She wasn’t mad really – Jenny Bridge

She wasn’t mad at all really. At least she didn’t think she was. But how could she be sure?
Certainly she knew what everybody thought about her. Years of being chased by the local
youth calling out, “Here comes the mad woman!”, years of seeing mothers pull their
children towards them as she approached, years of being alone and ignored, had put her
in no doubt of that. But did that prove she was indeed mad? She really didn’t know.
Her unsettled start in life had made her self sufficient and wary of friendships. Her
hearing problem hadn’t helped – she wasn’t exactly deaf but a childhood illness had
rendered her hearing less acute than it might have been and her speech less clear. At
school her main aim was to be invisible and this she had achieved by keeping quiet and
out of trouble. There was a general assumption that she was unintelligent but this was far
from the truth. She had learned rapidly the mechanics and, more importantly, the value, of
reading and books had become her companions and her comforters.
She was never quite sure how it had happened that when she left school she began work
in a bakery shop. She didn’t remember ever having any choice in the matter. Serving the
customers was a disaster. Her hearing and her speech made effective communication
impossible. So by chance she found her place in the kitchen with recipes to read and
follow. Her self taught bakery skills developed quickly and her cakes, scones and breads
became popular with the customers. She worked quickly without pausing to take part in
the usual chatter and gossip that her colleagues enjoyed. Her hard work was reflected in
the profits of the bakery and she became a valuable asset to her employers. So much so
that they turned a blind eye to the fact that at every spare moment she could be found
curled up in a cosy corner with her head in a book.
When she wasn’t at work she was often at the local library filling her large shopping bag
with books. Fiction was her favourite and she worked her way through classics and new
writers alike. Some she liked, some she did not but she always finished every book she
started and had strong opinions about them all. Her own life was quiet and uneventful but
through her reading she had experienced every human event felt every emotion.
As the years passed, time spent in the heat of the bakery and the dimness of her little
rented room affected her appearance and her bearing. Her face was pale and her
shoulders stooped from bending over the kitchen work bench and peering at her books.
She had no interest in gazing at mirrors to see her straggly unkempt hair and her shabby
unfashionable clothes. She spoke only when she had to and her voice became croaky with
disuse. Differences of this sort are rarely admired. It was no wonder that she was mocked
and shunned by those who regarded her with wariness and a little fear.
When she reached retirement age she was surprised to find that she had a sizeable sum
of money in her savings account. Her rented room had been cheap and her outgoings
minimal. She had always admired a tiny cottage on the outskirts of the town and when it
came onto the market, in an uncharacteristic burst of initiative, she bought it and moved in.
It was an odd looking little house and did nothing to improve her reputation as a mad
woman, but she was comfortable there and at first quite happy. However, she soon began
to realise that it was now a long walk to the library and her ageing limbs began to ache as
she carried her heavy bag of books to and fro. She had more leisure time now and a bag
full of books didn’t last long. She started to become more critical of what she was reading
and frustrated about the quality of the writing, frequently muttering as she tossed aside a
finished tome, ” I could write better myself. ”
One day at the library she caught sight of a notice advertising a writers’ group. “We are a
friendly group of people who like to write” it said. “Why not come along and share your
writing with us?”
So, she mused, maybe other people do write. People who live in this town and use this
library. Maybe she should have a go.
As soon as she was home she found pen and paper and began. Soon the words began to
flow and she lost all sense of time. She wrote of things that had happened in her
childhood, people she had worked with in the bakery, thoughts and fears she had felt all
her life and told no one. She invented characters and wove them into stories.
Now her books took longer to read as she spent more and more time on her writing. On
each visit to the library the writing group notice seemed to challenge her. She was
intrigued by the notion of joining but afraid she would never find the confidence.
Until one day she overheard two women discussing the group.
” Oh yes,” said one, ” I go every week and read what I’ve written. But you don’t have to
read, you can just listen if you want to. I love it. Everyone’s so friendly and helpful. Of
course, we’re all a bit mad but none the worse for that.”
Mad, she pondered. Maybe I would fit in after all.
She knew it was now or never. She was getting older and if she didn’t find the courage
now she never would.
The next week with pounding heart and trembling legs she made her way to the meeting
place. To her amazement, she was greeted warmly and made welcome in a way that had
never happened to her before. Somehow she managed to introduce herself and then
settled down to listen. She was entranced and fascinated by all she heard and determined
that next time she would read something she had written.
She could hardly believe her rather unreliable ears when she heard the subject of next
week’s homework. How incredibly thoughtful of them to have chosen a subject just for her.
She worked hard on her piece of writing about life in a bakery and practised reading it out
loud until she was satisfied that she would be brave enough to read it to the group.
On the day of the meeting she found her most successful recipe and spent the afternoon
baking, putting the results in a basket to take to the group. At least this was one talent she
was confident about.
She opted to read first fearing that her confidence would disappear as she listened to the
others. They chuckled at her amusing anecdotes about the bakery, gave her encouraging
words about her style and showed greats appreciation of the baking she’d brought.
She sat back to listen to the others with a warm glow. It was only as she listened to stories
of the strange shaped stones up on the moors that she began to realise the mistake she’d
made. The glow disappeared as she went cold with shame and horror.
“Oh,”she gasped,”I’m so sorry. I was sure you said Madwoman’s scones!”
“Don’t you worry” came the reply. “It’s the best meeting we’ve ever had. Could you bake us
something every week?”
Thus, the writers’ group came to value their two new additions – the madwoman and her
scones!

 

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