Short Stories Series 8

The Song of Hands and Teaspoons 17/04/16

In the mornings I am cold and sit at the kitchen table in a ray of sunshine, getting warm in its brightness and the kettle’s steam. There are familiar, comforting sounds around me, the gentle patter of morning voices, the scrape of a butter knife on toast, the chink of a spoon against a bowl. Tiny pieces of dust float on the golden trail of the sun’s light, and I drink in the warmth of brewing tea and the movements of hands on cups, their variety speaking many stories.

At morning tea the room is busy; bowls clatter against plates, the voices are pitched higher, the company larger. The hands of the drinkers are more hurried as they plan their next movements. The scent of scones and cake wafts about on the steam. I relish the company as I draw the attention of different people every moment. The room is bright and warm.

When lunchtime comes the voices are tired, and the sounds are of hurried eating and few words. Cups are exchanged for mugs and the drinking is less pensive. The microwave beeps and the kettle screeches. I feel taken for granted in my silence.

At afternoon tea the company is few, but gentle and watchful in nature. A cat leaps and lands softly on a lap, and we sit in quiet contemplation of all afternoon teas past. The sun is dropping and casting an orange glow with less warmth and more passion. A trickle of approaching footsteps signals the arrival of a few home-comers, and the moments are peaceful and safe.

Over dinner I am slowly forgotten, a cup or two brewed and poured from my lips during cooking before I am made redundant by wine and end-of-day elation. I sit by the kettle as it cools and slowly the warmth fades from the day. They sit by the fire and become first louder, then quieter, as the wine plays its game of highs and lows. One by one they trickle out and the house falls quiet. The fire turns to embers, and then to ash, and the kettle and I play out our cold night time courtship as I cool to the crisp veneer of unused porcelain and wait for the dawn.

The Farm 18/04/16

It had been almost the end of Winter when the letter arrived. Sammy had scribbled her communications on pieces of card, torn from some kind of packaging. Yes, she’d said, you’ll like the farm in Spring. Mind you get someone to care for the garden and the market and bring your boots. It hadn’t been a long letter, but the hastiness of the handwriting had given Cody pause for thought.

Today he had his gumboots on and his backpack shouldered, stuffed with the few things he actually used every day. In one hand he had his train ticket and in the other he had three bags of assorted vegetables and bulbs that had grown in Sammy’s old plot that he didn’t think would go bad on the journey. It was a cold morning with the kind of frosty air you felt had a slight crunch to it. He pulled his chin down into his scarf to keep the chill out of his jacket.

On the train Cody tried to imagine what the farm was like. He knew it was run by an older couple, Olive and Charlie, who apparently were very nice about letting him come. He had images in his head of fields of beans and wheat that went on forever into the distance, fields you could completely disappear in, and the farmhouse nestled in amongst them, though he knew it didn’t make sense for the house to be in the middle.

Walking up the dirt road that came off the main street, he wasn’t disappointed by what he saw ahead, although he was surprised to see sunflowers; Sammy’s work, he’d bet. When he got closer he could see her, the ginger cat she’d described trailing after her as she moved along checking an irrigation line one drip point at a time. He knew it was Sammy, and not one of the other people who lived here, even though she was facing the other way. Sammy had a distinctive way of kneeling down to look at things, something he’d become so familiar with when they worked the market garden together, that for a moment he felt like he’d gone back several years in time. She didn’t see he’d arrived for a while, absorbed in the task as he drew closer. Cody briefly worried that he hadn’t let her know the date, but then he supposed most days were similar when you were doing this kind of work. He stopped when he got within a short distance, went over to the bean plot and stomped his foot to make a firm footprint in the mud; it was a thing he used to do in the garden which had always made Sammy laugh.
‘The rain will wash your marks away.’ She would say, looking solemn, and then giggle. Sammy heard the sound and it took her a moment to realise she wasn’t daydreaming. It was an odd greeting for such old friends, when she noticed him, but there were enough smiles in it that the trip didn’t seem wasted.

Sammy explained to Cody how the irrigation worked before she showed him around the farmhouse. It was just how they worked together. Grouch the cat had more to say than Sammy, and took to Cody immediately, securing him firmly by the fire all evening while Olive and Charlie asked him questions and Sammy tolerantly brought them all cups of chai tea.

That week Sammy showed Cody her work, and he helped. It was almost like being back in the garden plot, but much bigger, and harder. Cody would always feel heavy and exhausted by the time they came in from the fields, mud caked on their boots and their arms full of tools and harvest. There was firewood to be cut and the big fire to be lit, the chickens to feed and irrigation lines to check, pruning to be done and manure to be hauled out into the fields. Grouch the cat tagged along much of the time, though sometimes he waited in the door to the laundry if the work was noisy or it was raining. Cody wondered how Sammy kept working like this for months on end. Yet at the same time, he loved it.

While they worked, Sammy and Cody tried hard to talk. It was a strange experience. Back home in the garden when they expected to be in town forever, there had always been long, companionable silences where they just looked after the plants together and appreciated the presence of someone else out in the rain or enjoying the sun. But here, there was the constant awareness of time flowing on and the ever-encroaching day when Cody would have to get back on the train, even from the very first day, and it seemed a waste if they hadn’t talked in every waking moment. The pressure on the conversation made it difficult, and if they weren’t discussing plants, usually they talked about Grouch. He had character, and it was easy to discuss him endlessly.

On the day Cody had to leave he was very organised, all his things back in the backpack and his boots cleaned up ready to avoid dirtying the train where he sat. But he let Grouch hold him into his seat at the big breakfast table longer than he really should have. Sammy walked him to the station this time. Olive had given her the morning off, saying there would only be irrigation and a little pruning to do today. They walked in a thick silence, Sammy with her arms folded about one another. Cody thought to himself that he should give her a hug, but the air between them felt like jelly, difficult to move in, strange to touch. Two minutes before the train was due, he turned to her and said,
‘Thank you for letting me visit.’ And tears sprang into both of their eyes. It seemed as though this surprised them both. Cody said, ‘When I finish at uni, I’ll move here.’
‘What about the market?’ Said Sammy. Cody thought about that. Eventually he said,
‘There are markets here too, right?’ And Sammy realised that she didn’t know, she’d stayed so well away.

Spring Toast

Abbey and Tom were watching the ducks. The Spring leaves were showing on the deciduous trees around the lake, and water lilies had appeared on the surface in just a few weeks. The sound of birdsong was all around, quiet against the quacking of the ducks, and Abbey was entranced, watching for robins in the trees. Paddling about near them were a number of male mallard ducks and one female. Tom had brought his leftover toast from breakfast to give to them. He was making up what the ducks were saying as he tossed bits of toast to them.
‘Mine! This bit’s mine! I’m gonna give it to my lady duck!’
‘No! That bread’s for MY lady duck!’
‘Guys, there’s only one lady duck on this pond. She’s gonna get really fat if everyone gives her their food.’
‘Do YOU want this bit of bread?’
Abbey smiled and watched the ducks all rush for each bit of toast Tom tossed away. She turned herself sideways and lay down on the bench with her head on Tom’s lap so she could look up at the trees.
‘Watch the leaves Tom! The new leaves are tiny. Like little bright green fairies with the birds weaving in and out dancing with them.’ Abbey saw brilliant yellow butterflies up there too, a swirling bright party of dainty-sized winged creatures welcoming the sunshine. She closed her eyes and watched the dancing green lights on her eyelids, listening to the music that the birdsong made. There must have been four of five different voices in the chorus of gentle chirping at all times, and Abbey wondered how she hadn’t spotted all the different birds, but so many of them were tiny. Tom continued to see a duck story, and he was engrossed too, but differently. It didn’t matter. Spring wove a meditative spell around them, nature whispering of tranquillity and excitement at the same time.

And even though they were watching and thinking of different things, Tom and Abbey were more together here than if they had been staring into each other’s eyes.


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