There’s Always Tomorrow – Episode 04

Sailesh Thakrar © The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

For the last 20 minutes, Helen’s feet were telling her what her brain already knew. 

She had been over-ambitious in trying to walk round a loop of country roads, exploring her locality. 

It had seemed so tempting: a lovely morning with patches of blue scattered through high grey and white clouds, the wind completely gone, and crows circling above the trees, calling to each other. 

For the first time in months she felt great, brimming with life and able to take on any challenge. 

She winced as a sharp stone on the road pressed through the sole of her shoe to bruise already tender feet. 

There were still about two miles to go, she estimated. 

The dogs were fine. Hamish, as befitted his position of leader, was strutting along the road ahead. Tanya was never more than a few feet from her. 

Tess, the sheepdog, was padding along at the rear, unable to shake off a lifetime habit of herding. 

Zack was chasing from rabbit track to rabbit track, being driven crazy by the new country smells. 

Helen paused, arching her foot within her shoe, easing where the stone had bruised. 

Ahead was a small dip in the road, where some trees came down to the side of a tiny stream. 

There was movement at the stream and Hamish barked.  

Helen saw Tanya pause, then trot down the slope to where the figure of a man was bowed over something on his lap. She saw him scratch the Rottweiler behind her ears. 

It was her neighbour, the man who had brought them out of the rain and into his cottage until her own had warmed up. 

Helen thought of the man’s kindness and the way her dogs had simply accepted him when they were usually uneasy with strangers. 

“You’re stealing my dog,” she called down. 

He looked up and smiled. It was a nice smile. 

“And she’s stealing my heart,” he replied. “You’re right. She’s a big softie.” 

He frowned. 

“You look shattered.” 

Helen grimaced. 

“I am,” she admitted. “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with this walk. I’m badly out of shape.” 

“Come down,” Larry suggested. “Would a cup of tea help?” 

“Don’t torment me,” she said faintly. 

Reaching round, he dragged out a faded old backpack and rummaged inside to bring out a tough metal flask. He began to unscrew the lid. 

Helen came down the slope as he began to pour tea into the small cups, steam rising into the still, cool air. 

“Milk?” he asked, producing a small medicine bottle half-full of milk. “Sorry, but I’ve no sugar.” 

“Thanks. I don’t take sugar,” she said, sinking gratefully on to the rock. 

With the weight taken off them, her feet were throbbing. 

Reaching forward, she accepted the small metal cup and sipped. Bliss. 

“We used to say a cup of tea cures everything.” She sighed. 

He poured the last of the flask into the other cup. 

“So did we, in the Army. So where did your cups of tea cure everything?” 

“Back in the hospital.” 

“Were you a patient?” 

“No, a nursing sister.” Helen bit her tongue. 

She was tired, but after so many months of silence, there was a relief in talking. 

“I see you’ve been painting?” She steered the conversation on to safer ground. 

He glanced down at the pad. 

“More like sketching. Trying to capture the mood rather than the scene. I’m not a real artist – it’s only a hobby.” He made to put the pad into his backpack. 

“Please don’t,” Helen said. “Can I see?” 

He hesitated, then held out the pad. 

It was strangely beautiful, Helen saw, but almost an abstract work. There was only a suggestion of the woods behind her, and of the slope of the land which stretched out to the horizon. 

The painting was almost entirely a study of the sky, with ragged patches of light blue and streams of high cloud, moving and changing. 

“It’s beautiful,” she said, a catch in her voice. “So much sky.” 

“The classic formula for landscapes is two thirds land and one third sky, or two thirds sky and one third land,” Larry said knowledgeably.  

“But what I love about the land around here is its low horizon. 

“You can tuck this away at the foot of the painting, and give the rest of the space to the huge dome of the sky.” 

Helen studied the work. 

“Why such an interest in the sky?” she asked. 

Draining his cup, he threw the dregs into the stream running past their feet.  

He held out his hand for the smaller cup. 

For a moment Helen thought he wasn’t going to reply. 

To be continued…

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