A cock crowing was the next thing he heard. Where was he? The outbuilding of the farm. He remembered. It was not home by any stretch of the imagination but at least the room was cheerful. Clean white walls, blue linen, oak floor all made for a better awakening, a pleasant return from sleep. Outside the sash window it was daylight, but was it five minutes since he drifted off or a new day? He could not tell. Had he only enjoyed a cat nap or had a whole night passed him by without any remembered dreams?

The handheld told him. Six nineteen in the morning. The comfort of the double bed had blessed him with ten hours sleep, he must have needed it. He had needed it, the hard concrete surface of the hut had been a place to lay but not to sleep soundly upon. It probably contributed to those vivid dreams of home too.

“I’ll have some bacon ready for ya.” The old farmers words came back to him. Mac jumped up quickly out of the bed. “He said for six, better go and see.” The words had no sooner left his lips than a bellow from the cook drifted across the yard. Mac rushed down the eight or so stone steps like a chastised child, hurrying so as not to be shouted again.

The call was not the only item on the air. An aroma of bacon leached from an open, downstairs window competing for attention with cow-muck and morning dew. He found himself rushing across the yard in somewhat of a panic, picking a route carefully as he trod. What was he doing, why rush so? The answer was inside the farmhouse and it silenced his questioning. He needed this work, it brought money. For all the worry of not being late though, he felt a taste of adventure at large, something to be positive about, a new dawn in more ways than the rosy glow which tinted the horizon framing the building in front of him.

There was no greeting as such as he entered the hallway. “Need t’get yon frickin field ready for barley tday. You know what to do?” Melody again conflicted with such a stern statement of voice.

“Sure do. Disks, harrow.” Mac sat to the grey plastic breakfast table and tucked in to a plate of splendour already deposited there.

“They’re in yon field.” The elder pointed out of the window to where the implements stood, Mac could just see the top of them over a somewhat dilapidated field boundary wall. The farmer had on him a fresh, green pair of overalls, but his cap was the same, and at that same odd angle. His withered facial features looked no better for the intervening hours. “You’d be better wi sum o’ these I recon too.” He offered up a pair of grey Wellingtons. Kindness or practicality? Mac could not make his mind up, but favoured, and hoped for the former. “And them if ya wants em,” he added, tossing a new pair of blue overalls on to the table top. “I recon em your size.”

Mac unfolded them. “Thanks, yes they’ll do nicely. I didn’t catch your name yesterday? Mine is Mac.”

“Didn’t frickin give it, that’s why.” An awkward silence fell for what seemed an age. Mac ate a piece of sausage dipped in the gloriously yellow free range yolk of his fried egg. “Name’s Helliwell, Walter Helliwell, you can call me Mr Helliwell, or Walt, whichever ya frickin likes.”

“Walt would be easier, its my fathers name.” That was a lie, but fire needed fighting with fire, and if he was ever going to survive in this new life of his he would need to harden up and give as good as he was given.

“Never liked the frickin name meself.” Walt admitted. “I was called after me grandad.”

Now then, what was that? Conversation of sorts? What could he say. “Oh! Thats a shame!” What! He felt himself shrivel up at such a weak response. What stranglehold did this old mans attitude have on the proceedings? He felt powerless to bring any bearing on the discourse. “Still its not a name that defines a man.” He shrivelled again on realising too late that once started he was going to have to finish off the saying and the old man would not appreciate its message. To his relief though Walt Helliwell walked into the kitchen not listening at all to what was being said.

Mac quietly finished his hearty platter of fried bacon, eggs, sausage and dip-bread, drank a huge mug of tea and was just about to leave the table when Mags, if that is who the herdswoman of last evening was, came through the door. He sat back down eager to make her acquaintance.

She hung up her long wax coat on the one peg by the door, a garment far too warming for this unseasonal spring morning. He was correct in the assumption made yesterday from his secret window. She had little weight on her six foot frame although that did not detract from her figure. Every curve of blue denim and red t shirt was in the correct proportion, and to top off what some would describe as a lanky frame, a mass of long flowing black hair waved from side to side masking her appearance for a moment. When she finally brushed it aside her true beauty was revealed. What a lovely face she had. A gorgeous freckled face. Sal’s face!

A shiver started up, on his shoulders at first, then it slowly spread down each arm. It was not a cold shiver but the one heralding anxiety, the one that emptied blood from above the neck and rendered him unable to rationalise any thought. He felt his jaw almost hit the table. Mags did not see his expression, she was carefully scanning the doorways for someone else. Quickly he recovered his posture. “Mornin!” He spoke first, a little awkwardly, trying to force out the word from a mind with no vocabulary.

“Mac?” she enquired. Her voice matched her figure, unobtrusive and slight. She seemed bothered about something, but strangely it was not him.

“Mags?” He answered with the same intonation in his voice, quiet and unassuming, trying to reassure her that whatever was worrying her, he was no threat to add.

“That’s what Dad calls me, I prefer Margaret.” She surrendered a timid nature toward her parent. “Dad told me of ya last night, says you’re after sum work.” She absolutely and without question did not own him and somewhere behind a foggy veil that contained his emptying self he found that fascinating, bewildering, for if he recognised her, or Sal in her, then why was the same not reciprocated. By now the muscles of his legs had received the shiver, it moved his limbs awkwardly to disperse the adrenaline rush. He had to retreat, but how?

“Breakfast here Mags.” Walt appeared through the kitchen door, plate in one hand, cup of tea in the other. As he walked it was obvious to all that his early morning joints were the same age as his face. Mac’s thoughts focussed a moment. What a dichotomy this hard worked man presented. For all his bombastic control he seemed to have a caring, helpful side competing for the upper hand. Was it these two extremes, bitter and sweet that had rendered him so withered a figure.

He made a decision. “I’ll get to it then.” Giving up the only chair for the new arrival and in case of chastisement for loitering from her father, whose grimacing face seemed to instruct without the need for words, he left them to it. He needed to remove himself from the equation and give himself time to think, to formulate what to do. What to take on board as matter of fact and what to dismiss altogether. A faintness overtook him for the outer, grey door but he withstood it and moved one heavy leg then the other over the cracked flooring. Now he had more than the field to contend with, he had a woman who was, but was not his Sal as an employer and that was going to take some rationalising. Maybe by eleven o’clock he would not have the bother of it at all. Eleven! Of course. “I’ll take a break at eleven if that’s ok, break the day up a bit,” he called back down the hall on reaching its exit.

“May rain tomorrow so see how far ya can get.” Mags added. It was the only parting remark from the farming pair so he left to dress for the part, under each arm he carried his newly acquired work attire.

Once outside and away from the crazy bewilderment a kind of understanding slowly returned to his day sponsored by the panoramic view of green wandering countryside beyond the farmyard. Out of sight, out of mind almost, though what to make of what he had just witnessed was totally beyond him at the moment. Thankfully he had a task to fulfil and needed to get on with it.

Farming was second nature to his family, and although not his own occupation he knew exactly what the coming day called for. In fact, if a stick came to a lift he could run the entire farm of rolling hills and stream filled vales, with some help of course. There was a milk herd to husband and arable land to manage by the looks of it, but apart from the machinery, the general farming day seemed to be identical to his Gramps’. Why would it be any different? Beast were beast, farmland was just that and crops followed the same cycle, planting, growth, tending and harvest. He changed into the overalls, donned his new wellies and emerged from the bedroom annexe, hopping down the steps to attend the tractor.

A morning of disking was accompanied by an ever moving sun, a disturbed hare or two and a flock of sheep over the dry stone wall. Their black and white faces warily eyed him every time he approached but none were scared enough to instigate a run. A few of the new mothers called to their newborn but he could not hear them over the noise the tractor made.

By quarter to eleven half the field was prepared and he was on his way, a different path, but one he knew for its foxgloves and potholes. “Is it any use walking to this bridge again today?” Needing to put some thoughts down he talked to his diary. “Perhaps I should leave it ’till a week has passed, I really miss you Sal.”

Should he tell her of Margaret? He ought to. What if he never made it back alive but the story did. “There’s a woman here called Margaret,” he began, a little hesitant at first, “her dad calls her Mags, who, for all the world looks just like you, I am not joking either Sal, her face is the spitting image of you, in fact I would say she is you but in this world, a bit thinner, but your height and everything. This place gets weirder and weirder Sal. What am I going to do?”

A dark storm cloud hit his mind with a panic, it reflected in his voice. “If you’re here, what if I meet myself? Heaven above Sal. It must work today. I’ve got to make it back to you.” He ran the last quarter mile of neighbouring fields and stoney tracks and came to the bridge five minutes early.

No one was about. He leaned over the bridge wall and looked down. Two parallel tracks of steel ran in a west east direction, they cut a swaithe through both the countryside and his life. A slight wind rushing through the trees kept him company while his anxiety ebbed and flowed to the metronomic sway of the branches. Several deep breaths of fresh air replaced fear with longing, a hope of resolving the situation and finding his family. Eleven o’clock, Mum would be taking eggs to market not two hundred yards away from where he stood. Two hundred yards, but further than anyone could ever imagine.

Going through the same proceedings as before he slipped down the gravel banking side at a minute to the hour and ventured under the stoney archway. Nothing. What was he expecting? “Don’t be stupid Mac,” he chastised himself, “you came through that way. Dark flow must have something to do with this. What can I do?” Still nothing as he frantically walked back and forth.

A noise! The train was coming. He hid behind the bridge and it rattled passed. He jumped down to the track again and repeated his ritual. Nothing. Desperate and disappointed he made a slow return to the field, taking a slight detour to the supermarket to buy some fruit and biscuits for lunch. What else could he do? He was stuck, marooned in time in a place not chosen by him but by some other. Was there a reason for him being here or was it all just a fluke of nature?

The rain held off for the rest of the day, as it did the next, the barley was planted and by the weekend Mac had kind of settled into his new found role and routine. Breakfast at dawn, full days work and evening meal to finish. Walt paid him forty pounds with each dinner, at the same time making sure, in no uncertain terms, and in his own belligerent manner, that Mac knew what the following days workload was. Margaret had not crossed his path again as yet, though he had seen her from his bedroom window and she had waved to him. He had so many questions to put to her but was relieved the opportunity had not presented. What should he ask, or should he not bother? The truth was he was intrigued to find out about her. How she had grown up, her childhood. He had known Sal since school so he wanted a comparison of their lives. Or did he? The dilemma had kept him company most hours and no matter what rationale he applied to it the fact remained this woman was another version of his Sal. She could have the answer to why he was here, even though she was blissfully unaware of it.

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