by Barry Woodham
I had been on my own for a long time. My children had settled down with families of their own and lived their own lives, as families do. I still saw them all from time to time, but now that Marie had passed over some twelve years gone, I tended to wander the country on various tours. Booking up in a Bed and Breakfast was easier for one, than for two and once more I felt the urge to travel.
For some time I felt pulled towards where I had lived as a boy. Just recently I had constantly dreamed of a place that I had long forgotten. This was a place where I had played as a young boy, before my father had moved our family on, in his need for work. I must have been about seven or eight when we moved. It was after that I changed schools and learned to live in a town and forgot about my secret place in the country. My younger brother and sister had come into my life just before we moved. They had never been included in my solitary wanderings in the old wood at the edge of the village where we lived.
It took some time before I could find a way of getting to my boyhood village. It took a train journey and two bus rides before I found myself, case in hand at the door of the Old Kings’ Rest, country inn. Fortunately they did not seem to mind letting a room to an old man who on his own and the meals were good, as I found out.
“How long will you need the room for, Mr. Bridges?” asked the innkeeper as he read my signature in the guest book. “Will you be staying over the Christmas?”
“Yes, about a week or so,” I replied. “I used to live here when I was a small boy, maybe more than seventy years ago. I used to play in the wood at the edge of the village. Is it still there?”
“Oh yes; it’s still there for the moment.”
“Why for the moment?”
“The usual thing; - development with more houses in the new year,” he replied sadly. “There are a lot of us who do not want the wood to go. You are lucky it’s still here after such a long time.”
I went to bed saddened and determined that I would walk through the village to the wood on the following morning. That night I dreamed again of the old wood and the secret place that I had found, as a very young boy. There was something else waiting for me, but I could not remember just what it was. All that I knew was that once it was a happy place. It was so long ago and yet now it seemed like yesterday. I had spent many days there with a packed lunch, in those far off days of innocence. My mother knew that I was not far away, as the wood was at the edge of the garden. A footpath passed by and she was content that I was safely out of the way, whilst she busied herself with the chores that mothers do!
As I dozed off I heard my name quite clearly, just once.
“Martin,” a small child whispered in my ear. “Hurry up and find me. She is here with me.”
I sat up and looked round the room. It was quite empty! I settled my-self down and cuddled my blankets around me.
After a restless sleep I woke that Christmas-eve morning, trying to remember the dreams I had during the night. My whole body was filled with a sense of urgency and my mind would not settle. Breakfast was soon over and it was time to start my walk back into memory lane. The aches and long accustomed pains of this old body of mine seemed to diminish as I made towards the door.
“Will you be back for lunch, Mr. Bridges or would you like a packet of sandwiches to take with you?” the innkeeper asked.
“Thanks. I will take your offer of the sandwiches. I move slower these days and I may not be back in time for lunch. I shall be in the woods up by the cottage.”
I had remembered at that very moment where I was going. At my reply the innkeeper shot me a puzzled look, as I quickly walked through the door.
I thought I heard him say to himself, “What cottage?” as I closed the door.
I walked down the road towards where my increasingly better memory told me I should go. My parent’s old house was still the last one in the road and next to it was the wood. As I stopped and stared, it looked smaller somehow. The footpath was still there running down the side of the garden and I made my way along it. Some way into the wood, well away from the road I at last came to my secret place.
Shrouded amongst the ancient trees and hunched against the cold weather, was the old derelict thatched cottage. It had been here long before I was born and had not been lived in for longer than that. I walked up the weedy unkempt path and pushed open the front door. To my surprise it opened easily.
Once again I looked into the darkened hallway and the years slid away. As I walked in I gazed in renewed wonder at the polished and carved wooden panels that made up the walls. Friendly smiling faces looked back at me with wooden smiles. This was a happy place. Open doors led off from the hall and showed low ceiling rooms, held aloft by great wooden beams. From the shuttered windows, a watery sunshine made its way through the chinks in the boards, illuminating the old wooden furniture.
I walked through the hall to the kitchen, boards creaking beneath my feet. A blackened Aga dominated one wall and a pump was situated by the window, next to a bucket. Cooking utensils hung from iron hooks hammered into the beams. A lone saucepan sat over a hole in the cooking range. It was as if I had stepped back in time to when the cottage had been lived in and then I realised that there was very little dust to be seen. The inside of the house was clean and kept tidy and did not reflect the age of the outside at all!
“You came! I knew you would. I told her you would if I called,” a child’s voice said clearly from behind me.
I turned round and there stood looking up at me was my secret friend from long ago, Amelia. Hours we had spent together in my childhood. She had been my dearest friend; - my first love. Stood by her side was another girl that I did not at first recognise and then I realised.
“Marie!” I gasped and walked towards her and looked into her dear face at her own level, leaving the empty husk on the soiled kitchen floor in the ruined house. Outside the ruins, the wind began to blow gusts of rain against the few stones left standing. Now and again childish laughter could be heard as the birds tugged at the packaging around the discarded sandwiches.
©2012 Barry Woodham. All rights reserved. Do not use or reproduce without permission.