The Way We Lied

After a short while, she observed the two figures returning to the house and within minutes Mary reappeared at the door and walked to a small green car nearby. Nick stood in the doorway for a second and Sarah knew from his posture that he was more thoughtful than usual. Then he disappeared inside and Mary drove away in the dilapidated old Morris Minor.
Without thinking clearly about the consequences, Sarah decided to follow her. She had no idea where Mary was going, but she wanted to know more about her. The green car was old but rattled speedily through the lanes and down to the dual carriageway. Sarah kept her in sight, but allowed two more cars to filter in between them so Mary would not realise that the same car had been behind her for nearly three miles. Sarah assumed Mary must live somewhere near Godalming, as everything she was associated with linked her to that area, but she really did not know whether Mary’s home was in the town or an outlying district.
Then she realised that the green car was signalling and was coming off on the slip road towards Cottenham. Annoyingly the road led to a roundabout and Sarah could not follow immediately. By the time she was able to head after Mary, several other cars had slipped through and she could no longer see her.
She swore aloud, cursing the cars ahead of her and kept driving straight on. There was no sign of the green car and Sarah realised she would have to return home cross country, via the small winding switchback lane known locally as Swing Swang Alley. It was a quiet road, except in the morning and evening rush hours when commuters used it as a rat run. At those times it was also a rabbit run, with the tiniest of young rabbits escaping from their warm warrens and their mother’s clutches to hop out unchaperoned from the sandy banked verges onto the tarmac. Flattened, bloodied fur was all that remained of that morning’s casualties, along with a shredded ball of feathers that had recently been a cock pheasant. Sarah contented herself with enjoying the drive home, but as she approached the crossroads just past Crossmill Lake, she suddenly spotted a green car, just like the one she had been following earlier, darting down a track into the woods over to her left.
She felt she simply had to check in case it was Mary. She turned left and parked a little way along the road in a small clearing where dog walkers regularly left their cars. Then she walked back along the road to the track. On one side was a sign saying ‘Private’ and on the other a roughly painted board which read ‘Furze Cottage’.
She had never realised there was a cottage tucked away here, down the track she must have passed a thousand or more times. She peered down its length, but it veered to the left and she could not see a building. She started to walk along the badly rutted path cautiously then decided to creep through the trees, just in case the green car suddenly reappeared.
The track led to a red brick Victorian cottage and the car was parked outside. Was this where she lived, Sarah wondered, or was she just visiting and corrupting someone else? She stood in the shadows, watching, wondering if she would be given some clues. Then she saw Mary come out of the front door, accompanied by an obedient dog, to collect a bag of shopping from the boot of the car. She could not see any other inhabitants around or in the house. There was no noise, no chattering, no laughing. There was only Mary and a little spaniel trotting at her heels.
Sarah watched her for a while longer, then slipped silently back through the silver birch trees and returned to her car. Now she knew where Mary lived. Now she knew where to find her. “I know where you live,” she whispered to herself with satisfaction.

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Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s Tale

 

Chapter six

“Ben! For tenth time! Will you just hurry up!”

“You exaggerate, Mother dearest. You have called me but eight times!”

“Don’t be rude!”

I wasn’t. I considered it gentle teasing but Mum was not in the mood. I was late for school. She was late for work.

“Just get on. You should be at school in five minutes shouldn’t you?”

“It’s only assembly.”

“Well, you still have to get there on time. Now go!”

She was heading for the front door and I for the back when the phone rang. I saw her hesitate and then sigh. She picked it up.

Silence. Then: “What do you mean he’s not there? Are you sure?” More silence. “He must have gone to get something, milk maybe.… “Missing? Are you sure he hasn’t put them somewhere funny? In a different cupboard maybe.”

I stood, bag in hand, watching her. She waved crossly at me and mouthed “Go on!” But I stayed where I was.

“Alright, Andrea, I’m coming over,” she said and put the phone down. As she turned to me I sensed that she was rearranging her features to become ‘calm, in control Mum’.

“What’s happened Mum? Is it Grandad?”

“It’s nothing. He’s just popped out for a paper and Andrea got in a flap. You know what she’s like.”

Yes. I did. I didn’t much like Andrea because of the way she bossed Grandad, but she didn’t get in flaps. Besides which, Grandad had a paper delivered – I used to deliver it myself when I had a paper round – and there was plenty of milk in the fridge when I was there yesterday.

“Stop standing there gawping at me and get to school!” Mum snapped. Then she came over and did something odd. She gave me a hug. We hadn’t hugged in about three years.

“I’ll come with you,” I said.

“What? To work?”

“No. To Grandad’s. That’s where you’re going. You told Andrea.”

“No. Well, I might pop in on my way to work.” Her work is in the opposite direction.

“I can miss assembly.”

She shook her head. “Hurry to school now.” She turned and almost ran out of the house and into the car. Moments later she roared off down the street. I followed on my bike.

 

Chin Woman was in a right state. She was pacing up and down while Mum interrogated her.

“I told you; I arrived and he wasn’t here,” she squawked. “Just the cupboards open and those things gone.”

“I’m sure there must be a rational explanation.” Mum started pacing too and the two of them marched up and down like lions in an enclosure.

“What things have gone?” I asked.

Both women swung round, glared at me and said in unison: “Why aren’t you at school?” See, I said Chin Woman was bossy and Mum is, well, just Mum.

“What things have gone?” I repeated, a little louder in case they hadn’t heard.

“Some random bits and pieces,” said Chin Woman. “The little saucepan which hung up by the cooker.”

“And his torch that he always kept by the backdoor so I’m worried he went out in the night,” said Mum, her voice squeaky with anxiety.

“And that nice throw is missing,” added Chin Woman. “The green and brown one from the chair by the French windows. And a tin of soup I was going to give him for lunch today.”

Not necessarily so random. “I’ll just check out the back,” I muttered.

Down the garden Grandad had obviously been doing a bit more digging. The hole was about three feet deep now and longer than it was wide. I shuddered. It reminded me of a grave. And should he be digging at his age? Supposing he had overdone it and had a heart attack, or felt ill and stumbled into the lane where he had collapsed.

‘Pull yourself together, Ben,’ I told myself. Someone would have found him by now and, if they had, then the phone call would have been different.

I peered out into the lane, looking quickly from left to right in case I saw him. Of course, there was no sign of him, either lying prone on the ground, his face ashen grey, his lips… (stop it Ben!) or ambling back from the shop with another newspaper.

I crossed into the woods.

The light was soft and was probably doing all sorts of pretty dapply things but I didn’t take any notice. I stepped forward as quietly as I could, scanning the tangle of shrubs, trunks, branches and twigs in front of me.

I could hear birdsong but no other sign of animal life. I moved on towards the clearing where we had once made camp and where we had picked the mushrooms. But the clearing lay undisturbed. Perhaps I was wrong and Grandad was actually at the shop. After all, I was usually at school at this time of day so I didn’t know his morning routine.

At the far side of the wood was a field where Gran, Grandad and I had had picnics that summer I had stayed, and I decided to walk through, just to check he wasn’t there. I wandered on, still taking care to keep quiet, until I came to a dense thicket of bushes which forced me to walk around them. On the other side was another small clearing which looked familiar. It was surrounded by the bushes on two sides and ash and oak trees on the other two. At the far end was the stump of a huge oak which must have come down years before and created the clearing. I remembered Grandad pointing out the badger set under the stump. I had been fascinated and had sat and watched the stump for what had seemed like hours in case a black and white face appeared. I didn’t stop to wonder about the badgers now though for in front of it, wrapped in a green and brown blanket, sat Grandad. He had made a little fire and had balanced a saucepan on it.

I stood still, watching. He had not yet seen me and was absorbed in the task of stirring whatever was in the saucepan. I edged nearer and heard a shriek:

“Ben! Ben! Where are you?” It was Mum.

Grandad jumped up, saw me and took a step backwards. He tripped over the log he had been sitting on and fell back with a crack against the stump.

 

He wasn’t badly hurt but we had to take him to hospital for a check-up. Mum tried to send me off to school but I convinced her that I could revise where I was so I spent several hours in Accident and Emergency, stranded on a hard plastic chair, staring at a biology text book and trying to remember the different parts of the human respiratory system, while all the time glancing over at Grandad whom lay in bed alternately dozing and then demanding what was going on. I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know myself and I hoped someone would come up with an answer.

Mum was quick to come up with questions and a whole load of ideas about what was wrong with her father. Chin Woman, who had come with us (against my wishes) did not help when she spilled the beans about all the odd things he had been doing. I couldn’t see that they were that odd; well, not if you looked at them individually. But put things like hoarding food in his bedroom together with all the other things – including Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s gossipy opinions as we were leaving for the hospital (“I’ve been worried for months now – all that digging and telling me that walls have ears”) – and I was more bothered than I was about to say. I was pleased to see the plaster on her stuck-up nose though.

“We’ll do an assessment, Mrs Crouch,” the doctor said, trying – and failing – to reassure Mum.

“An assessment of what?” said an accusing voice. We all swung round. Grandad was standing there, glaring at us. “What am I doing here?”

“Dad, please, go and lie back down.” Mum tried to steer him but he shook her off.

“I said, what am I doing here?”

“Don’t worry Dad, it’s all OK.”

“It is not ‘OK’ as you put it. I do not know why I am here.”

“Grandad, you slipped and bashed your head.” I grasped his arm and he started to push me off and then checked himself. “I think you may have a bit of concussion,” I added.

“Oh.” He seemed to deflate. “Really. Well, I never. I don’t remember a thing about it. Perhaps that is the concussion. But my head is a bit sore.” He touched the back of his scalp then looked at his fingers. “No blood though!” He smiled brightly.

“See he’s perfectly OK,” I said, but no-one was interested in my opinion. They weren’t much interested in Grandad’s opinion either.

In fact, it all went downhill from there. They decided to keep Grandad in hospital for a night and then swung into meetings with doctors, a psychiatric team, social services, the man who put the bins out…well, why not? Everyone else seemed to have a say, everyone except me, Molly and Grandad.

“What’s wrong with Grandad?” Molly asked me that evening.

“He tripped and bumped his head.”

“Yeah, but I heard Mum tell Dad that he was cooking stuff in the woods and was doing weird things,” she said, head on one side and balancing on the side of her shoes

“They don’t know anything,” I snapped at her and then regretted it. It wasn’t her fault. I got up from the sofa and stretched.

“Where are you going?” asked Molly, her bottom lip pouting.

“To see Grandad.”

“In hospital?”

“Of course.”

“But it won’t be visiting hours.”

“So? I can’t think they will stop me seeing my old grandfather.”

“Can I come?”

“No! It’s your bedtime or something.”

“It’s not!”

“It is!” I ran out the door before she could answer and was on my bike and down the road before she could tell Mum and Dad.

 

The main entrance to the hospital was closed but I found ‘Entrance B’ and made my way to the geriatric ward on pink corridor. Nasty name ‘geriatric’, nasty pink too, like Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s face powder, too bright, too fake, too falsely cheerful.

The nurse at the desk wasn’t cheerful, falsely or otherwise. She wouldn’t let me in

“But I’ve come miles to see him,” I said, which was partly true. I had come about three miles. And it was raining again.

“I’m afraid it’s not possible. The elderly patients here are settled for the night. You will have to go and come back tomorrow during visiting hours.”

“But, please, just for one minute!” I begged at which point a voice roared “David! David! Is that you?” It was Grandad.

The nurse leapt up, banging her knee on the desk as she did so. She shot me a ‘don’t you dare say anything’ look and limped off down the ward. I followed.

She stopped by a curtained-off bed, twitched the curtain to one side and asked. “Mr Heath, are you alright?”

“No I’m bloody well not alright!”

I peered over the nurse’s shoulder and grinned at Grandad.

“David! Thank God!”

“Can I just have a moment?” I looked pleadingly at the nurse and could see her thinking. In the end she nodded.

“Be quick then.”

He was sitting up in bed, looking angry but otherwise healthy enough. I pushed some clothes aside and sat on the chair next to the bed. He grabbed my hand.

“David!” he hissed.

“I’m Ben.”

Confusion flashed across his face. “Ben,” he repeated. “Ben. Of course. Sorry old boy, but you look like David. He must be, oh…I know, your uncle, isn’t he? I must be going daft.” The grip on my hand tightened. “Is that why I’m here? Am I going daft? Have they put me away somewhere because I’m losing my mind?”

I squeezed his hand. “No, of course not Grandad. You slipped and bumped your head today and they want to check you for concussion and stuff. It’s just, er, routine.”

“How did I hit my head?”

“You tripped over in the woods behind your house.”

“Really?” He felt his head with his free hand. “Do you know, I don’t remember a thing about it.”

“Must be the concussion.”

“Excuse me.” It was the nurse again. “I said you had to be very quick. You must leave now.”

“Not yet, please.”

“Yes, you must. You can see your grandfather tomorrow.”

I started to stand up but Grandad tugged hard at my hand. “Don’t go Ben, don’t go. You must get me out of here!”

“Mr Heath, it is not visiting hours and I must insist that your grandson leaves.”

“No!” Grandad was looking frightened now. I couldn’t leave him.

“If I just sit quietly…” I suggested but she was having none of it.

“You must leave now. You are upsetting your grandfather.”

“No, you’re upsetting my grandfather. The whole lot of you are.” My voice was beginning to crack.

“What’s going on in there?” An old and grumpy voice from another bed joined in.

“Yes! Will you lot bloody shut up!” This complaint came from across the ward.

“You are upsetting everyone. Now go! Or I shall call security,” snapped the nurse.

I had to prise Grandad’s fingers off my hand. I promised him over and over that I would be back but I could still hear him shouting as I left the ward. I wept all the way home.

Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s tale

 

Chapter five

I couldn’t concentrate throughout the rest of the day and had an evening of work ahead of me – that Fascism essay was still not finished and there was a physics paper on top of it – but there was nothing for it. I would have to call in on Grandad before I did anything.

Grandad was in the front garden raking some grass cuttings into a small pile. He looked up and smiled at me.

“Ben, old boy! How are you!”

“Hi Grandad.” I felt suddenly wobbly with relief and had to blink and cough to bring myself back to my normal cool self.

“Just got to pick up this grass and then I’m ready for a cup of tea.”

“Let me do the grass.” I thought of how frail he had looked last night and, though he seemed bright enough now, I realised how small he was too. Had he shrunk? Had I grown? Had I only just realised?

“Thank you. Just put the grass in the wheelbarrow and bring it round to the compost heap. I’ll get the kettle on.” He turned and walked towards the house, or rather he shuffled. I hadn’t noticed before how much he shuffled.

I finished the raking and pushed the barrow round to the back of the house and down the garden to the compost heap near the hedge.

“Hello! You!”

I looked up startled. Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose was staring at me over the fence, the fence she had made Grandad pay for.

“Yes! You’re Mr Heath’s grandson aren’t you?”

“Yes.” I didn’t want to talk to her so I pushed the wheelbarrow further up the garden.

“Mr Heath’s grandson!” Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose continued.

I looked up again. A growl seemed to be coming from low down in her body. I looked at her with more interest.

“My name is Ben.”

“Ben.” She paused, clearly filing away my name for later use against me. “Your grandfather has been causing trouble.”

“Oh?”

“He’s been digging that great hole in the garden.”

“So?” I drew myself up to my full height and glared down at her. “It’s his garden.” I spotted the source of the growling. Her dog was snuffling round her ankles.

“But digging it in the night and in the early hours of the morning is most unusual.”

“Was he digging last night?” I was alarmed.

“No. But he was out first thing this morning. It’s not right.” She lowered her voice and gave a thin, unconvincing smile. “I’m worried about him.”

I sincerely doubted the truth behind that last statement.

I took a deep breath. I was going to have to stand up against her. “I think he has the right to be digging in his own garden at whatever time he wants to,” I said, and bent to pick up the barrow again.

“In his pyjamas? It’s a little odd”

She was right of course but I had had enough. I grabbed the wheelbarrow handles and marched off.

Back in the house Grandad had made tea and he seemed so normal that I decided not to worry. He had suffered no apparent ill-effects from his adventures the previous night and there was nothing to show for it. Even the wet clothes that he had left on the bathroom floor had been cleared away. Chin Woman had obviously been and there were no nasty smells in the kitchen. The milk in my tea was still fresh.

There was a knock at the front door. Grandad looked startled and a look crossed his face, like the shadow of a bird in front of the sun. He got up and backed away towards the back door.

“I’ll go!” I said as enthusiastically as I could.

It was Charlotte.

“Oh hello Ben! I didn’t realise you were here.”

“That’s my bike you’re using as a table.”

“Oh, sorry, is it? I didn’t notice it.”

I had chained my bike to the drainpipe by the front door and Charlotte had balanced a substantial black shoulder bag on the saddle.

“I came to see if your grandfather was alright,” she said, looking at me with wide, oh-so-innocent eyes. “Dad and I were worried and I said I’d pop by after school.”

It sounded feasible so I nodded. “He’s fine thanks. No problems.”

“I’ve brought this round for him.” She plunged deep into the shoulder bag and extracted a huge, round biscuit tin. She held it out but I was staring at the bag which hadn’t apparently lessened in size, despite the girth of the tin. I wondered what else it held and if it was one of those Mary Poppins-style bags which could contain everything and remain the same size. Perhaps Charlotte would suddenly fly off, holding an umbrella. Perhaps she was a witch and that is how she turned up everywhere I went.

I refocused. “Thank you.” I took the tin, which was heavy, and stared at it, looking inspiration about what to say next. In the end I said the first thing that came into my stupid head. “Come in and see him.”

But he wasn’t there.

“Grandad!”

The back door was open and I looked down the garden, just in time to see a figure hurrying through the back gate and across into the woods. I set off at a run, Charlotte at my heels.

Unfortunately Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s dog was at my heels too. As soon as I was out of the gate it was in the lane, yapping and snarling, though it was so small that its snarl was more of a squeak. I decided to ignore it and plunged into the undergrowth, hoping it would just go away. It didn’t but snapped at me when I climbed onto a log for a better view. And I didn’t mean to kick it, honestly, but I lost my balance and when trying to regain it, my legs flailed out and I caught the dog a glancing blow on the muzzle. It fell back whimpering, Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose hove into view and I came crashing down on my back in a holly bush.

Charlotte didn’t make it any better when she laughed.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” she spluttered as she helped pull me up.

“My poor Peggy-Sue!” shrieked Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose, seizing her dog who had started yapping again and seemed anything but injured.

“I can’t find any mushrooms!” announced Grandad.

We all swung round to see Grandad holding out his empty hands to us.

“What?” I shook my head to try to make some sense of this.

“Mushrooms. I suddenly thought there might be some and we could have mushroom omelette for our tea. You are hungry, aren’t you Ben?”

“Yes but…”

“Your grandson has just kicked Peggy-Sue!” squawked Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose, holding the dog close to her heaving chest and having to move her head around to avoid its yapping, snapping mouth.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” snapped Grandad. “That hearthrug is always getting in where it shouldn’t.”

“How incredibly rude! She,” Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose emphasised the pronoun, “is a dog and an injured one. I shall to ring the vet and send the bill to you!”

“It was an accident Mrs Snelling,” said Charlotte. Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose glared at her but at that moment Peggy-Sue nipped her on the nose and she dropped her hurriedly and flounced of with as much dignity as a woman with a nipped nose can muster. Peggy-Sue scampered after her.

“What was I doing?” asked Grandad.

“I think you were looking for mushrooms,” I replied, pulling a holly leaf out of my backside.

“Of course. But perhaps there aren’t any. What month is it?”

“April,” said Charlotte.

“Of course, that would explain it. I was getting confused. It’s not yet mushroom season. Shame, Bess, that’s my wife, makes the best mushroom soup.”

That was true. She did. Once. I hoped it was just a slip of the tongue, a slip of the tenses. Charlotte hadn’t seemed to notice, or perhaps she didn’t know Gran was dead.

“We’ll have to have plain omelettes, or cheese. I didn’t know Ben was calling in for tea you see, though I’m delighted,” Grandad said. “Will you have some Miss er, Miss..”

“Watson. Charlotte Watson. Call me Charlotte please.”

“And I’m Reggie.” They shook hands and when Grandad smiled at her he looked just like his old self, not like the frail, bedraggled, confused man she had met the night before.

“So, will you have an omelette?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Of course not; no trouble at all.”

“In which case, I will, thank you. And I’ve brought cake.”

 

“They talked away like old mates!” I moaned to Tom later. “He invited her round again!”

Tom just laughed down the phone. “Maybe she’ll be useful. Keep an eye on him.”

“That’s not her job. That’s mine.” I was surprised to find how protective of him I felt. Tom was right, she might be useful, but I didn’t want Charlotte worming her way into my life. “Anyway, supposing her has one of his funny moments?”

“What funny moments?”asked Tom.

Ah. Of course, I hadn’t told anyone about them. I didn’t want them knowing. I didn’t even want to know myself that they happened. But they did and they weren’t just a case of him being a bit eccentric. The look on his face when Charlotte had knocked on the door had been fear. Or had he just thought ‘I must go and fetch mushrooms for tea’? And I still had no idea what he had been doing in the woods the night before, nor why he was digging a hole in the garden.

“Oh, nothing,” I said, and hoped he’d forget it, though Tom wasn’t the sort to forget.

Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s Tale

Chapter Four

 

“Are you two alright? You’re wet through!” The voice belonged to a tall, broad figure who, when he led us into the light of his warm kitchen, turned out to be a middle-aged man with a bristling moustache.

“I was just trying to get the cat in and I heard something going on in the woods,” he told us. “I thought maybe it was Za-Za – that’s the cat – having an altercation with a fox, or that dog that lives up the road. It wouldn’t be the first time. And I found you two.” He turned and called through the doorway: “Lottie! Can you come and give me a hand here?”

“Just a minute!” The voice sounded worryingly familiar, worries that were confirmed when a red-haired girl stuck her head round the door and squeaked “Ben! What are you doing here?” Yes, it was Charlotte. Oh, hooray! Embarrassing or what!

I made up some story about looking for one of Grandad’s chickens that had got loose and might be in the woods, while I dried my hair with the towel Charlotte found for me. She kept staring at me. Perhaps she was hoping that I’d strip off completely and towel myself down. Nah, I’m not the sort of person anyone hopes that about.

Then Charlotte’s Dad looked at Grandad who was shivering and shaking like his teeth would fall out and said: “Mr Heath, isn’t it? I’m Mark Watson. You’re going to be ill if we don’t get you out of those wet clothes and into a hot bath straightaway. Lottie, go and run a bath and I’ll find you some of my spare clothes.”

“No!” Grandad’s voice was so loud it made me jump. “Leave me alone!”

“Seriously Mr Heath, you’ll catch pneumonia or something.” He made towards Grandad who shrunk back, fear in his eyes.

“Get off me!”

I stepped forward between the two men. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew that I had to take Grandad’s side, even though Mr Watson was right.

“It’s alright Grandad,” I said. “It’s alright.” I felt like I was talking to a frightened child. “We’ll go home and you can get warm there.” I turned to Mr Watson and smiled awkwardly.

“Tell you what,” Mr Watson blustered. “I’ll give you both a lift home. It’s still pouring with rain.” He gave a nervous laugh.

“Thanks Mr Watson.”

“Mark,” he replied.

Charlotte smiled.

‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘he’ll be saying ‘call me Dad’ soon’.

 

Back at his home, I had just persuaded Grandad to have a quick bath when my phone rang. The name ‘Mum’ came up on the screen.

“Ben, where are you?” She sounded either annoyed or anxious, probably both. I sighed. When would she work out that I was almost 16?

For a moment I couldn’t work out what to say. What had I said when I left? The events of the last hour or so had confused me.

“I dropped in to see Grandad,” I told her.

“Oh.” Her voice softened. “Is he alright?” The anxiety returned then, but at least I was off the hook.

“Yes. Fine.”

“Can I have a word?”

Awkward.

“He’s just gone in the bathroom.”

“So what have you been talking about?”

Maybe it was my imagination but I thought she might be suspicious.

“History. I’ve got a difficult essay to write about the years leading up to the war. I thought he might be able to help.”

“Oh. I thought you went to Tom’s. He lives miles away from Grandad.”

“It’s not miles and I went to Tom’s too.” This was irritating. Why didn’t I just tell her the truth? Because she would start a spiral of worry and who knew where that would lead.

“Are you coming home? Do you want a lift? The rain’s awful?” She rattled on in this vein for a while as I began to shiver. I cut her off with the promise that I’d be home soon and went to check that Grandad was alright.

Was I right to say nothing? I hadn’t quite worked out what had gone on in the woods, or maybe I had, but I didn’t want to admit to it. If I admitted that he seemed to be running from something, that he seemed to be re-enacting our old war games but taking them seriously, then I would have to tell someone and that would put a chain of events in motion that would change everything. And I wanted to keep Grandad as he was.

Charlotte, of course, said something the next day.

“Are you OK? Is your Grandad OK? Did you get the chicken back?”

“What is she on about?” asked Tom. I was scrabbling in my bag for a text book at the time and didn’t reply. I was trying to work out what to say.

“What are you on about?” Tom asked Charlotte.

“Oh it’s just that Ben was in the woods and…”

“Found it!” I announced, waving the book in the air and hitting Tom in the face. “Sorry Tom! I’ve got to go.” I loped off leaving Tom and Charlotte staring at me. Maybe Charlotte was just being kind but I didn’t want her interfering. I didn’t want anyone else involved.

 

The Way We Lied

He knew that Mary was at the cottage because he heard her whistling as he walked up the path. It could have been a workman, but he somehow knew it would be her because she was always so confident, so masculine in everything she did. And he was right.
Mary was standing in the backyard, an axe in her hands, preparing to split a pile of logs. A paint-stained dark blue fisherman’s jersey was paired with her usual tight jeans, tucked into muddied boots. She stood and looked at him as he walked slowly towards her. Then she lay down her axe.
“I rather thought you would eventually come here one day,” she said. “Helen told me how much you disagree with her plans.” She folded her arms and stood before him, her calm blue eyes and slight smile challenging him.
He could not speak. He could not find the words he wanted so much to throw at her. She was so unashamed, so strong and he had hoped and imagined she might have been contrite.
“Come in,” she said, turning towards the house. “I’ll make us some tea.”
He followed. He did not want tea. He wanted an apology and her cooperation. But he entered the warm kitchen and stood while she busied herself with mugs and boiling the kettle.
“Have a seat,” she said, waving at one of the sturdy wooden chairs placed beside the scrubbed table, which was littered with letters and newspapers.
“I’m perfectly alright standing,” he said, then sat down a moment or so later.
She leant against the sink, looking down at him while the tea brewed. “So, Simon, what have you come to say? You’ve obviously been brooding about what I said the last time we met. I can see it in your eyes.”
He frowned. “I’m entitled to my opinions.” He paused for a moment, considering his words. “I want you to talk to Helen again. She has too many responsibilities at home for her to go away and leave us. I want you to stop giving her these impossible ideas. I want you to persuade Helen to stay here with me and her family.”
She laughed at him. “And why on earth should I do that? Helen can make up her mind for herself, can’t she?”
“Look, she seems to be completely under your spell. She won’t listen to me anymore. She keeps saying Mary says this and Mary says that. I can’t make her change her mind, but I know that you can.”
“But why should I? All I’ve done is help Helen to think clearly for herself and decide what she really wants from life. It is absolutely nothing to do with me if she wants to leave her home and have new experiences. That decision is hers entirely. I approve of her intentions, of course, but it really isn’t down to me.”
He clenched his teeth in frustration, breathing quickly and looking angry, then said, “Well all I can say is that Helen never talked about leaving her home and family for months on end till you came along! She was perfectly happy! We all were!”

The Way We Lied

David strode through the woods, hoping that he might glimpse her at any moment. This was where he had first seen her, this was where she had danced before him. But the woods were empty. The only sounds were the crunch of his feet crushing that year’s fallen leaves, the soft call of pigeons and the occasional screech of a pheasant.
He had to see her. She had not answered his calls and he had not been able to see her for over a month. He had thought about her of course, and dreamt of her. But he needed to see her. Caroline was filling the house with people he didn’t care about for her marathon New Year dinner when the only person he wanted to see and talk to was Mary.
He wanted to stare into those cool, deep blue eyes and see that she approved of all he had done. It had been so hard at first, enduring the criticism of his colleagues and the aggression of the whips, but he was beginning to understand now how satisfying it was to live by the rule of conscience and not convention. Slowly, eventually, pure honest principles would surely win, even in politics.
As he neared the cottage, he expected to smell the sweet mossy wood smoke, but the air was clean and clear. He slowed down for the last few yards until he reached the final fringe of trees, then stopped, hoping to see her fetching wood from the shed, calling to her dog or feeding the hens. It was utterly silent and although it was a cold day there was not even the thinnest stream of smoke from the chimney. His heart stilled. He had been so sure she would be here. He walked at speed through the gate then saw that the hen run was quiet and empty. Perhaps they had finally been taken by the fox.

He knocked on the front door, then, when there was no answer, ran round to the door at the back of the house, the one she used the most. Rattling the knocker, the sound echoed inside and he knew she had gone. He stood back for a moment, then put his hand to the latch. It lifted and as the kitchen door opened, a few dried leaves blew across the quarry tiled floor. For a second he was unsure whether he should enter, he even wondered what he might find within. Perhaps she had suffered an accident or was seriously ill and unable to reach him.

to be continued January 28

The Way We Lied

“Feel the night air. Feel the moonlight on your skin. Feel the air. It is soft, cold and pure.”
She danced around him, almost melting away into the furthest shadows, then suddenly reappearing by his side and almost but never quite touching. Then her hand reached out and gently pulled at his scarf and as it slipped away from him, he knew that he must disrobe and bare himself before the eyes of the watchful moon and this enthralling woman.
As he threw off his dull city clothes he shed his fears and thought only of this moment. His journey from London, the meetings, the fruitless conversations, were forgotten together with any concerns he might previously have had about who might question his whereabouts. All that mattered now was that he was here and that she was making it possible for him to be utterly free, dependant only on the guidance of the full moon and her beckoning.
In seconds he stood completely naked, watching her white figure flitting in and out of the shadows. The feeling was sensual and yet not sexual. He was aware of the rush of cold air on his skin, his body hair and his genitals, but it was not arousing. It was stimulating only in that he felt completely alive and totally aware of his surroundings, like a wild creature of the woods and the night.
She glided nearer to him, her hand outstretched and they began to dance slowly with open arms, in circles and interweaving, the carpet of leaves whispering beneath them. Now and then, he heard an intake of breath, but no words were spoken. Time was suspended as they performed this sylvan reel, their figures white with the beams of the risen moon. And then finally, he paused and lifted his head to look at the benevolent smile of the moon and when he looked for her again, she was gone.
He stood there listening, thinking for a moment that she would soon return. But there was utter silence. He slowly circled the clearing for a few minutes, still enjoying the cool night air and the silvery light, then dressed quickly and started to walk the path he knew so well. His senses were heightened, alert to his rustling steps and the noises of the night creatures. A fox shrieked and an owl called, but he saw no other white human figures slipping through the trees, only a lone deer, which stood still and watched him for a second before sprinting away.

to be continued January 18