‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 21

Link back to Chapter 20

Wendy and Colin picked us up at our house the following Friday evening at about six-thirty. Lisa had been talking about possibly coming with us, but on the Thursday evening she called me to tell me she’d decided she needed to stay in Oxford. “I feel really torn”, she said. “I know you’ll be meeting our family down there for the first time and I’d like to be there for that, but I’ve got so much work at the moment and I really need to put some serious time into it”.

“Don’t worry about it. I was a student once – I remember what it’s like”.


“I’ll tell you what, though – why don’t you join us for supper at our place after we get back on Sunday? Your mum and Colin are going to eat with us; Emma’s going to make pizza”.

She laughed; “I hear Emma’s a very good pizza cook!”

“Yes she is. Shall I give you a call when we’re leaving Chelmsford so you’ve got an idea of when we’ll be getting back?”

“That would be nice; thank you”.

“You’re welcome; I’ll talk to you soon, then”.

“Thanks; bye for now”.


Wendy took the most direct route from Oxford to Chelmsford: east on the M40 toward London, and then around the northern side of the city on the M25 until she got to the Brentwood junction. The weather had been overcast and drizzly all day, and the roads were wet. Colin and Emma sat in the back of the car together; this was the first time they had met and I could hear them chatting comfortably with each other, although I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. In the front Wendy and I talked quietly; I brought her up to date on my father and Rick and Sarah, and I told her about people’s reactions to the news about Lisa and me. “They’re all curious about what comes next. I’ve been asked a couple of times what sort of relationship Lisa’s going to have with the rest of the family”.

“What did you say?”

“I said it would be up to her. She already told me she’s okay with meeting Mum and Dad; beyond that, I’m happy for her to go at her own pace”.

“Thank you for that”.

“You’re welcome. How’s your mum doing?”

“She’s feeling a bit better at the moment”.

“You haven’t told me much about your brother’s family”.

“Rees and Megan have three children. Rod’s the youngest; he’s Colin’s age and he’s still at home. Sean and Bronwyn are the older two; they’re away at university. Sean’s older than Lisa and Bron’s a bit younger”.

“Interesting combination of Welsh and Irish names”.

“Well, they are the children of a man named Rees Howard and a woman named Megan McCready”.

“So Megan’s Irish?”

“Yes she is”.

“Was Rees born in Wales?”

“Yes, but he’s four years older than me, so by the time I came along my parents had moved to Essex”.

“How come you never told me your parents were Welsh?”

She smiled mischievously; “Did I not?” she asked in a broad Welsh accent.

“Nope, not once”.

“Surely I must have”.


“Well, then, I apologize. Yes – my dad was born in Pontypridd and my mum’s from Cardiff”.

“Now, if you’d referred to them as your ‘mam’ and ‘da’ I might have guessed”.

She laughed again; ‘I think I did use those words when I was a little girl”.

“Do you speak Welsh?”

“No, but my dad does. I understand a few words, but that’s about it. I wouldn’t mind learning, but somehow I never seem to have the time”. She glanced at me; “What language do Mennonites speak – Russian?”

“Nowadays they speak English like anyone else, but their traditional language is Low German. I picked up quite a bit of it over the years. I already spoke modern German, so it was quite easy”.

“I didn’t know you spoke German”.

“Didn’t I ever tell you that?”

She laughed; “I think we’re even!”

“I guess so!”

“How did you come to speak German?”

 “My mum has an old school friend who lives in Austria. We visited back and forth quite a bit when I was a kid and I liked the sound of the language, so I took quite a lot of it in high school. I actually spent a summer in Austria at the end of my second year in university”.

“Have you told Lisa about that?”

“No. I should, shouldn’t I?”

“You should; she’d enjoy knowing that about you”.

“I got the impression that Russian was her main passion”.

“Yes, but she’s still quite fond of German too”.


The Friday night traffic was heavy and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the South Mimms service area, just north of London. There were three or four little restaurants and cafés there; the Starbucks was almost full but we were lucky enough to find a table where we could sit for half an hour. Colin seemed to be wide awake but I could see Emma was fading fast, and I noticed the tiredness on Wendy’s face as well. “Would you like me to drive for a while?” I asked.

“Would you? Do you mind driving on the motorway?”

“I’ll be fine. When we get closer to Chelmsford I’ll wake you up and ask for directions”.

“I probably won’t sleep, but I won’t mind not being behind the wheel for a while”.

On the way out of the café she and I both picked up more coffee in takeaway cups. I steered the car back out onto the motorway, and she found a radio station that played a rather mellow blend of folk music and light rock. Before too long we noticed that the conversation in the back of the car had died away; she glanced over her shoulder, smiled and said “They’re dead to the world”.

“Emma’s been pretty busy”.

“I hear she and Lisa got together again this week”.

“Yeah – Lisa invited her for dinner at Christchurch Wednesday night, and they had a good long visit afterwards”.

“Did she enjoy herself?”

“She did. She said it took her a while to get past Lisa’s perfect Oxfordness, though”.

Wendy laughed; “Was that her phrase?”

“It was”.

“Sounds like my girl; she tries to come across as if she’s very self-assured, to hide the fact that she’s not”.

“She did some of that the night I met her at Merton, but for some reason when she came over to my place the other week she seemed to let her guard down a little”.

“She felt comfortable with you; she told me that. And with Emma too”.

“That’s good to hear”.

“Emma seems to be taking all this in her stride”.

“She’s not doing too badly. I was a bit worried at first that she might be a little possessive; she’s had me to herself for quite a while”.

“I thought about that. I was afraid she might resent Lisa”.

“It’s not in her nature to be resentful. Sad, but not resentful”.

“Sad about losing her mum, you mean?”

“Yes, but as she said to me when we were talking about it the other night, ‘It was a clean break – lots and lots of sadness, but no regrets’”.

“She’s wise for her age”.

“She is. Every now and again she comes out with something so deep that I chew on it for the next few months”.

“Like what?”

“Well, on the flight over from Canada last summer we were talking about how hard it was for us to leave the folks in Meadowvale. I said I’d understand if she was mad about it, and she said the problem was she couldn’t figure out who to be mad at. I’ll never forget what she said next: ‘I guess I could be mad at God but he sort of holds all the cards, doesn’t he? Anyway, I’ve had enough experience at being mad at him to know it’s not really very satisfying, because he refuses to get mad back!’”

“That sounds like something a mystic would say”.

“Owen used to use that word to describe Kelly. She had a strong sense of connection with God; Owen said it was almost mystical”.

“Did Emma pick it up from her?”

“Maybe, but there was a lot of stuff she picked up by herself. Like prayer, for instance – she told me once that prayer wasn’t really about words for her; it was more to do with living her feelings in God’s presence without any need to verbalize them. She tells me that’s still the way she prays, and sometimes she senses God speaking to her, although there aren’t any words”.

“That’s very mystical”.

“I guess so”.

“Have you ever experienced anything like that?”

“Only once”.

“You remember a specific occasion?”

“It was hard to forget. January 1st 1984; Kelly and I were engaged, but she was sick in bed with the flu. I went out snowshoeing at the lake, and at one point in the afternoon I was taking a break; I was sitting on a picnic table watching the sun set behind the trees. And then something happened that I still find very hard to describe. It was like the world suddenly became transparent; I could see right through it to the presence of the Creator behind it. I felt this love reaching out to me – the  love of Christ – in a way that touched me right down to my depths. It completely changed my life”.


“Yeah. It didn’t last very long – probably less than a minute – but every time I tried to talk about it for the next year or so I started crying”.

“It was real, then”.

“I think it was one of the truest experiences I’ve ever had in my life”.

“You’ve never had anything like that happen since then?”

“No, but I don’t let that bother me; I like to think God knows what’s best for me.  What about you; have you experienced anything like that?”

“Not as vividly as that, although I do get hints of the presence of God quite frequently. I like to go into Merton Chapel during the day and just sit in the silence; I find I’m attracted to silence. I suppose I’m looking for a sense of conscious contact with God but I try not to get anxious about it; when it happens, that’s good, and when it doesn’t, the silence works well for me anyway”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smiling; “It’s ironic that my professional life is all about words, but I don’t tend to be very wordy when it comes to praying”.

“That is interesting”, I agreed.

For a few minutes neither of us said anything. I was getting a slight headache from the glare of the headlights; the motorway was busy with people travelling for the weekend, and despite my earlier assurances to Wendy, it was not the kind of driving I was familiar with.

When she spoke again her voice was so quiet I could barely hear it. “On a completely different subject…”


“Lisa told me she asked you about our relationship back in our student days”.

“She did”.

“She said you told her you needed to talk to me again before you could answer her”.

“That’s right”.

“What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I think she was asking me if that night at my flat was just a one-night stand or if there was more to it than that. I didn’t want to answer her because you and I have never discussed it”.

“No”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her frowning; “I think I was afraid to talk about it at the time”.

“Me too. Do you want to talk about it now?”

I saw her looking quickly over her shoulder and I knew she was checking that Colin and Emma were still sleeping. “Okay – you go first”.

I thought for a moment, and then said, “If you’d asked me at the time I don’t know how I would have responded; maybe I was too close to the events to be able to put them in any sort of perspective. But I’ve been giving it quite a lot of thought lately and I’ve started to see things in a different light. I’ve used the ‘one night stand’ language in my own mind for over twenty years, but I’m not using it any more, because I don’t think it’s accurate”.


“No. You and I had a serious difference of opinion about friendship and love. There were lots of things I liked about you from the beginning, and when you started to come to my room and we got to know each other better I found a lot more to like. I realize now that in those last few months I was starting to fall in love with you. But I never talked to you about it because I knew I was going to Canada and it wouldn’t have been fair to you. And of course I knew you felt so strongly that friendship and love were incompatible”.

Again she spoke very quietly; “So when we made love that night, it wasn’t just about sex for you?”

“I was as interested in sex as the next twenty-three year old male. But no – I don’t think that was the whole story”.

She didn’t reply, and I was too nervous to even glance in her direction. I fixed my eyes on the road ahead and the red glare of the tail lights in front of me; in the background the radio was playing an old Dire Straits number, ‘Your Latest Trick’. When the song ended the DJ made some quiet comments and then passed on to the next tune, and still Wendy had not spoken. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She gave a heavy sigh, shook her head and said, “Yes and no”. She turned in her seat to face me and I saw the sudden smile on her face. “I’m sorry, Tom – you’ve just paid me an enormous compliment and I’ve left you hanging there”.

“I wasn’t fishing for a response”.

“I understand, and I want you to know I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years too”. She took another sip of her coffee and looked away again. “There were lots of times while I was married to Mickey that I was consumed with regrets. He’d fall asleep at night and I’d lie awake wishing there was some way I could undo some of the things I’d done. And one of those things was my decision to go to him instead of contacting you. It became very clear to me that all the reasons for that decision were utterly stupid. I remember lots of times asking myself why I’d made such a foolish mistake, and a big part of the answer was that when you went to Canada I wasn’t certain about your feelings for me. I thought perhaps you saw me as more than just a friend, but I wasn’t sure.

“So you can understand why I just said ‘Yes and no’. On the one hand, of course I’m happy when you tell me you were falling in love with me back then – no girl in her right mind would be sorry to be loved by you. But on the other hand, now I know for certain that the last twenty-one years didn’t need to turn out as they did. I can’t help feeling a bit of regret about that”. I heard her voice falter; “Quite a lot of regret, in fact”.

I glanced at her again, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. After a moment I reached out hesitantly, found her hand, and covered it with my own. I felt her fingers tighten in mine, and for a long time we sat in silence, holding hands as we had sometimes done in my room all those years ago.

Eventually she released my hand, and I saw her take out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes. “I’m sorry”, she said. “I know there’s not much point in regret, and I’d have to be enormously selfish to begrudge you the happiness you’ve enjoyed with Kelly and Emma. And of course I’ve got Lisa and Colin, and I’m not unhappy in my career and my friends. We can’t turn the clock back”.

“No, we can’t. There is one thing we can do though”.

“What’s that?”

“From now on we’ll stop using the phrase ‘one-night stand’, shall we?”

She laughed softly; “I would really like that”.

“So, if Lisa asks me again…?”

“It’s up to you. If you want to tell her what you’ve just told me, I’d be alright with that”.

“Okay. And what about you?”


I laughed softly; “Are you going to make me dig?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile. “You’re a lot more up-front than you used to be, you know?”

“So I’ve been told”. I was quiet for a moment and then I said, “Look, Wendy – I don’t have any kind of ulterior motive here other than just wanting to be clear about the past. I’ve been asked several times over the last few days whether or not we’re dating again, and I’ve said no – I’m pretty sure you’re not ready for anything like that, and I’m certainly not. I’m nowhere near being over Kelly and it wouldn’t be fair to any woman for me to lead her on and then promise more than I can give. I’m glad we can be friends again and I’m glad to know Lisa and be a friend to her, if she’ll let me. That’s where I’m at”.

“Me too”. She shifted a little in her seat again. “Okay – I’ll try to be as honest with you as you’ve been with me. I’m not really sure what I was feeling back then. I know I’d really come to look forward to those evenings in your room; I felt safe there, and cared for, and the more I got to know you the more I liked you. Deep down inside, maybe I was starting to fall in love with you –  I don’t know. I do know I wanted you to hug me and hold me, even though I told myself at the time it was nothing to do with love”.

“I understand”.

“Do you?”

“You had some pretty strong ideas about love and friendship”.

“I was young and opinionated and I really didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m sorry”.

“No need – that was then, and this is now”.

She nodded. “As you said – I’m glad we can be friends again, and I’m glad you’re part of Lisa’s life now too”.

“So am I”.

“And I really understand what you’ve said about not being ready for anything more than that. You’re right – I’ve got scars of my own, too. I’ve actually been quite happy to be by myself with the kids for the past six years, even though it’s been hard sometimes”.

“That makes sense”.

She shrugged. “Is that a straight answer to your question? I don’t know if I know myself well enough to be as straightforward about it with you as you’ve been with me. I think I might have been falling in love with you at the time, but I wasn’t anywhere near being ready to admit it. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid”.

“That’s fine”. I frowned; “Are you going to talk to Lisa about this?”

“If she asks me, I’ll tell her. We’ve had a couple of fairly honest conversations since all this came out, but there’s still a level of tension in our relationship. We haven’t got anything like the sort of closeness you and Emma have”.

“I understand”.

“Thanks. And thank you for being willing to dig a bit!”

We both laughed, and I said, “What goes around, comes around; there was a time when Kelly had to do a lot of digging with me, too”.


We arrived at Wendy’s brother’s house just before nine-thirty. I pulled the car into the forecourt of the house and stopped in front of the garage; we woke the sleeping teenagers in the back, and Wendy was just opening the tailgate to unload the luggage when her brother emerged from the side door, dressed casually in jeans and an old sweater. He and Wendy gave each other a hug, and then he turned to me and held out his hand. “I’m Rees Howard, Tom; welcome to our home”.

I shook his hand. “Thank you; you really look like your sister!”

“So I’ve been told!”

I introduced him to Emma, and he greeted her with a smile and a handshake, and then put his arm around Colin’s shoulders. “Come in out of the cold, all of you. How are you doing, Colin?”

“Okay, thanks; is Rod home?”

“He’s upstairs; go on up if you like, but take your bag with you”.

Colin was the first through the door, his backpack slung over his shoulder. “Colin and my son Rod are the same age”, Rees said to me, “but I expect Wendy’s told you that”.

“She was filling me in on the family on the way here”.

“So she warned you about the Irish woman then?”

“Irish woman?” Emma asked.

“She’s the one in charge around here”.

He led us into a spacious kitchen at the back of the house; it was fitted with modern-looking appliances and ample counter-space, with a dining table and chairs on one side of the room. A cheerful-looking woman with thick dark hair was placing a large teapot on the table as we entered the room; Wendy greeted her with a hug and introduced her to me as Rees’ wife Megan. She was indeed Irish, and as soon as I heard her speak I was captivated by the musical lilt of her voice. When she heard that Wendy had let me drive the last half of the trip she gave her sister-in-law a playful slap on the wrist. “What would you be doing a thing like that for? Making the poor man drive on the M25 on a Friday night! First thing you know he’ll be running back to Canada with his tail between his legs!”

We all laughed, and then Megan took us upstairs and showed us our rooms. The vicarage was very large, with five bedrooms. Colin would be sharing a room with his cousin Rod, which left a bedroom each for Wendy, Emma and me. We dropped our bags in our rooms and then headed back downstairs for tea and scones.

Rees was pouring the tea into large mugs when Emma and I entered the kitchen. “Come on in and have a seat”, he said; “Wendy’s just gone to the study to ring Mum and Dad”. He grinned at me; “I suppose you know that mobile phones are against my sister’s religion?”

“She doesn’t have a mobile?” asked Emma.

“She keeps one in her bag but it’s never turned on. She says it’s there for emergencies only, and if you ask her she’ll go on a rant about how mobiles are destroying the social skills of the young generation”.

“Which is completely true!” Wendy said with a smile as she came back into the kitchen.

“But something of a lost cause”, he replied with a grin. “Sit yourselves down, everyone, and have something to eat”.

“How are your parents doing?” I asked him as we sat down around the table; “I heard your mum was ill over Christmas”.

“They’re mostly all right this week”. He handed us our tea and helped himself to a scone. “Dad’s going to be eighty on his next birthday and Mum’s seventy-five; he’s got bad arthritis and she’s going very deaf. They live in sheltered accommodation about ten minutes from here; I see them most days and they come over here for a few hours at least once a week. Dad used to walk over here regularly but the walk’s a bit much for him now”.

I heard Megan out in the hallway calling up the stairs for Rod and Colin to come and have some tea, and then she slipped into the kitchen with a smile. “They’ll be talking half the night”, she said. “It’s a mystery to me how two boys who talk to each other so frequently can have so much left to say when they get together!”

A moment later Colin came into the kitchen with a boy of his own age. Rod had his mother’s thick dark hair and pale skin, and he gave us the same cheerful smile when he was introduced to us. He and Colin were talking to each other non-stop and for a few minutes the kitchen was a lively place. The hour’s sleep Colin had enjoyed in the car seemed to have given him all the refreshment he needed but I could see that the effect on Emma had been the opposite; she was having difficulty staying awake as she drank her tea. Megan asked her a few polite questions, but eventually she smiled mischievously at me and demanded “What have you been doing to this poor child? She’s utterly worn out! The last thing she wants to do is sit here and be sociable with complete strangers like us!” She put her hand on Emma’s arm. “Take your tea upstairs and find your bed, love – there’ll be lots of time for talking in the morning”.

Emma gave her a grateful smile; “I think I will if you don’t mind”. She got to her feet wearily, said goodnight to everyone and slipped out of the kitchen, her tea mug in her hand. She was followed not long afterwards by Rod and Colin, who managed to take a few scones with them to help fuel the continuation of their conversation.

After a moment of quiet Rees smiled at Wendy. “The kids are doing all right with things then?”

“Colin hasn’t said much, but he met Emma for the first time tonight and they were having a long talk in the back of the car”.


“I think she’s doing okay – she’s actually talked to Tom and Emma more than me. What about Mum and Dad?”

“They’re still not saying much. I suspect they’re going to have some questions”.

“I know they are; that’s why I asked Tom to come down”.

Rees glanced at me; “I assume you won’t mind meeting them?”

“I’m looking forward to it. Wendy said she thought it might be better if she talked to them first, though”.

“I think that’s wise. My parents are both rather shy, Tim – they’ll feel better if they can hear the whole story from Wendy first, before talking about it with anyone else”.

Wendy nodded; “I explained to Tom about them having a difficult time hearing on the phone, especially Mum”.

“Mum’s going rather seriously deaf”, Rees agreed, “and her hearing aid doesn’t seem to be helping very much”.

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked.

“Wendy and I are going over to their flat tomorrow morning, and we’ll probably stay ’til after lunch. We’ll leave them to rest for the afternoon, and then I’ll go back over later on and bring them over to meet you and Emma and stay for dinner”. He smiled at me; “You’re thinking of going walking, I hear?”

“Weather permitting”.

“There are some very nice walks within easy distance of here”.

“That’s what Wendy told me”.

“The countryside’s pretty flat but we’ve got two river estuaries within easy reach, and an old seventh century church – not to mention a mothballed nuclear power station”.

We smiled, and Wendy said “The sea wall walk from Bradwell Waterside to St. Peter’s on the Wall is very nice, except for that old power station”.

“St. Peter’s on the Wall is the old church, is it?”

“Yes. It was built by St. Cedd in the seventh century; the story is that he used stones from the old Roman border fortress of Othona”.

“Nice – Emma will like that”.

Rees smiled at me; “Your accent is an interesting combination”.

“So I’ve been told. Apparently it comes and goes; my family think I sound Canadian but the folks back home disagree”. I took a sip of my tea. “So how long would the sea wall walk take?”

“It depends how you do it; you could just go to St. Peter’s and back, or you could come back by an inland route, which would take a little longer”.

They talked about the walk with me for a few minutes and then Rees went to get an Ordnance Survey map, which he spread out on the table in front of us. As we continued to drink our tea he pointed out several other possible walks in the immediate area, most of which he had done himself at one time or another. At some point in the conversation Megan refilled our tea mugs, and eventually Rees folded up the map, looked at his sister and said “On a completely different subject, have Lisa and Colin heard from Mickey?”

“They had emails a few days after he rang Tom and me, describing the situation in full from his perspective. Lisa told me she sent him a reply but she wouldn’t tell me what was in it”.

“He rang me last night to say he was going back to Iraq today; he expects to be in England again in a couple of months. It was the first time I’d heard from him this time around, so I warned him about not contacting you by phone. He swore and ranted a bit, but I’ve got all the cards so in the end he had to agree”.

Wendy smiled gratefully; “Thanks”.

“Well, you don’t need to be bothered by him; if I reported him to the police he’d be charged with breach of the court order. And I told him that if it happens again that’s what I’ll do”.

“Well, this is a cheerful conversation, to be sure!” Megan exclaimed. “Here’s us meeting Tom for the first time and you want to talk about Mickey Kingsley! Your imagination leaves a lot to be desired, Rees Howard!”

Rees put his hand on his wife’s arm affectionately. “Sorry”, he said with a sheepish grin; “We can change the subject if you like. I saw a guitar case coming into the house; are we finally going to get to hear the legendary ‘Lincoln Green’?”

“Well, two-thirds of it, anyway”, Wendy replied with a shy smile. “We haven’t had much chance to sing together yet, so we thought we’d take advantage of the opportunity”.

“I assume you won’t mind if we listen in?”

“As long as you’re not expecting too much; it really has been a very long time”.

“She still sounds great, though”, I said.

“Of course she does”, Rees agreed; “I’ve always known that”.

Megan smiled at her husband; “Your dad will enjoy hearing them”.

“He will. My dad loves folk music too”, he explained to me; “He used to sing old folk songs around the house when we were kids”.

“My mum played the piano for him”, Wendy added.

“My mother’s a pianist, too”, I said to Rees; “She was classically trained and she still teaches piano lessons regularly – although lately they’ve been kind of interrupted by my father’s illness”.

“How is your father? It’s lymphoma, right?”

“Yes. At the moment it’s under control, but it’s a reprieve, not a cure”.

“How old is he?”


“Not very old, then”.

“No”. I stifled a yawn; “Well, I think I’m for my bed too if you don’t mind. It’s been a long day, and I tend to be a morning person”.

“Have you got everything you need up there?” asked Megan.

I got to my feet wearily; “I think so”.

“Well, if you notice anything missing, just come and ask for it”.

“I will. Thanks for the tea, and thanks for having us”.


I came gradually out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. At first when I opened my eyes I couldn’t remember where I was, but then it came back to me, and I waited as the darkened bedroom gradually swam into focus. Then I identified the sound that had registered on my subconscious brain and summoned me from sleep; someone was whimpering, as if they were in pain.

I pushed myself up on my elbow and listened carefully. The noises were coming from the room next to mine; the head of my bed was against the adjoining wall, and I could hear the sounds clearly. They were getting a little louder, and I was beginning to hear words; “No, no! No, please, no!” I suddenly realized what was happening; the person in the room next to me was having a nightmare.

I tried to remember who was in that room; it didn’t sound like Emma, and anyway Emma very rarely had nightmares. It had to be Wendy, and I suddenly remembered what she had told me about having bad nights from time to time. The voice was getting louder still, and the words were plain now: “No, please, no! Please stop; please stop”; I guessed that others in the house would be able to hear her now. I was trying to decide if I should do anything when the voice suddenly stopped; after a moment I heard a door opening, and the creak of footsteps on the stairs.

I lay down again, thinking about what I had heard. Like Emma, I was rarely afflicted by nightmares; I’d had sleepless nights since Kelly’s death, but they had more to do with loneliness or depression than with fear. I tried to imagine what it would be like to wake up after a nightmare so terrifying that you were afraid to close your eyes again until you had read for long enough to completely take your mind off the horrific images that had emerged from your psyche. I remembered what Lisa had said about her mum’s sense of obligation to forgive Mickey, and I wondered if that was the whole truth; if Wendy read from the book of psalms in the darkness of the night, she would have found some prayers of vengeance against one’s enemies that must have seemed very attractive to her.


Emma and I left the house around nine-thirty the next morning; the weather was cold and clear with a thick frost on the ground, and we had dressed warmly as we expected to spend the entire day out of doors. I packed a backpack with sandwiches, a small thermos of coffee and some granola bars, and we each took water bottles as well. We drove out east of Chelmsford to the estuary of the Blackwater River; at the village of Bradwell Waterside we left the car in a parking lot and set out along the sea wall. The estuary was on our left as we walked in a roughly eastward direction toward the North Sea coast. The coastline was flat, with marshlands stretching out from the sea wall toward the water’s edge. Ahead and to our right was the huge boxlike concrete structure of the old nuclear power plant Rees had told me about. The farmland behind the sea wall was flat and open, with the occasional line of trees breaking the uniformity of the landscape.

About two hours into the walk we came to the old chapel of St. Peter’s on the Wall; it stood tall and square against the backdrop of the sea, with a stand of trees just to the north and fields and marshland all around. Rees had told me that the chapel was usually unlocked; Emma and I pushed open the solid wooden door and slipped inside. The darkened church was lit by small windows set high in the walls, but we could easily make out the stark modern altar and the simple bench-style pews. The walls were bare unadorned stone but the floor had obviously been refinished at some time in the recent past. We sat down on one of the benches, poured ourselves coffee from the thermos and chewed on our granola bars.

“This place is amazing”, Emma whispered.

“You like it, do you?”

“Yeah. It’s cool to think of it being so old. People were praying here nine hundred years before Menno Simons”.

“We Mennonites are a fairly recent arrival in the Christian world, aren’t we?”

“Ah, but we take after the earliest Christians, Dad!”

I laughed; “Let’s hope so anyway!”

“Rees seems like a nice guy; do you know anything about his church?”

“I think it’s the same sort of thing as St. Clement’s”.

“It should be lively then”.

“That’s what Wendy told me”.

Emma was quiet for a moment, sipping her coffee thoughtfully; then she looked over at me and asked, “Did you hear someone crying during the night?”

“You heard that, did you?”


“I think Wendy was having a nightmare”.

She stared at me; “That must have been some nightmare. Do you know if she has them often?”

“She told me they’ve been getting less common”.

“I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs; she must have gotten up”.

“She told me she makes herself a cup of tea and reads a book, or prays the psalms”.

We lapsed into a comfortable silence; I was enjoying the peace of the chapel and the company of Emma on a day when neither of us had to rush to get anywhere. After a couple of minutes she finished her coffee, put the empty cup down on the bench beside her and looked away toward the altar. “I was awake for part of the time in the back of the car last night, when you and Wendy were talking”.

“So you heard what we said?”

“Some of it. It wasn’t easy to hear above the music and the car noise, and I was trying not to be nosy, but I did hear a few things”.

“Do you mind me asking what you heard?”

“I heard you talking about me and about Mom. I heard you telling Wendy you thought you’d started to fall in love with her when you knew her before. I knew that already, of course – you’d already told me”.

Again we were quiet for a moment; in the old chapel the silence was a tangible thing. I had sometimes heard Catholic friends talking about the special experience of praying in places where worship had been going on for hundreds of years, and I remembered what Wendy had said the night before about enjoying the silence in Merton Chapel.

Emma said, “I like Wendy”.

“You’ve mentioned that before”.

“I know. Are you two going to sing tonight?”

“That’s the deal, so I hear”.

“I really like listening to you. I like trying to imagine what it was like in the old days when the three of you were singing together”.

“It was fun, but I don’t get nostalgic about it”.


“No. I enjoyed it, but I was pretty shy and insecure at the time. And I was full of anger at your grandpa and I didn’t know what to do about it”.

“You make it sound like a really dark time”.

I shrugged; “There were lots of good things about those days, but I’m glad I moved to Meadowvale”.

She smiled; “Me too!”

I got to my feet; “Ready to walk some more?”

“More than ready”.


We spent the afternoon exploring the marshes, finding our way with the Ordnance Survey map Rees had lent me. I had my binoculars with me, along with a bird book, and Emma and I both enjoyed catching glimpses of unfamiliar marsh birds and trying to identify them. We would amble along at a leisurely pace for a while, listening for birdsong and watching the trees for movement, and then she would say, “Okay, time to stretch our legs!” and we would do a mile or so at a faster pace. In the middle of the afternoon we stopped to lean against the gate to a farmer’s field; I saw the contentment on Emma’s face as she stood beside me with her arms on the top bar, and I smiled at her. “This was a good idea, wasn’t it?”

“It really was”.

We got back to Rees and Megan’s house at around five. My muscles had begun to stiffen on the drive home, and I found I was limping a little on the way into the vicarage. We had walked about fifteen miles, and we were drunk on the beauty of the countryside and the touch of fresh cold air on our faces.

Megan met us in the kitchen with a cheery smile. “You didn’t get lost and fall into a bog somewhere then?”

“No, we did quite well, thank you”, I replied. “I think we’d like to hit the showers though, if that’s all right?”

“Help yourself. Colin and Rod went out for a while but they should be back soon. Rees’ parents are in the living room with Rees and Wendy”.

“How are they doing?”

“Pretty good. Wendy and Rees spent the morning with them and then they drove them over to Halstead this afternoon for a couple of hours; Mum and Dad still have a few friends there and they like visiting the place. They’ve been here for about an hour. We’re going to eat around six; is that all right?”

“That’ll be fine”. I glanced at Emma; “Do you want to hit the shower first?”

“After we say hello”.


We went through to the living room, a large room with big windows situated on the south-west corner of the house. Wendy’s parents were sitting by the fireplace; Rees was on a chesterfield across from them, and Wendy was sitting at her mother’s side. Her father was tall and thin with a wisp of white hair on his head, dressed in a sweater and a checked shirt, and he got to his feet slowly as we entered the room. “No need to get up, Mr. Howard”, I said quickly, holding out my hand. “I’m Tom Masefield”.

“Martyn Howard”, he replied in a gentle Welsh accent, taking my hand with the loose grip of an arthritis sufferer. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Masefield. May I introduce my wife Carrie?”

Carrie Howard was surprisingly short, with her white hair tied in a tight bun at the back of her head. She took my hand with a warm smile. “You’ll have to speak a little louder to me, I’m afraid; the hearing aid does the best it can but I’m a bit of a hopeless case”.

“I’ll try to remember that; this is my daughter Emma”.

Emma shook hands with them both, greeting them politely as I knew she would. “So you’ve been hiking on the marshes today, I hear”, said Wendy’s father.

“Yeah, it was great!” Emma replied; “We haven’t had much chance to do that kind of walking since we moved to Oxford”.

“I expect Canada’s a wonderful place for that sort of thing”.

“It is, but Wales must be great too”.

“There are some lovely walks and hikes, and if you like mountains – well, we’ve got a few of them!”

“Do you get back there very much?”

“Sadly, no – we’re not very mobile these days. But we like Essex too; we’ve lived here for a long time. Did you enjoy your walk?”

“Oh yeah”. She gave them a grin; “Well, folks, I can smell myself coming, so I’m going to head for the shower. See you all in a few minutes. Dad, sit in the corner where they can’t smell you!”

Everyone laughed as she slipped out of the room. “What a delightful girl!” Wendy’s father said as he sat down again beside the fire. “Do sit down, Mr. Masefield, and don’t sit over in the corner either or my wife won’t be able to hear a word you say!”

“Thanks – and please, call me Tom”.


There were nine of us crowded around the supper table that night; it was a long and leisurely meal, with lots of time for conversation. I was sitting beside Wendy’s father, and at one point I said to him, “So, a Welshman moving to England – there’s obviously a story there”.

He smiled at me. “Not an uncommon one, I’m afraid. Lots of Welsh boys left the valleys to look for a better life, but in my case I’d gone to theological college in London and I’d made some friends in the area. I went back to Wales to serve a couple of curacies, but then I came to Essex in 1956 to be vicar of Halstead. I ended up staying there for a very long time”.

“Did you go straight from school to college?”

“No – I was born in 1924, so I joined the navy when I left school and served ’til the war ended. After that I went back to Wales and did my first degree in Cardiff. That’s where Carrie and I met; she was studying to become a schoolteacher. You’re a high school teacher yourself, I understand?”

“Yes – I teach English, and when I lived in Canada I taught drama too”.

“Speaking of stories, ‘Oxford boy moves to Canada’ sounds like an interesting one, too”.

“I got a lot of questions about that when I first moved over there”.

“From Mom?” Emma asked with a smile.

“Yes – as you know, she wasn’t exactly backward about being forward!”

“So you married a local girl then?” Wendy’s father asked.

“I did; she was the daughter of my principal”.

Carrie Howard had been listening carefully, her head tilted a little to try to catch what I was saying. “Was she a teacher too?” she asked.

“No – she was a nurse, and now Emma’s going to be following in her footsteps”.

“Are you doing nursing training, Emma?”

Emma shook her head; “Not yet, but I hope to start at Oxford Brookes in the Fall”.

We talked for a long time over the meal; Emma and I told Wendy’s parents about our home and family in Canada, and later on, when he and I were drinking our coffee together in the corner of the living room, I told Martyn Howard about my reasons for moving to Canada. I could see he was curious about our Mennonite faith so I talked with him about that for a while as well.

Eventually Rees said “It must be just about time for ‘Lincoln Green’, isn’t it?”

“It’s not really going to be ‘Lincoln Green’”, Wendy replied with an awkward smile; “We’re missing our noisiest and most outgoing member!”

“That’s true”, I agreed; “It won’t be quite so lively without Owen”.

“And we still haven’t had much time for practice”, Wendy added.

“Excuses, excuses!” Rees replied; “Just sing for us – I know we’ll enjoy it”.

So I brought my guitar down from my room, took a moment to tune it, and then glanced at Wendy. “You pick songs you know, and I’ll follow along with you”.

She nodded; “Okay then”.

We started with ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’, continuing with ‘The Recruited Collier’ and then ‘Reynardine’. Emma smiled at us when we finished the third song. “You’re playing through the Anne Briggs songbook tonight!” she said.

“I suppose we are”, Wendy replied.

Her father said, “I remember when you were a little girl you used to sing those songs a cappella”.

She grinned at him; “I learned ‘The Snow It Melts the Soonest’ from you, remember?”

“Possibly you did”. He nodded at me. “You play very well, Tom. Have you always been a traditional player?”

“Well, for a very long time anyway”.

He smiled at Wendy; “Do you remember ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’?”

“I haven’t sung that one for a very long time!” She glanced at me; “Do you remember it?”

“Vaguely; I’ll try to remember the guitar part if you try to remember the words”.


So we fumbled our way through the song; a couple of times Wendy forgot the words but her father joined in and got her going again, and when we were finished everyone in the room applauded. “Excellent!” Wendy’s father said; “Thank you very much!”

Wendy looked at me; “How about one more, and then we call it a night?”

“Have you got one in mind?”

“Do you remember ‘Ten Thousand Miles’?”

“I do”.


Rees drove his parents back to their flat at about nine. Wendy and Megan and I stood outside and waved as the car pulled out onto the road; the night was clear and cool, and I guessed that out in the country the sky would be full of stars.

“Right”, said Megan, “Time for me to find my slaves and get the washing up done”.

“I’ll do that, Megan”, said Wendy.

“Nonsense! Don’t even think about it!”

We went back into the house to discover that Emma was already running water in the kitchen sink and organizing the dishes on the side. “Won’t you look at this?” Megan exclaimed; “A foreign invasion in my kitchen!”

Emma grinned at us over her shoulder. “Come on, Dad – this won’t take long”.

So we sent Megan to the living room to keep Colin and Rod company while I found a towel and dried the dishes, and Wendy stayed with us to put everything away in its proper place. “Aren’t you tired?” she asked as Emma lifted the first dish from the sink and put it on the drying tray.

“It’s a good kind of tired,” Emma replied.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to walk with you, but it was really good to be able to spend some time with my mum and dad”.

“It obviously went well”, I said.

“It did. I knew they weren’t going to make things awkward; that was never going to be the issue”.

“I understand. And they definitely seemed to be okay with Emma and me tonight”.

“Well, you two have a way of winning people over”.

Emma gave her a smile over her shoulder. “Your dad and mom aren’t hard to like; your dad really knows a lot about folk music, doesn’t he?”

“He does. When I was a little girl, he was the one who got me interested in those songs in the first place”.

Emma glanced at her with a grin; “We have that in common, then”. She frowned suddenly; “What do you want me to call you? ‘Doctor Howard’? ‘Miss Howard?’”

“Oh please – no! ‘Doctor’ sounds so pretentious and ‘Miss’ sounds so formal and prim! Call me ‘Wendy’, Emma; I really hope we can be friends”.

Emma gave her a smile, lifting another plate from the rinse water and placing it on the dish tray. “So do I”.

“How are you getting on with George Eliot?”

“I read Daniel Deronda before Christmas, and then Dad gave me Adam Bede in my stocking”.

Daniel Deronda’s my favourite”.

“Yeah, I really liked it too”. Emma frowned; “You know, when I read your books I was really surprised to find that George Eliot had abandoned Christianity. She describes her religious characters so sympathetically”.

Wendy picked up a couple of newly dried plates and put them up in one of the cupboards. “Do you think perhaps it’s not just her religious characters?”

“How do you mean?”

“Perhaps she’s just really good at drawing character portraits we can understand and identify with; we can see them from the inside because she lets us in on their thought processes so much”.

“We don’t identify with all of them, though”.

“No, of course not; not many people can work up a good feeling for Grandcourt or Lush. But most of her characters are complex and multi-dimensional, aren’t they? Dorothea Brooke is idealistic but she’s sometimes rather foolish. And Mr. Irwine in Adam Bede has his strengths and his flaws; Dinah Morris starts out by thinking of him as a hypocrite, but by the end she sees there’s a lot more to him than she’d thought”.

“That’s right! I love the way she describes real human beings. They aren’t black and white; they’re kind of like Old Testament characters that way. We admire them and we shake our heads at them, too”.

“Nicely put. So perhaps she just has a talent for making all of her characters real and believable. Have you read Felix Holt, the Radical?”

“Not yet, but it’s on Dad’s bookshelf”.

“I’d be interested to hear what you think about that one. Personally I don’t think the Christian characters in it are as successful as in her earlier books, especially Adam Bede. Dinah Morris and Seth Bede are really convincing as Methodists, aren’t they? You feel like you understand their emotions even if you don’t share them. But I don’t feel the same way about Rufus Lyon in Felix Holt, although I think it’s a superb book”.

“I’m looking forward to reading it. Have you read any Rudy Wiebe?”

“Your dad’s mentioned him to me; he’s a Mennonite author, isn’t he?”.

“Yes. I’ve only read his first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many. It’s set in a Mennonite farming community during the Second World War; it’s about some of the conflicts in the community over war and peace and separation from the world. He does a great job of portraying religious characters too, but then, he’s a Mennonite himself”.

“He’s written some good novels about western Canadian history”, I added.

“You mentioned that; I’ll have to borrow one of them from you”.

For a few minutes Wendy and Emma continued to talk about books, while I mainly listened as they told each other about authors they enjoyed. I found it fascinating to watch the way Wendy participated in the conversation; despite the fact that she was the one with the doctorate in English literature she treated Emma as an equal, listening carefully to what she had to say and responding to her ideas with respect. I remembered conversations between Wendy and me when we were students; she had always been a knowledgable reader and I had enjoyed discussing books with her, but she had also been much more opinionated and less ready to listen, especially if I disagreed with her.

Eventually the conversation drifted back to Wendy’s parents. Emma said, “It’s hard for people who have hearing aids when they’re in groups, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid it is – Mum finds it difficult to screen out the background noise. But I suppose you’d know a lot about that, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah – lots of our old folks at Marston Court have hearing aids”.

“What exactly is it that you do there?”

“I’m a care worker, so I’m there to provide general help for the residents under the direction of the manager and the nursing staff. I’m a jack of all trades really, but I like it because I’m with the old folks all the time. We’ve got some real characters there!”

She told Wendy about some of the old people she worked with; I noticed that she spoke in general terms and was careful not to use names, but nonetheless it was obvious she had become very fond of them. After a moment Wendy said, “It must be really hard when you get to know people like that and then – well, you must lose people from time to time, don’t you?”

Emma nodded. “We’ve already had some deaths since I started volunteering there”.

“How do you deal with that?”

For a moment Emma didn’t answer; she frowned slightly as she lifted a mug out of the sink and inspected it thoughtfully. Placing it on the drying tray, she said, “Mom and I used to talk about that when she worked at the special care home. Sometimes when someone died she’d come home and cry for a while, and when I realized I wanted to be a nurse I asked her how she handled that. She said nurses and caregivers who work regularly with old people tend to make one of two choices; they either build an emotional wall to protect themselves from it, or they decide it’s better to love and feel pain than not to love and feel nothing. She’d chosen to love and feel pain, she said, and it was hard sometimes but it was the only way she knew how to do her job. I guess I sort of decided to follow her example”.

Wendy smiled; “Somehow I’m not surprised”.

“It’s not really such a big deal, Wendy; thousands of nurses and caregivers make that choice every day”.

We heard the back door opening, and a moment later Rees came into the kitchen. “What’s this?” he said with a grin; “Have you got Megan tied up somewhere?”

“Emma can be pretty persuasive”, Wendy replied; “She’s got a way of charming people into letting her do what she wants”.

We laughed, and then Wendy said, “Rees, have you got any hot chocolate in the house? I happen to know it’s a Masefield family custom to have it at this time of night”.

“Don’t trouble yourself about it”, I protested.

“It’s no trouble”, he replied; “I’m sure there’s some in the pantry”. He grinned at his sister; “Nice work tonight. You too, Tom; Wendy’s told me about your musical partnership but it was really nice to actually hear you both tonight”.

Wendy smiled shyly at him; “I was nervous when we first started!”

“You did fine. And Tom and Emma – just so you know, Mum and Dad were impressed. Especially with you, Emma; they both mentioned how you were so polite and thoughtful when you were talking to them at the supper table. Thank you for that”.

She shook her head. “I had a good time; I really liked them”.

“Well, the feeling was mutual”.


The next morning we all went to church together. As I had expected the service was lively, with contemporary music, spirited preaching from Rees and a warm sense of fellowship in the congregation. Afterwards we went back to the vicarage for lunch and another long, leisurely visit, and then at about three-thirty we put our bags in the car, said goodbye to Wendy’s family and began our journey home.

Just before leaving Chelmsford I called Lisa to let her know we were on our way. “Excellent”, she said; “Have you had a good weekend?”

“It’s been very nice, thanks; how about you?”

“I’m out with Mark at the moment; he picked me up at college about an hour ago and took me out for lunch. I was ready for it; I haven’t really stopped working since Friday night except to eat and sleep”.

“Are you still interested in pizza tonight?”

“Absolutely. Will you come down and pick me up?”

I looked at my watch; “Shall we say six o’clock?”

“Alright. I’ll try to meet you at Tom Tower but if I’m not there, come to my room. I’ll let the porter know you’re coming”.


We stopped for a coffee break at the South Mimms service centre at about four fifteen. The rain began just west of London and by the time we got home at about five forty-five it was coming down in sheets. Emma and I grabbed our bags from the back of Wendy’s car and we all made a mad dash for the front door. We were laughing as we burst into the living room; Emma kicked off her shoes and said “Right – I’ll make some tea”.

“I’ll go and get Lisa”, said Wendy.

I shook my head. “Actually, I told her I would go. You guys can put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea in peace”.

“You just don’t want to help me cook, Dad!” Emma teased me.

“You’re such a great pizza cook!”

“That’s true – I can’t deny it!”

“I’ll stay and watch Emma” said Wendy; “I’m not a great pizza cook so maybe I’ll pick up a few tips from the expert”.

When I pulled up in front of Tom Tower just after six there was no sign of Lisa. I waited for a few minutes, and then, remembering what she had said about going up to her room, I found a parking spot, left my car and walked briskly through the rain up to the gate. The porter recognized my name and let me through; I crossed the quad and climbed a staircase in the far corner, and a moment later I found myself in front of Lisa’s door. I knocked, and I heard her say “Is that you, Tom?”


“Can you give me a minute?”


I waited, and after a moment she opened the door for me. I noticed immediately that her eyes were red and swollen from crying, and I could see why; an angry bruise was forming on her cheek, just below her left eye. “Come in”, she said softly, in a voice that was barely under control.

I went into the room and she closed the door behind me. I turned to face her; “Are you okay? What happened?”

She swallowed. “Mark and I had a fight and it got violent. I asked him to leave about ten minutes ago”.

“Has he ever hit you before?”

“No – this was the first time”.

“Is it just that bruise, or did he hit you somewhere else too?”

“He only hit me once”.

“Have you called the police?”

She shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Do you think I should?”

“I do. They can decide whether or not they’re going to charge him, but if there’s an incident report then there’ll be a paper trail”.

“But it’s just one bruise – are they going to take that seriously?”

“Yes they are, because it’s still an assault. And just think for a minute how your mum’s life would have been different if she’d reported Mickey after the first time he hit her”.

She stared at me for a moment and then nodded. “You’re right, of course. Should I call them right now?”

“Do you want me to do it for you?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ll do it. Could you call Mum though, to let her know what’s going on? I expect we’ll have to wait here for the police to come”.


The room was a bed-sitter, a little larger than the one I had lived in at Lincoln, with a desk and chair under the window, a couch and an armchair and some bookshelves, and a bed in one corner of the room. Lisa turned to the desk and picked up her mobile phone, while I took my own phone from my pocket, thought for a minute and then called Emma’s number. She answered it on the third ring; “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me”.

“Dad – is everything okay?”

“Listen carefully, Em; I’m at Christ Church, and Lisa’s boyfriend Mark has hit her. It’s just a bruise on the face but I’ve encouraged her to call the police and she’s doing that right now. I need to tell Wendy what’s going on but I wanted you to know before I talked to her”.

“Is Lisa okay?”

“She’s a little shaken”.

“I guess”.

“What’s the pizza situation?”

“It’s in the oven and it’s nearly done”.

“We might have to wait to eat it”.

“I understand. Do you want to talk to Wendy now?”


I heard her calling Wendy, and a moment later I heard Wendy’s voice. “Tom? Is everything all right?”

“Not exactly. I got here a few minutes ago and Mark had just left. He hit Lisa across the face and she’s going to have a nasty bruise”.

“Is she all right?”

“She’s all right but she’s calling the police right now; I encouraged her to do that”.

“Good – thank you”.

“I expect we’ll need to stay here until someone comes”.

“Can I talk to her?”

“Just a minute”. I turned to see Lisa closing her own phone. “Did you get through?” I asked her.

“Somebody’s coming down; they’ll be here in twenty minutes”.

“Are you okay with talking to your mum?”

“Of course”.

I handed her my phone. “I’ll just slip out of the room to give you some privacy”.

She shook her head; “There’s no need, Tom”.

I glanced around the room and saw a kettle sitting on a side table, with a tea pot and some mugs. “Shall I boil some water for tea then?”

“That would be great”.


Wendy and the young policewoman arrived at almost the same time. Wendy and Lisa held each other for a moment, and when they stepped back they both had tears in their eyes. “Are you okay?” Wendy asked her.

“My face hurts, but I’m all right”.

The policewoman introduced herself; “Do you feel you need medical attention, Miss Howard?”

Lisa shook her head; “I know it’s not a pretty sight, but I’ll be okay”.

“I’ve got some questions I’ll need to ask you, if you’re ready?”

“Of course”.

“Do you want me to stay around?” I asked Lisa.

“I’ll need to take a statement from you, too, sir”, the policewoman said.

“Fair enough. I’ll pour the tea, then, shall I?”


Much later that night Wendy called me on my mobile; “I hope I didn’t wake you?”

“No; I’m just doing some last minute schoolwork for tomorrow”.

“Sorry – I didn’t mean to interrupt. I just thought I’d ring and let you know I brought Lisa home from Christ Church”.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s a lot more shaken than she’s letting on”.

“I thought she might be”.

“You were brilliant with her, Tom; she was so appreciative of the way you handled it when you got there tonight. Thank you”.

“No need. Is she saying much?”

“She hasn’t told me what the argument was about but she says she’s done with Mark”.

“Did she tell him that?”

“I think so”.

“Did the police officer say what she was planning to do?”

“She was pretty sure they’d have enough to charge him”.

“That’s good. Is there anything else I can do?”

“I think I’ve persuaded her to stay home for a couple of days; I know it’s just a bruise, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to take some time for herself. Come over to see her, if you have time”.

“I’ll do that; Emma will want to come, too”.

“That would be fine”.

“Is she still awake?”

“I think she’s in bed, but I don’t know if she’s asleep”.

“Better not bother her then. Will you tell her in the morning I was asking after her?”

“I will; thank you, Tom”.

“You’re welcome”.

“Well, I’d better let you get back to your schoolwork. I’ll talk to you tomorrow some time”.

“For sure. Good night, Wendy”.


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Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

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Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).





‘Meadowvale’ on Kobo.

I’m pleased to announce that Meadowvale is now available in the Kobo store (link here) (At the moment it does not appear to be available in the Chapters/Indigo store).



‘Meadowvale’ on Kindle

I’m pleased to announce that my novel ‘Meadowvale’, which has been featured in various versions on this blog over the past few years, is now available to purchase on Kindle.

I have been working on and off on this book for several years, so this is of course a dream come true for me.

The link to the book in the Canadian Amazon store is here.

Here it is at Amazon.com.

Here it is at Amazon.co.uk.

Please note that you can still read the first six chapters of Meadowvale for free on this blog. If you want to read more, you know what to do!



Clive Staples Lewis, November 29th 1898 – November 22nd 1963

(Repost from last year, slightly adapted)

On this day fifty-two years ago, the great C.S. Lewis died.

Because of the assassination of President Kennedy on the same day, the death of Lewis has always been somewhat overshadowed. Far be it from me to downplay Kennedy and what he stood for, but for me, Lewis was by far the more influential man.

In the early 1990s I lent a United Church minister friend a copy of Lewis’ Mere Christianity; when he gave it back to me, he said, “Do you have any idea how much this man has influenced you?” Mere Christianity came along at just the right time for me; I was seventeen and had begun to feel the lack of a rigorous intellectual basis for my faith. In this book, Lewis gave me just that. I went on to read pretty well everything he had written, including the various editions of his letters which seem to me to contain some of the best common-sense spiritual direction I’ve ever read. I’ve parted company with Lewis on a few issues (pacifism, Conservative politics, the ordination of women), but for the most part I still consider him to be one of the most reliable guides available to a rigorous, full-orbed, common-sense Christianity.

Lewis was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and, later, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and in his professional career he taught English literature. Brought up in Ireland in a conventionally religious home, he became an atheist in his teens. Later, in his late twenties and early thirties, he gradually came back to Christianity (he told the story himself in his book Surprised by Joy) and went on to become a popular writer and speaker on Christian faith. He claimed for himself Richard Baxter’s phrase ‘Mere Christianity’; although he lived and died entirely content to be a member of the Church of England (‘neither especially high, nor especially low, nor especially anything else’, as he said in his introduction to Mere Christianity), he had no interest in interdenominational controversy, preferring to serve as an apologist for the things that most Christians have in common.

Nowadays evangelicals (especially in the United States) have claimed Lewis as a defender of a rigorous Christian orthodoxy (despite the fact that he did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and was an enthusiastic smoker and imbiber of alcoholic beverages). Likewise, Roman Catholics have sometimes pointed out that many fans of Lewis have gone on to convert to Roman Catholicism (something he himself never did, because he believed that Roman Catholicism itself had parted company on some issues with the faith of the primitive church), and have resorted to blaming his Irish Protestant background as somehow giving him a phobia about Catholicism that made it psychologically impossible for him to convert to Rome. Lewis himself, I believe, would not have approved of these attempts to press him into the service of advancing a particular Christian tradition or denomination. I believe we should take him at his word: he was an Anglican by conviction, but was most comfortable with the label ‘Christian’.

What about his books? Well, there are many of them! In his professional discipline of literary criticism he wrote several influential books, including The Allegory of Love (on the medieval allegorical love poem), The Discarded Image (an introduction to the world view of medieval and renaissance writers), An Experiment in Criticism (in which he examines what exactly it means to take pleasure from reading a book), A Preface to Paradise Lost (in which he introduces us to one of his favourite works of literature, John Milton’s famous poem Paradise Lost), and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (this is only a selection of his works of literary criticism).

Turning to his more specifically ‘Christian’ works, in The Screwtape Letters Lewis gave us an imaginary series of letters from a senior to a junior demon on the art of temptation; along the way, as Lewis intended, we get some penetrating insights into practical, unpretentious, daily holiness. Miracles and The Problem of Pain are intellectual defences of Christian truth (the first examining the question of whether miracles are possible, the second dealing with the issue of evil and the goodness of God). Reflections on the Psalms is a series of meditations on the issues raised by the psalms (including an excellent chapter on the ‘cursing’ psalms), while Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer gives us accurate guidance on what a life of prayer is really all about. In the ‘Narnia’ stories and the Space Trilogy, Lewis baptizes our imagination, using the genre of fairy story and science fiction to present Christian truth in a fresh and compelling way. And in Mere Christianity he presents his case for the truth of Christianity and a good explanation of its central ideas.

These are just a few of his books; there are many websites that give exhaustive lists.

This website by Lewis’ publishers is of course focussed on trying to sell books – Lewis’ own books, collections of his writings published since his death, and many of the books that have been since written about him. Personally, I like Into the Wardrobe better; it isn’t trying to sell me anything, but includes a biography, a collection of papers, articles, and archives, and some excellent links.

Since his death Lewis has become almost a cult figure, especially in the U.S., and the number of books and articles about him continues to grow. He himself was uncomfortable with the trappings of fame, and I believe he would have been horrified with the growth of the C.S. Lewis ‘industry’ today. It seems to me that the best way to observe the  anniversary of his death is to go back to his books, read them again (or perhaps for the first time), ponder what he had to say, and pray that his work will lead us closer to Christ, as he would have wanted.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jack. And thank you.



Happy 450th birthday, Will Shakspear

During his lifetime William Shakespeare spelled his last name in a variety of ways; I’m rather fond of ‘Shakspear’ myself.

Will Shakspear was born 450 years ago this year. He was baptized on April 26th 1564; the actual date of his birth is not known, but baptism at the age of three days would have been a fair assumption, hence the convention of celebrating his birthday on April 23rd (which, 52 years later, was the date of his death).

Personally I would have no problem calling Shakspear the greatest writer in the English language. His plays, of course, were meant to be seen, not read, and I’m sure millions of English schoolchildren, like me, have struggled with them as printed texts but been thrilled by them as they are brought alive on the stage. One of the things I’m proud of is that we gave our children the chance to see Shakspear live before they read him. It appears to have worked; they all seem to enjoy him.

Will Shakspear does not need my praise. I’m reminded of the story of a man who was walking through an art gallery making disparaging comments about the paintings. Finally the exasperated curator said, “Sir, the paintings are not on trial – you are!” By all the standards we possess, Shakspear was at least ‘a’ great writer – I would say, ‘the’ great writer, the one who formed our language, captured our imagination, and gave us a compelling vision, not of humanity as it should be, but of humanity as it actually is, in all its nobility and wickedness. And he did it with that deliciously outrageous sense of humour that has given us not only tragic characters like Lear and Macbeth, or villains like Richard III, or pedants like Polonius and Jaques, but also wonderful comic figures like Sir Toby Belch, or Sir John Falstaff, or Robin Goodfellow (otherwise known as Puck), or Nick Bottom with his donkey’s head.

Thank you, Master Shakspear. You did your job well, and we can all enjoy the benefits of it, if we want to. A very happy 450th birthday to you, sir.



There aren’t enough songs about just ‘being’ in love

A few years ago at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I heard David Francey say that there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love – the joys and the heartaches, the ups and the downs of it. I think he’s right; I can’t think of many love songs that celebrate long-term marriages (Stan Rogers’ ‘Lies‘ is one that comes to mind, and it’s one of my favourites). And I think this is a shame.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who neglect this theme. TV writers also seem to believe that stable long-term relationships make for boring TV. At the end of Downton Abbey season three, when Matthew Crawley was killed off due to actor Dan Stevens wanting to leave the show, I read that creator Julian Fellowes had expressed an opinion that a happy marriage didn’t make for particularly exciting television. It seemed that, having brought Matthew and Mary through a long and tortuous route to finally getting married, he was happy to kill Matthew off so that once again Mary could be ‘on the market’, making for enjoyable tension and uncertainty on the show.

Sunday was the season seven finale of ‘Heartland‘, and we have the same scenario, with long-time couple Ty and Amy (whose relationship has been the central story line of Heartland from the end of the first season, and who have been engaged for a season and a half) once again running into speed bumps, and not getting married as perhaps the majority of fans would have liked to have seen. I’ve even heard the view expressed that Ty and Amy’s marriage would have meant the end of Heartland, because ‘where would the show go after that’? What? Would Ty and Amy really stop growing and learning after their wedding day?

I honestly can’t understand why TV writers take this view. Do they really think there are no enjoyable story lines to be found in the joys and vicissitudes of a lasting marriage? Well, if that’s really how they feel, I have five words for them: For Better and for Worse. This much loved comic strip by Lynn Johnston ran for 29 years and took its readers through the story of the lives of John and Ellie Patterson and their kids. In the earliest story lines, John and Ellie were a young married couple; later they had their children, and we followed the ups and downs of their lives together, told with humour and honesty in a way that kept people coming back for more. And I haven’t heard that the strip’s popularity suffered at all for it being about a stable long-term marriage!

Seriously, do writers and musicians and TV producers really believe that there are no interesting story lines in long-term relationships? Do they really believe that there’s no drama in showing couples and families facing the challenges that make long-term relationships so difficult, and coming through them successfully (or, sometimes, less successfully)? Where does this come from? Is it, perhaps, the notorious instability of show-business relationships?

Years ago, author Larry Christensen said that marriage is like pioneering, in that true pioneers experience two things: hope and difficulty. Marriage as pioneering? Now there’s an interesting thought! Perhaps it’s time for writers and musicians and TV producers to take on a new challenge; how about exploring the possibilities of portraying long-term love – what David Francey referred to as ‘just being in love’ – with all its hope and difficulty? How about it, creative artists? Are you up for it?