A Strange sort of Peace: 2013 365 Challenge #99

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It has finally arrived. After nearly six months, hubbie went to work today. Suit, tie, the works. He looked very handsome.

It isn’t raining, I have the house to myself. The only sad bit was dropping two sobbing children at nursery and then sobbing myself in the car. I wish I knew the answer to the childcare problem. Hubbie thinks they’ll be better if we put them in three days a week again. I’m not so sure. Besides, Amber starts school in September so it’s just going to make that harder. I think I need to take them out and put them in a preschool – more days, fewer hours. Get us used to the routine shift that school will bring and have them out the house for shorter periods of time.

I’ll miss my long days (and cover during the school vacations as all preschools close when the schools close) but maybe it’s time to grow up and accept I can’t have everything (sometimes it feels anything) my way.

Happiness is a Clean Fridge

Happiness is a Clean Fridge

Then of course the dilemma is finding a preschool. Amber’s best friend goes to one but I don’t like it: not enough outside space. Not suitable for Aaron. So do I split them up? Send Amber somewhere she doesn’t know anyone, after four years with friends? Stick with nursery for a few more months? Take them out entirely? Put up with the tears and tantrums, knowing they don’t really hate it? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been worrying about childcare as long as I’ve had children. It wakes me at night.

The problem is choice. I have way too much choice. Nothing dictates what days, times, locations I need my childcare to fit. I prefer Mondays and Thursdays but that isn’t rigid (although we dropped Mondays for a while and I hated it, even with having to pay for bank holidays!). My main requirements are friendly staff the children warm to, good clean facilities and space for Aaron to run. Despite the large range of nurseries and preschools around us I haven’t yet found that winning combination.

Anyway, I’m trying not to think about it any more. There isn’t an answer and it just makes my soul ache. Aside from that – and the gurgling tummy of the dog lying next to me on the sofa – I’ve had a peaceful day. I’m a person who likes space and solitude and I haven’t had much of that for far too long. Even though my routine has been the same as when hubbie is here I seem to have written twice as many words today. And I’ve cleaned the fridge. Time to walk and feed the dog before her gurgling tummy drives away my new-found peace.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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The children chased each other along the wall outside Kings, giggling and hopping on and off the grass. Claire, Fiona and Josh followed behind, sharing idle observations on all they’d seen inside King’s College, much as strangers might discuss the weather on a stranded bus. Lily kicked her legs and waved her hands from her position in a sling on Josh’s chest. The air felt too thick to breathe and the spring sunshine failed to penetrate Claire’s skin.

“So, who is hungry?” she called ahead to the children. They turned as one and hopped up and down.

“Me, me, me!”

“Come on then. I’m taking you for the tastiest Greek burger ever.” She lengthened her stride until there was space between her and the hand-holding couple. Sky stretched out her arms and jumped off the low wall into Claire’s embrace, snuggling deep into her hair. The gesture surprised Claire and she returned the hug with closed eyes.

“I love you, Auntie Claire. I’m having the best day. Thank you.” Sky flashed a toothy smile before squirming down again to play with Lucas and Sophie. Tears pricked at Claire’s eyes and she swallowed. Well, Ruth, I was never sure before, but you definitely did something right.

They lined up to cross the road. Claire glanced back but Fiona and Josh were in earnest conversation.

“Right kids, hold hands.” She looked left and right up King’s Parade, making sure there were no cars. Standing, waiting for a taxi to thunder past, she caught movement out the corner of her eye.

“Look at that dog!” Lucas yelled, dashing out in front of the oncoming car. Claire reacted instinctively, thrusting Sky and Sophie behind her and reaching out to grasp the hood of Lucas’s coat. She reached him and pulled, just as the black saloon whooshed past, raising a swirl of litter. With trembling limbs Claire swapped her hold on the hood for a clutch of a little sweaty hand.

Urgent arms took the child from her and he disappeared into a hug of hair and tears. “Lucas, what were you thinking? You know not to rush across the road like that.” Fear made the voice stern and Lucas dissolved into sobs.

“Sorry Mummy. There was a dog wearing a coat.”

Fiona stroked the boy’s hair and murmured soothing words, while Claire clutched Sky’s hand and waited for her pulse to cease its rapid beat. Josh stood jiggling Lily and shushing Sophie who had started to cry when her brother did: big wracking, gulping tears and wails of, “Don’t be mean to my brother.” Claire wondered if she had ever defended a sibling with such passion.

Eventually the tears ceased and life once more penetrated the tight group. Fiona looked up from hugging Lucas and met Claire’s eyes. Her face held a new softness and Claire realised just how beautiful the woman was. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

Claire nodded, unsure what to say.

They left the narrow alleyway after their burgers, marvelling at the taste and wiping sauce from their mouths. It was early afternoon, so Claire suggested a wander along the high street, maybe followed by a coffee in the bookshop, where they could also pick up some paperbacks to ease the long journey home. She could see Sky’s eyes drooping. Another hour and hopefully she’ll sleep again in the car. It’s going to take a couple of hours to get to the hostel. Unwilling to admit it, Claire felt, nonetheless, a need to linger. To stretch out these last moments with Josh and his family, knowing they would be flying half way round the world in a few days.

All too soon, the books had been selected, the coffee drunk, the Pony magazine purchased for Sky, to keep her entertained should she not sleep in the car. They stood in the awkward silence of soon-to-be-parted friends, none wanting to start the farewells. The children chased each other round the square, running after pigeons and squealing. Lily slept in her sling, snuggled against her mum. Some unseen communication passed between Josh and Fiona, and the woman wandered away to keep an eye on the children.

Claire felt the timpani drum playing loudly in her ears as he approached: cleaner, more familiar, but with the same crooked smile she remembered from their first meeting at Kielder. It felt a lifetime ago, although she knew it was only a month, if that. She brushed her hair behind her ears and tried to meet his eyes.

“Hey, Claire.”

As he came nearer she inhaled the familiar scent of aftershave, although without the bass note of smoke. Clearly Fiona’s arrival had put a stop to that habit. Any words that might be spoken dried in her throat as he stopped in front of her and reached for her hands. She flicked a glance at Fiona, but the woman was discretely distant, marshalling a game of hide and seek amidst the empty market stalls. Josh turned to see what Claire was looking at, and misinterpreted her gaze.

“You’re going to be an amazing mother one day. You’ll make some man a lucky bastard. If you can’t see it you haven’t met the right one yet. Keep looking. If all else fails, come visit us down under. We’ll hook you up with some bonza fellas.”

She turned back at his words, a puzzled frown creasing her forehead. He dropped one of her hands and brushed her cheek, before pulling her into a crushing hug. She tensed, then melted into the embrace.

Memories of their time on the observatory platform shouldered their way into her mind. He never really fancied me: It was all an act. I reminded him of Fiona, that’s all. She realised the thought no longer made her sad. If I hadn’t, would we be friends? Would I have had half the experiences I’ve had these last few weeks? She felt tears trickling down her cheeks, dripping onto his shoulder. Her nose began to run and she didn’t want that to be his last memory of her. Pulling away, she forced the grief deep inside and shone him her brightest smile.

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that, one day. I’m still not convinced about the mother thing, but perhaps kids aren’t as awful as I once thought. You have a safe trip home and take care of your family, they are very precious.” She leant forwards and pecked him quickly on the lips, before turning away. Without looking back she strode across the square towards Fiona and the children. Murmuring her goodbyes, and comforting a disappointed Sky, she took her niece’s hand and left the square, staring straight ahead.

***

6 thoughts on “A Strange sort of Peace: 2013 365 Challenge #99

  1. I have been following your posts since early January and have loved reading, so much so, that I have booked to stay at the YHA in Edale!
    You mentioned a while back that Claire was heading to Liverpool (my home city). If you need any insider info please don’t hesitate to ask!
    Looking forward to reading about the rest of her time with Sky.
    Jenny

    • Thank you Jenny, I’m glad I inspired you to book a YHA, I do think they’re an amazing organisation. Do tell me what you think – I haven’t actually stayed in UK YHAs (although I have used them in New Zealand) – all my writing is done from Tripadvisor reviews and the YHA website. I want to visit one but it hasn’t been possible yet.
      I would love tips about Liverpool too, that would be great. I had some help with Windermere from a friend and it’s nice to write about something that isn’t freely found on the internet. I’m not sure when Claire will be up there as she’ll be heading south when Sky goes home.
      I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the series! 🙂 It’s been fun writing it, if a bit challenging to find new things to happen (I’ve written the equivalent of a full length novel and she’s only been to 22 hostels so far!)

  2. Ahh. Peace. I can feel it rolling off your words!

    I long for a peaceful day sometimes, but not enough to deal with the childcare dillema! (Or in my case, school, couldn’t pick one of those either) Hope you work out something that works for you.

      • Yep, we homeschool. There are a couple of alternative schools around, but all of them would be about 45 minutes drive each way! Just not possible. And even then, not as good as homeschooling. I don’t think I could get out the door to have kids at school on time!

      • Funny what seems the lesser evil: For me the 45 minute drive would be preferable to trying to teach my kids anything. They won’t let me show them how to do up a zip. Never mind that I don’t feel I know enough about anything to teach them! Unless it’s how to self-publish an ebook… That said, Amber’s an aspiring author I think (she’s 4 but, you know) so maybe that would be useful.

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