This is an extract from my new book, The Tourmaline Bracelet, released end of August 2017. This scene is between one of the main characters, Elizabeth Hughes, as she tells her daughter about the mysterious ‘visions’ she keeps getting, of an anguished soldier from The Great War.
The Tourmaline Bracelet
Elizabeth hugged her chocolate brown coat across her chest, fiddling with the huge wooden buttons on the lapels. The coat was the last gift that David had bought her; an impromptu Christmas present almost five years ago. The pair of them had taken the valley train down to Cardiff just a month before Christmas, feeling like naughty school children. She remembered David’s concern at taking time off from his job in the gas showrooms, and how she’d teased him. She had spotted the coat almost straight away in the C&A store, and had loved it. David had amiably pulled out his wallet and paid 25 pounds, which was far more than they could afford, but he had insisted. It had been his treat; his Christmas bonus blown in one afternoon. Now, as she snuggled into the fur, her frosty breath made a flurry into the chilly air. The heatwave of last summer was now a distant memory as she glanced up at the dark grey clouds scuttling across a near charcoal sky.
‘There you are mum!’ Fran hurried towards her, laden down with shopping. Her cheeks were rosy under a pink woolen beret, her smile beaming. ‘Nearly done! How about a quick coffee before we head home? I can’t leave Aiden for too long, you know how tetchy Bill gets. My treat.’
‘Yes that would be lovely.’ Elizabeth nodded in agreement, glancing at her watch. It was nearly three in the afternoon and they were due back before five. Bill would not last much longer than that, even though he considered himself a ‘hands on’ father, able to cope with the children. He would look so frazzled if Fran showed up later than expected.
‘Come on then, I know a lovely cafe just around the corner. They do iced buns as well. Marcie from work told me about the place ages ago.’ Fran linked her arm under Elizabeth’s and they set off, avoiding the splatter of rain that was threatening above. Her feet were aching in but the thought of a cup of tea before sitting on a crowded train was appealing. Her ankles had swollen like balloons under her boots and she knew that they would be red and angry later. But she ignored the pain; this was a time when she and Fran could be together. Shopping was a pleasant diversion from the humdrum of life.
The cafe was half full when they arrived and smelt strongly of baked cakes and jam. A bell tinkled above them as Fran pushed at the door, the glass panels partially hidden under an embroidered net curtain. More embroidery was evident on the windows; the curtains here positioned half way down the window, hanging on huge brass poles to give it a cottagey feel. Gingham tablecloths with dark wood chairs were arranged at angles around a cozily lit room. A rather large tea urn sat at one end of a long counter and a comely woman smiled as she approached them. She wore an apron embroidered with a Welsh dragon and daffodils, and Nadolig Llawen splashed underneath. A jaunty Christmas hat sat on her curly perm.
‘Table for two ladies?’ she said, holding a menu in her hands. ‘We have leek soup as a special today, and some lovely scones, baked this morning. Take a look.’
‘Yes, please that would be lovely,’ Fran replied, choosing a corner table next to the window. She pushed aside a small vase which held a drooping carnation and a salt cellar, before dumping her bags on the only available chair. From here the main street of Cardiff glistened under an unexpected downpour, turning the afternoon into dusk. Elizabeth watched as people scurried back and fro, heavy with bright Christmas bags. The Christmas lights had been turned on; brightening up what had become a dull afternoon. A huge Christmas tree twinkled in the square, a pale yellow star shining down from the top branches.
‘That’s better,’ she answered, stretching her legs out under the table. She shrugged off her scarf and coat, placing them onto on top of Fran’s caramel one; a relative pile of damp outerwear. Her two small shopping bags vied for room next to the large pile that was her daughter’s. Fran chatted away with tales of the children and what she should get them for Christmas. It seemed that the latest toys were Action Man and Barbie for this year.
‘Mam, are you listening?’ Fran’s voice interrupted her thoughts, and she shook herself from her daydream.
‘Sorry love, I was miles away. It’s been a bit hectic at work lately….,’ she replied, fixing a smile onto her face. The last few weeks had unnerved her. The vision of the man, dressed in army fatigues, popped into her head at unexpected moments. He had seemed so real, so alive. There was an innate sense of sadness about him too; of loss. What did he want from her?
‘Are they working you too hard again? Look, Christmas is weeks away, don’t get roped in to do any extra shifts like last year. They take advantage of you, you know that.’ Fran looked steadily at her; almond eyes and a determined slant to her mouth reminding her so much of David.
‘No, it’s not that; everything’s fine.’ She patted her daughter’s hand in reassurance. ‘It’s just that…’
She hesitated, finding it hard to continue.
‘What is it mam? Are you sick? You’re sick aren’t you,’ Fran repeated. ‘I thought that you were looking paler than normal. Don’t keep it from me.’
Just then the tea arrived. A young girl with a pierced nose and dreadlocks placed a teapot on the table, a motif of the group Pink Floyd emblazoned on her t shirt. Elizabeth felt overpowered by the scent of opium as she looked up at charcoal black eyes. Spilling tea onto the saucer, the girl dislodged the sugar pot as a scone edged off the tea plate.
‘Watch what you’re doing there, Roxanne!’ the woman in the Welsh apron approached, a cloth in her hand.
‘My niece,’ she uttered, by want of an explanation. ‘She’s a good girl really, but a bit clumsy. She left school without so much as an O level to her name.’ The woman stood a moment, prepared to chat more, but caught the look in Fran’s eyes.
‘I’ll leave you ladies alone. Enjoy your tea.’
‘Really,’ Fran replied to her retreating back. ‘Now, where were we?’
Elizabeth smiled wryly. ‘I don’t know where to start, love; really I don’t.’
Fran knew about her mother’s ‘visions’ as she called them, but had not inherited the gift herself. She was too self assured to entertain the thought of ghosts.
‘I worked the afternoon shift last weekend. Remember, I told you that I wanted to get home and watch that late film on ITV?’ Elizabeth played with a teaspoon.
‘Yes, that’s right; you phoned me Sunday morning.’ Fran replied, biting into a warm scone. Crumbs fell onto her cream sweater but she ignored them, watching her mother warily.
‘Well, I did watch the film, but it’s not about that. Something happened at work.’
‘What happened? Mother, you’re scaring me,’ Fran’s eyes widened.
Elizabeth placed the teaspoon onto the gingham table, her hands shaking slightly. ‘I was on my last break before the end of my shift. They don’t like smoking in the staff room, so I took myself outside for a cigarette. The nearest spot is at the back of the kitchens, where the gardens are. It was bitterly cold Fran, but it can be lovely and peaceful. I saw someone out there, Fran; a vision.’
She paused, unsure of her daughter’s reaction. The usual response was one of mirth or mockery, especially from her youngest Gary, but Fran looked concerned. She grasped her mother’s hand, which felt cold to the touch.
‘Look mum, and I mean this in the best way possible; you know I love you. That’s why I’m telling you that you’ve been working too hard lately. You need to rest more. Why, you’ve been talking about your bad legs and the arthritis, and how you’re always on your feet. It’s the water tablets and the medication; they’re making you see things.’
‘I knew you wouldn’t understand,’ Elizabeth bristled. She pulled her hand away, feeling foolish and wishing that she was back home, cozy in front of the fire. The wind outside rattled the window frame, swiftly and harshly as if in agreement.
‘Don’t look like that mum. I didn’t mean it, but you are looking pale, you have to admit.’ Fran’s voice took on a slight patronizing tone.
‘I know,’ she continued, her face lighting up. ‘Let’s go up to Raglan Park on the weekend. I’ll pack a picnic and we can take the children. The change of scenery will do us all good, and we can get some fresh air. Then we can get Bill to babysit and we can go to the pictures afterwards. I want to see that new film anyway but haven’t had a chance yet, what with the children to see to.’
Fran patted her hand, her eyes shining as she spoke.
‘Yes, that sounds lovely,’ Elizabeth nodded in agreement. She didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was working.
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