I got yesterday’s post out by the seat of my pants after bumping into a friend in the coffee shop where I go to work. It was lovely to chat but I had scheduled my post to go live at 10.30 and she left around 10.10. As I hadn’t written a word of the ‘Claire’ section I had to tap something out super-speedy-fast. So apologies if it was a bit random. Today’s is going to be no different. I’m suffering from severe insomnia at present which means I can barely keep my eyes open once the children are in bed. It’s 9am and I’ve only just opened this post with no idea what is going to happen to Claire today. I’m only 2 days away from my February finale and I’m not sure it’s going to happen!
On a happy note I sold two copies of Dragon Wraiths through kindle yesterday, after I decided to chuck the manuscript on there while Smashwords were reviewing it for their Premium Catalogue. Just as well as it failed the review process by Smashwords due to ‘inconsistent formatting’. I thought it might. They’re very strict about the use of fonts and templates and I wasn’t able to reset the whole novel to ‘normal’ as they recommend because I would have lost track of who was talking in all the dragon dialogue scenes. It’s all part of the learning I guess. If I have a day and buckets of energy I might try and format it again, but for now it’s on Kindle (although I haven’t previewed it yet to see how awful the formatting is!) Anyway, on to Claire.
“My sister’s having surgery today.”
Maggie looked up from her book and focussed on Claire as she spoke into the silent room.
Maggie paused as if unsure what else to say. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Claire sat motionless on her bunk considering the question. Did she? She wasn’t even sure why she’d blurted out the news to a stranger, except that Maggie seemed effused with warmth and kindness.
“No, not really. She’s having a brain tumour removed. I’d rather not think about it.”
Maggie snapped her book shut and pushed off the bed. “Well then, what you need is some fresh air and Grasmere Gingerbread.”
“What?” Claire reeled from the sudden movement, her sleep-deprived brain struggling to process the change of speed.
“Grasmere Gingerbread. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it?”
Claire shook her head and swallowed the lump in her throat.
Maggie laughed gently and walked over to sit on the bunk next to Claire. She put her arm around her and squeezed, as if they’d known each other for years rather than hours.
“No need to look so crestfallen, it’s hardly a sin. We’re rather proud of our local shop, that’s all.”
“Oh are you from round here?” Claire considered Maggie’s Queens English. “You don’t sound, erm, Cumbrian?” She hesitated, hoping she hadn’t offended her new acquaintance.
“Haha no I don’t have the local dialect. My parents sent me to school in Leicestershire. So, how about it?”
Claire looked puzzled, trying to keep up. It felt like listening to the news from the bottom of a pond.
“The walk? To The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop?”
Claire nodded and let Maggie pull her up from the bed.
The air outside bit deep, cutting into Claire like a Sabatier knife. She huddled into her coat and tucked her chin into her collar. The landscape was flat and muted like a sepia photograph.
Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.
Maggie strode off, head high, arms swinging. Claire scurried after her and hoped it wasn’t a long walk. She felt like a small child trying to keep up with her mummy. Maggie seemed to realise she was walking alone and turned to see what had happened to Claire.
She laughed at the bundle of misery scuttling behind her. “Sorry Claire, I’m in hill-walking mode. I’ll slow down.”
“You walk across hills at that speed? Are you superhuman?”
“Just bred to it. My parents are avid hill-walkers.”
“My dad plays golf.”
The shop was dark and bustling with tourists browsing such delights as Kendal Mint Cake and Rum Butter. It felt like a sauna after the bitter wind outside. Claire soaked the heat into her bones and let the noise wash over her. She could imagine Sky in a place like this, jumping up and down to see over the counter and through the bodies of people queuing to buy their gingerbread.
Maybe I could bring her hostelling with me. At least she’d be company.
Maggie was explaining the history of the shop, how it was set up in the 1850s by Sarah Wilson a local lady. How she lost both her daughters to tuberculosis and her husband shortly after. Although said in a matter-of-fact tone, the words sank into Claire like lead-weights.
What if I lose Ruth? I barely know her. How much time have we spent together since we left home? Hardly any.
She felt the guilt surge up her throat and lodge in the back of her mouth. The heat of the room pressed in until she had to get out. She shouldered her way through the mingling people and pushed through the door. The winter air slapped her in the face, numbing her senses and causing her eyes to water.
Standing outside the tiny cottage Claire pulled freezing air into her lungs and stared around without seeing. She heard the click of the door behind her and felt an arm around her shoulders.
“Sorry, that was insensitive of me. I was so caught up in the history I forgot about your sister. You must be very worried. There’s a garden centre just down the road. Let’s go for a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.”
Claire let herself be comforted. Let herself be led away like a lost child.