• Gina Fegan

Chapter 5. The new challenge

The thought of Orla being back really cheered Maeve up. She didn’t have to think about her future; she could focus on Orla’s present. They could bang the table about the unfairness of something, the ridiculousness of some politician, or policy, or the American election, and what Donald Trump might or might not do. It felt like they were doing something, even if they were just wholeheartedly agreeing with each other. It was active and positive.

One of the things she had recently read on Facebook rang true, someone posted ‘I thought 2020 was the year that I would get what I wanted. Instead it was the year I appreciated what I had.’ Maeve truly appreciated her family. And her garden. And living in Canterbury, which in her neighbourhood due to all the changes and restrictions had become a real community. A lot of which was online of course, but people were looking out for each other, and all around doing things like the flowerbikes to make you smile. Values had changed, hopefully that wouldn’t all disappear when this was over.

Earlier, Maeve had opened a bottle of organic red wine as a celebration to go with the food. Supper served, they called Marianne, and again ate together in a virtual sense, as they shared all the domestic gossip. Maeve didn’t mention that she was going to see Steve in the morning, though he was on her mind, and she knew that both Marianne and Orla approved of him. That was probably why she didn’t want to say anything. Last time there had been too many people in the know. It would be better to keep it to herself for now.

With an extra glass of wine the conversation got silly. They could still do that, tell jokes, laugh till they were giddy. It was much harder to do when you are not in the same space, both emotionally and physically, but they all needed the release.

Orla started hiccuping, which set the others off laughing again till they realised that she wasn’t laughing, she was now crying, sobbing. At least this time, Maeve was in the same room and could envelope her in a hug. Marianne had started crying too, laughing and crying are often closer than people think, it’s the level of emotion that can switch. For Marianne, it brought home the loneliness that she felt and underlined that she wasn’t there to help Orla.

After a few moments had passed, Maeve said,

“I know this is tough on all of us. Let’s talk it through and see what we can do.” Part of her felt glad that it wasn’t just her who missed her children, and she felt needed, if traumatised too.

“Orla, love, what is it? You’re okay, you’re safe, you’re home now.” Maeve held onto her as they rocked back and forth.

Orla took a few minutes to stop sobbing and blow her nose.

“It’s not that. I’m exhausted and it's all shit. We only ever slept on and off for a few hours at most. And then after days and days and actually weeks of all that, they cut down the trees anyway. Trees that were a thousand years old. But they said, ‘it’s okay’, because they planted a seedling somewhere nearby. It’s not okay. We lost a thousand years of life. It felt like murder!” And she started crying again.

Maeve could feel her fatigue, and thought that this wasn’t the time to be logical, it was time to be a mother.

“You are right Orla. And you are completely done in. You need sleep. I am going to make you a hot water bottle. You go on up and get ready for bed. We can resume this conversation tomorrow whenever you wake up, which I am guessing will be in the afternoon.”

Redirecting herself to the screen, Maeve went on,

“Marianne, can you make a cup of hot chocolate for yourself? I’ll make some tea, and in ten minutes or so I’ll call you back?” Maeve knew that this wasn’t the time to leave Marianne out of anything.

Orla gave in immediately, overcome with tiredness and was fast asleep even before Maeve had called Marianne back.

Going through the domestic mechanics of boiling water, checking towels, and bringing the hot water bottle to Orla, gave Maeve a little time to catch her thoughts, so when she reconnected with Marianne, she launched straight in.

“Marianne, how much of your course is online now? I mean, how much could you do from home? I know it's not the same but really it might be better to make a fresh start in the new year. Vaccines are coming. By the summer we should be almost normal. It’s not forever.” In fact Maeve was saying everything that Marianne had been thinking, and had already come to the same conclusion.

Marianne, now smiling said,

“We are alike. That’s pretty much what I thought too. So I have been self isolating just in case and I could have a test tomorrow if that’s negative could you come and pick me up?”

Privately Maeve was thrilled, but didn’t want to seem too keen.

“Yes, yes of course. Let me know and I’ll be there. It will mean staying here for the rest of this lockdown at a minimum, the main thing is not moving around. For the drive up to you, I won’t stop on the way, and you can meet me outside.” Maeve couldn’t hide the fact that she was beaming and even on screen she could see that Marianne’s demeanour had shifted from feeling helpless to planning mode.

It was a good way to end the day. She might have a family back in a few days.

The next morning Maeve still had that lift in her step, and was more likely to laugh at Edward than let him worry her. She was walking quickly so that she would have time to do her homework before her coffee with Steve. Since her experiences with the spirit in Beverly Meadow, unless she was in the right frame of mind to talk to her, she tended to skip the park and walk by St Stephen’s. She had discovered a green pedestrian route past the Kent Ballooning field, by the river Stour, at the back of Sainsbury’s car park. As she walked, she was trying to think of a good ‘quiet’ lane to carry out Ada’s practice session. Finally she fixed on Butchery Lane, it was a little out of her way but just off the High St. And the shops on it were shut for lockdown so it was likely to be completely dead at this time of day.

She passed in front of the Cathedral main entrance, now covered in scaffolding and plastic; in a fleeting thought she felt sorry for any tourists who had made the journey to see the Cathedral, and would miss out on the surprising archway entrance and Cathedral reveal beyond. Passing on down Burgate she turned into Butchery Lane. Town was already quiet, here, it was absolutely silent. No one at all. Perfect she thought to herself.

She walked into the middle of the lane opposite the half hidden entrance to the Roman Museum, now shut. She was about half way along the lane so probably the absolute quietest spot. Feeling a little silly she closed her eyes, she could hear traffic in the distance, the occasional baby crying, a seagull who had come inland to shelter or steal someone’s chips. She tried to slow her thoughts down. She brought her attention closer, focusing on her breath. The sounds faded.

She could hear her breath, then just feel it. In cool, out warm. As she let go and allowed her breath to flow, she began to feel something or someone nearby. She could feel warmth, the atmosphere was close and she/they were in the dark. She felt in a tight space. Then, rushing at her she was overwhelmed with a blood red rage, a roar, warm flesh, hot breath, she could hear nostrils flaring. It was cramped, no room to move. She couldn’t move. Then crunch, slash, crunch and she felt blood, warm, everywhere, pumping out of a living being, she had no way out, she was rigid, paralysed. ‘Stop!’ She was aware that she wasn’t making a sound, but inside she was shouting, ‘Stop!’ It all stopped. Then the close feelings began to fade, they receded, still there, but more, and more, distant.

At last, she could open her eyes. She hadn’t moved, she was still in the middle of the lane, now she could hear the passers by, smell the sausages from the street vendor cooking. She became aware that it was only a few steps away to the High St where everything was normal. She was the only one who had ‘witnessed’ the killing.

As if emerging from some kind of unconscious state to find that she had been sleep-walking, Maeve had lost all sense of place and time. It had felt so real, she was completely shaken, her hands were trembling, she was weak. She lifted her head up slowly, looking around her, nothing, no clues. She looked at her hands to see the blood. Nothing. She was still partly in the trance, slowly, coming back into the real world.

Not sure what she was doing, but putting one foot in front of the other she walked onto the High St, turned right heading for Jewry Lane completely on auto-pilot. Was that an evil spirit, or had she just felt a murder?

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