Margaret felt so soft, so smooth, so lovely. Laid with him in their bed, under the new black silky duvet she had bought for them, asleep in his arms she was all he wanted, needed, cared for and loved. She was perfect. In this world that was. It had made him angry again, the failure of the bridge today, but counting every blessing and now ready for sleep with a woman he loved found his eyelids heavy and his breathing regular, hypnotic.

Ever so slightly Margaret shuffled a little bringing his hand in touch with her bare breast. He cupped her flesh, feeling a beat or two from her heart before relaxing his grip. In her sleep she reached behind to hold him in her free hand. His excitement did not register to rouse her sufficiently from slumber. She was a very peaceful, deep sleeper, hardly ever moving position through any night. Except for the odd twitch or two, or a slow gradual turn from one side to the other the bed covers could remain unruffled from dark to light.

Mac however was the exact opposite. Often writhing on this side then that, legs bent then straight, an arm under the pillow then not. How Sal or Margaret never woke was a mystery. Not to say it bothered him either, these nocturnal antics, very seldom would a darkened bedroom present itself unless it was time to rise.

Should the secret be told, the twin in that other life, what good would it do if it was? The two could never meet whether or not, but doing so would ease his conscience a little. Having never encountered this emotion, this keeping of a secret, the idea being quite an alien one to him he had no experience to draw upon. Alien! That label brought on an inward facing smile in itself. He was an alien, in the true sense of the description, belonging another country, nation, unfamiliar, but also in Margaret’s case, of another world. His main dilemma at the moment however was being an alien with a secret.

All the evidence needed was on record and he was determined more than ever to make a stand, bring the family in on this and future travel. It had been easy for Aunt Bessie, she was not married in her own time, though he remembered the girls saying in that dream that she had a husband somewhere else. But certainly she had no one to let down by her absence as far as his own clan were concerned, a free spirit able to wander time under the guise of her historical research. Was that revelation of a spouse a true one he wondered.

With him it was different, totally different. People depended on him being around, Sal especially with their little one on the way. It was not anything of a monetary value, his contribution to family life, it was simply being there on hand to support and care, love and be loved in return, for being the recipient of affection was not to be overlooked either, giving love was important to every soul. Knowing love is received, and appreciated is as important to someone sharing it as to the one basking within its warm and safe waters.

Coming back had been something of an anticlimax, a none event in fact. No furore as he walked through the gaping archway, just an odd but fantastically marvellous realisation, revelation, that the railway tracks were there one moment and the next gone. No symphony of sound or visual kalaedescope, just a walk, slowly and safely back into a world lost for so many days, as if it was the most natural a pastime to be doing. Fetching bread from the supermarket had offered another attempt at the bridge, and thankfully working on the diary when Margaret came to their room after morning parlour to ask if he would be the one to go meant his handheld was in his pocket.

Walking back along the familiar pathway, new hoody but foreign flag now, who would be first met. What would be their greeting? He walked for a few minutes capturing the essence of his good fortune, pausing every so often unable to believe his luck. He was home. No one came into view. Typical. He had so much to say and not one person was at hand to listen. Still after these first few hundred yards or so of home territory it felt as if it had never ever been lost. This path, so familiar, like an artery running through his life had seen a boy and man walk its distance. Now, home at last, everything was going to be alright. Within the familiar oak tree tops the crows sang of his return, each murder calling forward to the next group of nests as the church came into view. The church, thank goodness, his own church there at last. What about the family though? He raced across to the black iron gate, his own black iron gate. It was there, as large as life and as solid as ever. The gate which in opening summoned up his return to normality.

At the top of the garden steps was a surprise. Pinned to one of the Spruce was a small laminated sign. It read ‘Welcome Home Mac’. Written with a different colour for each letter it was his first indication that Aunt Bessie had been weaving her web of intrigue. She knew, somehow she knew that today would be the day of her nephews reappearance, and as he gingerly, tip toeing almost, made the lower aspect of the garden there they all were, visible through the rhododendron bushes, sat, stood, all about the patio, patiently waiting.

Sal spotted him the first. Her eyes had been fixed to the garden path, and even with her larger figure draped in a pretty sky blue smock, was quickly up and off the bench seat as the waterwheel turned in its merry dance.

“Mac!” she squealed. All the others jumped with surprise.

“Sal!”

Now quickening his pace they met at the pink hydrangea, almost bumping into each other at the corner turn of the path. Sal threw her arms around his neck and gave him a massive hug. That together with a prolonged kiss of missed lips melted his heart and rooted him to the spot. Oh how he had longed for this moment.

What to say, that was the question? “Look at you, you’ve grown so much.” The words were so inadequate.

“Don’t worry love, it’s going to be ok.” Sal could see the torment in her husbands eyes, such a troubled expression of grief and sorrow. She quickly put his mind at rest. “C’mon we’re all waiting.”

What a homecoming, the family almost in its entirety. Mum, Dad and Sal, his sister, their grandparents from both sides, their parents too, all dressed in their meeting clothes. Best shirts and dresses, no work trousers or utilities, Mac felt underdressed for the occasion. He had missed them all so much, had not realised just how much until now. This very second it all became obvious, seeing them again brought on a degree of remorse for the time spent elsewhere. What more could have been done though, to bring this day sooner?

The dilemma rattled about a bewildered mind for a moment and teased at his conscience. What could he have done? Nothing as far as could be remembered would have made any difference. Perhaps if not taking to the farm job and trying more on the bridge? How would he have survived though, no money or suitable shelter? The guilt would not disperse no matter what spin he put on it bringing a sinking feeling to his stomach. Nevertheless the paramount fact remained, he was back now and belonging once again. This bad feeling needed ignoring. It would have to take the route it chose and wend a way into oblivion, for he was having none if it.

Belonging! That was a strange concept to handle now too. Belonging, where? He had the wherewithal at his disposal to belong absolutely anywhere he chose to. A strange concept, one worthy of more thought at a later time, because as strange as it was there was something much more so in the offing. A much stranger concept, The fact that around this welcome home feast, prepared and cooked to a perfect schedule, one in time with the moment a son, husband and father to be walked back into their lives all his family was gathered knowing his reappearance would be at this very moment.

Every one of them applauded the couples final few steps taken along the cobble stone pathway which led onto the woodworked raft of decking. Sal made way for one cuddle after another, a kiss on the cheek, one or two on the forehead, some delivered with tearful eyes, most with gaping smiles. What a homecoming indeed. All of that worry and contemplation need never have been endured. Mac could not believe his good fortune, the opposite of what he had fretted over for so long. No difficult moments, no anxious disbelieving frowns, just congratulations and celebration. Why? Because apparently, and thankfully, they all knew his secret! All of them, even his more beautiful than ever, pregnant wife, Sal, with her constant and affectionate smile worn across her freckled face. Those freckles, that smile, it spoke more than any sentence ever possibly could. A proud smile, of satisfaction and hope, love and appreciation for the man in her life returned safely into her arms.

“I imagined this would be so difficult,” he explained, picking at a piece of bacon as if he had never been anywhere.

“We still want to hear all about it,” Sal insisted. “Aunt Bessie did not have all the facts.”

‘Oh yes, Aunt Bessie! I bet she didn’t.’ The thought immediately introduced disappointment to his churning belly. What was it, this feeling? This time a suspicion towards his own Aunt, an emotion not called upon before, not needed, learned or employed in this his own world. Yet here it was, inside him, available to use. Aunt Bessie did not deserve this suspicion, surely she had been responsible for all the families peace of mind in his absence, of course she had. But she did know something else, something about that other side, something that for the time being should lay hidden, perhaps ought never come out. Maybe that was the reason for this attitude towards her. Anyhow, where was she?

Gramps continued the explanation. “It’s a new era Mac, Aunt Bessie said. This council want your acceptance so much that for the first time ever they’ve agreed to our family knowing. They say that they owe it you with the mistaken crossing an’ all.”

His mum was stood behind him. “They still don’t know how it came about Mac.” She rubbed her sons shoulders as she spoke, a massage of sorts, tender love really, a mothers love, delivered only as it could from one who had borne him.

“It was so strange, let me tell ya, not knowing what was happening. I kept a diary. Took lots of photos. You’ll never believe some of the sights, and the society, well I could only feel sorry for them most of the time.” He was excited at finally offloading the burden, the unbelievable truth of where he had been.

“Let’s see Mac,” Sal was even more so, excited. “Aunt Bessie told us a bit, but I can’t imagine it, another world, show us.”

“Your voice has a different twang to it,” dad said. “It’s a bit broader than it was.”

Mac thought of Walt. “That’s no surprise.”

He began to describe his new world, his job there and kindly boss and all the escapades that had befallen him. All except one, which he kept hold of and did not mention one hint, not one suggestion. Where was Aunt Bessie? She needed to do the same. Sal had not questioned him over her otherwordly twin and so he concluded that the dream had some days ago about the girls was just that, a dream. Aunt Bessie must keep her own council in this matter too. It looked like she already had. No one had mentioned Margaret, but he needed to meet up with Bessie very soon so as to find out just what had been disclosed. Her absence was uncomfortable, alarming.

“Where is she?” He finally plucked up the courage to ask, “our Bessie?”

“Oh you know Aunt Bessie.” Her brother spoke with humour.

“A law unto herself,” Beth added, and she should know having seen her grow up, but only of late appreciating the truth behind those lengthy absences all these past years.

Dad answered his sons question with a more direct approach. “She’s been here, there and everywhere while you’ve been off Mac I can tell you, organising this and sorting out that all in an effort to get you back home. I think it shocked em all when you disappeared so abruptly.”

“Not nearly as much as me.” Mac’s humour set a laugh to the diners, some seeing the funny side of the joke, mum and grandma taking on a more serious understanding of the emotion behind the sentence, and attaching a supportive element to his words mum stood up and gave him another hug, cradling him in her arms as if he was a teenager again.

Sal was sweeping slowly through the photos in between mouthfuls of baked beans. “It almost could be here couldn’t it, then you see something strange, what are these Mac?”

“Pylons, they carry the wires for…”

“Electricity,” Gramps interrupted. “My grandma used to tell me of em, all across the fields and vales, there was one in the lower field up to a century ago, didn’t carry any wires. She used to play on it when she was a kid, make rope swings an the like.”

“They’re all over the place, believe me, so ugly.”

“And look at the vehicles.” Sal had pushed to another few shots. “Where are they all off to?”

“It’s a traffic jam, don’t know where the jam comes into it but that’s what they call it.” Mac took another sausage and a few more mushrooms from the carrousel in the centre of the table and refilled his plate.

“Were you actually trying to cross that road then Mac, do they stop and give way?”

Mac laughed out loud, almost spitting out a piece of fry bread. “You’ve got to be joking,” he laughed, “they’re in too much of a rush to let pedestrians across.”

Sal passed the handheld to Beth. She was just as keen to see the photos and was itching to get her hands on the device. “Will you just look at that.” She was talking about the traffic still. “Fancy wasting time stuck in that.”

Sal took another scoop of beans to her plate and caught Mac’s enquiring expression. “It’s my latest fad,” she explained. “Can’t get enough of em.”

The gate at the top of the garden made its sound. The familiar clang it produced when left to close itself. Everyone looked at everyone else. Aunt Bessie must be here, there was no other expected. Mac jumped up to go and meet her before she made the lower terrace. He needed to establish what had been told to the family. Was she going to keep Margaret a secret, did she know of her any way? Up to now the two of them had only met in his dreams so maybe she knew nothing at all. As he took to the lawn another emotion took hold too. The reason for this subterfuge. Margaret. She was now in the self same position Sal had been in these past weeks. Without the man she loved and alone once again in her world. Should he feel guilty, was it his fault, his doing, ought he feel this responsible. No time to worry over it for the present for Bessie was waving both arms in his direction.

“Mac! Dear boy,” she shouted with so much love and enthusiasm that she almost lost her footing on the steps. It was Aunt Bessie’s way, to shower love on Mac and his sister, she always had done and today he needed it more than ever. Along with her excitement, dressed as she was in her finery, long, pale purple dress and hair to match, she certainly knew how to make an entrance.

Mac rushed up the garden to embrace her. “Am I glad to see you,” he whispered, “what do they all know?”

“Mac, Mac, don’t get in a tizzy! I’m so sorry I couldn’t come through to you. The membranes suffered some able energy expansion. I’ve been trying to contact you, this is the first dream I’ve been able to link with.”

Mac’s jawline dropped, his mouth gaping open. “No no no no no Bessie no. This can’t be….”

“It is dear boy. Why don’t you ever know, I can’t work that one out yet either.”

“No!” This time the word left his lips louder than ever, a much more forlorn tone to the cry too.

“Sorry Mac, the proximity dates have all been mucked about. They’ll be a touching next in three more weeks.”

“This can’t be happening Bessie, I don’t know how much more disappointment I can stomach.”

“Courage dear boy. It will pass quickly. Three weeks is no time at all in the great scheme of things, hardly a wisp.” Bessie almost mused as she spoke.

“Not when your wife is expecting your first baby,” he complained.

“I know Mac, but they are all in the picture now.”

“Are they though? Is this dream truthful Aunt?”

“Of course it is Mac, anything which transpires between you and me in any dream state is always the truth. Other interactions are imaginary but ours is truth.”

“So give me another timescale then, please,” he pleaded.

“The coming Monday, three weeks hence from that day, that is a certainty for a return, the membranes touch for you, and remain so a fortnight, this I know for sure.”

Bessie’s purple rinse began to change colour, as did her dress. Pink first, then orange, finally green. Green! What an odd shade to have your hair was all he could bring to mind as slumber left him wanting.

Margaret was tugging at his arm. “I’m off to the parlour Mac.” It was her turn this morning. “It’s six thirty love.”

Mac held tight to her hand for a moment and let out a sigh, then turned over and stretched himself all the way across their bed. Margaret smiled, though he did not see her, his face buried between the two black pillowcases as it was. He went back to grab some more sleep, thankfully able to enjoy an extra thirty odd minutes this dawning before breakfast was up. By now this agony after ecstasy was a well known device and not to give it too much authority had proven the best antidote. Another dream! He ought to have realised. Still there was now an explanation for all those failed attempts and another date for his destiny. Margaret lifted the latch and stole away quietly to tend the herd.

By the time the breakfast pots were being washed Mac was on his way. Such a beautiful early morning deserved a walk across the dew laden fields to the broken down wall that was his task today. He waved back at Walt, whose hands were delving around in the kitchen sink as he watched his workforce out the window. All across the valley a wisp of a mist identified the course of the river, covering the houses and trees alike, but not so much that they were totally obscured from sight. Here and there one or two chimneys belched into this grey adding volume to its thickness, the plumes also managing to escape its clutches and rise high above into a pale blue sky.

There was more than three weeks to go before the membranes touched, for the second time of asking if Aunt Bessie was to be believed. This ever so slowly reducing passage of days had kept him company before, and that time to no avail. Counting down though, then as now, starting all over again reminded him of Calan Mai and the excitement of waiting for that celebration to arrive in the years of his childhood, and even of late if the truth be known. This cross-quarter day, midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice, its astronomical date usually around Mai the fifth to seventh was the beginning of summer proper with all the promise that brought. Longer days, shorter nights and best of all the warmest of weather. Mac took a great delight in the feasting and festival, as did the whole family, enjoying the community holiday and local fete with everyone from the town. He had thought about the date many times since his imprisonment and now knew he would not make the fertility ritual this year to be able to connect once more with the waxing power of the sun, light the fires to drive their livestock through or join the family in their sunwise dance around the embers while Mum’s oatmeal cakes toasted in the heat. Here there had been no mention of any such day, no hint of any anniversary, and the day was almost reached, he would have to embrace it the best way he could.

Joyous times of those many a year gone by joined him as he put his skills to work on the collapsed stones strewn all about. Further up the hill were a few people coming down the track. The hour was still rather too early for most but these obviously liked this peaceful time of day as much as he did. In a minute or so they would pass by the collapsed wall.

Two stones fell into place straight away, this a good omen. The rub was with him. But not with those approaching by all accounts. They seemed ill at ease with their ramble, each placing one rushed step after the other, all three of them jockeying for position to be first down the hill. They made for quite an amusing spectacle. Mac found the next few stones their correct place on the repair but could not help but keep looking back to the trio coming ever nearer. They appeared to be so out of place, not at all in tune with what the morning had to offer. Between them was no conversation, hardly a surprise, but not one of them turned to any other, almost desperate not to correspond at all by the looks of it. A long lens camera was slung around one of them, a strap around his neck supporting the device, while the other two carried smaller hardware in their hands. To complete the idiocy of the scene, the attire they wore, now made more obvious as they approached the last fifty yards or so left much to be desired for a countryside walk. Inadequate footwear was not even the half of their problem as one after the other slipped this way then that on the mud and slime rendered pathway which led across the final field. Not one of them sported a heavy coat either, truly a must for the temperature of this morning, in fact only one had any sensible clothes on at all. The other two were dressed in business suites, one dark blue, the other a plain black. What were these unusual looking gentlemen doing crossing the valley so early in the day and why in so much of a hurry.

“Mac Hammerton?” one of them finally called out, the man with the camera still strapped around his neck but now also held in both hands. The lens was pointing in Mac’s direction.

“Mr Hammerton,” another cried, “could you please say a few words for our local newspaper.”

They were now with him, and how. Like baying wolves the trio competed to attract his attention, first one, then the other.

“Are you Mac Hammerton?”

“The man who’se lost his memory?”

“Can you tell our readers what you remember?”

“Have you had any memories come back?”

“What’s it like not to know your past?”

The more questions they asked the less polite they became, especially when he did not answer. He could do nothing about the photographs being taken but declining any comment whatsoever seemed to be the sensible avenue to take at present. No answer was far better than one capable of being misquoted, manipulated, articulated for the news publications these individuals represented.

“My paper will pay you well for exclusive coverage,” the grey suited, middle aged journalist suggested, reaching an arm across the broken down wall to offer a handshake. “Bill Withers, Evening Chronicle,” he added.

Mac was having none of it and withdrew several paces on his own, comparatively safer side of the divide. The trio came no further than the boundary stones but still stood up to it shouting questions towards their prey.

“Is it true you can’t remember your family life?” This question came from the youngest of the three, a rather sickly looking twenty something, perhaps not even that age if his acne was anything to go by. His pale skin and feeble figure were accentuated even more by that cheep dark suite he wore. “If you like I could get your story published as you want it,” he went on, “they’d be plenty of money in it.”

Money kept being mentioned. They would pay for his story! Should he go along with their suggestion. Any money would certainly help Margaret and Walt to cope when or if he went.

“Do you have anything we could tell our readers Mr Hammerton?” For whatever reason this one of them, the one more sensibly dressed in adequate shoes and dark green quilted raincoat had a little better personable approach now to the proceedings. He had not been shouting quite as loud and although taking as many photographs did not appear to be as adamant to obtain the correct shot of him. “I will leave you my card,” he continued, throwing an invitation over the pennine wall of dark grey stones to land a few feet away from where Mac stood.

“I was the one who ran the story on the local radio station to try and help you,” the spotty faced youngster jumped in interrupting his senior associates flow of speech, “the police contacted our office and I brought it to air.”

Mac finally made his mind up, to put them all straight, let them know where his story was going as far as they were concerned. “At the moment I have nothing to add to what you already know, so if you don’t mind……”

The furore started up again.

“But what have the doctors told you?” This the radio correspondent.

“When will there be any improvement?” Bill Withers asked.

Mac picked up the business card and read it. ‘Nigel Tyas, freelance journalist.’ This intruder was not shouting anything like now, perhaps reading into the exchange what his quarry was thinking, that decorum was going to win the day. Tapping the card a couple of times to his palm reminded him of the injury some weeks back, now healed and forgotten for the most part.

“I have no more to say gentleman now if you all don’t mind.” He stole a glance and caught the gaze of Nigel Tyas. The other two were out of the ruining but neither of them had the wit to realise it yet. Putting the card in his jeans pocket for safe keeping he turned his back on them and strode away up the steepest of inclines back to the farmstead, too slippery a route for the less well attired to attempt. In any case one of their kind hoped he knew where his own fortune was heading.

The three of them fell silent and when a minute later Mac finally turned to look at what they were about he was surprised to see they had continued on down the dale of green fields and dry stone boundaries to what back home was named Henbrook but here was just denoted as ‘drain’ in the local map. Even further they had crossed this small stream and were on the rise up the other side of the vale on route for the town centre and presumably their vehicles. He could not help but smile as he stood, arms folded, master now of all he surveyed, or so he felt, watching them negotiate the boggy ground and unforgiving pathway as they went about their duty. They all had a greed for his story, a greed he found incomprehensible, a greed he could manipulate! Why not? Play the game like anybody else, play them at their own game. When in Rome? What a useful saying, where had he come across it? He could not remember. Some article or another, but it certainly fit the bill for what he was considering. What interest did the local or indeed general population of Margaret’s world have in his situation? Why would a news agency put up payment to have the sole rights to his story. If he played this game properly, cleverly, then the stupidity of their publications could produce a little money for Margaret and Walt, turning their own lives around. He needed a plan, one which would deliver them what they needed.

Advertisements