By Jo Dearden
A Bottle of Wine
The website photos looked tempting. Lovely views across the marshes towards the river. Local shops and restaurants within walking distance. The beach nearby. A perfect location for a summer break. Sarah booked the holiday let online for a fortnight without hesitation. Her husband, Roger could only come for the second week because of work commitments. Sarah didn’t mind. In fact, she quite liked having some time to herself.
After a long stressful drive Sarah eventually found the house. Thankfully, her two-year-old son Tom had slept for most of the journey. The front door key had been placed under a large flower pot, which contained the remnants of a few dead plants. A quiet coolness greeted her as she stepped into the dark hallway. The sitting room was disappointingly shabby. A large sofa and two chairs looked tired and worn. A dreary beige carpet had a few dark stains. It didn’t look as inviting as the glossy photos had suggested. Through an open door, she could see a kitchen with cream painted cupboards and glass doors leading out onto a decking area with a small lawn beyond. This looks more like it she thought.
She went out to her car to unload the luggage. Tom had started to cry.
‘Hello there,’ she heard a voice call out. Sarah swung round. A short, rather stocky middle-aged man was standing in the driveway. ‘Hi, I’m Ian. I live next door. If you need any help, let me know’. Sarah wasn’t sure she liked the look of him. He had thinning grey hair and was wearing dirty khaki shorts and a checked shirt that was fraying at the collar. He walked over to Sarah’s car and stood uncomfortably close to her. She could smell garlic on his breath.
‘Oh thanks, I’m sure I’ll be fine.
‘On your own are you?’ He grinned, showing yellow stained teeth.
‘Yes, well no, actually my husband is joining me.’
‘Well, you know where I am’.
Sarah watched him walk towards the next-door house. She hadn’t noticed that the two houses were in fact semi-detached. Too close for comfort. She shuddered. Perhaps coming by herself wasn’t such a good idea. She phoned Roger and told him about Ian.
‘I’m sorry love. I can’t come any sooner. I’m sure he’s pretty harmless’.
I hope so, thought Sarah as she clicked off her phone. Roger worked as a partner in a small firm of estate agents and found it difficult to have a proper holiday.
The next morning, she was woken by sunlight filtering through the thin bedroom curtains. Tom was still asleep. She threw on an old navy cardigan on top of her pyjamas and padded downstairs. She made herself a mug of tea and took it out to the wooden bench seat on the decking. She could see reeds swaying on the marshes and the river glinting beyond. Dazzling pools of light dancing on the water. A few sailing boats bobbed on their moorings.
Her early morning reverie was suddenly cut short. ‘Good Morning. Isn’t it a grand day’. She looked up and saw Ian leering over the fence.
‘Yes’, she said. Oh please go away, she thought, picking up her mug of tea and carrying it inside. She heard Tom crying and ran upstairs. She felt tears beginning to well up. Why won’t he leave me alone?
After breakfast she strapped Tom into his pushchair and set off to explore the seaside town. As she walked past Ian’s house, she noticed him waving out of one of the downstairs windows. She didn’t acknowledge him.
The High Street was bustling. Sarah bought herself a takeaway coffee and an ice cream for Tom. They sat on the seawall watching the seagulls wheeling and diving over the shingle beach.
‘Hello again,’ she heard a familiar voice behind her. Sarah felt her heart miss a beat.
‘I’m sorry we’re just leaving,' she said hurriedly strapping Tom into his buggy.
‘Oh, please don’t go on my account. I don’t mean to scare you. My wife died a few weeks ago. It was all very sudden. All over in a few weeks. I’m finding life very difficult’.
Sarah stared at him. There was something about him that didn’t seem quite right. His face was not showing the grief that he was now expressing. Perhaps I am being unfair, she thought.
‘I’m so sorry. I really am. But I have to to go now’, Sarah stammered as she walked away with Tom.
Ian looked at the grey sea. A wind was getting up. He could see flecks of foam on the waves. I’ll go round with a bottle of wine later he thought.
About the author
Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times. She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.