QuaranTime to Read . . . Chapter Six


What if…a happily married woman falls in love with someone else?

Chapter Six

Jane barely saw Peter before he left. He worked long hours Tuesday, preparing the office for his absence, and a taxi arrived Wednesday morning before Jane had woken. She felt Peter’s kiss on her forehead and wound sleepy arms around his neck.

“Take care,” she murmured.

“You too. I’ll phone when I get there. Love you.”

Then he was gone.

When Jane got up, the house felt cold. Wherever she went there was evidence of Peter’s absence. No razor on the shelf, only one toothbrush in the china pot on the windowsill. His dirty trainers, a constant source of irritation, were missing from the hall floor. As she prepared Christopher’s breakfast she saw Peter’s bowl resting in the sink. It was almost, she thought, as if he had died.

Abigail was having a day off school. Her teachers were having a ‘training day’, whatever that meant. It used to be called an ‘Inset Day’ and Abigail had insisted on calling it an ‘Insect Day’ to annoy Peter. Jane felt the teachers had more than enough days during the school holidays for training and resented the change in routine.

However, today they were to buy shoes. Suzie had agreed to collect Christopher from playgroup and Jane planned to take her daughter into the city. They could catch one of several trains and she found herself choosing one that would allow time to see the builders before she left.

Abigail emerged from her room dressed entirely in dark purple. She wore purple woolly tights beneath a purple skirt she had outgrown a year previously and which was now daringly short. A purple shirt from Daphne had been pulled in at the waist with a belt (also purple) and the sleeves rolled back to expose the purple cuffs of an old jumper. A purple scarf was wound around her head and finger nails and lips were painted to match.

“I gave birth to a witch!” thought Jane.

She was tempted to tell her daughter to change, to explain that she looked ridiculous and that a ten-year-old child should dress like a child, not a delinquent teenager. Many apt phrases came to mind. Instead however, as ever, she chose to avoid confrontation. It was easier to say nothing.

“Are you ready to go? Good. We’ll catch the 10 o’clock train. Don’t forget to clean your teeth and it’s cold today, so wear your long school coat.”

Abigail remained silent and moved towards the bathroom. Her eyes shone with the knowledge of a small victory.

***

As mother and daughter walked up the driveway, Matthew’s car drove down the road. He flashed his lights in greeting and parked behind the skip, which was now brim full. Jane frowned at the refrigerator perched on top of the rubble.

Matthew locked his car and smiled at Jane.

“Hello, are you out again today?”

“Just to buy shoes,” explained Jane. “I left the back door unlocked. You can help yourself to drinks, but please try to keep the dog in. We should be home by lunch time.”

Abigail was tugging at her hand and Jane allowed herself to be pulled along the path. “Bye,” she called. They began to walk towards the station.

“Matthew likes you,” announced Abigail.

“I expect he likes everyone,” said Jane.

“Yes, but he smiles at you all the time,” said Abigail.

“I expect he’s just happy to be earning so much money,” countered Jane. But she felt pleased. It would be fun if he liked her.

***

They arrived at the station with barely time to buy a ticket before the train arrived. They climbed aboard an extremely full carriage. They stood at one end, Jane holding on to both the luggage rack and Abigail, who refused to hold on to anything. The carriage was filled with retired people, most of whom seemed to know each other and were chatting whilst darting looks of suspicion towards Jane and her purple daughter. As the train jolted to a stop at the next station, Jane swayed onto an austere man reading The Telegraph.

“I am sorry,” said Jane, struggling to her feet. The man merely tutted, and shook his paper in annoyance.

“Honestly!” raged Jane as they disembarked and hurried from the station, “What did he have that we didn’t?”

“A seat,” muttered Abigail.

Jane laughed and caught her daughter’s arm. They headed down the crowded streets, avoiding people in suits carrying cardboard cups of expensive coffee. They passed brightly lit chemists, and dim newsagents that smelt of curry and dust. A gaudy sign filled a window promising half-hour photography processing and that they could unlock any phone; next door was a shop spilling plastic buckets of umbrellas onto the pavement.  Warm sugar and onions wafted from a fast food cafe. A tramp was huddled into a sleeping bag, gazing at the world through glazed eyes, and a lady in stilettos was trying to remove her heel from a grate.

As they neared the main shopping precinct the atmosphere slowed. Large shop windows had been designed with care, each offering a storybook of colour and style. Cashpoint machines perched helpfully on street corners and a lone saxophonist filled the air with jazz. Fresh coffee and handmade chocolates fought with cosmetics to perfume the walkways and the shoppers became less purposeful as their senses were distracted.

“I’m starving,” declared Abigail as they neared a cafe.

“Let’s look in one shoe shop, then have a coffee stop,” said her mother.

They paused in the entrance to a fashion shoe shop. Jane hovered near a stand of black leather shoes with low heels and laces.

“Ace!” said Abigail, advancing towards some platformed purple sandals. “We just have to buy these, it’s a sign. Can you find my size?”

“No,” said Jane, not looking up. “Do you like these?”

“They are completely disgusting. Anyway, I want coloured shoes, not black.”

“But you need black shoes for school,” said Jane, “that’s why we’ve come.”

Abigail pouted.

“But these are so nice,” she wheedled, “or those pink ones. Can I just try them on?”

“You can try them on, but I am not buying them.” Jane felt a headache was likely. She entered the shop in search of black shoes that Abigail might like, while her daughter tottered behind her in two left shoes, one purple and the other yellow. There was a section at the back of the shop labelled “School Daze” and Jane crossed the thin synthetic carpet hopefully. The shelves were full of clumpy dark shoes with fat soles and chunky heels. She thought of her daughter’s spindly legs and sighed. Abigail was now hobbling across the shop wearing red stilettoed boots. Her expression was one of stardom.

“Mind your ankle in those,” said Jane, “And where is your coat? Oh!” She went and rescued the abandoned coat from a wire basket of plimsolls while Abigail selected some silver sandals.

“Come on Abi, I think we need to go to a different shop. Where are your own shoes?”

Abigail waved an indifferent hand towards the doorway and tentatively stood. Her feet slid to the front of the shoes. She teetered, knees bent and shoulders hunched, towards a mirror. Jane picked up the gaudy shoes she had tried on initially, returning them to the display stand, and went to the doorway. There were several tubs of left shoes and a long stand announcing ‘Cut Price Bargains’ but no sign of Abigail’s own shoes.

“Abi,” she called,” I can’t see your shoes. Please come and find them.”

Abigail lurched towards her.

“These would be great for a party. Oh…” Her expression froze as her eyes went to the empty spot where she had left her shoes.

“I’m sure I left them there.”

For a second, she looked frightened. Her dark eyes widened and her lips trembled as the realisation of a probable theft dawned on her. Jane thought she was about to cry. Instead she erupted into loud peals of giggles.

“They’ve gone!” she squealed, “I left them right there and someone’s stolen them.” She collapsed into a heap and shook with laughter. “Someone stole my smelly old shoes!”

The moment seemed rather less amusing to her mother.

“Abigail, it is not funny,” she said.

“It is! It is!” laughed Abigail, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Come along, we’d better find an assistant. Maybe someone has handed them in.” This thought sobered Abigail sufficiently for her to follow her mother back into the shop. The shiny heels of the sandals dragged on the carpet and she concentrated on walking in a straight line.

The shop seemed rather lacking in sales assistants.  Two bored young women lounged behind the counter. They were discussing their options for Friday evening, considering which clubs to visit and which friends to invite. One leaned sideways against the till, causing her dry blond hair to fall over her shoulder. She flicked it back with long pearly nails which were speckled with glitter. Her co-worker had frizzy brown hair and she was slightly too plump for the cropped top she had chosen to wear. Her pink flesh rolled across her low-slung jeans and a ruby coloured stone protruded from her navel. Their appearance did not inspire Jane with confidence.

She coughed.

“Excuse me,” she began.

Both assistants stopped talking and turned thickly mascaraed eyes to glare at the interruption.

“My little girl left her shoes over there and they seem to have gone. Has anyone handed them in?” It sounded lame even to Jane’s ears.

Abigail was scowling at the reference to “little girl” and the dark-haired assistant had raised carefully plucked eye-brows, and was surveying the shop. One elderly lady was looking aghast at the price of fluffy slippers, and a pair of teenagers were browsing the handbags. Neither party looked especially public spirited.

“No,” murmured the glossy lips, before adding, “sorry,” as an after-thought. She turned to continue her conversation.

“Oh,” said Jane, defeated. She considered leaving her name in case they were handed in later but quickly decided that was both pointless and slightly ludicrous. She turned away.

“We’ll have to buy these sandals then, wont we?” smiled Abigail.

“No,” said Jane, summoning energy. “We’ll find something cheaper and more sensible.” She turned again to the flimsy displays and began to search.

***

Ten minutes later, they were heading towards a coffee shop. Abigail was wearing pink wellingtons and a resigned expression. They were still early enough for the precinct to be relatively empty and they quickly wound their way to a large department store. They walked past glossy leather handbags and pristine white rugs to the escalators. Jane could not imagine ever owning a white floor covering.

The coffee shop was situated on the first floor between the furniture department and children’s fashions. Only someone who had never wielded a bulky pushchair with screaming occupant would ever place children’s clothes on the first floor, thought Jane. She missed many things from when her children were babies, but not shopping.

She selected a damp plastic tray and peered through the glass barrier to see what delights the coffee shop had to tempt her with. There were glazed buns, dry pastry wheels and some rather glutinous gateaux slices. Some fat scones sat heavily in a basket, next to thimbles of cream and tiny packets of jam.

“I think I’ll just have a coffee,” decided Jane. “What do you want Abi?”

“I’m starving!” she said, having spied an array of chocolate bars next to the till. “Can I have lemonade and some chocolate?”

“Please?” corrected Jane. She relented. “You don’t deserve any after losing your shoes but yes, you can.”

She paid the cashier and they moved to a table near the perimeter of the enclosure so they could watch the rest of the shop. Abigail unwrapped her chocolate and nibbled the caramel off the top.

“Eat that properly,” said Jane, wiping a smudge of chocolate from her nose. She sipped her coffee. It was strong and delicious.

“Thank you, God,” she silently prayed. “I really needed this. Please help us buy Abi’s school shoes, and if possible could we also find her old ones?”

Abigail was reading the menu card and wondering if they could come back for lunch. The puddings looked good. She looked out, over a sea of oak furniture and mountains of padded cushions, watching a young couple walk aimlessly through a display of coffee tables. Suddenly, she clutched Jane’s arm, spilling her coffee.

“Mum! Look…”

“You spilt my coffee. What..?”

“My shoes,” Abigail hissed, “That girl is wearing my shoes.”

Jane squinted to where Abigail was pointing, wishing she had worn her glasses. There was a young teenaged girl, and she did appear to be wearing Abigail’s shoes. They looked slightly small for her, and her heels were squashing the backs. She wore ripped jeans and a faded jacket, and carried a large blue carrier bag.

“They do look similar …” began Jane doubtfully.

“They are mine,” hissed Abigail urgently. “I recognise that sticker on the underneath of one. Look, you can see it when she walks. Quick mum, grab her. She’s ruining the backs.”

Jane half rose from her seat, unsure of her course of action. Then she sat again. The girl had been joined by a woman who Jane supposed was her mother. She resembled a sumo wrestler.

Dressed in a sleeveless vest that showed flabby arms, and an old skirt above stocky legs, the woman strode through the shop. Her short hair was matted, her eye-brows thick, and her mouth unpleasant.

“Wow, look at her,” whispered Abigail. “She looks like a man dressed up as a woman. Do you think she’ll hit you mum?” Her eyes shone in anticipation as she thought how interesting her news would be the following day at school. Not even Janine would have such a good story to tell. The same thought had occurred to Jane, though her response was somewhat different. She had turned away from the pair and was mopping coffee with a paper napkin.

“I think,” she said nonchalantly, “that that poor girl looks like she needs those shoes and they were getting a bit small for you anyway.”

“They’re too small for her,” persisted Abigail.

“Let’s go, and I’ll buy some sweets if you’re good in the next shop.”

They meandered through displays of pristine sports clothes and silk scarves, pausing to touch enticing fabrics. There was something irresistible about fluffy woollen shawls and languid satin throws, so they made many detours as they walked towards the exit. Abigail was keen to try on hats and had to be prised away from a stand of sunglasses.

Eventually they were back on the main street and Abigail tucked her hand into Jane’s arm. They chatted about school and Abigail gave hilarious descriptions of the less attractive members of staff. Jane led her to a shoe shop known less for its style, and more for its thorough foot measuring regime and high prices.

Abigail sat obediently on a green plastic chair while a grey-haired assistant moved the pink wellingtons to one side with distain, and began measuring her feet. In a short amount of time, Jane had bought a pair of extremely costly sensible shoes, and some jazzy socks to pacify her daughter.

There was time to buy lunch, but Jane was keen to leave. She told herself that she ought to collect Christopher fairly promptly, and that seeing Matthew was not a factor in her decision making, as they hurried towards the station.

To be continued on Tuesday

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QuaranTime to Read . . . Chapter Five


What if…a happily married woman falls in love with someone else?

Chapter Five

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link to my author page is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-E-Thompson/e/B07CL8HV95?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1584963604&sr=8-1

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QuaranTime to Read. . . Chapter Four


QuaranTime to Read

What if…a happily married woman falls in love with someone else?

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link to my author page is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-E-Thompson/e/B07CL8HV95?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1584963604&sr=8-1

Chapter Four

QuaranTime to Read — Chapter Two


What if…a happily married woman falls in love with someone else?

Chapter Two

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link to my author page is below:

Amazon link here

 

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

QuaranTime to Read


QuaranTime to Read

In this weird time of Coronavirus worry, we all need to help where necessary. Our medics are doing a fantastic job, preparing for possible chaos. Our supermarkets are working to keep the supply chain going. We can all check the old and vulnerable near us, ensuring they have the physical supplies and social interaction (albeit at a distance) that they need. What can you do to help?

I am an author; I make up stories. As people have more time at home, they will have more time to read, and it’s good to read something other than the latest scary statistics. So, I am sharing with you one of my stories. I wrote it years ago, scribbled on the back of old receipts and scraps of paper;  when I decided to try writing full-time, after I realised I would not return to teaching, it is the first book that I sent to publishers. I think it has a certain charm, and it is a gentle tale, one for you to enjoy with a nice cup of tea. I will post a section twice a week. Enjoy.

 

 

Invisible Jane Edited March 2020

What if…a happily married woman falls in love with someone else?

Invisible Jane

by Anne E. Thompson

Chapter One

 

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link to my author page is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-E-Thompson/e/B07CL8HV95?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1584963604&sr=8-1

 

 

To be continued 

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An Easter Story


The Sword Pierced Soul

by Anne E Thompson

  “I watched my son die today. My beautiful boy, beaten, battered and left to die. And my heart broke. I held my cloak close and I remembered the weight of him as a babe, like a boulder on my hip, wriggling to be free, to run and jump and climb.

Those legs will run no more.
Those limbs, I was so proud when they grew. I remember when he grew as tall as me, then taller even than Joseph. I remember watching him, stretched out as he ate, those long limbs seemed to go on forever.

“I grew him,” I used to think with pride. Those limbs will not sprawl relaxed in my home ever again.
I watched his hands, the hands that used to pat me cheekily on the head when he’d grown tall.

Those strong hands which laboured with wood, which helped me carry heavy loads, which lifted young children playfully. They are no longer strong. I saw them bang nails through the flesh, felt that I heard the sound of bone shattering over the thump of the hammer, heard his ragged breath as they forced the cross upright. And I wondered if I too might die.

But I watched. I am his mother and I would not leave him alone. When they tried to take me home, when they told me to shield my eyes, avert my gaze, I did not. For he was my son. I would never leave him alone, not at such an anguished hour of need.

Others watched. Some women were there, terrified and hanging back. Not me, I am his mother. I stood with John, where he could see me. What could they do to me that was worse than this?

Some watched who hated him. They mocked and spat and called abuse. It could not hurt him now, I thought, let them shout.

“He trusts in God,” they called, “Let God save him now,” and they laughed, even as he died they laughed.

Yet even God deserted him by the end and that was hardest to bear. He called out with a loud shout, asking why God had turned from him.
“My God,” he called in anguish, “why have you forsaken me?”

But I was there. I did not leave. I saw them crucify him, naked upon a cross. No mother wants to see her grown son naked, but still I did not look away. I was there at the beginning, I would stay with him until the end.

The soldiers took his clothes, for fabric is costly and even that of a criminal should not go to waste. Most they tore and shared between them but not his tunic. They cast lots for that, not wanting to spoil something precious. Yet my son was precious and they destroyed him.

        It began last night. They woke me from my sleep and warned me there was trouble. He had been arrested, taken from a meal with his friends and questioned by the temple authorities. They feared the invaders, so he was then referred to a court of Godless law, a place that feared no God.

They told me that he was scourged, beaten with whips that removed chunks of flesh as they struck. He was mocked and abused, then brought to this place.

I came, stumbling through streets full of people, full of noise and smells and fear and hatred. I came to this place, this Godforsaken hill beyond the city wall and I saw my son, my boy, diminished, shrunken somehow.

I saw that what they had told me was true, smelt the repugnant stink of excrement mingle with the metallic stench of blood. I heard the shouts of abuse, the curses of the guards, the screams from the prisoners, the wails from friends. And him, like an oasis of calm amidst the turmoil, suffering but at peace.

And he saw me. Those dark eyes that as a baby had watched me intently when he fed. Those eyes that twinkled merrily when he teased me and became serious when he wanted to explain something important. Those eyes, red rimmed with exhaustion now, turned to me. Even hanging there, with parched mouth and dried lips, he spoke to me. His voice was hoarse, for he had refused the wine they offered, but I heard him well. A mother knows her child’s voice. I stood with John and my son told me that this was to be my son now and he was to care for me as a mother. Even in his torment he cared for me, fulfilled his duty as my son.

Still I would not leave. Then it ended. The sky had turned as black as my world and he drew his last breath. It was finished.

Those who had mocked became silent, some cried, some beat their breasts in despair. The blackness of the sky frightened them and many fled, wondering at what they had done.

Then I left, I let them lead me away. My soul was broken and my heart beat even though I bid it stop. My boy was gone, my firstborn, special baby, was no more. I carried that knowledge like a rock within me, I would have rather died in his place. How can I live, continue with my life knowing he is gone? There would be no more sunshine or laughter, nothing matters now. The core of me was gone. I could not even cry.

Afterwards, I could not rest and I heard strange stories. They said the soldiers pierced his side, to check there was no life in him. His blood had separated so they took him down, a solid corpse that had no life. A man came and took the body, they said they followed and knew where he lay, in a tomb that was guarded. They told me of strange things, of the temple curtain torn in two, of dead men walking and boulders breaking open.

I do not know. I only know my boy is gone. That is all that matters.

It should not have been like this. It was so recently that people praised his name, sang and danced before him, treated him like a king. It should not have ended like this.

And yet, I recall a song, it comes persistently to mind, sung often in the synagogue. It speaks of one forsaken by God in his time of need, scorned by many. He belonged to God from before he was born, then suffered at the hands of many. They sung of bones poured out like water, a heart of melted wax, that is how my boy would have felt. They sung of hands and feet pierced like his and enemies gloating over him. They sang of lots being cast for clothing and of God’s ultimate victory. They sung of remembering him for ever, not just now but families of every nation, even those presently unborn. For he has done it.

Is this my son’s song? Were the words written for him?

He spoke of his death often, he tried to warn me that he would die. But not like this, not before my own time has come. No mother should bury her child, it goes against what is natural and right. Though, he showed no fear, he knew what his end would be. And he told me there was more.

As I turn now to sleep, I wonder at his words. Will he truly return somehow and will I know? Has he finished what he was sent to do?”

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        If Mary was a young teenager when she learned she was pregnant (which would fit with the age girl’s became betrothed in those days) then when Jesus died aged thirty-three, she would have been about forty-seven. How does a woman of that age cope with the things she was forced to witness and how much would she have understood at the time?
        I am about her age, I have sons, contemplating their dying is too horrible for words. I am sure she loved her boy as much as we love ours.

           Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. We learn in the Bible that Jesus, who never sinned, who never did anything wrong, died to save the world. What does that mean? You can learn more at:https://anneethompson.com/how-to/378-2/

           However, many people were crucified, some probably unjustly accused. So is it the death that was important or was it that God became separate? I think that this is the key issue here, the part of Jesus that was God left him. That was more terrible than crucifixion. That is what each of us deserves and what we do not have to suffer if we choose to come to God. If we want to know God, we can, even if that means changing our minds. You may not believe in God but God believes in you.

       The song which Mary recalled in the story was Psalm 22. It has some striking similarities to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was written about one thousand years before the event. (wow)
       It begins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
       It finishes: “…..future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn- for he has done it.”

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 More stories, articles and poems at: http://www.anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson is an author of several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and on Amazon.
Thank you for reading.
anneethompson.com

A Story to Enjoy continued


The final extract from Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.

Cynthia Mott found a body in her shed, but it was the day of the school play, and feeling stressed, she decided to shut the door and ignore it. She is now worried that this might be a criminal offence. We rejoin the story after the school play. The teachers are returning to their homes, and we glimpse something of their private lives.

Chapter Two

Jane Lancaster returned to her office and sat at her desk. It was nicely solid, bought as a congratulatory gift by her husband when she first received the headship. She sighed. Life was sometimes so complicated. She felt the burden of her news like a physical weight within her and she had wanted to start preparing the staff. She realised that they would be tired after the nativity play, but that would have worked to her advantage. None of them would have wanted to linger today. She could have discussed the play, let them all vent their feelings and then at the end, just before they left, she could have told them the news and suggested they arrange a special meeting before the beginning of next term in order to fully discuss it.

They would be shocked. Of course they would, that went without saying. But she had so little information to give them that she hoped to avoid too much discussion initially. She just wanted to warn them, let the idea sink in during the Christmas break and then try to confront it properly when they were all accustomed to the idea. Now that wretched woman had scuppered her plans. Whilst she could not help having a headache, Jane felt that Miss Mott would have been more accommodating had she respected Jane’s position. Had she, in fact, respected Jane. She reached for her pen and a sheaf of letters that needed signing and with another sigh began to read.

Cynthia reached her car feeling highly agitated. She fumbled with her keys and dropped them twice before she was able to fit them into the lock. She was feeling very sick and slightly light headed as she steered the car back into the High Street and began to drive home. A gaggle of teenaged boys saw her approaching and purposefully stepped out in front of the car, staring belligerently at her car as they strolled slowly across the road.

‘Oh, they need to learn a lesson in manners,’ thought Cynthia, pressing on the accelerator rather than the brake. She was surprised by the speed at which the car lurched forward, having intended to only rev the engine before braking to give them a warning. The boys leaped onto the kerb, the car narrowly missing them. They turned and Cynthia saw real fear in their eyes as she passed them. She glanced in her rear view mirror and watched as one spat his contempt at the departing car and then she was gone, driving around the slight bend at the end of the street, pausing at the roundabout. She felt a laugh rise in her stomach and giggled.

‘Goodness, I might have killed one of them. That really would give the police cause for suspicion. Two bodies in one day. I would be positively notorious.’ She indicated and turned slowly into her own lane. The giggles had subsided now and she felt very close to crying. What was she about to encounter? In her mind she could already see flashing lights and police tape cordoning off her house. She could imagine the solemn faced constable approaching her car, could hear him cautioning her and telling her she needed to accompany him to the station. She could almost see her neighbours’ faces peering from behind their curtains, hear the mutterings of judgement and her respectability crumbling. She rounded the last corner.

***

Esther Pritchard had also been keen to leave school promptly, so was delighted to hear that the impromptu staff meeting had been postponed. As soon as the last child was safely handed over to his parents, she collected her coat from behind the door of her tidy classroom and left. She rarely stayed for long at the end of a school day as both her boys walked home from their school and although Rob was often there, he certainly could not be relied on.

She parked in the driveway of the modern semi that served as the Baptist Manse and hurried inside. She was greeted by a trail of shoes and bags and coats, leading from the front door to the kitchen. She walked along the hall, tidying as she went. She was hoping to chat to Rob, tell him about the nativity play and maybe have a tea together.

‘Hi Mum,’ called Joseph as she entered the kitchen. ‘What can I eat? I’m starving.’
‘You’re always starving,’ she reminded him, removing the open box of cereal from his hand. She reached for the kettle and began filling it. ‘There’s some cold pizza in the fridge from yesterday,’ she suggested. ‘Do you want a drink?’
‘I’ll have a hot chocolate,’ said Samuel through a mouthful of toast, spraying crumbs over his pullover. He brushed them off absently and stuck out a foot to kick his brother as he passed. Joseph ignored him and pulled the pizza from the fridge.
‘You need a plate for that,’ said Esther as he took a mouthful, ‘and where’s Dad?’
‘Study,’ stated Joseph, moving out of reach of Samuel, who was endeavouring to steal some of the pizza.
‘Honestly, you two,’ said Esther fondly, leaving the kitchen to find her husband. She was approaching the study door when the telephone shrilled. She stopped and listened, hoping it would be nothing important. She really wanted to share her day and laugh about it.

‘Hello? Rob Pritchard,’ she heard her husband’s rich voice answering. ‘Oh, hello Roselyn, how are you today?’

Esther made a face. The telephone rang a million times a day, usually at meal times. At least half the times it seemed to be Roselyn. She was somewhat needy, which Esther understood. Her husband was always willing to listen to her problems, even the imagined ones, for many hours at a time. This Esther did not understand.
She pushed open the door. Rob smiled when he saw her and blew a kiss. She moved her hand in a drinking gesture and received an upraised thumb in response. Wishing she could sometimes disable all telephones she returned to the kitchen.
The boys had disappeared, leaving crumbs and dirty knives strewn across the work surface. She could hear the television blaring in the lounge so took the hot chocolate in there.

The lounge was fairly large, though when filled with chairs for prayer meetings and Bible studies often felt too small. A worn blue carpet covered the floor and curtains from a previous house, which did not quite match, hung forlornly at the large bay window, partially hidden now by the Christmas tree. The tree was much too big for the room and Esther wondered why she always allowed Rob and the boys to persuade her that big was essential when it came to trees. It was covered in an eclectic array of ornaments, some collected over the years, some teacher gifts from classes she had taught and some made by the boys when they were younger. All looked rather tatty this year but there was no money to replace them. Esther felt that she was the only person who noticed.

There was a computer on a small table in one corner which was for family use. The boys were not allowed computers or televisions in their bedrooms. It was the cause of frequent arguments as one invariably wanted to play something noisy while the other was attempting to watch a programme. Of course, neither boy could enjoy either when the church held a meeting there. Esther wished the church had invested in a house that had a study large enough for meetings, but there was nothing she could do to change it. Ministers were supposed to feel led by God to a church congregation, they were meant to have no opinion about the house which that church then provided. Except for gratitude of course.

Both her sons were lying on sofas, socks off, cushions behind heads, elongated limbs draped randomly across the chairs. She smiled, proud of their size and jealous of the relaxed abandon they portrayed.

‘Ooh, thanks Mum,’ said Samuel as she came in, struggling to sit up so he could receive his drink.
‘Do you two have any homework?’ asked Esther, knowing they would say no whether they did or not.
‘Nope,’ they both confirmed, settling back to watch a cartoon family that seemed to be firmly entrenched in all the stereotypes that society claimed to abhor.

Samuel’s drink dripped onto the sofa and he moved his arm to cover it, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice and make a fuss about cleaning it up. School was finished; they were turning off for the day. Esther noticed that the Christmas tree needed watering and returned to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner.

***

Andrew Smyth was one of the last teachers to leave the school and it was dark before he closed his classroom door. Maddy Brown had stayed to help him hang the rest of the costumes and pick up the discarded plimsolls and socks that always seemed to litter the floor after the class had changed clothes. She told him that on Friday the children usually took home all their paintings from the term, so perhaps she could spend tomorrow clearing the display boards and sorting artwork. He planned to let the children mainly play for the last two days while he heard readers, so that seemed a good plan. They were too excited to learn anything he felt, why bother trying?

He returned to his lodgings and was pleased to find the house was empty. He had found the room in a newspaper ad when he was first appointed and it seemed ideal. The house was owned by a divorced woman, who hadn’t wanted to sell the family home when her children moved out, and she now rented out two of the bedrooms to paying guests. He shared the bathroom and a tiny sitting room with the other guest, an IT specialist who never seemed to be there, and they all shared the kitchen and garden. Best of all, his landlady also smoked, so he had no restrictions when he wanted to relax.

He lifted his satchel strap over his head with one hand, dumping it on the stairs before making his way to the kitchen. He pulled a beer from his designated shelf in the fridge and took it upstairs. He threw his navy jacket over the back of his desk chair and loosened his tie. He had a nice room, right at the top of the cottage. It was well furnished, with a sturdy oak bed and matching desk and chair that suited the solidness of the walls and the sloping ceiling.

Sprawling on the bed, he downed half the beer before reaching for his laptop to check his email and Facebook accounts. He had enjoyed the day for once. The children had all been so excited and it was fun to provide a show for the parents. On days like today he quite enjoyed the job.

‘Maybe I’m just bored,’ he thought. ‘Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad staying there if I had something a bit more interesting to think about too. I need a hobby. Something that entails meeting some interesting adults who don’t have children. Maybe something a bit artistic too, I’m good at that.’ He finished his beer and threw the can towards his waste paper basket. It nearly went in. He ran his fingers through his hair. It was getting rather long at the front and flopped over his eye. He had better get it cut before he went home or his mother would nag him.

He began an email to his mother, sending her some dates when he could visit during the holiday. Definitely Christmas Day itself, he would not be missing out on her turkey dinner. He had mixed feelings about going home. It was nice enough seeing his parents and sister again. The food was much better too. But he did feel that he was going back in time. His dad would ask him to help stack shelves in the shop and want advice about his banking and his mother would start tidying his bedroom if he left things on the floor. He seemed to revert back to being a child the moment he stepped inside their house and he was not entirely sure his parents had noticed that he was now an adult. It was strange to be telling a whole class of children what to do all day, and then to go home and be told by his mother and sister what he should be doing himself. They even monitored what he was eating and how much he was smoking. That was partly why he had been so keen to find a job not too near his parents’ home. It was always nice to see them, he just did not want to live there any more. He was his own person now.

****

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