Authors: Victoria Twead
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
A story from the village of Sixpenny Cross
Inspired by Life ~
New York Times and Wall Street Journal
bestselling author of the internationally
My talented friend, Sara Alexi,
whose village stories I enjoy so much.
Sara, you made me yearn to try
to write a few of my own...
My loyal friend, Julie Haigh,
who has supported and encouraged me
in a million ways.
Julie, I am eternally grateful to you.
Terry Bryan, Sue Clamp, Julie Haigh and Avril Druce
who all looked at my story before it was published
and gave me such helpful suggestions.
Other Books by Victoria Twead
I’m old now. My hair is the colour of the ashes in the fire and my skin is no longer smooth and tight like yours. But although my voice quavers when I speak, I still feel young in my head.
Like you, I was born in the village of Sixpenny Cross. Now, eighty years later, I’m still here. I’ve watched new families arrive, and old ones die out. I’ve seen babies born and watched them grow into adults. So many stories!
Sometimes I don’t sleep so well because memories crowd into my head.
But you, little one, with your soft golden curls, you are asleep now, but I’ll tell you a story while I watch over you. It’s hard to choose which tale to tell first.
A is for Abigail.
Yes, I’ll tell you about Abigail Martin.
When I saw the travelling people drive through the village this spring, heading for Sixpenny Woods, I was reminded of nice, young Abigail Martin.
Poor Abigail had a deep yearning, a hollow part in her soul. I am sure it was because of that terrible need, that great gnawing emptiness she felt inside, that she made a bargain.
And twenty-four hours later, when she heard that tiny snuffling sound, she could have ignored it.
But she didn’t.
And life for Abigail was never the same again.
“It isn’t fair, Daisy,” Abigail complained. She began counting off points on her manicured fingers. “Look at me! I have naturally blonde hair. (Well, almost.) I’m happily married and I live in a great big, beautiful house. Sixpenny Cross won the Prettiest Village in England contest three years running. I’m not short of money and I don’t need to work. I have friends. I even have you, Sam.”
She reached forward to fondle the retriever’s golden ears. Sam’s brown eyes stared into Abigail’s green ones.
“Oh come on, Abigail, cheer up!” said Daisy, setting down her coffee cup. “It’s really not like you to moan so much. You should be grateful for all your blessings.”
“I have a sister with three children,” Abigail continued, ignoring her friend. “And a brother with two. I even volunteer at the school so I’m
“Listen, you can always adopt.”
“I told you, Aiden won’t even entertain the idea. He says he could never love a child that wasn’t his.”
She broke off to stare through the window. In the distance an old lady, a shawl thrown over hunched shoulders, trudged along a lane, dragging a small child by the hand. Travellers.
“How long are the gypsies going to stay in Sixpenny Woods?” asked Daisy, following her gaze. “You know our lawnmower went missing last week? Simon is positive it was the gypsies.”
“I expect they’ll move on soon. They always do.”
“Look at the time!” exclaimed Daisy. “I promised Simon I’d cook steak for supper tonight. I’d better hurry or there’ll be nothing left at the butcher’s.”
She gathered her stuff, kissed her friend on the cheek and headed for the door.
“Now stop feeling sorry for yourself, Abigail. It’ll happen when you least expect it.”
“Will it?” Abigail asked Sam as Daisy closed the back door behind herself. “Will it really? Will it
happen? Aiden and I have been married nearly five years. We hardly see each other because of his job. And how many children do we have? None!”
Aiden stared out at the iconic skyline. The hotel room was expensive, a penthouse commanding a spectacular view of London’s most famous landmarks. He could even see the silver-grey Thames threading through the city. Behind him, a woman was dressing.
“Help me with this zipper, would you?” she said, her accent unmistakably American.
She stepped forward and stood with her back to him, blocking his panoramic view. Even though she no longer attracted him, he couldn’t help admiring her shapely curves. She was perfectly aware of the effect she had on men and unhurriedly lifted her long hair to allow him access to the fastenings. Aiden zipped, then battled with a tiny pearl button.
“There you go,” he said. “Nice dress.”
“It wasn’t cheap. So little choice. The stores here are nothing like back home. So
. Gee, I’ll be glad when I get out of this grey country.”
“It won’t be long now.”
“Okay, I’m going out for a couple of hours. I’ll see you later.”
She stepped away, and Aiden’s view of London sprang back. But it wasn’t London or Martha he was thinking about. It was Abigail and Sixpenny Cross.
Abigail sat in the kitchen, deep in thought. In the background, a newscaster on the radio relayed news of the Falklands war, but she was deaf to it all.
Sam expectantly eyed the leash that dangled from the hook on the back of the kitchen door.
The phone rang and Abigail picked up the kitchen extension, switching off the radio and Margaret Thatcher at the same time. Sam lost hope and flopped onto the floor.
“Oh, hi Hilary, how are you?”
“Abigail, I’m sorry to ’ave to do this to you at such short notice…”
“What’s up, Hilary? You sound stressed.”
Hilary was the Martins’ cleaning lady.
“It’s my older sister in Wales. She’s ’ad a fall, poor thing, a serious one. I’m going to ’ave to go up there and ’elp out. I ’ate letting you down, but…”
“Oh Hilary! How awful! Of course you must go! Don’t worry about me, I’ll be absolutely fine. You know it’s just Sam and me in the house and it hardly gets dirty.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! This house is much too big for Aiden and me, most of it is never used. It just won’t be a problem.” She paused, and then added quickly, “Of course your job will be waiting for you when you get back.”
“Thank you, if you are absolutely sure…” There was relief in Hilary’s voice.
“Don’t worry about a thing, just go to your sister. I do hope she gets well soon, and I’ll see you when you come back.”
Abigail sighed as she rang off.
“Okay, time for your walk, boy.”
Sam jumped up and danced round the kitchen, his eyes never leaving the leash on the back door.
The phone rang again.
Sam flopped down on the floor once more, his head on his paws.
Abigail picked up the receiver, convinced it would be Hilary again, but it wasn’t her cleaning lady this time.
“Hi Aiden, how’s things?”
Aiden phoned daily, and she loved the opportunity to chat. If only he had more time.
“Job going well?”
“Yes, we’re really close to getting that contract, just a few loose ends to tie up with the client.”
“I’ll be glad when they finally sign. This has been going on for so long. Are you still coming home on Friday?”
“Of course I am, Abs. I can’t wait!”
“I miss you so much, Aiden.”
“I know… But I’ll be home soon. Any village news?”
“No, not really. Hilary phoned to say she’s gone to Wales so won’t be cleaning for us for a while. Her sister had a fall. And Daisy came round for coffee. That’s it really.”
“Well, we’ll be able to catch up properly on Friday evening. Oh, must go, my client is here. Bye Abs, love you.”
The phone went dead and Abigail sighed. Sam opened one eye hopefully.
“It’s your turn now,” she said, clipping the leash to his collar.
Locking the door behind her, Abigail and Sam set off down the path for their walk, their legs brushing the daffodils that leaned towards them.
Turn left or right? Which way along the lane? Sam faced right, straining the leash, hoping Sixpenny Woods and its wealth of scents would be today’s destination.
“Sorry, Sam, but all the time the travellers are camped in the woods, we’re not going there. We’d better turn left and walk to the village.”
Abigail tugged Sam the other way and together they headed along the lane in the direction of the village. Sam snuffled happily in the lush grass, reading messages left by rabbits and other animals. Abigail watched a newborn lamb in the field trying out its legs as it danced around its grazing mother before butting its hard little head against her side, begging for a drink.
In the distance, she could see a tractor gouging neat parallel lines in the soil. She guessed it was Archie Draper, and waved. But Archie was too busy concentrating on ploughing straight lines to notice her.
It should have been idyllic, and it was. Except… Except for the hollowness inside Abigail. A deep, dark hole of cold nothingness that only a baby could fill.
The expensive Harley Street specialist said there was nothing wrong. He had pronounced Abigail fit and well. There was nothing wrong with Aiden either. But still no baby appeared.
Abigail tried to put the whole painful subject out of her mind.
“Hello, Stan,” she said as a familiar figure pedalled past her.
“Afternoon, Mrs Martin. Lovely day!”
Crime in Sixpenny Cross was almost non-existent and for years Stan Cooper had been the village police officer. Unless it was urgent, he travelled everywhere on his bicycle. In an emergency, he used the police car which had become a fixture in front of the police station.
Aiden always said that Stan had the easiest job in Sixpenny Cross and the only job he could think of that was easier than Stan’s was being a weather forecaster in the Sahara Desert. It was probably a good thing that Sixpenny Cross wasn’t gripped by a crime wave. Although Stan was a well-liked and diligent policeman, his clumsiness was legendary.
“Did you find Daisy and Simon’s lawnmower?” she called after him.
“Yes, they forgot they lent it out to Frank Jones.”
“Not stolen then?”
“No!” Stan shouted over his shoulder, wobbled dangerously, righted himself and pedalled away.
Abigail and Aiden’s house was half a mile from the village green. They’d found it in the glossy pages of
a magazine they subscribed to when they lived in London. Abigail had fallen in love with the house even before they viewed it. It had a hefty price tag, but for such a beautiful house, with its extensive grounds and separate guest cottage, what did one expect?
And they could afford it. They could also afford to pay for a cleaning lady and gardener. Abigail’s plan was that she’d soon fill the house with children who would play in the grounds and attend the village school. But the house remained scarcely lived in. With Aiden away so much, Abigail used only the kitchen, sunroom, bedroom and bathroom.
Higgledy-piggledy cottages, some thatched, some with red roof-tiles, lined the approach to the village. Yellow daffodils swayed in the spring sunshine and bees were already busy visiting the flowers, one by one. Here the road was better, and there was a pavement to walk on.
The Dew Drop Inn was quiet. Angus McDonald, the landlord, was busy sweeping the floor and didn’t see Abigail pass.
Abigail passed the little school, listening to the hum of learning. She glanced at her Tiffany watch. Soon the bell would ring and the children would spill out into the yard. One day, maybe, her own children would be among them.
At the centre of Sixpenny Cross was the large village green. In summer, cricket matches took place against rival village teams. There was a pond fringed by reeds, and a willow tree that trailed branches into the water and shaded a bench where old folks liked to sit.
Today the green was empty apart from a pair of mallard ducks guarding an untidy nest. Cars were slowly arriving and mothers were beginning to migrate towards the school, preparing to collect their youngsters. Abigail greeted a few that she knew by sight.
At the village shop, which was also the Post Office, Jayne Fairweather, the postmistress, waved to her as she passed.
“Hello, Abigail!” she called. “Is your husband coming home soon?”
“Yes, this weekend!”
It was good to be known and to exchange friendly words with fellow villagers, but Abigail had never felt wholly accepted. She was very aware that many of the villagers’ families went back generations. The headstones in the churchyard were proof of that. Abigail and Aiden would always be ‘newcomers’. However friendly people seemed to be, they’d still give her sidelong glances when they thought she wasn’t looking.
When she’d mentioned it to Aiden, he’d shrugged.
“They’re just jealous,” he said.
“Jealous of what?”
“Our money, probably.”
The irony of it was that Abigail would have exchanged all her money, her Audi car, her jewellery, and the house for a baby.
“Once round the green, and then home,” Abigail told Sam, who was already panting. “And I’m keeping you on the lead, I don’t want you chasing Mr and Mrs Duck.”
Two figures sat on the bench, an adult and a child. They seemed familiar. Abigail had no intention of walking anywhere near them until a movement caught her eye. For the first time, she looked directly at the pair. A blackbird sang in the willow tree.
Was the woman beckoning to her? Surely not!
The old lady wore something shapeless that almost reached the floor. Her feet, encased in ancient suede brogues, sat side by side on the ground, peeping out from under the hemline of her skirt. A shawl was thrown over her head and shoulders, so only her weather-worn face and hands were visible. It was the gypsy and child Abigail had seen earlier, walking down the lane.
The child sat still. Only his hands moved, making restless shapes in his lap.
The old woman beckoned again, and Abigail glanced over her shoulder, checking that the signal wasn’t intended for someone else.
“Sit for a moment,” commanded the old woman.
“Yes. We mean you no harm. Sergei, move along and make space for the pretty lady.”
“Honestly, it’s quite okay...”
“You don’t want to sit with us?”
Abigail didn’t, but she was far too well-mannered to say so. Sergei shuffled along and regarded her steadily with small dark eyes set in a pale face. His fingers never stopped their manic dance.
Abigail sat, and Sam flopped down at her feet.
“Bufniță has been waiting for you,” breathed the old woman.