The Life We Choose – Episode 37

The two girls shook hands gravely, Katy recovering her composure and colouring slightly with sudden shyness. Young as she was, Sarah reflected, she had the makings of a beauty.

“My Daniel, at last.” A quiet voice spoke from the doorway. There, hands outstretched in welcome, was a small, dark woman, head cocked to one side, for all the world like a little bird. When Daniel’s introductions were over, his mother held Sarah’s hand in both of hers.

“See you now, Sarah. Make my boy happy.” She hesitated, then, with a catch in her voice spoke again. “He deserves to be happy.”

There was a beat of silence. Glancing at Daniel, Sarah could see that he was struggling to keep his composure.

“Now, I am forgetting my manners, with us all standing here on the threshold of the door,” Carys Morrison said, giving Sarah’s hand a little squeeze. “Come inside. You are welcome on this happy day.”

Stepping down into the kitchen, Sarah shivered slightly. Despite the brightness of the day, the place was gloomy, overshadowed as it was by the copse of trees, the high shoulder of the canal bank outside. While Carys and Katy bustled around, seating Sarah by the range, Daniel made great play of finding the kettle and filling it, his voice hearty and almost too loud.

Sarah looked around the room. It had a flagged floor, a sink below the one small window, four wooden chairs set around a scrubbed deal table in the middle of the room.

The necessities of life, nothing more. The only thing that broke the starkness of Carys Morrison’s kitchen was the dresser that stood against the far wall, blue and white patterned delft crowding its shelves. In the corner furthest from the door was a box bed, its dark curtain drawn across to disguise its presence. For a moment, Sarah felt trapped by the house. The room was bearing down on her. Daniel glanced at her as he stirred up the sullen fire and put on the kettle.

“Sarah, you must unpack the basket. Show Mam and Katy what we’ve brought.”

His voice was hearty. Sarah picked up the mood and brought out scones and a seed cake that she’d baked that morning, pots of jam and a bottle of Mary Ellen’s elderflower wine. There was an air of celebration as cups and saucers were brought down from the dresser, tea was brewed, scones and cake laid out and bramble jelly spooned into a jam dish.

More coal was put on the fire and the room seemed warmer as the conversation eddied round the table and Sarah and Daniel related every detail of their wedding day, their little house in Langrigg and the Wee School. There were even tales of Tricky Binnie, which brought laughter round the room.

One such burst of laughter was interrupted by the slamming of an outer door. By the time the door opened a moment later, the laughter had died and Katy, who had been leaning across the table towards Daniel, was sitting bolt upright.

Geraint Morrison stood there in working clothes, face and arms begrimed. There was a heartbeat of silence before he spoke.

“You’re back, I see.” He nodded curtly towards Daniel. At that moment, Carys darted across to the range and pulled a cooking pot forward.

“Your meal will be ready in no time, Geraint.” Her voice was apologetic.

Daniel got up and stood by Sarah.

“I’ve come to introduce my wife, Sarah,” he began.

His father gave the slightest of nods.

“The schoolmaster’s daughter, I believe. The two of you runaways. That tale filled plenty of mouths down here at the Junction.”

Sarah held out her hand, but Daniel’s father did not take it.

“You will find my son both wilful and capricious,” he said. “I wish you luck.”

Daniel persisted.

“We were having a small celebration, Father. You’ll at least take some tea with us?”

The other gave him a long look.

“Sunday or not, I have the dirt of the day on me. Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say. Celebrate as much as you like. I must wash before I do anything else.”

He walked past them and turned on the tap in the sink beneath the window. Carys nervously moved pots around on the range.

Geraint Morrison turned.

“I see a bottle on the table. I do not allow strong drink in this house.”

Katy snatched up the bottle, face flaming.

“This is not strong drink, Father. It’s made from elderflowers. A gift Sarah brought for Mam.”

After a long, hard look, her father turned away. Sarah shivered slightly.

The celebration had died.

“We’ll be on our way, Mam and our Katy. Let you get on.” Daniel’s voice was level, but there was a white, desperate look about him.

Outside, Carys and Katy said their goodbyes. Sarah could see that they were holding back tears. She put down her basket and hugged them in turn.

“Don’t be a stranger, Sarah,” Carys said. “And see that our Daniel comes, too, betimes,” she added in a muffled voice.

Leaving, Sarah and Daniel turned to wave, but Carys and Katy had gone back into the house. For a while they walked in silence, Daniel grim-faced, Sarah frantically searching her mind for the right words to say.

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”.