Posts Tagged ‘publish’

I’m in the middle of writing a series of horror stories. I’m fascinated by the genre and why the unknown holds such fear for us. Here is the first in the series, ‘Monsters in the Mist’. I hope you enjoy.

MONSTERS IN THE MIST

Nate Phillips searched frantically for his house keys in his deep pockets. It was 10pm and he’d been working late at his office in central London. It was only a short train ride and walk to his two bedroom terrace in Battersea, but the mists off the muddy water of the Thames were beginning to form, swirling and moving across the land like silent reapers. He shuddered. For as long as he could remember he hated mist. Hated the fact he could not see clearly in it; never liking that loss of control. His fumblings tonight were made all the more frantic because of the lateness of the hour, and the dark shapes he was sure he caught in his periphery. And then there was the discovery while they were digging…it had unnerved him, rattled him…

He took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. Experience had taught him he would get nowhere unless he relaxed and subdued his panic. Pacify his inner child he thought, with more than a healthy dose of irony. After all, he was pushing 30 now, unmarried and still visiting his mum twice a week – once on Wednesday night for fish and chips, and then again on Sunday for pot roast.

The keys. He dug deep one last time hoping for blind luck. Finally. He got the key out with shaking hands. The mist was closing in now, silvery conglomerates of droplets, seeking and probing as it crept towards Battersea…and him. The key turned the lock and he half fell into the door. Feeling as though he was exposed in the doorway, he slammed it shut and, shaking his head with impatience, trod firmly up the narrow stairwell with determination but not before he flicked on the hallway switch to eliminate the darkness. Mist. It was only mist.

He took off his gloves, noting the sting in his fingers. He had always had bad circulation and felt the cold. He remembered his mother’s words: “Don’t go out on a winter’s day, without your gloves, you won’t be allowed to play. Frost bite comes with unwelcome speed; those gloves you’ll soon realise are what you need.” He heard her sing-song rhymes again in his head and was glad it was only Monday night. Soon enough he would be sitting across from her, buried deep in the habitual rituals of their long dead family life.

Nate lit the burner on his gas stove and marvelled at the blue, hot flame that sprang to life. He liked his coffee, and he would have a quick cup while he prepared his solitary dinner: smoked cod in white sauce with carrots and peas – one of his mum’s tried and tested for a cold winter’s night.

He sipped, savouring the strong aroma and was instantly gratified. The frozen cod didn’t take long and he got the jar of white, béchamel sauce out of his pantry. He went over the day in his mind, still vacant of mind from the long hours at work, and now just adjusting to the peace and solitude of his home.

Nate was an engineering draftsman with Transport Underground – a construction company that helped build new tube stations. He’d painstakingly worked his way up the company ladder and was now the senior engineering draftsman in the team. He thought about the complexities of the new tube station in Battersea they were building. It would make his journey home quicker, but the job was monumental and there had been delay after delay – the latest with residents along the route, that were closest to the proposed shafts needed to allow the tube to cool down. A battle royale, he thought sarcastically. But then again, while his two bedder in Battersea was humble, it was still home. He could understand residents worried about the shafts and were not fully convinced Transport Underground’s work would not compromise their properties. So far the Battersea project had been unlucky. He really would be glad when it was over. And then there was that ‘thing’ they found. Teams digging the shafts had discovered three makeshift coffins complete with bodies of young children. He shuddered. He simply hated anything open to interpretation and, apparently, the bodies had been badly tortured.

He’d finished his coffee and his cod was just about done. He scooped it out of the boiling water and placed it on his plate, allowing it to cool before he poured the heated sauce over it. He moved into the unlit loungeroom and paused, momentarily, in the dark room, furtively eyeing off the dark corners for signs of life. He laughed out aloud. Old habits were hard to break. From childhood he’d been scared of the dark and he’d found it difficult to throw off the fear. In fact, fear was his worst enemy. He quickened his step and reached for the light, but not before he noticed the shroud of mist beginning to envelope his terrace. He peered outside. He could hardly see across the other side of the street. Mr Jenkins’ place was barely visible, so shrouded by the thick, foggy veil that its brown stone walls and white trimmed windows could not be seen. He pulled the blinds and drew the curtains, hoping the double thickness would keep out the cold. He turned back to the kitchen, but not before a dark shape in his periphery vision made him stop still. He whirled around but there was nothing there. What a night, he thought to himself, and turned up the gas heater for extra warmth.

Back to the cod which was erring on the tepid side now; but the sauce was still bubbling in the saucepan, so he poured it generously over the fish and arranged the vegetables so the plate looked appetising. In another life, he might have opened a restaurant. Not that he was a good cook, but he loved arranging things. Whether it was flowers, table arrangements or plating up, arranging for aesthetic pleasure appealed to his artistic side. Instead he drew plans for underground railway stations which unearthed long dead secrets. He shuddered again at the thought of the three bodies – somebody’s children.

He sat down at the dinette in his kitchen. No point setting the dining table. It was after 10pm. He really didn’t know why he had worked so late but the discovery of the bodies, he presumed murder victims, had set his team back. Procedures were now required before work could begin again. He bit into the cod and grimaced – it was slightly undercooked. Still, he was hungry, so he smothered the next mouthful in white sauce and vegetables. Should do the trick, he reasoned.

Nate was not fussy by nature, but he was a bit of a homebody still. He’d graduated with good grades at his modest public school and gone onto study a four year degree at university, rather than at a technical or community college. It gave him the edge when he applied for his job at Transport Underground. He wasn’t ambitious, nor overly bright, but dreamt of one day working in Europe and returning to Copenhagen, a place where he felt strangely at home. Its cobbled streets and friendly people – who all spoke English fluently – gave off a warmth he rarely experienced in London. And he hated the cold and dreariness of a London winter. He looked down at his fingers, red with cold and purple on the ends. He’d never had frostbite and he wondered what it would feel like – numb he supposed, as the fingers turned black cutting off the circulation until amputation was the only alternative. He pushed his plate away; perhaps he wasn’t that hungry after all.

He felt the warmth of the lounge room with its drawn curtains, immediately he opened the door. He switched on the lamp – 11pm. ‘Yes, I know it’s late’, he said aloud, as if answering his mum’s naggings. He was glad, finally, to be out of home. Although he’d only been living on his own for two years, it was two years of absolute bliss compared to life with his overly protective mum. Not that she was a bad mother. No not that at all, he thought, but she was much too involved in his life and that closeness, the stuffy kindness and soft inquiring voice, had become unbearable in the end. The interest in his girlfriends, the chumminess she developed with them…before he had even gone on a second date sometimes. And then there was the turning up unannounced at his house; right at the very moment that he was getting beyond first base with his girlfriend.

And Mary. She had ruined that relationship. Mary was tolerant at first. “She’s ok Nate. Really, I don’t mind,” she would say when the doorbell went just before they were going out. “We can stay in and watch some telly with her,” Mary would offer. But in the end, Mary had bailed out. Who wouldn’t, he thought. Imagine taking on his mum for a lifetime.

He glanced at the photo of her on the coffee table. Widowed early, she had that look of early ageing: grey hair and beady black, enquiring eyes. He had found it difficult to loosen her control over him but since Mary, he’d been somewhat successful. His mother was guilty about that, especially when she told Mary she would eventually be coming to live with her son and his new wife. Poor Mary. She had looked at him in panic and bewilderment, and he hadn’t been strong enough to tell his mother ‘no’. And that was that.

He pulled out a book from the nearby shelf; a detective mystery and began reading. He would read for half an hour, he reasoned, and hopefully be able to fall straight asleep. Since his team had found those dead children, he’d found it difficult to concentrate. He hoped fervently he would sleep through the night tonight, but those images of the dead bodies kept flooding, unbidden, into his mind. He shouldn’t have gone there, he knew, but he had to admit he’d been curious.

The day had begun normally enough. Hot buttered toast and marmalade and a brewed coffee before heading into the office. The London Times at the corner shop for reading on the train, and the rain that inevitably began to fall on the five minute walk to the office from the station. With slightly wet feet, he took the lift up to the ninth floor, got his messages from Wendy his personal assistant, and sat down diligently at his desk to go through the morning’s emails.

Tom the foreman had called not long after. “Boss, you’ve got to come down and see this.” His voice was like a child’s on the other end of the phone, as though a great discovery had been made. When Nate had asked what was so important, Tom reconsidered his tone.

“Sorry boss. Didn’t mean to panic yer. We’ve found three bodies…dead bodies.”

Before Nate could even get out the words, ‘follow protocol’, Tom was in front of him.

“Yes sir. We’ve followed the rules. The police will be here shortly, and Transport Underground’s legal eagles too. But I wanted you to come down. There’s something strange is why.”

Nate clicked his tongue impatiently. He had a full day’s work ahead of him and, well, dead bodies just weren’t his thing. He thought of his mother very briefly and wondered what she would look like in her coffin. He shook his head, as if trying to shake away evil thoughts, clinging like cobwebs to the filaments of childhood memories. “Ok,” he said, eventually understanding Tom expected an answer. “Ok, I’ll come down.”

Within the hour Nate was climbing over rock and dirt with his hard hat on, and yellow high vis jacket. He hated the underground, despite helping the engineers to draw up the plans for the tunnels. Tom was urging him to hurry but he was having none of that. He really didn’t want to roll an ankle. He saw the group up ahead – workmen, a couple of men in suits with high vis jackets taking the edge off the tailoring, and a senior executive from Transport Underground, and police.

“Just up here,” Tom said, as they neared the group. Nate could see the three coffins neatly stacked alongside each other with their discarded lids.

“Err…do you really thing this is necessary,” Nate half yelled to Tom, afraid of what he might see.

“Yep,” Tom said, “you’ve got to see this. Couldn’t believe it when I first laid eyes on it. Strange. Very strange, I reckon…”

“Ok Tom,” Nate said, nodding briefly to the lawyers and shaking the hand of one of his bosses at Transport Underground.

“Nate Phillips. Senior engineering draftsman on the project,” he said proudly, trying not to look at the bodies yet. On the other hand, the group were still looking at the coffins, and barely acknowledged his presence. His boss spoke first.

“Terrible business. What do you make of it Phillips?”

He glanced slowly at the bodies and immediately shivered, sharply drawing in his breath in shock. The bodies were of children, aged no more than eight years – one boy and two girls. They were dressed to look like dolls but that’s where the similarities ended. Each face had been crudely made up with white powder and blood. Nate presumed it was their own blood as fingers were missing and toes too. They could not have been there more than a month but that was impossible. The site had only just been excavated. As if reading his mind, Tom pointed to the nearby shaft.

“Bin there since the 1800’s,” he said. “Not hard to get these coffins down here if you knew about that shaft.”

Nate shook his head, the images of the children swirling about before his eyes. He felt as though he was going to heave his breakfast over his boss. Instead he swallowed the lump rising from his oesophagus and looked away from the nightmarish scene.

“Who…who could have done this…to children?” He searched the eyes of the group, hoping that someone would answer the insanity of what was before him, with something…anything…to stop his despair. Instead, no-one spoke, lost as they were in their own visions.

His boss spoke next. “Well, when will these bodies be removed?”

The police looked up from their own thoughts. “No time soon,” the oldest said. He was most definitely the sergeant, Nate reasoned. His tone; the obvious undertones of experience. He would have seen a lot and Nate heard the edge in his voice. Probably drank heavily too.

“We’ll need to rope this off you know?” he continued. “And our forensic team is on its way. In the meantime, no-one goes here and…if we can, we’ll need to keep a lid on this…for as long as we can. The media and all that. Don’t want it turning into a circus…yet.”

Nate’s boss nodded, looking at Nate for acknowledgement. “Yes. Yes, of course. Nate you’ll see to it that the work teams leave the site?”

“Sure. Yes. Of course.” Nate could not take his eyes of the young boy. There was something familiar about him but he couldn’t put his finger on it. And then it dawned on him. The young boy bore a striking resemblance to him. “Uncanny,” he said to himself.

“What is it Mr Phillips?” the old sergeant said.

“Umm…nothing. It’s nothing. Just thought I knew that…boy.”

The sergeant took a step towards him. “You know Mr Phillips, if you remember anything, anything at all about any of the victims, be sure to call us.”

Nate nodded. Not really there. Shock froze any response to the sergeant and drove him deep within his thoughts. In truth, the young boy looked identical to him. How could he tell the sergeant that? He put his hand out to his boss, wanting to make a good impression. “Ok, I’ll stay down here and supervise the work team and police as they rope off the area, and then make sure Transport Underground staff leave the site undisturbed. Right?”

His boss ignored his hand, and instead fished into his pocked for something he couldn’t find. He was a reformed smoker and, like all reformed smokers in times of stress, looked for his friendly companion. “Make sure it’s done right Phillips. I don’t want any more surprises today. Ok?”

Nate withdrew his hand. “Of course. You can count on it. Leave it with me.”

And so the lawyers, his boss and all the plain clothed police departed, leaving only Nate and his work team and a couple of uniformed police to erect the barricades and wait for forensics to arrive.

Nate stepped back from the scene, preferring not to have the bodies in his view. He found a big rock a little way down the tunnel and sat down, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. This was all he needed. The tunnel work had been going so well. Too well. Now it would put the schedule at least a month behind while police investigated the murders. He wondered if Transport Underground would blame him. Surely not. But then people did the strangest things when they were angry with situations they couldn’t control, including looking for a scapegoat.

He peered into the darkness of the tunnel upwards from him and shivered. It was the colour of blue/black ink, and as thick. He rubbed his hands together for warmth, noticing he’d forgotten his gloves. His fingers were bitingly cold and beginning to go numb. He remembered her rhyme…“or you won’t be allowed out to play.” When he was little he believed that if he didn’t wear his gloves, he would get frostbite and his fingers would drop off or worse still, that she would cut them off. He thought of the little boy lying in the coffin a few metres away. He had no fingers. Nate shivered again. He wished the police and his work team would hurry up and finish. He didn’t like the dark, or the cold. He was about to get up and see what the hold up was, when he heard a small voice. “Don’t go out on a winter’s day, without your gloves, you won’t be allowed to play. Frost bite comes with unwelcome speed; those gloves you’ll soon realise are what you need.”

He spun around towards the dark and saw the faint blonde hair of a child. He strained his eyes and the voice became a little louder. “My mummy is not very nice. Is yours?”

Before he could stop himself, he answered: “No. She is not nice. I hate her.”

The small voice answered back: “I hate my mummy too. She cut off my fingers…”

Nate jumped up then, really believing he was hallucinating in the dark. “Stop it. You hear me. Stop it!” He turned towards the men and just about ran to the worksite, stopping short of the coffins.

“Hey, Mr Phillips. Stop running in here. You’ll disturb the clues.” It was Tom. Nate was truly glad to hear his foreman’s comforting voice.

“…Sorry, didn’t mean to. Spooked I guess. Horrible business,” he said, pointing to the coffins.

“Well Mr Phillips, we’ve nearly finished here…packing up actually. Why don’t I walk you to the ladder. It’s a quick trip up that shaft to daylight,” Tom said, as if understanding his fear.

Nate nodded, trying to keep his teeth from chattering. The small boy’s voice becoming a distant memory, as he hurried with Tom towards the shaft and the beam of daylight signalling the entrance to a world far more comfortable for Nate than the inky blackness of the tunnel.

“Thanks Tom. You’ll stay until the forensics’ team gets here?”

“Sure Mr Phillips. Won’t leave unless they do.”

“Thank you Tom. I won’t forget your willingness to help.”

With that Nate scampered up the ladder, relieved beyond all measure to be leaving behind the dark…and that voice. Had he imagined it? As his feet touched the busy sidewalk, and the afternoon sounds of Kings Road greeted his ears, he forgot the young boy. ‘Imagination’, he said to himself. He hailed a cab, looking at his watch. Almost lunch and time for a quick sandwich before he tackled the meetings with engineering and an in-tray that looked like he’d been away for months.

Nate’s head drooped over his book, as his mantle clock struck 12 midnight. He awoke with a start and shivered. The room temperature had dropped. Bloody heater, he thought to himself. He closed his book and turned off the lamp. Time for bed, and to get under the warmth of the blankets. He opened his bedroom door and immediately noticed the steam that escaped his mouth. There must be something wrong with the heating. Had to be. He pulled the curtains back to check on the mist. It had completely enveloped his home. Swirling patterns played outside his window – dark shapes he dared not interpret. His fingers began to ache. What on earth was going on with the heating? He undressed quickly and got under the sheets, pulling back from the cold on his naked body. But he soon warmed, cocooned by the thick down of his doona. Only his face felt the cold as the fog seeped through the windows, through the cracks and the crevices. He drifted again, close to sleep, a small voice in his head the only thing he recognised before the black depths of sleep claimed him.

“I’m back.” The small voice penetrated his dream like state. “Shall we visit mummy?” He nodded. “Soon. Pot roast and a carving knife,” he heard himself respond.

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My new book ‘Belonging Places’ examines the universal theme of ‘belonging’, taking the reader on a journey through the eyes of three women – all at various stages of their lives.

“It’s a story that all women can relate to, and offers one answer to the age-old question: where do I fit in; where do I belong?” Maryann says.

Weston1-7 (1) small“It’s very much a healing journey for the reader and is set in real life scenarios. The issues my three central characters face are issues I’ve faced, and the women in my life have faced.”

The contemporary fiction novel tells the story of Liliana, Estelle and Jill. “Liliana Flint-Smith is young and starting out on her own. Leaving a dysfunctional family behind her and with nothing but a university degree in librarianship, Liliana moves to a remote village in the country,” Maryann says.

“Different from everyone else in the town, she must find her place in a society that doesn’t take kindly to strangers. With the help of an old woman who lives in the flat next to her, Liliana begins to find herself and discovers it was never about her changing, but about learning to be herself.”

And then there’s successful career woman, Estelle Wainwright.

“She’s burning up the career ladder and has just made editor at a national women’s magazine. Her husband Joel is also carving out his niche as an architect and, together with son Corey, is the picture of success. Or are they?” Maryann says.

“Estelle is fighting the tension within herself: work and home, career and husband, businesswoman and woman. She then has to navigate through a health crisis that will test the decisions she has made about how she lives her life.”

Our final character is Jill Bridges who’s ageing and struggling to stay afloat after the death of her lifetime partner, Maryann says.

“Her children are busy with their own lives, and she’s facing the prospect of a nursing home. But it’s her independence that makes her life worth living and she’ll be damned if she’ll bow to society’s plans for her,” Maryann says.

“She must find a way to triumph over old age and emerge into a life that still holds meaning.

“These are definitely experiences, challenges and triumphs women face every day. And that’s not to say that men shouldn’t read this book. There’s something in it for everyone, because that sense of belonging that gives us happiness in life is a quest all human beings, regardless of age and gender, are on.”

Belonging Places is available on Amazon:

In print, here;

As an eBook, here.

You can find out more about my books by visiting my website.

Freedom is one of those words that says a lot and a little. You can say you want freedom, crave it even, but staring at the horizon and lamenting the ties that bind you to a particular situation or place, is really not going to cut it I’m afraid.

Real freedom comes from within. It’s when you can rise above whatever is dragging you down and find a calm and centred place from which to view the world and yourself. Reactions and emotions are the ball and chain that prevent feeling free. Anger, sadness, frustration…jealousy even, are the irons of self made prisons.

Rising above life’s petty frustrations is not always easy. Human nature is often drawn first to the melodramatic and insular and second to the unconditional, and almost always not to the present moment.

And then there is the freedom that is relative. We bemoan an old knee injury and then see someone in a wheelchair. We ought to feel grateful for our sore knee but, hey, we give the wheelchair-bound a two minute thought and move onto the latte that is on the table at our favourite coffee shop.

What I know about freedom is this. There is inner freedom that takes work to achieve but it’s worth it. It’s real, and if you practice discipline, can be long lasting. And then there is the freedom of new experiences. Swimming in the clearwater of an unknown stream, watching a ceremony or ritual that opens your mind to new cultures, walking barefoot on the grass of a park in an unknown city at 5.30am in the morning.

I try to remember that in every new sunrise there is a beginning. If you are anchored to a particular place or situation, then cultivating inner freedom may just result in seeing the sun rise with new eyes. And that’s freedom.

My young adult paranormal adventure story, Shadowscape, that is all about mind power and heightened psychic sensitivity is half price until 3 February via Smashwords. You just need to redeem the voucher by quoting the voucher code HC74R. You can download to your Kindle or PC, Smartphone, Android or I-pad as it’s available in both mobi and e-pub formats.

I have almost reached the end of my National Novel Writing Month journey, writing every day and shaping my manuscript during November along with hundreds of thousands of writers from across the world. My final novella in the manuscript “Belonging Places”, is the story of Jill Bridges, an elderly woman facing the prospect of a nursing home, who fights to hold onto her independence. It’s a story of love and loss and how freedom can be found in the most vulnerable of circumstances.

Chapter 1:

She placed the delicate posy of lilacs on his coffin before it was lowered into the ground. He had loved to garden and the heady scent of the October bloom had always brought memories of his childhood. She wanted to fill his dark grave with the scents he loved best. She couldn’t look anymore at the disappearing coffin, so she turned away, a lump in her throat, hopeful no family members would approach her when she could barely speak. She wanted a moment alone to control her grief, so she could look up and talk to them all, tell them she would be ok. She turned away to face the hillside and listened to the priest reciting the graveside prayers. Oh yes, he would be accepted into the Lord’s house on angel’s wings. He was, after all, a good man.

They had been married 40 years, though he was slightly older than her by 10 years. Enough time for death to take him first and leave her widowed and alone. She remembered their first date. It had been a picnic at his uncle’s farm. It was spring, she recalled and what a spring it was, coming as it did after three rainy seasons. The ground was jumping with life and she could feel the fertility beneath their picnic blanket. She even remembered their first real meal together – crusty Italian bread and thick wedges of cheese, fresh ham and billy tea. They had been so innocent then. She was shy by nature and those early adult years had not been easy for her. One on one she showed her true self, but within crowds she would clam up, anticipating the end of her ordeal when the evening was at a close, and she could return to the safety of her home. But on that first picnic, she felt strangely at home with him, this man she hardly knew.

Bill Bridges was a man’s man, but he made an exception around her. She knew this; knew that he was putty in her hands, but she never used it against him, never. She wasn’t sure when she fell in love with him, whether it was on that first springtime picnic as they munched on the most wonderfully tasting bread and cheese, sipping the tea so that the flavours mixed together, so typically Australian, or whether the love came later. It had been so long ago. The tears ached at the back of her eyes as she recalled that picnic, surrounded by the wild daisies and the gentle hum of springtime. And now, as the coffin disappeared into the ground, the dull whirring of the mechanical gears, the only sound aside from the silent sobbing of his two children; their two children, she struggled to remember…their special times together.

They married quickly, within six months of that first spring picnic, and were so in love by then. Jill and Bill Bridges. It always had a nice ring to it, like they were meant to be together. And perhaps they were. She had had a good marriage, plenty of passion in the beginning and they had shared the good and the bad, like any strong couple. What affected her certainly affected him and vice versa. That was the way it was in their marriage, a symbiotic partnership. When she was depressed after her first child – postnatal depression they said – life was equally bleak for him. When he was wronged by a business partner, that man who long after remained nameless in their household, was her enemy too. In sickness and in health, was never truer for them. They even suffered the same ailments. Two peas in a pod, her mother had said, and she was grateful she had found love in this lifetime, from the beginning.

Their two children had come quickly, one after another, a boy and a girl, their pigeon pair. Life had been complete. That wasn’t to say they didn’t work hard. They did, for every penny they earned, and saved. They had made their home in a modest three bedroom brick veneer, in a small country town, a couple of hours from Sydney. It was a town where everyone was known to everyone, and they had become fixtures, joining in the various clubs and, in her case, the women’s groups. She knew she was particularly rated for her cooking. It didn’t matter what she cooked, she had that special touch. Her pumpkin scones were well known at the various fundraisers over the years. Jill Bridges pumpkin scones, she thought ruefully. Was that her contribution that would be remembered? She wondered how Bill would be remembered.

He had set up his own mechanics business not long after they had married. They had debated the risks: was it better to work for someone else and play it safe, or take that leap of faith on their own. She supposed being married had given Bill that extra courage because he handed in his notice to the largest mechanic business in their town, where he had worked since leaving high school some 10 years before and rented a small, rundown shed on the edge of town. It had been hard at first, and she had worked extra hours cleaning at the local motel, just so they could get by, but little by little their business grew, and now it was the biggest in town, run by her son Jeff.

Memories. She turned back to the graveside to see the coffin firmly planted in the ground. She was not expected to watch the earth being thrown over it. It was time to go. Her son and daughter Ellen were approaching but she had no desire to leave Bill. The tears came and she let them fall down her face, making no effort to dab them away with her handkerchief.

“Mum?” Elle said, in a particularly soft tone for her. She glanced at her daughter, noticing the grief that weighed her down. Unlike Jeff, she was close to her father.

“I’m ok Elle. Just give me a minute.” Her voice was stiff and formal. She was not as close to her daughter as she was to her son. Funny how that went, she thought, that Elle was the apple of Bill’s eye, while Jeff understood her, and was distant with his father. Family dynamics were at best, fathomable but not fully understood.

She reached out for her daughter’s hand, bonded as they were in that moment, by their grief. Jeff approached with his new wife Narelle, a pretty young girl and clever beyond her years. It was a good partnership.

“Mum, it’s time to go,” Jeff said, placing a firm and supportive hand on her arm. “Everyone else is leaving, and we should be down at the club to greet them.”

She looked at her son, wondering about his grief. He didn’t have the easiest of relationships with his father. They were too similar, both men’s men and as stubborn as each other. Jeff had taken over the business five years ago, when Bill’s hands and knees were crippled with arthritis and the dusk of old age had begun to fall. It hadn’t been an easy transition for Bill. He had built the business from the ground up with the sweat of his youthful years etched into every brick and mortar, every contract they had ever won, and into the all the relationships built over 40 years with workers, clients and the townspeople who supported them. He had resented Jeff’s new ideas at first, distrusted them and rallied against them. They were, after all, not his and he loved his business almost as much as life.

But never as much her, she thought. She had been his one true love, and he would have sacrificed it all for her, had she told him to. She turned back to Jeff, forgetting he and Elle were waiting on her.

“You two go, and be there to greet our guests. I need a moment alone…to say goodbye. I’ll be alright; just leave me be…for a minute.”

They were puzzled and worried by her request, reluctant to go but Narelle stepped forward. “Leave her Jeff…Elle. She needs this time. We can arrange with Father Percy to drive her to the club.”

So they left her alone with her husband. They were starting to shovel the earth over the coffin. She watched as the clods of dirt fell softly onto the red ornate cedar of the coffin. She pictured him in there, sleeping peacefully. He had died without any pain, knowing it was his time, but reluctant to leave her. He had held on, long after the doctors thought he could, and they had tried to make the best of those last few months. She had fitted their home out with rails, and non slip matts in the bathroom, and a special bed. They had oxygen cylinders in the bedroom and the lounge room, and Bill had used a walker until he could no longer manage. Then they had used a wheelchair. She wanted to keep him in his home, as long as she could manage and with palliative care, they had done better than predicted. Bill had only been taken to hospital to lie in his deathbed two weeks before he passed.

“Thud, thud, thud…” She should go now, before they finished, and there was only a mound of newly turned earth to mark his grave…until the headstone came. She reached into her bag and took out an old black and white photo of them taken on the day of their first picnic. The faces of two young lovers stared back at her, hardly recognisable now…except for the eyes. Real joy and a growing love were there in the depth of their expressions, windows to the future. Momentarily, she paused, drinking in the familiarity of his face, and the mischievous humour always at the edge of his expression. She put her lips gently on his photographed face, and kissed him softly. Kneeling down, she placed the photograph in the dirt as a talisman for him, so that he would know he did not need to make his journey alone.

“I’ll always be with you Bill,” she whispered softly.

The grave diggers had paused out of respect to allow her to say her last goodbyes. She got to her feet and nodded stiffly to them, wanting to maintain her dignity. She knew that now people would be watching her, alone, ageing and vulnerable. She knew that without Bill at her side, she would need to struggle to keep her freedom. She felt the pain in her hip. It had been replaced three years ago and she feared the other would need the same. She walked slowly to the priest’s car. Father Percy was waiting patiently for her.

“I know this is hard for you Jill,” he said, gently, “but Bill was a good man, and is resting with the Lord now.”

She nodded, afraid to say anything at all in case she began to cry again, and could not stop. The Lord gave her no comfort today, none at all. Rather, she felt only anger that she had lost her love, and at the prospect of the lonely years to come. She took a deep breath and got into the car, letting Father Percy take over the job of getting her to the wake, where her children would be waiting with the many of the townsfolk who had come also to say goodbye to her husband.

She wondered how she would get through the afternoon, and dug deep for a resolve. But what else was there for her to do. She would go home tonight, to their empty marital home, perhaps switch on the TV to drown out her thoughts. She would not be hungry, and would put the kettle on for a cup of tea, one cup not two, and then when she felt the heaviness and mercy of sleep come, she would go to their bed and lie there in the dark, conscious of the empty space beside her. And that would be how it would be in the long coming months, empty spaces where he should have been, and always her, feeling only half complete as though a part of her was missing. And it was.