The time before

Here’s another instalment from my unfinished story, The Button. Clare has moved to Easthope where she unexpectedly bumps into someone she was at school with, someone who bullied her mercilessly. The woman, Jenny-Lee recognises her but for some reason mistakes her for another girl called Clare who was Jenny’s best friend. Jenny and her husband Darius are restoring an old watermill.


Clare wandered through Camel Wood; she had started by taking one of the guided paths, but then left it just to meander beneath the trees. She reflected that when she walked through these woods last time, any thoughts of her past, of the time before, had been a million miles away. The time before… She didn’t want to think about it – it – she had spent years learning first to forget it, then to deal with it and then to forget it once again, forget it forever. Now unexpectedly, right on her new doorstep she had walked right back into it.
Jenny-Lee Harper… Jenny-Lee… how could she have possibly confused her with Clare Cherry? Clare had been Jenny’s best friend ever since Clare had arrived in the third year… third year, it’s year nine now… times change…
Who had been Jenny-Lee’s friend before? Jenny was the sort of person who always needed a close confidante – maybe Darius was that now… Darius… he seemed like a decent man, a nice man, he’d been so friendly until the mistake had been made.
So who was the best friend before Clare Cherry…? Hazel, Hazel the name escaped her but she could remember her now. She’d not thought of her for years and now she remembered Hazel, very tall, almost black hair in a Cilla Black style, back combed high, and two pointed wings emphasising her cheek bones… Now she thought about it, Hazel was stunning. Of course, Jenny-Lee would only have beautiful friends… she had a beautiful husband now.
So when the two Clares had arrived at the school, Clare Cherry quickly replaced Hazel who was left alone and lonely, outside the group… Clare Mason was in the group, but only as the whipping boy, whipping girl… nicknamed the Button…
Clare walked really quickly, angrily, memories flooding… She wanted to go back in time, reach back to the Button, reach back and stand up to Jenny-Lee and to tell Clare Cherry all the things which had burned in her heart.
She came to a stop. She was in an abandoned quarry, so long abandoned that many people wouldn’t have realised what it was, except now it had a shiny new information board with a time-line. Clare stopped and stared at it, the line drawings, the tables, the paragraphs of details of the history … Carboniferous Limestone, Quartzitic Sandstone, Dolomitic Conglomerate and various Lower and Middle Jurassic limestones… the words swam before her eyes.
This was no good.
Clare stood still, closed her eyes and breathed, calming her monkey mind.

She stopped for a drink and then climbed over the fence onto the unpaved road and headed down as she had known at the back of her mind she would since she parked her car and started her walk.
She was going back to the water-mill.
Instead of cutting through the trees she followed the road to go in at the gate. The gate stood between gateposts but there was no wall or fence on either side; it was a totally redundant gate. It made her smile and she walked back a few paces to take a photo to share on Instagram.
As she edited the photo, a red car suddenly shot out of the gate and drove too quickly down the track. Jenny was driving it, Clare knew even though she hadn’t seen her. Should she go to the mill anyway, pretend she didn’t know Jenny-Lee was absent, get into conversation with Darius, find out why he hated Clare Cherry?
She wandered to the gate and dithered… maybe this wasn’t a good idea, maybe this wasn’t the right time…
“I say! Are you one of us?” a cheery voice called.
A group of middle-aged women were approaching.
“Here to visit the mill?” the cheery voice, belonged to a stout woman with very yellow hair. “Come along then! Sorry we’re a bit late!”
Clare hadn’t actually replied but she was swept along with the half-dozen friendly women and one solitary rather spindly man. As they walked down to the mill it seemed to levitate from behind the slight rise in the track, its lichen covered roof seeming to rise from the ground – a different perspective from when she had visited before.
There was another group of people, mainly women at the doorway and Darius was there chatting…
Clare ducked behind the spindly man.
All here? Can everyone here me? Welcome Easthope U3A, to Wolfston Mill! I am Darius Mapp and I am going to take you on a trip through time! We shall go back to the Romans, because, yes, I believe there was a watermill here in the days of Hadrian, and maybe even Trajan! We shall start there and as time travellers we will follow the story of Wolfston Mill, through the times of Arthur the King, Ingar Silverskin, and the great Alfred, until our people were crushed beneath the heel of the Normans…”
Good grief, thought Clare, staring at the blue anorak of the spindly man… good grief…



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