Ah autumn how I love thee. The season of jeans and jumpers, pyjamas and slippers, hot chocolate and stew with dumplings. Dewy cobwebs and the smell of wood smoke. Misty fields and blackberries in the hedgerows.
It turns out that the 28C heat of yesterday was summer’s swansong: it was 16C today. I had to put a jumper on and close the doors. I was also reminded how much longer the day feels when the children spend most of it indoors. We rushed around for three hours this morning, desperately cleaning before my daughter’s teacher came for the home visit. I swear the house was dirtier within minutes of her leaving than it’s been in weeks.
Time to buy spare wellies and waterproofs so relentless rainy days don’t leave me scuppered (at least until the heating goes back on and boots can be dried over night). Children are easier to manage outdoors.
After spring, autumn is my favourite season. The days are just long enough, without the sun nudging in unwanted at 5am. The weather is warm enough for a t-shirt but not so hot I have to shave my legs and find some shorts. In autumn it becomes cool enough to think (I’m like a troll from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: my brain stops working in the heat) and I don’t hear the children telling people, “Mummy gets grumpy when it’s hot”.
The good stuff starts on TV in the autumn, (Strictly Come Dancing, bring it on!) and the kids’ demands for toys can be fobbed off to Father Christmas. Curling up with a good book becomes an acceptable way to pass the time, without feeling guilty for not making the most of the sun.
I just need to find new ways to wear out my kids and find time to walk the dog before six o’clock, when the fields become treacherous underfoot in the gloom. And, in the interests of fairness to the other seasons, there are some things I don’t like about autumn: mostly they are muddy paws, daddy long legs and extra laundry. But I can live with it, after weeks of sun cream battles, lost hats, dehydration and muggy sleepless nights.
I’ve had an amazing, sticky hot, summer, and the kids have loved it. But all hail autumn; you are most welcome.
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:
The kayak felt like it was floating in the air rather than resting on the water. Beneath her, the transparent sea concealed nothing of the sandy depths. Claire felt as if she could reach down a hand and touch the bottom, even though the tour guide had told her the water was several feet deep.
Around them, seals swam and bobbed, some coming over to stare at the newcomers or show off their tricks. Claire turned her head left and right, trying to take it all in and feel connected. Her head told her it was breath-taking, beautiful, something to be treasured in her memory forever. Her heart and her body were too concerned with the silent figure in front of her to have time for anything else.
Josh had barely spoken since they’d left the beach. A double kayak wasn’t the place for intimate conversation. Claire realised that it was the perfect way to avoid a confrontation: more so than if he’d been in another craft, where she could have seen his face.
She found herself trying to read his shoulders. Were they tense? Disapproving? Disappointed? Resigned? He seemed to have got the message that she didn’t want a fling, and now the thought that she had wounded him twisted her stomach.
It also seemed that, now she had made her decision, she wanted nothing more than to bury her fingers in his hair and pull him in for a kiss. Claire sighed and reached down for her camera.
I’d better take some pictures so I can at least look back and remember how gorgeous it all was.
She hated the feeling of disconnectedness: of watching the world from inside a bubble. Of knowing she should be moved but feeling nothing.
If this is what obsessing over a bloke does to me, I think I prefer being alone. In fact, I didn’t feel lonely before, when it was just me, with the occasional text from Conor.
Now, even though the man she had loved for months was sitting mere feet in front of her, she felt close to tears.
Life sucks. Why can’t I just have no morals? Then I could have him, and not care about Fiona or the sprogs.
She tried to imagine what that might be like, as Josh dipped his paddle in to steer the kayak after the rest of the group.
When all’s said and done, I’ve only known him for a few weeks. And, now, I’m not sure I knew him at all. The Josh in England wasn’t clingy and needy, sulky and pushy. Or maybe he was and I just didn’t notice.
Claire tried to remember what travelling with him had been like, but her memories were a blur. There had been laughter but, now she thought about it, most of it seemed to be directed at her: at her fear of heights, at her getting drunk and singing in a bar.
And then, of course, when she’d seen him with Fiona and the kids, she’d fallen for the family man, the husband, the life partner. He was none of those things now: he was a potential cheat and a coward.
She shivered at the relentless thoughts. Desperate to get out of the kayak and away from the cause of her disquiet, Claire dug her paddle hard into the water. The kayak rocked sharply and, before she knew what was happening, Claire felt herself submerged in icy water.
There was no time to remember what she’d been told to do. Her only thought was to free her tangled legs and find a way to breathe.
Through the clear water, she saw Josh free himself and turn to see if she was out. He hesitated, as if unsure whether to free her or go for help. He disappeared from view and Claire gasped, losing the last of her air. Panic rose inside her as water filled her mouth and she struggled against the boat, desperate to be free.
A wrenching movement made her swallow water and she felt as if she was drowning. Then she realised she was upright, as her sight cleared and the wind froze her wet skin.
Coughing up water, Claire collapsed forwards over the craft. A hand patted her back hard, and she wanted to ask it to stop, but her lungs didn’t contain any air.
At last she could breathe. Tears streamed down her face and the sobbing made her ribs hurt.
“Christ, Claire, what were you doing?”
Josh’s voice cut harshly through her pain.
“If you wanted me to go, you could have just asked. You didn’t need to drown me.”
Claire looked up, ready to defend herself, and saw the concern in his eyes. He was standing waist deep in the water, his lips blue from the cold. She managed a weak smile, and Josh’s face twisted. He reached for her and pulled her close.
“Don’t do that again. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
And then he, too, began to cry.