Chapter Forty-Eight

Harriet and Daisy are sitting in chairs under the tree in Harriet front garden. They are using an upturned black recycling box as a table, There are teo mugs and a plate of biscuits. Monty Dog is looking out of the garden down the access road.

Harriet

Harriet woke up feeling uncomfortable. That last phone call “I just wanted to hear your voice again…” had got to her. She had been trying to work out who would say that to her. Obviously someone who knew her, but who? She was racking her brains trying to remember, the intonation felt familiar but not quite. Harriet had never really been very good at recognising voices especially on the phone and was often frustrated by callers who would open with ‘Hi Harriet, it’s me…’ leaving her stumped as to who was talking at her until enough clues in the conversation gave away the caller’s identity.
Ex girlfriends was a good place to start, but also some of the women Harriet had dated but hadn’t formed a relationship with. It would be a short list, a very short list once all the people she knew it definitely wouldn’t or couldn’t be were rejected. She was tempted to believe it wasn’t anything to do with Marie, Marie would throw insults, and also she wasn’t the sort to be that desperate to maintain contact with an ex. Even with the few women that might be suspects, Harriet couldn’t believe any of them would behave that way, and especially towards her given how uninteresting she had been for most of her life, pretty much a nobody until Marie. That was one positive about the abuse from Marie, Harriet had come out of it stronger, more confident and sure of herself.
None of her woodwork clients seemed to be suspect either, and any of them could just call her up under a pretence of real work anyway, and besides, “I just wanted to hear your voice again…” the way it was said sounded like much more time had passed. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Like someone has walked over my grave, she thought.

The real unease that Harriet felt troubled her greatly and she wanted to talk to someone. She had tried Adam but he seemed distant and was wittering on about losing a cassette leading her to suspect he was going through troubles of his own, probably still reeling from Sybil’s funeral, maybe. She didn’t want to worry Daisy with it, and she had enough work stuff with Sarah not to want to bother her with it. It would be the sort of thing that she might have spoken with Sybil about. Sybil would have some solid and wise words to say, but she was gone now. Harriet thought, of all people she could talk to about this she missed Sybil. But, if there was another person close to Sybil, maybe a relative stranger who might be okay to talk to? Harriet decided that Sunday was a good day to try something unusual. She let Monty out into the garden while getting breakfast ready. After a quick internet search to check times Harriet dug out her cleanest and most presentable clothes and set off to cycle across town.

Harriet arrived at the Unitarian Church where Sybil’s funeral was held. The Reverend Sutherland was standing at the church door welcoming parishioners in and chatting with a few of them so Harriet stayed back out of the way, not wanting to intrude on the social niceties of the worshippers. She began to have a doubts about coming. Church worship wasn’t her thing at all and now seeing it in reality she wasn’t sure if she should just ride on by and go home again via a scenic route. The decision was made for her as the Reverend saw Harriet and beckoned her. Out of politeness Harriet approached, wheeling her bike.

“Hello! It’s Harriet, isn’t it. I remember you from Sybil’s funeral. How are you?” The Reverend was friendly, and seemed genuinely pleased to see Harriet.

“Oh hello Reverend…” Harriet started.

“Please, do call me Esther, Reverend is so formal and we are a very relaxed bunch here.”

“Esther. Yes, thank you, I am well. Are you umm… I guess you are busy right now.”

“I do have a service on now and you are welcome to join us, if you like. We’re harmless.”

“Oh, I’m not… ummm… I’m not religious. I just… I was just passing…”

“Oh don’t worry, we welcome everyone equally, and you are welcome to just sit in or enjoy the church grounds. Everyone else seems to.”

“Thank you errr… Esther. Umm, I did come here because I was hoping to speak with you, if you didn’t mind, and had some time. But I can come back if it is inconvenient for you.”

“Well, I am about to start a service so you could either stay and join us, or come back afterwards, say two this afternoon? I can talk with you after I’ve had lunch and done all my admin and I have everything else out of the way.”

“Umm, if you don’t mind, I will come back later.” Harriet left Esther to return to her service and headed off to pass some time while she wondered what she was going to talk with Esther about.

****

That evening Harriet sat in the garden with Daisy relating her chat with the Reverend Sutherland.
“…anyway, so Esther was saying that I should think about who might have had that kind of interest in me and who is ‘missing’ from my life, and to be honest I was hoping that it wouldn’t be someone ‘missing’ from my life because that would mean that they should be in my life somehow, but anyway the only person missing from my life is my mother and I am really not sure what that would lead to if it were her making the calls. I mean it could be and it has been so long since I last spoke to her that I don’t know if I would recognise her voice over the phone any more, especially if she was trying to disguise it. But I don’t think it’s Mum to be honest.”

“Sounds like you had a good chat with the Rev regardless. She seems like a nice person to talk to…
What was you saying about her from before she became a minister?” Daisy was pondering something that was niggling the back of her mind while they were talking. There was something tugging at a memory but she couldn’t quite figure it out.

Harriet tried to remember what she had said. “Oh, you mean when she was married? Apparently her husband wouldn’t allow her to work, or have a life outside of being a housewife. When she finally got rid and got her life together she went back to study, theology I guess.”

“Did she say what her married name was?”

“That’s a very specific question, Daisy, what are you thinking?” Harriet gave her a mock quizzical look. “I think she had a double barrelled name but I can’t remember what she said it was.”

Daisy thought hard. “Esther Robertson-Sutherland by any chance?”

“Yes, that’s it! You know her!” Harriet animated, “Small world, how do you know her?”

Daisy laughed. “Ahh, I don’t know her, but something kept seeming familiar and it was her name. If it is her then she was running the Theraton Historical Society, back in the prehistoric days going by the state of her website! I must show you sometime on the laptop, my phone doesn’t do it justice! I am going to ask you for an introduction to Esther, I emailed her from her website ages ago but had no response.”

“Ahh, I see! Apparently the easiest way to find her is to go to church!” Harriet laughed.

“Daisy frowned. “I don’t really want to go to church, all that God and hymns stuff isn’t really me. I just wanted to pick her brains about the history of Theraton, and her website, to be honest.”

“Fair enough, but also her phone number and email address is on the Church notice board, is what I really meant. I should have taken a photo for the record but I forgot.
“I think you’ll find she is really easy to talk to, not at all ‘churchy’ or preachy. I can see why Sybil liked her.”

“Sybil?” Daisy looked confused. Harriet hadn’t mentioned Sybil in relation to seeing the Reverend Esther.

“Oh…” Harriet wasn’t sure for a moment what to say to Daisy about the books. “Ummm… yeah. I don’t know if it was meant to be kept secret or what… Sybil left me some books, I think she wrote them, about a relationship between two girls at school, and in later life. I think she was writing about herself and Esther. But I don’t know.”

“You never mentioned that before. How come she left the books to you?”

“I have no idea why I got them. Apparently Sybil left instructions for a package to be passed onto me before she died. Adam brought them round. By the time I figured out what they were Sybil was already gone so I couldn’t ask her about them.” Harriet thought for a while. “I think Sybil planned a lot of things that way at the end, including her own funeral. Did you notice the music selection? I think she was trying to say something to someone through them. That, and the hints in the books, makes me wonder if there was something between her and Esther, even if Esther wasn’t a party to it. Some kind of a crush, or something. I don’t know. The books might just be fantasy.”

Daisy put her arm around Harriet and drew her in close for a hug. “You and Sybil were really close, weren’t you. I think she must have had good reason to share something like that with you. But funny that she should make it a mystery for you to look into, too.” Daisy smiled cheekily, “It’s not Sybil calling you is it! She would miss your voice. No, sorry, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”

“Ha! No, that’s fine. Funny if it was though, but whoever it is, she doesn’t sound like Sybil from beyond the grave.”


Robbie

The hospital ward looked grim. Robbie lay on the bed fed up and frustrated at the constant back ground noise, the snoring man opposite, and the lack of anything to do except read. He wanted to get up and look out of the window, to take a walk along the corridor, to buy a different magazine from the little newsagent shop that seemed to specialise in women’s magazines and word searches, or so he heard from Ritu.

The doctors had been very positive, and the nurses very supportive, especially now that he seemed to have some feeling back in he feet. ‘Your spinal cord is healing…’ they had said, but they had not said how long it would take. Fortunately the swelling in his spine was subsiding but not fast enough for Robbie’s liking. There was still no indication of whether he would walk again, normally or otherwise, never mind drive. However, Ritu had been very keen that no matter what the outcome Robbie would have a new van to drive. The insurance would take time to resolve and would also depend a great deal on Robbie’s compensation claim for his injuries. Ritu had been inundated with spam phone calls regarding compensation claims and was initially baffled by how they would have known, but of course, it was from the newspaper reports.

“Hello my love, how are you feeling today?” Ritu asked as she arrived into the ward. “Adam and Amanda send their love to you, and are wishing you well. Such a shame they can’t come to visit. Adam has been offering to help with the business but he is also having a difficult time of his own. You are looking better, and the nurse says you are improving. What is that magazine you are reading? Homes and Gardens, tut, that is for retired people and you are a long way from retiring to the garden…” Ritu was talking a lot, and she was aware she was doing that and felt guilty that she hadn’t let Robbie get a word in. She knew that she was also a little afraid of anything that might be said being bad news and the less chance she gave it the less likely she would have to hear it.

“I am improving, so they say, but it is so slow, and I am bored. And I don’t like taking a wee in a bottle!” Robbie grumbled.

“Ha, silly man. You want to be driving a truck and you don’t want to wee in a bottle?” Ritu scolded cheerfully. If Robbie was being silly then that was a good sign. “Be grateful that you can wee in a bottle at all! I tell you what. We can get a trolley to hook behind your wheel chair and one of those air horn things. That will wake the other patients up a bit! Ha ha ha!” Ritu rocked back in her chair laughing out loud and momentarily waking the snoring man opposite.

Robbie couldn’t help but laugh along with his wife. He missed her laughter. Since the crash they hadn’t had a lot to laugh about. So much of conversation had been about his injuries, how they would cope after, and how business was doing. “You’re right my dear. If I…”

“When! It is when, not if!” Ritu said.

“Ok, my love, when I can walk again I want to drive a proper lorry. I want to find a way to take my HGV test and get a cat one licence. If this bloody Government wants more truck drivers fast tracked then they can have me, at least as far as the test. Then I can be my own man, owner operator…”

“Okay, if that is what you want then you can have that. I will make sure of it. And what will you do as ‘Owner operator’?’ Ritu began to laugh again, ‘Be your ‘Rubber Duckie’ and have a convoy?’.

“Haha, breaker one nine and all that? Haha, no. But I was thinking…”

“That is dangerous talk, you thinking…”

“Ritu, you do ninety percent of the thinking in this relationship and I have always been happy with that. Grant me my ten percent for a moment.” Robbie chuckled. It had been a long standing joke between them that Ritu was the brains in their relationship whereas Robbie just carried his about so he didn’t lose it. “No, seriously, I was thinking. You have always allowed me the privilege of driving my van, even though we have drivers. You have allowed me the privilege of running errands for friends and their friends when I should have been delivering our stock.” Ritu tried to interject but Robbie held his hand up to stop her. “No no, I am not complaining. You have been wonderful to me and I have just been playing and enjoying my life. No. It is time to stop playing and to do something more useful. I have been thinking. We have afforded for me to play at being a ‘trucker’ and it has not hurt our profits, or the business. So how about I drive for the community? Offer my services to help out those who cannot afford to transport something. Furniture for the community centre, food to the food bank, old furniture to the tip so that people don’t need to dump it in the street. Work with the council to identify the needy, the community groups, the volunteer groups… What do you think, Ritu?”

Ritu took a deep breath and sat back in her chair and thought. Her fingers tapped a steady rhythm on the arm of the chair as was her habit. “We would need insurance, waste carrier licence, some sort of business plan and all the paperwork in place. We should talk to the Council in case we are treading on the waste contractor’s toes. Also the local couriers, and delivery companies. The recycling people at that environment centre. So many things to have right, just in case.
“It is not a simple thing, Robbie, so many complications, but not impossible.”
Ritu continued thinking and tapping her fingers while Robbie waited.
“Maybe better to set up as a separate business, some kind of not for profit, or one of those community interest companies…
“Let me worry about that, but yes, if you like it I think it maybe a good idea.”


(Chapter 47 here)