Trip to London


I met a friend for brunch in London, which felt very grown-up. It was raining, so I took my umbrella. As I walked along Victoria Street, there was a woman hurrying in the rain, dressed for an occasion, gradually getting soggy. I caught her up, and suggested she shared my umbrella. I spotted other people, some with umbrellas, some getting wet, but no one else was sharing. I mentioned this later to my daughter. Apparently sharing your umbrella is not a thing, especially in London. This seems wrong, I shall start a campaign.

I was slightly late for brunch due to barricades outside Buckingham Palace ready for the Jubilee celebrations. I hadn’t allowed time for detours. When I arrived, my friend messaged to say she too was delayed. This proved a problem for the staff, who came to the table several times to tell me the kitchen would soon be shut (which was a lie, because they serve lunch there). Felt generally uncomfortable. Then I ordered the wrong food—egg florentine—because I thought it was egg benedict but with salmon. It isn’t, it’s with spinach, which is not at all the same. Such a shame.

I hope you had a fun time celebrating the Jubilee. We had the extended family round, for a walk to the pigs and then tea and cake. I invited everyone, envisioning a cosy chat afterwards in the kitchen. Husband saw the sunshine, and set up chairs outside and organised a croquet competition. Son muttered about it being typical that his parents were planning opposing events. I don’t think anyone else noticed.

Large ducklings and their fed-up-with-childcare mother. You can just about spot the new chick.

We had bit of a disaster in the garden this week, as Husband spotted two moorhen chicks wandering across the lawn. Every year the moorhen hatches eggs on the island, and none ever survive. I don’t like interfering with wild animals (it rarely turns out well) but these were cute black balls of fluff, tottering away from the pond in search of their mother, oblivious to the cats and crows. We decided I would pick them up and put them in with the ducklings. As I walked towards them, Husband was shouting: ‘Be careful of your bad back,’ which changed to ‘Quick! There’s a crow! Run faster!’ I caught them (and hurt my back) and put them in with the ducks. Mother Duck gave me a look as if to say, ‘These are tiny babies, I have finished that phase and am looking after big ducklings now.’ The ducklings all ran away scared, despite being twice the size.

A tiny ball of black fluff stumbling across the lawn.

As predicted, it didn’t turn out well. I found one the following morning, it had died. I suspect it got cold because it didn’t stay in the huddle of ducklings. At least its final moments weren’t being eaten though. The other two managed to reunite with the mother, and we catch sight of them near the pond, though thankfully they seem to have learnt not to venture across the garden.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Hope you have a lovely week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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*****

“It’s better to go to a funeral than a feast…”


I write this the day after Uncle Frank’s funeral. Funerals in my family tend to be long, emotional, and loving. Uncle Frank’s funeral was longer, and more loving, than most because there was a lot to say about my Uncle Frank. He was a one-off. I cannot possibly describe for you the magic of his stories, the exaggerated tales of his past, the way his face creased into smiles when he saw you, his mischievous giggle when something tickled him. My earliest memories are of him on the beach, digging a massive hole and turning it into a car, so I could sit and ‘drive’ sheltered from the cold Norfolk wind. I have later memories of him with my own children, letting them camp at the end of his garden and slipping them shiny coins when he thought I wasn’t looking.

Yesterday was a day of laughter and tears. Lots of tears. I am a cry-er, always have been, though it’s worse since surgery when controlling any emotion is difficult. As we waited outside the crematorium, I tried to decide how to behave—should I ‘live inside my head’ and not properly listen to what was being said, force myself to notice the sounds and smells and sights around me, ‘tell myself a story’ as events unfolded and thus remove my emotions. If I didn’t ‘think,’ I wouldn’t cry. But then, what was the point of being there? Surely the point of a funeral is to cry, to let the emotion, the pain of loss, come to the surface. To share the hurt and love with other people who are hurt and loving.

But, could I keep it in check? Would my not-easy-to-control emotions spiral out of control, embarrassing me and being no use to anyone else? I decided that I would allow myself to cry at the thanksgiving service in the church after the crematorium, but at the crematorium I would remove my thoughts and control my emotions and not cry.

My resolve lasted about one minute, as when the coffin arrived it was carried in by my cousins, and I wasn’t expecting that. The sight of the ‘boys’ (they will always be ‘the boys’ to me) and their sons, carrying the coffin was too beautiful, too poignant. How lovely, to be carried for the last time by people who love you.

So that was it. I spent the entire day with a swollen red nose and puffy eyes and damp cheeks. I am not one of those women who look beautiful when they cry, I resemble a sunburnt frog. But it didn’t matter. By the time the thanksgiving service was finished, I think everyone else had cried too. Unlike some funerals, when you sit there not recognising the saintly person described and you wonder if everyone else knew a different person to you, Uncle Frank’s funeral was about the Uncle Frank who I love. A real, not-perfect, easy to love person who enjoyed giving to others. So many stories, so many memories; laughter and tears chasing each other round the church. It was a special day.

The thing is, like the quote above, I think it really is better to go to a funeral than a feast. A funeral is real. You see a person’s life spread out before you, and it reminds you that life is short. We only get one life. It’s up to us how we spend it. Do I want to spend it ‘scoring points’ when someone messes up? Do I want to spend it indignant because other people make mistakes or behave badly? Do I want to shelter from all possible hurt and embarrassment and in consequence never join anything, never initiate a conversation, never take a risk? Am I forever delaying the things I want to do, waiting for that perfect time that might never come?

We only get one life. Life is short. Live it well.

Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

“It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.”

טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל־בֵּֽית־אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל־בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל־הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ

*****
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anneethompson.com

Losing and Winning


Hello and how was your weekend? Mine was very mixed, with some truly lovely parts clouded by a loss.

Bluebells still beautiful, sheep looking fed-up.

Saturday started with a run down the lane, the bluebells are still holding on and the field was full of some grumpy-looking sheep. Am assuming they’re pregnant and fed-up (I remember that feeling).

The afternoon was spent at Lingfield Races. We were invited to a summer party, and we donned our smart clothes—so hard to walk in heels when you haven’t worn them for a while—and joined some friends at the racecourse. They had booked a private suite, which was rather lovely, with a buffet lunch and a balcony overlooking the course. I scoured the race details, trying to pick the winner for each race, and failing completely.

Enjoying the races. My horse was last.

It’s very hard to predict which horse will win (which I guess is why there are so many bookies). After each race, I compared the age, weight of jockey, distance they had travelled, last time they had run, trying to transpose the information to the next race. It didn’t work, I lost. After a few races I switched strategies, and backed the favourite. That didn’t work either. Nor did choosing the prettiest jockey colours, nor the best named horse. We walked down to the training ring to see if we could spot the winner there, but it was empty except for a man in dirty jeans—and I didn’t think he was likely to be winning any races! In the end I backed whichever horse was grey, which I believe was my grandad’s strategy many years ago. He never won anything either.

Trying to ignore the uncomfortable heels. (If my mother had been there, my hair would look less scruffy.)

Sunday we went to church. We have joined Holy Trinity, the little anglican church in the village, and I love it. It is full of friendly faces, and I find the words of the liturgy to be beautiful, the building inspiring, and taking the sacrament is being part of something holy. Having been raised a staunch baptist, I am noticing the differences, and revelling in approaching God from a different angle. Perhaps everyone should change denomination mid-life, so they can understand the good parts of both.

After church we always have brunch, which is another new tradition (since Covid) that makes me look forward to Sundays. (I used to dread them—they were all about being uncomfortable and doing my duty and working hard). We had banana and walnut and cinnamon pancakes with orange juice and coffee. Doesn’t that sound good?

Then we did some gardening, with my old dog beside me and the cats pouncing on the weeds I dug up, and the sunshine smiling on us. A peaceful day.

I needed a peaceful day, because a much-loved uncle died recently. He was the sort of uncle who you knew would smile if you turned up unannounced at the door, an uncle who told amazing stories (which you were never entirely sure whether they were true), the sort of uncle who wanted to be part of my life. When my children came along, he wanted to know them too. He was part of the stability of my life. I have been very lucky, my childhood was built on love and family. I will leave you with the wedding photo of my grandparents, which is where that stability and love started. Losing an uncle is sad, but mostly I feel grateful that he was my uncle, because family is precious.

My Granny and Grampy on their wedding day. Those heels look uncomfortable too!

Hold on to what is precious this week, and let things that don’t matter evaporate. Life is too short for anything else.
Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading

anneethompson.com

****

Anne E. Thompson

After Christmas


Hello, Happy Monday! How was your Christmas? Mine was wonderful, though with a few mishaps (there often are in my house).

Our first less-than-professional action was when we had friends for curry one evening before Christmas. They come most weeks, and Husband (bless him) decided it was time to use those left-over crackers that everyone has lurking in the Christmas decorations box from a bygone year. He didn’t mention his good idea to me, otherwise I would have warned him.

Friends arrived, smiled when they saw there were crackers, decided who would pull one with who, all very excited. I arrived too late to say anything, and sat there wondering if Husband understood about the crackers and had planned accordingly. He didn’t, and he hadn’t. The crackers were those ‘fill-your-own’ ones that I had bought (and filled) a few years ago, stuffing them with paper hats and packets of seeds and miniature whiskeys. Husband had not stuffed them with anything, so everyone pulled a completely empty cracker! We searched through the recycling bin and found the hats and jokes in the bottom of the box, but to be honest, they weren’t a great success.

The next major mishap was Christmas dinner, because I forgot to get the turkey out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature before I put it in the oven. Which meant that everything was ready to eat, except the turkey. The vegetarians didn’t care (I don’t like to think they were gleeful and suggested that none of us should have been eating meat) but I felt very annoyed with myself. I ended up slicing it (it was a turkey breast, not even a whole bird, so really I have no excuse). I then fried it, and people ate it after they had started eating everything else. At least I realised in time and didn’t give everyone food poison, but it was a rooky mistake and I should have known better.

The rest of Christmas was great. People were very generous, and we had some lovely moments with the family, just relaxing together, playing games and chatting. The house is now a mess, and my jeans have shrunk (happens every year at this time) and I’m tired. But it has been good.

My boys (who aren’t really boys any more because they grew into men while I wasn’t noticing) are currently downstairs cooking dinner. They are making a dish that involves a whole packet of blue cheese. I don’t like blue cheese, but they tell me that I will like it in the dish they are preparing, as it will taste completely different. This is the sort of thing I used to tell them when they were little, so I don’t like to argue (plus I am very grateful that I don’t have too cook). I’m sure it will be delicious.

Hope you had a nice Christmas, and are looking forward to the new year. Hoping for a healthy one.
Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A Shopping Trip


I am still enjoying the freedom of life now that the severity of Covid seems to be dwindling. Even normal things feel like a novelty.

We both had an empty day, so I persuaded Husband that we should have a day out. I suggested a garden centre near Horsham, because I was keen to try and find some white dianthus. I have searched a few places for white dianthus (a small plant with silvery leaves and small chrysanthemum-type flowers that will look very nice next to my lavender). No one seems to sell it, everyone has the pink variety, which I don’t want.

Husband agreed to the day out, but preferred a different garden centre (Coolings) because they have big fish, and he likes looking at big fish. Coolings is also sort-of on the way to Tunbridge Wells, and we needed to buy some walking clothes, so we decided to combine the two. Shopping is not really my idea of a fun day out, but hey-ho, had to be done because we’re planning a trip Up North.

The garden centre was lovely, with lots of plants arranged round statues outdoors, taped birdsong indoors, and a fish centre brimming with giant koi carp. Honestly, the fish were HUGE! We watched them for a while, creamy flesh with pink blotches, saggy mouths gaping, the occasional splash when one jumped. The fish were interesting too! They cost hundreds of pounds, and if they were in our pond would probably be a tasty snack for the birds (upper-class dining for herons) so watching them was as far as it got.

We then drove to Tunbridge Wells, and had a sandwich in Costa for lunch. Such a novelty! I have been very careful during the pandemic to not catch anything that I might pass on to my mother, so coffee shops are now quite a treat. Doesn’t it feel nice to inch our way into normal again?

We found two outdoorsy-clothes shops and ventured inside. Both had a mix of branded clothes and cheaper own-label clothes. They all looked the same to me, but I had been told which ones would be waterproof, and which ones would ‘breathe’ so I knew they were different. The prices were very different. Very hard to pay lots of money for something that’s going to be mostly covered in mud or rolled up in a back-pack. But I am assuming that a walking holiday in the UK will involve at least some rain, so we need to be prepared.

Tried on some waterproof trousers. Felt like a plastic sausage. Shuffled noisily round the shop to show Husband, who raised his eye-brows but didn’t comment. Added a coat, didn’t look any better, but felt very hot. Had trouble with fancy multi-way zipper, and wondered if I would have to ask to wear the coat home. Worried about breaking it, eventually escaped. Husband had found some half-price men’s coats. He suggested that I could buy an extra small one for myself. I have lots of men’s clothes, fancied wearing something with a waist. We discussed the sense of this when I looked like a plastic sausage anyway. The sales assistant edged away. I insisted that I wanted a coat designed for a female and Husband relented, muttering slightly about the price difference and the number of times it would be worn and the general state of my appearance anyway. I ignored him.

I was wearing my nearly-new walking boots (important to wear them in) so we clomped to the next shop and saw all the same stuff at roughly the same prices. I managed to find a coat with a zipper I could operate. It’s slightly longer than most other coats being sold, which seem to barely be waist-length. I was keen to cover as much of the plastic-sausage legs as possible, and a longer coat means there will be fewer times I will need to wear them.

I suggested that we could browse a few other shops, seeing as were there, and Tunbridge Wells is a pretty town with some nice shops. Received a short answer. We came home. A success all round, as I had three small dianthus plants, and we both had waterproof coats and trousers. I will almost feel disappointed if it doesn’t rain now!

Hope you have some happy weather this week. Take care.
Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

Life After Exams


Life After Exams

Yaay! My exams have finished. I write this the day after my Greek exam, and I have a slight headache. I have had a slight headache for a while now—almost as if my brain is over-stretched by all the facts I have been trying to cram into it. But my languages course is completed and that is such a good feeling. It has been fun, but the exams were scary.

Lots of scribbled notes with silly sentences to help me remember them.

 Friday was busy. The house has been ignored for several weeks, so as soon as my last exam was finished, I cleaned up the kitchen a bit, ready for friends coming for dinner. The dog watched in alarm, especially when she saw her bed going into the washing-machine. She sat guard next to it for a while, then came to give me little nudges in case I hadn’t realised her bed was missing, and finally sat, very pointedly, in the space where her bed should have been.

Reunited with her clean bed.

The animals continued to ignore the fact that I was very busy, and on Wednesday old cat died. It’s always very sad when animals are old and unhappy, and when I went to see her Wednesday morning she gave me that look, letting me know that she had had enough. She was over twenty, and was a good friend to my daughter when she lived at home, so although the cat pretty much hated me, it was still sad to let her go.

Son 2 was working in the kitchen on Wednesday, and had angled his computer so there was a lovely view of the garden behind him during Zoom meetings. We all tiptoed around the kitchen so as not to disturb him, and all was going well—we were being good parents—until Husband forgot and walked past the window behind him carrying the cat. Probably not what Son 2 was hoping for, but we tried…

We had a tree down this week too. Did you have a big storm midweek? We didn’t have much wind, but the excessive rain was obviously enough weight to make half a tree snap off and fall across the garden. Dog went to investigate and was very perturbed that her route to the garden had changed. Two fat cats who live in the garden looked particularly innocent, which makes me wonder whether they had been up the tree when it happened and their combined weight helped the branch to snap—but they deny all knowledge.

This is a short blog because I need to continue cleaning the house. I keep finding all my scribbled revision notes in every room, paradigms to learn while I cooked or put washing in the machine. Not sure what to do with them —feels silly to keep them. I don’t suppose I shall ever look at them again, but they represent hours of my life. They are mostly all in the bin now.

So have a good week, and enjoy everything that you complete. I’m going to find the vacuum cleaner…though I do have ice-creams in the freezer and I can hear Husband and son leaving the house, so possibly I shall change the plan…

Bye for now.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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I saw this online, and it made me laugh. I know just how they felt!

Family Chaos


You can’t control animals (or children…or husbands!)

As you know, I am trying to revise for exams. The Hebrew one is finished (I smashed it!) but the more I revise Greek, the more I realise I have forgotten/never understood in the first place. I have a feeling of rising panic growing inside as the exam date moves relentlessly nearer.

Now, I thought that I had at least sorted all the animals so that I could devote my time fully to my studies. I had timed the hatching of the eggs in the incubator so the ducks would be fully-grown and on the pond, I stocked up on supplies of pet food, incorporated cleaning-out times in my schedule. I was prepared. Except I wasn’t.

Firstly, the local fox decided to produce cubs, which meant it began to visit my garden at odd times of the day to snatch a chicken. The only way to keep them safe is to keep them locked inside for a few weeks until my garden is no longer seen as an easy source of food. This means the chickens now need cleaning-out more often, and they kick dirt into their water, and generally make everything more work.

Then mother duck started to sit on another nest. I calculated the date, and sure enough, they hatched this week. Which means they are now in the pond-cage I was planning to put the fully-grown ‘ducklings’ in. Which means they have to stay confined in the big cage (because if I release them on the pond now, they will sleep on the bank, not return to the pond-cage, and greedy fox will eat them—see above.) Ducks mainly spend their day putting mud into their water, which means I have to keep refreshing it. Which takes time. The new ducklings are cute, but add to the workload as I have to keep checking one isn’t stuck somewhere, plus food and clean-up schedule.

Then grumpy-old-cat-who-hates-me has started to walk further afield. She is over 20, and can hardly walk, but has decided that she will visit the outside cats each morning. They hate each other, so I’m not sure why. But she tends to climb into places that she cannot then get out of, so I have to keep remembering to check where she is in case she needs rescuing. Which takes time.

It reminds me of when my children were young, and they didn’t fit neatly into a schedule either. I’m not quite sure how families manage when they both work. I worked fulltime for one year when my children were aged 4, 6, and 8—and I collapsed in a heap at the end of the year and switched to a part-time contract. Children do not save their crises for convenient times. They will be devastated because someone doesn’t want to be their friend, or lose one shoe (only ever one) or start vomiting on those days when you have a deadline and extra stress and really need everything to be calm.

Husbands can also be a challenge (though mine is lovely of course). Yesterday Husband kindly cooked the dinner, which was incredibly kind. We had fishcakes, and rocket (nicely garnished with a tomato) and chips—all of which were lovely. There was also a dressing to go on the salad. It was a new creation, and had a pleasant taste to start with, followed by bit of a kick and then a slow burn. I don’t believe it was from a recipe book. After much discussion, the ingredients were revealed as: oil, garlic, oregano, seasoning, garlic (lots of this I think) and whiskey (which explains the burn!) I will send the recipe on request.

Hope you have an organised week—or ride the chaos with a smile if not.

Thanks for reading.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Christmas Memories. . .


One of the best things about Christmas is the memories. Do you have happy ones?

 I remember as a child, lying in bed and straining to hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh. Every year, sometime in late December, I would hear him—playing loud seventies pop music—as his sleigh drove around my home town. Mum would give us coins for the people rattling tins, and we would rush out, and Santa would lean over his sleigh (balanced on the back of a lorry—but that never struck me as strange) and pass us sweets. The sweets were never especially nice, but they were oh! so exciting! because they came directly from Father Christmas. (And thank you to the Letchworth Roundtable for organising this snippet of joy.)

My father always cooked Christmas lunch, after church and after his siblings had come round for a glass of sherry. We never ate very early. He cooked a wonderful dinner, and used absolutely every saucepan in the house. His speciality was the gravy, which was rich and smooth, made with meat juices and stock—it was like soup and he always made enough for about 57 people (and we never, as far as I can remember, had more than our family of 5 for Christmas lunch). Every year mouth-watering smells would seep out from the kitchen, and one of us would ‘volunteer’ to be Dad’s helper. This involved washing up for about 3 hours straight. Eventually the dinner would be ready, and we would carry the food to the dining table in the front room (only ever used on Christmas Day and for ‘posh’ meals with guests). Every year my parents would laugh at how late the lunch was (it often clashed with the Queen’s speech). Very often, to our dismay, we would have just said grace and be about to start when the phone would ring, and it would be ‘Aunty Pam from America.’ This was a big deal for my parents (she was my mum’s sister, but we didn’t really know her, so we mostly resented the intrusion).

When I was young, Father Christmas came secretly in the night and left a knitted sock of gifts on the end of our beds. (The socks were from my Dad’s wellies, and there was one terrible Christmas Eve when we couldn’t find them!) We could open the gifts as soon as we were awake, so we tended to wake very early. There was always an orange and a slightly bruised apple. My Dad would always get up and sit in his dressing gown watching us. When I was older, I realised that he had made some of the gifts himself, and I can guess how excited he would have been to watch us discover the farmyard, or the fort, or the puppet theatre. There is a certain smell of wood varnish, which even today zaps me straight back to Christmas Day.

I am now a mother, and I have another layer of memories with my own children. When they were small, Christmas Eve was all about preparing the food. I would turn a loaf of bread into crumbs for the stuffing, and a chubby toddler would eat all the crusts. We would sit in front of a film in the afternoon with a tray of sprouts, peeling them and tossing them into the colander ready for the next day. The youngest would diligently peel layer after layer, and then announce: “This one’s empty,” before starting on the next one.

I was always too excited to sleep Christmas Eve, waiting for them to wake and open their ‘Father Christmas presents.’ They all woke disappointingly late, and then would want to savour each gift before opening the next one (not my genes). As soon as they were old enough, I forced them to agree that we would open ‘stocking gifts’ on Christmas Eve, after dinner. I manage to sleep better.

We now all share the buying of stocking gifts, everyone adding small gifts or jokes to the named bags. Then we sit round, laughing at the person who received 29 bars of soap, or the funny tee-shirt that I bought after a glass of wine and sorely regretted ever after. . . And I know that Christmas is about God coming into the world as a baby, and knowing his peace, and being able to know him—but to be honest, this Christmas Eve opening of gifts is my favourite part of Christmas, it is just us, under the twinkle of lights from the tree, warm and relaxed, sharing laughter and love.

This Christmas will be different, an adapting of plans due to Covid, but I hope it will still be special. I hope that you will find ways to make it lovely, I hope that you add some more special memories to the storehouse in your mind.

Happy Christmas 2020 from me.

Love, Anne x

Quarantime to Read. . . Counting Stars: Discharged


Chapter Four

She doesn’t look, think, or fight like James Bond, but sometimes a mother simply has to do whatever it takes. . .

Discharged

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 is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1589905723&sr=8-1

To be continued. . .

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anneethompson.com
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QuaranTime to Read. . . The Conclusion


Chapter Twenty-Two

It was Sunday afternoon. Abigail was hiding upstairs with a book, and some chocolate she had found, lying forgotten at the back of the fridge.

Jane had cleared away the remains of lunch and was now snuggled on the sofa with a magazine. She flicked the glossy pages, absorbing colours and moods but not bothering to read the articles. It was one of those deliciously lazy afternoons, where no one could be bothered to do much, and nothing was urgent.

Christopher had spread his train set across the carpet and then gone to find his father. They were working together now, moving in easy silence, constructing the track. Painted trains, one missing a wheel, were pushed in a heap under the table as they joined the pieces to form a route. It stretched from the door to the opposite corner, circling a shoe and curving around a chair. It was decidedly unstable where it climbed to go over a rug and Jane doubted it was structurally sound. She was glad there were no passengers.

She watched Peter’s back as he bent to repair the track. The sun caught his hair, highlighting the few white strands. She knew every curve of his body, every crease of his face. The feel and smell of him were as familiar as her own reflection.

“This is what I want,” she realised, certain now of her decision. “This is secure, safe, familiar. I can be at peace here, with this man. It may not always be exciting but it lets me be who I want to be.”

She knew, deep inside, that her decision had been the right one. She might be ignored sometimes, though was probably not as invisible as she felt. Undoubtedly, they would argue and she would be hurt because Peter was selfish. But maybe everyone was selfish, some were just better at hiding it. Nor did he understand her fully. But he understood enough, and he did try—she knew that now. As she had evaluated their life together, forced herself to be fair, she knew that if she was to keep a tally of wet towels on the floor and late nights on her own, she also had to note the surprise gifts, the phone calls when he was away, the security of a husband who worked hard.

She still remembered their early days together, the thrill of seeing him. That excitement had worn away now, become mundane—but would it last forever with anyone? Surely in time, even the most exciting of lovers would become familiar. At the end of the day, she would be swapping a man with—another man, and they were not really so very different at the core.

As father and son played together, intent on their task and oblivious to her thoughts, Jane felt that her whole life had led up to this point. She was deciding to stay. It was her choice. She thought about the smell of Peter, the warmth of his body, the way they fitted together so perfectly when they snuggled. She thought about the shared experiences, how their eyes could say so much to each other, the times they laughed together. It was a lot to risk, a lot to lose.

Peter looked up, smiling to see her watching.

“I could kill for a cup of tea,” he said.

As Jane filled the kettle, her bag on the table began to vibrate. She scooped out her mobile phone.

One new message from Matthew’ the illuminated screen informed her.

She stood very still, not breathing. The timing was eerie. But she had decided. She was staying; she wasn’t going to mess with what she already had.

She pressed ‘menu’. She scrolled down to ‘messages’, selected ‘clean up messages’ and chose ‘all’. Obediently, the phone wiped all messages from its memory.

“I don’t owe him anything, not even politeness,” thought Jane. “He knew I was married; he knew what he was asking me to gamble, and if he’d really cared, he wouldn’t have asked.”

Slowly, Jane slipped the phone back into her bag. She would miss him, and for a moment, tears stung her eyes, her heart aching for what might have been and the savouring of those last wisps of memory of how he had made her feel.

But she knew she was right, knew that whilst this might not be perfect, it was the better choice. She switched on the kettle and pulled down a purple mug.

Outside, a bird began to sing, and Jane paused, watching as it fluffed its chest and warbled its song.

She did not notice the cat below the bush, preparing to pounce.

***

Chapter Twenty-Three

Jane pulled the shoe off the shelf. White satin, with a tiny bow—it  would suit the dress. As she turned towards the fitting room, she glimpsed her reflection in one of the mirrors. Her hair was looking very grey, she hadn’t had time to colour her roots for ages. Not that it mattered, the hair appointment had been booked weeks ago, tomorrow they would turn it back to the brown of younger days.

The curtain parted, and Abigail stepped forwards. A beautiful, untouchable Abigail. The white lace dress fell to the floor in waves, a fish-tail train sweeping the floor. The bodice fitted her slim frame, a scalloped neckline revealing glimpses of shoulder.

She grinned at Jane and walked forwards. Her stride was not particularly princess-like, more a stomp as she struggled with the excess material. It reminded Jane of the girl she had been, the way her feet used to turn inwards, how her shoes were always scuffed. Unbidden, tears filled her eyes. It felt like yesterday, and now that determined girl was a young woman. But still her daughter, still a little girl in her heart.

“Do you like it?” said Abigail, noticing her mother’s rapid blinks and checking they were for the right reason.

“Yes,” said Jane. It was all she could say for a moment. She took a breath, and held up the shoes. “What about these?”

Abigail wrinkled her nose. “They’re a bit high,” she said.

Jane smiled. “I remember when all you wanted were high heels,” she said. “Do you remember the shopping trip when you were little and you lost your shoes?”

“They were stolen, actually,” said Abigail, smiling too. “Can you unzip me?”

Jane followed her back into the fitting room and helped her daughter out of the wedding gown. It was heavy, and very white, she hoped her hands wouldn’t leave a greasy mark. A shop assistant fluttered around, telling Abigail she looked lovely, no alterations were necessary, did she want to take it today? They would box it for her.

When she was dressed in jeans again, she followed Jane to the racks of shoes and started to look.

“It’s only a couple of weeks away,” said Jane, “you really ought to have sorted shoes by now.”

“I know,” said Abigail, “I thought it would be easy. No one will really see them anyway under the dress, I could wear trainers…”

Suddenly serious, she turned to Jane. “Mum, am I doing the right thing?”

Jane looked at her. “Wearing trainers? No.”

She realised her daughter was serious and stopped. “What do you mean? Are you having second thoughts?” She started to think about the cost, how she would tell Peter, what their friends would say.

Abigail shook her head. “Not about Simon, no—I know I love him and want to be with him. But the whole marriage thing. Lots of people just live together, it feels like a lot of fuss…”

Jane sat down on a plush red sofa. Abigail had wanted a wedding for as long as she could remember. She had loved choosing the stationary and the dress and the venue. This was not about the wedding. She waited.

“I mean,” said Abigail, sitting beside her, “what if I can’t do it? What if I am making promises that I can’t keep? The whole ‘until death us do part’ bit—well, that’s a really long time isn’t it! We might change. I know you and Dad have always been happy, but in a way, that makes it harder. What if I’m not made the same, what if I’m not the ‘til death us do part’ sort?”

Jane reached out and took her daughter’s hand.

“Yes, she said, “it is a really long time. And sometimes you will wonder what the heck you’ve signed up for. But it’s a decision. Really, love is a decision. I don’t think there is one ‘Mr. Right’ who you have to look for until you find him, I expect I could’ve been happy with a whole host of people. But I chose your father. And sometimes it was difficult, sometimes I regretted that decision, but I chose to stay. Feelings change, people change, you have to decide what you want and stick with it. And yes, you will both change. But if you spend enough time together, you will change together. It’s about choosing to move through life as a unit, not two separate people. We can’t control what will happen, our health, the economy, politics. But we can choose whether we will face what comes on our own, or with someone else. You have chosen to be with Simon.” She smiled. “It’s not a bad decision, I think.”

“Did you ever wonder?” said Abigail. “Did you ever regret marrying Dad?”

Jane thought a thousand thoughts.

Then she squeezed her daughter’s hand and smiled.

“More than once! But that’s what I mean about it being a decision. Feelings are very unreliable; they come and go, and come again. Sometimes you have to stick it out, but then the love and happiness come back, and you’re glad you stayed.”

She turned, looked her daughter full in the face.

“Marriage isn’t easy Abigail. But it is worth it. I wouldn’t be without your father for all the world.”

Abigail nodded. “Come on, we’ll be late and he’ll moan.” She bent and kissed Jane’s forehead. “Thanks Mum.”

***

Peter watched as they walked towards him. Abigail was talking, racing ahead, full of decision and purpose. Jane walked next to her, listening. He watched Jane’s walk, how she still walked well, even as she had aged.

“I still love that woman,” he thought to himself, “she is the world to me.”

He thought about all the times he could have walked away, the years when money was tight, when the kids were too demanding, when life just seemed like one long treadmill. And he knew there were other women who would’ve taken her place. Women who smiled a bit too often, were slightly too attentive, suggested drinks after work when no one else would be there. There was even one who had sent him photos of herself, like they had some bond outside of the office. He’d had to put a stop to that, ask for her to be transferred. It was all a bit awkward.

But he’d never considered being unfaithful to Jane. She was his life, his home, the place he escaped to. As he watched her now, with her grey roots and chubby belly, her middle-aged body and lined face, he felt so full of love. It was weird really, watching their kids grow up, Abigail about to be married herself, him thinking about retiring. But Jane was there, the person he had wanted to come home to every day for the last thirty years.

“Funny thing, love,” he thought. “You can’t really explain it, but it really does make for a happier life.”

He stood up as the women approached the table.

“I just hope,” he thought, “that Abi’s as lucky in her marriage.”

I hope you have enjoyed the novel. If you would like to buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you.

Now, which book will you read next..? UK Link Here! 

UK Link Here!

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