The Life We Choose – Episode 07

Seeing it, Sarah’s heart sank. It was at the end of the last row of houses and was a gloomy place, different in shape from Mary Ellen’s house, its two rooms straight through, rather than arranged on either side of a small lobby. There was a tiny scullery tacked on at the back and a back door opening on to a strip of weedy ground with a wash-house, all of it overshadowed by a steep embankment. Inside, there was the usual black range in the front room, a small fireplace in the second one, but the house had been badly kept, with begrimed floorboards and peeling wallpaper.

“It would need a lot of work to make it into a schoolroom,” Sarah said, trying to hide her disappointment.

“It’s no’ very braw, I’ll grant ye,” her companion admitted. “But down here at Langrigg, we’re no’ afraid o’ hard work. An’ although the Back Raw houses were the first built and aren’t near as good as them in the Front and Middle Raws, they’re sound enough. Folk still live in them.”

There was a short silence.

“Can it be done?” Mary Ellen asked.

“I think so,” was Sarah’s answer.

“You’ll come back?” Sarah’s companion studied her intently.

Sarah smiled.

“Of course I will,” she replied.

*  *  *  *

It was baking day in the big kitchen of the Brodies’ farmhouse.

As Jess’s mother slid another tray of scones into the large oven, she spoke to her daughter with mock severity.

“I hope you’re paying attention, Jess McAndrew,” she said. “Even though you’ve managed to bake one cake, it doesna mean that you can call yourself a baker. No’ like Sarah here.” She nodded over at Jess’s friend who was busy with a mixing bowl.

Jess sat back in her chair, kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her.

“She was better at sewin’ a fine seam as well, Mother, but I wasna jealous.” She laughed.

Sarah looked over at her friend and smiled.

“But you could sing a song and knock a tune out of the pots and pans in the kitchen when you had a mind to, Jess. And you knew the name of every plant in the hedgerow, and all about the animals and their ailments.”

Jess tried not to look pleased.

“Fiddlesticks,” she said.

For a moment, she watched her friend busying herself, quite at home in the big kitchen.

“Isn’t this grand?” she said to no-one in particular. “Just like old times. Remember when you used to come on baking day and we used to slip away and get into mischief out in the yard when our mothers were baking.”

Sarah didn’t answer but concentrated on her baking bowl. Mrs Brodie shot a warning glance at her daughter and Jess could have bitten her tongue out for being so tactless. Any mention of her mother made Sarah withdraw into herself as if protecting a hurt that wouldn’t heal.

It had been three years. Three long years, Jess reflected, that her friend had seemed strangely withdrawn, only coming alive when she was with her pupils, leading their games in the school yard or getting Jess to help her take them on nature walks through the countryside.

“It’s like an illness,” Jess had told her mother.

“Grief is an illness,” had been the reply. “It’ll take young Sarah a long time to get her health back.”

Remembering that, Jess had been heartened to see the change in Sarah in recent weeks as they had gone to Langrigg together to help prepare a new schoolroom for the children.

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”.