Ever so slowly Jean’s nerves began to settle. When there was no more noise, her muscles relaxed and, when it became clear that the drama had past, she stepped out from the corner. She picked up the glass from the floor, lifted the edge of the curtains and peered out into the dark garden.
There was nothing and no-one to see. She stood for a while, watching, waiting, until she was sure that, whatever had been going on, was finished.
Well, that was it, her contented mood was shattered. She blew out the candles, checked the door locks and went to bed. It took a long time for sleep to come. She wasn’t afraid now it was past. Looking at it calmly, it didn’t really think that she had been in danger, and yet… Replaying in her mind, were the events in the clearing.
A gun man with an automatic weapon had crouched and fired. The noise and shock of all of that resurfaced and niggled at the edge of her memory, indistinct as it had been on the day. Lost in a fog of illness, it had been a nightmare that came back, in bits and pieces, over the following weeks. There were things she was told, things she thought she remembered. She accepted it was a part of her history, that, realistically, she would never completely forget. She spoke aloud into the dark room, a habit she had developed when her world became so quiet after Jim died. “It’s over Jean. It was just some country thing. Nothing happened. There is nothing to worry about.” But as she turned onto her side under the duvet, she acknowledged that she had been shaken to the core.
Eventually she slept.
There was a moment of disorientation when she woke in the strange room, but it was fleeting and she smiled as she threw back the curtains to a bright morning. The grass in the little garden sparkled with dew and already the wildlife was up and about.
Drinking coffee at the table outside the back door, she replayed the events of the night before. Here, in daylight with birds chattering and complaining in the trees, the rumble of a tractor somewhere far away, and the bleating of sheep on the rise just over the narrow river, she could view it all calmly.
Whoever had been outside with a gun had been very close to the house. But, they, hadn’t threatened her, safe inside. She knew that Diana had refused permission for the hunt to cross her land, years ago. Her friend was a vegetarian and totally opposed to hunting of any sort, but, she hadn’t been to the cottage herself for almost two years, and so her influence had obviously waned.
Jean decided that she wouldn’t mention it. There wasn’t anything Diana could do from a distance and Jean felt that, in the country, then country ways had to be respected.
It had probably just been someone out lamping, luring, and shooting rabbits, and there was no point dwelling on it any longer. She took her cup back into the kitchen, collected her coat and backpack and set off to walk to Hawks Farm.
There had been a few small changes in the area. A couple of new bungalows had been built on the road into the village. The farm itself was a disappointment. It had always been neat and pretty. Flower pots had lined the path to the little shop and tea garden, and there had been chickens running loose in front of the house.
Now, it appeared neglected, the paint on the fences was dirty and peeling, the pots were filled with weeds. As Jean walked closer she could see that the tea garden was deserted. The plastic tables and chairs were piled in a corner and they were grubby and wet. Weeds had grown around the legs. They had not been put there because it was the end of the summer season, but had been stacked for a long time. She rounded the corner of the building and was swept with disappointment when she saw that the farm shop was also closed. The display counters, which stretched along the front wall, were bare and broken, the place looked dark and dishevelled.
She went nearer, peered through the glazed door. The interior was destroyed, the walls blackened, and piles of twisted debris covered the floor. The paint on the door itself was bubbled and scorched. She looked up and saw the roof was bulging inwards. The shop had burned, it was shocking.
Selfishly she muttered, “Damn it.” This would mean that she would have to shop in the village. The locals had long since succumbed to the lure of the retail park, just a short drive along the motorway, and so the nearby shops were rather dull. There was a bakery which was okay, but the tiny supermarket was very lack lustre.
She was disappointed. Visits to the farm shop had been one of the pleasures of stays in the cottage. Diana hadn’t mentioned anything about it being destroyed. If she had been forewarned she would have brought more supplies with her. She didn’t want to go to a hypermarket and, if she was staying for three weeks, she didn’t want to have to make do with the limited choice in the village.
As she turned away a figure appeared at the corner of the building. Wrapped in a blue jacket and with a woollen hat pulled over her grey hair, Doris Smart stepped across the paved path. “Can I ‘elp you?”
“Mrs Smart, Doris. How are you?” Jean moved forward with her hand outstretched. As she reached where the other woman stood, it was a struggle to keep the shock from showing in her face. It had been almost three years and in that time, this once bright, bubbly, busybody of a farmer’s wife, had lost the sparkle that once lit her bright blue eyes, her shoulders had hunched, and her once round, clear skinned face had become lined and grey.
“Oh, it’s you. Mrs Duncan. I didn’t see it was you.” Unexpectedly the voice was still strong and, as Doris Smart smiled, the ghost of the woman Jean remembered showed itself.
“Doris, it’s lovely to see you. I came to buy some things but…” Jean half turned, swept a hand towards the sad, empty shop.
“Aye, well. As you see I can’t help you I’m afraid. Sorry.” Doris shook her head, waved a hand towards the gate, leaving Jean with no choice but to walk past her and down towards the road. Doris nodded once as she fastened the latch and then turned away to stomp back towards her front door.
With no other choice, Jean retraced her steps and walked into the village where she bought some bread and a pie for her lunch.
She would call Lesley, get her to bring some things. But, apart from the small disappointment about shopping there was a greater unease. There had been something unsettling about the feel of the farm and the change in the farmer’s wife. It was sad that the little shop had been destroyed but surely that wasn’t enough of a disaster to cause such a deterioration in the woman. She wondered if she should call Diana and ask her. Or, was she yet again poking her nose in where it might not be wanted. Lesley was coming in just a few days and there was no doubt that she would tell her to mind her own business. With a sigh Jean climbed the stairs and started to unpack her suitcases.