February 2016 Blog Challenge: Blog 20 of 29
As a child I was happy to create stories and loved the escapism that they offered. As an adult, I have now returned to the fiction form and have embarked on writing my first novel (of a trilogy). It’s a blend of semi auto-biographical and fantastical elements, which feels to me like arranging a giant patch work quilt of my life: There are some favourite scraps of my own old clothes, which I am adding to, embellishing and turning into a brand new pattern…
Part of my blog challenge this month is to boost the content of this first fiction book. Each excerpt, which will stand alone on this blog – will eventually be woven into the larger fabric of my book design.
One Sunday evening, in the middle of the autumn term of the second year at her northern university, Ariel decided to telephone her mother and agree their plans for Christmas. She trudged through the twilit streets and had to wait out in the cold, as someone else was already in the nearest local phone box, when she arrived to make her call.
20 long minutes she waited, making sure that the twenty something man already inside, cradling the phone lovingly under his chin, could see her and hence cut short his own conversation. He didn’t get the hint however and simply turned away – making sure that she did not obscure his line of vision or his train of thought.
Through the oblong panes of graffiti smeared glass, she observed his body language and the way he cuddled the phone close to him. He was clearly talking to a lover – the phone had become his lover, as he poured (unheard) endearments and compliments through the mouthpiece to who knew who and who knows where. Ariel was irritated and a little envious, not to say very cold; so she hopped from one booted foot to the other, cushing her fingers and cursing the fact that she had forgotten to bring her gloves.
Finally he ran out of words – or more likely change – and so departed his lover and the phone box, holding the door open to let Ariel, in with the smiling gallantry of a happily infatuated man.
With the door closed behind her, sealing her in; the enclosed space of the phone box stank of the man’s heavy, torpid after shave. The overpowering smell clung to the handset and made her feel nauseous, as she picked it up, coins in hand and painstakingly dialled her mother’s number from memory.
Her mother as always was perfunctory and not particularly interested in her daughter’s Christmas preferences, but as always she had a plan. She was now a relief manager for a hotel chain and told Ariel peremptorily that she would be working all through the busy Christmas period at a hotel in Scotland. Ariel could stay at their home alone or she could come up and work as a waitress in the hotel near Fort William. The work would involve long, thankless shifts, but she’d get paid double time on the bank holidays.
Ariel quickly formed her own plan: it would be easy to inveigle her father to arrange for a Christmas stay at Tregorwick for a week or so. She would then catch the train up to Scotland and see the New Year in with her mother, along with the holiday making pensioners she was taking care of, in a 3 star hotel. Her mother was lending her the money for her the train fare, then deducting it from her impending waitressing wages. With minimal earned brass in pocket, Ariel would then return to University for the new term.
She had never been to the Cornish castle in the winter time, though of course she was familiar with the seasonal celebrations there, as her father had often described them in detail. She wondered what the Island would look like at that time of year and hoped that they would get snow, so that she could indulge her fantasies of the perfect Christmas with her Cornish family. Her aunts were getting older and slower, but still they kept up all the traditional Emissariat Christmas celebrations and entertainments.
It seemed a crass expense not to fly there under her power, when the train ride from Durham to Penzance was ten hours long; but as always, she bowed to protocol. The time passed easily enough though, with a supply of course books and a trashy novel to keep her occupied. To stretch her legs every hour or so, she would walk out of the carriage, open the top window of the nearest door and lean out into the sharply cold, fresh air for a few minutes. At lunch time she scraped together some change and bought herself a fried egg sandwich and a cup of tea from the buffet carriage. It was deliciously enjoyable, but gave her rampant and painful indigestion.
It felt very adult and strange to alight at Penzance station by herself, but Daddy was waiting for her, walking towards the platform. She ran to him and he hugged her tightly, without a word. He picked up her suitcase and guided her by the elbow, out towards the car park.
Daniel had got a different car since she had last seen him and stowed his daughter’s case in the boot of his newest second hand Daimler.
She had arrived in the late afternoon darkness and by the time they had made their way to the coast, it was nearly pitch black. The boat to take them across the Island had changed too: her father guided her into a small, dirty yellow rubber dingy with a motor. He expertly pulled the cord, waking up a very noisy engine which sped them easily and quickly across the small scudding waves towards a bright buoy light on the castle’s jetty. To Ariel’s surprise, bright electric lights now also lit the path up the hill to the castle wall door. She couldn’t locate their source, but was too happy at this moment to even ask about this unexpected technological development on the Island.
Once inside she greeted her family and a myriad of guests, then was ushered quickly into the formal dining room for dinner. Suddenly she realised that he was there, seated at the far end of the dining table. She had been so wrapped up in her happy Christmas expectations, that she hadn’t even thought about Oliver being there. When he saw her, he stood up with a slow smile and nodded his head to her in slow greeting. “Ariel” he said, simply and factually.
She was of course, acutely aware that he was there in the room, in the castle and now, constantly in her thoughts. Over the ensuing days she was never sure whether she should run away from him or indeed seek him out. According to the Emissariat way, she couldn’t of course, deliberately be alone with him, but she pondered over incessant schemes where she could just casually bump into him, with calculated shy surprise, in between their various duties and converging Christmas celebrations.
She spent long contented periods of chatter with her father in the mornings at breakfast and after dinner. In between, she joyfully worked away with her Aunts in the kitchen too, helping to prepare a vast bounty of traditional Christmas food. She would scour the now scant kitchen garden for the remains of hardy herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme’ along with the winter vegetable crops and then she would take part in the daily ceremonies, celebrating the turn of solstice and then the Christian rites of passage, demarcating Christmas and moving on towards a new year and the long, slow approach of Spring.
As it was, she barely saw Oliver, except at the communal meetings and meal times, where usually he was at the opposite end of the dining table, having polite and serious discussions with other, older guests. She knew that he tended to do his tithe work in the Study, at the far end of the ground floor, as an erstwhile assistant to the current Lord Scrivener, so that their paths rarely crossed.
On Christmas Eve everyone’s ministrations ended at mid-day. Ariel and her Aunts had worked all through the morning, preparing a simple lunch of bread and soup, along with a huge, heaped buffet ready for the evening celebrations. Many more guests would be arriving for Midnight mass and there would be music and dancing after all the ceremonies were concluded.
After lunch, Ariel finally had the opportunity for some time alone and strolled around the silent, chilly beaches, strangely uninterrupted by anyone else. She wondered idly if Mariel would manifest, but couldn’t sense an impending visit. No doubt there were too many people around to risk flying and Mariel probably had better things to do, and better parties to be at, anyway.
Ariel returned to her bed room, climbed into her bed and had a delicious nap for several hours, so that she would have plenty of energy for the celebrations later on. When 5.00 pm ticked around, she woke up and then picked out her prettiest dress from the cavernous oak wardrobe and laid it in readiness over the bed. She then ran down the cold corridor in her bare feet to have a bath and wash her long blonde hair as quickly as she could, being careful to change back into her day clothes rather than a dressing gown, less anyone saw her inappropriately attired in between bath room and bedroom.
Less than an hour later she was freshly dressed, shining and ready. The ceremonies didn’t start until 7.00 pm, so she decided to wander down to the library and pick through the infinite collection of time and leather bound books in order to occupy her time and satisfy her lazy curiosity.
She took the spiral stairs slowly and dawdled deliberately along the ground floor corridors, avoiding the cracks in the flag stones, being determined to fill up every precious solitary second until the celebrations commenced.
She was snapped out of her dreamy reverie when she heard Oliver’s voice. “Ariel?” she thought she heard him say softly.
She turned and looked into the Reading Room; Oliver was inside, leaning on its’ open door. He smiled… “Do you have a minute, there’s something I’d, um, like to share with you?”
Ariel froze mid step and stared at him. She bit her lip and looked about her. No one else was around. In one stride she brushed past him and stepped into the room. He gently pushed the door to, not closing it all the way, but just leaving a small gap for propriety. He moved aside and motioned for her to sit in one of the two cosy winged chairs in the small, wood panelled room. Even in this tiny space and despite her gently hammering heart, she noticed that there was a small Christmas tree sitting squatly on the aspidistra table in the corner. It was elegantly decorated with white paper festoons and matching white, mirror-shine baubles.
Oliver seemed uncharacteristically quick paced and nervy. He sat down and then quickly stood up again, pulling a parcel from behind the Christmas tree. He proffered it: “This is for you” he said, putting it into her leaden hands. “Happy Christmas, Ariel Angel Tregorwick.”
“I, oh, I, erm…” she stammered in reply, looking down at the tissue and ribbon be-wrapped box in her hands.
He had now regained his composure. “I can see your surprise. Don’t worry about this Ariel. I wanted to give you something from my homeland, since I’m far from it right now and I thought you would appreciate it. It will make me happy to give it, so please just accept this and give me some Christmas joy.”
Ariel found these to be such odd and yet promising words and here was an unexpected gift, from him of all people, in her hands. Still she stared at it.
“You can open it now” he joked quietly.
Ariel pulled on the white bow and pulled apart the tissue on a medium sized thin wooden box. The sides of the box fell apart and a myriad of large coloured gem stones tumbled over her lap and onto the floor, clattering onto the rug. She looked at him and they both laughed with childish delight. She started to grab at the escaping glass jewels, then realised there was another, smaller, black velvet covered box, nestling at the centre. She picked it up and noticed that it had a lid. She pressed the clasp on the front and the satin lined lid flew open. Inside was an ornate locket on a chain. She had never seen anything quite like it.
“Oh, that is so beautiful Oliver” she heard herself say calmly and warmly, as at far distance from her body. “How unusual… Thank you… And a very Happy Christmas to you too.”
“Ah – you like it” he said relieved and knelt at her feet. “It is made by craftsmen in my father’s village in France. Would you let me put it on for you?”
Looking at him, she nodded and pulled her hair to one side. All too swiftly and easily he unclasped the chain and joined each end again around her neck, managing, somehow, not to touch her. She held the heavy locket in her hand and looked down at its’ strange swirling design.
She felt light headed, as if she was looking down at the two of them, having floated out of her body, dream-like, to hover over their heads and watch what was to come.
Such a gift could never be given secretly or lightly in their world. It was both a question and a beginning. In this gorgeous capsule of slowed down, paired up time, she would, in these seconds, just savour the strange and elated sensations flowing through her; and the promise. For that was clearly, exactly what it was…
~ Sandra Peachey ©
PS: This blog post is a fiction and yet I also write about my own experiences. In fact a collection of my ‘Peachey Letters’ have been gathered together in to a beautiful book, exploring all the facets of my ‘real’ life in all its’ badness, banality and beauty. This is love seen in every aspect of the life that I live. In it you will find the dark and the light of love in every facet of existence, in a way that will make you think, entertain you and let you know that you are not alone in life, whatever it holds for you. You can buy ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ by Sandra Peachey, from book websites anywhere in the world, including on Amazon (in both Paperback and Kindle)…