Thursday, 3 February 2011

Preserving Passion: Chapter Two

I am painting the kitchen so no intelligent blog post or piccies but here is the next chapter in the saga in case anyone is interested. You will note that a certain personal obsession may have been introduced, I think this is often why people write books, so they can bore on about their interests in a sneaky way. Also those of you who understand Nature, especially the lovely readers who have followed me from Ish, will note that I have absolutely no clue as to what might be found in a field in February. This is because I am wussy and urban but, as extensively documented elsewhere, I am sorting out the garden so soon may have more clue about such things (so bear with, as Miranda's mother says).

Here we go, for those of you who are interested, click on the read more thingy!

Chardonnay was just pouring the steaming water into her mug, and hopping up and down on the spot against the cold, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. She jumped, spilling a little water onto the counter top. Mopping at it quickly with a cloth, she wondered who it could be. She wasn’t expecting any visitors this evening: she had told her mother she wouldn’t be arriving until tomorrow afternoon, an innocent deception which would mean that when her mother arrived, ebulliently bearing cakes and well-intended criticism, she would have unpacked and settled in – at least a little bit – to the cottage, and would be able to great her with a slightly less forced smile and hopefully the corkscrew, if she could ever remember what box she’d put it in.

Chardonnay sighed involuntarily. Was there anything sadder than a new place, on the day you moved in? Even worse when it had been standing empty for a long time, as this cottage had: there was always a strange, unfamiliar smell, a damp atmosphere, scuffs on the walls where the last occupents had moved the furniture and not noticed, shadows on the wall like the mournful ghosts of departed pictures. No, she couldn’t have coped with anyone else, except Toto of course, being with her on this first day. Oh, the thought of having to pretend to be cheerful, and that she didn’t mind how cold and neglected the cottage looked! To pretend not to miss the plush flat she had left behind in London! To pretend to be happy that she was having to start again, so unexpectedly, back where she had spent her childhood, with no career, no man, and nothing to show for the rosy hopes she had left with! She wasn’t unhappy – no, not exactly. In her brighter moments she was rather excited about all the new possibilities. But just for today she was going to allow herself to wallow in it all for a bit. Only just this one last time. She would be better tomorrow.

The knock on the door came again, louder now, shocking Chardonnay from her reverie. ‘Won’t be a minute!’ she shouted, automatically, putting down her mug, and walking towards the door. In the second it took her to cross the tiny lounge, she had a mad thought that it might be Todd at the door, come to apologise, beg for her forgiveness, and sweep her back to the flat in London where all her possessions weren’t in boxes and strewn about the floor. Then she dismissed the thought. Besides, she thought, setting her jaw and pursing her full lips a little firmer: how could she forgive so much?

And in any case, it wasn’t Todd at all. She opened the door to see an old lady standing there, probably in her seventies, and wearing a woolly hat, a long, shapeless skirt, and a large smile. ‘Ayup there, duck!’ she said, enthusiastically. She patted Chardonnay’s arm in a friendly manner, then walked straight past her into the house, where she sat on the sofa, which was the only piece of furniture the previous occupant had left behind, and slapped her arms loudly. ‘By ‘eck it’s cold in here, lass!’ she said, disapprovingly. ‘Get that heating on! It’s only February! You shall need it on till at least April. We get wind straight off the Pennines here!’. Chardonnay looked at her in surprise. She was starting to feel that she hadn’t quite been quick, or assertive, enough with the woman, who was now waving to Toto through the open French doors. Toto, trusting and na├»ve as ever, came bounding in, hair flowing wildly, and jumped onto the woman’s knee, letting her stroke him affectionately.

Do I know her? Chardonnay thought, doubtfully. Then she had a terrible thought: this wasn’t a shared cottage, was it? Oh God! Had her mother forgotten to tell her a piece of critical information, like she sometimes did? Was she going to have to live with this woman until her lease was up?! Watch Coronation Street and argue over the Jammy Dodgers? Her blue eyes widened appealingly in alarm, and she opened her mouth to ask the woman, who was looking at her expectantly and smiling cheerfully, who on earth she was. However, what actually came out was: ‘I don’t know how to put the heating on. I’ve lost the book with all the instructions that my landlady left me. Can I offer you a cup of tea? I’m sorry it’s so cold’. Chardonnay shook her head at herself, inwardly. Even in times of relationship breakdowns, forced moving and strange women wandering into her disappointing new home, she found it impossible to be rude!

‘I know how to turn it on’ the woman said, bounding up from the sofa (placing Toto on the mat, carefully). ‘You have to wiggle it in t’right way. I’ll go and get it started, you get that kettle on, duck, I thought you’d never ask’. Chardonnay, still annoyed at herself, went into the kitchen, rescued her mug of tea and took a comforting slurp, and began to search in the box. It seemed she would be needing that other mug, after all. ‘He’s a funny little bugger!’ the woman shouted, from upstairs where she seemed to have gone in pursuit of the heating, in a friendly manner. ‘I bet you’re forever brushing him! Is he lots of work?’. What is she talking about, thought Chardonnay, and then caught sight of Toto, licking himself thoughtfully in front of the lifeless gas fire, and realised. ‘He does take quite a bit of brushing’ she called out. ‘He’s worth it though! He’s ever so friendly. Do you take milk and sugar?’

The old woman returned, and walked briskly into the kitchen, beaming. ‘Just a splash of milk. Lovely. Thank you ever so much, duck. I’ve got you t’heating on now, so it’ll get warmed through soon. Look at him over there, having a scratch. I’ve not seen many like him round here. He’ll be quite a celebrity if he in’t careful!’.

They both looked at Toto, who stood up, shook himself, then settled down again with a loud sigh. Chardonnay smiled, somewhat ruefully. She’d never actually intended to get a dog. She’d actually acquired Toto from Paige, who hadn’t realised how much work he would be. Sometimes Chardonnay did wonder what Paige would have done if she hadn’t agreed to take him; Paige did have a bit of a tendency to... Chardonnay didn’t quite like to think, let people down, but, not be quite as loyal as one might sometimes expect. This was always a surprise to Chardonnay, who was loyal sometimes beyond the limits of good sense; still perhaps she was judging Paige too harshly. Anyway, poor old Toto had been worth his weight in gold: a soft coat to cry into and a wet nose in times of trouble.

‘And here’s me, playing with t’dog, wandering round your bedroom and not introducing meself!’, the woman said, suddenly, smiling and slapping her forehead with a knobbly hand. ‘I’m from next door! My name’s Gertrude and I was Maisie’s friend. I was round here all the time! Maisie? Who lived here before you?’ Chardonnay shook her head. She didn’t know anything about what had gone on in the cottage before she came here, although, to be fair, she’d never really asked. ‘She lived here years’ Gertrude said, confidingly. ‘Oooooo. Oooooo, it was awful what that man did. I was furious, I can tell you. I said to Maisie, you don’t want to be letting him get away with it! But she wouldn’t listen. Said she was going to give up and go and live with her son. And that’s where she is now. In Lytham St Annes. Lytham St Annes! With a lot of pensioners! I ask you. Would you be happy?’

Chardonnay didn’t know, so she sidestepped the question. ‘Who? What did he do?’ she asked, interested.

Gertrude shook her head, pursing her lips with righteous indignation, the bobble on her hat wobbling furiously. ‘That new man who bought the Old Vicarage last year and fell out with everybody. He only took her to court! He said she was harassing him. Harassing him! The only harassing Maisie ever did of anyone was collecting for the Salvation Army door to door at Christmas. Not that he’d know anything about charity. No’ – and here she raised her eyebrows significantly at Chardonnay – ‘he’d know more about taking stuff off people rather than giving it!’.

Chardonnay shook her head sympathetically, feeling vaguely curious about the man who had bought the Old Vicarage, and wondering if he was indeed as bad as Gertrude was painting him. She could vaguely feel the cottage starting to warm up, with sounds of radiators banging in the background: she was aware of becoming more comfortable. Toto was sighing happily in his sleep. ‘Well’ she said, carefully. ‘Perhaps Maisie was doing some things that were misinterpreted…’ ‘Oh, perhaps’ said Gertrude, cheerfully. ‘But I’ve got to say, if she had been harassing him, I’d not have minded. In fact, I’d have stood there and cheered her on. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to this village, Old Miseryface coming to live here is. Well, it’s not really going to be a village any longer after next year’.

‘Is it not?’ Chardonnay said, in surprise.

‘No’ said Gertrude, clearly rather upset about something, underneath her determined cheerfulness. ‘Not when they’ve built the new Tesco’.

‘Not a Tesco in the village!’ said Chardonnay, in horror. Why had her landlady not told her about this when she took the lease on? Well, because she had been so firm about only wanting to stay for 6 months. Was she starting to feel differently now? Why was that?

‘Aye’, Gertrude said, sadly. ‘Just over there, look’. She pointed outside, out past Chardonnay’s patio window, to the end of the garden, where at the moment it was all fields. The beautiful fields Chardonnay had admired when she had come to see the house in those dark days before Christmas. The fields filled with early green growth, and hedges, and wildlife, and the intoxicating promise of Spring.

‘But how?’ Chardonnay said, desperately. She could see that a new Tesco would devastate the little village, with its little shops, and narrow roads not meant for articulated lorries, and all the surrounding woodland and fields. She thought of the noise, the traffic, the concrete, and shuddered. She thought of the Tesco Superstore nearby already, only four miles down the road, and wondered why. ‘Does a developer own those fields?’ she said, confused. ‘Who would have sold them to Tesco? Who could be so ruthless?’.

She saw Gertrude’s face. ‘Not Old Miseryface!’ she said, horrified. Gertrude nodded. They looked at each other for a moment, and Chardonnay felt, for the first time in the long months of betrayal, the kindness of another human being: perhaps, almost, a kindred spirit. She put her mug of tea down emphatically on the counter top. ‘Well, Gertrude, I’m with you all the way!’ she said. ‘I hope Maisie was harassing him. I would have come with you and cheered her on myself!’.


CraftyCripple said...

Loving Chardonnay so much!

Two Wednesdays said...

Oooh liking it! (I need a Ravelry "love" button)

Marushka C. said...

I cannot wait for Chardonnay to take on the evil corporate giant while finding her one true love!

Susie said...

Chardonnay vs evil corporate conglomerate! Who will win?

Me vs Kitchen! Kitchen has won :-(.

(I sometimes look for ravelry buttons in real life. I used to subconsciously try to do control-Z whenever I dropped something or made a mistake, now I sit thinking, hmm. agree (1) ).

Rachel said...

Having followed you from Ish, I can say you've got the fields just right - the intoxicating promise of spring is exactly what might be found in a field in February!