Sunday 2 September 2018


By Peppy Barlow

hot chocolate


She had woken in the night.  Sure they were being watched.    She got up to look. The moon bright over the autumn  fields.  The road clear.  She must have been imagining things.

Now It is morning.  She draws the curtains. A clear, sunny day.  Leaves carpeting the lawn.  The hedge no hiding place for an intruder.   No one there.  She had chosen the cottage because it stood alone.   Now she is not so sure.

She turns and calls to her son that it is time to get up.  He answers from downstairs where he is probably watching television.

At breakfast he asks her where his sports kit is and grumbles when she admits she forgot to wash it.  He stuffs it into his bag and gives her a perfunctory kiss and is gone.  Up the path to the garage where the bike is kept and then off down the road to school.  He is nine years old and growing fast.  She wonders idly what will become of him.

Now it is time for work.  She clears the breakfast things and puts the kettle on again.  A second cup of tea.  Then to the table under the window which serves as her desk during the day.  She opens her notebook and sits.  She is working on a story.  A story that one day she will tell her son.

Now there is someone there.   A man.   Standing outside the window by the back door. For a moment she is frozen in the chair.  Then she gets up and goes to the door.

‘Yes, can I help you?’  she says.  As if she was some kind of receptionist in her own life.  He looks up as though he didn’t expect anyone to be there.  He has a map in his hand.

‘I’m a bit lost,’ he says. ‘I wonder if you could help me.’

He looks quite harmless.  Middle aged.  Brown eyes.  A quiet smile. 

‘Come in,’ she says and leads him to the table where he can lay the map out.  ‘Where are you trying to get to?’
‘I was hoping to find the church,’ he says, ‘I gather it has a wooden spire and some nice brasses.’
‘Are you interested in church architecture?’ she asks.
‘Not particularly but I like wandering over these hills and it’s nice to have a place to go to.’
‘It’s not far,’ she says. ‘I can take you there.’
‘Oh no, I couldn’t expect you to do that.  I can see you’re busy.’
She looks at the notebook on the table.
‘No, that’s fine,’ she says,’ I walk that way everyday.  Today I will just be going a little early.’

She reaches for her coat and a better pair of boots.  He waits while she puts them on.  Seemingly taking in the surroundings.  The pictures on the wall.  The Rayburn breathing quietly in the corner.  Traces of her son’s drawings on the wall.  Left there from when he was three and wanted to draw sheep.

Now they are walking over heavy plough.  He seems to be finding it difficult.
‘You do this every day?’
‘I do.  It’s a ritual.  A way of making sense. ‘
‘Does it help your writing?’
‘It helps with my life’

They walk a bit further in silence.  She forges on ahead for a while.  Turns when she realises he has stopped.  He is standing with his hands on his knees.
‘You’re not used to this are you?
The man stands up and smiles.  Shakes his head.  She waits for him to catch up.  They continue.
‘Was that your son I saw?  He asks.
She turns and looks at him in shock.
‘This morning.  Was he going to school?’
‘You saw him going to school.  How long had you been out there?’
‘A while.’
‘You’ve been watching us?’
 ‘I told you.  I was lost’.

Now she is standing in front of him, barring his way.
‘Lost, what kind of excuse is that? ‘
The man looks uncomfortable.  Shrugs.  The woman continues.  She is very angry.
‘We’re all on our own out here.  I’m all on my own with him. You had
no right.
I’m sorry.  I didn’t know where else to go.
‘You should have thought of that… ‘

She turns and walks away.
‘A long time ago.  You have thought of that a long time ago.’

He waits for a moment, not sure whether to follow her.  Moves  to catch up with her.
‘Wait.  Let me explain. Please wait.’

She turns.  Now she really is furious.
 ‘Nine, fucking years, you bastard.  Nine years of wondering, of
waiting, of not knowing what to tell him. How dare you….’
The man is still struggling to catch up.
‘I didn’t mean, I didn’t.  It was…’

She starts picking up clods of earth and chucking them at him.
‘Bastard, bastard….. ‘
Some of the clods fall short.  One of them hits him.  He stops in his tracks. 

Now they are walking together along a grassy lane.  They are talking, laughing.
‘… and you standing in the street telling me you loved me.  Yelling for all to hear…’.
‘You stood there like a frozen rabbit.’ 
‘I couldn’t believe my ears.’
‘I felt such a fool.’
‘It wasn’t til you were walking away that your words reached my brain..’
‘I thought you loved me.  I thought you’d come.’
‘I did have a wife and children to consider.’                   
‘’And I was falling into a black hole.’

They stop and look at each other. 
‘Are you ever going to forgive me?’
She smiles and shakes her head.
‘Probably not.’
He puts his arm round her and they walk on.

Now the Church is in front of the.  He stops.
‘Now this is a place I haven’t seen for a long time,’  he says.
‘I can’t stay away,’ she says.
‘You come everyday?’
‘I had to have something to remember you by.’
‘And the boy?’
‘What has he got to remember….’
‘What do you tell him?’

‘That his father has to live in his dreams.’
‘You can get caught in dreams.’   

The woman stops and looks at him. Her look says ‘Tell me about it’

The church is quiet and empty.  There is a bird flying round inside. Banging against the windows. 

They stand together at the end of the aisle taking it in.
‘Would you really have wanted me to stay?’ he asks.
‘It’s difficult to know now. ‘
She starts wandering.  Touching surfaces as she goes.
The man moves down the aisle. Stops to take in a grave stone set in the floor.  Crouches down to read.
‘Thus death triumph, tells us all must die.’
She moves to look over his shoulder.
‘Sad business death.’
‘Is it?’
They are held in the moment.  She notices the bird.
 ‘Oh look, there’s a bird. We’d better leave the door open.

She moves to open the door to let the bird out.  The man stays with the grave stone.  She moves back to him. He is still crouching over the words.
‘Why couldn’t we make it work?’
He gets up and turns to her.
‘Perhaps we did,’ he says.

Now she is sitting at the table with her notebook.  Writing.  It is late afternoon and the light is fading.
The boy comes through the door. Hot and windblown from his bike ride.  He throws his bags on the floor. Goes to get a drink of water.
‘We won.’

‘Oh good.  That was good’.
‘Did you have a good day?’
‘Not bad.’
She takes the boy onto her lap and holds him close.
‘Anything happen?’ he asks.
‘Nothing special’. 
She pauses.
‘There was a bird in the church.  I let it out.’ 
‘And your story?’ he asks.
‘Coming along nicely

They both sit for a while.  Close and alone in the room.
‘You want to watch some tele?’ she asks.
The boy gets off her lap and goes through to the other room and puts on the TV. 

She sits for a moment .  Reaches for the open notebook.  Looks as though she is about to write in it.  Then closes it.  She looks peaceful.  As though something has been settled.

She goes through to the window in the front room.  The boy is watching television.  She looks out.  Nothing but the garden and the road.  She draws the curtains. 

About the author 

 Peppy Barlow is a playwright and screenwriter.  She teaches Creative Writing at the Ipswich Institute and for Coastal Leisure Learning.  Members of the Woodbridge Writers have had several stories published here. 

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