QuaranTime to Read. . . Chapter Four


QuaranTime to Read

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

Chapter Four

Saturday passed in a blur of children’s activities – buying plimsolls, helping with homework, tidying up. It had rained during the night, and Christopher was delighted to find the trenches had become temporary home to several frogs. Abigail refused to set foot outside the back door.

Sunday morning dawned cold and bright, and Peter decided he would escort Jane to church. She was surprised but pleased. Usually she took Christopher and a fairly reluctant Abigail on her own, and she was always pleased when he joined them.

The church they attended was the local Baptist chapel and Jane had chosen it for the people, not the décor. It was not dissimilar to a draughty cowshed, complete with damp smell and dust particles dancing in the sunlight that streamed through the square windows. It had a high ceiling and was cold, whatever the weather outside. Taking a cardigan to church was more important than carrying a Bible.

They sat at the back, sliding into the light oak pew, shuffling slightly to alleviate the hardness. There were cushions, embroidered in a bygone age and never washed, which were gathered possessively by the older members when they arrived and firmly sat upon. Several people turned and smiled in greeting, and Abigail left them to sit with her friend Samantha. Mrs. Whorl, in matching turquoise coat and hat, ceased her subdued playing on the organ and the minister stepped forwards to the pulpit. He announced the first song, and everyone stood.

Pastor Rob was tall and dark, with a large smile and even larger teeth. Tired eyes twinkled above a large nose as he stretched out his hands and welcomed the congregation. Jane guessed him to be aged about thirty-five, with a younger wife and two extremely naughty boys. One was crawling under the pew as they all sang, while his brother surreptitiously tore pieces from the page of a hymn book, turning it into a holy serviette. His mother stood beside him, eyes closed in concentration, trying to lose herself in the song. Jane wondered if she was succeeding.

Jane watched Mrs. Whorl as she played. Her head nodded up and down, keeping strict time as she forced the ancient tune out of the organ. Jane felt the original composer had probably not envisioned such a strident rendition. Beside her, Christopher stood on the pew leaning against his father’s arm. Peter held the hymn book so they could both see and was laboriously moving a finger beneath each word. Christopher watched the finger.

The hymn abruptly ended and they all sat. Pastor Rob led the people in prayers and a Bible reading. Then there was a modern praise song, which Mrs. Whorl played, exuding disapproval, as quickly as possible. Pastor Rob smiled at his rebellious musician and suggested a repeat.

As they sat, Peter leaned towards Jane, pointing at the lady sitting in front of them. “Do you think she got her knitting patterns in a muddle?” he whispered.

Jane looked. The elderly lady had pinned a neat circle of crochet work to the top of her head. It strongly resembled a table mat and Jane shook with silent giggles while gesturing to Peter to listen to the sermon.

The pastor was describing God’s love for the world. He held a twenty-pound note above his head and asked who would like it. Jane could tell from the back of Abigail’s head that she was suddenly attentive. Several people were smiling, anticipating what would be said, others were using the children’s talk as an excuse to check their phones. A young girl, nudged into a response by her mother, agreed that she would like the money.

Pastor Rob crumpled the note into a ball, threw it on the floor, and stepped on it. He lifted it high, showing it to be wrinkled and dirty, asking, “Does anyone want it now that it’s been spoilt?”

The child was still keen to receive it and when questioned, responded, “Because it’s still worth something.”

The pastor allowed a moment of silence, before agreeing, “Yes, it’s still worth something…” He then went on to explain that people too can be spoilt and broken by experiences but they are still of value to God.

“God doesn’t just like you a bit,” he reminded the congregation. “He loves you enough to die for you.”

Jane looked at her family. Abigail was passing a note to her friend, Christopher was running a toy car up and down his leg, Peter seemed lost in thought. Were they even listening? Did they understand?

“I want to be worth something,” she thought, “I want to be worth more than just the person who wipes up marmalade and finds lost socks.” She felt strangely emotional, and began to search through her bag, looking for a distraction. People would think she was odd if she cried at a talk aimed at kids. The children were leaving now, shuffling towards the door ready for their own groups. Jane watched them, saw the resignation in their body language, knew that very few actually looked forward to being there.

Rob opened his Bible, and launched into his sermon. The words washed over Jane. She liked being in church, but not for too long. Church was something she ‘did’, but it was best afterwards, when the duty had been ticked off for the day and she could get on with all the other things she wanted to do. Attendance was a habit—a  good habit, she reminded herself—but she often found herself distracted during the sermons, waiting for them to end.

The final two hymns were announced, the children sidled back into church and people began to shuffle as they retrieved their hymn books and searched for the correct pages. Something caught Jane’s eye and she looked at the front pew. Rob’s wife was holding onto one boy who was trying to escape, while the other was pulling plaintively at her cardigan. He was hopping from leg to leg and obviously needed to use the toilet.

The congregation stood to sing and the pastor, noticing the problem from the pulpit, went to rescue his wife. He deftly lifted his desperate son over the pew and carried him through the front door to the toilets. He walked very tall, he liked being the one who solved problems, was a capable multi-tasker. His wife relaxed momentarily with relief; and then froze in horror.

Pastor Rob had forgotten to turn off his radio microphone. The sounds of the washroom door, opening and closing, were clearly audible over the speaker system. So were Rob’s words.

“The Lord is my light,” sang the congregation.

“Is it a poo or a wee?” came from the speakers.

“Then why should I fear?” sang the people, one or two looking around with puzzled expressions.

“Sit there until you’ve finished,” echoed from the speakers.

“By day and by night,” sang a rather hesitant congregation while straining to hear the next announcement.

“Bend over and I’ll give you a wipe, then you can pull the flush and wash your hands.”

“His presence is near,” sang three deaf old ladies.

The rest of the church shook with barely restrained laughter while Mrs. Whorl played valiantly to the end of the hymn.

Jane’s sides ached with laughter and she dare not look at Peter.

“Mummy, what’s funny?” asked Christopher, but she could only shake her head mutely. The unsuspecting minister then returned to the pulpit for the closing prayer and the service ended.

People seemed reluctant to leave the church. Jane often felt she gained as much from the post service chat as she did from the service. People sat or stood in small groups, some talking earnestly in hushed voices, others laughing. Pastor Rob stood by the door, shaking hands as people made their exit. Someone had explained to him about the microphone and Jane heard him bellow with laughter. Rob loved people, and accepted them as they were, faults included; and he tended to assume he was loved in return. Jane guessed it would be his wife Esther who carried the wounds of criticism on his behalf. At present she was removing a child from a large arrangement of lilies and explaining that he could not take one home.

“Shall we go?” suggested Peter. He was always uncomfortable at informal church gatherings, anxious that someone might speak to him. He found the whole open friendly chatter difficult—he had little in common with these people, so why would he want to spend time talking to them? There were better things to spend time on, and you never knew if someone particularly odd might corner you, forcing you into an embarrassing conversation you couldn’t escape from. He definitely preferred the anonymity of an Anglican service, where it was possible to arrive and leave without ever having to speak to another individual.

Jane beckoned to Abigail and followed Peter to the door. Pastor Rob was engrossed in conversation with an elderly man and they slipped out unseen.

“Well,” remarked Peter, “That was certainly entertaining!”

He lifted Christopher onto his shoulders as they walked to the car.

“I wanted that twenty pounds,” said Abigail. “Do you think Pastor Rob gave it to that girl? And what’s for dinner?”

“Roast lamb,” said Jane, “assuming the automatic oven came on. And peas. And potato.”

“Yukky peas!” wailed Christopher, “I hate peas!”

“Me too,” said Abigail.

“Can’t say I’m too keen,” added Peter as he stooped to unlock the car, swinging Christopher back down to the ground.

“Then perhaps one of you would like to cook dinner next week,” muttered Jane as she climbed into the car. Any peaceful feelings generated by the service had evaporated and she felt cross and resentful. Ahead of her loomed another culinary Everest with a dry and tasteless meal at the pinnacle. She felt suddenly tired and leaned back into the seat.

Peter reached across and squeezed her leg.

“You all right, my little twenty-quid girl?” he asked, then started the car and drove home.

***

Jane felt somewhat happier when the daily ordeal of providing a meal was over. The lamb had closely resembled leather and the potatoes had disintegrated when cooking, leaving only hard cores that proved resistant to mashing. Only the peas had emerged pleasantly edible and no one liked them anyway. As the supermarket-manufactured fruit pie and ice cream were all that anyone ate, Jane wondered why she continued with the ritual sacrifice of raw ingredients.

The afternoon was fine and bright and Peter decided that they should all go for a walk. Christopher was delighted and quickly collected his boots and the dog lead. The dog staggered towards him, swaying in time to his wagging tail. In a few short years he had changed from an energetic Tigger to an arthritic hippo, but his enthusiasm never wavered. He surveyed Christopher with adoring eyes as the child struggled to attach the clip to the collar. Jane reached to help him and called Abigail.

“Abi, are you ready?”

“Do I have to come?” queried the girl, who had hoped to watch television all afternoon. “I’ve got loads of homework and I’ll never get everything done if I have to walk.”

“Well…” began Jane.

“Yes!” interjected Peter. “It’s a lovely day and we’re all going for a walk. Hurry up and put some wellies on.”

***

They set off, and were soon squelching across an abandoned field adjacent to a building site. Max paused for long sniffing detours, whilst Christopher wound his way through every available puddle. Abigail lagged behind, reluctantly enjoying the fresh air and wistfully watching her younger brother.

“You’ll fall over,” she said, as Christopher slid through a particularly deep puddle.

“I’ve lost a boot! I’ve lost a boot!” called Christopher gleefully. He balanced precariously on one leg, waving a besocked foot.

Peter hoisted him free while Jane removed the other boot. She watched her son stretch his arms around his father’s neck, secure in his vantage point on Peter’s shoulders. He rested his cheek on top of Peter’s head, then giggled as a sock came free and floated down to the mud. Jane retrieved it and carried it with the two dirty boots. She watched the tangible love between father and son as they crossed the field. Their fair hair was so similar she could not discern where one head began and the other ended. Both exuded happiness, as did Abigail who was now describing to her the plans for a school outing. Jane nodded and smiled, not really listening. Inside, she was restless, wanting something more than this. It was lovely, very cosy, everyone contented.

But inside, something uncertain had woken, something that removed her from the scene and set her apart. It wasn’t enough anymore…

To be continued on Tuesday

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QuaranTime to Read . . . Chapter Three


‘QuaranTime to Read’

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

Chapter Three

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

 

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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.

****

This is the final extract I will be posting. Why not buy a copy of Hidden Faces?

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!

A Story to Enjoy continued


Continuing Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.

Cynthia Mott discovered a body in her garden shed, but it was the day of the school play, so she shut the door and left it. She is now worried that ignoring a body might be a criminal offence. We join the story after the play, when the children are returning to their classrooms:

Andrew Smyth followed his class to their classroom. The children were almost running and began pushing to be first through the door. He entered the room, amazed at how quickly they could fill a space with noise and mess.

‘Quiet!’ he shouted. For a moment there was silence, then gradually the noise began again, quietly at first, quickly growing to the same level as when he had entered the room.

His teaching assistant was already there, helping the children to change. She was called Maddy Brown. ‘Mad Brown Cow’ is what Andrew called her in private, in the pub with his mates. She was a nice enough woman, old enough to be his mother and sometimes she treated him more like a forgetful child than the teacher, not that he minded.

He flung himself into the chair beside his desk and slumped against the armrests. He was tall, with a mass of sandy hair and eyes that twinkled when he smiled. He was slightly too thin, but with good shoulders and a confidence that girls seemed to like.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I think that went pretty well. We certainly gave them a show.’

Maddy Brown came across to ask him where he wanted the costumes to be put.

‘Let’s just heap them on that table,’ he said. ‘We can sort them out later, when the kids have gone.’

‘Do you think it might be better to put them straight onto their hangers?’ suggested his assistant. ‘It will be difficult to remember who wore what, and when we put them away in the costumes cupboard they all need to be labelled and back on their hangers, ready for next year.’

‘Oh, okay,’ he smiled. He did not really care. He was hoping that he wouldn’t be there next year.

Andrew Smyth was a teacher by default. His passion at school had been history. He was good at remembering dates, could argue causes and evidence and had loved the stories that explained why and how things had developed. Unfortunately he had loved socialising and having a laugh even more. His exam results were nowhere near good enough to read history at university and he looked destined to join his father in the corner shop, stacking cans all day and being polite to people who dropped litter and tried to steal bars of chocolate.

A careers teacher at school had taken him to one side and suggested he try to get a place on a teacher training course. Andrew had regularly helped out with the boys’ local football club and that would help his application and one of the minor universities, one that formerly had been a polytechnic, was sure to take him. They would take into account his working class background and the school would give him a good reference. He just had to perform well in the interview and that would not be a problem, he was an excellent public speaker and enjoyed an audience. His father was keen to have ‘someone in the family who went to university’ and Andrew decided it would be a good way to avoid shop work, so he applied. He had hoped to teach history but was told that he stood a better chance in primary education. The government was trying to encourage more men to teach the younger years, he was more likely to get a place.

That had been four short years ago. He had attended university, made friends with the sports teachers and endured regular teaching practices in a variety of schools. His grades were not great but they were good enough to graduate with a middling degree and, as promised, being male was definitely a bonus when it came to applying for jobs. He had survived one term at the school and was very much hoping to leave in September. He found Miss Mott, his mentor, to be a stressed and pernickety woman. She gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘pedantic’. Nothing that he did was right, from his wall displays to how his class sat in assembly.

The trouble was, he just did not care. He liked the children, enjoyed chatting to them and making them laugh. He liked being a mini celebrity in their eyes, the centre of attention in the playground. He just couldn’t bring himself to care if they ran in the corridor or knelt up on the carpet or (worse sin of all) played around in the toilets when they should have been outside on a freezing playground.

He watched them now as they struggled out of their costumes. They were all talking loudly, laughing about ‘the fight’ and saying whether or not their parents had been there. Maddy approached him with a stack of reading books.

‘Do you want to hear readers while I help them change?’

He took the books and read the name from the first card. Billy came across, wearing vest and pants and sat on the small chair next to him. Maddy draped a grey sweatshirt around his shoulders to keep him warm as he opened his reading book and started to read. He knew the story by heart and could say the words without looking. Andrew was not looking either, so sometimes what the child said did not match the words on the page, but neither of them noticed. He got to the last page and paused.

‘Can I have a new book now?’ he asked hopefully.

‘Not today,’ said Andrew. ‘I think we need to read it once more, to be sure you really know those words.’ The new books were stored in a cupboard in the corridor. He didn’t want to have to spend time looking for the next book. Not today. Today had been enough work already. He just wanted to get them all dressed and hand them back to their parents so he could leave for the day.

He called the next name and sent the disappointed Billy back to continue getting dressed. The boy meandered back to his place. He stepped over newspaper that was spilling from a bin in the corner, trailed his fingers through a tub of Lego bricks and walked past a display board where paintings drooped from their pins. They had all painted Christmas gifts and cut them out, and they had been stapled under a large paper tree. The paper had started to curl in the warm classroom, some of the shiny stars they used were now on the floor. Billy could see his picture, where it was pinned, near to the corner of the board. Mr Smyth had written ‘Lots of Christmas Presents’ in large paper letters and Billy’s painting was partially under the last ‘s’. He thought they would probably be allowed to take them home on Friday. Usually the walls were cleared before the holidays. He hoped someone had told Mr Smyth. Sometimes he forgot things like that.

Maddy Brown carried six laden hangers to the rack in the corner. She noticed a heap of props, the treasures carried by the kings, abandoned on the painting rack. They belonged in Miss Mott’s classroom, so Maddy scooped them up and went over to Andrew.

‘I think I’ll take these over to Oak Class now,’ she told him. ‘It’s not worth risking them being spoiled or lost. It would be annoying if at home time someone put one in their bag “by mistake”. Can you manage for a minute?’

Andrew nodded, lost in a daydream while Lucy stammered over words in her book. Maddy watched them for a moment then decided not to comment and walked to Oak Class.

As she walked along the corridor she could hear various levels of noise drifting from the open classroom doors. Cherry Class was by far the loudest. Had she not just departed, she would have assumed the children had been left unsupervised. The volume of Pear Class was audible but subdued. Esther Pritchard allowed Year Two some freedom but kept the noise below a certain level.

Maddy nearly collided with a small boy solemnly carrying a book in both hands as he left his classroom.
‘I finished my book,’ he said proudly, walking towards the book cupboard to collect the next one.
Maddy watched him walk. One plimsoll was only partially on and he was squashing the back as he lopped along the corridor. He gazed at the walls as he walked, absorbing the nativity scene collages and the paper chains that had been strewn across the ceiling.

She turned back to the open door of Oak Class and knocked politely as she entered the quiet room, looking for Cynthia Mott, cautiously, as though she might be told off like a child. She respected Miss Mott’s teaching experience but she was not an individual who was easy to like.

The class was in near silence. Most children were already dressed in their grey sweatshirts and navy trousers or skirts. June Fuller was kneeling in one corner, helping a girl with her tights. She was trying not to grimace as her hand made contact with the clammy foot speckled with grains of sand. She hastily pulled up the sweaty tights and smiled at Maddy.

The class sat at their tables, costumes heaped in mounds in front of them, books in hands, mouths closed. Cynthia was carefully hanging the costumes one at a time, while her gaze constantly swept the room, ready to pounce should she spy the beginnings of an illicit conversation. Outwardly calm, only a small frown belied the tension within. She nodded at Maddy.

‘Ah, Mrs Brown, are those the kings’ treasures? Lovely, I was hoping that someone responsible would take care of them. Could you kindly place them on my desk and I will put them away later. Thank you.
‘Uh, Judith, I do not believe anyone asked you to move from your seat. Sit down and read your book. When you have finished you can put up your hand.
‘Tommy, stop wriggling. If you need to go to the toilet go at once.’

The nervous Tommy sighed with relief and pushed past Mrs Brown on his urgent visit to the toilets.
‘And do not run!’ he heard as he rushed full speed along the corridor, unsure if he would get there in time.

Maddy followed his departing back along the corridor. She smiled at his panic and wondered why boys always left toilet trips to the very last minute.

Cynthia Mott continued sorting the costumes, hanging them tidily. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts.
‘If he died yesterday, I might not have noticed. Maybe he was in my shed all night. In which case, his family will report his absence and begin to look for him. If they find him bolted in my shed they will know he was discovered previously.’ A new thought came to her, striking her already taut nerves and causing bile to rise in her throat.

‘What if they think I locked him in while he was still alive? What if the police arrive and accuse me of causing his death? What if they are there now? They could arrive at the school at any moment. I will be publicly humiliated. I might even be arrested.’
Footsteps could be heard approaching the classroom and Cynthia dropped the costume she was holding in alarm. A form appeared in the doorway. It was Jane Lancaster.

‘Ah, Miss Mott. Sorry to disturb you but I think we need to have a staff meeting when the children have left. We can discuss this morning’s play and write down our thoughts for next year, while it’s still fresh in our minds.’

‘No.’ Cynthia snapped. ‘That will not be possible.’
Jane Lancaster looked rather taken aback.
‘It won’t be for long,’ she said, ‘I do feel it would be of huge benefit. I realise you are all tired but ten minutes in the staffroom seems a sensible plan.’
‘No,’ Cynthia repeated, ‘that will not be possible.’ She hesitated, searching for a legitimate excuse to give to the irritating woman. It seemed a ridiculous idea, even if she were not embroiled in impending disaster.
‘I am afraid I am suffering from a terrible headache and need to return home promptly.’

Jane Lancaster looked at her. She certainly did look extremely pale. It would be inconvenient if she were absent for the last few days of term. She decided to relent.

‘Of course, I am sorry to hear that,’ she sympathised. ‘Are you okay to carry on or do you want June to see the children out? There’s only ten minutes until home time.’

Cynthia leaped at the unexpected reprieve. ‘That would be most appreciated,’ she replied, looking at June for confirmation.

June surveyed the classroom, strewn with costumes waiting to be hung, and the children, who would explode into gleeful noise as soon as Miss Mott left. She had her own children to collect from the junior school but she supposed they would just have to wait a bit longer. She knew they would greet her with resentful eyes at having been left until all the other children had gone. They would be standing in the school office, looking abandoned and uncared for, and she would feel like a negligent parent. Again. She wondered why it should be her and not Jane Lancaster who had to cover for Miss Mott. She thought, yet again, about how little she was paid in relation to what was expected of her. As usual, she seemed to have no choice. She sighed in acquiescence.

Cynthia Mott hurriedly gathered her bag and struggled into her coat. As she flew from her classroom she spied Mr Carter, bucket in hand, as he prepared to start cleaning the floors when the children had left.

‘Do phone me nice and early if you are too ill to work tomorrow,’ she heard, as she rushed along the corridor, scrabbling for her car keys even as she walked. She needed to get home and sort out this ghastly mess before it was too late.

***
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!