‘A Time to Mend’ is out in paperback!

I’m pleased to announce that my new novel, ‘A Time to Mend’, is now available in paperback timchesterton_A5from Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Two years after the loss of his beloved wife Kelly, Tom Masefield comes face to face with a new challenge: his father—the one he originally left England to get away from—is dying. For twenty-one years they have lived on different continents and have kept their personal contact to a bare minimum. But now Tom’s conscience tells him he needs to make one more attempt at reconciliation before his father dies.

‘So Tom and his daughter Emma decide to move back to England. Over the next two years, they will find out whether it is possible to mend relationships that have been broken for half a lifetime. And along the way, Tom will make a discovery that will transform his life in ways he never imagined.’

Here are links to some of the places you can get it:

Canada

USA

UK

For other countries, please search on your local Amazon website using ‘Tim Chesterton A Time to Mend’; it should be one of the first few to come up.

I hope you enjoy it!

We’re getting closer!

IMG_4231Today the proof copy of my book ‘A Time to Mend’ arrived in the mail. Now I have to read through it and check for errors, correct them, reload the corrected manuscript to Amazon, and then hopefully the book will be ready to go live around the first week in October.

It’s getting exciting!

Don’t forget that if Kindle is your preferred platform you can already purchase it here (Canada), or by the same title at your local Amazon website,

‘A Time to Mend’ is now available on Kindle

timchesterton_A5My new novel, ‘A Time to Mend’, is now available for purchase in the Kindle store.

I call it ‘my new novel’, but I first typed the (now totally unrecognizable) ancestor of this story on a manual typewriter in my study in Aklavik over thirty years ago! Although it follows ‘Meadowvale’ chronologically, it was conceived before ‘Meadowvale’; in fact, I first wrote ‘Meadowvale’ because I was interested in the back story to ‘A Time to Mend’.

The basic story will not be strange to long-time readers of this blog, who will have read earlier versions of it. However, it has been substantially revised from the last version that was published here.

If you have a Kindle (or the Kindle app for your computer or iPad) I’d love it if you’d buy it, and I’d love it even more if you’d write an Amazon review for it afterwards! I will soon be announcing a paperback edition (from Amazon), and also hopefully Kobo and iBooks versions.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Two years after the loss of his beloved wife Kelly, Tom Masefield comes face to face with a new challenge: his father—the one he originally left England to get away from—is dying. For twenty-one years they have lived on different continents and have kept their personal contact to a bare minimum. But now Tom’s conscience tells him he needs to make one more attempt at reconciliation before his father dies.

‘So Tom and his daughter Emma decide to move back to England. Over the next two years, they will find out whether it is possible to mend relationships that have been broken for half a lifetime. And along the way, Tom will make a discovery that will transform his life in ways he never imagined.’

Links:

Canada

USA

UK

Australia

New Zealand

If you aren’t listed above, simply do a search on your local Amazon website.

 

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 15

Link back to Chapter 14

******

I woke up during the night to the howl of the wind and the sound of rain beating against my window. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I returned I turned out the light in my room and lifted the curtain to look outside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that it was blowing hard; the trees were shaking and the rain was slanting down at about a forty-five degree angle. It was cold in my room, and when I got back into bed I pulled the comforter up around my neck, thinking as I often did of the many winter nights over the years when Kelly had come back to our bed and wrapped herself around me to get warm again. She had felt the cold far more than I did; it was a constant running joke between us that she had married a hot water bottle and I had married an ice pack.

I woke up again at around seven and got up shortly afterwards to go for a walk. The rain had stopped but the streets and pavements of the village were slick with ice and wet snow. I had to walk slowly to save myself from falling, and the few cars that passed me at that early hour of the morning were crawling along at a sluggish pace.

It was about nine o’clock by the time we sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat breakfast together. In answer to my query, my father told me that he had slept reasonably well and was feeling good, although I noticed that he ate his bacon and eggs very slowly. “How was the weather outside this morning?” he asked me.

“Cold and icy; the roads are pretty slick”.

“Is there much snow?”

“A little, but it’s mainly ice. I was awake at about two and I heard the rain coming down in sheets; it must have turned to sleet after that”.

“I hope everyone got home alright yesterday”.

“We would have heard by now if they hadn’t”, said Becca.

“Yes, I suppose so”. He glanced back at me; “Are you expecting some phone calls from Canada today?”

“I think Steve and Krista might call us a bit later on, but the person I’m actually expecting to hear from fairly soon is Owen”.

“Oh?”

“He’d said they were coming out to see his dad and mum today, but with this weather I’m hoping they might change their minds and stay home”. I glanced at Becca; “Are you going home today?”

“I’m supposed to take over from Owen at noon”.

“Being on call, you mean?” Emma asked.

“Yes”.

“You drive carefully now”, my mother said quietly.

“Don’t worry, Mum; I’ll be fine”.

******

Owen called me on my mobile phone just as we were finishing breakfast; I apologized, excused myself from the table, went out to the hallway and said “I hope you’re calling to tell me you’re staying home today”.

“Yes. The police aren’t advising travel, at least until mid-afternoon”.

“That’s good; you get a bit more time to enjoy your family”.

“Yes, and I might as well stay on call too. Tell Becca I can cover for her for the next twenty-four hour period”.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure”.

“Okay. How was Christmas at your place?”

“Messy; very messy. How about you?”

“It was good; we had a pleasant family gathering and my brother even left his Blackberry at home”.

“Bit of an addict?”

“I’m afraid so. My dad’s brothers and their wives were here; I got to have a nice visit with my cousin Ann and her family”.

“You haven’t seen her for a while”.

“Not since we were here in ’97, even though she just lives in Oxford. We agreed that we’re going to try to get together again soon. She’s always kept in touch with me over the years; she’s the only one of my cousins that’s done that”.

“Right”.

“You’re going to miss seeing your family today”.

“Well, we see each other a lot so I’m not really worried. I think Fiona and Jeff are staying at Mum and Dad’s for the weekend; hopefully the weather will clear up tomorrow so we can get out”. I heard someone calling him in the background and he said, “Well, I’d better go; apparently there’s some sort of family snowballing thing going on outside!”

“You’ve got snow on the ground in town, then?”

“Yes; haven’t you?”

“Just a skiff”.

“We’ve got enough for snowballs here; the kids are pretty excited”.

“Give them my love, Owen; we’ll see you soon”.

“Bye for now, Tom”.

******

We spent our morning indoors; my father and Emma sat talking by the fireplace in the living room while Becca and I helped our mother finish the cleanup from the day before. At about eleven o’clock Becca made coffee, and we were just taking the tray into the living room when the phone rang in the hallway. My mother started to get up, but Emma, who was standing in the doorway, said “You stay where you are, Grandma – I’ll get it”.

“Thank you, my dear”.

Emma disappeared back into the hallway; Becca put the tray down on the coffee table and began to pour, and she was just handing the mugs around when I heard my daughter’s call: “Dad, could you come please?”

I was on my feet instantly, recognizing the note of urgency in her voice. Out in the hallway she was standing with the phone in her hand, her face pale.“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“It’s Auntie Alyson and she’s really upset – something about an accident involving Uncle Rick and Sarah”.

I took the phone from her hand, put it to my ear and said “Alyson, it’s Tom”.

“Oh Tom, thank God!” she sobbed; “I think it’s really bad! Rick was driving Sarah up to Woodstock to visit Brittany and he spun on the ice and got hit by a lorry and another car. They’ve been taken to the J.R. and the police say Sarah’s been badly injured!”

“Where are you calling from?” I asked as calmly as I could.

“A police car on the way to the J.R.”.

Becca appeared from the living room with a little frown on her face; I gave her a warning glance and then spoke into the phone again; “Can you tell me what you know?”

“A policeman came to our door a few minutes ago”, Alyson replied, struggling to hold back the tears. “He said…he said there’d been an accident on the Woodstock Road, a collision, and Rick and…and Sarah were both injured, and so was one of the other drivers. He said it sounded as if Sarah…as if Sarah had been very badly injured”.

“Where are Colin and Anna?”

“They’re at the house – I didn’t think I could look after them at the hospital as well as dealing with whatever happened there, so I…”

“Right”. I looked at Becca; “Rick and Sarah were in a car accident”, I whispered. “They’re both injured; the ambulance is taking them to the J.R. and Alyson’s on her way there right now in a police car”.

“They’ll go to the Trauma Unit”, she replied softly; “That’s where the ambulance will be going”.

I repeated this to Alyson, and then said, “Don’t worry; we’ll make sure Colin and Anna are okay and we’ll come and join you as quickly as we can”.

“Thank you, Tom: I – I’m going to need some help at the hospital”.

“We’re on our way; you hang in there”.

“Right”.

As I put the phone down my mother emerged from the living room; “Is everything all right?” she asked uneasily.

“I’m afraid not” I replied, and as my father appeared in the doorway behind her I repeated what Alyson had said to me. When I was finished we were all quiet for a moment, and then Becca said, “So we need to look after two things; someone needs to go to Eric and Anna to make sure they’re all right, and someone needs to go to the hospital right away to help Alyson”.

I glanced at Emma; “We’ll go to Eric and Anna”.

“Eric will want to go to the hospital”, said Emma.

“Then we should bring them both. Will you call Eric?”

She nodded, digging in her jeans pocket for her mobile as she turned away toward the back of the hall and went through the open door into the piano room. Becca looked at my parents and said, “I’d better go to the J.R.”.

“We’ll come with you”, my father replied.

Becca shook her head; “I don’t think that’s a good idea Dad”.

“Why not?”

“If the injuries are serious they’ll take them through for surgery right away, and it will probably take a long time. We’re probably going to be sitting in waiting rooms until late tonight”.

“We’d like to be close, though”, my mother said.

“I know, Mum, and I understand, but believe me – it’s very unlikely that we’re going to get anywhere near them tonight; we’ll be with Alyson and the kids, not Rick and Sarah. And I think if we’re there for twelve or fourteen hours Dad’s going to be worn out”.

My father shook his head, and I saw the determination on his face. “This is my son and my granddaughter we’re talking about. I want to be there”.

My sister looked at him for a moment, and then nodded reluctantly; “Alright then. Let’s all remember that the roads are treacherous today so we can’t go fast. Tommy, I’ll go straight to the Trauma Unit with Mum and Dad; it’s on the north side of the J.R. and it’s got its own parking lot. I’ll probably get there before you, so when you arrive, wait for me in the reception area; I’ll come to you as soon as I can”.

“Where are you going to go?”

“As soon as I get there I’m going to try and find Alyson, and then I’m going to try to pull all the strings I can to find out what’s going on. But I’m only a GP, not one of the trauma surgeons, so I might not get very far”.

“Understood”.

Emma slipped back into the hallway, putting her mobile back in her pocket. “Eric knows we’re coming”, she said to me; “He told me Anna’s really upset. He’s trying to reach his other grandparents in Edinburgh; his mom asked him to call them”.

“We’d better get going”, I replied.

******

Emma and I arrived at Rick’s house in Cumnor Hill just after noon. Eric and Anna were ready for us; by the time my car had come to a complete stop in the driveway they were already emerging from the front door, wrapped up warmly in winter coats and scarves. They climbed into the back of my car and Eric said, “Thanks for coming, Uncle Tom”.

“Have you heard anything else from your Mum?” I asked over my shoulder as I reversed the car out of the driveway.

“No”.

“Were you able to get through to your Mackenzie grandparents?”

“Yes; they’re going to start out this afternoon some time”.

As we drove into Oxford I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw that Eric had his arm around his little sister; after a moment Emma reached back and took her hand as well. I kept my eyes on the road ahead; traffic was beginning to get busy despite the slippery conditions, and I guessed that the lure of Boxing Day sales was prompting people to brave the slick highways.

“I don’t know where we’re supposed to go when we get to the hospital”, Eric said.

“Becca told me to go to the Trauma Unit; that’s where they treat people who’ve had injuries in car accidents and things like that”.

“The policeman didn’t say anything about how bad their injuries are; he just said Sarah’s were more serious than Dad’s”.

I glanced at the two of them in my rear view mirror again; Eric had both his arms around Anna now. Emma squeezed her hand; “It’ll be okay”, she said softly. “They’re going to the best possible place; they’ve got some of the best doctors in the world there and they’ll look after them well”.

Anna didn’t reply, and after a moment Eric said “It was supposed to be Mum driving Sarah today”.

“What was happening?” I asked; “Was Sarah going to a party or something?”

“Not a party – just two or three friends getting together at Brittany Coleman’s in Woodstock”.

“She’s Sarah’s best friend”, Emma explained to me; “They’ve known each other since they were little kids”.

“Mum was going to drive her”, Eric continued, “But when she woke up this morning she had a bad headache – she gets them sometimes – and so Dad said he’d do it. He was really busy today; when I got up he was already working in his study”.

 “He told me yesterday he had a big trial to get ready for”.

“Yes, I heard him tell Mum last night he was going to be working on it all day today”.

******

It took me a few minutes to find the car park for the Trauma Unit, and a few minutes more to find a parking spot; apparently the JR was a busy place on this Boxing Day. Once inside the main doors I looked around helplessly; people were walking here and there or sitting on chairs scattered about the reception area, and lines of people were waiting at the desks. Eric was still holding Anna’s hand; he looked at me and said “How are we going to find them?”

“Becca told us to wait here”.

“There’s Grandma and Grandpa”, said Emma, looking over to the far side of the room. I followed her eyes and saw my parents sitting at one end of a row of vinyl chairs with a plant pot beside them; my mother had just seen us, and as we made our way over to them she got to her feet and held out her arms to Anna. “It’s alright, darling” she said, drawing her close and holding her tight; “Auntie Becca’s gone to find them. She’ll be back in a few minutes to tell us what’s happening”.

“Are you okay, Dad?” I asked my father.

“I’m fine; Becca told us not to be worried if she was gone for some time”.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking”.

It was actually about twenty minutes later that my sister emerged from one of the elevators. She saw us immediately, came over and gave Anna a hug, and then put her hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You two come with me”, she said; “Your mum’s on one of the units and I’m going to take you to her”. She glanced up at the rest of us and said, “Sorry, they’ll only allow immediate family; I’ll come back as soon as I can and let you know what’s happening”.

“What is happening right now, Becs?” I asked.

“They’re both being prepped for surgery. I don’t know Rick’s surgeon but I heard someone say that Sarah’s surgeon is John Fellows; he’s an old friend of Owen’s from medical school days. He and I know each other a bit”.

“Right; I guess we’ll wait here then”.

“It could be a while, Tommy”.

“I understand”.

Becca led Eric and Anna across to the elevator, and Emma and I sat down with my parents. “Shall I try to find a coffee machine?” she asked.

“That’s all right; I think I’ve had enough”.

******

And so we waited there for the next three or four hours, flipping absent-mindedly through magazines, talking quietly to each other, and getting up occasionally to stretch our legs. New people were coming in all the time; some were able to move on quickly but most, like us, sat down to wait, not knowing how long they would be waiting for. I tried to stop myself from continually checking my watch; the numbers seemed to be changing with excruciating slowness. At one point my father shook his head impatiently; “What the devil is taking so long!” he exclaimed.

“They said the injuries were serious, Dad”, I replied quietly.

“But why can’t Becca come and tell us something?”

“It’s possible that she’s the calming voice in there right now, with Alyson and the kids”.

He looked at me for a moment, and then he nodded and said, “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry – I just hate waiting, that’s all. And I hate this place”.

“I know”.

At about four o’clock in the afternoon Emma got up and went outside for a few minutes; she was finding the atmosphere stuffy, she said, and she needed a breath of fresh air. She had just returned and taken her seat again when I looked up and saw Becca coming across the room toward us. I immediately stood up; “Any news?” I asked.

“Sit down and I’ll fill you in”.

We took our seats, and Becca covered my mother’s hand with her own. “Rick’s got a broken arm and a broken leg, along with three broken ribs. He seems to have a mild concussion but the team doesn’t seem overly worried about that. They’re still working on him and he’s under general anaesthetic right now, but he was conscious when they brought him in”.

“What about Sarah?” Emma asked.

Becca shook her head; “Things are a lot more serious with her. Both her femurs are broken and one of them is an open compound fracture; the bone’s broken in three places. She’s also got several broken ribs, a broken wrist and a broken collarbone. Also both her lungs are collapsed, and she’s in a coma”.

“A coma?”

“Yes. That’s probably the result of a severe blow to the head”.

Emma stared at Becca, her face pale. “Is she going to be okay?”

“They’re working on her right now to stabilize her. I think they’ll probably try to address the situation with the lungs and the compound fracture first, but I wasn’t in the operating room so I don’t know for certain”.

“So she’ll come out of the coma then?”

“We can’t know that, but the best thing for them to do is to assume she will, and to start to address her other injuries”.

My father took my mother’s other hand. “Becca, is her life in danger?” he asked softly.

“She’s in critical condition right now, Dad. I’ll feel a lot better if and when she comes out of the coma but it’s impossible to say when that might happen”.

“What do we know about the accident?”

“It happened on the A44 just south of Begbroke. As far as we can tell Rick lost control of his car on black ice and was struck by a lorry and also by a smaller car. He hit the meridian and flipped; his car was upright when it came to rest but the roof was badly damaged, so it must  have gone all the way over, 360 degrees. I’m assuming that’s when Sarah sustained the blow to her head. Several other vehicles were involved in the accident and one of the other drivers was killed. The police aren’t releasing any names yet, for obvious reasons”.

“How are Alyson and the kids doing?” asked Emma.

“Alyson and Anna are really upset. Eric is too, but he’s doing his best to be there for his mum and his sister. Speaking of which – I should probably go back and give him a hand”.

I looked at Emma; she smiled at me as bravely as she could but I could see in her eyes that she was shaken by the news. I reached over and took her hand; “Are you going to be okay?”

She nodded; “Can we go and see them?” she asked Becca.

“Not yet – as I said, they’re both still in surgery”.

“Give Alyson and the kids hugs for me”.

“I will”. She glanced at my father; “Are you alright, Dad?”

“Don’t worry about me; we’ve got far more important things to think about!”

“Are you getting tired, though?”

“A bit, but I’ll be alright for a little while yet”.

“Will you two stay in my spare room tonight?”

My parents glanced at each other, and my mother said, “Let’s see how the evening goes, shall we? We can always take a taxi home if we need to”.

“Why don’t you find the cafeteria and have a bite to eat? I’ll ring Tommy’s mobile if anything important happens”.

“That sounds like a good idea”, I replied; “How long do you think, Becs?”

“I’ve really got no idea; it could be several hours yet”.

******

We stayed at the hospital until after ten o’clock. Rick was out of surgery by then, and Alyson and the children went in to see him briefly, but his nurse said he needed rest more than anything else, and after a few minutes she asked them to leave so that he could get some sleep. Sarah was in intensive care with a nurse monitoring her around the clock; Alyson was allowed in to her room briefly, but the rest of us were limited to looking at her through the window.

The next day was a Saturday. Shortly after one in the afternoon I stuck my head around the door of my brother’s room in the Trauma Unit. His right leg had a sort of pulley and weight contraption attached to it; his right arm was in a cast, and his chest was heavily bandaged. He was staring vacantly into space, and although he turned and looked at me when I entered the room, he seemed at first to be having difficulty focusing on my face.

“Does it feel as bad as it looks?” I asked.

He shrugged; “Not too bad at the moment, but then they’ve got me on a fairly heavy dose of pain killers. They’re making me a bit drowsy though, so you’ll have to forgive me if I nod off”.

“Do you mind if I come in?”

“Be my guest. Are you here by yourself?”

“Emma came with me but she’s gone down to Sarah’s room. Is there anyone else around yet?”

“Alyson was here for a while but she went to see how Sarah was doing. Mum and Dad are with her. Becca’s doing a Saturday morning clinic, I hear”.

I nodded. “I talked to her earlier on; she’ll be here soon”.

We lapsed into silence for a moment; he reached for a glass from the bedside table, sipped cold water through a straw, and then put it down again.

“Do you remember anything?” I asked gently.

“About the accident, you mean?”

“Yeah”.

He looked away. “I lost control of the car”, he said quietly. “I must have hit a patch of black ice; that’s what the police think. After that it’s all a bit hazy. Something big struck us on the passenger side; the police say it was a lorry. I’ve got a vague memory of colliding with another vehicle on the rebound, and then we hit the barrier – it’s a dual carriageway up there – and I must have been knocked out. When I came to, the car was upright but my head was touching the roof. Sarah was unconscious beside me, and she was covered in blood”. He glanced at me, and I saw the horror in his eyes. “God, Tom, I thought she was dead; she looked awful”.

“Have you heard anything about her this morning?”

“Apparently they put a chest tube in last night to drain the air from around the collapsed lungs”.

“The collapse would have been caused by punctures from the broken ribs?”

“Yes; she’s got five of them. I’ve got no idea why her injuries were so much worse than mine”. He shook his head; “I’d have been glad for it to be the other way around”.

“She’s still in a coma?”

“Yes”. He looked down; “They don’t seem to  know how long that’ll go on for”.

“No”

He was quiet for a moment, looking down. I waited, not wanting to inadvertently say anything that might interfere with the raw honesty of our conversation.

“One of the other drivers was killed”, he said, his eyes still down.

“That’s what I heard”.

“Apparently she was a single mum”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“She had a two-year old boy at home”. He shook his head slowly; “Imagine being two years old and losing your mum”.

“Yes”.

“Is Emma all right?”.

“She was a little shaken last night but I think she was doing okay this morning. What about your other two?”

“Alyson left them at home with her parents today; they got in from Edinburgh around eleven last night”. He glanced at me; “I heard you were the one who brought Eric and Anna in yesterday”.

“Yeah”

“Thanks for that”.

“Not at all; it was the least we could do. Emma and your kids have been getting pretty close”.

“Emma’s special. She’s old for her age, isn’t she? I sometimes have to remind myself she’s only eighteen. Still, I suppose she’s had to do a lot of growing up in the last few years”.

“Yes”.

He looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then he said, “You never know what life’s going to send your way, do you?”

“No, you don’t”.

He picked up the water glass for a moment, took another sip and stared away into space. “I wish I could see Sarah”, he whispered, “but I doubt if I’ll be able to get out of this room for a while”.

“Are they saying anything about how long you’ll be here?”

He gestured toward his broken leg. “They say it could take three months to heal properly. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to go home, but they’ve told me I’ll need to be very patient with myself. I’ll be off work for a while, I think – or at least, I won’t be going in to the office”.

“Someone else is going to have to cover that trial for you”.

“Yes; funny how completely unimportant that seems now”.

“I think I can understand”.

He nodded slowly; “Yes – I think you probably can”.

“How was Alyson this morning? She seemed pretty shaken yesterday”.

“Still the same, I think. She can be a bit fragile”.

“Understandable”.

“There’s not really much she cares about more than the children. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, and with me working so much…”

“It’s the nature of the job, so I understand”.

He gave me a wry grin; “Dad and I have given you that lecture a few times, haven’t we?”

“You have”.

“I wonder how Dad feels about it right now”, he said softly, looking away toward the window.

“Have you asked him?”

“Me? Good heavens, no! The old man and I don’t talk on that level”. He frowned thoughtfully at me; “Have you?”

“Not yet”.

“You plan to, though?”

“If I can”.

As he opened his mouth to reply there was a gentle knock on the door. We both turned to look as my mother and Becca appeared in the doorway.

“Did you just get here?” I asked Becca.

“I’ve been here for a few minutes. Mum called and asked if I could come over a little earlier, so I gave away some appointments and came right away”.

“Is there a problem?” asked Rick.

My mother shook her head; “Not a problem – I just wanted her to be involved in a conversation we were having with Sarah’s doctor. He wants to do a procedure on her today”.

“What sort of procedure?”

“They want to insert a titanium rod into her left leg”.

Rick frowned; “That sounds rather drastic”.

“It’s standard procedure in situations like this”, Becca replied; “They might do the same thing for you in a few days. Sarah’s bone’s broken in three places and they need to fix it in position so it can knit together properly. The titanium rod is called an intramedullary nail; they’ll insert it into the marrow canal of the femur either at the hip or the knee and it’ll be screwed to the bone at both ends. It’ll keep it in proper position so it can heal”.

“How long will it be in place?”

“It’ll be permanent”.

“Permanent”. He looked away, shaking his head slowly. “This is going to affect her for the rest of her life, isn’t it?” he said quietly.

“She’ll be all right, Rick”, Becca replied softly; “Lots of people are walking around with these rods in their legs”.

“They’re just doing it on the one leg?”

“Yes; the other one isn’t so badly injured; it’s just a transverse fracture. They’re going to put it in traction and wait for a few days before they do anything”. She sat down on the other side of the bed from me. “This is just the first of several surgeries Sarah’s going to have, Rick”, she said. “It’s going to take a long time for her to come back from this. But she’s alive and she’s in good hands. I know you’re going to worry; that’s only natural. But the people here know what they’re doing; you can trust them”.

“Is she still in the coma?”

“Yes. There are no indictions at the moment as to when she’ll come out of it”.

“Or if she’ll come out of it”.

“No”.

He was quiet for a moment, his eyebrows creased into a frown, and then he looked at Becca again; “So do they need my consent for this procedure?”

“They asked Alyson, but she said we should ask you too”.

“You think it’s a good idea?”

“As I said, it’s absolutely standard procedure”.

He nodded; “Right then – let’s do it”.

Becca got to her feet; “I’ll go and tell them”, she said.

******

Link to Chapter 16

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 14

Link back to Chapter 13

Emma and I went out to Northwood on the evening of the 22nd, and Becca came out to join us as soon as the clinic closed on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. The three of us went to the village church that night at seven; the pews were almost full, and Claire Lucas preached a thoughtful sermon which seemed to hold even my sister’s attention. Becca had usually accompanied us to our church on her visits to Meadowvale, but I knew that she rarely attended when she was home in England.

After the service was over we walked back to my parents’ house through the cold night air. Becca grinned at us; “That was a bit different from your usual service at Meadowvale Mennonite Church”.

“A little”, I replied, “but we like it alright. The people here are getting to know us, and we get to see George and Eleanor”.

“And Claire’s started to recognize us, too”, Emma added; “I had a nice conversation with her last time we were here”.

“You two are so easy to get along with! Surely you must miss your own church just a little bit on Christmas Eve?”

“Oh yeah”, Emma replied softly; “I miss a lot of things about home”.

“Who’s going to be at Will and Sally’s for dinner tomorrow?”

“Uncle Joe and Auntie Krista and their families for sure, and I think David and Anna will probably be there too”.

“How many’s that?”

“Twelve, I think”.

Becca grinned at me; “I think that for once we might have a bigger group here!”

“Uncle Arthur and Uncle Bill are coming, aren’t they?”

“Yes – and their wives, and Ann and Mark and their family, and Auntie Brenda, and all of us: that makes nineteen”.

“Do you know why Auntie Sarah’s not coming?”

“I think Uncle Graham’s pretty frail; they don’t stray too far away from home these days”.

“Auntie Sarah’s Grandpa’s sister, right?” asked Emma.

“Yes”, I replied. “Grandpa’s the oldest, and the others are Arthur, Sarah, and Bill”.

“Which family does Ann come from?”

“She’s the oldest daughter of Uncle Bill and Auntie Joan. Her husband is Mark Fogerty, and Caitlin and Molly are their kids; they’re seven and four”.

“They’re the ones that live in Oxford?”

“Yes. Ann’s actually the only one of my cousins who’s kept in touch with me through the years”.

“Have I ever met her?”

“Last time we were here she and Mark and Caitlin drove over from Cambridge to see us; Caitlin would have been a baby at the time. You probably wouldn’t remember it, though”.

“Actually I think I do; she was kind of tall, with long blond hair. Her husband was a little shorter than her, and his hair was really black and curly”.

“Yes, that’s them”.

Becca took my arm. “It’s a long time since anyone from Dad’s family came for dinner on Christmas Day”.

“Well, there’s a bit more of a sense of urgency this year, isn’t there?”

“I would think so”.

******

I was up early as usual on Christmas morning, and I went for my walk while it was still dark; there was a sharp frost in the air, and I knew that when the daylight came the bare fields would look spectacular with their thin white covering, different and somehow colder than the snow I was used to from my prairie home. Praying while walking had been a habit for me for many years, but on this, my third Christmas without Kelly, I found that there wasn’t a great deal that I wanted to say. It seemed to be enough just to walk quietly, breathing a few prayers of thanksgiving for Christmases past, and asking God to watch over the many loved ones who were far away from us this year.

When I got back to the house my mother was already up and working in the kitchen in her bathrobe and slippers, stuffing the Christmas turkey. We chatted for a few minutes while I made tea; I promised to come down and give her a hand, but she shook her head and said, “Becca’s just getting up, and we’ve got a good system between us. You take Emma her tea and then the two of you just enjoy yourselves for a while; we’ll be alright”.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yes”.

“Okay then; thanks, Mum”.

I poured two mugs of tea, kissed her on the cheek and went up to Emma’s room. She was already awake, with the debris from her stocking spread over her bed; she greeted me with a smile and a hug and held up the paperback I had wrapped for her a couple of days before. “Adam Bede”, she said; “I’d been thinking about getting this one for myself”.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t?”

“I know the rules about December shopping. Did you look at your stocking yet?”

“Not yet; I’m going to drink my tea and grab a quick shower, and I’ll probably do it after that”.

“Are you going to play us some carols today?”

“Would you like me to?”

“I love it when you play carols; it brings back lots of happy memories. I heard you and Grandma practising on Saturday”.

“You could even join us if you wanted”.

“I don’t play them as well as you do”.

“Your voice is lovely, though”.

“Thanks. Is Grandma already up?”

“Yes – she’s stuffing the turkey”.

“I’d better get up and give her a hand”.

“I already offered, and she told me she and Becca have a pretty good system”.

“What time are the guests arriving?”

“I think dinner’s at one-thirty. I expect Rick and the family will be here before noon; I’m not sure about everyone else”.

“Is it a ‘dress for dinner’ kind of day?”

“It was when we were here back in ‘94”.

“Oh yeah – I remember Mom coming down in her jeans and then running back up to put a dress on!”

“Did you bring a dress?”

“I brought a skirt and a nice sweater; I hope that’s okay”.

“I’m sure Grandma would be happy for you to come in jeans if you wanted to”.

“Well, it’s a denim skirt, you see!”

I laughed; “Very nice!”

“Thanks; it’s the warmest skirt I own, too!”

******

Auntie Brenda arrived at around eleven-thirty; she greeted us with smiles and hugs, went into the living room to put a few gifts under the tree, and then joined my mother and Becca in the kitchen to help put the finishing touches on Christmas dinner.

Rick and his family made their appearance just before noon; we met them in the hallway, exchanging hugs and handshakes and wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas’. Emma had been hanging a few extra decorations in the dining room when they arrived, and Sarah and Anna immediately joined her there, while Rick talked cheerfully with me as I helped him bring in a few presents and place them under the Christmas tree. Afterwards my mother served coffee from a silver coffee pot in the living room; I knew she only brought this pot out on special occasions, and Emma had helped her polish it the previous afternoon.

A few minutes later my father’s two younger brothers, Arthur and Bill, arrived with their wives; they had come together in Uncle Bill’s car. They were all dressed formally, my uncles in jackets and ties and my aunts in elegant dresses, pearls, and brooches. Emma sat down with them almost immediately and began to ask them questions about their homes and their families in her usual quiet way. By now she had changed into her denim skirt and sweater, and I had put on my jacket and tie in deference to the unspoken dress code.

My cousin Ann and her family were the last to arrive, and she apologized profusely to my mother for their lateness. “The girls were enjoying their Christmas presents”, she said; “They weren’t very impressed when we told them it was time to leave them behind to come to Northwood!”.

“Did you bring a few of the presents with you?” I asked, pointing to the backpack she was carrying over her shoulder.

“I did actually!” she replied with a smile; “How are you, Tom? It’s lovely to see you!”

We greeted each other with a hug and a kiss, and I bent over to introduce myself to Caitlin and Molly, but they were obviously wary of strangers, and four-year old Molly hid behind her mother’s leg. Emma laughed and said “Way to go, Dad!”

“Do you remember me, Emma?” asked Ann.

“I do – I remember you coming over to visit us last time we were here. I also remember you sending us a lovely card and note after my mom died; Dad and I really appreciated that”.

“Yes, we did”, I agreed.

“Do you want me to take that backpack?” Emma asked Ann. “Maybe if I have the toys I might be able to interest the children in playing with me”.

Ann smiled at her; “You are your mother’s daughter, aren’t you? I remember her taking Caitlin from me almost as soon as I walked in the door”.

******

As Becca had said there were nineteen of us sitting down for Christmas dinner. We had put two long dining tables together end to end and dressed them with festive tablecloths and decorative candlesticks, and the meal was served on my mother’s best china with silver cutlery and crystal glassware. The turkey had been cooking since early morning; it came with all the trimmings, along with the appropriate vegetables, and afterwards we had Christmas pudding and a selection of pies and cakes to choose from.

“When was the last time you had this many people around your table for Christmas dinner, Grandma?” Emma asked.

“I honestly don’t remember”, my mother replied with a smile. “There would have been eleven of us last time you were here for Christmas; that’s probably the most we’ve ever had until today”.

“Wasn’t there a time when Tom and I were little when we had all the aunts and uncles at once?” Rick asked.

“I’d forgotten about that”, my mother replied.

“We set up the tables in the music room, didn’t we?” I said.

“Yes, we did”.

“How long ago was that?” Emma asked.

“Before my time”, Becca replied.

“Maybe not”, I said; “I think you were a baby. You were born about the same time we moved here, and I definitely remember us eating in the music room, in this house”.

My mother nodded; “I think Tom’s right”.

“Thirty-three years ago, then”, said Rick; “It’s hard to believe we’re all that old”.

Rick was wearing a jacket and tie like the other men, but I noticed that for once he was not continually checking his Blackberry. I grinned at Becca; “I think there’s something missing from our brother’s personal accessories today”.

“Something small and noisy, maybe?”

“We’re not hearing any chimes or alert sounds. I wonder where that cheeky little Blackberry  is today?”

Alyson laughed; “I insisted he leave it at home; if anyone rings him on Christmas Day they deserve to be ignored!”

“I’ll check my messages when I get home!” said Rick.

“You are definitely an addict!”, I replied.

He shook his head; “It’s the world of modern business, I’m afraid”.

Emma tactfully changed the subject; “Grandma, are you going to play some music for us a little later?”

My mother smiled; “We’ll see how the afternoon goes”.

“Don’t let her get away with that excuse!” Auntie Brenda said with a smile; “I’m her sister but you’d be amazed how rarely I get to hear her play!”

“We’ve got lots of other musicians here, too”, my mother said; “Tom, Emma, Eric…”

“Do you play Christmas songs, Tom?” asked Ann.

“Does he play Christmas songs?” Becca exclaimed with a laugh.

Emma grinned at me; “Dad loves playing Christmas songs! I know for a fact that he and Grandma were practising on Saturday”.

I grinned at my mother; “I think we’ve just been smoked out of hiding!”

Emma looked across the table at Eric; “Did you bring your guitar?”

“I did, but I don’t really know any Christmas songs. I’ll be happy to play along, though”.

******

When the meal was over and the Christmas crackers had all been pulled, we took our coffee into the living room, where we spent a while retrieving gifts from under the tree and opening them. When we were done, Emma smiled at my mother and said, “Well, is it music time, Grandma?”

“If you insist”. She glanced at my Masefield relatives and said, “I know you’ll be wanting to get on the road soon; don’t feel you have to stay for this unless you really want to”.

“We’ll need to be getting these two home before too long”, Ann said apologetically, “but we’ll stay and listen to a couple of tunes if you don’t mind?”

“No, of course not”.

“We should get going before too long as well”, my Uncle Bill said, glancing at his watch; “We don’t want to be driving in the dark for too long”.

“Perhaps we could stay until Ann leaves”, my Auntie Joan suggested.

“If that’s what you want, dear”.

So we went back to the music room, carrying a few hard-backed chairs with us; my father apologized for taking the only armchair in there, but his brother Arthur said, “Don’t you worry, Frank – you make yourself comfortable”. My mother went over to a bookshelf in the corner where she kept a few music books; she selected an old red hardback with a faded cover, smiled at me, and said, “The Oxford Book of Carols?

“Sure. Why don’t you play some of the least guitar-friendly ones first, and then I’ll go get our guitars and we can play along with a few of the others?”

******

My Masefield relatives said their farewells at around four o’clock but the rest of us stayed in the music room for another half hour or so. My mother had played three carols and then insisted that we join in, so Emma and I accompanied her for a few of the old traditional carols I liked and Eric did his best to play along with us. Later on Emma and her cousins went out for a walk, and Becca and I told my mother to sit tight while we cleared up from dinner and washed the dishes.

Rick and Alyson ended up staying into the early evening; their children were obviously enjoying spending time with Emma, and when Alyson announced at about five o’clock that it was time for them to think about heading for home, all three of them protested. “Can’t we stay a bit longer, Mum?” asked Sarah.

“I don’t think Grandma was anticipating feeding us again today”, Alyson replied.

“Oh, nonsense!” said my mother; “The house is full of food, and anyway I’ll be surprised if anyone’s really all that hungry”.

“I’m certainly not!” I said.

“Nor me”, Becca agreed.

So my mother put some cheese and crackers out, with a few cakes and a bit of Christmas baking, and we continued nibbling in the living room while the children played board games and the adults carried on their quiet conversations. After a while Emma smiled at me and asked my mother if she had a Scrabble set anywhere; my mother quickly produced one from the sideboard, and Emma, Alyson, Sarah and I played a game for a while with a few of the others watching. I wasn’t surprised when my daughter won, although in the end the scores were quite close.

“Staying out here for a few days, then?” Rick asked me as Emma and Sarah were putting the game away.

“We don’t really have a time frame; I expect we’ll be here ’til Sunday morning anyway. Owen and his family are coming out tomorrow to spend a few days with his parents; I expect we’ll get together at some point”.

“I foresee more music in your future”.

“Maybe. How about you – straight back to work?”

“The office is closed ’til Monday but I’ll be working at home for a few hours tomorrow”.

“That’s too bad”

“Can’t be helped; we’ve got a big trial coming up in the new year and I’m a long way from being ready for it”.

“What sort of trial?”

“It’s a tax case; I can’t say much about it apart from that”.

“Corporate law then?”

He nodded; “That’s almost all I do. I used to do criminal law but now I leave that to a couple of the other partners who’ve made a specialty of it”.

“Are you going to see Alyson’s family over the holidays?”

“We’re going to make a quick trip to Edinburgh over New Year’s”.

“Do you have any commitments this Sunday evening?”

He shook his head; “I don’t think so”.

“Come for supper, if you like?”

He grinned; “You think you can squeeze us all in?”

“We’ll squeeze you in just fine. Do you like Indian food?”

“We do actually”.

“We’ll cook a nice hot curry, shall we?” I said to Emma.

“For sure”, she replied with a smile.

Rick glanced at Alyson; “What do you think?”

“Sounds lovely; can we bring anything, Tom?”

“How about if you bring the wine? Your husband seems to have a pretty discerning palate for it”.

“Yes, he does!” she agreed.

******

Rick and his family left at about nine o’clock, and a few minutes later Auntie Brenda said her goodbyes. As we stood on the front step waving to her, I could feel the damp chill in the air. “It’s going to be a cool one tonight”, I said to Becca.

She glanced up at the darkened sky. “I think we might get some rain; I can’t see any stars up there, and I can feel the moisture”.

“Maybe even snow”, Emma said with a smile; “I don’t think I’ve ever seen snow in England!”

“The children love it but the adults don’t; we’re not set up for it the way you are in Canada. The roads get slick and the trains get cancelled and everything gets chaotic”.

“Well, it’s a holiday, so it’s a good day for it”.

“Except that there’ll be thousands of holidaymakers on the roads tomorrow”.

“I guess; I didn’t think of that”.

My father was pale with exhaustion by then, and my mother and Emma helped him up to bed while Becca and I cleared up the debris from the living room, put the leftover food away, and washed and dried the dishes. My mother came back downstairs after about half an hour; she came into the kitchen, kissed me on the cheek and said “Thank you”.

I smiled at her; “You’re welcome”, I replied. “That was a wonderful dinner today. Is Dad okay?”

“He’s fine; he’s just very tired. Apparently Emma is too; she asked me to tell you she’s going to go to bed with her new book and she was wondering if you’d bring her up a mug of hot chocolate?”

“I’ll do that. Are you going to stay up for a while?”

“Do you mind if I don’t? I’m rather tired too”.

“You’re entitled, Mum”, Becca replied; “You did an amazing job today; you’re a wonderful hostess”.

“Yes, you are”, I agreed.

“Thank you both”, she said; “Are you two going to carry on your hot-chocolate-by-the-Christmas-tree tradition tonight?”

I glanced at Becca; “What do you think?”

“I wouldn’t miss it!”

“I’ll put the kettle on”, I said to my mother. “Shall I bring you up a mug when it’s ready?”

“That would be lovely”.

“How about Dad; shall I bring one for him too?”

She shook her head. “He was barely able to stay awake to change into his pyjamas; I’m sure he’s already fast asleep”.

So while my mother went upstairs again to get ready for bed I boiled a kettle and made the hot chocolate. I took a cup up to my mother, dropped another one off with Emma, and then came back down the stairs to join my sister in the darkened living room. I turned on the Christmas tree lights and stoked up the fire, and we sat side by side on the chesterfield. Becca kicked off her shoes, drew her legs up underneath her and cradled her mug in her hands. “You didn’t get any calls from Meadowvale today”, she said.

“No; we told them we’d be tied up with a family gathering this afternoon and evening. We talked to Joe and Ellie and the kids yesterday, and Will and Sally. We’ll probably call Krista and Steve tomorrow, and Beth”.

She took a sip of her hot chocolate. “Our brother did rather well at being present in the present today, didn’t he?”

“He did; I can’t believe he went for a whole day without his Blackberry”.

“Well, he didn’t have much of a choice, did he? Alyson made him leave it at home”.

“One day out of three hundred and sixty-five”.

“What do you want to bet he’s on it right now, furiously checking messages and answering emails?”

I laughed; “Probably! His kids were sure having a good time with Emma today, weren’t they?”

“She’s good for them”.

“They’re good for her, too”.

“It was nice to see Ann and Mark”.

“It was, and Dad didn’t do too badly with their kids either”.

“No, he didn’t. It helped that they were at the other end of the table from him”.

We lapsed into silence, and for a few minutes the only sounds were the crackle of the wood fire and the ticking of the old clock on the mantlepiece. Eventually she sighed and said, “You and I haven’t had too many Christmases together in the past twenty years”.

“No”.

“The last one would have been here, nine years ago”.

“Three years ago you missed it by one day, when you came out to us on Boxing Day”.

She nodded slowly; “The Christmas before Kelly died. I was so frantic, and she was so serene”.

“She was”.

“How are you and Emma doing this year, Tommy? Really, I mean?”.

“Okay for the most part”. I took a long drink of my hot chocolate and then set it down on the coffee table in front of us. “It’s been a different sort of Christmas for us so far, but mostly good”.

“How’s Emma feeling now about being in England? She doesn’t talk about it much with me”.

“She doesn’t talk about it much with me either. I know she still really misses home; she and Jenna talk a lot, and Jake too of course”.

“Jenna must really miss her”.

“I think so”.

“She’s been making some new friends here, though”.

“She has, and she’s really enjoying her cousins and grandparents”.

“Has Dad said any more about paying her fees?”

“No – I think he’s dropped the subject”.

“So telling him about the life insurance was a good idea?”

“Yes, but I should have done it a lot sooner”.

She was quiet for a moment, staring thoughtfully into the fire, and then she looked at me with a smile; “Do you remember the first year we came down here during the night?”

“You were eight, and I was home from university”.

“I couldn’t sleep with excitement about Christmas, and I came to your room and woke you up…”.

“I seem to remember I wasn’t very happy about being woken up”.

“But you were so nice about it! We talked for a while and then we snuck down here, and you turned on the Christmas tree lights just like this, and we sat and watched them for a while”.

“Actually we sat and watched them ’til you fell asleep, Small One, and I carried you back up to your bed”.

“Did you? I don’t remember that!”

We both laughed softly, and she drained her mug and set it down on the coffee table. “It was always such a comfort to me when you came home from university for Christmas. That’s how it feels this year too; just having you and Emma here makes it so much better for me”.

I smiled at her; “You’re in a pensive mood tonight”.

“I am, aren’t I? Maybe it was the churchgoing last night; it’s been a few years since I’ve gone to the Christmas Eve service”.

“You used to go with Mum sometimes”.

“Yes I did, and I was glad to go with you last night. Whenever I came home from visiting you and Kelly and Emma I always resolved to go more, but then my life seemed to swallow me up again and my resolutions seemed to evaporate into thin air”.

“The busy life of a doctor”.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it? You’d have thought losing Mike would be a wake-up call for me but I don’t seem to have learned much from the experience”.

“You’ve been slowing down a bit since we came back”.

“I’ve been trying to, but I still can’t escape that sense of being driven”.

“It’s a Masefield family disease”.

“You’ve found the cure for it somehow, though”. She stifled a yawn; “Well, I think it’s about time for me to find my bed”.

“Yes, I think I’ll find mine too”. As she got to her feet I took her hand and said “Listen, Becs – about church”.

“Yes?”

“If you’d like to go from time to time, you’d be very welcome to come with Emma and me”.

“To Banbury Road, you mean? Is it like your church in Meadowvale?”

“In some ways it is, but there are some differences; there are more university students, and there’s more of an ethnic mix”.

“Well, I’ll think about it; you know I still have lots of questions. I know you found faith but it still seems to be really difficult for me”.

I got to my feet, and we made our way quietly up the spiral staircase. At the door of my room, she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Goodnight, Tommy”.

“Goodnight, Becs; see you in the morning”.

******

Link to Chapter 15

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 12

Link back to Chapter 11

Wendy and Owen and I got together to play music at our house on the first Saturday in December.

After we had met Wendy at my school back in October, Emma had checked her other books out of the library and read them both. She had been hoping for an opportunity to meet her again soon; in this respect, however, she was to be disappointed. A couple of weeks after our first meeting I emailed Wendy, asking if she would like to come over to play some music with Owen and me. She replied immediately, saying that she would be interested at some point but she was especially busy right then and would get back to me later. After that I heard nothing from her, and gradually I came to the conclusion that even though our meeting at the school had been enjoyable, she was not really interested in renewing our old friendship.

It was Owen who pointed out to me that there might be another explanation. “She might just be genuinely busy, you know”, he said.

“You think so?”

“Well, it’s term time right now, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so”.

He grinned at me. “You’ve forgotten when Oxford university terms run, haven’t you?”

I smiled sheepishly at him; “I guess I have”.

“Michaelmas term lasts from mid October to the end of the first week in December, and if you remember, it’s rather intense. And Wendy’s a single mother with a teenage boy still at home”.

I nodded; “She takes him to a lot of sports events, too”.

“Give her a chance; she probably hasn’t got a minute to call her own”.

“I never thought of that”.

******

Wendy called me after supper on the last Sunday in November; I was working at my desk up in my den when the phone rang. “Tom?” she said; “It’s me – Wendy”.

“Hello there – I was wondering when I would hear from you!”

“Yes, I’m sorry – I don’t get many moments to call my own once term starts. What about you – have I caught you at a bad time?”

“No, not at all; I’m just doing a bit of prep work for tomorrow”.

“Do you want me to ring you back in an hour or so?”

“No – this is fine. So how’s your term been?”

“It’s always busy – tutorials and lectures and individual conferences with students, and I do some curriculum work too”.

“Are you doing any more writing?”

“I’ve been exploring some ideas but I haven’t got anything in process at the moment”.

“Will you write about George Eliot again?”

“I don’t think so; I think I’ve said everything I’ve got to say about her. No – I’ve been doing some lectures on 18th and 19th century poetry and I’m toying with the idea of working them up into a book”.

“That would be excellent!”

“Yes, you always were a lover of poetry, weren’t you?”

“I still am”.

“I think you might enjoy some of my lectures. One of them concentrates on George Crabbe and John Clare; you were a big fan of Clare, weren’t you?”

“I still really like him”.

“You were the one who first got me interested in him; I’d never really paid much attention to him before you and I met”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“You thought I spent a lot of time ignoring you, didn’t you?”

I laughed softly; “You had pretty strong opinions. Wendy”.

“I know – I’m sorry about that”.

“I wasn’t complaining; I always enjoyed our conversations”.

“Me too. How’s Emma?”

“She’s well. She’s been reading your earlier books, actually; I think she’d love to ask you about them”.

“I would enjoy that”.

“Apart from that, she’s still busy volunteering at Marston Court, and spending time with family and friends”.

“She’s made some friends, then?”

“We’ve started going to a little Baptist church in north Oxford; she’s gotten to know some of the young people there”.

“I didn’t know you were a churchgoer”.

“Yeah, that’s something that happened since I moved to Canada. I married into a Mennonite family and it kind of rubbed off”.

“I’ve gone back to church over the last few years too”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes – it happened after we moved back to Oxford”.

“It would be fun to compare notes”.

“I’d like that”.

“So are you interested in a visit with Owen and me?”

“Yes I am, but I want to make sure you both understand that I haven’t sung any of our old songs for a long time”.

“That’s fine, Wendy. Like I said the other week – singing or not, it would be good just to have a visit”.

“Yes, it would”.

“So when were you thinking?”

“Would next weekend work for you?”

“Saturday would work. Sunday we’re kind of tied up – it’s Emma’s eighteenth birthday”.

“Well I certainly don’t want to interrupt that! We can wait a bit longer if you want?”

“No, I think it would be fine. We’re having a family party at Owen and Lorraine’s place on Sunday evening. My sister and Emma are cooking jambalaya and I’m baking the cake, and that’s about the limit of my responsibilities”.

“Did you tell me Owen and his wife had children?”

“Yes – Andrew and Katie. They’re quite a bit younger than Emma but they get on really well with her”.

“Is that why the party’s over there?”

“No – it’s because there are going to be sixteen of us, and their house is bigger”.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait a few more days for our visit?”

“Let me talk to Owen – I think he might enjoy a couple of hours on Saturday”.

******

She came over to my house on Saturday afternoon, dressed casually in faded jeans and an Aran sweater, her hair hanging loose to her shoulders. Owen and his family had come for lunch earlier, and then Lorraine had taken the children and Emma out for the afternoon; I had told Emma I thought Wendy would be less self-conscious about singing with us if there was no one else around.

Owen and Wendy greeted each other warmly; I made tea, and then we sat around the living room for a couple of hours, singing our old songs. Wendy asked Owen and me to sing a few by ourselves at first, but eventually she began to join in, and it quickly became clear that even though she hadn’t sung the songs for a long time she still remembered them very well.

“Nothing wrong with your memory!” Owen said mischievously after we finished one of our old favourites.

“I’ve always liked ‘Reynardine’”, she replied with a grin.

“I remember”.

“What about some newer stuff? Surely you boys haven’t stopped learning songs since we last saw each other. Do you still play in public, Owen?”

He nodded. “I’ve got a band, actually; we call ourselves ‘The Oxford Ferrymen’”.

“Is that your band?” she exclaimed with a smile; “I’ve seen posters around town from time to time”.

“Yes, we do gigs at the ‘Plough’ and a few other places; occasionally we go a bit further afield”.

“What sort of music do you play?”

“Mainly Celtic stuff; I’ve learned to play bouzouki and cittern since the last time you and I saw each other”.

“You didn’t bring them with you today, though?”

He shook his head; “Hopefully there’ll be another chance”.

We sang a few more songs, including some that Owen and I had learned in the years after we had lost touch with Wendy, and then I made another pot of tea and we talked. Wendy was sitting in Emma’s easy chair by the hearth with her feet up on a footstool; “This has been really good”, she said softly. “Thank you both”.

“It’s really great to see you”, Owen replied.

“You too, Owen. Have you always worked in Oxford?”

“Yeah – I joined a little practice after I finished my training and eventually I became one of the senior partners. Tom’s sister Becca works at our practice”.

“As a doctor?”

“Yes”.

“I didn’t know she was a doctor. Actually, I didn’t really know much about her at all; the last time I saw her I think she was about eleven. Didn’t she come to that concert we did for your mum’s music society, Tom?”

“Yes, I think she did”.

She glanced at Owen again. “You’ve got a family too, I hear?”

“Yes – I’m married to Lorraine and we’ve got two children; Andrew’s twelve and Katie’s nine. It took us a while to get going on the reproduction business”.

Wendy laughed again. “Did you already know Lorraine when we were here together?”

“No, I met her not long after you two left – in church, actually; she showed up there one Sunday in September of ’82”.

“Are you still a churchgoing family?”

“We are”.

“I’ve gone back to church myself in the last few years”.

“Tom told me that”.

“My dad’s pleased, of course”.

“Where do you go?”

“When I first started I just went to Merton Chapel, which is where I was confirmed, but it only has regular Sunday services during term time and they’re in the evenings, which isn’t very convenient for family meals. So after a couple of years I started going to St. Michael and All Angels here in New Marston; I sometimes sing in the choir and I get on pretty well with the vicar. I’m still involved in some Merton Chapel activities though, and now and again during the week I sing in their choir too, so I suppose you could say my church life is a bit schizophrenic. What about you?”

“We go to St. Clement’s; I was going there through most of my student years”.

“I went there once or twice but it was a bit too charismatic for me; I like something more traditional”.

“We three have really got the Christian spectrum covered!” Owen observed.

Wendy nodded, looking across at me; “You said you’d started going to a Baptist church?”

“Yes, but Emma and I are actually Mennonites”.

“Right – you told me your wife’s family were Mennonite”.

“Yeah – I guess I sort of married into it”.

“I expect there was a bit more to it than that”.

I nodded; “There was”.

“Do you mind me asking about it?”

“Not at all. Kelly’s dad Will Reimer was the principal of my school in Meadowvale and he and his wife were very helpful to me in my first few months there. They were pretty strong in their faith, but Kelly had strayed away from it for a while as a teenager. When I got to know her she was just finding her way back. She and I talked about it, and I also had some really good conversations with her brother Joe; he and I became really good friends. And of course I’d been getting interested in spirituality for a while; Owen and I had been talking about it before I left England”.

Owen nodded; “We exchanged a few letters about it after you moved, too”.

“We did”.

“Kelly came back to her faith, then?” said Wendy.

“She did; we made that journey together, and eventually we were both baptized on the same day”.

“An adult believer’s baptism, you mean?”

“Yes; that’s the Mennonite tradition”.

“Mennonites are pacifists, aren’t they?”

“They are”.

“So you’re not cheering for Bush and Blair and their war with Iraq?”

“No we’re not; peace and justice are a very important part of our faith for Emma and me”.

“Emma’s a practising Christian too?”

“Yes – it’s very real and personal for her”.

“That’s brilliant; I wish I could find a way to help my two make that connection”. She frowned thoughtfully; “What was it you found attractive about the Mennonite faith? I mean, I came back to the church I was raised in, but you moved to something completely different”.

I shrugged; “I didn’t really know very much about different denominations; it wasn’t as if I was evaluating all the local churches to see which one I liked the best. Kelly and her family were all Mennonites and their pastor, Rob Neufeld, had been one of the people who guided me on my way into Christian faith. So it just seemed natural that after I became a Christian I would stay with the people who had helped me find faith”. I grinned; “Rob was sneaky, actually; he invited me to play music in their church before I became a Christian. Kelly’s dad played guitar and Joe’s wife Ellie played the fiddle, and we worked up some gospel songs together, and before we knew it the people liked us and they wouldn’t let us stop!”

Wendy laughed, and Owen said, “They’re wonderful people, all of them”.

“You’ve been out there, then?” Wendy asked him.

“Oh yes – several times. Lorraine and I really loved Kelly, and of course we were kind of fond of this bloke too”.

“It was mutual”, I replied softly.

“Lorraine had difficulty conceiving when we first got married”, said Owen; “We tried for a few years and nothing seemed to work. She got really upset and angry about it, and then one time when we were out at Tom and Kelly’s on holiday Kelly spent a lot of time with her, just listening to her and loving her. She was a remarkable human being; I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else with such a gift for sympathy and love”.

“She’d had struggles of her own, of course”, I said.

“With her cancer, you mean?” asked Wendy.

“Yes. After her first go around with it she lost both her ovaries, which meant she couldn’t have any more children. That was a real heartbreaker for her”.

“I can imagine”.

We were quiet for a moment, sipping thoughtfully at our tea, and then Owen smiled and said “So what about you, Wendy Howard; what have you been doing all these years?”

“Oh, well, my life’s not exactly been a smooth ride, I’m afraid!” She looked down at the floor, gathering her thoughts, and then said “I went to London, as you know. Mickey and I were able to work things out and we moved in together”.

“That was a big surprise for me”, I said; “You seemed so keen on staying in Oxford for your doctorate, and I was pretty sure you and Mickey were past history”.

“It might have been better if we had been. Anyway, my daughter Lisa was born about a year after we moved in together, and we got married not long after that. I worked on my doctorate at UCL, and Mickey did well in photo-journalism and set up his own business. He got to travel to all kinds of exotic locations to take photographs for magazines, and later on he got a name for going to dangerous places on assignment”.

“That must have been stressful”, I said.

“Yes. Anyway, by the time Colin was born I had my doctorate, and a couple of years later I got a job teaching at UCL. The rest you know. I wrote some books, and I got a chance about six years ago to move back to Oxford and get a fellowship at Merton. The time was right because Mickey and I had just broken up”. She paused, and then said, “He got quite violent, and the children and I were just too afraid to stay with him any more. I actually had him charged when I left; he was convicted, and he spent some time in jail. He’s out now, but he’s supposed to stay away from us. Most of the time, he does”.

Owen and I were both suddenly silent; I was amazed by the matter-of-factness with which she had summed up what had obviously been a horrific experience for her. I was just opening my mouth to speak when we heard the front door open, and after a moment Emma came into the living room with Becca behind her, both of them still wearing their coats, with shopping bags over their shoulders. “Look who we found in the covered market!” she said with a triumphant smile.

“I was shopping for ingredients for jambalaya”, said Becca, “because someone told me she’d like to have it for her birthday”. She glanced at the three of us; “Sorry – I didn’t mean to interrupt”.

“Not at all”, I replied, getting to my feet. “Becs, you probably don’t remember Wendy Howard? Wendy, this is my sister Becca”.

“Actually, I do remember you”, said Becca as Wendy got up to greet her; “I think I must have been about ten or eleven the last time I heard the three of you play together”.

“Did you hear us more than once?” asked Wendy; “I thought perhaps it had only been that one time we played for your mum’s music society”.

“You came to the house to practice a couple of times; I remember you using Mum’s music room”.

“So we did!” Wendy held out her hand, and Becca took it with a smile. “Are you going to sing some more?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know; I should be going soon”.

“Do one song for us, at least”, Emma asked eagerly; “I’ve heard so much about the three of you and I’d love to hear you play together”.

I glanced quizzically at my two partners; Wendy shrugged, and Owen grinned and said, “Take your coats off, then, while we try to think of something that won’t embarrass us too badly!”

“Is there tea in the pot?” Emma asked.

“I think there is”.

So Becca and Emma hung up their coats, Emma poured tea for them both and then they sat down with us. Owen glanced at Wendy; “What do you think?”

“What about ‘The Recruited Collier?’”

“Good choice!” Owen looked across at me; “Key of E Flat?”

“I’m on it”.

The song was not one of the pieces we had played earlier, but it had been one of our favourites years ago. Owen and I began to play a slow introduction, and after a moment Wendy took a deep breath, closed her eyes and began to sing:

“What’s the matter with you my lass, and where’s your dashing Jimmy?
Them soldier boys have picked him up, and taken him far from me.
Last pay day he went into town, and them red-coated fellows
Enticed him in and made him drunk, and he’d better have gone to the gallows”.

For the second verse of the song, I sang harmony with her:

“The very sight of his cockade it sets us all a-crying,
And me I nearly fainted twice; I thought that I was dying.
My father would have paid the smart and he ran for the golden guinea,
But the sergeant swore he’d kissed the book so now they’ve got young Jimmy”.

“When Jimmy talks about the wars, it’s worse than death to hear him.
I must go out and hide my tears, because I cannot bear him.
A brigadier or a grenadier he says they’re sure to make him,
and still he jibes and cracks his jokes, and bids me not forsake him”.

Emma was sitting on the floor, her legs stretched out in front of her and her back resting against the front of the sofa, a smile of pure pleasure on her face; Becca was sitting forward in her chair, her legs crossed, obviously captivated by the music. Wendy and Owen and I sang the last verse together:

“As I walk o’er yon stubble field, below where runs the seam;
I think on Jimmy hewing there, but it was all a dream.
He hewed the very coals we burn and when the fire I’m lighting,
To think the lumps were in his hands, it sets my heart a-beating.
So break my heart and then it’s o’er, oh break my heart my dearie;
And I lie in this cold, green ground, for of single life I’m weary”.

When the last chord died down there was a brief silence in the room, and then Becca shook her head and said, “My God – that was absolutely gorgeous!”

Emma nodded; “Beautiful!” she said softly. “I had no idea…”

Wendy coloured slightly; “You’re both very kind”.

“Will you do another one?” Emma asked.

“Oh, I don’t know”, Wendy replied; “I should be going soon. My daughter’s joining us for supper tonight, and I need to get something ready”.

“Speaking of families”, said Owen, “Did you lose mine somewhere along the way, Em?”

Emma laughed; “Lorraine told me she had a couple of other things she needed to get, so she sent me home with Becca”.

Owen gave her a knowing grin; “I see how it is!”

“That’s what I thought!”

“Are they coming back here to get me, then?”

“I think that’s the plan; Lorraine told me to tell you if there was any change you should call her on her mobile”.

“Right”.

Wendy smiled at Owen and me; “I really should be going”, she said.

We all got to our feet, and the next thing we knew, the three of us were gripping each other tight in a three-way hug. For a long moment we held each other, and when we stepped back, Wendy’s eyes were shining. “Thank you both”, she said quietly; “I really enjoyed myself”.

“So did we”, Owen replied; “Let’s do it again soon”.

“Absolutely”. Wendy turned to Emma; “Happy birthday tomorrow”, she said.

“Thanks!”

“I hear you’d like to talk about my books some time”.

Emma gave her a delighted smile; “I really would!”

“Well, we can make that happen. Get my e-mail address from your dad”.

“Thank you – I would love that!”

I followed Wendy out into the narrow hallway, took her coat down from the peg and helped her on with it. “That was very thoughtful of you”, I said; “You must be really busy”.

“Term’s over now; I’ve got a bit more free time”. She wound her scarf around her neck, zipped up her coat, and turned to face me. “Tom, I wonder if you and Emma would like to come over to Merton for a special Christmas event?”

“What sort of event?”

“I mentioned my daughter Lisa; she’s up at Christchurch reading Modern Languages, but she also sings in a chamber choir called the Radcliffe Singers, and they’re doing a Christmas carol concert at Merton Chapel on the Sunday before Christmas. It’ll be an evening event, of course”.

“A Christmas carol concert?”

“Yes. The university’s down so there aren’t many people around, but they usually get a good turnout for their concerts; if you want to come I should get tickets for you fairly soon. They’ve arranged to have a reception in hall afterwards, if you’d like to stay”.

I smiled; “I’m actually rather fond of Christmas carols”.

“They’ll probably do a few of the less well-known ones”.

“All the more interesting. Put me down for sure, and I’ll talk to Emma and see if she’s interested, too. How much are the tickets?”

She shook her head; “Come as my guests”.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course”.

“All right, then; I’ll talk to Emma and get back to you as quickly as possible”.

“Good”. She held out her hand, and I shook it rather formally. Then, a little impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the cheek. “This was a really good afternoon”, she said; “Thank you”.

“I’m glad you could come, and I know Owen is too”.

“I hope you have a wonderful party with Emma tomorrow”.

“I’m sure we will”.

******

Link to Chapter 13

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 9

Link back to Chapter 8

******

Eric’s birthday party was the occasion for our first visit to Rick and his family in their house at Cumnor Hill; it was only a few years old, and was situated well back from the road on a sizeable lot behind a high hedge. The ground floor windows were all latticed, and there was a large double garage on one side of the house. There were several cars already parked in the driveway when we arrived; I recognized my father’s Rover, along with Becca’s Renault and Rick’s Range Rover. I pulled my Escort up behind them, turned off the engine, and glanced across at Emma; she gave me a wry grin and said, “I smell money!”

“In a social activist mood this afternoon, are we?”

She laughed. “Actually, I was expecting this; Sarah told me about it”. She glanced at the cars on the driveway; “Look’s like Auntie Brenda’s not here yet”.

“Unless Becca picked her up. Shall we go in?”

“Sure”.

******

Alyson met us at the front door, dressed in jeans and a white blouse; she smiled warmly at us and said, “Welcome to our home; I’m so glad the two of you could come!”

She led us through the reception hall, and I noticed the woodblock flooring and the dark polished staircase leading up to the bedrooms. The living room had the same woodblock flooring, partially covered by a colourful rug; there was an open brick fireplace with a tiled hearth, and at the back of the room French windows opened onto the large back garden. Off to the left, an arched opening led through to the kitchen area.

My brother was sitting on an easy chair as we came into the room, talking with Mum and Dad and Becca who were sitting on the chesterfield across from him; on the glass coffee table between them there were several plates of hors d’oeuvres and a tray with a coffee pot and some cups. When he saw us, Rick got to his feet and held out his hand to me. “Good to see you”, he said; “Any trouble finding the place?”

“No, it was pretty straightforward. Is Auntie Brenda not here yet?”

“She rang a few minutes ago to say she’d be here about five”.

Emma glanced at the open French doors; “Is Eric out back, Uncle Rick?” she asked.

“He is. He’s got a few friends with him, and Sarah and Anna are out there too. Feel free to go and join them, Emma, or stay with us old folks if you like”.

“Maybe we’ll both go out for a few minutes and greet the birthday boy”, I said.

“Cup of coffee to take with you?”

“That would be nice – thank you”.

“How about you, Em?”

“I’m fine thanks”.

******

Out behind the house there was a long lawn dotted here and there with trees and shrubs. The French windows opened onto a stone patio with a few lawn chairs arranged around a circular table; Eric and one of his friends were playing guitar there, with a few others sitting around listening, including Sarah and Anna. Eric looked up and smiled when he saw Emma; “Did you bring your guitar?” he asked.

“I didn’t think about it; sorry!”

We sat with them for a while, listening to the songs and chatting on and off with the other young people. I was taking in my surroundings, speculating about how much this luxurious property was worth in the inflated market of Oxford, and wondering what my brother had thought when he had seen the little house Emma and I were renting.

After about half an hour we went back inside; Emma and Sarah slipped upstairs to Sarah’s room for a while, and I joined the growing company in the living room. Becca and Alyson were sitting together on one of the couches; I helped myself to another cup of coffee and sat down with them.

“How was the music?” Becca asked.

“Very enjoyable. I didn’t quite catch who the other guitarist was, but they sounded good together”.

“Jeremy Venn”, Alyson said; “He’s Eric’s best friend”. She shook her head; “I’m sorry I didn’t think to ask Emma to bring her guitar along; I’m sure Eric would have enjoyed that”.

“Don’t worry about it; there’ll be other times”.

“Have you and Emma had a busy week?”

“It’s getting busier, with school starting and all that. She’s about to start volunteering at a local nursing home, too”.

“Does she like that kind of thing?”

“Very much”.

“Was it Kelly who got her interested?”

“Partly”.

Alyson shook her head slowly; “It doesn’t seem that long ago that she and Eric and Sarah were babies”.

“That’s for sure”. I frowned; “You have an older sister, don’t you?”

“Yes, Sheila; she’s three years older than me”.

“I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen her since your wedding, but I remember you and Rick talking about her a few times. Wasn’t she married to a banker?”

“Yes – Alistair Cameron. Unfortunately they broke up a few years ago; he’s living in Switzerland, and Sheila’s back in Edinburgh working for my dad”.

“Did they have any children?”

“Two boys, Ewan and David; they live with their mum. Ewan’s sixteen and David’s thirteen”.

“That’s tough on the kids when a marriage breaks up; Kelly’s cousin Brenda went through something like that”.

She nodded; “Sheila and I weren’t especially close while she was married, but she tells me it had been going wrong for a long time. Of course, I never saw any of that”.

“What do we really know about what goes on in other people’s marriages?”

“Isn’t that the truth? Sheila and Alistair always looked fine to me; I suppose they were just good at keeping things private”.

“Brenda and Gary were the same”.

“Brenda and the kids seem to be doing alright”, said Becca.

“They are. Of course Bren’s always busy with the Beanery; she tells me owning a coffee shop is a lot like being married!”

“It’s been a long time since she and Gary split”.

“Ten years”.

“I was with you when it first came out”.

“That’s right, you were; it was when we had the first Reimer family reunion”.

Becca shook her head slowly; “It doesn’t seem like ten years ago”.

“It must have been a bit overwhelming for you”, Alyson said to Becca, “walking into the middle of a big family event like that. You wouldn’t have known many people there, would you?”

“Actually I knew quite a few of them; I’d visited Meadowvale almost every year since about 1987, and Tommy’s father in law usually hosted a family barbecue to welcome me. When I was there this year for Emma’s grad they all greeted me like a long lost cousin”. She smiled at me; “They’re always so good at making me feel like part of the family”.

“You are part of the family; that’s how they’ve always seen it, since the first time they met you”.

“I know”.

******

Supper was served around six; it was a professionally catered buffet laid out on the dining room table. I noticed that my father stayed in his chair in the living room while my mother filled his plate for him; he had been coughing on and off, and from time to time I saw Becca watching him, a little frown on her face.

“Is Dad okay?” I asked her at one point when we were both refilling our plates at the same time.

“I don’t think so; I think he’s got a chest infection”.

“Should we do anything?”

“I asked him earlier on if he was feeling okay, and he just about bit my head off”.

“That would be a ‘no’, then?”

“I’m afraid so”.

******

After the birthday cake had been cut and shared out, it was time for Eric to open his gifts. The young people had been sitting in one corner of the room by themselves, but now Emma came and sat herself down on the floor in front of me, leaning her back against my knees.

Eric received many gifts, some of them quite expensive. Emma and I had given him a CD and a card with a cheque for £50. Eric read the card out loud: “This is the first £50 toward your new guitar”. He beamed over at us; “Thanks!” he said.

“Are you getting a new guitar?” Rick asked; “I thought you already had one”.

“He’s getting to be a really good player”, I replied; “but a quality guitar would do a lot for him”.

My brother shrugged his shoulders and smiled awkwardly. “If you say so; I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject!”

When the gift opening was over the conversations continued in different parts of the room. Rick came over and sat down on a hard chair beside Emma and me, a cup of coffee in his hand; “Thanks for coming”, he said, “and thanks for your gifts for Eric”.

“Thanks for having us, Uncle Rick”, said Emma; “It’s really nice to be able to come to family birthdays and stuff”.

“Emma’s got one coming up soon”, I added.

“How old are you going to be, then?” Rick asked her.

“I’ll be eighteen on December 7th”.

“Ah – a party of some significance!” He grinned at me; “This is when you surrender all responsibility for her, is it?”

I laughed; “She’s been pretty responsible for a long time”.

He frowned; “I wish I could teach my son a bit of that. You know, no offence intended, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t give him too much encouragement in this guitar-playing obsession. It’s a great relaxation, I can see that, and for you two that’s all it is, but the trouble is he’s got this idea in his head that he can become a professional musician, and I can’t see anything but grief on that path”.

“It could be challenging, I guess”, I replied.

“Well, do you know anyone who’s making a go of it as a full-time musician?”

“Grandpa Campion did”.

“Ah yes, but he was a professional organist, and he didn’t really support himself by performing, did he? He was an organ teacher and a busy one, but it didn’t exactly give him a very comfortable lifestyle. If Mum hadn’t married the old man, we’d have been raised in abject poverty, bro!”

I shrugged; “I’ve never heard Mum complain”.

“No, she wouldn’t, would she?” He frowned again. “I just wish Eric would set his mind on getting a good, well-rounded education. I want him to get a good degree that will give him a lot of options. I’m not naive enough to think I can talk him out of trying to make a go of this music business, but I want him to have something else he can fall back on if it doesn’t work out for him”.

“What else is he interested in?” I asked.

Rick shook his head; “Not much, actually. He spends all his time listening to those old blues singers, and when he reads at all it’s them he’s reading about – not like Sarah, who reads absolutely everything she can lay her hands on. I’m trying to persuade him to aim at a business degree: it’s such a flexible thing to have and you can apply it in so many different fields. Of course I understand that it’s not his favourite thing right now, but the day might come when he changes his mind and realizes just how useful it can be. I just hope that day doesn’t come too late”. He shrugged and said, “Oh well – sorry to burden you with my worries. What about you, Emma – what do you want to do? I suppose you want to be a professional musician too, do you?”

She laughed; “No, I’m with Dad – I’d rather do it for fun. I actually want to be a nurse”.

“Oh right – your dad did tell me about that, now that you mention it. Following in your mum’s footsteps, then?”

“Yeah. It’s not like she ever tried to push me, but somehow from hearing her talk about it I realized it was what I wanted to do”.

“Well, somewhere in the world someone’s always going to need a nurse. I don’t expect you’ll ever get rich but you’ll probably always be able to find work”.

“I’m not too worried about getting rich; I don’t spend much, so I don’t need much”.

Rick grinned at me again; “Chip off the old block”, he said.

******

After church the next day Emma and I were just getting our lunch ready when Becca called. “I was right”, she said; “Dad’s got a chest infection”.

“Is he going into hospital?”

“He’s on his way to the John Radcliffe as we speak”.

“Should we go in to see him?”

“Maybe not today; I expect they’ll be getting him hooked up to antibiotics, and they’re going to try to get him to rest as much as possible. Tomorrow night might be a better idea”.

“Are you sure? It seems weird not to go in today some time”.

“Trust me on this, Tommy; his doctors are going to be trying to keep people away from him so he can rest. Also, he might not want you to see him when he’s feeling really rough”.

“Right – I didn’t think about that”.

“He can be hard to take when he’s sick”.

I laughed softly; “He can be hard to take when he’s healthy, too!”

“True! Feel free to ring Mum later on tonight if you want; I’m going to pick her up after supper and drive her home”.

“Okay, I’ll do that. Thanks, Becs”.

 ******

The following evening we went over to the John Radcliffe Hospital; the ‘J.R.’ was only a fifteen-minute walk from our house in Marston. My father was in a room in the crowded intensive care unit; he was lying on a hospital bed with his head and shoulders slightly raised, and I could see at least two IV tubes attached to his arms. He looked pale and thin, and the dark circles under his eyes were larger again. My mother was sitting beside him; they both looked up as we entered the room, and my mother said, “Well, here’s Tom and Emma!”

My father frowned and shook his head; “There was no need for you to come out”, he said gruffly. “Just a little setback, that’s all; I’ll be up again in a few days”.

“It was no trouble”, I replied.

“But you don’t want to be hanging around in the hospital; you hear so much about people picking up viruses and getting sick from being in here”.

“I’ve done my share of hospital visiting, Dad”, I said softly.

“Well, then you know…”

Emma leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “How are you feeling, Grandpa?”

“A bit rough, thanks, but at least I’m not coughing as much as I was yesterday”.

“They’ve got you on antibiotics, I guess?”

“I think so; I suppose you know all about that sort of thing, do you?”

She laughed softly and shook her head; “I’m a long way from being a nurse; I just remember when Mom went through it”.

He looked up at her in silence for a moment, and then shrugged and said, “Well, since you’re here, you may as well sit down. There’s room for you at the foot of the bed there; Tom, there’s an extra chair in the corner if you want”.

We sat down as we were told, and my mother smiled at Emma and said “How are your other grandparents? Have you been talking to them?”

“We talked to them for a few minutes this morning, actually”.

“I expect they miss you a lot”.

She nodded; “They’re used to having us all around”.

“Are you still thinking of applying to Oxford Brookes University?”

“I think I probably will. I don’t know how long I’m going to be in England, but it would make sense to make a start. I actually did some research before we moved here, and there is one little snag”.

“What’s that?” my father asked.

“I seem to have fallen through a little crack. Apparently if you’re a U.K. resident you can apply for nursing training and the National Health Service will pay your fees. But if you’re not a U.K. resident then not only will they not pay your fees but they don’t want you to apply for training at all until you’ve lived here for at least three years, for purposes other than education”.

“That’s ridiculous! Typical Labour government policy!”

My mother frowned; “You mentioned ‘falling through a crack’?”

“I guess my situation’s unusual – on the one hand I’m not a U.K. resident, but on the other hand I didn’t move here specifically to go to university. And I am a U.K. citizen through Dad. I think the university’s busy trying to figure out which category I fit into. But whichever one they put me in, I don’t think the NHS will pay my fees”.

“How much money are we talking about?” my father asked me.

I could see where this conversation was going, and I didn’t like it. “Several thousand pounds, but don’t worry about it, Dad; we’ll be fine”.

For a moment I thought he was going to argue with me, but then I realized that he was just too weary to object. He glanced at Emma; “I don’t like to see your education suffer because you moved here”.

“Don’t worry about me, Grandpa; it looks like in a week or two I’ll be starting to volunteer at a nursing home not far from here. I just have to wait while they do all the police checks; that’s going to take a little longer than usual, because my records are all on the other side of the Atlantic”.

“I suppose they would be, wouldn’t they?”

On the crowded table beside the bed there was a paperback book; Emma glanced at it and said, “The Constant Gardener; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that one”.

“Are you familiar with John Le Carré?”

“He writes spy novels, doesn’t he?”

“He does; I rather like them”.

“I think I read one of his a couple of years ago; did he write The Russia House?”

“He did; what did you think of it?”

“I enjoyed it, but I thought it was kind of bleak”.

My father nodded; “He’s got a rather dark view of the world; I expect it comes from having worked for MI5”. He glanced at me; “What about you? Are you familiar with him?”

“I’ve read a few of his books; I think he’s very good, but I don’t especially care for that style myself”.

“No, I suppose not”. He looked across at my mother; “Perhaps you people would like to go down and find a cup of tea or something?”

“We came to visit with you, Dad”, I said.

“I know, but I’m actually feeling rather tired”.

“What do you think, Mum?” I asked.

She and my father exchanged glances, and then she shrugged and said, “Perhaps it would be a good idea; I think your father wants to sleep a bit now”.

******

“Sorry about that”, my mother said to us as we took our seats together on stools around a high table in the little hospital coffee shop. “He’s really not good at having people around him when he’s sick”.

“Becca warned me about that”, I replied, “but I must admit it felt pretty weird”.

“For a minute there I thought it was going to be okay”, said Emma.

“He likes you, my dear”, my mother replied with a smile. “I know it might not always be easy to tell…”

Emma shook her head. “I understand; people don’t always say what they really feel”.

My mother was quiet for a moment, and then she reached out and put her hand on Emma’s. “You’re very wise, Emma Dawn”, she said softly.

Emma smiled awkwardly. “Thanks; I learned a lot about that kind of thing from my mom”.

My mother nodded; “Of course you did”, she replied.

******

Link to Chapter 10