Gypsy Lane School was on the west side of Headington, only a five minute drive from Owen and Becca’s medical clinic. It had a long history, but had only been at its current location since the early 1970s, so by Oxford standards the buildings were fairly new. It had about fifteen hundred students, more than twice as large as Meadowvale High School, and to compensate for its size it was divided into six ‘houses’ – smaller groupings that provided a stronger sense of community for the kids.
All students (or ‘pupils’ as the English called them) were also attached to a tutor group of about twelve, and they stayed with the same group all through their school years. The ideal was that they would also stay with the same tutor, but of course teachers leave or retire all the time and new teachers take over from them. My predecessor had been at the school for over twenty years and had been well-liked by the members of her tutor group, and I had the responsibility of trying to find a way to fill her shoes. The members of the group were now in Year Eleven, which put them between the ages of fifteen and sixteen. It was my job not only to take attendance for them and to act as their first resort in times of need but also to give a few minutes of individual tutoring to two or three of them at the end of the day. The idea was that each person in the group would get at least one personal tutorial period per week.
All pupils at my new school were required to wear a formal uniform – school ties and blazers, with skirts for the girls and trousers for the boys. I was expecting this, having gone to school in England myself, but my first sight of a class of kids in school uniform still seemed strange to me after years of teaching in Saskatchewan where jeans and tee-shirts were the order of the day.
“What about you?” Emma asked me as we were having our supper the evening before school began. “Do you have to dress up too?”
“There’s no shirt and tie requirement, but a lot of the men seem to be wearing them. I’ll probably go along with that, at least to start out with”.
“Cool!” she said with a grin; “I am now the daughter of a guy who wears a tie to work! How am I going to cope with this transformation of my hippy dad?”
She laughed; “It’s going to be a different kind of place for you to work, isn’t it?”
“It is. And I don’t think I’m going to have quite the same sort of comfy relationship with the Head as I did with your grandpa or Don”.
“I guess your new Head’s got a bigger staff to work with”.
“Much bigger, and she doesn’t really seem to project an aura of friendliness. She does have the occasional friendly moment but most of the time she’s all business and efficiency. I can’t really imagine her wandering the halls in a baggy sweater chatting to students the way your grandpa used to”.
She grinned at me; “Grandpa had his own style”.
“He did, and I always enjoyed it”.
Colin Kingsley was a thin, athletic-looking boy of fifteen with an untidy mop of black hair. I met him on my first day of school when my new tutor group came to my classroom at the beginning of the day. After taking registration I talked with the students for a few minutes and gave them a schedule for their initial tutorial sessions with me, after which I sent them off for their first classes of the day.
I also had Colin in one of my Year Eleven English classes. It was a group of around twenty-five and like almost every class at Gypsy Lane it was quite ethnically diverse, with about half the pupils coming from Asian or African backgrounds. A couple of them were new immigrants, and I had a teaching assistant in the class, a very competent woman who had been born in Iran; her specific assignment was to work with people struggling with English as a second language.
For Colin, however, English was not a second language; it just wasn’t a subject he found either interesting or easy. I set some homework after our first class, and later in the week when we met for our first tutorial session I asked him about it. We were alone in the classroom and I invited him to bring a chair over to my desk; “How’s your English homework going?” I asked.
“What have you actually done so far?”
He took out his binder and we went over his work together. It was immediately obvious to me that he was having difficulty grasping some of the concepts I had presented in class, and for the next few minutes I talked him through them again, answering his questions and giving him what I hoped were clearer explanations. We then passed on to some of his other subjects and for most of them I saw a similar problem.
After my tutorial sessions for the afternoon were over I looked up Colin’s file on my computer and read it carefully; I started with his academic subjects and I quickly saw a pattern. All his teachers gave him credit for trying but his marks were consistently in the fifties, and in some subjects he had struggled to get a pass mark. However, he was doing very well in design and technology, especially woodwork, and he was also an excellent athlete; he had won several medals in track competitions and he played regularly on one of the school football teams.
It was when I was glancing through the personal section of his file that I noticed for the first time whose son he was. The file listed a New Marston address and the parent was listed as Dr. Wendy Howard, with a work address, phone number and email at Merton College. I immediately realized two things: Colin was Mickey’s son, and Mickey and Wendy were no longer together. Mr. Michael Kingsley was listed as a non-resident parent and his home and work addresses were both in London.
Colin had been born in October 1987; he was soon going to turn sixteen. I thought back to that time period. I had left England for Canada in the summer of 1982; I knew Wendy had moved to London that same summer to work on her doctorate, although when I left for Canada she had still been planning to continue her studies in Oxford.
I took off my reading glasses, sat back in my chair and stared out into space. I had received one letter from Wendy after I moved to Canada but it had left many questions unanswered. Why had she suddenly left Oxford – a university she had loved – and gone to London to join Mickey? In their last few months at Oxford they had gone through a traumatic breakup, and when I had left England they had not even been talking to each other. What had happened to change things so dramatically?
I remembered the night of their breakup very clearly. It was a blustery evening in late March of 1982. I had not slept well the night before and I had struggled to stay awake through a full day of teaching at Peers School in Blackbird Leys, where I was doing a three-month practicum. By now, in my final year, I was living in a one-room bed-sitter at the Lincoln College graduate residence on Bear Lane. I had made myself a light supper in the kitchen I shared with two other students, and after cleaning up and reading for a while I had decided to call it a night. My room was small and cluttered, with a single bed, a chesterfield and chair, a packed bookcase, a desk under the window and a small side table where I kept a teapot and an electric kettle.
I was boiling the kettle for a last cup of tea when I heard a quiet knock on my door. When I opened it Wendy was standing there in her duffel coat, and I could see immediately that something was wrong; her long hair was unkempt, as if she had slept on it and forgotten to comb it afterwards, and her eyes were bloodshot from crying.“I’m sorry”, she whispered; “I know you’re probably busy, but…”.
I reached out, took her by the hand and drew her into the room. Closing the door, I turned and put my arms around her. “What is it?” I asked; “What’s wrong?”
I felt her shaking her head against my shoulder, and then after a moment I realized that she was starting to cry. “Oh, Tom”, she sobbed, “I’ve been such an idiot”.
“You’re not an idiot”, I replied as I felt her body beginning to shake.
“I am”, she cried; “I’ve been so blind”.
I held her close, not knowing what to say and wondering what this could possibly be about. We stood like that for a few minutes with her sobbing desperately and me holding her and trying to soothe her. Through the walls I could hear the sound of a radio playing quiet music, and down below on the street a group of students went by on their way home from the Bear Inn, talking loudly as they passed beneath my window.
Eventually Wendy’s crying eased and she slowly disengaged herself from me. “Thanks”, she whispered, digging in her pocket for a handkerchief and reaching up to wipe her eyes and blow her nose. She leaned forward and kissed me softly on the cheek; “Can I have a cup of tea?”
“Of course you can; I was just boiling the kettle. Sit down; sorry about the mess”. I turned back to the side table, plugged in the electric kettle again, let it come to the boil and poured the hot water into my old earthenware teapot. “Do you want me to make you some toast or something?” I asked with my back to her.
“No thanks – just tea, please”.
I stirred the pot with a spoon and then poured milk into two cups and filled them with tea. I turned and passed her a cup and she smiled gratefully, cradling it in her hands for warmth. She was huddled in my easy chair, her legs pulled up under her chin; she was still wearing her coat and was making no move to take it off.
“Are you cold?” I asked as I took my seat on the chesterfield across from her.
“What’s this all about, Wendy?”
For a moment she said nothing; she only sipped cautiously at her tea, staring sightlessly at the floor. Then, tilting her head slightly, she looked at me and said in a desolate voice, “I’ve decided to break up with Mickey”.
If she had told me that she had been diagnosed with a deadly disease I could not have been more astonished. “My God”, I exclaimed; “you’ve been together for years!”
She nodded helplessly; “The thing is, he’s in hospital tonight”.
“In hospital? Why?”
“He took a drug overdose. He’s barely alive”.
I stared at her; “Was he trying to kill himself?”
“I don’t know. I was the one who found him. I went over to his flat just before lunch today and when I let myself in he was lying on his back on the bed. His mouth was open a bit and his arm was extended over the edge of the bed”. I could tell that she was reliving the scene in her mind. “I thought he was dead”, she whispered, her voice trembling slightly; “He looked exactly as if he were dead”.
She gulped down some of her tea. “I called 999 and when the ambulance came I rode to the hospital with him. I’ve been there ever since. I sat in the waiting room for four hours and then I sat beside his bed for two more, while all the time there were books I had to read and papers I had to write. I’ve missed a session with my tutor, and earlier tonight, for the first time, I asked myself why I’m putting myself through this”.
“Did you know about his drug use?”
“I’ve tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but deep down inside I knew I was fooling myself. I’ve been an absolute idiot, Tom”. She raised her mug again and slowly drained it, taking long gulps of the thick steaming tea. When she was finished she said “That tasted good; can I have another cup?”
“Yes of course, but Wendy – is Mickey alright?”
“He woke up about an hour and a half ago”.
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t want to talk to me about it. I don’t think he wanted to admit what he’d tried to do”.
“So what did you do?”
“I left him and walked the streets for a while and then I came here”.
“Let me make you something to eat”.
She shook her head, her eyes staring into space. “I don’t want anything to eat”, she whispered; “I just want another cup of tea”.
I got up, took her mug over to the side table and refilled it. When I turned back to her I saw that she was hanging her duffel coat on the peg on the back of my door. She turned to me, smiled weakly and took the mug from my hand. “Thanks”, she breathed softly. “And I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but it’s just that my stomach feels a bit unsettled and I’m afraid I might…”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Wendy”.
“Thanks”. She began to sit down again, then hesitated, put the mug down on the arm of the chair and said, “Tom, would you just hold me again for a minute, please? I know I’m not being fair to you, but…”
I raised my hand and covered her lips with my fingers. Then, stepping forward, I put my arms around her and held her close. Again, we stood there for a long time, and even though I had often dreamed about this kind of bodily contact with her – even though I could feel the soft swell of her breasts through her sweater – I somehow felt no sexual stirring in my body.
Eventually she pulled away from me gently, smiled gratefully and sat down again. “I expect you’ve often wondered about my relationship with Mickey”.
“It does seem strange sometimes”.
“I’m not sure I fully understand it myself, but I think I started going out with him as a way of rebelling against my mum and dad”.
“He does look a bit like every minister’s nightmare”.
“Yes – not that I had much to rebel against; my mum and dad couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding. But living in a vicarage was so conventional and when I got into my teens it just seemed stifling. It was safe and predictable and part of me liked that, but another part of me was longing for some danger or risk. And that was when Mickey asked me to go out with him”.
“How old were you?”
“Sixteen; I had just finished my O-Levels. I’d got ten, and Mickey had struggled through five. He’d moved to Halstead a year or two before; his dad had made a lot of money in the city and then moved out to Essex to live the life of the nouveau riche. He bought a big house on the edge of town and tried to play the part of a country gentleman”.
“I suppose that’s something like what my father did when he moved to Northwood”.
She nodded and drank some tea, staring down at the floor. “Honestly, Mickey and I were so different; I’m sure everyone who knew me thought I was out of my mind. But he was out of the ordinary and fun to be around, and he played loud rock music on an electric guitar. And of course he was rich, and I’d been raised in a vicarage where money was always tight. Mickey took me on dates on his motor bike and drove recklessly fast, and I was terrified but I loved it too. I knew my parents were worried but somehow that just made it even more of a thrill”.
“So you fell in love with him”.
“But you didn’t become friends?”
She shook her head, staring out into space again. “We argued a lot; there are lots of things we’ve never seen eye to eye on. But that’s never changed the fact that we were in love with each other”.
She got up and walked over to my desk under the window; I had left the curtains open, and she stared out at the street below. “Why am I telling you this?” she asked with her back to me. “I don’t know; I’ll probably wish I hadn’t in the morning. I’m usually pretty shy about personal things but it’s almost like I’m drunk tonight, even though I haven’t had anything except tea”.
“Wendy, are you sure you’re okay?”
She shook her head, her back still toward me. “I’ve been sleeping with Mickey since I was seventeen. He wanted it sooner than that but I held out against him for a long time; I was determined not to get pregnant. The first time we didn’t use any birth control; I was fortunate but I decided not to try my luck again. I insisted he use protection after that. He’s a wild lover, just like he’s wild at everything else he does. Jesus Christ! Why am I telling you this? It’s as if I’ve become someone else; you must think I’ve really gone over the edge!”
She turned around to face me again, leaning back against the desk, her arms folded across her front. “Tom, have I made the right decision?” she asked in a small voice.
“I don’t know, but I’ve always thought it’s a bit risky to have a long-term relationship with someone with a serious drug problem”.
“But will my breaking up with him help him or will it make it worse? Will he just go even deeper into addiction as a result? I don’t think I’d be able to live with that”.
“But can you take responsibility for that? After a certain point doesn’t preserving your own sanity take priority?”
I saw her lip beginning to tremble, and a tear ran down her face. “I love him so much”, she whispered desperately. “I can’t imagine living without him”.
I stood up, stepped toward her and put my arms around her again. I felt her hands come around my back and her head coming down on my shoulder; her body was not shaking this time but I could feel her tears on my face.
“You’re such a gentleman”, she whispered into my shoulder after a while. “Thanks for being here for me”.
“Not at all”, I replied softly, drawing back and smiling at her. “Now you sit down and drink this tea, and I’m going out to the kitchen to make you some dry toast. You’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and you’ve had a shock; your body needs some nourishment, whether you feel like it or not, and dry toast shouldn’t upset your stomach too much”.
She looked at me for a moment and then nodded. “Okay”, she whispered; “Thank you”.
I was brought back to the present by the sound of a knock on my classroom door, and I looked up to see my department head, Kathy McFarlane, standing there in the open doorway. She was in her mid fifties; her greying blond hair was cut just above her shoulders and she dressed with a sort of unstudied casualness that I found charmingly eccentric.
“Hello there”, I said; “Is this a social call, or…?”
“I just thought I’d pop in and make sure you’re all right. I know how overwhelming the first week at a new school can be”.
“True enough. Come on in and grab yourself a chair”.
She came into the room, found a chair and sat down beside my desk. “How have your classes been so far?”
“Pretty good, although it’s all a bit of a blur right now: so many names to try to attach to faces. And it’s been a while since I’ve had to really apply myself to learning a lot of names at once; this is the first time I’ve started at a new school since 1982”.
“Was that when you went to Canada?”
“Right – you’ve only taught at the one school, haven’t you?”
“Yes – how about you?”
“I taught in Norwich for eleven years before I came here in 1988”.
“Is that where you’re from?”
“No, I’m actually from the West Country, from Plymouth”.
“You’re a long way from home”.
She grinned; “Not as far as you were in Canada”.
“I guess not”.
“Is it normal in Canada for a teacher to stay so long in one school?”
I shrugged; “It varies. There were a few of us at Meadowvale school who had been there for a long time; mind you, some of them had been born there”.
“They’d come back to teach in their home town?”
“You wouldn’t find that very often here – at least, not in a small town”.
“No, probably not”.
“What kept you there for so long, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I married a local girl, and she was kind of attached to Meadowvale. But it turned out to be a good fit for me too; I liked it there”.
She nodded at the small framed pictures of Kelly and Emma on the corner of my desk. “Is that your family?”
“Yes, but my wife died two and a half years ago so it’s just Emma and me now”.
“I’m very sorry to hear that”, she said quietly.
“Thanks”. I smiled at her; “What about you – do you have a family?”
“Yes; my husband is Jim, and we have two children, Matthew and Alanna. Matthew’s in his third year of a PPE degree at St. Edmund Hall, and Alanna’s about to start a music degree at Lincoln College”.
“I went to Lincoln; that’s where I did my English degree and my teaching certificate. But what’s ‘PPE’?”
“Politics, Philosophy and Economics”. She grinned; “My son wants to change the world”.
“Well, I’m in favour of that. Does it run in the family?”
“His dad’s a Baptist pastor, so I suppose you could say it does”.
“I guess. So your husband’s a pastor?”
“Yes. We met in my first school in Norwich; he was just starting out in his first church”.
“My daughter and I are churchgoers too. We’ve been attending Anglican churches for the past few weeks, but we’re actually Mennonites and we’d like to find something a little closer to what we’re used to”.
“Jim will be very interested to hear that. He’s been reading lots of American Mennonite writers over the past few years; he’s quite taken with them”.
“He’s Baptist, you say?”
“Yes – he’s the pastor of Banbury Road Baptist Church in Summertown. It’s not a big church; we get about ninety people at our Sunday morning service – maybe a bit more in term time. But there’s a good representation of different age groups, including some families with small children, and we always have a few students from year to year as well. It’s got a nice sense of community”. She smiled at me again; “You’d be more than welcome to try it out if you like”.
“We might just do that; our church in Saskatchewan isn’t much bigger than that. What time’s the service?”
“Maybe we’ll come this Sunday”.
“We’ll look out for you, then”.
“Sounds good”. I frowned and said, “Kathy, on a completely different subject, do you know Colin Kingsley?”
“I had him in my classes when he was in years seven and eight; why do you ask?”
“He seems to be struggling a bit”.
“Yes, he’s not really academic. He’s very good at sports though, and he’s great with his hands; you should get Simon Bennett to show you some of the things he’s built in the woodwork shop”.
“He’s the design and technology teacher?”
“That’s just about the only subject Colin gets good marks in, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s where he really shines. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a career out of it, actually; Simon told me he’s one of the best in his class”.
“I don’t know if I’ve met Simon yet”.
“I think you’d enjoy him. He’s got a soft spot for the kids who don’t fit the academic mould”.
“Sounds like someone I should get to know”.
“That might be a good idea”.
When I opened our front door just after six, the Dire Straits tune ‘Money for Nothing’ was blasting out of the stereo speakers at high volume. “Anyone home?” I shouted as I closed the door behind me and stepped into the living room. Emma appeared immediately from the kitchen with her sleeves pushed up to her elbows and a paring knife in her hand; “Sorry!” she said with a grin, dancing her way across the floor and reaching out to turn down the volume.
“Well, that felt just like old times!” I said.
She laughed; “Mom would get home from work and put her rock music on loud, and you’d come home and fall asleep in your chair!”
“Be nice now!”
“Did you have a good day?”
“Pretty good, thanks”. I sniffed at the air; “What’s that delicious smell?”
“It’s a new chicken curry recipe I got from Auntie Becca. Supper’s nearly ready; would you like a cup of tea?”
“Would I? I could murder a cup of tea right now! Are you sure you don’t want to stay home permanently and become my housekeeper?”
“Tempting, but I don’t think so”.
“Too bad. So what was your day like?”
“Really good actually; come into the kitchen and I’ll tell you all about it. I’ll pour your tea too; I made a pot about ten minutes ago”.
I followed her through to the kitchen-diner; she poured me a mug of tea and I sat down at the dining table to drink it. The back of our house faced roughly northwest, and through the windows I could see that the early evening sun was painting the cloudy sky in multiple hues of red and orange.
Emma poured herself some tea and turned back to one of the work surfaces where she was cutting up raw vegetables. “I took resumés around to about ten nursing homes”, she said, “some in Marston, some in Headington”.
“What kind of reception did you get?”
“Well, some places weren’t interested at all and some were very nice but said they didn’t have any openings right now. But one place just round the corner here in Marston said they didn’t have any paid positions at the moment but they were always looking for volunteers, and would I be interested in a volunteer position?”
“And you said…?”
She turned to me with a smile on her face. “I said I’d be okay with that, so I’m going back tomorrow to meet their volunteer coordinator!”
I gave her a triumphant high-five; “Are you happy?”
“Yeah, I am”, she replied, turning back to the work surface. “It’s not nursing training but it’s a start, and as long as you don’t mind supporting me I don’t mind going slowly”.
“This is fairly close, you say?”
“It’s on Marston Road, a ten minute walk from here”.
“Nice! I hope it works out”. I drank some tea, feeling it warming me all the way down, and gave her what I hoped was a penetrating glance. “Are you sure you’re okay with this? Are you sad you’re not starting university this Fall?”
“Kind of, but it can’t be helped, so there’s no point in worrying about it”. She turned to face me again. “Well, I think this food is just about ready. There’s also a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, courtesy of Uncle Rick, if you’d like a glass with your supper?”
“Rick brought us some wine?”
“Yes – he was here about fifteen minutes ago. He seemed surprised that you weren’t home yet”, she continued with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “but I told him that teachers have to work long hours sometimes!”
“Oh you can be wicked sometimes, Emma Dawn!”
“Thank you, thank you!” she replied, giving me a little bow. “Anyway, he wants you to call him tonight”.
“Wonder what that’s about?”
“He didn’t say”.
“Apparently he hasn’t noticed that you don’t care for wine”.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t have any, Dad”.
“I think I might just have a glass”.
Later that night while Emma was reading in her room I made three calls. The first was to my brother; I heard the phone ring twice and then he picked it up and said “Richard Masefield”.
“Hi, it’s Tom”.
“Hello there – how’s your first week going?”
“Pretty well, thank you, and we had some good wine with supper tonight too”.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was meant to go with an invitation; Eric’s turning seventeen a week on Saturday and we’re having a party for him. He seems to have taken a shine to Emma so we were wondering if you two would like to come along?”
“I’m sure we would”.
“Good. He’s got a few friends coming and our family will be there too, including Auntie Brenda”.
“Sounds good; I’m sure Emma will be excited about it. What time?”
“Come any time after about four. Dinner will be about six”.
“Right; we’ll be there”.
“Good. Well, see you next weekend then”.
My second call was to Owen. It was answered after one ring, and I heard him say, “Fosters”.
“Hi, it’s me”.
“Hi you; what’s up?”
“Did you know that Wendy’s back in Oxford?”
“No, I didn’t know that. Have you seen her?”
“No, but in a manner of speaking I keep bumping into her”.
“A couple of weeks ago I found a book she’d written in Blackwell’s – an introduction to George Eliot. Since then I’ve found out that it’s her third book; they’ve all been about George Eliot and they seem to be getting some attention”.
“What’s she doing in Oxford?”
“Teaching English at Merton”.
“That’s a nice coincidence, isn’t it? Have you tried to contact her?”
“Not yet, but I expect I’ll run into her sooner or later; she has a son in my tutor group at school”.
“I didn’t even know she had a son”.
“Neither did I. You and I haven’t talked much about Wendy for a long time; you weren’t really in touch with her after she went to London, were you?”
“No. To tell you the truth, I got the impression she was deliberately cutting herself off. You heard from her though, didn’t you?”
“Just one letter after I went to Canada, and then silence. Did she ever say anything to you about why she changed her mind about doing her doctorate here?”
“No. Mind you, I hardly saw her after you left. If you remember, she didn’t even tell me she was leaving; I heard it from Sue Morris. I was really surprised to hear that she and Mickey were a couple again”.
“Well, they aren’t a couple any more”.
“No – Mickey’s listed on his son’s file as a non-resident parent. His home and work addresses are in London”.
“Does the file have contact information for Wendy?”
“Why don’t you ring her or send her an e-mail?”
“I’m thinking about that”.
“Good. Give her my regards; it would be nice to see her again”.
“It would. Well, I’d better let you go; I’ve got some schoolwork to do”.
“Are you going to come over again and play some more tunes?”
“I’ll hold you to that”.
I laughed; “Okay. Goodnight Owen”.
“Goodnight Tom; don’t work too hard”.
“I’ll do my best”.
I sat in silence for a couple of minutes, and then I took out a piece of paper with Wendy’s contact information on it, picked up the cordless phone and keyed in her number. It rang a couple of times, and then it was answered and I heard her voice; “Hello?’”
“This is Tom Masefield”.
There was silence for moment and then, in a voice that sounded just a little bit too cheerful, she said, “Tom – how lovely to hear from you!”
“I got your number from Colin’s file; he’s in my tutor group”.
“Yes – he told me his new tutor group teacher was a Mr. Masefield who’d just moved back from Canada, but I wasn’t sure if it was you or not. What brings you back to England?”
“My dad, actually – he’s been diagnosed with lymphoma. He’s probably only got about eighteen months to live”.
“I’m very sorry, Tom; how are things between you and him?”
“That’s one of the reasons I came back – to try to work on that”.
“This must be a difficult time for you, then”.
“We have our good days and our bad days”.
“I’m sure”. She paused, and then said, “So you were in Canada for what, about twenty years?”
“Twenty-one. I got married there and had a daughter; she’s seventeen now, going on eighteen”.
“Congratulations! I was married to Mickey for a while, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We’ve been apart for a few years now”.
“I saw in Colin’s file that you and Mickey were living separately. I’m sorry, Wendy”.
There was an awkward silence for a moment and then I said, “So you’re teaching at Merton?”
“I am – I’m an English tutor there. I came back to Oxford about six years ago, just after Mickey and I split up”.
“Is it going well?”
“Actually I love it; I love the teaching and I love the reading and studying I get to do as well. And of course Merton’s a fantastic place”.
“Familiar ground for you”.
“Do you still sing?”
“I’m an occasional member of a couple of choirs. How about you?”
“I’ve kept it up over the years. I was part of a trio in Canada for a while; my sister-in-law played the fiddle and another teacher friend played mandolin and banjo. They were really bluegrass players but I taught them some traditional English songs too”.
“You were always such a good musician”.
“Thanks. Speaking of music – I was talking to Owen earlier. I told him I was thinking of calling you and he asked me to pass on his regards”.
She laughed softly; “So you’re both back in Oxford now?”
“He’s never left, actually; he’s a senior partner in a medical practice in Headington. He’s married to Lorraine and they have two children”.
“Have you been playing music together yet?”
“Once or twice. Of course, if you wanted to come and join us…”
She laughed softly; “It’s been a long time”.
“Yes, it has”.
“Do you still enjoy walking?”
“I do, when I get the time. I’ve actually done a lot of hiking in the Rocky Mountains over the years. How about you?”
“I walk every day. I actually like walking down to college if I can make it work with my morning commitments”.
“That’s a good distance”.
“It takes me about forty minutes”.
“I walk to school every day too, if I can. We live in New Marston, not far from you”.
“We’re on Croft Road”.
“That is close to us; we’re on Bowness Avenue”.
For a moment neither of us spoke, and then she said, “Well, it’s been lovely to hear from you, Tom”.
“You too; can I give you my number?”
“Of course; just let me get a pen”.
I gave her the numbers for my land line and my mobile, and then I said “Maybe we can get together some time; it would be lovely to see you after all these years”.
“That would be nice. I expect I’ll see you at school sooner or later, for parent-teacher interviews”.
“Yes – they’ll be coming up in a few weeks”.
“Well, thanks again for ringing, Tom. Good night”.
“Good night, Wendy”.
I put the phone down, sat in silence for a minute, and then got up and went out to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea.