New Beginnings

by Daryl Green

Mr and Mrs John Sanderson
and
Mr and Mrs Simon Harrington
invite you to share in the joy of the marriage uniting
their children
Bethany Louise Sanderson
and
James Anthony Harrington
at
The Parish Church of Saint Barnabas
Felchester
at 3pm
and afterwards at
The Fernwood Hotel Felchester

Millie ran her fingers round the deckled edge of the invitation to her niece’s wedding. With shaking hands she dialled her sister’s number.

“Hi Anna. Thanks for the invitation. I’d love to come to Beth’s wedding.”

“Hello Millie. How’s life in swinging London?”

“Oh, you know, busy, exciting.  It will be nice to have a respite back in the village though.

“Did you want to bring anyone, like a man, for instance?”

“I wish. I’ll send a proper acceptance but I wanted to ask you if you’d invited Ian?”

“I know it might be difficult for you but we couldn’t not invite him. After all we live in the same village. I thought with you parting amicably it would be OK.”

“We did. I just can’t really face going over all that again. He was devastated when I left.”

“It probably doesn’t help that you and Ian were married at the same church. It’ll bring it all back for both of you. Oh Millie, you were so much in love, so right for each other, everyone said so. How did it all go so horribly wrong? I know you said that the things that attracted you to him had started to annoy you, but wasn’t your leaving him a bit drastic?”

“We grew into different people with different goals. I hadn’t noticed until both the kids had left home. Ian had seemed content, but that was the trouble. I wanted more. At last we had the time and money to travel, socialise more, have fun like we used to when we were young. I started to become scared that life was passing me by and I was determined not to sink with him into a comfortable old age when there were so many things I still wanted to do and he didn’t. I couldn’t make him understand why it wasn’t enough for me.”

“Look Millie, I can see that you weren’t prepared to go on as you were, but couldn’t you have compromised? To insist on selling to house and dismembering thirty years of marriage, well, it wasn’t just Ian that was in shock, we all were. Your kids were pretty devastated too. They visit him quite a lot at that bungalow he’s renting. They seem to have worked out some kind of rota. Do you see much of them?”

Millie was already tiring of the lecture. Every time they spoke they seemed to go over the same old ground, her sister’s voice always bristling with disapproval. Also, she didn’t want to answer the last question. Anna knew damn well she didn’t see much of her two daughters since the split.

“Look, Anna, I have to go. I have an appointment. Ring soon and let me know what the happy couple would like for a wedding present.”

When she had left she was confident that life was there to be grabbed by the throat. She had rented a flat near London and had managed to find a part time job in a florist, something she had always hankered to do. She went to the theatre, trawled the big London shops and felt alive for the first time in years. After a month or two, realising that, despite the buzz, you can be lonely in London, she began joining interest groups, painting, pottery, bridge and golf. Although naturally chatty and outgoing, she found most of the cliques impenetrable and at the end of six months she had to admit that she hadn’t really made any close friends. Now, after nearly a year, the life for which she had so yearned was beginning to pall.

As the wedding approached, she became apprehensive at the thought of returning to the village, knowing how hard it would be to maintain the pretence that this life was all she had hoped for. She couldn’t face the people finding out what a failure it had all been and that all the upheaval had been for nothing.

Millie had lost a bit of weight over the last year. The gym might not have enhanced her social life but it had left her body slim and toned. In the new clothes she had bought for the wedding she had to admit she looked pretty good.

The church was full of familiar faces and she was aware of a few admiring glances as she slipped into her seat. They didn’t quite counteract the looks of disapproval from other members of the congregation. How parochial and judgemental the villagers could be, she mused. The beauty and simplicity of the marriage service evoked memories of her own wedding. She swallowed a lump in her throat as she remembered standing at that very altar. Although feeling nervous and excited, she had been so sure that Ian was the one for her. As the words “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” rang through the church, her eyes suddenly locked with Ian’s, whom she had just spotted two pews away. He smiled uncertainly and nodded before looking back down at the order of service. Millie’s heart lurched and she was finding it difficult to breathe. It was like seeing him for the first time. Had she forgotten how good looking he was? The sunlight glinted through the stained glass window, illuminating the silver threads in his hair. His familiar much loved faced raised painful memories of a good life they had shared. She too tried to concentrate on the order of service but her hand was shaking so much that she could barely read it. Her eyes were glazed with tears and she hoped that this would be attributed to the emotion of the wedding.

They didn’t get a chance to speak in the melee of greetings, photos, confetti and cars outside the church before she was whisked away top the reception, where they were seated at tables a long way apart. No doubt Beth and Anna had thought this wise. The speeches over, she watched the bride and groom dancing to ‘Endless Love’. They were gazing into each other’s eyes, no doubt thinking that the way they felt today would last forever; two against the rest of the world. If only.

“Hi Millie. You’re looking really well. Life in the smoke obviously suits you.” Ian was taking her arm. “Come and have a dance. Give the old gossips something else to talk about.” Before she had time to protest he had whirled her onto the dance floor.

“So how’s it going? Have you found what you were looking for?”

“It’s fantastic,” she gushed, her voice sounding brittle. “So much going on in London. I see the new shows as soon as they hit the West End. I’ve joined lots of clubs and met really interesting people. This village seems half dead in comparison. What about you?”

“I’ve got a few hens on the allotment, still go down to The Feathers a couple of nights a week, play darts, do the quiz, same as it always was. Apart from…” He stopped and looked embarrassed.

“I’m glad you’re OK,” she said quickly to fill the uncomfortable silence. “Let’s sit and have a drink and catch up with the news.”

They joined a group of friends and relatives, who greeted her politely but without the warmth they would have shown in the past. One or two of them looked down in embarrassment. After a few strained moments they carried on with their chatting and the circle closed against them. They were never going to forgive her. She drank her wine quickly, hoping it would anaesthetise her and she wouldn’t care. But the more wine she drank, the more Millie knew that her life in London was shallow and lonely and that she hated it. She belonged here with Ian. She wanted to be accepted again.

“Are you OK? It’s not like you to be this quiet.”

Several potential replies flitted through her brain before she drew a deep breath and made a decision.

“In truth, no, I’ve just realised how much I’ve missed this place, even the gossips and the narrow mindedness. In answer to your earlier question, yes I did find what I was looking for, but it wasn’t in London. I want to move back.”

“Come on,” he said, “We can’t really talk here. Let’s go for a walk. I want to ask you something. No one will miss us. The novelty of us being seen together will have worn off by now.”

The wind penetrated her thin jacket and she shivered involuntarily, Ian put his arm around her shoulders and guided her down to the river. They passed his allotment where she could just make out his ordered rows of vegetables in the gathering dusk.

“The hens will have gone to roost. They’re easy to look after. They put themselves to bed.”

He stopped in front of a small cottage at the river’s edge. It was quiet apart from the wind soughing through the trees and the creak of a for sale sign. They stood and stared at it. She felt content. How could this not have been enough?

“Our first house,” she whispered. “I loved living here but it was bursting at the seams when the children were growing up. I never liked any of the other houses as much as this one.”

The white gate that Ian had made was rotted and hanging off its hinges.

“It can be mended,” he said, and she wasn’t sure if he was referring to the gate. “The cottage would be the perfect size now.”

“Shall we go and see the estate agent in the morning?” she ventured. “What were you going to ask me?” She could feel a bubble of excitement rising in her stomach as she looked at him expectantly.

“I’ve bought a property in Spain and I’m emigrating at the end of the month. I was wondering… If you decide to buy the cottage, maybe you would like to take over the allotment and the hens?”

(More about Daryl)

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