Settling – Buying Back the Farm

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I am posting a little something that has been teasing me. It emerged from the blank page one dark evening earlier this year and I have turned it around a few times to decide whether to progress it . I tried it as a ‘short short story’, which is OK if a bit abrupt. It seems to want to grow.

It goes something like this: A couple travel on a local train to a small town in a rural area, to meet a man from the past of one of them. It is an uneasy reunion.   Several possible futures present themselves for the three characters – Ruth, Lew and Pascoe. And the baby, of course. Not yet a character, but potentially a big player in all of their lives. It’s pretty rough and needs unpacking, but I think it contains the rudiments of something interesting.

Settling

‘We could walk – it’s only a couple of miles,’ Pascoe said, looking along the pot-holed road. ‘But I’m not sure she’d make it.’

A dog barked from the direction of the farm where Pascoe had lived as a child.

‘Sorry to spoil your boys’ reunion. I should have stayed behind.’

The wind nipped through Ruth’s winter coat that no longer buttoned across her abdomen. Lew put his arm over her shoulders, but it felt hard and awkward, not comforting.

‘It’s not that I can gallivant about like a schoolboy anymore.’

Pascoe looked sullenly at Ruth. She knew he resented her for taking Lew. For settling on him. For crying out loud, they were over thirty! It wasn’t as if they had all the time in the world.

Pascoe kicked a loose stone, looked up at the miserable clouds. His lank hair was long enough to fall over his eyes. It made him look like a sulky teenager.

‘It’s going to rain anyway. Let’s go to the pub here.’ Lew said.

‘You still remember that, then?’ Pascoe muttered. ‘It was our place once.’

Lew pointed towards the centre of the small town. Ruth expected him to hold her hand, but he didn’t, and her fingers grasped the cold air beside him.

Ruth and Lew had taken the local train together through the flat countryside of Lew’s childhood. They rode through endless sodden fields, ploughed for the winter, reflecting the sullen sky like an enormous fractured mirror. Ruth could understand why Lew had wanted to leave.

Pascoe had been waiting at the little station for Lew – but not for her. He’d been watching the train’s arrival, his face eager, like a child’s. And when he’d seen her, with Lew, clocked the state she was in, his face had closed up.

It was obvious that Lew hadn’t told Pascoe about her, although Lew talked about Pascoe as if it was yesterday. His old friend had joined the army when the farm went broke. Lew had gone to university and they’d not spoken for years. Until, out of the blue, Lew had got a message that Pascoe was home for good. He was talking about buying back the farm.

She walked awkwardly between the two men; the baby was pressing on her bladder. Perhaps she should have stayed at home, let Lew have a final free weekend with his old friend. Let them check out the farm for Pascoe. He said it had been run to rack and ruin, and was on the market at a pittance. But Lew hadn’t wanted to leave her on her own. What if something happened? It was as if he had the world to lose. She wouldn’t do anything stupid – she had a month, almost, before the baby arrived.

The pub was one of the few public places still open in this small town. It was almost deserted.

Ruth made her excuses and rushed to the ladies, pushing open the heavy door. Inside, she was greeted by the smell of bleach and the undertone of human body functions. Since her pregnancy, her sense of smell was acute, and she imagined that she could detect traces of the other women who had used the facilities, scenting their spoor like a bitch hound. She tried to focus on the keen smell of bleach, and cleanliness. She didn’t like the way Pascoe smelled. His hygiene clearly wasn’t good, and he masked it with strong aftershave that left a trail behind him. Lew was fastidious; he showered sometimes twice a day. He even washed the sheets every other night. Cleanliness was something they agreed upon. And wanting children. They both wanted a family. They hadn’t been a sizzling love match, but they got on well. And they were both inordinately fussy, it seemed. That had seemed enough. Better than disappointment later on when the passion was spent. But there was no passion to be spent.  They liked each other, didn’t they? There was something between them other than a mutual agreement on cleanliness and children? The lavatory was dank, and the accumulated odours seemed to emerge from the painted brick walls like evil spirits.

Ruth ran the cold tap, imagining it cleansing the air of all the smells. The water pressure was high, and made a torrent in the old-fashioned basin, splashing her front, seeping through her jumper, chilling her belly.

‘Water,’ she said to her unborn child, ‘That’s water…’

Ruth wondered if she could stomach the pub lunch in this dismal place, but her hunger was extreme. Ruth opened the door to the bar; the light was dingy – dull energy saving bulbs poking through yellowed lampshades. She paused in the doorway. The men were sitting opposite each other, clearly in earnest conversation. There were not even drinks on the table. Pascoe reached over and snatched Lew’s hand. Lew was shaking his head. She heard him say the words: Too late…

Ruth let the door close on the spring. At the sound, Lew glanced up, and what was between him and Pascoe shrivelled.

Lew stood, and held out a chair for her. His face had a look of fear. He touched her stomach.

Pascoe stood.

‘I’ll go alone, Lew. You’d better look after that woman of yours.’

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