I began to write this three years ago, I definitely should go back and finish it!
It was ridiculous to be lost… she knew how it had happened, the last footpath arrow was pointing down a strangely overgrown track – no doubt some hilarious prankster thought it would be funny to send strangers off into the wilderness… It wasn’t exactly wilderness, it was the outer reaches of the Wolfston Estate; Clare had been to the inaugural exhibition in the new little gallery at Wolfston Hall, and since it was such a pleasant autumn day she had decided to go for a walk, and had chosen the yellow three mile route, well-sign posted.
But now she was following what was little more than a track through the woods. In actual fact she wasn’t really lost, she didn’t know exactly where she was but sooner or later she would come to a road and be able to make her way back… a bit more than three miles… She came to a fence, climbed over, and she was on a path, quite muddy but definitely a path and in fact what might have been an unpaved road. She sensed she should turn left and head back uphill but when she looked to the right she saw, almost hidden by mature trees, a red brick building. It had a low roof and was old, possibly very old.
How intriguing! An old farm maybe? Clare wandered down and followed a side path which took her nearer. It was ancient, she was right, the red brick had a soft bloom, and the roof sat low like a comfortable old hat worn at a slouch.
She nearly jumped out of her skin. A man was standing between two trees and she had been so focussed on the old building she hadn’t even noticed him. He looked like a woodlander, khaki cargo pants and a brown woollen jumper, brown hair and a tanned face.
She gave a guilty laugh. “I hope I’m not trespassing, I just saw this old place and it looks so lovely I had to have a closer look.”
“Not trespassing at all… it’s a watermill…” he said and then seeing her brightening look asked if she would like to look round. Yes please she certainly would! There was something intriguing about mills… especially watermills. “My wife and I are restoring it… or at least that was the plan… but…”
He called out and a woman emerged from behind a huge hydrangea.
“A visitor, Jenny!” he said enthusiastically, which did seem slightly strange… perhaps they were hoping to open it to the public, perhaps they wanted people to know about it. The woman greeted Clare in a pleasant enough way.
“Don’t feel obliged to be interested just because Darius is so keen…” she said which again was slightly strange.
Clare responded that she was fascinated by watermills but she’d only stay a moment… and followed them inside through a wide doorway with a circular window above it. She would have stopped to look properly but now the couple had invited her in when no doubt they were busy with their restoration…
They’d come into a big open room, with an old work bench in the middle; perhaps walls had been taken down, perhaps it had always been like this… seventeenth century, corn mill changed to a timber mill, the man Darius was saying as his wife Jenny talked over him about what a big job it was, more than she had expected, she was concentrating on their living quarters upstairs, maybe AirBnB, maybe selling up – it all came out in a rush and Darius wandered away, as if used to being talked over.
“I’m sorry,” Jenny stopped abruptly. “We’re under a lot of pressure…”
“No I’m sorry, sorry to have intruded, thank you – ” and Clare turned to go even though now she was inside she was eager to see this old place. She could hear echoey drips of water and there were strange lights playing on the ceiling from water which must be on the other side of a balustrade.
“We are hoping to have it as an AirBnB,” Jenny repeated, followed her out of the wide door. “Can I give you my card, for when we’re up and running… we’ve got a website but it’s not functioning yet…”
Clare took the card, a photo of the old place, dappled with sunshine, its warm bricks glowing beneath the lichen-gilded roof. She turned it over, Darius and Jenny-Lee Mapp, Wolfston Mill, Easthope.
“I was at school with a girl called Jenny-Lee,” Clare remarked. “In Castair… donkeys years ago…”
“I was there too!” Jenny-Lee exclaimed “I was Jenny-Lee Harper! What did you say your name was?”
Should she lie, pretend to be someone else…
“Clare! Oh my gosh, Clare! I wouldn’t have recognised you but now I can see it’s you! Oh my gosh!”
And Jenny-Lee flung her arms round Clare and hugged her… which in all her bitter and angry memories, which Clare, never in a million of them, would have expected. Jenny-Lee grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the old mill calling out to her husband.
“Darling, the most marvellous thing, this is my chum Clare from school – we were spotty school girls way back in Victorian times – or so it seems!”
Darius smiled but there now seemed little warmth in his brown face.
“Come and have a cup of tea and we can catch up! Clare Cherry! Who would have thought Clare Cherry would come sauntering back into my life!”
Clare was so startled she somehow lurched into a work bench sending some sort of iron tool clatter in to the floor… As she picked it up her head was spinning – how can she think I’m Clare Cherry? Clare Cherry was Jenny’s best friend – how can she not see that I’m not that Clare?!
Darius took the tool, maybe some sort of plane maybe…
“So you’re Clare Cherry, are you?” he said in a strange, almost menacing way but before either of them could say more, Jenny-Lee was back.
“I’ve found a picture of us, look!”
And there they were in their school uniform – they were sitting on the grass under the apple trees, so they must have been in the fifth year as only the upper school were allowed to sit there.
“Look Clare – there you are, and me, and there’s Angela, and Sandra, there’s Joan and Pauline and Heather – and look there’s the Button!” and Jenny-Lee burst out laughing and Clare felt her heart clench and she wanted to snatch the plane from the man’s hand and smash it into her face…
“The Button?” he asked, but he was looking at Clare.
“Oh forget her! Tea! And cake! And maybe a glass of something! Oh Clare, I’m so pleased to see you!!”