Part 1.15

Amy has unwittingly snapped me out of my gloomy self-absorption, so later that morning I phone Joe to arrange meeting for a drink later, and then take advantage of a break in the weather to go for a walk.  I head for the park but don’t expect anyone to be there because of the rain, and indeed, it is deserted. I decide to walk on along the canal instead.  Against the steady hum of London city life, birds chirp brightly amongst dripping branches, and the occasional canal barge squeaks against its moorings.  The sun peeps briefly from behind a grey tumble of clouds and lights up the trees in a shower of glistening raindrops.  I stop and gaze at this display and am for a moment actually glad to be alive.
Startled, I turn around.  Elsbeth is standing behind me, smiling. 
“Am I interrupting?” she continues.
I return her smile, conscious of reddening cheeks.  “Just admiring the sights,” I mumble.
She looks up at the sparkling trees.  “Yes, gorgeous,” then turns to me. “I was wondering about you – haven’t seen you in a little while.  I thought perhaps I’d scared you off.”
I gaze with amazement at this precocious little woman in front of me, and then gather myself.  “I wasn’t feeling well.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  But you are feeling better now?”
“Yes.  Just taking advantage of a break in the weather.”
“Me too.  Fancy a stroll?”
“That would be nice.”
So we do, heading further up the canal, towards Rosemary Gardens, where we stroll for twenty minutes along dappled, tree-lined paths, before finally turning around and ending up back at the playground.
“I need to go back to work,” she says.  “It’s just up there. Cancer Research.”
“The charity shop?”
“Yes.  I help out there as a volunteer.  Nothing much, just sorting out donations, arranging displays and so on, but I like it.”
“Sounds fun,” I say, not really meaning it.
She turns her head sharply, and with flashing eyes replies, “It is for a good cause. My husband, Tom, died of cancer.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to be flippant.” 
“It’s fine,” she replies.  “It’s not everyone’s passion, and it has been ten years since he passed on.”  After a pause, she adds “Well, it’s been nice chatting to you.”
“I’ll walk with you.”
She peers at me intently.  “You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”  And seeing her searching expression, I add, “Really.”
“Well okay then.  It’s this way.”
We head up St Peter’s Street, just a few blocks from the Packington Estate where I live, and arrive at a little shop nestled between Boot’s Pharmacy and Fred’s Chippery. The window is filled with a motley array of unwanted items hoping for a new lease of life.  I wonder if these places make any money at all.  Certainly nothing in the window sparked any interest in me.  Everything looks faded and tired.
“Want to come inside?” she asks.
I don’t particularly, but I say yes, and we enter.  A little bell above our heads rings as the door opens and an elderly chap behind the till notes our arrival.  He looks as dusty and worn as the items in the shop.
“Hello Elsbeth.  Nice walk?”
“Yes, James, thank you,” she replies, then points to me.  “This is Aaron. He’s just having a little look.”
“Oh, well, please do,” he replies brightly. “We welcome anyone interested in volunteering.”
I begin to splutter before Elsbeth jumps in with “Oh, no! I’m just showing Aaron where I work.” 
She pauses and looks towards me, waiting for confirmation, but then in a rare moment of heart over mind, I hear myself saying, “Well, I could help out today if you like.  I don’t have anything pressing on.”
And that was that.  I was put to work out the back, sorting donations into large heaps.  It was absolutely chaotic, but since I was alone there, I decided to implement a production line, the first decision point being whether to keep the item or pass it on, the next being the type of item, and then finally whether the item needed repair or washing.  After an hour of work the chaos had been replaced with an orderly row of heaps.
The door opens and Elsbeth walks in.
“Grief!  What have you been up to?”
I can’t work out whether she is pleased or not, so I begin to explain, but she only laughs at my expression. “It looks marvellous, Aaron!  I think we’ll have to promote you to chief sorter-outer.  You wouldn’t have line management responsibilities, but you would be allowed an extra biscuit with your tea.  How does that sound?”
I’m not sure if I really want to commit to an unexpected career in unwanted items, and Elsbeth senses my hesitation. “It would just be two days a week.  We usually don’t get that many donations.”
I make my second heart decision of the day, and reply, “Only if I get embossed business cards.”
“I’m sure we can sort something out, if you don’t mind them being in someone else’s name.”
We laugh together, and I want to reach forward and touch her, but have used up my courage for the day.

Part 1.14

“That one over there looks like a poodle,” said Molly, pointing at a cloud that ambled by amidst a tumble of its friends, watched over by a bright sun hanging high in the blue summer sky.
I squinted at it, incredulously, hating the game. It was a cloud, and it looked like a cloud not a poodle, because it was simply that: a cloud.
“It looks like a fish to me,” I replied sarcastically.
Molly raised herself up on one elbow, her curls falling like a shower of amber around her pale, freckled face. “Aaron, you’re impossible.” I grinned and pulled her towards me in order to kiss her. She struggled with mock resistance but we were soon rolling, laughing amidst the daisies and wild, sweet-smelling Norfolk grasses.
Later, Molly lay cradled against me under her grandmother’s patch quilt picnic blanket, her naked body soft and perfumed against my skin. She tousled my hair with her fingers while I lay with my eyes closed. “I love you, Aaron,” she said, snuggling up close for comfort.
“Uhuh,” I replied, but my mind was far away, daydreaming of journeys, university, and a future that I was certain waited with bated breath for my arrival.

Tags: reflections of grace, book, biography, comedy, download, drama, family, fiction, friendship, love, novel, romance, story, book, novel

Part 1.13

There is a muted knock on the door, but I ignore it.  For a while all is quiet and I begin to return to my reveries.  The knocking continues.  Sighing, I get up and walk slowly to the door and open it.  The young girl from upstairs is standing there.
“Oh, hello again,” I say, as brightly as I can muster.
She stands before me shyly, in the same frock she wore the last time I saw her, a light floral affair that hangs loosely on her slight frame.  I wait patiently.
“Er, are your lights working?” she asks.
I reach over to the wall switch with my right hand and click it on.  The bare light bulb above our heads begins to radiate reluctantly.  “Appears so,”  I reply. “Are yours not?”
She shakes her head.  “No, and Jed’s away at the moment. I don’t know what to do.”
“I can take a look if you like?”
She smiles gratefully.  “Would you?  It’s just I don’t really know anyone in the building, and you and I met the other day.”
“So we did,” I reply, “and Harry.”
She looks confused, so I add, “The cat.”
“Anyway,” I continue, “let me get my key.”
I grab the keys from the wall hook and follow her up the stairs.
Her flat is like mine, with one bedroom, a lounge-diner, kitchenette and bathroom, but hers has been cared for.  “A woman’s touch” was the phrase I liked to use before Fiona my wife weaned me off it, it being sexist and all... apparently.  The place is tidy and homely, adorned with little knick-knacks that complement rather than clash.  The window is framed by delicate floral curtains tied back with pink ribbons. 
She waits while I take in the scene, but then clears her throat, and I return to the present.  “Ah, yes, sorry, the lights. Well, the first thing is to check the fuse box.”
As I suspect, she doesn’t know where that is, but a few minutes searching locates it in one of the kitchen cupboards.  The mains switch has tripped, so I flip it back on.  Fortunately it remains up and all the lights in the apartment go on at once.
“Whoa, that’s a lot of light!” I cry.
The girl smiles an apology.  “I like to have the lights on when I’m alone.”
“Perhaps the circuit was overloaded.  That can cause it to turn off, particularly if you’re using several appliances at the same time.”
We stand in awkward silence for a moment, and then I say, “Well, I’d best be going.”
“Uh, thank you so much, but … wouldn’t you like a cup of tea or something?”
For a second, I consider declining and returning to my grey room, but then I look at her hopeful expression and reply with a smile, “A cup of tea would be lovely.”
It is only later that day that I recall her name is Amy.  Amy and Jed - an unlikely pairing; they’d been living together for about a year, apparently.  Amy worked part-time as a shop assistant at Burton’s, while Jed was some sort of salesman.  She was a bit vague on exactly what he sold, which was curious, as was the subtle melancholy that hung around her, tingeing her otherwise bright demeanour.

Tags: reflections of grace, book, biography, comedy, download, drama, family, fiction, friendship, love, novel, romance, story, book, novel