A Time For Silence Extract

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die…
A time to keep silence and a time to speak.

A weak flicker of sun filtered down through naked branches, catching little by little the wreck of the cottage. It flashed on broken panes, shattered slates, crumbling stone, and then it was gone, leaving me staring into shadow. Picking my way past brambles, I pushed ivy aside to peer in through a blackened rotting window frame, and felt the dark breath of the house exhale around me. Echoes of a forgotten past. My past. All these years this cottage, Cwmderwen, had lain cradled in a tangle of thorns, like Sleeping Beauty’s resting place, waiting for the kiss that would awaken the secret it held. All my life, all my mother’s life.

Pure chance had brought me here, but I could believe deeper forces had been at work, drawing me to this spot. I hadn’t planned it. That morning, setting off in the dark from my mother’s door, I’d expected nothing but a long journey home. A week ago, seeing my fiancé off from Heathrow, I hadn’t dreamed of finding myself in this part of the world. But all the time I had busied myself with other plans, this house had been here, waiting.

For me.

Chapter 1

‘That’s my flight, baby.’

I could feel the satisfaction rippling through Marcus, so I released him and turned to look up at the board. BA0115 to New York. ‘God, I’m going to miss you.’

‘And I’ll miss you.’ He hugged me once more. I could tell it was the final parting. ‘But it’s only for three months. That’s nothing.’

‘Nothing for you!’ I growled. ‘You’ll be wining and dining and showing off to all those corporate bigwigs, and I’ll be advertising fudge bars. This is what Einstein meant by relativity, you know. Hey!’ I brightened. ‘I know. Take me with you. Smuggle me in your suitcase. We can run off to Las Vegas and tie the knot with an Elvis lookalike and a pink Cadillac.’

‘Mm. Tempting … but no. Too late. Already booked my bags in.’ He reached into his jacket for his passport and boarding pass as if to check, but really to gloat over them. He’d been angling for this trip for months. ‘You be good, Sarah Peterson. No mischief while I’m away.’

‘No Polish plumbers?’

‘You won’t have time for Polish plumbers. You’ll be far too busy thrashing out the wedding details with Mumsy.’

I groaned. ‘No pink Cadillac?’

‘Pink rosebuds. Humour her. Go with the flow.’

I muttered, Muttley-style.

He laughed. ‘Well. This is it. Take care, baby. Keep busy, be good.’

‘Skype, text, email, every day, promise?’

‘Twice a day.’

One more quick kiss, so distracted it almost missed, and I watched him walk away into the jaws of the security controls.

So. Where now? Out of Terminal 5, into a sharp March wind under a lowering grey sky, feeling deflated. Not grief and desperation, exactly, but a void was spreading under me, and it needed filling.
I found my car, slumped into the driving seat, and sat there. My phone, which I had left under the seat, gave its customary bleep. I fished it out, flicked through texts, looked at my messages. In just over an hour, I had missed three calls.

No point in ignoring them; see what the world wanted of me.

‘Sarah. Yes. Um …’ My boss, Trevor, slightly slurred as usual after lunch. ‘Hope you are, um … anyway, sorry, looks like we’ve lost the Solar contract. Not sure what, um … Disappointing, eh? Anyway, speak to you about it when you come in. Are you coming in? Or tomorrow. Yes. Right. Okay?’

‘Trevor!’ I slammed the dashboard, ignoring anxious glances from a couple in the next car. I’d given everything to get that contract. If we’d lost it, it was down to Trevor. Probably messed up the paperwork. So, instead of a project that could have set us up among the serious players, I was left with a fudge bar. It was sitting on my desk waiting for me. The manufacturer, a friend of Trevor, wanted me to market it, please, with erotic overtones like Flake but a hint of homeliness like Hovis? No. I didn’t want to market it at all. I’d told Trevor we should be concentrating on…

Oh, what was the point? It was just a job.

The next message kicked in, and my innards shrank. Marcus’s mother. ‘Sarah, darling. Caroline here. Did Marcus get off all right? I wanted to come and see him off too, but he said better not. We’re all going to miss him, aren’t we? Now you are going to come this Sunday, aren’t you? Russell and I are expecting you. After all, you’re practically our daughter already, so I hope you think of this as home. We’ve got such a lot to do before Marcus gets back. That wedding to arrange? Let’s see if we can sort out that dress this time. See you soon.’

That wedding. That dress. Not mine; I was just the mannequin. Caroline was the mistress and commander of the project, wrapping her octopus tentacles around me. The thought of Sunday dinner at the Crawfords without Marcus as compensation was too much to bear. I needed time to ground myself. Time to mourn my beloved’s absence without being tempted to murder his mother.

The last message. Freddie, of all people, out of the blue and out of the past. Freddie my one-time occasionally transvestite boyfriend, before I had traded him for Marcus and he had traded me for Japan. ‘Hiya Sai, how you keeping? Keep meaning to ring. Listen, when are you performing next? Still doing Murphy’s? There’s a couple of guys here, I told them all about this fantastic singer I know and they’re going to be over in England next month, itching to hear you. Any dates? Let me know. Love. Okay?’

Of course, I should have realised; Freddie still thought of me as a singer. How long ago was that? I’d been in a band. We’d started it at college, got a taste for the sound of applause, and tried to keep it going in the big world, seriously convinced that the next gig, the next song, would be It. Fizzled out in the end, of course; once Sean had got himself arrested, and Jemma – Jemma had got herself killed. That had been a dark time and a dark place for me. Too dark to survive, I’d sometimes thought, as I’d begun to spiral into depression and alcohol. Freddie, my ardent fan, had tried to convince me I could make it as a solo act. He set me up as a regular at a local club, promising world stardom, while I’d staggered from one night to the next in a miserable haze of pot and vodka.

All behind me now. I’d come through all that, out into reality. My glittering adolescent fantasies may have been swept away in the process, but at least my black dog days had gone too. I’d emerged, miraculously, the right way up. My casual day jobs crystallised into a career with Frieman and Case Promotions, my anarchic private life morphed into an engagement to a sexy young solicitor. Pension plans, mortgages, kids were on their way. I hadn’t sung in Murphy’s bar for what? Two years at least. I hadn’t sung anywhere except Sophie’s wedding, when everyone, including me, was too drunk to notice.

Sorry, Freddie, I’d moved on. Like I should be doing now. No good sitting there, waiting for Marcus’s plane to shoot away without me. Decisively, I started the engine. Now all I had to do was find the exit.
‘Where the hell is it?’ I asked the empty seat beside me, and felt another pang at the thought of three months without Marcus. Three months of weekend wedding planning with Caroline and the petty frustrations of a mediocre career in advertising. I needed him already. I relied on his granite certainties. Marcus would know the way out of here.

For God’s sake, Sai Peterson, you can find your own way. Of course I could, and I did, laughing at my own sense of empowerment. Driving home, I decided I needed to break out a bit, treat myself to a tiny dose of rebellion.

Back in my Guildford flat I phoned my mother. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas. ‘Hi Mum.’

‘Sarah.’ Her voice echoed down the phone, set against the mellow drone of Irish radio. ‘How are you?’

‘Coming to see you.’

‘Wonderful. When are you landing? I’ll be at the airport to pick you up.’

‘No need. I’m driving.’

‘Oh you can’t. Do you have any idea how far it is?’

‘Nothing to it. See you Friday night.’

So once I’d balled out Trevor at the office, rescued another contract and given our perfectly adequate trainee, Maya, her wings, I treated myself to an extended weekend. A flight out to Kerry would have been too immediate, out of one set of issues straight into another. I wanted the solitude, the liberation of the drive, windows down, hair flying, singing my lungs out as I headed for an ever-receding horizon. I may not have sung for years, but I was going to sing now. Just once more.

I sang everything from Madam Butterfly to Postman Pat. I sang across England and Wales. I sang onto the ferry at Fishguard. I sang across Ireland. By the time I arrived on the doorstep of my mother’s cottage, buffeted by the Atlantic roar, I could barely croak a greeting. She nursed me with honey and whiskey.

We walked and, when I was capable, we talked, about nothing that mattered. She asked me, ‘How are the arrangements going?’ I said, ‘Fine, missing Marcus.’ She nodded understanding, and that was it.
Weddings were not a subject I felt I could discuss with my mother. Too sensitive. My parents had divorced, and my father had gone off to Another Woman. Mum had been left like a wounded bird, washing up eventually on this distant shore, with her whiskey bottle and her art.

She was bearing up, I decided, watching her critically. Or putting a good face on it, losing herself in her painting. I ought to come more often; I couldn’t have her sinking into lonely depression out in County Kerry. But in the small hours of Monday, as I got ready to leave, I made a mental note to take the plane in future. I really hadn’t grasped how long the journey would be.

I did sing a little, as far as the ferry, but the sea was far choppier this time and when I drove onto dry land I was sealed in nauseous silence, vowing never to go near a boat again.

The negativity of sea-sickness refused to wear off, so I stopped at the first town I came to, looking for a coffee and a chance to re-orientate.

As I walked, I caught my reflection in the plate glass window of an estate agent. Washed out, hair limp, bags under my eyes. Great. I tried a smile. Okay, a bit better.

Then I looked through the glass. We’d been pouring over property details in recent months, apartments in converted Regency houses, dockland developments, semi-rural residences with hot tubs and commuter connections. But we had idly day-dreamed about a little rural hideaway, far from the city. Marcus had this romantic idea of a turreted hunting lodge on wild Scottish moors. This was west Wales; not Scotland, but still Celtic. There were hills. I looked to see if there were any turrets among the adverts for modern bungalows and drab terraces.

An old rectory. Way too big. A converted mill. That sounded better. Interesting.

Then I saw it. The name. Cwmderwen.

Just a fly-blown sheet of paper, squeezed in among building plots and garage leases. No picture to tempt. It had been there for months, years maybe, slowly fading.

‘Cwmderwen, Llanolwen, cottage with outbuildings, suitable for development.’

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