Here’s a January flash. It came to me in a village by a marsh. I hope the new year is treating you well. This year looks like being a good one for writing so pop back soon!
Quacking and brazen
Alison gripped the toe and struck the glass with the heel of her navy court shoe. She’d read somewhere that it was best to strike a window in the corner if you had to break it. An article about how to save your family in a fire or how to free your toddler from a sinking car – something like that. Anyway, it worked. It worked even though the only person she was attempting to save was herself.
She chipped, chipped, sending daggers of glass out into the still cold of the January afternoon. They lay on the gritty concrete path, triangles that mirrored the sky and warned of delinquency.
In the hall, Barbara Hewitt was speaking. Alison heard isolated words – incident, embarrassment, welcome, Christian. It was her annual plea for them all to remember their duty as Ladies of St Martin’s. Voices rolled against each other in a crescendo of polite objection. Vanessa Bennett, loud and deep,
‘I think we all need to make more of an effort with newcomers.’
This wasn’t making an effort, Alison thought. This was effortless. To get her foot up above the cistern, onto the softened, flaky wood of the outer ledge, ease herself through the teeth of the fractured window, it was all so easy. To work this magic today, as the AGM plodded on its hefty way, it was like a dove from a conjuror’s sleeve. And Alison Atkins had the routine rehearsed. She remembered, at the last moment, to reach for her handbag.
Voices rose again in the hall, Barbara herding in the sheep.
‘I think we can leave that there! Sarah, the Spring Fair…’
Dropping onto the balls of her feet, feeling the give of virgin trainers, Alison Atkins was off. Bolt Lane ran away onto the Brooks. As she jogged, she scanned ahead. The temperature had fallen low. No mud and she was thankful to someone. No mud. No tracks.
She turned once, to look at her car, squatting in the centre of the row. Wife cars. Cars in which to deliver a spotty son to rugby practice, to fuck a husband’s best friend, to sit for twenty minutes, in the car park of Waitrose, looking at a palm-full of Panadol.
The Brooks were specked with water birds. Widgeons in clusters, grey herons like old men. Swans and common mallards in pairs. When the children were little she’d brought them here. Red cheeks, red wellies balanced on muddy fences, calling out to the far-away birds,
‘Ducks! Funny ducks! Silly ducks!’
Alison Atkins had watched her children’s scorn.
‘Why do they sit in the water, Mummy? Why do they sit in the muddy water if they can fly? Wet bums! Silly ducks!’
Children, she thought, as she puffed, dodged a bronze dog shit, never watched long enough. They missed the moment where the bird turned from a bath-time toy to a long-necked wonder, powering up into the blue, quacking and brazen.
The first stile was wobbly but she vaulted the fence like a woman half her age. She was, she thought, younger even than that. She was possibly ten. Ten years old and running for her life.
Alison Atkins. Village girl. The same church hall now, on a Wednesday afternoon for St Martin’s Ladies, as it had been on a Thursday night for Brownies. It was as likely that someone would turn to someone else, right at the end, as they stacked the chairs, and say,
‘Oh, where’s Alison?’
Because it took people that long to miss her. It took people that long to miss her. And now they would.
The path curved – bare elder, black sycamore rising up on either side of Alison Atkins. Through a tunnel, she ran. Ahead, rabbits startled, wood pigeons clattered though trees, and further still, on the hillside, a grazing group of fallow deer lifted their heads and fled.
Beyond the Brooks, where the final stile spilled her onto a road thick with fallen oak leaves, was a key in the ignition of another car. An unlikely car. In the boot were cases – clothes and shoes. No court shoes. No need.