Featherbed Moss – Jenny Bridge

The bus trundled to a halt. A small group of passengers gathered ruck sacks and walking

poles ready to enjoy a day striding over the moors. She felt a surge of excitement. This

was to be a very significant day.

She thanked the driver and he wished her a good day’s walking. She wondered if he would

remember her later. Probably not. There was nothing conspicuous about her walking gear

and she was very well aware that, as women gained wrinkles and grey hair, they lost

visibility.

Shrugging her small bag onto her back she set off through the village and was soon

beginning the long climb up onto the moors. The late autumn day was emerging from its

chrysalis of mist and patches of weak sun lit up the steep hillsides. She was lucky. These

moors could be bleak and forbidding . She had chosen the day well. Her first plan had

been to come tomorrow – her birthday. But buses were sparse on a Sunday and besides it

would have been difficult to slip away on her own.

She was not the only person to have made that choice. Walkers of all ages now streamed

up the path. She knew from experience that soon the crowd would thin out. Those

walking in large groups would slow down, using their breath for chatting and laughing as

well as climbing. Only those solitary walkers like herself or those long established couples

who shared thoughts without the need for words, were able to devote every breath to the

climb.

The path was becoming steeper now and narrower. She needed to concentrate hard on

her footing as she scrambled over the rocks. It was lucky there had been no recent rain.

This path followed a stream bed – it could become impassable or at best an obstacle

course of slippery rocks.

She was making good time and already leaving behind the puffing and panting crowds. As

she reached more level ground she stopped for a moment to take in the spectacular view.

By now the sky was a deep clear blue with just one or two tiny white clouds hurrying along

in the wind. She spotted the silver flash of a plane shimmering like a dragon fly as it left the

earth behind. Where was it going? Maybe it was off to the other end of the world. She

imagined the passengers settling down for the long flight – some excited, some fearful,

some travel weary and bored. How strange to think of the hundreds of people each with

their own hopes and fears all enclosed in an object that seemed from here no more

substantial than an insect.

Her mind wandered to all the holidays she had enjoyed with her family. Bucket and spade

holidays in Wales had matured into camping in France. The huge family tent became a

hamlet of smaller ones as teenagers needed privacy and the company of friends. And then

they were off on their own further and further afield until the final big family holiday when

everyone met up in New Zealand. Such wonderful memories. And now the children

were all back to buckets and spades with their own little ones.

Setting off once more, and this time without the need to navigate rocks and boulders, she

was able to increase her pace, loving the freshness of the day and the satisfaction of the

exercise. She revelled in the knowledge that her progress depended on nothing but the

strength of her own limbs, the power of her own heart and lungs. This was what being

alive meant to her. Without this she would be robbed of her very essence.

Ahead she could see a large family group. A family very much like her own. Grown up

children enjoying time out from stressful busy lives, grandchildren running, giggling,

arguing noisily, grandparents joyful to be watching yet another generation discover the

wonders of this magical place. She remembered the times they had brought their children

here – how they scampered like puppies at the start of the day but soon tired becoming

bored and fretful. Sweets and tiny plastic dinosaurs discreetly hidden and excitedly

retrieved soon restored their energies.

A sudden wave of nostalgia and sadness threatened to engulf her and rob her of her

strength.

She had caught up with the group by now and as she passed them one of the little boys

ran towards a rocky outcrop, an obvious hiding place, shouting – “Come on Granny, don’t

be a wimp. Chase me”

Granny took the challenge and started to run calling out, “You have to be fit to be a

granny!”

Indeed you do, she thought, her resolve strengthened as she pressed on across the black

peat of the moor.

Soon she was passing Kinder Downfall, the highest waterfall in the Peak, and

remembering the first time she had seen it. It had been a diamond sharp December day

and the waterfall was hung with icicles, a huge glittering Christmas extravagance. She

had never forgotten it. Today it was just a trickle but as she crossed the boggy moorland

she was glad of the dry conditions. She had no wish to be sucked into the greedy peat.

At last she reached the paved path that led her to her destination. She checked on her

map that she was in the right place and then found a spot where she could sit. She

needed time to think.

But first, it was time for her little celebration. Out of her bag she took her party fare. A few

perfect reddish pink grapes, some well chosen morsels of cheese, a little bottle of her

favourite wine and finally a sliver of the splendid birthday cake made for her by her

daughter and taken stealthily from her kitchen. She hoped Katy would understand and

forgive her. She bit into the grapes and let the juice trickle round her mouth and down her

throat. She ate each pungent mouthful of cheese slowly and with utter enjoyment. Then

the cake. It was a triumph of moist, chocolatey self indulgence. Finally she raised her

plastic wine glass and drank a toast – “To me”.

Now she could postpone thought no longer. She forced her mind back to the doctor’s

surgery.; to the shock of diagnosis. Initially she had felt strong and determined. Confident

in her ability to do battle and to win. Then she heard words that she did not want to hear..

She knew what they would mean. A long and impossible fight in which she could never be

the victor. A fight which would leave her family impotent, desperate and exhausted. Could

she do this to them simply to gain a little extra time?

But then she remembered how she loved life, loved her husband, loved watching her

grandchildren grow, loved being with her family, eating, drinking, walking exploring the

world. She could just see the road from here. It was only a short walk away and soon there

would be a bus to,take her home. To take her to the birthday celebrations her family were

planning. To give her family the chance to join with her in battle. To comfort each other in

defeat. To say their farewells. The choice was hers.

She took form her bag the final item, a small bottle of pills. She stared at them. Would her

family understand and see this as the gift it was meant to be? She thought so. After all it

had long been a family joke that she could never decide whether it would be better to end

her days in the great outdoors or in the comfort of a featherbed. This way she could have

both.

She raised her glass again, still uncertain, and drank another toast ” to my family

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