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Authors: Marcia Willett

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BOOK: The Way We Were
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The Turk jumps down from the bed and runs to the door, whining to be let out. Dragging her dressing gown around her, Tiggy opens the door and looks out on to the landing. Immediately the voices cease, two heads with butter-blond mops of hair, swivel; two pairs of blue eyes stare at her. Tiggy smiles at the twins, Andrew and Olivia: Andy and Liv. Julia raises a despairing hand.

‘Sorry' she says. ‘I'm sorry they woke you. I
them you needed to sleep in but of course they're simply dying to see you. Now, you see.' She addresses the twins. ‘You've woken poor Tiggy.'

‘They didn't wake me. I was already up.' Tiggy watches the twins crouch down to embrace the Turk and then smiles at Julia. ‘I can hardly believe I made it when I look out at all that moorland covered with snow.'

Julia shudders a little. ‘I was out of my mind,' she admits. ‘It could have been a disaster. I've promised the twins a ride in the van but not today.'

Another voice, increasing in volume, roars behind a door along the passage.

‘Poor Charlie's feeling left out of things. He'll break the cot to pieces.' Julia looks hopefully at Tiggy. ‘Could you make some coffee while I get him up? The twins will show you where everything lives.' She hesitates, looks back over her shoulder. Are you … you know … still OK?'

‘Oh, yes,' says Tiggy. ‘Very OK.'

‘Good,' says Julia uncertainly. ‘That's good, then, isn't it?' She glances at the twins. ‘Off you go, then, and help Tiggy with the coffee. Don't forget to let Bella out.'

The twins set off down the stairs, arguing as to which of them should let Bella and the Turk into the garden, and Tiggy follows more slowly. She understands the reason for Julia's uncertainty but there is no question in her own mind and instinctively she spreads one hand over the place where Tom's baby is hidden, still clinging on, despite the terrors of yesterday She could easily imagine the conversation Julia and Pete might have had: Julia defensive, wheedling Pete into a sympathetic frame of mind, and Pete slightly impatient, his paternal instinct roused, planning how to sort it all out.

‘It's all very well, darling, but how will the poor old love cope with a baby and no father? They should have been getting married instead of swanning round the Continent in that camper van all last summer,' Pete might have said.

‘But they were always going to get married, Pete. It's just so typically Tom and Tiggy isn't it? They live in their own little world. Well, they did … Oh God, poor Tom.'

‘But honestly, Julia, how is she going to manage?'

‘Well, we've agreed she can come here to begin with and then, when the baby's born, she'll go back to teaching …'

As she follows the twins downstairs Tiggy wonders if Pete would have seen the flaw here: the headmistress in her own little school had picked up on it at once. Mrs Armstrong had remained unmoved by the undignified and disastrous combination of shock at Tom's death and morning sickness that had forced Tiggy's confession in the first place, or by the protestation that she and Tom had planned to marry at Easter. The rules were clear, she'd said: Tiggy, as an unmarried mother, was no longer a good example to her small charges and she must leave. Tiggy knows that these rules will hold just as firmly once the baby is born.

‘I can't give the baby up,' she cried to Julia on the telephone that evening – and Julia's generous response filled her with overwhelming gratitude and relief. It offers Tiggy a respite; meanwhile she schools herself to deal with her fear by looking no further ahead than the birth of her baby, but she isn't always successful. The reality is stark: how will she manage to support them both?

The narrow staircase opens into a big sitting-room dominated by a granite fireplace that takes up almost the whole of one wall. Tiggy draws back the curtains and looks around the room. It is here, before a blazing fire, that she and Julia spent the evening – just as she had imagined on the journey – talking over the events of the day. The hearth, with its stack of logs at either side, is cold now, the pale ash feathered and heaped around half-blackened logs, but Tiggy guesses that a core of heat remains deep at the heart of it. She crouches beside the hearth, pulling some of the half-burned logs together and, picking up the bellows, blows gently into the ash. It whirls and floats, rather like the snow last evening, but soon a spark blossoms on a charcoal flake, grows and flowers into flame that catches at the fragments of charred wood and soon is burning steadily. Tiggy piles on more wood, sets the guard in place and goes into the kitchen.

Bella, Julia's beautiful brown field spaniel, comes to greet her whilst the Turk follows the twins into the back porch and whines impatiently as they wrestle with bolts and locks. Tiggy goes to help them, opening the door on an unfamiliar world into which both dogs plunge regardless. The three of them stand together, silenced by the glory of the translucent blue-green sky, with its streaming rosy clouds, and by the million tiny points of brilliant light reflecting back from the snow-covered moor. Just briefly Tiggy glimpses once more the ineffable delight she'd experienced earlier; then an icy breeze snakes down from the stony heights of Rough Tor and curls around their ankles, so that the twins shiver and huddle into their dressing gowns.

Tiggy hurries them back into the warm kitchen and gives them mugs of milk. She riddles the Rayburn, fills it with coke and puts the kettle to boil, and by the time Julia appears, with Charlie astride her hip, coffee is ready. He stares in amazement at Tiggy and is seized by a sudden shyness, burying his head in Julia's neck whilst peeping coyly with one eye at Tiggy, though nobody is really convinced by his performance.

‘You remember your godmother perfectly well,' Julia says firmly, putting him into his high chair and ignoring his tendency to cling. ‘Say hello to Tiggy while I get your milk.'

The twins begin to chant, ‘Hello, Tiggy,' encouragingly in unison, giggling wildly, and Julia gives Charlie his bottle, seizes her mug and pours some coffee. The dogs come bursting in, their coats caked with snow, and she picks up an old towel and, going down on her knees, begins to rub them dry, laughing at their antics, her thick fair hair falling over her face.

Tiggy, looking at her with huge affection, is surprised by an unexpectedly painful stab of envy. How wonderful to be Julia: pretty, beloved and secure, with three beautiful children and this delightful old house. Suddenly Tiggy sees with a bleak clarity the difference between them: Julia, wise and beautiful, giving generously to her foolish friend. Tiggy feels humiliated and very much alone. Dismayed by this unfamiliar emotion, she speaks quickly in an effort to dispel it.

‘This is an amazing house. What luck that Pete's uncle and aunt have decided to move out.'

‘I can't get over it.' Julia finishes a game of lug of war with the Turk, hangs the towel in the back porch and comes back to the table. ‘It simply got a bit too much for them to manage though they hated leaving it, Uncle Archie especially. I think Aunt Em is very happy to be in a small cosier house. The point is that Pete and his brother were going to inherit it anyway, so Uncle Archie decided it might as well be now. Luckily, Robert has no desire to live in the middle of Bodmin Moor so we raised a mortgage and bought him out. Pete and I love its irregularity. It was three cottages, as far as we can tell, but there have been lots of changes over the years though it's easy to see the original structure when you know what you're looking for.'

As she talks, Tiggy remains aware of her own isolation: it separates her from the chattering twins, from Charlie, drinking his milk with an eye fixed unwaveringly on her face, from Julia herself, who is now describing how the cottages had been converted into one big house. She feels quite separate, as if this simple drama of family life, instead of including and comforting her, is serving merely to point up her own aloneness.

Andy looks up at her and smiles his sweet serious smile. ‘Mummy says we can go for a ride in your van.' he says rather shyly. ‘She says it has a little cooker and we can make our own lunch.'

His small face, expectant yet hesitant, is so rosy, so perfect, that she wants to cover it with kisses.

‘Of course we shall go,' Tiggy says at once. ‘Though not until the snow has melted. We shall go to the beach and have cheese on toast for lunch. Do you like that? And we shall make tea. Will Charlie like it, d'you think?'

Andy and Liv stare anxiously across the table at Charlie. He's just put down his empty bottle with a great gasp of repletion and is now waving at Tiggy – a rather Episcopalian gesture that involves the use of his whole arm – whilst beaming benevolently upon her, and Tiggy smiles back at him, oddly touched and feeling as if indeed she has been in some way blessed. Her pain recedes a little: optimism regains its tenuous hold.

Julia wipes Charlie's milky chin and drops a kiss on his head.

‘Charlie will love it,' she says firmly. ‘We all shall. But today we shall have to make do with building a snowman. Go and get dressed and then we'll have some breakfast.'

The twins slide off their chairs and run shrieking up the stairs. Julia begins to collect the mugs and, as she piles them on to the draining board, Tiggy gets up and slips a hand into the crook of her friend's arm.

‘Thanks, Julia,' she says.

Julia responds to the gesture by pressing her elbow against her side. ‘It's going to be such fun,' she says.

It is more than a week before the snow clears sufficiently for Julia to be confident about Tiggy driving the camper through the narrow twisting lanes that lead down to the sea.

‘The main roads will be clear,' she says, ‘but I wouldn't want to chance some of the lanes,' and Tiggy, remembering how the van had skidded and slid, is quite happy to agree. Very little damage has been done on inspection: a bit of a dent, some scraping of paint, but nothing really to worry about.

‘Tom drove it very hard,' Tiggy tells Julia, ‘and he'd have thought it all rather fun. His old cousin, the one who brought him up, came and took everything away except the van. Tom and I bought it between us and shared the costs so he said I could keep it.'

It is cold; very cold. Julia blesses Pete for his foresight in stocking up with coke for the Rayburn and logs for the fire, though she longs for central heating in the bedrooms. The twins undress each evening in front of the log fire in the sitting-room and are hurried up the stairs to cuddle under their quilts and extra blankets with hot-water bottles. Charlie is allowed the one small electric radiator. Neither Bella nor the Turk is discouraged from curling up with Julia and Tiggy on the ends of their beds.

‘If it goes on like this,' says Julia, ‘I shall gel another dog. Of course Aunt Em and Uncle Archie are simply Spartans so I'd never dare complain to them about the cold.'

Tiggy takes to herself the task of dog-walking. She studies Julia's Ordnance Survey maps, as Tom had taught her, and each day she goes a little further into the wild country that lies at the door. The snow isn't deep; the wind scrapes unceasingly across the grasslands and over the granite tors, sweeping the powdery snow into gullies and valleys, leaving on these higher slopes a thin icy covering that creaks and cracks beneath her boots. From her high vantage point she can pick out greyish, sheep-shaped objects straying about below her in the shelter of the hills, and all the while the chilly fingers of the wind tweak at her cheeks and pick and pluck at the stones. She discovers tiny pools of water, each with its crumpled, puckered surface, instantly frozen into pleats and folds in the very moment that the wind's cold breath had touched it, and once, standing on Alex Tor, she hears the drumming of small hard hoofs and suddenly a group of skewbald ponies appears, skittering amongst the rocks with the dogs panting behind them.

The landscape dips and drops away to the pyramids of St Austell's clay works to the south and culminates in the sea that rims the world with silvery gold away to the north; the sheer immensity and the sense of infinity it implies brings Tiggy comfort. Here, it seems, Tom walks beside her; here she is able to commune wordlessly, to share with him, and there is no misery but instead the deep-down instinct that, after all, they can never be separated.

It is in the small minutiae of the day to day that she continues to feel the agony of loss: making coffee, baking scones, holding Charlie's warm, wriggling foot as she inserts it into a sock, feeding the dogs. Later, alone with her own baby, these little humdrum tasks without Tom to share in them would be empty; simply jobs to get her through the day. Yet when these disabling thoughts threaten her she strives to remember the way she feels out on the hills and deliberately directs her mind towards the baby she carries: Tom's baby is her reason for hope. Meanwhile the twins and Charlie keep her occupied by day, and each evening she and Julia sit by the fire watching television or talking; planning for the warm spring days and all that they will do together.

Yet, despite the brilliance of the sun that blazes each day from a clear blue sky, the temperature continues to stay below freezing. The tiny garments pegged out on the line by an optimistic Julia (‘Surely it must be warmer today!') slowly stiffen like the cardboard clothes for Liv's cut-out dollies and are brought inside to be thawed out on the wooden rack above the Rayburn.

Then, one afternoon, the wind shifts; it veers to the west where ramparts of soft, grey cloud bank and tower along the horizon. The thaw is swift, icicles dripping, pools defrosting, whilst water runs and flows over the surface of the moor, pouring into the deep lanes and swelling the streams. Freed from its icy restraint, the land begins to show tentative signs of the cold sweet spring.

BOOK: The Way We Were
3.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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