A Story to Enjoy

Hello, has the whirlwind that is modern-day Christmas caught you yet? There are so many gifts to buy, people to see, meals to cook, and parties to attend. It’s mostly fun, but sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming can’t it? So, for a little light relief while you have a coffee break, I thought I would share with you extracts from Hidden Faces. I’ll post a snippet over the next few days (but you’ll need to buy the book if you want to read the whole story).

Sit back, relax for a few minutes, and enjoy…

***
The face that I present to the world,
Differs
From the face the world doth see, which
Differs
From the face I feel within myself, which
Differs
From the face that’s truly me.
***
Chapter One

Cynthia Mott was late. She slotted her key into the solid front door and pushed it open, stepped into the front room, brushed her feet on the mat and hurried under the low beam into her kitchen. She dumped her bag in the corner, keys on top of the fridge and bent to retrieve her forgotten lunch.

There was a thump. She froze, all her attention focused on listening. It came again. A dull, low thump. Wood on wood. It came from the cottage garden, which should have been empty.

She glanced at the clock, irritable, there was no time for this, had not really been time to even collect her sandwiches. Another thump. That decided her. She dropped the lunch box into her bag, kicked off her shoes, struggled into the wellingtons by the back door and marched across the lawn.

The grass was still frozen, glistening from the hard frost which had hardened the sprinkling of snow into icy tufts. She crunched as she walked, hurrying towards the shed. The door should have been fastened but a slight breeze was blowing, stirring it. It swung open, paused for a moment as though holding its breath, then thumped shut. As she approached, Cynthia could see the outline of a man through the cobwebbed window. She frowned, began composing caustic sentences, flung open the shed door. She too paused, held her breath.

He was dead. There could be no doubt about that. His face, already tinged with blue, had one eye open, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. He sat on her abandoned rocking chair in the corner, trousers stained and mouth drooping. His grey hair poked thinly from beneath a brown cap and his feet, strangely angled, were clad in muddy boots. There was a newspaper on the floor, she supposed it had fallen when he drifted from consciousness.

Suddenly suffused with anger, Cynthia glanced once more at her watch. 12:40. The tension rose within her like an icy bubble, overwhelming her ability to think.

‘I do not have time for this,’ she announced, ‘not today.’

Decisively she reached out, shut the door, fastened it with a large bolt. She turned and hurried back to the cottage, slipped back into her sensible low heeled shoes, retrieved her bag and slammed the front door behind her.

***

The road was slippery as Cynthia joined the long line of cars edging their way into town. It was a week before Christmas and lights hung from trees that swayed tiredly in the breeze. The lights did not appear to have any shape at all and one felt they had been sneezed across the branches rather than designed. Shoppers hurried from rare parking spaces, ever aware of the nearing deadline, carrying immense lists, failing to look jolly. Chewing her lunch as she drove, Cynthia avoided careless pedestrians as she navigated the High Street. Marksbridge was a small market town built alongside the river. It had a collection of small shops clustered along a single road with facades dating back to the 1800s. One of the large supermarket chains had recently arrived on former scrub land at the bottom of the High Street but other than that it seemed that the outside world had failed to notice the town.

The school was on a car-lined side road leading from the top of the High Street. As she navigated the parked vehicles, she hoped her parking space would be free. It was not, of course, it was that kind of a day. A large black Land Rover now filled the space she had vacated less than an hour earlier. She supposed it belonged to dinner staff and she reversed back onto the crowded lane.

By the time Cynthia had parked and hurried back to the school, the bell was ringing for the end of playtime. She entered the school via a side door in an attempt to not be seen by Mr Carter, the caretaker. She had neither time nor energy for a conversation. Hoping there had been no changes to the afternoon’s schedule, she rushed to her classroom and struggled out of her coat before the first child appeared at the door.

Everything about Miss Mott was round. The autumn months had not been good for her figure, and were she the kind of woman who paid attention to such things, she would have been disappointed by its size. Instead, when dressing that morning she had pulled her cardigan down as far as it would go in the hope of disguise and thought no more about it. She now sat solidly on her chair and opened the register.

The children crowded into the classroom in an excited rush. Their pink faces looked expectantly at her as they jostled for space on the worn carpet. Some sidled as close to her legs as they dared, and one put out a tentative finger to touch her shoe. She waited until they were still and then began to read their names, marking who was present. It was an unnecessary activity in her eyes, as no one would have left since the morning registration, but it did provide a chance for the children to settle after screaming around the playground, and she valued calm very highly. The boys’ names were always printed first in the register but Miss Mott read the girls’ names first. It seemed illogical to her to reinforce the boys’ natural inclination towards dominance.

When two children had been dispatched to the office with the completed register, Miss Mott explained the afternoon’s activities. Her voice, low, calm, slow, gave directions clearly. She explained that the children would change into their costumes, wait quietly with a book until they were called to the hall. Everything would be calm, sensible, controlled. Her tone and manner did not allow for anything else. The children watched, listening carefully, keen to please. June Fuller, the classroom assistant hovered near the back, sorting costumes, waiting for her instructions to begin.

Miss Mott looked at the children’s faces. They were full of barely contained excitement, all eyes watching her attentively. She felt suddenly tired. She had seen so many Christmases now, they all seemed the same. She knew that each parent would only really watch their own child, the only thing that mattered was that their precious son or daughter was given the opportunity to shine, even if only for a minute. They had been practising the songs since September and Miss Mott was thoroughly sick of them. Their cheerful tunes grated on her nerves and the easily sung but rather puerile words made her slightly nauseated.

The children began to change into their nativity costumes. Miss Mott moved around the classroom fastening hooks, positioning headdresses. Her thoughts wandered back to her shed.

‘That wretched man,’ she thought, ‘why did he have to die today?’

His name was Clarence James and he had worked in her garden since she had moved into the property ten years ago. She had told him repeatedly that he should retire but he had stubbornly refused and now this had happened. She knelt to help Tommy tie his shoe lace. She could hear June asking Mandy which outfit belonged to her. Much as she disliked the annual nativity performance, it demanded her full attention and she would think about the Mr James problem later.

***

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

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