time she went shopping she must pick up some of those heat pads that you stick onto your sore bits.
On the table in front of her was an envelope addressed to her. She’d been intrigued when she had received it. These days they rarely got any post apart from junk mail as they had decided to go paperless so all of their statements and bills were now emailed to them.
It was a lovely surprise when she opened it to see that it was from Charles in Devon. The two of them had sent each other brief texts now and again. It was good to keep in touch but she hadn’t told Gordon about the texts. He knew that she’d stayed in the pub when she’d been on her little jaunt, but she hadn’t gone into details. In the letter Charles mentioned that the refurbishments to the pub were now finished and that he’d like Maggie and Gordon to be the first guests to stay. It was his way of thanking her for encouraging him to fulfil his late wife’s dream of running a successful business.
How to broach the subject with Gordon without getting the wrong end of the stick? He wouldn’t understand why she was keeping in touch with a single man who she spent two days alone with unless something had happened between them. Should she decline the kind invitation and not respond to any further communication from Charles? Or should she tell Gordon the truth, that she had kept in touch with the landlord of the pub she had spent two nights at and was interested in knowing what progress was being made on the refurbishment and that was all. It was a perfectly innocent friendship and there was no reason for Gordon to think otherwise. She really wished that she had told him about Charles. To say anything now after all of this time would just make him suspicious.
She really wanted to go, but she knew that Gordon would refuse to go and she’d have to deal with the recriminations of being secretive. Things were good between them since before Christmas. Gordon seemed less grumpy lately and had even been quite jokey at times. He’d ask her about her day and how her interior design course was going. He’d even started to bring her cups of tea in bed on the days that she wasn’t working and was making his own packed lunches in the morning rather than expecting her to get up and do it for him.
She couldn’t risk spoiling their new improved relationship. She’d have to decline the invitation and stop texting Charles. It was a shame but it was for the best.
There could be a way around the problem which meant that she could still go and not upset her husband. Gordon knew that she had friends on Instagram so what if she told him that she’d been invited to meet up with a group of them and then she could go to Devon and Gordon would be none the wiser. He never showed any interest in who she followed or what she posted on social media but he had listened to her talk about her on-line friends and how nice it would be to meet them so there would be no reason for him to be at all suspicious if she said she was going to spend the weekend with them. He’d probably really appreciate a weekend to himself especially if she stocked up the fridge with his favourite ready meals and a bottle of wine.
Yes, that’s what she would do. It wasn’t like she was having an illicit affair. She just didn’t want to rock the boat as far as her and Gordon was concerned. It would be fine. She tried to ignore the niggle of doubt that was beginning to form.
“So where is it that you are going to this weekend?” asked Gordon between mouthfuls of tuna pasta bake a couple of weeks later.
“I’ve already told you. We’re meeting in Bristol.”
“Sorry, I forgot. So if you are in Bristol, why are you driving and not catching the train? Surely that would make more sense. Bristol is a nightmare to drive around and parking will cost you a fortune!”
Damn! Maggie hadn’t considered that when she had decided on Bristol being the location for her girls weekend away.
“The train fare will cost more than the parking and I just don’t want the hassle of getting the train. I know my way around Bristol and worked out where to park so please don’t fuss.”
“What if I took you down there? It’s not that long a drive from here and I can go on and see the SS Great Britain. You know that I’ve always fancied a visit to see it.”
“That’s really sweet of you to offer, but seriously, I’ll be fine. How about we go to see the ship together another day and maybe try one of the new restaurants down by the harbour?”
“Well, if you’re sure, but the offer’s there.”
Maggie smiled and carried on eating. The niggle that had started out small a few weeks earlier was growing bigger each day.
The journey down the M5 to Devon had gone smoothly with no hold ups. If only it was as quiet in the summer on their way to Cornwall when they usually ended up sitting in one traffic jam after another. Maybe they should consider having winter holidays there in the future.
Maggie arrived in Wisland in the early afternoon. She drew up outside the Star Inn and wondered if she had made a mistake and driven to the wrong pub.
Gone was the tired tatty sign hanging from its hinges and in its place was a beautiful new one. The window frames and walls had been freshly painted and the tiles on the roof replaced. The weeds strewn parking area had been spruced up and containers filled with cyclamen, winter flowering pansies and Wintergreen stood on either side of the door. Maggie had to smile when she saw Charles’s beaten up, mud splattered Land Rover still parked in the same place that she had seen it last. The rest of the car park was empty. The pub wasn’t officially opening until the evening and Maggie was the only guest staying that night. She hoped that didn’t mean that after all of his hard work over the last six months he was having problems getting bookings. She parked her car next to Charles’s Land Rover and grabbed her overnight bag from the back seat. She was feeling a little nervous. Was it down to seeing Charles again or was it really guilt for deceiving her husband?
The bar was empty. The transformation from the tired, old fashioned bar that she remembered from back in late July to the one she was seeing now was wonderful. Charles had wanted to keep it as a traditional village pub and was adamant that it wasn’t going to end up as a posh gastro pub full of carefully styled rural themed nick-nacks and painted top to toe in Farrow and Ball hues. He wanted the Star Inn to be a proper local. The hub of the community.
Maggie admired the polished flagstone floor, no doubt hidden under the threadbare carpet for decades, the fire crackling away in the new wood burner and walls the colour of pale Verdigris. Oak benches lined the walls and mismatched chairs surrounded scrubbed oak tables topped with pewter candlesticks. In one corner of the room was a dartboard and above the fireplace a message welcoming everyone to the opening night at The Star was written on a huge chalkboard. From somewhere, out of view Maggie could hear voices.
From behind the bar a familiar face appeared.
“Hey Hero, remember me!”
The huge dog padded over to Maggie with his shaggy tail wagging. She bent down to stroke the top of his huge head and tickle his ears. He greeted her back by licking her cheek. He then slunk off back behind the bar.
Wiping her cheek with the sleeve of the coat. Maggie noticed that the door bell was still on the wall, but the tatty Ring Me notice had been replaced with a smart engraved one. Maggie did as it instructed and pushed the bell.
“Be with you in a mo” shouted a voice. A voice that Maggie remembered. She wondered if Charles would recognise her but why wouldn’t he; it had only been a few months and not years since they had last met. She looked the same now as she did then!
The man that appeared into the bar carrying a tray of wine glasses was definitely the same man she had said goodbye to before continuing on her journey last July but Maggie noticed straight away that he’d lost a lot of weight and his shock of unruly hair had been cut and tamed. His smile remained as broad as it had been before.
“Maggie! What a sight for sore eyes. Here let me put this down and give you a hug. It’s so nice to see you after all of these months.” Maggie noticed that he smelt of garlic as he embraced her. No doubt he had been busy in the kitchen.
“It’s lovely to see you too and just look at this place. You’ve worked wonders with it!”
A slight scowl crossed Charles’s face. “You don’t think it’s too posh do you? You can be honest, I won’t be offended. I was a bit uncertain about that green paint on the walls but it’s sort of grown on me. What do you think of the fire? A bugger to put in apparently but warms the place up nicely.”
“I love it! The outside looks great too. And take a look at you. I hardly recognised you!”
“After you went I said to myself, stop moping about you daft old bugger and stop stuffing your face. I tell you, I didn’t half turn a few heads when I walked through the door at the Weight Watcher meeting at the Women’s Institute hall! It’s been a hard slog but I’m getting there.”
“Well, I think you amazing and I love the new haircut. It really suits you.”
Charles laughed. “Now you’re making me blush. Right why don’t I take you up to your room. I think you’ll have quite a pleasant surprise when you see it.
Maggie let Charles lead the way up the stairs but let he stood aside at the door to the room and let Maggie enter first.
“Wow, this is just gorgeous Charles. What a transformation.”
A huge bed with white bedding dominated the room. A pale blue checked blanket lay neatly folded at the end with matching cushions arranged next to the pillows. The walls were painted soft powder blue. The furniture was tasteful in their simplicity as was the lighting. The room was smaller than she remembered. Charles opened a door.
“We managed to squeeze in an ensuite shower room. It’s got underfloor heating so it’s nice and toasty. Now, I hope that you don’t mind but I decided against having a telly in here. I reckon people need a break from the box now and again, but if you’re really desperate to watch something there’s always the WIFI which is pretty fast. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the phone reception. Best place to get it is next to the dart board. Not ideal I know but there you go. There’s always a downside when you live in the countryside. Right, I’ll leave you to unpack and then when you’re ready come downstairs and we’ll have a bite to eat and a good natter.”
Charles went to leave, but turned round as though he’d forgotten something. He smiled.
“It really is good to see you again” he said and then left.
Maggie walked over to the window. She looked out at the same stunning view that she had admired back in the summer. Its beauty was now stark compared to the lush, green one before.
The trees in the valley were now bare and the distant fields blurred by a wintery mist. Although it was still only early afternoon, the day seemed to be struggling to stay awake and there was already a need to switch on lamps as the shrouded January sun hung low in flat lifeless sky. Within a few hours darkness would have descended. Maggie went over to her bag that she’d put on the bed and took out her phone. She should phone Gordon to let him know she had arrived safely, but Charles had been right, no bars were showing in the corner of the screen. She would try again later and besides, Gordon would just assume that she was too busy chatting with her new friends to phone him. She wondered what he was doing right now.
Unpacking done, Maggie wandered down to the bar. Charles was behind the counter arranging glasses. He wasn’t alone, a pretty young woman with her hair pulled back into a high ponytail and wearing a slouchy jumper that exposed one bare shoulder was studying the till, her mouth set in the way they tend to go when you are concentrating hard on a task. She looked up at Maggie, gave a little wave and went back to the task in hand. It must have been her voice that she had heard earlier talking to Charles when she arrived.
“Maggie, let me introduce you to my new right hand woman Chloe who despite appearing to be fresh out of school, is the font of all knowledge when it comes to the hospitality business, who is my saviour and happens to be incredibly bossy!”
Chloe laughed and scolded Charles with a soft Devonian accent “You old flatterer you! Someone has to keep you in check otherwise you’d spend all day flicking through those recipe books of yours! I work my socks off here getting the place sorted for you and get paid pittance whilst you do sod all! Maggie, it’s great to meet you. Charles has told me how you encouraged him to get his arse into gear and sort the old dump out. I grew up in a pub and helped out behind the bar as soon as I could see over it. The pub trade’s in my blood and it’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I know it’s hard to believe but I left school years ago. I’ve always looked young for my age. That’s what a diet of pork scratchings and sips of local ale does to you. It’s the way to go for eternal youth!”
“Don’t listen to a word she says. I’ve worked damn hard to get this place sorted and she knows it. I don’t know why I put up with the cheeky mare!”
“Cuz you loves me and can’t cope without me! Right, that’s me done. I’m off home for a few hours and will be back before the grand opening.” Chloe kissed her employer on the cheek, waved at Maggie and left through the back of the pub.
“It’s all banter you know. She really is a diamond and I don’t know what I’d do without her. I am so lucky to have her on board. That girl knows the trade inside and out and works her socks off. And it’s true she does keep me in check because lord knows, someone has to! Right, I’m ready for a bit of a break. Can I interest you in a cup of tea or maybe something a little stronger? You must be starving after your journey. Fancy a slice of homemade pork pie?”
Maggie and Charles sat at the table next to the wood burner. Hero was stretched out and snoring away at his master’s feet. The slice of pork pie had turned out to be a hefty wedge and Charles had served it with a huge dollop of piccalilli. Both were delicious. Maggie’s glass of red wine was almost empty. Charles needed to keep his head clear for the evening ahead and had opted for sparkling wine.
“Fancy a top up?” Charles didn’t bother to wait for a reply. Maggie was feeling woozy from the meal and the half bottle of wine that she’d already drank. Oh well, she thought, in for a penny, in for a pound.
The two of them had spent a few hours catching up. Charles talked of his luck in finding the perfect company to carry out the pub refurbishment. How he’d decided to cater for the villagers and not serve fancy food. The Star Inn was going to be first and foremost a pub and not a restaurant masquerading as a pub.
“So does that mean you’ve decided not to serve food? Oh Charles, you’re such a wonderful cook, you can’t not serve food.” Said Maggie, remembering the plates of delicious food that her host had served her.
“But that’s just it Maggie, I’m not a trained chef and I don’t have a big kitchen. I know my limitations and listen you’d be impressed by this, I actually did some market research and what the locals want is good pub grub for the days that they can’t be bothered to cook and a decent Sunday roast. Here, take a look at the menu, I reckon you’ll be impressed.” Charles got up and fetched one from behind the bar.
He proudly showed her the menu. It was full of hearty dishes using ingredients sourced locally. Maggie had wondered how he would manage cooking on his own but he reassured her that he had hired help to keep things ticking over in the kitchen.
“Of course we’ll be doing specials too. That’s what that big chalkboard is for. I’ll still get to do the odd rabbit pie or pheasant casserole!”
Maggie was pleased for Charles. He deserved to make a go of the pub and realise his and Lucy’s dream, but a little bit of her was sad that the old dilapidated pub was no more and that Charles would no longer be dressing the tables with freshly laundered white linen tablecloths, fine silverware and crystal wine glasses or suggesting which wine to drink with the meal he’d lovingly prepared. She would always remember that time she had spent at the old inn with fondness.
Charles glanced at his watch.
“Right, I need to get a move on if I’m to open the pub on time. I’ve still got things I need to finish and I’d better spruce myself up. If our Chloe comes back and things aren’t ship shape then there’ll be hell to pay. Better clear these things up first.”
“Would you like help with anything?” Maggie asked whilst stifling a yawn. She really shouldn’t have drunk so much wine.
“That’s very kind of you to offer, but I wouldn’t dream of asking a guest, and a special one at that, to help. No, my love, you go and enjoy your room. Look at you, you can hardly keep awake! What you need is a lie down. You can test out the bed and let me know if those mattresses that I spent a bloomin’ fortune on are of any cop!”
Charles was right, what she wanted to do more than anything right now was to have a little nap. Maybe she ought to go and get her phone first and try and phone Gordon.
By the time she’d made it back to her room she’d forgotten about calling Gordon. Kicking off her shoes, she climbed under the duvet and promptly fell asleep.
Back at their home in Gloucester, Gordon sat himself down in his armchair after another fruitless trip to the bathroom. Something wasn’t right. He’d lived with his ‘dodgy prostate’ for the last few years and was used to putting up with the urgent needs for a pee, only to experience a bit of a wait before any pee materialised and then when it did, it did so in fits and starts. It was a damn nuisance at times. Maggie would moan that they couldn’t go anywhere if there wasn’t a toilet available. She’d nagged him so many times to go to the doctor to do something about it, but he’d told her that it was just something all men had to put up with eventually and no way was anyone sticking their finger up his bum!
A few weeks ago he’d spotted a bit of blood in his pee. Not much, just a little drop’s worth really. It was nothing to worry a doctor about and definitely nothing to worry Maggie with. She’d really have a go at him about going to get it checked out. No, it was best not mentioned. If it got any worse then he’d make an appointment.
He tried to get comfortable in his chair. What with this back ache that just wouldn’t go away and now the pressure he was experiencing from his bladder, it was no wonder that he wasn’t feeling very happy. He was tired too, actually he was tired a lot lately, not just the sort of tired you experience after a day at work, but the sort of tired that drained you of energy by simply putting one foot in front of the other. The sort of tired that you knew that even sleeping a hundred years would not go away. He’d done his best to hide it from Maggie but he often couldn’t help himself from falling asleep in his chair long before bedtime. Maggie would shake him awake and tease him about being an old man. He probably just needed some vitamins. These things just sorted themselves out didn’t they but deep down he knew that wasn’t the case. He got out of his chair again and rubbed his sore back. Perhaps he’d be able to go if he tried again and took himself off to the bathroom.
Maggie felt better after her nap. She showered and dressed before making her way back downstairs. The bar was full of people and Maggie cursed herself for having missed the opening ceremony. She wondered if there had been a ribbon for Charles to cut. Chloe was behind the bar looking very much in control. Pulling pints and chatting amiably with the customers. Charles meanwhile was talking to a man who was busily writing things down in a notebook. He’d changed and looked very smart in his shirt, tie and green herringbone tweed jacket. He was every inch the country pub landlord. Her heart gave a little skip. She was very fond of this man and he deserved to make a success of his pub. Maybe one day there would be someone special in his life again. She was sure that his Lucy would want him to be happy and not alone.
At the far end of the room was a table laden with platters of cold meats and cheeses. Taking centre stage was two huge game pies. People were helping themselves to plates and filling them with food. The sound of chatter and laughter filled the room. Everyone seemed to know each other. The villagers were doing their bit to support Charles tonight. She hoped that that it was genuine and it wasn’t just the promise of free food that had tempted them to come tonight.
With a glass of red wine in her hand she wandered through the throng feeling a bit like a spare part. She tried milling with groups of people or asked people if they lived in the village, which invariably they did, and asked them what they thought of the pub. Nobody engaged her in conversation; nobody asked her how she knew Charles or indeed asked her anything. Charles had disappeared upstairs, no doubt to show off the other unoccupied room and Chloe was busy serving drinks. She’d smiled and said hello when Maggie had gone to the bar to buy her wine but as far as Chloe was concerned Charles’s friend was just another punter. Noticing that her glass was empty, she returned to the bar to have it replenished.
She felt lonely and she missed Gordon. She’d made a big mistake by coming alone. It had been lovely to see Charles again and it was good to catch up with him over a plate of pork pie and far too much wine this afternoon, but she didn’t belong here. She should be in Gloucester and what on earth was she thinking when she made up the story about meeting up with online friends. What would Gordon think if he ever found out? What a fool she was! She was missing him and needed to hear his voice, but phoning him was impossible when the pub was full of noisy people. Maybe she could get a signal from her car? She went back to her room, grabbed her phone and ran to her car. It was pouring with rain outside and without a coat Maggie got soaked in the short sprint from the pub. In the sanctuary of her car and her wet blouse clinging to her she looked at the screen of her phone. Damn! The phone was out of charge.
The pain caused by his grossly extended bladder was excruciating. Gordon strained to pee but would still not come. He was sweating profusely and felt light headed. He’d tried phoning Maggie but kept getting the message that she wasn’t available. He cursed her. The silly woman was forever forgetting to charge it. He didn’t want to bother Susan but he had no one else to turn to. Less than an hour of him phoning her she arrived at their house. She took one look at her father and bundled him into her car and ignored any speed restrictions as she drove him to the nearest A&E.
The last few people left in the pub were saying their goodbyes. Chloe was collecting the remaining glasses from the table and Maggie was helping Charles take the empty platters through to the kitchen. He’d protested that she was a guest and wasn’t there to tidy, but Maggie insisted. She needed to feel useful.
When most of the tidying had been done – anything left could wait until the morning- and Chloe had left, saying that she needed to shoot off as Craig, her husband was making cheese on toast for then to eat whilst watching a late night film.
“Fancy a nightcap or a cup of tea?” Charles asked Maggie “I’m still buzzing from tonight and need to wind down a bit before hitting the sack.”
Maggie had drunk enough for one evening “Tea would be lovely.” As Charles disappeared into the kitchen to make the tea, Maggie looked at her watch. It was gone eleven. Too late to phone Gordon. She’d send a quick text. Her phone should be charged by now so she quickly ran up the stairs to her room to fetch it.
Maggie stood by the dart board listening to the many voicemail messages from Susan. Each one getting more desperate.
Charles returned with the tray of tea and saw the anguished look on Maggie’s face.
“What’s wrong Maggie?”
“It’s Gordon. He’s been rushed to hospital. I need to phone Susan.” Maggie’s hand was trembling as she searched for her daughter’s number.
Susan answered the phone immediately. “Mum, why the hell haven’t you been answering my calls? I’ve been trying for hours! Hang on a minute, I’ll just go and find somewhere a bit quieter to talk.”
Maggie waited for her daughter to speak again. She was aware that her heart was thumping in her chest.
“Okay, that’s better.”
“I’m so sorry Suze, I stupidly ran out of charge. What’s happened to Dad? Is he alright? Tell me!”
Oh God, please let him be alright.
He couldn’t pee and was in agony. He tried to get hold of you but couldn’t so he phoned me. Mum, he was in such pain. It was horrible to see him like that. We took him to the hospital where they said that he was in acute retention of urine.”
“What’s that? Did they say why he’d got it?” Maggie tried to suppress the panic that was building up inside her.
“It’s when you can’t pass urine and your bladder just keeps filling. They think it’s something to do with his prostate especially considering that Dad has been having problems with pee’ing for a while.”
“I kept telling him to go and see someone about it. Poor Dad, I feel awful that I wasn’t there. I should have been there for him.”
“Mum, you weren’t to know this was going to happen so don’t beat yourself up about it. They catheterised him and he’s much more comfortable now but they are going to keep an eye on him. They took some bloods and did an ECG which was fine but the blood results won’t be available until tomorrow. They haven’t got a bed for him on the ward so he’s stuck in a cubicle. Mum, it’s pretty horrible here. There’s people coming in who’ve had a skin full and they’re really noisy and aggressive
. I really think that dad would appreciate it if you could come and sit with him.”
Maggie wiped away a tear. “I can’t drive sweetie, I’ve been drinking and I’m way over the limit.”
“But Dad needs you Mum. Isn’t there someone there with you in Bristol who hasn’t been drinking? Otherwise I’ll get Tom to drive down and pick you. Oh for pete’s sake, what am I saying, of course he can’t come, he’s looking after the twins. What about a taxi? There must be some way of getting back here.”
“Susan, calm down. Is your Dad awake? If he is can I talk to him please?”
As Maggie waited for Susan to return to her father’s cubicle, she could hear the muffled sounds of machine’s beeping away, trolleys rattling and the moans of people in pain or in distress. The only time she had ever been in an A&E department was on a weekday afternoon when James had come off his scooter when he was ten and had ended up with a fractured collarbone. Although they’d had a bit of a wait on that occasion, the department had been fairly calm. She could imagine that A&E on a Saturday night was anything but calm.
The next voice that she heard was Gordons. He sounded groggy.
“Maggie, I tried to call you. Have you been having a good time with your friends?”
“What? That doesn’t matter. What matters is you! Look, I am so so sorry that I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. How are you feeling?”
“Better than I was. I’d never thought that I’d be so grateful to have someone stick a tube up my bits. Mags, I’ve never felt pain like it. They gave me something for it whist they were waiting for someone to sort out the catheterisation.”
“And what did the doctor say? Is it your prostate?”
“More than likely. I have to see someone from the urology department in the morning, but the doctor who’s been dealing with me seems to think that I might have to have an operation.”
“What, tomorrow?” asked Maggie.
“Maggie, I honestly don’t know. I can only tell you what they’ve told me which isn’t a lot. They’re run off their feet here so I don’t get to see anyone apart from the nurse who keeps checking the catheter bag. I think that they must have nicked something when they did it as there’s blood in my pee, but nobody seems to be too concerned.”
“I should be there with you, not here in Devon. I’ve been drinking so I can’t drive. I really don’t know how I can get to you.”
Oh bollocks, did I just say Devon!
“Listen Mags, please don’t worry about it. I’m shattered and all I want to do is sleep. Please tell Susan that she doesn’t need to stay and to go home. She’s insisting that she has to be here, but there’s no need to hang around. She’ll listen to you. “
“Okay, as long as you’re sure. I’ll leave here as soon as I know that it’s safe for me to drive and come straight to the hospital. Don’t forget to ask for something for the pain if you’re sore. Have they given you something to drink and are you warm enough.”
“Maggie, please stop fussing. I’m fine. Now go back to what you were doing.”
She could hear the weariness in his voice. “Alright my darling. Try and get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning. Love you lots.”
Gordon told her that he loved her too and then ended the call.
She went and sat down next to Charles, concern written all over his face.
“How is he Maggie? Oh, you poor love, you’ve gone as white as a sheet. Drink some tea. I’ve put a bit of sugar in it and tell me what’s happened.”
Maggie took a sip of the tea that was no longer hot but was sweet and comforting.
“Oh Charles, I’ve done something really stupid.” Maggie sobbed. The tears that had been threatening now rolled steadily down her face. She swiped her sleeve across her eyes, smudging mascara into smokey streaks across her cheeks.
Charles put his arm around her shoulders. “Now come on love, I’m sure that’s not so. Tell me what’s happened to Gordon.”
Maggie told Charles everything. Gordon’s plight, the missed calls, the lies.
“What I don’t understand Maggie is why you told Gordon that you were in Bristol. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed when you said that he had a prior engagement this weekend and couldn’t come with you. It would have been nice to have met him but I was really pleased that you’d decided to come anyway. I have to say that I’m a bit confused!”
“I never told him about your invitation. He doesn’t know about you. When I told him that I’d stayed in Devon last year, I didn’t give any details. I just told him that I’d stayed a few nights in a pub. So can you see, it would have been awkward having to explain to him why we had been invited to spend the night here and to be part of your big opening night celebration.”
“So you told him that you were going to Bristol instead?”
Maggie nodded. When she’d made the decision to lie to Gordon she’d thought that it was for the best. Her curiosity about seeing the changes to the pub had got the better of her and what harm could it do to bend the truth a little about her whereabouts for a weekend. Despite the doubts that she’d had about deceiving Gordon, she had still gone through with it. What sort of wife did that make her?
Charles sighed “I can’t say that I understand what’s going on here and I’ve listened to you but I’m not going to throw in my two pence worth. You’ve got your reasons for what you did and we’ll leave it at that. If the two of you have got problems then that’s for the two of you to sort out. What’s more important right now is that Gordon is okay and that you get back to see him as soon as you can.”
“I want to go now but I’ve been drinking. If it wasn’t so far I’d risk it and go…”
“…and I would take the keys off of you and tell you not to be such a bloody fool. Look, I’ve not touched a drop so I could drive you to the hospital.”
Maggie felt that she didn’t deserve such a kindness from this man sat next to her. She squeezed his hand. “Charles, I really appreciate the offer but I can’t have you driving me all the way to Gloucester in the middle of the night and besides what about my car? I’d have to come back and pick it up. How would I do that? I can’t ask anyone to drive me here when they are under the impression that my car is in a car park in the centre of Bristol and not stuck outside a country pub in deepest Devon.”
Charles tried to suppress a laugh “Well, you could always come by bus. You know which ones to catch! Well, the offer’s there, but you know what Maggie, Gordon probably does need his sleep and he knows that you can’t get there until the morning. You know that he’s okay and in good hands so get some sleep and leave in the morning. The roads will be quiet first thing and you’ll be there in time to help him eat his cold toast and drink his stewed tea, Come on love, listen to uncle Charles. He does occasionally talk sense you know!”
“You’re right, there would be no point going now and if they manage to find him a bed on a ward, I doubt if they’d let me see him anyway. I’m so sorry about this Charles. I hope I haven’t put a damper on your evening. It was such a great success and everyone was singing your praises.”
“Even Mrs Crudwell?”
Maggie didn’t catch the hint of humour in Charles’s voice “Who’s Mrs Crudwell?”
“You must have noticed Mrs Crudwell! The woman who sat in the corner and who looks like Norah Batty. We call her Eagle Eyed Norah on account that she knows the ins and outs of everything that goes on in the village and rarely has a good word for anybody. You can bet that by tomorrow she would have told the whole of the congregation at morning service that you’re my latest floozy!”
“So there have been floozies before me?”
“I’d say, at least half of the ladies from the slimming club and not forgetting Beryl with the wonky eye from the WI! Right, Maggie Thornden, time you got some sleep. And please don’t fret about spoiling the evening. You could never do that. I really appreciate you coming. It means a great deal to me to have you here. Now scoot or I’ll be forced to chase you up them there stairs!”
The following morning Charles woke early, as he always did. Hero needed his morning walk and a visit to the nearest lamp post. He sat on the edge of the bed in his little bedsit at the back of the pub and stretched. It was the first day of proper trading and there was lots to do including preparing for today’s roast. The pork needed to go into the oven shortly for a long slow roast. The beef and lamb wouldn’t join the pork until a good few hours later. He showered and dressed and went through to the bar where Hero sat waiting by the door. The first thing that Charles saw was the folded piece of white paper with his name written on it that was propped against the beer pumps.
“Hang on a minute old chap” he said to his dog who was eager to go.
I am so sorry that I could not wait for you to get up before leaving. It feels wrong to not say goodbye and thank you in person but I’m sure that you understand that I am desperate to get to the hospital and see Gordon. I couldn’t sleep anyway so it made sense to go as soon as it was safe for me to do so.
It was so lovely to see you again and I really appreciate it that you asked us to come and be your guests this weekend. With hindsight I should have told Gordon about staying at The Star last summer and about your invitation to us both to help celebrate the re-opening of the pub. But hey, how does the saying go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing…..!
What you have done to the pub is amazing. It looks wonderful and the room I stayed in was just perfect. Hopefully you’ll be able to soon sort out the mobile phone reception! You should be really proud of what you’ve achieved and I’m sure that Lucy would be too.
I’m so glad that I met you Charles when I did. Your kindness and friendship means a lot even though we have only met the two times. You really are a very lovely man and Lucy was one lucky lady.
I look forward to reading glowing reviews about The Star. You deserve each and every one of them.
Hopefully one day we might meet again.
Charles smiled, grabbed his coat from the coat hook and walked out of the pub.