So here now is my previously-telegraphed anthology. In a sudden change of mind, I’ve renamed what was previously Another Spring as Awakening, which is the title of a story borrowed from Convergence. Awakening is an eclectic collection of sometimes heart-warming, sometimes poignant, often nostalgic tales purloined from my full length novels or offered as stand-alone short stories.
These are stories that will tug the heart strings – in one case heart-breakingly – and sometimes make you smile. And sometimes too, perhaps, they might provoke another sort of smile: a wry one of remembrance. They are tales of the seasons of the year; stories from the seasons of life. They are tales of people of the present and people from the past playing out life’s dramas, major or minor, with consequences shallow or profound:
An un-named black girl finds awakening of love in her barren life.
A young girl samples a first kiss with a young man after getting a fright at the seaside in 1924.
Two couples go through the hopes and anxieties of child adoption, with something in common.
The angst of being an ugly duckling teenage boy in the 1950s comes good.
A writer reminisces about the recent years of his past in recollections bitter-sweet.
A young single mother’s clothes buying trip threatens to go tragically wrong.
A couple in peril in the Outer Hebrides in 1968 encounter a strange rescuer.
An elderly man talks tenderly to a wife who is no longer with him.
Awakening is a modified extract from Convergence, a tale of interracial love in the autumn of life.
Day Out at Skeggy is an amended extract from Forebears, a family saga spanning one hundred and six years.
Baby Blues is an extract from The One of Us, a story of twins separated at birth.
That July is from Secret Shame, a companion book to The One of Us, in which the dark past of the twins’ mother comes back to haunt.
Here is a sample story:
Day Out At Skeggy
‘You can come in now,’ Lisbeth called. She stood in her bedroom wearing her new – well, her first – bathing suit. It was a red number in knitted wool with a black and blue pattern along the hem of the modesty skirt, from under which peeped three inches of bloomer leg. It was completely armless; a tank-top with wide shoulder straps, but the bodice was cut demurely high. And it was not as if she were very big-busted. (If she were, it might be a rather embarrassing garment, because it was quite figure-hugging). Surely Mother could not object to this? Mother entered to give her judgment. She had insisted on seeing this exotic garment that Lisbeth had been so assiduously saving her pennies for from her job at Brewster’s Ladies’ Fashions, before she took herself off to flaunt it and herself at the seaside, on this summer day in 1924.
‘Well, what do you think?’
Mother studied it; pursed her lips. ‘It shows an awful lot of your legs,’ she opined, doubtfully. ‘And your arms. When I used to go to the seaside before the war we were much more covered than that.’
Lisbeth laughed. ‘Mother, that was over ten years ago now; back in the Dark Ages. The suits you wore then were just like ordinary clothes. I’m surprised you even got them wet! This is nineteen twenty-four for heaven’s sake. We wear clothes actually designed for bathing. We’re much more modern now!’
‘Well, yes, I’m sure you are. I just don’t want you to be getting into trouble, that’s all,’ Mother said dubiously.
‘Oh, for goodness sake Mother!’ Lisbeth retorted, although good-naturedly (she’d never disobey her mother), ‘What can possibly happen! It’s not even as if Cecil and I will be alone together. The beach will probably be crowded and we’ll all be dressed the same, anyway. Besides, you should see some of the costumes they advertise nowadays; the ones they wear in France. They really are daring, some of them. Some of them even – ’
Mother cut across her. ‘No! I don’t wish to know!’
She continued to examine her daughter, lips tight, critically. She sighed.
‘Well, let’s see what your father thinks about it.’
Lisbeth’s complacent superiority suddenly forsook her. ‘No! I can’t go downstairs like this!’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Mother calmly, ‘you don’t mind disporting yourself on the beach with hundreds of strange men around but you’re embarrassed about showing yourself to your own father?’
Lisbeth had to concede that she had a point. She put her feet into her shoes and futilely tugged the modesty skirt as low as it would go then made her nervous way downstairs. He was sitting in his chair, as he usually did, reading the newspaper. Bill and Dickie, her little brothers, were absorbed in some game with building bricks on the hearthrug.
‘Father . . ,’ Lisbeth said in a tiny voice.
He looked up then, suddenly astonished when he took her in.
‘Goodness gracious! Is that your bathing suit?’ Juniper had confided her anxieties to him about it already. But his look was one of sheer admiration.
She stood, still fussing with the skirt. ‘Er, do you think it’s all right? – I won’t wear it if you don’t want me too . . .’
Her father was briefly lost for words. Suddenly his daughter, the girl he’d so cherished as a child, the girl with her mother’s curly chestnut hair and dark button-bright eyes, all her mother’s prettiness, had become a beautiful young woman. He felt a catch in his throat.
‘No. That’s all right. You look lovely, my dear. You’ll have every young man in Skegness around you like bees round honey.’
Relieved, Lisbeth went to kneel before him. He put his arm around her bare shoulders and pulled her close. Then he added, striking a note of caution, ‘But you will be careful, won’t you?’
Lisbeth met Cecil at the station in plenty of time to catch the stopping train from Grantham. It was due to depart from Sleaford at three minutes past eight and arrive in Skegness just after nine, so they’d have a full day there on this promising-hot Sunday in July. Normally she would have gone to church with Grandmother, but she thought she could miss it just this once. You did not get the chance of a day at the seaside very often, and knowing a young man from school days (although he had shown no interest in her then) who worked in the ticket office at the station, who got concessionary travel and who had gallantly passed his cheap ticket on to her was too good an opportunity to miss.
She was wearing her summer Sunday best: her emerald green dress with the grey diamond motif, wide white collar and elbow-length sleeves. And her straw hat of course and her rayon stockings. Uncertain of how best to change decorously from dress to bathing suit, she had solved the problem by wearing the suit underneath instead of underwear, although already she was beginning to feel uncomfortably hot. Her camisole and bloomers were carried in her bag. She hadn’t really thought about how to remove the suit later when it was wet. Mother had supplied a large towel for drying but she could not use it both for that and as a modesty wrap for changing beneath, as far as she could see. Oh well; there must be a way.
Belching steam and smoke, the train chugged its way across flat-as-a-pancake Holland Fen to Boston. Lisbeth sat in their third-class compartment and smiled coyly at her escort sitting opposite. They had scurried up and down the platform looking for a sparsely populated compartment so that they could sit side by side, but then the guard had prepared to blow his whistle and they had had to dive quickly into the nearest one, which only had the two window seats empty. Clearly, many other people had had the same thoughts about a day out. Cecil looked a little overheated too, in his best suit (she presumed), collar and tie. He was sporting a boater, which he periodically removed to dab his forehead with a large white handkerchief that lived in his breast pocket. With his pomaded and slicked back, impeccably tidy fair hair, long, slightly aquiline nose and firm jaw he was reasonably good looking, but it was a pity about his acne. At Boston still more people came on board and they had to shuffle up to accommodate two extra bodies. Cecil saw his opportunity to create the spaces on his side and squeeze intimately beside Lisbeth and so they continued, through Wainfleet All Saints, the penultimate stop, to their destination: the blue grey sea meeting the huge sky and the untold delights of ‘Skeggy’.
Released from the sardine can of the train, they didn’t know where to begin, so they followed the excited crowds that thronged along Tower Parade in the direction of the beach and the Promenade with its heady pleasures. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky and the temperature rising steadily. Lisbeth was feeling increasingly hot as the wool layer next to her skin trapped her body heat. She really would need to be trying out her suit soon. She wondered whether Cecil had come prepared too; she had not thought to ask him. And if so, how he would look similarly, daringly attired? It was a tantalising thought.
Cecil suggested a stroll along the pier, which thrust its long latticed finger far out into the sea. Lisbeth felt just a little nervous when they had walked beyond the shoreline and waves were thundering inland below the cracks in the timber deck. But it was safe enough, no doubt. They would have walked to the end, but part way along their progress was blocked. The pier had been damaged five years earlier, Cecil informed knowledgeably, and they were trying to raise funds for repair. So they found a seat and sat for a while, closely side by side, and gazed out over the vast expanse of the North Sea. Cecil, a veritable mine of general knowledge, pointed a finger. ‘Holland’s over there.’
Lisbeth pretended to be impressed, but she thought she remembered that rather dull fact from school. Then they walked back to shore. She felt hotter still. Cecil did not seem in a hurry to suggest it, so she took the initiative. ‘Shall we go for a bathe? If you’ve got a bathing suit, that is?’
‘Yes, I have. Actually I’ve got it on under my clothes. It’s making me very hot though.’
Lisbeth laughed. ‘Snap! So have I, and I’m boiling too!’
Back through the grand arched entrance to the pier, they made a beeline for the sand. It was filling up with holidaymakers and day trippers; people changing into bathing suits behind towels held to protect their modesty or already splashing in the sea, or reclining on the beach to soak up the sun’s rays.
They selected a spot at random and Lisbeth set her bag down to mark it. Cecil, rather familiarly, put the cloth bag he was carrying down next to it. They stood looking at each other uncertainly, wondering about the next move. It seemed a little brazen to Lisbeth to simply peel off her dress in the open, in public, even if she had got her bathing suit on underneath. Taking her cue from the people around her, she took the towel out of her bag and gave it to Cecil.
‘Here; hold this around me.’
Cecil dutifully did as ordered, standing to her side and holding the towel in a loose cylinder, hiding her body as far down as her knees. Lisbeth kicked off her shoes, unhooked her stockings and balancing on each leg and nearly falling over, rolled them down and off. Now for the alarming part, her dress. Struggling awkwardly under the towel she unbuttoned, wriggled her arms out of the sleeves and dropped it to the sand.
‘All right, you can take the towel down now.’
Cecil let go one hand and pulled the covering away, and her bright red costume was revealed to the world. His eyes almost popped out. Apart from his younger sisters, and they did not count, he had never seen so much exposed female flesh at close quarters. He struggled to find an appropriate comment.
‘Oh! That’s a nice bathing suit!’
Lisbeth stepped out of her discarded dress and knelt to pick it up, fold it and put it with her stockings and suspender belt in her bag.
‘Right,’ she said, ‘I’m ready. Are you going to change now? I’ll hold the towel for you.’
Feeling rather deliciously bold, Lisbeth stood disporting herself, half-naked to anyone who cared to look, and after Cecil had removed his jacket, held the towel around him. His undressing took a little longer than hers had done: off came the tie (although his collar was integrated into his shirt in the modern style), then he pulled his braces over his shoulders and removed his shirt. He fiddled about out of sight of Lisbeth’s interested gaze and down came his trousers. In his nervousness he had forgotten to take his shoes off first, and there was a slight balancing-act tussle to get them over his feet. Having ascertained that he was decent, Lisbeth pulled the towel aside and there he stood, resplendent and heroic in his black jersey bathing suit and socks and shoes. Although the tank-style costume incorporated a modesty panel, it did not entirely hide his male bulge, and Lisbeth tried not to stare. Suddenly aware that he looked slightly ridiculous, he bent to remove his footwear, adding it to the untidy pile of clothes by his bag.
‘Right then,’ he said, ‘are you ready?’
Lisbeth nodded and they made their way towards the sea, the sand hard, rippled and cool to their feet. Cecil got there first and winced silently as the cold North Sea attacked his toes, then ankles, then shins.
‘Come in!’ he called, gasping, ‘It’s wonderful!’
Lisbeth had now reached the crashing waves too and shrieked with surprise at the coldness. Cecil waded further in, up to his knees, then his groin. Lisbeth followed, still screeching, and joined him. His groin level corresponded to her waist; half of her suit was submerged.
‘No further Cecil; I’ll drown!’
He laughed and took her hand. ‘No you won’t; I’ve got you!’
With his free hand he began to scoop up water and splash her, as she yelped ‘No! You swine!’ then joined in the game, laughing through her chattering teeth, splashing him back.
He let go of her hand and waded further in, then dived into the waves, swimming strongly, now totally drenched, his once-immaculate hair disordered and plastered even flatter on his head. He turned, treading water, and yelled, ‘Come on; swim!’
Lisbeth stood there, unwilling to come any further. But the next moment she had lunged forward, arms flailing, and disappeared. Cecil laughed; shouted, ‘That’s it; you can do it!’
But no head reappeared; just one forearm and hand, seeming to claw desperately at the air.
Oh no! Panicked as he realised that he had misunderstood, Cedric frantically swam the few yards back to her until his feet touched bottom, then blundered quickly through the waves.
Just as he reached her, her head broke surface, coughing and spluttering. He reached below the surface and scooped her vertical, then with his arm around her back, under her armpit and hand around almost to her chest, half supported, half dragged her out of the sea. She collapsed on the sand, spitting out water, greatly distressed. Gradually her coughing ceased and he knelt beside her, arm still around her back and the other on her chest, without thinking, as if to sooth it after its convulsions.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked anxiously.
She nodded. ‘Yes. Think so. Thought I was going to drown. ’
‘Have you swallowed water the wrong way?’
‘Yes a bit. But I think I’ve coughed it all up. Oh, that was horrible!’
Cecil felt relief. He knew that inhaled water was a serious matter; it could lead to secondary drowning.
‘Can you breathe all right?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘I’m sorry: I thought you were swimming. What happened?’
She leaned her head weakly against his chest, her heart still racing. ‘I stood on something slippery and then over I went.’
And then she began to sob, in release and relief. ‘I can’t swim!’
‘Oh, Lisbeth: you should have said. I wouldn’t have let you go out so far.’
She was shaking violently. It was either cold or fright, Cecil thought, or both.
He took masterful charge. ‘Have you had enough of the sea?’
‘Yes,’ she whispered tearfully.
‘Come along then, let’s get you dry.’
He took her hand and led her back to their clothes. She stood shivering helplessly as he found the towel and draped it around her shoulders and rubbed them vigorously. The woollen bathing suit was sopping wet, sagging heavy off her goose-pimpled skin.
‘You really ought to get this suit off.’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
Cecil was into his stride now. This was where St John’s Ambulance training came into its own. ‘Right; I’ll hold the towel and you take it off; then you can dry properly. Then I’ll hold it for you to get dressed.’
He held the towel as a screen again and she unbuttoned the costume and let it drop in a wet soggy heap around her ankles. He kicked it aside and wrapped the towel tightly around her. She held it closed and he embraced her, rubbing all the parts of her that modesty allowed. He got out his own smaller towel and dried her lower legs, feeling terribly adult and responsible and caring.
‘Are you dry? Shall I hand you your underwear?’
‘Yes please,’ Lisbeth said, timidly. ‘Doesn’t matter about the stockings though.’
He found it and passed it to her, then slackened the towel a little to give her room for manoeuvre, and when she had donned it handed her her dress too. Fully dressed, she sagged down onto the sand, looking up at him gratefully. The shivering was easing.
‘Thank you Cecil; thank you. My Sir Lancelot!’
Cecil smiled awkwardly, preening a little. ‘Not at all. Couldn’t let you drown. Would have been very bad form! Would you like something hot to drink? I think you should. Perhaps a cup of tea?’ he added, solicitously.
‘Yes, that would be nice.’ Lisbeth was grateful, the gratitude catching her throat. ‘But you’re still in your bathing suit.’
‘That’s all right; I’ll go to the gents’ to change.’ Still in command, he rather presumptuously picked up Lisbeth’s sopping costume and wrung it out before putting it in her bag. Then he stuffed his own clothes into his, they put on their shoes, and went in search of a tea shop and a gents.
Revived by the tea and a sweet bun, which took most of the taste of salt water away, Lisbeth felt a lot better. Perhaps it had not been such a terrible incident. After all, she had only fallen down in the sea and swallowed some of it. She had been regaining her feet but was very glad of Cecil’s rescue all the same. And it had been frightening. But she was determined not to let her fright spoil the rest of the day. Cecil, back in his clothes, had adopted a slightly more casual air: his tie was rolled up and in his pocket and his shirt top was open, the collar spread like wings over his lapels.
They visited the pleasure grounds. Lisbeth wanted to go on the switchback but Cecil said no; she should take things easily; she might be sick. Enjoying his role as rescuer and protector, he daringly put his arm around her shoulder again and gave her a hug. He demonstrated his prowess at the coconut shy and won her a trashy prize; then she tried, and won nothing for him. They bought candy floss and laughed at each other’s sticky faces. They returned to the beach for the Pierrot show and howled with laughter again at the entertainment. They bought postcards and coconuts for their families. They went for a charabanc ride. They ate hot fatty fish and chips out of newspaper, and she kept it down.
Late in the afternoon they walked along the beach to get away from the madding crowd, southwards towards Gibraltar Point. Emboldened by his newly found, strong protective male status, Cecil took her hand. Lisbeth looked up at him admiringly. Then he stopped, and took her by the shoulders and looked at her too, a half-smile playing on his lips. He bent towards her, and her heart skipped a beat as his lips landed somewhat clumsily on hers. It was her first ever kiss; from a boy, at least. As first kisses are wont to do, it seemed to last for ages. Then he placed his hand very tentatively on her right breast and kissed her again, more confidently, and because he was her hero, she let it stay.
Hours later, lying safe in bed, she relived the events of the day: the excited anticipation as the train approached Skeggy and the first smudge of sea against the sky; the unexpected cold of the sea although the sun was so hot; the fright of her incident and Cecil’s gallantry; the feel of his lips on hers and his hand on her body, although, to her relief, he had not seemed to want to take things further. It would have been awful to have had to reject him.
The red bathing suit had had a very brief baptism. She was not sure now whether it had been worth the money. She was sure of one thing though: it would be used only for sun bathing in the future, or perhaps cautious knee-level paddling at the most.
Awakening is available on Kindle at Amazon now: