Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Hole


Maude was a 13 yr 7 month old whippet-collie-x lurcher. Myself and my other two dogs were totally devastated when we lost her to a stroke. A friend suggested that I wrote something down. Concentrating on something did help. This is what I wrote on that awful day when we lost a loyal friend. If you have dogs, you will understand...


HOLE
There’s a hole.

I've tried to fill it with 2 slices of toast and a bowl of stew but they fell right through and there’s still a hole.

Alice tumbled down a hole and nearly drowned in a saltwater pool.
Just call me Alice.
Drink Me said the label on the whisky bottle.
No Thanks, I said, and had a steaming mug of tea.
I hugged it for a while and then threw it down the hole.

GONE.

GONE.

Going, then GONE.

There’s more room on the sofa.
Through the long, dark, sunny afternoon we curled up together.
The one who cried for her sister, on my feet.
The one who feels my insides drop, close enough to stop another pool forming.
Lick.

The doors seem tiny. They surround us and we can’t get out.
We’ll find the key and they will grow so we can walk through.
But not today.

Today the hole is with us and we feel its depths.

We will fall down the hole; in the park, on the beach, in the woods. At mealtimes and bedtimes.
Each time we fall the hole will get shorter and one day we will just step in it and walk out, not drown.

I hate the bearded bastard, in a leather coat that made her first 14 weeks a living hell. 
The one that shut her in (under the stairs?) and hit her with a rolled up newspaper. The one that tainted her whole life. There were clues. Given by cowering and fear. Any more we don’t know.
Badly neglected and abused, they said. We’re not allowed to tell you more.

I first saw her, led by a series of random events, to her door. 

That’s the one.

They called her, Illis. I called her, Maude.
Come into the garden, Maude...
Yes, it’s yours. All yours.
No cupboards, no newspapers.
Just love.
LOTS of love.

Both ways.
Honoured by the little girl who couldn't trust anyone. Except her new pack.

The pack grew.
One matching rescue. Unwanted and unloved but unharmed.
One with blue eyes. The baby.

Designers like 3s. They balance. Not too much. Not too little. Just right.
That works on a windowsill but not when you only have 2 hands.
That makes it tough.

Today 4 became 3.
Don’t forget to count me.
Life will be easier.
But so much harder. So much, much harder.

Excuse me now.
Alice is calling.
We’re still tumbling.
Over
and
over
and
OVER.

Bye Maudie,
signed your very, very best friends,
Lucaya, Mabel and Tracey
x

7/12/2014


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Guest Blog: A Favourite Lincolnshire Walk by Tracey Edges


I was recently honoured by being asked to contribute a guest post to one of my favourite blogs by Tanya Oliver: http://bit.ly/13i2hVW 

 

Tanya is the Author of "From High Heels To High Hills." It's a very entertaining read even if you are not remotely into walking!
http://amzn.to/13i1692 


I am a freelance writer and author. I love travelling and walking, particularly in the Lake District, Kent and Sussex. My other obsession is posh heels! If you like the blog then I have a book "From High Heels to High Hills" available via www.stridingedge.com that you may also like. I have travelled to many parts of the world but never found anywhere quite like the Lake District. I also lead "Fix the Fells" - a conservation programme in the Lake District to repair and maintain eroded paths. Enjoy the blog!

Guest Blog: A Favourite Lincolnshire Walk by Tracey Edges


"Tracey Edges is a Writer, Artist and Radio Presenter whose pictures and stories I have enjoyed for many months. I am delighted she has written a guest blog for me (the first one!) This beautifully written piece takes you out of the Lake District and Sussex and into a part of the country I have never explored - Lincolnshire - and she has a few friends accompanying her...."


My blog post can be found here: http://bit.ly/13i1Pam 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pain



She had felt fragile all day but never expected...

This.

It hurt.

Hurt bad.

Her wasted desire dripped off in hardened shards. A chandelier, shedding its glittering components.

It had been raining and she had been shopping.

The bags, dumped inelegantly in the hallway, spilled out their contents in higgledy-piggledy mounds. An egg’s orange yolk curled its way along the channels between the encaustic tiles. The dogs thrust their noses in, excitedly looking for enticing morsels and treats.

Her hair clung to her face in dark, wet straggles. Some over her eyes, some sticking into her mouth. Her mouth, pouting in disbelief, hung slightly open. She had nothing left to shut it. Nothing left to say.

The crystal shards arrowed down and pinned her bare feet to the bare floorboards.

The dogs played with her discarded muddy boots and damp socks. She didn't notice. She didn't notice them joyously eating the raw sausages either.

She couldn't move. The blades of emotion had rendered her pinned to the spot. She hadn't chosen the spot. It was just where she had stopped. Her fuel had run out and she just stopped. Dead.

Apart from the heavy, shallow breathing, forcing her chest to heave. In and out. In and out. In and out, she felt dead. At least she would have done if she could feel anything.

She couldn't feel a thing.

The pain was too big.

Too much.

She shut down while her outer shell carried on peeling away. Faster and faster and faster with each glassy layer.

She felt bare.

She felt see-though.

She felt stupid.

How had she let herself get into this? Again. It was never meant to happen. Again.

Never.

Despite her best laid plans it sneaked in through the cracks. More mouse than man. The cracks of hope and want. The cracks that wanted to open so badly she couldn't stop them.

Couldn't hold them closed.

Gradually it got in and took hold. Was it slowly? She didn't really know. She thought it could have been surprisingly swift.

 Surprisingly easy to give in.

To give herself up.

To want to try and hope and feel.

Now it wanted to get out. She wanted the red hot poison to empty itself. Leach away. Or was it freezing cold? So cold it burned. Burned into her soul. It didn't matter, it was dead either way.

Trashed and smashed.

Her heart had split right open. Exploded in one bitter pivot of a moment. The moment that it probably wouldn't be able to come back from. The dark surrounded her in its comforting embrace.

Smother me.

Please.

Hold me so tight I can’t breathe. Any more.

Make this bloody pain stop.

The pain she never wanted to feel again but it had got her. Hard and sharp and long and cold and hot.

Hot.

Hot.

Hot.

Nearly home, a bag for life in each straining hand, she had looked up and seen them. Framed by a window and curtains like ones on a theatre stage. The play had already started and she didn't want to be in the audience but there she was. Rooted. Looking up. Obvious if only they had eyes for anyone else, but they didn’t. He pushed her away. Held her at arms length. His hands firmly planted on her narrow shoulders. He looked at her before pulling her into him and they clung together.

She turned then. Quickly walked the half-block remaining. Someone may have said

“Hello.”

She didn't take any notice. Like a drunk concentrating on walking straight desperately trying to appear normal.

She felt like a volcano.

One about to erupt and expel angry red lava up and out.

Up and out.

Bastards.

He hadn't given her anything. No reason. No encouragement just comfort. No promises to be broken. No words to lie. No nothing. Just her stupidity and her hope. Her damn, stupid, bloody annoying, hope.

The fantasy had been broken. Revealed in all its Disney glory. Hippos and elephants would probably dance around the trees lining the road, where her house was. Just to take the piss. Tinkerbelle would flutter about her head. Tutting and waggling her wand in her face before flying off. Chuckling to herself.

She was down to bare bones. Her hope and heart glittering at her feet like a pyre about to leap into flame.

Please devour me.

Please.

The thought of having to face him, was intolerable. Never again.

He’d call round. Lazily lean against her kitchen units trying to drink organic Earl Grey, all he would touch, while it was too hot. Far too hot. Just like him. Damnit. Stop it.

She knew he wasn't really. To most people he’d just be ordinary. Boring. Maybe a bit of an arsehole. He was one of those people you could forgive anything. She could anyway. Almost. Not this.

The betrayal that wasn't but felt like the worse kind.

She hadn't told him. Hadn't flirted. Even told him she wasn't interested. In anyone. God, she had emphasised that.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Non-threatening, she thought. Safe. A friend. A good friend. Pals, mates and all that. She hadn't had even expected benefits. Occasionally a random stray thought had flittered through her whole body and she wondered where the hell it had come from while at the same time smiling and lingering for just a brief, delicious second, before slamming the door back shut. Trapping it in. Trapping them in. She didn't think things like that. She just didn't  Wondered where they came from. Uninvited but still knock, knock, knocking on her door.

She shivered. Suddenly she needed her coat, a jumper, a blanket. She didn't really care. Just something warm around her.

It took ten long minutes to pull each long, jagged, shard of ice out of her feet. One at a time until they were all slung away and in the corner. Left to slowly melt away.

She started to move. She was stiff. From cold and stillness. The ravaged shopping vaguely registered, as did the 6 guilty eyes. It had been great fun but they knew they were wrong and in trouble. They didn't like it when she shouted at them. They loved her. Really, really loved her. Always would.

She smiled at them, a tiny half smile, and croaked, softly;

“My fault.”

She left the shopping. It was unimportant with its defrosting and leaking and lack of hygiene. It didn't seem to matter.

Only the numbness mattered now but she needed to be warmer.

They were all crouched in front of the fire when the doorbell rang...and rang....and rang. Each time the insistent finger held the press for longer and longer. She wanted to scream:

“JUST GO AWAY. I DON’T WANT ANYTHING YOU HAVE.” If it was the meter man he would leave a card. If it was the postman she could pick up, whatever was too big to be shoved through her letterbox, at some other time. She didn't want anything or anyone just at this moment.

She heard the door creak open.

Shit she hadn't locked it.

He filled the doorway with sunshine which soon turned to showers when he saw her white face with black rivers trickling down her cheeks. Her beautiful cheekbones.

“Christ. What’s wrong?”

He darted over to her, pushed two dogs out of the way and landed heavily next to her.

“You ok?”

She nodded. She was, now he was back. Damnit. No. Stop. Please stop.

“ You'll never guess what just happened to me,” he said hoping to make her laugh. “Mimi just threw herself on to me and declared everlasting love. I said “No...no...NO” and then she wouldn't stop crying. I'm soaked!” he beamed happily down at her, wishing she’d let him hold her. He wanted to hold her, not Mimi, but he knew she was too hurt to let anyone else in. Not for now anyway. He just held on and hoped and did what he could for her.

“Hold me,” she thought. “Just sodding hold me,” but she knew he wouldn't.  Wasn't interested. Not in ‘that’ way anyway.

And so they waited.

Waited until the day one of them made a slight slip and they both would realise that they had wasted time being scared. Lots of time. Too much time...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Up In Smoke



So, here I was. Head in one hand, cigarette in the other.

Through the open window wafted laughter and yelled conversation. All mixed with whatever royalty free music was playing.

Just noise. Happy noise. Relaxed noise. Don’t give a damn about me noise.

My pint, of whatever was cheapest out of a proper hand-pull pump, teetered on the rounded edge of the grey concrete step where I’d wearily plonked my suited arse. My couldn't be-arsed arse. Couldn't be bothered with the laughter, the conversation, the music. 

My jacket was still inside, on the back of the high stool. I hoped no one would nick it. Actually, I didn’t really give a flying if they did. Did I really want the damn, pain in the arse job that forced me to wear this stifling uniform every day? Roasting in summer and totally inadequate in winter. 

I yanked at my tie. Sodding thing. I pulled it and it curled around my neck like a thin snake going in reverse or a stripper’s feather boa caressing a hopeful client. Stuffing it in my trouser pocket I didn't noticed I’d mainly missed and it dangled, limply, like everything else in my limp bloody life.

Cigarette half burned down and pint down to half a pint I half looked up, half registered the other sad faggies and half smiled at the blonde girl who half smiled at me before turning away.

Emma had gone that morning. Not a surprise really. I don’t suppose I was really all that bothered. I just couldn't be arsed, word of the day, with the fall out. The practical stuff. Who had the dog and who had the house rabbit. No children, thank God. That may make it a bit cheaper. How much were divorces nowadays? Not that I knew how much they used to be. Never done this before. Never had to. 

As I say, I’m not really bothered. In all honesty, she was a bit of a cow. I don’t know why I’d never seen it before. I suppose, like I say, again, I couldn't be arsed to see it.

I wondered, for as long as it took me to have a drag, if it was my fault. I don’t think it was really. No, I don’t think it was.

As the brown taste of liquid hops slid down my throat I summed it up. I gave her money, I shagged her, I emptied the bins. I didn't get drunk much without her and I tolerated her stupid friends. I had the odd cigarette out in the garden, resting my elbow on the sticky out bit of the brick wall. Her mouth would go all puckered-hens-arse and I’d shrug and give a lazy James-Dean-esque smile.

Its alright darlin’ I’ll be back in behaving myself soon and we can forget all about my misdemeanour. It’s been a hard day y’know. I just need 5.

Well, sod her, I’ll damn well smoke, lots, in the lounge. Yes, that front room that I won’t have to call a Drawing Room now. Up yours.

The blonde looked at me again. Fully this time. Right in the eyes.
“You’re Martin, aint ya?”

I frowned.

“I suppose so. I don’t really know any more  I suppose I'll be keeping my name, if who knows what else. I don’t want the nest of tables – I hate those. Useless bloody things. They wobble.”

Blondie frowned back at me.

“Whaddya talkin’ ‘bout? Yer Em’s hubbie aint ya?” I noticed the slurring this time. Great, she was pissed and I really didn't feel like discussing it. How did I get into this? Christ.

The ash had burned right down. I had been too busy thinking about past smokes than actually smoking this one. Crap. Holding itself in a soft, grey column for a second longer, it suddenly dropped. All over my left leg. Crap, again.

I angrily brushed it off and then, slightly less angrily, brushed off Blondie.
“Yeah, I am.” I forced a smile, “I’m off in now. See ya.”

I slid the last of my pint down my throat, leaving remnants of foam to slide down the inside of the glass. It came to a rest in a murky cream pool at the bottom.

As I hauled myself up to stand I suddenly realised that my seat was probably used as a piss place by those even more unfortunate than myself. I then found I didn't really care.

Standards were slipping already.

I briefly wondered when I’d find myself holed up in a grubby room, or two, surrounded by piles of ancient newspapers. Is this how it happened? You started off happily sitting on a pub’s pissy doorstep and gradually turned into Howard Hughes. Without the megabucks.

Blondie smiled and shrugged and swayed and I did the half smile thing.

Didn't want to encourage her. God no.

I turned my back on her, and the other sad sods huddled together on the pavement. All complicit in their mutually-binding, antisocial behaviour. Up two steps and I bloody tripped over the last.

I shot into the room doing that half run skip thing. Desperately trying to keep upright. I did and everyone cheered. I'm not sure at which bit; the stupid dance or the rescue. One would be at and one would be with. A difference. I didn't care. Just punched the air and laughed along, A pint was waiting for me by my empty, jacketed stool. Great. I raised my glass.

Cheers everyone. I'm a free man. Hip hip hooray...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Angel Tears


What is Christmas?  Who has the perfect Christmas?  Hugo doesn't think that he could ever have the perfect Christmas but all the ingredients are nearer than he thinks.

Striving to attain a Storybook Christmas inevitably leads to dissatisfaction and disappointment but appreciating what, and who, you actually do have can give you your perfect Christmas.

A little magic always helps...    





It was raining – yet again.
Great big fat angel teardrops smashed into, and slithered their way down, the outside of the steamed-up window pane.

Hugo made another greasy fingerprint trail as he traced the journey of the biggest, the fattest one of all, from top to sill.
Hugo was very, very bored.

It was nearly Christmas and Kate, Hugo’s Mum, was up to her eyeballs in clouds of white puffy flour, crunchy brown nuts and plump dried fruit.
She was also bored, and very, very cross.

Tinker, the cat, who tended to live up to his name, had knocked Christmas Cake Version One off the kitchen table and it had taken Kate ages to clean up the mess from between the cracks of the old flagstone floor – even with the enthusiastic help of Winifred the whippet.
Winifred, it must be said, now looked strangely green for a whippet.

Hugo had been banned from the kitchen, along with Tinker and Winifred, who were now whining and scratching at the laundry room door.  Hugo was allowed to go into the drawing room but that wasn’t terribly exciting either.

Kate had turned the radio on loud and was blasting out Christmas carols at the top of her voice to try to get back in the mood.  Hugo hoped that it wouldn’t take too long because, frankly, she was not the best of singers and sounded more like Tinker when he was yowling for his meaty chunks.

Hugo just felt in a bad mood.

At school last week he had been telling stories about the magical properties of Angel Tears to his friend Annie.  Annie was only 3 months younger than Hugo but was so little and thin, compared to Hugo, who was the tallest boy in their class, that he felt he needed to protect her like a big brother and, on the other hand, wind her up as she hung onto every word that he said.

Annie, secretly, thought that he was rather silly but friends were thin on the ground in their village and she did get fed up being on her own all the time.  Most of the time she just gritted her teeth and let him get on with his nonsense.

Last week though she had liked the idea of Angel Tears, enough to let her, usually sad, eyes light up and for him  to think that she had fallen, yet again, for his stories.  Maybe this time he was telling the truth – hmmm… maybe not.

Hugo had thought about Angel Tears last time it had bucketed down but then it had only been a fleeting thought as he hadn’t been so bored that time.

This time was different and he knew he would have to do something before he went totally bonkers.

Checking that his Mum was still singing and absorbed in panic baking, Hugo crept through the hallway, pulling on his duffle coat and wellies as he went.  Knowing that the big old oak door would squeal and moan and make an enormous CLAAAAAANG he didn’t shut it properly but just rested the door and frame together, hoping it wouldn’t blow open.

In his pocket he had stuffed a small, colourful bowl that usually took pride of place on the shelf in the hallway but now was hidden behind masses of cards. Large and small with pictures of robins and Santas and pretty villages covered in newly-laundered sheets of crunchy, white snow.

Bah humbug he thought, looking up at the heavy, dark grey sky.  Proper Christmases only ever happen in books and on the front of cards.

Hugo was sure that he wouldn't be bored in a Proper Christmas.  His Mother would buy all her food at Mark's and Spencer's instead of trying to be Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver (and failing, and thus getting cross), his Father would come home and build snowmen with him and take him on his sledge to the nearby hills in their not-so-pretty village and carol singers would trill their way through the crisp air, blowing out frosty breath before coming in for a warm welcome, mulled wine and mince pies.

The only carol singers they had had this year were two scruffy boys who sang worse than his Mother and got through brief snippets of 5 carols in 30 seconds flat.  His Mother had laughed and given them 50 pence each for sheer cheek.  Just wasn't the same somehow.

It was the same at school.  The decorations went up at the beginning of December, rehearsals for the nativity play seemed to take over and everything was just Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.

For example: sitting on big garish beanbags in the little year-library next to his classroom, Mrs. Gretchen, one of the ‘other mothers’ who had time to spare as a teacher’s help, had insisted on him reading no less than three Christmas stories out aloud to her during his one-to-one reading-practice session.

Hugo would rather have read about builders and trains and sharks but, at this time of year, that was just not allowed by Mrs. Gretchen.

Mrs. Gretchen was a big scary woman with dodgy breath and cheap perfume which irritated the inside of your nose and she also had a very strange dress sense.  You didn't want to argue with Mrs. Gretchen.

Hugo had made that particular mistake before and she had pulled her face right down to his and, with a big, encouraging (to her) smile on her face blasted him with garlic breath which made him feel positively dizzy and ill for the rest of that day.  From then on he read what she asked him to and, thankfully, she kept her distance.

Every Christmas book had included snow, happy festive people, perfect mince pies, lots and lots of presents and a jolly Santa or two.

The only Santa he had seen this year was a rather moth-eaten one outside Woolworths on the High Street in the nearest town.  The town was full of miserable, bag-laden, grey-faced shoppers fed up of queuing for everything and as for snow…

By the time the holidays had arrived it all suddenly fizzled out.  Okay if you had a great big jolly family but when there were just the two of you there was no point making a big fuss.  Two people could only eat so much cake and pies.  Kate tried her best but it still didn't seem right somehow.

Hugo looked back up at the miserable, leaden, sky and sighed before shrugging and running down to the back of his squelchy garden.

Sometimes Hugo wished he lived in a tree, away from everything.  At least he would be able to catch the tears that pelted down on his upturned face and, when he had enough, sell them to gullible Annie.

“Angel Tears,” he would say, “useful for a 101 things – want to buy some?” Hmmm… maybe he would try it anyway.

Annie lived in the small cottage just over the fence at the bottom of the garden.  His house was a big one and at one time the cottage had belonged to it.  Now though, the land had all been divided into smaller bits and sold off to pay for the upkeep of his house.

Kate said that he would have been great to live there years ago with servants and gardeners but now it was a chore more than anything – especially when important bits, like tiles, kept falling off the worn old roof.

Annie’s Father and Hugo’s Mother had made a gate in the fence so that the children could play together safely without going round the road way which was now the route for thunderous lorries on their way to the motorway five miles over and beyond the sledging hill.

Hugo and Annie were the only children this end of their long winding village and they were the only ones who got on the yellow school bus as the others were too old now and went to the comprehensive in the other direction in the mucky white bus.

Anyway, he was on his Christmas holidays now and, in all honesty, in two minds whether he was more bored on them than off.  As much as he wouldn’t admit it to his friends he rather enjoyed school and most of the lessons and the teachers weren’t bad at all.  Mrs. Gretchen was the exception but really she was nice, just very scary.

Hugo’s tree house stood proudly at the bottom of the garden.  His mother had cobbled it together for him the first summer his father had left.  It was ugly really and a bit odd but so solid that the tree would have to fall down first before it did.  He had been proud of his mother.  She was definitely better at building things than singing or baking.

Hauling himself up through the lower branches, Hugo managed to pull off his muddy wellies on the little platform before crawling, under a plastic flap, into the house part itself.

A couple of old worn and faded rugs lined the floor and carpet tiles in all colours were stuck on the walls to keep out draughts.  Plastic sheeting was tacked on the roof to keep it dry and some blankets and cushions were piled up to snuggle into to keep warm on cold wet days or to fling onto the grass on warm dry ones.

Some old comics and books were strewn on the floor and, less desirable, some green furry food left over and un-cleared-away from his last visit – ugh.

Hugo scraped the contents of the plates onto the grass below, just in case any bird was that desperately hungry, and pushed the plates into a corner out of his sight for now.

He wondered if Annie was at home and as bored as he was.  He would go over in a while and see, but first he had something to do.

He took the small bowl out of his pocket, not without some difficulty as it had managed to wedge itself in, and looked at it for the hundredth time.

He loved looking at the colourful patterns made up of entwined flying birds and colourful foliage created with tiny brush-strokes.  He thought that someone must have used a magnifying glass to be able to paint them in such detail.

Right, now to get some Angel  Tears and have some fun with Annie.

Hugo carefully placed the small bowl on the platform of the tree house and, after crawling back in, piled up some cushions, snuggled up with some blankets and, with the rain pelting down noisily through the branches onto his roof, started to re-read his old comics for the umpteenth time.

Fully absorbed, an hour soon passed and it was with a start that Hugo remembered why he was there.  Pulling on his still damp coat and creeping back onto the platform he found a satisfyingly overflowing bowl.  The Angels were as miserable as the weather today.

After struggling to pull his wellies on he swung his body over the edge and when his feet had connected with the ladder he carefully held the bowl as he slowly descended one-handed.  Some of the tears had slopped onto his upturned face before he made it safely down but the bowl was still two-thirds full of the precious liquid.

Hugo trudged to the back of the orchard.  Normally he’d have run as fast as he could through the fruit trees but with the bowl of Angel Tears he had to take it slowly and carefully.

The gate was stiff, swollen with the rain and for a split second he doubted whether it would open at all.  It did with a sudden swing that took him by surprise and yet more of the Tears sloshed to the ground.  Hugo left the gate open, fearful that he would be trapped this side if he forced it shut again.

Annie’s room was under the eaves at the back of the cottage and he saw her lit up with her nose pressed to the glass and all squashy.  She jumped back with a start as her eyes met his and they both laughed silently on their respective sides of her window.

Two minutes later the kitchen door was flung open and she invited him in to the glowing warmth.

Toby, Annie’s dad, was immersed in a television programme about Hammerhead Sharks and just grunted an hello at Hugo, who would have liked to have joined him in front of the enormous widescreen filled with teeth and terrors of the deep.

He was drawn back to dry earth (such a silly expression when it was raining so much), when Annie asked him why he was carrying a small bowl half-full of water.

“Angel Tears,” he said in a secretly small voice.  “I’ve brought them to show you. Magic...”

Annie frowned and looked at him through suspicious slit eyes.  Then she lifted her chin and marched up the creaky, narrow stairs to her room.  Hugo’s room was huge but he much preferred Annie’s tiny one.  It had sloping ceilings and Toby had painted clambering flowers all over the place so it felt like Hugo’s tree house had been turned inside out when summer was in full bloom.

Annie loved her room too and would read for hours curled up on the armchair stuffed between her thin wardrobe and her high bed.  Her bed was so high that she had only just been able to put away the stool that she had needed to climb into it.  As it was high there was also lots of room underneath it which is very useful when you only have a small amount of floor space.

Annie liked to read about fairies and witches (good ones) and wizards.  She was also mad about any animal that was fluffy and could not understand Hugo and Toby’s obsession with things that bite and scare you silly.  Annie was gentle as well as little and that made Hugo uncomfortable with himself at times especially when he agreed with her over cute wild things.

They both lay on their tummies under Annie’s bed, the place they always told secrets and special things.

When Hugo’s father had left suddenly one day and then Annie’s mother had died, they hid under there to share their sadness.  When they got special presents they went under to share the excitement of something new and precious.

On this occasion the Angel Tears were the most precious things that Annie had ever seen.  They glistened and twinkled, caught by the light from the single, unadorned light bulb that swung from the centre of the draughty room.  Their little colourful bowl adding to their magic.  Hugo wove tales of spells and potions that they were used for and they both wished for the Christmases that they had read about but never felt.

Annie, smiled warmly at Hugo and wished, so very, very hard, that she could see her mother again and Hugo felt horrible.  Maybe he shouldn’t have given her something to hope with.  Maybe he was being too cruel, maybe Annie didn’t deserve to be told stories.

Annie saw the look in Hugo’s eyes and felt horrible.  She shouldn’t have teased him especially when he had told such wonderful tales that she had fallen under his spell, just for a little moment.

“Let’s go into your tree house and see if we can magic up some fairies with the Angel Tears.” she said, not at all hopefully.  Hugo had never let her in it before, even after she had shared her own special hideaway with him.

Hugo was feeling so guilty that he actually smiled with warmth when he said that that was rather a good idea but to wrap up well as it was very cold and wet just to get there.

Annie looked amazed but didn't waste any time in dragging out an old jumper and scarf, tucking her jeans into her wellies and grabbing her coat from the cupboard under the stairs as they walked past it.

Toby was still glued to the sharks and didn't really seem to take much notice as Annie told him where they were going.  She knew he wasn't really paying attention as he knew that she was desperate to be let into the tree house and would have been as surprised, as she still was, that Hugo had invited her so easily.

They had almost reached the platform when the little bowl slid out of Hugo’s wet hands and smashed onto the ground.  The two children looked horrified at the four pieces that lay on the ground minus their precious cargo.  Hugo was particularly mortified as he realised that it was also his mother’s favourite bowl and he would get into big, big trouble when she found out.

Hugo looked up at Annie’s little legs that were swinging above him and somehow remembered to ask her to take off her wellies before she went in.  He downheartedly collected up the pieces and then followed her up.

He looked at her wide, confused eyes which felt so sorry for him but were also taking in this most secret of hideaways.

Hugo gently paced the bits of the bowl on the rug between them and they looked at them and then at each other, several times, before either of them could speak.

Annie managed to croak out a few words first.
“Maybe we could glue it or something?” Hugo half smiled but could only shrug before he pushed the pieces into the corner with the mouldy plates.

“So – what do you think then?” he asked, waving his hand around like an estate agent.

“Brilliant.  Amazing.” Annie replied, thoroughly meaning each distinct word.  “I can see why you spend so much time here – I would too.”

She rubbed her fingers down the rough carpet tiles, touching each and every different colour in turn.  Hugo offered her a blanket, a couple of oversized cushions and a book and they both lost themselves in warm and happy moments for a small while.

“Hugo,” Annie suddenly, but quietly, said.  “Do you really believe in Angel Tears?”

He only hesitated for the briefest of moments,
“Of course I do.” he said. “Do you?”

Annie nodded and bit her lip.
“Let’s get some more and wish very hard on them for a new bowl and a Happy Christmas.”

Hugo dragged out a mouldy bowl and thrust it onto the platform.

They waited.  The rain rained hard and the wind howled loudly but they were snug and in their own little world.

Winifred barked to be let out and, very, very, carefully placing her finished cake, version two, on the dresser, Kate went to open the door.  However, it was already open and Kate frowned.

“Hugo,” she yelled and then “HUGO,” much, much louder.  The house was silent.  Kate rushed about, still shouting, from room to room but Hugo wasn’t there and she started to panic over something much more important than a cake.

Winifred came back in and Kate grabbed a towel from the coat rack to rub her down with.  Hugo’s duffel coat was gone.  So were his wellies.  The weather was too ghastly for even Winifred to want to stay out and that didn’t make Kate feel any better at all.

She picked up the phone to ring Annie’s house.  Maybe Hugo had gone there – she hoped so.

Toby answered sleepily and said he hadn’t seen Hugo, sorry and all that, but he was sure that he would soon turn up.

Kate was in a dreadful panic and was about to ring the police when Toby rang her back.  He was really sorry but she had just woke him up and he couldn't think straight.  Of course Hugo had been round there and now he was worried as Annie wasn't there either now.

They agreed to meet by the gate in the fence and look for the children together.  It was getting dark now and Kate was thankful for the company, even if it was Toby, who was glum at the best of times.  Finding the children was the important thing now.

Running past the tree house Kate suddenly pulled up with a start.  How stupid she had been.  Where was the one place that Hugo went when he was fed up?  She was just so tired with running the house by herself and being a disaster at all this Christmas stuff that she couldn't think straight any-more herself.

A shuffling in the trees made her jump and she let out a huge sigh of relief when it turned out to be Toby, tripping over old roots that stuck out from the ground.

She smiled at him and said that she thought she knew where they might be and looked above their heads.

Small voices drifted past them, snatched away by the wind.  The rain was easing off now but too late for them to be anything other than drenched.  They were both smiling great big beams of relief not noticing the cold just the hot relief of worry fading away.

They caught some laughter and Kate said,
“Shall we leave them? It’s so lovely to hear Hugo actually laughing for once.”  Toby agreed, on both counts.  Annie rarely laughed either.

Kate felt rather silly at the drama she had caused and asked Toby if he would like a glass of mulled wine as it was Christmas Eve.

He hesitated for a moment, Kate had always seemed a very strong woman to him and he wasn't very good with strong women.  He was an artist and always felt a bit silly around other people.

Annie’s mother had always loved being around other people but Toby was quiet and preferred to be left to himself, his painting and his widescreen television.

Quickly, he recovered from his thoughts and stammered out a
“Yes, please, thank you.” In case he seemed rude.

They made their wet and muddy way back to the house.

After a while, even the blankets couldn't keep out the bitter cold and Hugo and Annie, teeth chattering, decided to go and ask Kate for a steaming mug of hot chocolate each.  Once this had been thought of they couldn't get back to the house quick enough.

Wobbling precariously by the front door they helped pull off each other’s wellies, with the usual struggle, and crept in as quietly as the old door would let them.

Now it was Hugo’s turn to be amazed as they heard laughter coming from the drawing room.  Most of Kate’s friends lived away from the village and, although she spent lots of time chatting to them on the telephone, she didn't get to see them very often.

“That’s my dad,” Annie frowned at Hugo, “How odd, I don’t think that he’s ever been here before.”  Hugo shrugged and pulled a puzzled face back at Annie.

Kate was just leaving the room to refill their glasses and, seeing the two children, joined in the frowning before her face exploded with the biggest smile Hugo had ever seen.

“I was worried about you,” she said, “but never mind about that now. We’ve got company.”

Toby and Annie stayed for most of the evening.  They played board games and cards, ate wonky mince pies (which were very tasty if you didn't look at them) and even started to sing Christmas songs (after all the mulled wine had gone).

By the time Toby and Annie reluctantly ventured forth into the dark, wet, cold night they had all agreed to spend Christmas Day together.

In the morning they would open all their presents at Annie’s cottage and have a small breakfast.  Apparently, Toby made excellent American pancakes.  Then, in the afternoon, they planned to go back to Hugo’s house for a big Christmas dinner.

At first Kate had been upset when Hugo had told her about her favourite bowl being smashed but said it didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things and they could stick it back together.  They carefully and neatly did this before Kate put the huge turkey into the oven to cook slowly overnight.  Kate always bought a far too big turkey and they then had to eat globby turkey stew and runny turkey curry and odd-shaped turkey pies for what seemed like forever after each Christmas.

On Christmas day morning, after the extremely tasty, and not so small after all, breakfast, Toby carefully painted the missing bit of the pattern over the white cracks and did it so well that you could hardly tell that the little bowl had been broken at all.  Kate, Hugo and Annie were most impressed.
“Teamwork,” Toby had said, “if it hadn't been a good mend I couldn't have painted it.”

After dragging a reluctant Winifred, who much preferred roasting herself in front of a blazing fire than being dragged along for a soggy walk, across a few fields, Annie and Hugo peeled the sprouts and put little crosses in the ends and wrapped millions of chipolata sausages in streaky bacon before leaving Kate and Toby to cook the rest of the dinner, watched over, very, very, carefully by a now warm and dry Winifred and a hopeful Tinker.

Hugo and Annie plonked themselves down on the window seat in the drawing room.  Kate had cleaned out the fireplace and a humongous fire was roaring away for the first time that Hugo could remember.  It made him feel all cosy and warm even though it was still grey and raining outside.  They talked with great excitement about their presents to each other.  Toby and Annie were going to paint big thrashing sharks and lots of other underwater things on the walls in Hugo’s bedroom and Kate and Hugo were going to build a smaller tree house for Annie (well, she did already have her under the bed hideaway).

“Do you know,” said Hugo, “you don’t need snow and perfection to have the best Christmas ever. Do you?”
“Not at all.” said Annie, “This is just perfect as it is. Our perfect.”
She looked hard at Hugo and, placing her hand flat against the rainy window, smiled as she said;
“Maybe... just maybe... Angel Tears are magic after all.”