The Life We Choose – Episode 10

Sarah Ogilvie moved through the schoolhouse, pausing now and then to touch a table, a well-worn chair, the little velvet stool by the empty fireplace where she had sat as a child to listen to the stories told to her by her mother. She had cried until she had no tears left. Now, there was nothing left but an emptiness which became an ache.

She ran her hand over the shining patina of the little table that sat in the window. There, she and her mother had gathered of an evening, sewing and talking. It had been lovingly cared for by her mother and then by Sarah. And yet her father had decreed that everything save a few personal possessions would be left there for the next schoolmaster, who would take up residence in little more than a week’s time.

“Aunt Bertha has no room for extra furniture,” he had told Sarah brusquely. “And my replacement tells me that the arrangement suits him well.”

“He’s just trying to make a clean break, Sarah,” Jess had said when Sarah confided in her. “He’s trying to get over a broken heart.”

“And he’s breaking mine,” Sarah had replied.

It had all spilled over in tears as she told Jess about her worries.

“I’m losing my past,” she told her friend. “And I might well be losing my future.”

Jess had hugged her and consoled her as best she could.

“If I had just a little longer to help Mary Ellen start up the school for the little ones, to decide if I want to go along with my father’s plans for me . . .” she’d told Jess, knowing in her heart that the one person she hadn’t mentioned was the person who stood at the centre of it all. Daniel Morrison.

Jess had spoken to Sandy and the young couple had offered Sarah a room in the cottage on her parents’ farm where they lived.

“You could stay with us while your father gets settled in Edinburgh,” Jess had told her. “Give yourself a wee while to think about it all.”

But Sarah knew that she couldn’t intrude on newlyweds, so had pretended that she had recovered her composure, that she would go to the city with her father as planned. She had retreated from Langrigg, sending a message to Mary Ellen that she had a summer cold and must stay indoors. She hoped the news would travel to Daniel, who would be waiting in vain by the stream at the Gowan Banks on golden summer evenings.

Sarah glanced down at the table in the window, her eyes misting over with tears at the thought of it all. There lay her mother’s sewing box which she had taken for her own and treasured as a small comfort against the enormity of her loss. For a moment, she traced the inlay of wild roses in the lid of the box, then opened it. Beneath the skeins of silken thread lay the hair clasp with its bright butterfly – the memory of her first meeting with Daniel.

Fingers trembling, she took it from the box. As she did, a sudden movement by the garden gate startled her.

Mrs Brodie opened the gate and left it swinging behind her as she marched up the path, her white apron flapping in the breeze.

“I’ve come to see your father, lass. Please tell him I’m here.” Jess’s mother looked distracted. She smoothed down her apron and patted her hair.

“My father’s in the schoolroom, Mrs Brodie. Shall I fetch him?”

Mrs Brodie gave a curt nod.

“Nae need, lass. I’ll go through mysel’,” she said, disappearing towards the schoolroom.

Sarah stood in the passageway for a while, listening to the rise and fall of the voices of her father and Mrs Brodie. Then, feeling like an eavesdropper, she went outside into the garden, glad of the freshness of the summer breeze to cool her burning face. Mrs Brodie had come about her present situation, of that she was sure. Sarah’s mind filled with possibilities as she walked in the garden. Had Jess mentioned her desperation to stay a little longer before embarking on a new life in Edinburgh? Lost in thought, she was startled when there was an urgent tapping on the schoolroom window and she looked up to see her father beckon.

Trembling, she made her way into the room where her father and Mrs Brodie were seated. Jess’s mother looked much calmer and managed a smile. Clearing his throat, her father began to speak.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.