The car journey back to the farm was just as fascinating as the one into the city earlier, much for the conversation which centred around what Margaret wished she could have done with her degree, but also because of the row upon row of motor vehicles coming the opposite direction, as the two of them found themselves either leading, within or behind a row going in their direction.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she went on, “I love the farm but I feel like the years were wasted at uni.”

He tried to placate her sadness. “Working the land is a noble profession too Margaret, keeping the countryside for future generations.”

“You sound like my grandad years back.”

Where was everyone travelling to on this road? There was traffic enough in the local town, but nothing had prepared him for the amount of machinary rushing here, there and everywhere, all routes the same, small or large it made no difference, they all were congested, so much traffic that clearly the infrastructure could not cope. Queues formed at junctions governed by an on off lighting system controlling the flow, and when there was no control it was everyone for themselves, it reminded Mac of an ant trail, the little insects moving too and fro on a given path, carrying their heavy loads to the nest as they foraged.

The thought of her Grandad had Margaret thinking, she had not spoke for a good half mile. Then she explained. “I had a lovely childhood, Dad was so happy back then, the farm was everything to us all and to be honest it payed us well, in money and lifestyle, but these days it’s so hard to make a good living.”

“Depends what you mean by that Margaret.”

“By what Mac?”

“A good living. If there’s food on the table, and a roof up above I’d class that as good. And compare that with where we’ve just been, I know which I choose every time.”

Roundabouts! Another one. The highways agency appeared to revel in their number. There purpose was more of a familiarity to Mac, though giving way was of the opposite onus. Here queuing was required to get on to the system whereas back home the vehicles were invited in turn by the circulating traffic, if any met that is.

Macs mind wandered to home, There travel was so much different, not rushed or frantic, each vehicle, once on the major network had satellite guidance and proximity sensors, enabling steady, uninterrupted journeys without stops and starts, at a speed that suited the conditions. No need for gear change management or steering for that matter, just set the location and let the car do the rest. Go and give way was part of the operating software managing merging traffic. Even in his own town there was no need to take control these days, as the auto system had been adopted there a long time ago by the local council. In any case journeys were always kept to a minimum, most people worked, shopped and played from home anyway. “Why waste your life inside a vehicle,” his Gramps often said remembering stories told to him by his own grandfather, of gridlock before the final push.

Everyone here though was in so much of a rush, even Margaret made it her job to hustle for position and overtake a vehicle every now and then, one she thought was not up to speed, informing the drivers, in no uncertain manner of that fact on passing. Thankfully she did not take the risks some took. A couple of times Mac had closed his eyes when cars overtaking had done so on a blind bend or at break neck speed, wondering back to the incident in the cemetery and the accident outside the churchyard. Why did these vehicles change the temperament of their drivers, what influence had the metal carcass and noisy mechanics over its owner? Once ensconced courtesy was out the window, replaced by a competitive visitation, a need to better, to preen almost and revel in the spoils, Margaret took a slight part, perhaps sub consciously, perhaps even preprogrammed, but if prizes had been given she thankfully would have been out of the running, most of the time preferring to talk rather than compete, interrupting the discourse to curse at an idiot, as she put it, every now and then for their actions.

If the driving was found wanting, the roads were even more so. Hole after hole caught out Margaret’s position, shaking the land-rover with an intent to damage, the smaller, less rugged vehicles must be even worse off he imagined. If it was not a hole, then it was a patch of repair, a raised level of road completed but left rough, which again vibrated the suspension and brought noise into the vehicle.

“This must be the worst bit of road in England.” Margaret finally conceded on hitting another piece of missing tarmac, and at some speed. It shook the steering wheel in her one hand and she brought her other up to grip more securely. “What they like down Whitby?”

Good question. Mac wished he knew. “Much the same.”

“It’s a joke, we’re supposed to pay road and petrol tax to get these fixed ar’nt we?”

It was a leading question, more wanting agreement than debate. Mac went along with the topic. “So where does it all go to then.”

“Who knows, certainly not to these roads that’s for sure.” Bump! Bump! The offside wheels struck another one, first front then rear.

Petrol was expensive, and the tax on it probably explained why. Margaret had bought some before they left town, complaining of the price and calculating how much it would cost for the journey compared with two years previous.

“How much do you reckon is tax nowadays?” Mac asked, as though he knew the answer but wanted her opinion to be sure.

“I bet it’s more than half, it’s ridiculous, next time my car needs a new tyre I’ll bill the government.”

“Good luck with that.” He had overheard that colloquialism in the town a half hour ago and had been wanting an opportunity to put it into practice. He smiled to himself with the success of placing the phrase.

Margaret smiled back, a smile betraying how happy she was at spending more quality time away from the farm. She delighted in his company, her demeanour shining like a beacon in the night whenever they were together. Although nothing sexual had occurred as yet, apart from a kiss, a long kiss surprisingly, with tongues as well, the other night, their itemisation seemed to be taking shape. If the truth be known Mac liked the attention, Margaret loved to hold onto his hand when they walked, look into his eyes when they talked late into the evening after watching television, but in actual fact both of them were too tired for any liaison, the pregnant ewes and three sows had seen to that. Mac felt more like a creature of the night at the moment, having ensured, much to Walt’s pleasure, that “all lambs and piglets should be given the best start they can have. It’s what I do back home, when I can,” he had repeatedly told his employer.

Walt had responded favourably, with one of a number of praises that seemed to be have been pushed Mac’s way of late saying that his own family were very lucky to have a son who was so thoughtful and hard working, praise indeed coming out of Walt’s mouth.

Gradually the urbanised sprawl surrendered to a rural framework of subtle tones. It was a thankful reprieve for all senses, still not home, in fact a far cry from it, but more pleasing on the eye and ears than the concrete jungle just vacated. The two of them seemed to relax more as well with the city in their wake and a promise of nature ahead, Margaret slowed down her speed and Mac eased back into the seat, looking on to compare the greenery, only greenery, of field after field, wondering why it was not being farmed for arable instead of pasture, and not even that for husbandry was not in evidence everywhere.

So apart from the kiss, nothing had happened, for the time being the very way Mac wanted it to stay. Margaret on the other hand still had other ideas, and kept intimating of future times together, wondering where he might be going on holiday or if any girlfriends had been in touch. The farm came into view on a hillside over the other side of the town which nestled in the valley between. The awful, occasional field of yellow crop, oil seed rape grown for commerce, was thankfully on the wain now reverting the vista back to a more natural existence, shades of green and
honey filling tha canvas on a scene newly found. It was not home, but compared with the urban sprawl just visited was blessed indeed.

Mac’s thoughts travelled to Aunt Bessie again, and not for the first time this morning. Since seeing the fountain she had not been far from his thoughts and having not appeared in any dream of late was a worrying detail, one which he could not address having no influence to bring to bear on the events, but the fountain in the city did leave no room for argument, this compounded by the naming of the moon and stars in that earlier dream, names which had also proved positive.

Since establishing that fact, the Moon and Venus, he had not wanted to dwell on it, realising what sugnificance it held and had pushed it as far aside as was possible. Only by visiting the city today had the absolute, undeniable truth been presented. How could it be, that Aunt Bessie could invade a dream like that, tell of things from this world. She must have an ability which far outstretched any known science both here or back home. And what of him being a traveller….

Margaret interrupted, he had been quiet long enough. “Any news from Whitby?”

“Not much, Mum says the weather’s been good like here, She’s happy I’m happy.”

She smiled again, this time more widely. “You are happy here ar’nt you Mac. It’s like fate isn’t it. Us needing help and you coming along.”

If only she knew. Still what Margaret said was true. He was happy. “Yes I am,” he admitted, “and even more so for finding a true soul mate.” The hope was that this idea would suffice for the time being, hit the target, strike a nerve, he still did not want to betray Sal and the life which awaited back home. As much as Margaret’s advances had at times stirred him, those kind of emotions needed keeping reigned in. “In fact I feel like I’ve known you a lifetime Margaret,” he added.

Margaret frowned a little, a troubled frown showing signs of dispersion now the topic was broached. “Strange you should say that,” she began, “I am sure I met you when we were younger, on holiday in Scarborough or somewhere, I just get that feeling. Did you ever go to Scarborough when you were a child? It’s weird I know but…….”

“Some things can’t be explained,” Mac interrupted, “I think we did, go to Scarborough, we went all over.”

Margaret sighed. “We always went to Scarborough, where else did you go?”

Just the question he did not want. Why could he not think before saying something, play the coming moves like a chess game so has not to be caught out.

“Oh little places, well off the beaten track, my Mum liked to visit small resorts that were different, but names have never been my strong point. As long as there was sand and sea I was in my element.”

Margaret loved it when they had some common ground to their pasts so she went on. “What did you like about Scarborough? I liked Peasholme Park, the lake and the battleship display.” Bump! The wheels hit another rut.

That comment had done it, dropped him right in the mire and he needed a route out. “We spent most days on the beach to be honest,” he recalled with a look of true reflection, “we used to stay in a cottage a little out of town, so once we’d walked to the seashore, with our picnic, that’s where we stayed for the day.”

Aunt Bessie drifted back to his mind. And what was all that about being a traveller, having the protocol written for his accession, why was, if it was the truth, why was that protocol not complete allowing access back through the bridge or wherever, it did not matter where. Should he be looking for some other portal, call it what you will, some wormhole back through the membranes, where might it be?

Margaret was fishing again. “We ought to go Scarborough this year, for a day, or even a few days. What do ya think?”

What to reply? A flash image of the bridge came into mind. When would a return be possible? “Yep, that’s a good idea. I like the sound of that.”

“We can drop in at Whitby as well then, if you’d like to show me your place?”

That was certainly an unsuspected request, the two resorts must be near to each other. There was no backing out now. “I would like that very much, introduce you to my folks too.”

A month or two gave some possibility of reversing that promise, either by a disappearance or by choosing a different holiday destination. The truth was that if by then, or sooner, perhaps even in a number of weeks time, if no return did manifest, then having a holiday with someone who was fast becoming a close friend more than employer or workmate did seem to be an obvious scenario, only time could tell. But what about Aunt Bessie, when would she come through again?

A frightening thought then occurred to him, that she might never, appear again, and this world was here to stay, forever. Perhaps the protocols needed finalising with him still at home, perhaps there was no way they could be written now he was here.

The Shiver, along his shoulders, it was starting up again, anxiety. Mac licked his tongue about two dry lips and mouth, wondering if the sweet aroma of fear was detectable on his breath. Suddenly the seat was uncomfortable, the belt restraint too tight. Turning to look out the side window at the passing, continuous verge of hawthorn still in pale flower raised a little cheer and prevented Margaret from observing the ashen look, not a fashionable complexion to betray to any who looked on, especially one so close. Trying to breathe deeply, in a small vehicle, with a tightening seat belt without betraying what was being done was a task in itself, and one which did not go unnoticed.

“You ok Mac?” Margaret’s voice sounded just like his wife’s, and not for the first time.

“I just feel a little sick, probably hungry, I don’t make a very good passenger I’m afraid.”

Margaret jumped to her defence, trying to conceal her embarrassment. “Mac I’m so sorry, I never asked if you wanted to drive. I’m so used to just getting behind the wheel. Do you want to take over a bit?”

Now what? Driving on the highway would put others in danger. The tractor was one thing, safe out in the fields, but these fast vehicles on the roads were a danger in someone who had no experience. “We’re nearly home Margaret, it’s ok, it’s passing now anyway.”

“Well next time you can drive me eh? It’ll be nice to be chauffeured anyway. That ok?”

Leave some explanation until later was the best course of action so as they turned along the school road he agreed to the terms. “Sure, let’s get back and have a sandwich, then see how the lambs are fairing.”

Surprisingly the weather had been kind for the most part, raining after breakfast, which prompted their expedition in the first place, but warm and sunny in the city. Now, nearing the farm it was drawing in again and reverting back to the pattern of the last few days, spots of rain begining to pepper the windscreen. Overhead a leaden sky had replaced the promise of a reasonable late afternoon, one in which Mac was going to finish planting the potato field, unfortunately the imminent downpour was going to put a stop to that. Instead there would be some of the lambs to ear notch, tag and castrate, unless Walt had already done it while they had been away.

Mac wanted to be home. Imagine that he mused, thinking on the farm as home already. That thought, one he suddenly recognised as unreasonable, reawakened the shiver momentarily. How could he betray his own home so readily, think on this one with the same expectation, the same delight, granting it the same status of sanctuary, homecoming, welcome. Maybe because it was all there was, to hold on to at the present, a place to hide and be safe, surrounded by familiarity and friendship, a place to be at ease and shut out the madness that had found him wanting.

Whatever label it ought to have, getting to it quickly was now a problem, all of a sudden chaos had come to the town, manifesting as an urban size traffic jam more accorded the city just this hour left behind. Mac looked on bewildered by the event unfolding before them.

“It’s the school run,” Margaret said, exasperated at not beating the vehicular gathering. “We’ve hit the school run.”

A mess of sloppy parked cars, so many different designs and colours, both sides of the road, some seemingly abandoned in a rush to evacuate, others still holding a driver or passenger, hindered any progress at normal movement. Instead, there being only space for a single flow of traffic through the malaise, one car coming forwards towards them, then another navigated the opposite way, made for a very slow endeavour to pass the cream metal, wide open school gates now belching out a motley crew of rebellious adolescence. It was raining slightly, that was true, but why the students needed picking up within a yard of the entrance after their learning was not obvious to Mac, water was water, it posed no threat to man or beast, in fact it was the life blood of all. So why was this stampede to shelter in occurrence. A walk home after school had always been a refreshing end to his own school day, come rain or shine, and what of the journey time, by the look of this chaos it would be quicker on foot anyway.

Margaret spit out at them. “I bet half of these have only come around the corner,”

Mac joined in the reprehension. “It’s stupid ain’t it, they would all be fitter if they walked, and with petrol the prices it is it must be costing em a fortune. It’s a waste and it’s making us late and me hungry.”

Margaret seemed to respond to Mac’s plight. She pushed the gearshift to engage first gear and edged the landdrover forward. “They’ll not argue with this vehicle,” she laughed, “they’ll not want there precious cars scratching.” The ploy worked. Within a minute they were through, and on the final mile up the lane to the farm.

“Did you ever get taken to school?” Mac enquired.

“Me neither. Oh! Tell a lie, yes once. When a friend’s dad was late on his way to the office and it was raining hard. He picked us up on the way and took the three of us, but that was the one and only time. Did you?”

“Never, not once.”

“I suppose it was different back then though, no child molesters, drug dealers, street gangs and certainly not as much traffic.”

Mac went quiet. What was a child molester? It sounded self explanatory, but not wanting to be found ignorant to the topic it had best not be pursued at the present but filed to be researched on his own later in the library or perhaps in the newspapers.

He ought to agree though. “I suppose we had a nicer childhood really, we were lucky. I know I was.”

Margaret sighed. “That’s for sure, it needs to get back to those times, but I suppose it never will.”

The farm gate was still open, Walt had obviously not ventured out of the lambing shed since they left. The last three ewes were due sometime today. Parked up in its usual bay the almost blue and grey land-rover, masked by muck and debris, looked more at one now with its surroundings, in the city it had not felt so in keeping, a fish out of water would best describe its presence there. Now safe within the confines of the yard Mac also felt more at ease, the aura of an attack of anxiety dispelled, melted away by the fresh aroma of farm life and rural surroundings. Food beckoned.

Advertisements