Thursday, 8 March 2012

There has been some excitement in the village over the past couple of weeks.  The post office/shop has finally opened its back room as a tea-room.  This was after much deliberation and negotiating with the powers that be - i.e. The Estate manager and "The Squire" who is our much revered landlord!
On Saturday I decided that it was time to take a look so along a went and sampled their morning coffee and a slice of cake (hand-baked by the baker/proprietor), served by the lovely Paula.  Definitely worth a look and so nice to sit in the middle of the community in a pleasant cafe, passing the time of day with villagers and neighbours.  I wish them all success.
The nearest local Public house - The Golden Lion - have continued with their music evenings.  I spent Friday evening in the pub watching a local band of youngsters - The Hourglass - playing and singing.  A very talented little group.  The lead singer, Chloe, a tiny young woman with a massive voice.  I have been reliably informed that the Goldie will soon be providing afternoon teas at weekends.  Good job too, I think.  You can never have enough places to enjoy a good cup of tea (or coffee).  Just what this village needs.
For more about the lovely place I live - check out a video - The Estate - on Utube -  This was made by some local students from South Downs College and aptly describes life where I live.  One of the producers of this video lives in the heart of the village - as I do.

Now for the next instalment of Caught in the Web ........

Chapter Three
The following day
The dawn was a long time coming.  After Peter had finally left for work, Karen crawled back into bed bruised and exhausted.
She remembered the day the doctors had told her about the goitre.  'Nothing to worry about,' they'd said.  But it had dragged her down by its weight, throbbing painfully when she was tired,  jumbling her thoughts.
'No wonder Peter loses patience with me,' she thought. 
She reached out to the empty place beside her, still warm from his body and couldn't stop the feeling of sorrow washing over her.  She buried her head into his pillow and tried to quell her fears.  
Eventually, she slept.
The sound of the vacuum cleaner penetrated her sleep.  The sun was shining through the net curtains reflecting from the windows of the house opposite.  Karen shook off the momentary confusion, the sounds of milk bottles clinking in the street bringing her back to the familiarity of her own home.  She swung her legs carefully over the edge of the bed, got dressed and made her way down the stairs.  The aroma of toast was wafting up to towards her.
'Morning.'  Margaret appeared at the door of the kitchen.  'How was your first night back in your own bed?  Good to be home, eh?'  She was smiling.
'Lovely, thank you.’
'I've just made some coffee.  Would you like some?' Margaret asked.  'And some toast?'
'Just coffee thanks.'  
Karen sat on the sofa, resting back against the plumped-up cushions, wondering if she could get used to living with Margaret again.  It was nice to be looked after sometimes, but nothing would be the same again.  Not since she'd married Peter.
'You're too young,' her work-mates had all said.  
But Karen had known what she'd wanted.  'You don't know me,' she'd argued.   And she’d drifted away from her few friends one by one.
Margaret was back with the coffee and settling into the armchair opposite.  She took a cigarette from the packet on top of the gas fire and lit it.  Taking a long drag on the cigarette she blew the smoke away from Karen as she spoke.
'Now, you still have to rest but the doctors said you should get fresh air.'
'I'm alright.  You don't have to look after me.'
'Well, I want to,' said Margaret.  'I couldn't forgive myself, leaving you to cope on your own.  It's only for a few days, then you'll be back on your feet.'
'Don’t you have to go to work?'
'Oh, don't worry about that,' Margaret reassured her.  'You're more important to me than the Co-op.'
Karen wiped her eyes.  'I don't know what's up with me,' she said.
'Oh, come on Karen,' said Margaret.  'You've had a difficult couple of years.  You're bound to feel a bit weepy.'
There was a long silence as Karen thought about the past two years.  Margaret was probably right.   
'It's time I started living again,' she smiled.  The trouble was, she felt just like a little girl sometimes.  And she'd thought she was such an adult getting married at twenty.  'Sometimes I wonder what the hell has happened to me,' she said.
'You'll be fine.  Come on, let's go out for a walk.'
They linked arms as they headed towards the park.  The early spring sunshine had brought out the first of the daffodils.  Birdsong competed with children’s voices on the football pitch.  
Margaret wondered to herself what had made her take on this troubled young girl when she was just beginning to enjoy time on her own.  It may have been the memory of herself as a young girl, she guessed, struggling to drag herself into adulthood at Karen’s age.
'She needs a mother figure,' they'd said.  'You could be her last chance.'
It hadn't been easy.  For the first few months Karen had hardly spoken more than a few grunts and her behaviour at school was highlighted by the many letters sent home.  Still, Margaret had persevered, shown her love and gradually the brittle shell around Karen had broken down, piece by piece, revealing a sensitive young woman blossoming within.  When Karen had left school and started working in the insurance office she’d even started making friends with other young people.  Margaret was happy to see her enjoying life at last.  Then Peter had come home from university.  Looking back on that time she admitted to herself that she’d feeling uneasy about him getting together with Karen but she’d said nothing and hoped it would be all for the best in the end.
Karen let go of her arm and began walking faster, leaving her behind.
'Hey,' Margaret protested.  'Take it easy.'
Karen laughed as she headed towards the swings.   
'You're not supposed to overdo it,' Margaret called as she hurried after her but Karen was already on the swing, pushing herself back ready for take off.  Margaret watched her swing herself forward and soon she was sailing through the air.
'It's like flying,' she called.
'Come down, Karen,' Margaret shouted. 
Karen just laughed at her and at the sky, the clouds trying to catch her as she swept upwards.
Margaret held her breath.  Finally Karen slowed down until her feet were touching the ground, but as she stepped off the swing, her legs buckled beneath her.  Margaret was immediately by her side.  Karen clung to her.
'Sorry, Margaret.  You were right.  But it was worth it!'  
They staggered slowly home where Karen flopped onto the sofa and slept,  
waking up just long enough to eat her lunch before falling asleep again trying to read a magazine.  
Suddenly it was five o'clock.
'Damn!' Karen struggled to drag herself up from the sofa.
'Alright my dear?' Margaret called from the kitchen.
'I need to get a bath,' said Karen.  'Peter'll be here in a minute.'
'I'll run it for you.’
'I'm fine,' snapped Karen.   Her shoulders slumped.  ‘I'm sorry,‘ she sighed.  ‘You're being great, really.'
'Don't worry,' soothed Margaret.  'I do understand.'
Karen smiled at Peter as he walked in through the door.
'Bloody awful day I've had.'  He brushed his lips briefly across Karen's cheek.  'Hello Mum,' he called through to the kitchen.  'What's for dinner?'
Karen swallowed.  She felt an echo of the pain from the operation as the lump in her throat stuck for a moment.  She took a deep breath and kept smiling.
Peter flopped into the armchair.  
‘Well, what have you been up to?’  he asked, glancing across at Karen.
‘We just went for a short walk to the park this morning.  Margaret’s been great - looking after me.’
‘That’s nice.’  He lit a cigarette.
‘It was good to get out for a bit.  Then I just sat around this afternoon.  But it’s been lovely having Margaret here.’
‘What have you been chatting about then?’
‘Oh, just this and that - you know - women’s talk mostly.’
‘Talking about me I suppose?’  He reached for the ashtray.
‘No - just, general stuff.’  Karen felt her stomach tighten.
‘Dinner’s ready to serve, you two,’ Margaret called from the kitchen.
Peter screwed out the cigarette butt and got up.  He touched Karen’s cheek and smiled at her before turning to leave the room.
'That was lovely,' Karen put her knife and fork together on the empty plate.  'Thanks Margaret.'
'You're welcome,' said Margaret.  'I enjoy cooking.  You know that.'
Peter smiled.  'Yes,' he said.  'It was great.  But, you'll have to get used to cooking again, Karen.  Mum's going home tomorrow.'
'Are you?' she asked.  Margaret had said nothing to her.
'I can stay until the weekend,' Margaret replied.  'There no rush for me to go back.'
'I'm here if Karen needs me and I'm sure you've better things to do.'  He looked at Margaret, then at Karen.
'Peter's right, of course,' said Karen.  'I can manage on my own now.'  She glanced at Margaret.
'Well, if you're sure?' Margaret asked.
Karen avoided meeting her eyes.  'I'm sure,' she said.
Peter stood up.  'That's settled then,' he said.
So that was that.  The next morning came and Margaret was gone.  The house was quiet without her but being on her own gave Karen time to think.
It was easy to have a conversation with Peter in her head.
‘I need to be able to confide in Margaret sometimes,’ she thought.
‘I don’t want you talking to her about us,’ Peter would say.  ‘It’s disrespectful.’
‘It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.’
‘I don’t care,’ he would reply.  ‘You shouldn’t need anyone else but me.’
‘I need to be my own person.’
‘You’re my wife.  We share everything.  We have no secrets.’  He had said that to her more than once.
‘It’s not about secrets,’ she would say.  ‘It’s just about being normal.’
‘You don’t know what normal is,’ he’d retort.  
‘And you do?’ she’d ask.
‘All my friends at work agree with me.’
‘How do you know that if you don’t discuss us with anyone?’
‘Don’t be clever with me,’ he would say.  ‘I know because they tell me about their marriages.’
‘You can’t stop me from having conversations with other people.’
Karen knew that she’d never have the nerve to say such things.  Arguing with Peter was not an option.
She shook herself back to reality.  She remembered the feelings she’d had in the hospital, the admiration she’d felt for the nurses.  She wished she had the courage to do something like that.  Even though her job was still there waiting for her, going back to work in an office was the last thing she wanted to do.  
She spent the next few weeks wandering about the town, looking in shop windows, dreaming about where she might work.  Nothing appealed to her.
‘You don’t need to work,’ Peter said.  ‘We could start a family now that you’re well.’
‘I’m not ready for that yet,’ Karen replied.
‘You could still stay at home.  Be a proper housewife.’
‘I’d be bored staying at home.  I need to be doing something.  I’ll go mad if I don’t have something to do.’
Margaret was shocked.
‘I’ll go mad,’ Karen was saying.
‘I’m sorry love, but you’ve no idea what madness is like.’
Karen looked at Margaret for the first time since she’d walked in the door.
‘I thought you’d understand,’ she said.
The smoke from Margaret’s cigarette spiralled gently to the ceiling.  Margaret looked up at the haze.  She took a long drag and noticed that Karen was watching the tip as it flared into life.
‘That’s not what I meant,’ she said.  ‘Look.  I know your life has been hard in the past, but it’s not so bad now, is it?’
Karen swallowed before answering.  ‘You’re right,’ she sighed.
‘You should never joke about madness,’ Margaret said.  ‘I had a cousin who was a lovely boy - bright - good looking.  Then one day he came off his motorbike.  He was in a coma for two weeks and when he came round they told my auntie that he was brain-damaged.’  She paused.  ‘He came home from hospital for a while and then he just - disappeared.’  
Margaret flicked the ash from her cigarette into the ashtray.  
‘I was only a kid, but I overheard my Auntie talking about him.’
‘How do you mean - he just disappeared?’
‘I think he was sent to Highclere.  But I never heard any more about it.  No-one ever mentioned him again.’
Karen felt the vacuum he must have left.
‘I’ve had a fear of that place ever since.  There were horrible stories about the mad people locked up.  We were scared they’d get out and attack us when we were kids.’
‘It can’t be like that now,’ Karen said.
The rain beat against Karen’s face as she walked towards the shingle beach later that day.  She couldn’t stop thinking about Margaret’s cousin.
The afternoon was dark.  Karen loved the feel of the rain cleansing her.  Despite the weather, the further away from home she walked the lighter she felt.  By the time she’d reached the sea, she was soaked to the skin.
Waves crashed on the shore, smashing the muddy waters onto the shingle, a thousand voices screaming to the gulls.  She sat in a shelter and watched the dancing ocean.  The day was grey - the Isle-of-Wight invisible.  As she stared into the misty horizon the motion of the sea made her sleepy.  She felt safe and warm.  
Perhaps she had actually fallen asleep.  She couldn’t remember afterwards but she was sure that there was someone else there in the shelter.
‘Karen, you’re wasting time.’  The voice was familiar - just a vague impression of someone in a dream.
‘I know,’ Karen whispered.  ‘I wish I knew what to do.’
‘A fresh start in life - do what you really want to do.’
Thoughts were flooding through her head - her own memories of being in hospital churning together with visions of Margaret’s cousin lost forever in Highclere.  And a need to do something important with her life.
Karen started awake.  Suddenly she knew.  It was like someone had pulled open the blinds.
‘A second chance.’  
The sun was shining in the puddles as she began the walk back home.

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