I woke with a jolt from the dream about the shed. I can describe it from memory as clearly now, at well over 80, nearly blind and stuck in this chair in the drawing room, as I could at 18. The foliage around it was lush and verdant, spilling over the doorway and down the timber walls; spreading like a rampant green carpet around its base. His chair was the bright red one. The kitchen chair painted shiny red like a post box. Mine was the softer blue cane armchair – he always said ‘softer chair for my soft sweet lady.’
Inside the shed is the mattress, taking over the whole of the shed floor, spread with a pink and blue check sheet and an old cream horsehair blanket on the top. The horsehair scratched my back and legs as I lay on it, but I didn’t care.
I feel warm and happy and YOUNG as I remember those times we spent there. Young – and vibrant and rebellious; making my own choices for once. Mother disapproved of Harry – of course she would – the gardeners son; ‘but he’s just a servant’ she’d spat at me once when I’d tried to defend him against a charge of letting her prize rose bush wither in the frost, without letting her see how much my emotions were engaged in the defence too. If Mother had ever known we were there, curled together, warm, drunk with love, she’d have been apoplectic with rage – speechless for once! That made me laugh – it would have been a bubbling girlish giggle then, now it was the rasping hiccup of a cackle and I suddenly felt sad I had come to this.
I looked out of the window towards the shed again and felt its proximity, even though it was barely visible to me. It was lonely sitting here, alone. The sadness lingered around me. There was no mother to chide me now. No giggling little sisters to pry and annoy me as I tried to slip surreptitiously away to my trysts with Harry. No ramrod stiff father, sporting the luxuriant moustaches he was so proud of, collar turned over so sharply at the corners, I wondered sometimes that it didn’t cut into the skin on his neck. And then, as my mind wandered on from my childhood and teens, into my twenties, no harum-scarum children of my own racing around the house, playing hide and seek and snuggling Fanny, our cat, in baby clothes and pushing her around the garden like their own baby.
2012 was a far cry from the year I was born. The world was a strange place to me now, and I a stranger in it. If I could just get to the shed, maybe I would be near Harry again, and his nearness would make me feel less of a stranger here. Maybe the years would melt away and all the dreams and possibilities we’d hoped for then would not be so long gone and far away. I would no longer be an old, blind woman, sitting solitarily in an empty room.
I struggled to my feet, and shuffled awkwardly out of the room and into the hallway, to the back door. The garden was just a fresh green blur to me but I knew if I walked straight ahead, the shed stood sturdily in front of me, like Harry had all those years ago. I reached the edge of its shingled base. The ivy still crept off the now cracked and peeling timbering of its walls, and right in front of me – no further than a fingertip away, a heart beat’s distance, would be the red chair. Harrys’ red chair – and Harrys’ strong reassuring frame perched on it, turning as I approached,
‘Harry, oh Harry – how did you get here, I thought it all went such a long time ago…’
The firm deep voice, answered me gently,
‘What are you doing?’ You’ll trip and fall, and then everyone will be cross with me! Come on let me take you back in. I was just sitting out here having a crafty read of the newspaper …’
The strong, warm hand held mine, guiding me kindly back to the house.
‘Were you dreaming again?’
Of course, that was it – I’d been dreaming. We reached the back door and another voice called to me, similar, but older, and frailer.
‘Beth, Beth, my soft sweet lady – are you alright?’
Harry, my Harry; I’d married him after all, you see, despite mother and father’s disapproval. The war had changed so much. My beloved old Harry; and my beloved young Harry too – my grandson.
Suddenly I was no longer alone or old, or sad.
‘Just a silly dream, ‘I said, as I settled back in the softer blue cane armchair and watched Harry ease himself onto the bright red one. ‘This is the real thing.’
More stories to follow next week …
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