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Authors: Marcia Willett

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BOOK: The Way We Were
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Then, one night he came to her room, a glass of whisky in his hand, swaying a little as he watched her from the doorway as she sat brushing her hair.

‘You've grown, haven't you?' he said. ‘Little Tegan. Come and give your old pa a kiss.'

The ensuing scene was undignified and confusing: eventually he withdrew, liberally splashed by his whisky and cursing beneath his breath. She decided to think no more about it, putting it down to his being lonely and drinking too much. On the second occasion he gave her some wine at dinner and this time the struggle was grimly determined and frightening. The third time he struck her hard, knocking her to the floor, but she scrambled away from him in time to lock herself in her bathroom before he could catch her. She stayed there all night and, in the morning when he went to the gallery, she packed some things into a suitcase and telephoned Julia, her dearest, closest friend.

‘Of
course
you must come,' she said at once. ‘You don't want to spend the holidays alone in a flat in London. Hang on a sec.' And, as Julia consulted with her mother, Tiggy was able to hear the usual cheerful, reassuring sounds of Julia's family life in rural Hampshire, siblings shouting and wailing, dogs barking, and her mother's warmly practical voice – ‘Of course she can come and stay. Now do ask about trains, Julia,' – and all the while Tiggy clutched the receiver, her knees trembling lest her father should return unexpectedly.

Only Julia knew the truth, though Tiggy guessed that her grandmother suspected something akin to it. Less than a year later, during which time Tiggy never stayed at the London flat unaccompanied, her father sold the London gallery, married his partner at the gallery in Paris and moved to France; six months later their son was born.

Now, Tiggy slams the side door of the van and climbs into the driving seat, hugging her long sheepskin coat around her. Tom bought the coal for her in the King's Road and its all-embracing warmth reminds her of him. Once she met Tom it seemed that her life had properly begun – even the simple act of breathing took on a deeper, fuller quality – whilst lovemaking, something to be avoided since her father's forced fumblings, became with Tom a joyful and fulfilling delight. Knowing Tom, travelling with him in the old orange camper, loving him, had given her exactly the same sensation as the warmth and light the sun bestows when it breaks out from behind dark, rain-heavy clouds. Her muscles relaxed at last, she grew supple and free and at peace. His love enabled her, encouraging without attempting to possess her; his friendship showed her unexplored paths of knowledge and discovery. Now she must learn to do without it.

The little Merlin stares resolutely forward, showing the way. Tiggy switches on the engine and drives up on to the road leading to Chepstow and the Severn Bridge: to the west.

It takes well over an hour to negotiate her way through Bristol and it is with relief that she picks up the A38 again, heading out of the city and wondering where to park up for a much-needed break. In the end, she stops twice to make tea and to stretch her legs; the first time in a little lane just north of Taunton and the second time beside the entrance to a bridle path between Whiddon Down and Sticklepath on the winding A30 west of Exeter. This time, after a walk, Tiggy makes toast on the grill while the ‘lurk continues to explore, her scimitar-curved tail waving excitedly. It's nearly four o'clock. The northern flanks of Dartmoor are powdered with fine snow, the sun has disappeared long since behind thickening cloud, and wet sleet hisses softly against the windscreen.

‘Pete said the journey might easily take you seven or eight hours,' Julia told her rather anxiously. ‘Should you do it in two stabs, d'you think?'

‘I'll see how I get on,' she answered. ‘If I make an early start I should be OK. I'd rather get it over with in one go if I can.'

Now, with her hands wrapped gratefully around the mug of hot tea, she wonders whether it would be sensible to stop for the night while it's still light enough to find a good camping site. Despite the fact that her back aches and she's very tired, she feels despondent at the prospect and is seized with new determination to press on. The Turk comes back and barks to be let in; Tiggy takes one last look at the map and then climbs into the driving seat.

‘Not far to Okehampton then straight on to Launceston. We should be with Julia in about an hour and a half,' Tiggy says aloud, as much to comfort herself as to reassure the Turk. She is filled with an overwhelming longing to be at the end of her travelling; silting with Julia beside a fire recounting the long day's journey to the west.

‘You'll love it here,' Julia told her. ‘Trescairn has been in Pete's family for ever, something to do with the mining, and you can see for miles. We're just about settled in, although it's a bit of a hike into the base. Still, Pete thinks it's worth it and the children just love the space. After that quarter in Gosport it's utter heaven.'

Tiggy touches the little Merlin for luck, pushes her foot down on the accelerator and switches on the windscreen wipers; when she stops for petrol just outside Sticklepath she notices a sharp drop in the temperature.

‘More snow coming,' the attendant remarks cheerfully. ‘Going far?'

‘Down into Cornwall,' she tells him. ‘Near St Breward.'

He draws down the corners of his mouth, shaking his head doubtfully. ‘You might just make it before it comes on really thick,' he says. ‘It's already settling on the tops.'

As she leaves the lights of Okehampton behind her and travels around the northern edge of the moor, the sky brightens and, away in the west, long fingers of sunset light probe down between the layers of dense cloud so that the mysterious peaks and uplands of the distant landscape are revealed just as she remembered it earlier when she saw? the sign: ‘TO THE WEST'. A line or two of a hymn hums in her head and she sings it aloud to the Turk, who beats her tail politely upon her rug:

The golden evening lightens in the west,
Soon, soon to weary warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest…

The vision and the words hearten her, bringing a much-needed surge of energy, as the brief sunset glow leaks into the gathering clouds. Soon the slopes and tors of Dartmoor drop away and they're through Launceston and into Cornwall at last, approaching Five Lanes and Altarnun. Snow is falling on Hendra Downs as she pulls into the side of the road to look again at Pete's map. It is very clear: ‘Leaving Jamaica Inn on your right, pass through Bolventor and take the next turning right signposted to St Breward. Pass over the cattle grid on to open moor.'

The light is dying now, and the wind is beginning to rise, but Tiggy sees the sign clearly and swings the camper off the A30, rattling across the cattle grid. The snow has already settled across the narrow moorland road and a tiny spasm of fear shakes her heart. The wild sweep of land glimmers ghostly and chill; small scattered clumps of gorse show smudgily black against the faint covering of snow. A larger smudge suddenly detaches itself and moves out into the road. Tiggy gasps with fright and then breathes deeply with relief as the pony trots away. She drives very slowly, leaning forward a little so as to scan the landscape more clearly, noting a signpost pointing away to the left, remembering the next part of her instructions: ‘Follow the signs for St Breward: all right-hand turns.'

The lane is running down off the moor now, between granite walls on either side; the headlights slanting across great boulders and showing up the thick sturdy roots of the thorn trees, and the falling snow whirls and dazzles. Tiggy holds lightly to the wheel, following the twisting lane as it climbs again, and she sees how easily she might lose sight of the track and plunge on to the moor. The lane swings left so abruptly that she's brought up almost against a wall and the high blank side of a house, and she wrenches the wheel violently, feeling the camper skid; and all the while a deeper, almost atavistic kind of tear is growing inside her; a foreboding that something terrible is about to happen. She's noticed the familiar shape of a telephone box a little way back, its lamp glowing in the darkness and snow gathering on its ledges, and wonders whether she should stop and telephone Julia. Yet how can she ask Julia, with three small children, to come to her aid on such a night?

All the while the strength of the wind is increasing, buffeting the sides of the van, driving the snow before it so that it heaps and drifts against the stone walls. With relief she sees the granite post with its sign pointing to the right and she jolts onward, hardly able now to distinguish the road from the rough moorland in the dim snowy twilight and occasionally bumping the two offside wheels up on to the uneven grass. Ahead of her she can just make out the shape of a bridge and remembers that this is mentioned in her instructions as Delford Bridge; she approaches slowly, driving carefully between the iron railings, glancing briefly, fearfully, down into the swirling black water of the De Lank River. The unexpected jolting rumble of the wheels over a cattle grid startles her but at last the lights of St Breward twinkle ahead in the gloom and she turns right again, away from the village, knowing she is now on the very last leg of the journey.

Yet all the while the formless panic grows and clutches at her heart and churns in her stomach, and it is with instinctive misgiving that she plunges down the narrow lane between high banks; a black tunnel where the remaining twilight is shut out and the headlights reflect back off the dancing snow, almost blinding her. Another cattle grid, with a high wall to the left and the snow-covered verges strewn with huge boulders; and almost too late she sees the lane leading off to the right. As she hastily manoeuvres the van she feels its huge bulk begin to skid out of control, and she stamps on the brakes, screaming with terror as it slides side-ways into one of the granite blocks.

Trembling violently, not capable even of comforting the Turk who has been flung to the floor and is whining piteously, Tiggy covers her face with her hands. She is rendered powerless by fear, unable to move lest something more terrible should occur; yet all the while she has the impression that Julia is beside her, comforting and encouraging her. She raises her head and sees a distant light shining steadily through the blizzard that whirls across the high moor: Trescairn.

Slowly she stretches her cramped muscles, breathes deeply, and turns to reassure the Turk. She realizes that the engine is still running; with trembling limbs she presses her left foot down gingerly on the clutch pedal and very carefully pushes the stick into bottom gear, then treads gently, very gently, on the accelerator. Vibrating loudly, its wheels spinning to get a purchase on the small stones and slippery surface, the van slowly begins to move; still shaking, Tiggy steers carefully into the mouth of the lane, heading into the blinding snow and up on to the moor. The five-bar gate stands wide open and with little sobs of relief she turns on to the smoother surface of the drive and up towards the house.

As she comes to a halt beside an open-fronted barn, the front door is flung open, light streams across snowy yard, and Julia is beside her, opening the driver's door, almost dragging Tiggy from her seat, embracing her.

‘Oh God, I've been so worried,' she cries. ‘I thought you might be stuck somewhere … I hoped you might telephone … could have warned you about the snow …'

With Julia's arm around her, supporting her, her voice in her ear, Tiggy is assailed by another strong sense of déjà vu. All this is familiar.

‘Come on,' Julia is saying. ‘Let's get inside and give you something to eat and drink. Everything's all right now you're here. Oh, there's the Turk. Good girl, then. Come on,' and they all cross the yard, heads bent against the wind and the snow, and go together into the house.

The little room is filled with an eerie light: snowlight. It reflects off the pale walls and flows across the narrow bed where Tiggy is curled beneath the quilt with the Turk comfortably asleep on her feet. Tiggy raises herself on one elbow, frowning at the square of window, puzzled as much by the deep silence as by the quality of the light. Pushing back the quilt she steps shivering out of the bed and goes to the window. Holding aside a curtain in each hand she stares out in amazement at the scene. The moor flows away from the house in a snow-covered tidal sweep that washes against grey granite peaks and laps at green-black stands of fir. Almost hidden in a fold of land, the square tower of St Breward's church stands starkly outlined amidst bare tree-tops and, beyond again, a sinuous curve of silver water snakes its way out to the distant sea.

The tranquillity and beauty of the scene hold Tiggy spell-bound; gradually she is possessed with a profound sense of peace and contentment. Here, in this immense landscape, the barriers between past and present, the living and the dead, seem non-existent and, unexpectedly filled with this new joyful awareness, she believes that she is on the brink of discovering a great truth: something that will sustain her during the months ahead. Pushing back the curtains wider still, she realizes that this is the first morning since Tom's death that she hasn't wakened to a sense of despair. This thought, once admitted, presses in upon her brief remission from the pain of loss, crowding out the peace, and fear settles into its now familiar position in her breast. Still she gazes out; willing herself back into that place of tranquil joy, but the spell is broken: so is the silence. A door opens and voices are heard; two are raised in a protesting, wheedling duel, whilst the third – Julia's contralto – runs beneath the childish treble in a placatory but firm continuo.

BOOK: The Way We Were
5.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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