A Practical Woman by Celia Micklefield
inspired by this quotation from Aldous Huxley 1894-1963
'Dream in pragmatic way'
The cutting from the tidal river ran right up beside the cottage. Sylvia stood on the decking out front with her coffee and took in her surroundings: Norfolk in winter. Above, pale blue sky streaked with filmy clouds stretched lazily beyond reeds and a stand of scrubby trees on the far bank of the river. The tide was changing: water lapped at the hulls of boats moored along the cutting; halyards slapped at masts with a tinkling sound. A haven of peace. An escape from everyday life. A sanctuary. A solitary cup of coffee while she attempted to clear her mind. He would love this place, she thought.
He would love to be beside the water surrounded by nature like this. And therein lay the reason she’d rented the holiday cottage for a week alone. The midwinter off-season ensured there was hardly another soul to be seen. Soul: a word she’d paid little attention to throughout her life, not least the question of her own soul, her own deepest feelings and needs. Life always got in the way, didn’t it? There was always work, always so much to be done it left little time to consider one’s spiritual well-being. Now that retirement beckoned she’d have all the time in the world for things that brought her pleasure, satisfied her yearnings. Wouldn’t she?
“I think it’s wonderful you’ve met someone, Mum,” her daughter Libby had said when she’d first mentioned Gordon by name one Sunday lunchtime. “Tell me about him. Come on.” Sylvia hadn’t known where to begin. Truth be told, she hadn’t expected any new beginnings that included a man. She’d contemplated: a house move, a sensible downsizing to reduce bills; maybe joining one of those scholarly-type trips abroad to learn about other cultures. India, perhaps, New Zealand even to see where they’d filmed Lord Of The Rings. In her imaginings she’d always travelled alone. Her plans for the rest of her life included her daughter and grandchildren. But a man? Gordon had been such a lovely surprise. Comfortable with one another from the outset they’d fallen into an easy friendship with a remarkably similar sense of humour and a shared love of music. And how they talked! They could talk about anything and everything with openness and true sincerity. “He sounds just right for you,” Libby had said. “What are you worrying about?”
“Am I worrying?”
“Yes. Look at you. Your eyes are all screwed up and your mouth is doing that thing you used to do when I was a girl in trouble for being naughty.”
“I’m not doing that. Am I?”
“Mum, give him a chance. What have you got to lose?”
A heron swooped past and landed on a nearby tree stump. With his neck arched like a question mark, his head lowered, he scrutinised the dyke below him with yellow eyes sharp as pins and burning with intent. Sylvia watched and waited. She didn’t take risks. It simply wasn’t in her nature. Like the heron, there had to be a good reason for whatever she did. A single parent since her thirties she was always careful, determinedly making plans and seeing them through. She’d lived a life not without its ups and downs but in the knowledge she’d be able to cope with whatever fate sent her way. Gordon was a different kind of future from the one she’d imagined. A spiritual man, happiest working outdoors, a lover of animals and his young grandchildren he was comfortable in his skin. He was able to articulate his emotions. He had an easy-going nature fluid as the water in the cutting, able to flow this way and that. He was like no other man she’d ever known. Her confidence faltered. Fleetingly she wondered whether she would be enough.
In a flash of white and with a splash of silver the heron made his strike. There now, she thought as the heron flew off. He got what he came here for. But what if he’d missed his target? She laughed aloud as the answer burst into her thoughts. Energy fizzed through her limbs and fired her nervous system. Warmth pulsed in her veins. Confidence restored, she recognised her body’s reactions as a sense of sheer joy. All anxiety fell away as she understood the reality of her new way of thinking. It was simple! Even if he’d failed to catch his meal, the heron would still be a heron. He wouldn’t worry about failing the next time. He wouldn’t be afraid of trying again. Surely his very existence depended on him being himself, doing his heron thing fishing for his sustenance, taking the risk of a possible further loss.
She brought her cup to her lips. Her coffee had gone cold. No matter. She’d make another but she had a call to make first. Sometimes you had to take risks. She went indoors to get her phone. The drive would take him four hours. It would be dark by the time he arrived. Tomorrow they would stand together to face the future and watch the tide change.