Authors: Susie Martyn
‘Who are these?’ Lizzie bent to stroke the dogs.
‘Full and Bursting. I wouldn’t touch them. Horrible little bastards rolled in fox poo,’ said Antonia, continuing ‘well, seeing as you’re stuck here, fancy coming over for a drink later? It’s Apple Trees, past he pub on the left. Just need to muck out a few stables first - six-ish ok? Jolly good, toodle pip!’
Not waiting for Lizzie’s reply, she strode off up the road
, her golden curls glinting in the sun.
Back in the salubrious surroundings of her room, Lizzie flung the windows open and flopped onto the bed. She couldn’t help dozing off, but was rudely awakened a short while later by a car speeding past, followed by another as a relentless stream of traffic started up. Closing the windows to the racket, Lizzie was beginning to think the villagers had a point. It wasn’t really on, was it, to go blasting through some backwater just in the name of shaving a couple of minutes off your journey.
By now wide awake,
she reached for her mother’s letter as the unthinkable crossed her mind - that if she’d found it just one week later, she’d have been Mrs James Archibald Mountford by then and her beige fate would be sealed. Lizzie shuddered. Or would she somehow have seen the light… Fleetingly it crossed her mind about whether fate had had a fall back plan just in case.
read it again and a neglected voice in her head positively shouted at her.
You’ve got it all wrong! Yes, you work hard, but there’s so much else! When did you last take a sickie because it’s too lovely a day to be in the office? Or go running on the beach just for the joy of it? Or get blitzed with your girlfriends and laugh until you fall over?
It was true. She had been this close to becoming Mrs Boring-without-a-life, married to Mr Serious-with-a-beige-house. Both with serious-but-boring jobs with prospects. Nothing in the slightest wrong with that, of course. Nothing. For other people. Not Lizzie.
Images of Julian in tight trousers and Jude
filing her nails flashed into her head. And endless meetings about budgets and cost cutting - so soul destroying when you were trying to be creative. But oh. OH. How could she possibly have forgotten? She might be miles away but she still had that job and in two and a half weeks she was due back.
working out her notice would be unbearable. Could she call Julian? Did she dare? Just
talk him round? She knew for a fact that some of her workmates were being laid off… Lizzie glanced at her watch – five past six – might she even catch him now?
was put straight through.
!’ Lizzie could feel the hairs on her spine prickle. How could someone be so nauseatingly smug, she thought, picturing him sitting at his desk, smelling the garlic breath coming out of the phone. ‘What a pleasant surprise!’
‘Hello Julian. Actually, the reason I’m phoning, is
to tell you I’m leaving the magazine… I’m…handing in my notice. As soon as I can. You see, er, I’ve had a slight change of plan.’
,’ he said in horror. ‘Oh dear. I had er, heard actually Lizzie…’
But she remembered how Jamie had insisted on inviting work colleagues to the evening do, much against her better judgement.
sounded worried. ‘Now, Lizzie, I do hope it wasn’t my speech that put you off was it?’ he asked fretfully. ‘About the blessings of marriage, which I must say is rather close to my heart. As you know,’ he added, sounding unbelievably self-righteous.
Come on Lizzie, wise up. Do yourself a favour
… ‘Er well, actually, I do have to say it really made me think, Julian. Yes, I did a lot of thinking when I got home. It was very useful indeed.’
dear.’ Julian was sounding even more worried.
Lizzie crossed her fingers
and tried her hardest to sound confident. ‘Actually Julian, what I was wondering, was there any chance, in the er,
, you might just consider accepting a shorter notice? Only this is all terribly difficult for me as I’m sure you can imagine and I would be so awfully grateful… and it would allow me to do more er,
you see… I’m sure Jude would be happy to cover…’
She’d be no such thing, Lizzie knew that but how many times had Lizzie covered for
. She was desperate and it was payback time.
could hear him huffing as he thought about it.
‘Well, it’s not
at all usual… and we’ll miss you terribly…’ he started, sounding more than a little put out. Lizzie held her breath. ‘But, oh, in the circumstances… I suppose it would be alright. Just this once. But don’t let this get out,’ he warned.
the bottle of the Star’s finest white vin de table she’d taken with her to Antonia’s, her hostess looked less than impressed.
Lord, they’re not still flogging that old crap… Here, already opened this. It’s much nicer.’ She handed Lizzie a glass of something red, then enquired when her car would be mended.
’ve absolutely no idea! It’s in the hands of the Gods, and well Mick, whoever Mick is, whenever he deigns to turn up.’
Antonia snorted. ‘
I’m afraid your first mistake was leaving it with Dave in the first place. Mick shows up when he feels like it. I don’t suppose he mentioned that. Doesn’t appear for weeks sometimes. He’s not a bad mechanic, just rather elusive. Hope you weren’t going anywhere in a hurry.’
... Sort of, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Not really...’ Lizzie was just wondering whether to inflict her sorry life story on Antonia, when a rotund black shape with hooves came galloping into the kitchen. It skidded to a halt in front of her, threatening her with a small pair of horns.
animal.’ She glared at it. Through slitted yellow eyes, it glared just as furiously back.
Bugger off, Dave,’ she ordered, pointing over at the door. ‘Get out…’ The animal glanced over at Lizzie, shooting Antonia a look of pure venom before scarpering back outside.
Bloody madhouse,’ said Antonia, slamming the door behind it. ‘Should have eaten it months ago. Now, don’t happen to like horses do you? I’ve got one that’s marvellous with beginners…’
stared at her in horror. ‘
– thank you.’
Antonia topped up their glasses, Lizzie looked around the homely kitchen, with the pile of dogs sprawled on the flagstones beside the aga and bridles cluttering the table. On the walls were old paintings hung slightly crookedly that looked to Lizzie as though they might be valuable and some furniture that looked suited to somewhere grander, but Antonia clearly wasn’t house proud. She’d kicked her boots off at the door and dropped a bunch of carrots still covered with earth in the sink and in spite of the untidiness the cottage was welcoming and homely.
just had to ask her. ‘So how did you come to be living here? And please don’t tell me your car broke down…’
‘I was far too young to tie the knot,’ said
Antonia, resting her feet on an empty chair so that the holes in her socks showed. ‘I mean, golly – twenty two and completely naive. You know how it is. Still, at least I got one thing right. Harry had money, which is always useful… Oh, and I have this daughter. Teenager – frightfully hormonal. Cassie can be quite…touchy. Anyway, we separated,’ she continued matter of factly. ‘He wanted us to move to the States with him - completely out of the question of course. Insisted I leave the horses and when I told him he was being ridiculous, he went without me. But
much better this way,’ she added heartily. ‘I can’t tell you! Anyhow, I came to Littleton about five years ago to look at a horse…Damned animal was bonkers. Bolted with me for miles and bloody nearly killed me but at least I came across the house! Well, Harry’s less generous these days, and it’s frightfully handy with all those stables out there…’ She waved her hand towards the garden. ‘Anyway, been here ever since!’ Then without pausing for breath she asked, ‘So tell me about you. What takes you to Cornwall?’
the blazes did Lizzie start.
‘Ok. Until yesterday, I was engaged to be married, to Jamie.’
Antonia’s eyes were like saucers.
‘Only it was all a big mistake. God, such a big mistake…’ Lizzie shook her head. ‘And before that, my mother died.’
She shouldn’t have had that second glass.
Wine always did this to Lizzie - lowered her defences, heightened her emotions. Her voice wavered. In all this time, in a
she’d never spoken those words out loud to anyone.
ched across the table and patted her arm, a little like she patted her dogs.
‘She had a tumour. In her brain. And it was the most
terrible thing ever watching her go through it. She was so brave…’ Lizzie hadn’t known there were any tears left after earlier and she mopped them gratefully with the tea towel Antonia pushed towards her.
‘Anyway, she left me a letter,’ Lizzie
started to sob heartbreakingly. ‘I only found it two days ago, and it made me wake up to myself, I suppose you could say. I’ve realised I needed to change things.’
‘Starting with the boyfriend.’ Antonia
looked at her, suitably impressed. ‘Golly! Awfully good place to start.’
Ok. Let me tell you about him,’ Lizzie said, blowing her nose and pulling herself together. ‘He’s sort of good looking. Well, I thought so. Obviously... And quite arrogant. Thinks he’s superior to everyone else. And serious. He does work hard and make a lot of money, which he likes to use to show off. And buy expensive beige things for his horrible beige house. Our wedding was all about how rich and tasteful he is. I can’t believe how close I came to marrying him…’ Laughing and crying at the same time.
should have married him first, Lizzie and set yourself up,’ said Antonia entirely seriously.
‘I’m surprised he hadn’t made me sign some sort of prenuptial agreement…
you know, he even insured our wedding. Without telling me…’
Lord! Sounds as ghastly as mine was! No-one ever tells you that men are such crap! Well, there’s the odd one that isn’t, like my vet for example. Lovely man, darling. Not my type at all though, sadly… There’s always William,’ she added thoughtfully. ‘But stupid bloody idea isn’t it, tying yourself down like that…’
’ll probably finish better off than when he started, thanks to the insurance. Plus, his middle name is Archibald.’
Antonia hooted. ‘That’s nothing. M
ine’s was Cecil! Like something from the dark ages! Absolutely no doubt darling, we’re much better off without them! Cheers!’
Antonia poured out the rest of the wine
, how long ago exactly did you lose your mother?’ she asked more soberly.
‘Just coming up to a
year.’ The lump was back in Lizzie’s throat.
Golly. He was in a hurry then, wasn’t he? Awfully soon, I would have thought…’
Lizzie was blinking back tears yet again.
I’m so sorry!’ she howled, her tears by now a torrent, ‘but until now, I haven’t really talked about it!’ And with that she completely dissolved.
A rather shocked Antonia
clattered off and came back with a loo roll, the tea towel by now well and truly soaked. Then after more clattering about in a cupboard and the sound of the top being taken out of a decanter, she stuck a small glass under Lizzie’s nose.
Just a teeny snifter. Awfully good I find, when you’re a bit… you know…’
The snifter did the trick and fortunately Lizzie had gathered herself together before the door was flung open again, only instead of a sheep, this time it was a furious-looking teenager. With huge flashing eyes and hair flying out behind her, she was stunning.
‘I can’t believe you forgot.’ She gave Antonia a look like daggers. ‘What sort of a mother forgets her own daughter. Honestly. Sometimes I think you do it on purpose to save on petrol.’ And she shook her red curls and flounced haughtily up the stairs.
ed guiltily at Lizzie. ‘She’ll get over it. I expect Elspeth gave her a lift. Bloody woman. It’s her mission in life to make me look like a rubbish mother.’
‘That’s not exactly
difficult…’ yelled the voice from upstairs, but Antonia ignored her.
shouted without bothering to get up. ‘Scout needs mucking out. And Felix called – he’ll be late. Can you catch Hamish while you’re out there?’