The first of the Autumn Gales was making its way up the St George’s Channel and into the Irish Sea. The late afternoon sky was darkening and the one ship that I could see from my window looked like it was in for a rough night.
I was in the process of pulling the curtains and shutting out the storm when I saw a brief light coming from the half ruin of a barn that marked the edge of my property. At first I thought that it was a reflection from the last of the sun but it appeared again. By now, the sun was totally covered by the approaching storm clouds.
I pulled the curtains shut and tried to put the possibility that someone was out there to the back of my mind.
I went downstairs and proceeded to prepare my evening meal. I was making a lamb casserole. The lamb came from my next-door neighbour and the veggies were from my own garden. Thankfully that garden was protected by a decent wall so the winds shouldn’t wreak too much damage.
The next time I thought about the winds was more than an hour later. I’d just put the heavy cast iron casserole dish back into the oven after checking the state of the cooking. I estimated that it would be ready in just under an hour.
The sound of a squall hitting the house made me think of the ruins. I thought to myself, ‘what if there was someone there I?’ Unable to get it out of my mind, I went upstairs and peaked through the curtains of my bedroom window hoping to see the light again. By now, the rain was striking the window almost horizontally so the chances of seeing someone the other side of a five acre field was next to zero.
Back in the warmth of the kitchen, I poured a glass of home-brewed bitter. I put it to my lips and was about to take a drink when curiosity got the better of me. If there was someone out there the way the weather was coming, they’d get scant shelter in that wreck of a building. It was a wreck because a storm some thirty years before had not only blown the roof off but took most of the sea facing wall with it. The barn had been built to provide shelter in the event of a storm but now it was a wreck.
I took another look outside only to be greeted by more rain lashing onto the window. That made my mind up for me. I’d have to go and see for myself.
I changed into something more suitable for the weather conditions and after putting on my ‘wellies’, I went out of my house via the back door picking up a heavy-duty torch on the way. The rear of my home was somewhat sheltered from the wind but even so the force of the wind surprised me.
I buttoned up my long-waxed cotton coat right up to the top, pulled on a ‘bobble hat’ and started to walk around the side of the house. After a few steps, I got used to the wind and headed out across the field towards the ruined barn.
As I approached the barn, I switched on my flashlight. The beam didn’t penetrate very far through the rain. At least there
was enough light for me to see where I was treading. The blocks of stone from the damaged walls were easy to trip over.
Eventually, I got around to the far side of the building and walked in through what was once a doorway.
I shone the torch around looking for anything that shouldn’t be there. It didn’t take long for me to spot something on the floor. It looked like a sheet of black plastic. I gently walked over to it and tugged at it.
A dirty hand appeared and pulled it back into place. A voice shouted over the wind,
“Fuck off. This is my bivvy. Go find somewhere else.”
I shouted back.
“You can’t stay here. You will catch your death. Come into my house and get dry.”
The plastic sheet was pulled down by that same dirty hand. I could see a female face underneath.
“Come on, you must be wet through. At least it will be warm in my house and I expect you could do with something to eat?”
The face looked at me for a second.
“Are you for real?”
“Yes, I am real but I won’t be if you don’t get a move on. I’m getting cold and wet myself. Besides, I have a nice lamb casserole that won’t keep forever…”
I took a step backwards and was about to turn and leave the prone woman to her fate when she said,
“Wait. Don’t go. I’m coming.”
I afforded a small smile as another squall blew in off the sea.
She picked up her meagre belongings and walked towards me.
“Let’s go. You can see the lights from my house on the other side of the field.”
A few minutes later we got to the back door. I switched on the lights in what I called my ‘boot room’.
“There is a shower in there,” I said pointing at a door to our right. Let me have your clothes and I’ll put them in the washer.”
“What will I wear?”
“Don’t worry about that. By the time you get yourself clean and warm I’ll have something for you to wear. It is nice and warm in my kitchen but go and get warm under the shower. There is plenty of hot water so take your time.”
She looked at me suspiciously.
“Why are you doing this?”
“How about my good deed for the day besides, you couldn’t stay the night out there and it is nice and warm in here.”
“You don’t know anything about me?”
“There will be time for all that. First you get clean and warm. Then we eat. Then we can talk. Ok?”
She gave a slight nod of her head.
“Ok. There’s the door. There is shampoo and everything plus some towels in there already.”
Reluctantly, she went into the shower and closed the door. I heard her poking around at a few things. Then to my relief, the shower came on.
“Can I have your clothes?” I said loudly.
The door opened and a dirty arm appeared and tossed me some very wet and very grubby clothes.
I loaded them into the washer and set it going before going into the kitchen and laying the table for two. As I set the second place, I stopped. This was something I’d only done a few times since I moved in more than two years before. I hadn’t realised how long it had been. I sighed to myself as I thought back to how I’d set out of the path that had taken me to this place. It all began with good intentions and went downhill from there for quite a while.
I shivered as I remembered those dark days.
I pushed those memories to the back of my mind and concentrated on the more pressing things at hand. Firstly, I needed to find something for my guest to wear. Then we could sit down to eat.
I found some clothes and put them outside the door to the shower.
“There are some dry clothes just outside the shower room door,” I said loudly.
She obviously didn’t hear me as there was no reply. I didn’t worry too much as I could tell that she was enjoying the warm water by the singing that was emanating from the shower room.
I returned to the kitchen and finished setting the table. I hesitated when I came to the bottle of beer that I’d opened earlier. I knew that a lot of people on the road had problems with drink. I decided to put it away for the time being.
I heard the shower stop. I afforded myself a little smile. She would be nice and clean by now.
A few minutes later she appeared at the kitchen door
“Come on in. We don’t stand on ceremony here.”
“Thank you,” she replied hesitantly.
Now that I had a good look at her, I could see that she was young, very young indeed.
“I’m Monica by the way. Welcome to my home. Please sit down and I’ll dish up some food.”
Her eyes followed me to the stove. That made me wonder how long it had been since she’d had a decent meal. Come to think of it, I wondered how she came to be in this neck of the woods.
I carried the cast iron pot that contained the meal to the table and removed the lid. A nice herby smell filled the kitchen.
Her eyes never left the food for an instant.
I filled a bowl with three ladles of casserole and slid it over to her. I tore off a large chunk of bread from the loaf I’d made earlier in the day and put it on the plain wood table next to the bowl.
I filled a bowl for myself and after tearing a chunk of bread for myself, I sat down.
“You don’t need to wait for me. Please tuck in.”
Forty minutes and three bowls of casserole later, she’d finally finished eating. She wiped the bowl clean with the last of the bread and let out a small belch.
“Sorry about that. That was really good, thank you. Thank you very much for the food. The shower was wonderful. I hope I didn’t use all your hot water.”
“No. There is more than enough to go around.”
“What do I call you?”
A look of surprise came over her face.
“Oh sorry. I was so hungry I clean forgot to tell you. I’m Kylie, Kylie Lane.”
I felt relieved.
“How old are you?”
“Hey! That’s my business.”
“I’m just a bit worried. You seem awfully young to be homeless and walking the roads.”
Kylie didn’t react to start with. I kept looking at her.
In the end, she answered.
“Ok. I’m Eighteen. I was thrown out of my parents home when I flunked my ‘A’ levels because I didn’t want to go up to Oxford to become a shitty lawyer like my father or to Cambridge and train to be a Doctor like my stuckup bitch of a mother.”
I could tell that she was still angry with about a log of things.
“What did you do then?”
“I stayed with a few friends until I was politely asked to move on when the rumours about my so called drug use started going around. I’ve never used any drugs apart from the odd drink or two. I found out that the rumours were started by my dear parents. They thought that by making life hard for me, that I’d come running home to them. I didn’t and in the end, I ran out of places to go so… I left and have been travelling ever since.”
“You poor girl.
“What do you want to do with your life?”
She glared back at me.
“Are you trying to organise me?” she said angrily.
I let out a small chuckle.
“No. I’m the last person who would try to organise anyone. I was homeless through no fault of my own for a short period and without the help of a very understanding and kind person, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Let me rephrase what I said a bit."
"You are welcome to stay here for a bit and if there is anything I can do to help you then you only have to ask. Does that sound a bit better?”
I hoped so. All the onus was now on her.
“What do you want me to do?”
“To earn my keep and such.”
“Let’s talk about that in the morning. Let me show you to your room.”
“Can I clear this lot away?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“I’ll do that later. Let’s get you settled. I expect that you could do with a good sleep in a clean bed.”
Kylie didn’t answer but I could tell by her body language that she didn’t want to argue so I led her upstairs and into the spare room.
“There is a toilet and shower through there,” I said pointing at a door. There is a spare blanket in the cupboard if you get cold. Other than that, it is all yours.”
She looked around with huge eyes.
“Thank you,” she replied in almost a whisper.
“Take your time in the morning and don’t feel that you have to get up at any time. I’ll be around the house if you need me.”
“Thank you Monica. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, sleep well.”
I backed out of the room, closed the door behind me and went downstairs.
I pulled out a bottle of my home-brew that I was originally going to have with my meal and poured myself a very large glass. It had been quite an evening.
[To be continued in Part 2]
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