By the time I woke up, the storm of the previous evening had blown away and the morning was bright and clear. I pulled back the curtains in my Bedroom and looked out to sea. A few ships were visible well out at sea. Two fishing boats were about a mile or so off shore. It looked like a perfect morning.
After a quick shower, I dressed as I normally did on a Friday. That is, I got dressed up. This is the antithesis of ‘Dress Down Friday’. Friday was the day of the Farmers Market in Lampeter. I normally went into the town and did my weekly shopping, had a nice lunch and generally made a day of it. Going there today was probably not going to happen but I saw no reason not to try to keep the rest of things as normal as possible.
I went into my wardrobe and selected something nice to wear. A lime green full skirt and a double petticoat to give it some volume. A white blouse and a pair of nearly nude tights. Finally, a pair of black patent shoes with a 3in heel and a lilac cardigan. I knew that it was a very retro look but I felt good wearing it and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what really matters.
I got dressed and once again as usual for a Friday, I put on some makeup. Not a lot but enough to make a difference.
After my usual breakfast of a poached egg on toast followed by some tea, I cleared away all the time listening out for any sounds from upstairs. Nary a sound was heard but I didn’t worry.
I went out and let the hens out of their coop. They were pleased to see me because I carried their food in a big yellow bucket. In return, they gave me eight lovely fresh eggs. Not bad for the ten hens that I’d bought for the price of two pints of beer.
Back in the kitchen, I started making a cake using four of those newly laid eggs. It the Birthday of my nearest neighbour, Emlyn Williams and I’d promised him that I’d bake him a cake.
As I mixed the ingredients, I let myself smile. If anyone from my past could see me now, they’d fall about laughing themselves to death. I had more out of necessity than anything acquired a number of new skills in the time I’d been living here. The ironic this was that I actually enjoyed cooking whereas before… I could make a great bacon and egg butty and that was about it.
I’d just put the cake into the oven to bake when I heard the sounds of some movement from upstairs. I put the kettle on to boil. If my guest was anything like me, she’d want a cuppa before she got going for the day.
The kettle just had time for it to boil and for me to fill the teapot after warming it naturally, before she came downstairs.
“Good morning Kylie, did you sleep well?”
“Yes,” she replied trying to stifle a yawn.
“Is that some tea?”
“Yes. I put it on when I heard you up and about.”
“Thanks,” she replied as she sat down.
“Do you want anything to eat?”
She thought for a few seconds.
“Not really. I think I ate far too much last night.”
I gave a little chuckle.
“You were hungry that’s all.”
She shook her head.
“I think I ate almost the whole of that lovely casserole. I’m sorry.”
“Kylie, can we get something straight right from the outset. You don’t have to apologize for anything. You have had a hard time. You were in need of some good luck. If I can be the one to help you turn your life around then it will be my pleasure.
So, no more saying sorry ok?”
“So… ok. Thanks.”
I poured both the tea into two mugs. As I did so, the timer rang indicating that the cake was ready to come out of the oven.
“Excuse me. I have a cake that needs to come out of the oven.”
I got the cake out of the oven and put it on a wire tray. I could sense that Kylie was watching every move I made.
“That smells wonderful,” she remarked.
“I hope it will look good as well when I’m done with it. It is a birthday cake for my neighbour. It is his birthday tomorrow.”
“What have you left to do?”
“Oh, make the filling and do the icing but that can wait for later when it is cool.”
When we’d finished the tea, I asked,
“I normally go into Lampeter on Fridays. There is a decent market and I get most of shopping there for the week ahead.
Do you want to come with me?”
Kylie didn’t answer. I could see that she was reluctant.
I smiled and said,
“If you don’t, there’s a chicken coop that needs cleaning out.”
Her face dropped like a stone.
“Don’t worry. I was joking.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“That’s not a problem. Besides, you need a few clothes of your own. Those you were wearing last night are well past it.”
“Are they dry yet?”
“Yes. They are hanging up in the Laundry. I’ll iron them as best I can later if that’s all right with you?”
“Why are you helping me like this? I know that last night you said that you’d been homeless like me but you don’t know me from Adam.”
“That may well be true. You were in need of help last night and I was in a position to give it. You can stay here until… well until you get fed up with me or you want to move on. I’m trying to give you a place where you can sort yourself out if you want to that is?”
She looked me right in the eye. Her brilliant blue eyes were glistening. Last night they had been dull and lifeless. I took that as an improvement.
“Can I come with you when you go out?”
That was an abrupt change of subject. I wondered if there were some demons lurking inside her that were clearly a ‘no-go’ area.
“Yes, but you will need some shoes. Your boots are still wet and clearly well past their use by date. There is often a stall in the market that sells sturdy shoes.”
“I… I don’t mean to ask but do you have some money that I can use? I spent my last on a mug of Tea in … what’s it called… Aber something yesterday.”
“Aberwystyth? Up the coast?”
“Yeah that’s the place. I hitched a lift in Barmouth and got dropped off there.”
That meant that she was coming from the north. At least she hadn’t been living locally.
“That’s not a problem. I need to go to the cash machine anyway. I’ll draw a bit more than usual and give you some.”
Just under an hour later we were in Lampeter. The market was in full swing. At first, Kylie was reluctant to mingle but after a few minutes she relaxed and from what I could see, she was starting to enjoy the experience. She purchased a sturdy pair of boots; a pair of knock off Levi’s plus a couple of tops. When we’d finished with the market we headed for the Organic Supermarket.
Kylie’s first reaction was ‘how can you willingly pay these prices?’
I smiled and said,
“Much of this comes from small producers. Many of them are located within 50 miles of here. Much better for the environment and I happen to think it tastes better.”
She didn’t answer but willingly pushed my trolley around as I tried to shop for two people rather than one.
When we’d loaded everything into the car, I said,
“Fancy a late lunch?”
“At a Pub on the way back?”
She thought for a few seconds before replying,
“Can we skip that? A cheese sarni with some of that Local Cheese you bought and your own bread would do nicely.”
“Good idea besides, I have a cake to ice.”
Kylie settled into the routine of the house very well but… I could hear her cry herself to sleep most nights. There was something really troubling her something, that she point-blank refused to discuss with me. I thought that in time she might get around that block and let me in but the walls around her real self were pretty high and very, very thick.
She’d been with me for almost three weeks when…
I’d got up as normal just before 07:00 and after showering, I went downstairs and fixed myself some breakfast. Most days, the smell of fresh coffee brewing would be enough to get Kylie out of bed but today all was quiet.
A little after 08:00, I ventured upstairs and gently knocked on the door to her room. There was no answer so I knocked harder. Once again there was no answer so I opened the door and to my astonishment the room was empty. Her bed obviously hadn’t been slept in and all the clothes she’d bought while she’d been staying with me were neatly folded and carefully placed in the middle of the bed. Then I noticed a sheet of paper.
Reading it was difficult.
I have to leave now otherwise I’d never go and I need to find myself. I can’t do that here. I’m sorry. I know that you are the most wonderful friend a person can have. There are some demons I need to kill before I can move on with my life. You have shown me a way forward but I have to try to take the next steps myself. I hope you don’t mind I borrowed some money from your purse.
Thank you for everything
I read the note several times as I fought to keep the tears at bay. In the end, things got the better of me and I collapsed on the bed in tears.
The next two days were terrible. There is no other word to describe how much I missed her. She’d come into my life and to my eternal shame, somehow, I had assumed she’d be around for a lot longer or at least let me know that she was leaving. I’d gotten used to her being part of my life and now she wasn’t and that hurt.
One the third day, I sort of came to terms with being alone again. I had to get out of the house so I went for a long run.
The weather was foul but I didn’t care. I needed to get out and do something where I had to concentrate and just keeping upright was a problem in places.
I’d taken up running not long after I’d moved here. Being close to the sea was the perfect opportunity besides my new found love of cooking was beginning to have an effect on my waistline so a good run two or three times a week was perfect. My normal run was about 5 miles but today, I needed something a whole lot harder so I did the extra long course.
This was almost twelve miles of coast and hills with a number of steep climbs and descents through the Afon Dryw valley.
When I got back some two hours later, I was tired, hungry and thirsty but I felt a whole lot better mentally.
I gradually got back into my routine and with Christmas fast approaching the sudden disappearance of Kylie from my life got pushed to the back of my mind.
When I'd moved to this part of Wales, many of the locals thought that I was just another second home owner and they’d only see me for a few weeks a year. When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to fly away with the onset of autumn and winter they started to accept me even though my inability to speak Welsh was the source of some amusement. Once I’d started to pick up a few words I was accepted into the community as much as an incomer would ever be especially as I’d made a point of using local builders and craftsmen to do a good deal of the repairs and alterations to my home. It was remarked more than once that another ‘Incomer’ had bought their own trades people from Cardiff, which didn’t go down very well. I chalked that us a plus point for me.
The local village Women’s Institute held a Christmas Fayre every year. I’d joined it more out of curiosity than anything but soon found that I really enjoyed the weekly meetings. The competition was in reality a very serious event for the various bakers that were dotted around the village and surrounding hamlets. My first attempt was to be honest, pathetic but at least I’d tried. That alone gained me a lot of kudos. However, one baker said in a snooty voice, ‘you should learn the basics before you consider trying again’. I took the hint and took a few courses in cookery and in particular baking. To my delight, I found that I enjoyed it. That woman’s face was put well and truly out of joint the following year when my entry easily beat hers. Now it was time to get started on my entry for this year.
I’d just put my cake into bake a few days later when I heard the sound of the Postman delivering the mail. My post-box was up the drive about 400 yards away so he would toot his horn when there was a delivery for me. After checking that that all was well with the Oven, I put went to collect the mail.
There was just one item. It felt like a Christmas card but I couldn’t recognize the handwriting. As it had just come onto rain, I stuffed it into my pocket and headed for my nice warm kitchen as there was a stiff breeze coming in off the sea. I think the work to describe it would be ‘bracing’.
Once in my warm and cosy kitchen, I opened the card and read it.
“Dear Monica, I’m fine and well. Yes, I’m still on the road but thanks to you I’m in a better place now and I’m trying to deal with my past once and for all. Here’s the money I took from your purse when I left. Sorry for that.
There was a postal order for £20.00. All the memories of her time with me came flooding back and as much as I tried, I couldn’t hold back the tears and I burst out crying.
I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself when the oven timer started bleeping. I just couldn’t be bothered to get up and remove the cake from the oven. Finally, it was the smell of burning that made me do something. The cake was ruined.
All my hard work in the weeks since she’d left had gone in a flash. I was to put it bluntly in a mess. There was nothing more for it I had to speak to my therapist.
“Well Monica,” said my therapist when I’d explained my situation.
“You are more than likely lonely. You need some companionship.”
That was the response I’d been dreading.
“But who in their right mind would want to have a relationship with someone like me?”
“I wasn’t talking about a relationship. Didn’t you say that when Kylie was with you, you didn’t have any sexual desires towards her? I was thinking of someone who could be your friend and whom you can share things with.”
“And if they discover that I am not what I seem?”
“Therein lies your greatest problem. We discussed this at length before you embarked on your change and that there will come a time when you will have to tell people that you care about.”
“Yes. I know that.”
“Go and find someone who can be your friend. You may be surprised at how many people don’t mind what sex you are or aren’t if you are a good person at heart and I know very well that you are just that. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have agreed to you doing what you did to yourself.”
“Don’t leave it so long before you call again you hear?”
“I know Roberta, I know.”
“Ha-ha that’s better. I’d better go now, I have someone a lot like you coming for their first little chat.”
Finding a companion was harder than I thought but my little talk with the doc persuaded me to have another go at making the cake for the ‘Fayre’. This time it didn’t get burnt and if truth were told, it seemed better than the first attempt which made pleased me no end.
A few days later I delivered my second cake to the Village Hall. Preparations for the Fayre were already well underway.
My entry was placed on the table along with more than a dozen others. It was given a label with the number ’15’. This was to prevent the judges from knowing which baker had baked which cake. The two independent judges came from the Cardigan and Aberystwyth Women’s Institutes and trying to influence them was very much frowned upon.
The Fayre opened at 2pm and was in full swing when I returned to see the worst. At least I couldn’t beat the last place I’d achieved on my first attempt. Last year, I’d managed 6th place. That had made me very proud indeed so I was very interested in how I would get on this year.
The revealing of the results was due to take place at 3pm. As the time drew near, all the regular suspects (aka the bakers) gathered around the table containing the entries. Polite small talk was being exchanged between the entrants. I stood back and observed the events from afar. I was still an outside to many of them because I hadn’t grown up with them or my parents hadn’t gone to school with their parents. Coming from a relatively small pit village I knew how these things worked.
“In third place is… Dorothy”, said the W.I Chairwoman as she went through the results. There were five prizes this year and so far, my name hadn’t been called out. I looked at the two favourites, Bronwyn Davies and her sister Angharad Williams and they both had a confident air about them.
“In second place is… Angharad.”
A small round or applause broke out. Despite being second, Angharad gave her sister the evil eye. She’d won for the last five years and the general opinion was that she was starting to assume that the prize was hers by right.
“Now, and in first place is…. Monica.”
More than a few people gave a sharp intake of breath. Bronwyn and Angharad looked at me with daggers for eyes.
I just stood there rooted to the spot. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not have seen myself winning a prize for my baking. I knew that I was a rank amateur when compared to the two sisters. I had to force myself to walk up and collect my prize, a crystal bowl. It would later have my name engraved on it for posterity. That I’m sure would set a lot more tongues wagging in the village.
“Thank you madam chairperson. This is a most unexpected surprise.”
“Monica, the judges did have one question that you may choose not to answer if you don’t want to.”
I looked puzzled.
“The judges wanted to know what sweetener you used in your cake? They didn’t think it was Sugar.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“I don’t mind answering at all. I used a South American herb called Stevia. It is twenty times sweeter than sugar therefore you don’t need to use a lot of it.”
“Madam Chairwoman,” said Angharad in an angry voice.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“As you know, Madam Chairwoman, the rules of the competition clearly state that all the ingredients for the entries must be obtained from within thirty miles of the village. I am sure my sister will back me up when I say that I know of no shop this side of Swansea that would stock such an item. Therefore, I must ask for the winner to be disqualified and my entry rightly pronounced the winner of the competition.”
Everyone looked at the Chairwoman, Ceri Davies for an answer. I took my opportunity to explain.
“If I might be allowed to explain, I can clear things up and avoid further embarrassment all round.”
No one objected.
“As I said, Stevia is a herb that originates in South America. However, the Stevia that I used in my cake was grown in my greenhouse. I would be more than happy to welcome a visit from the Committee so that they can verify my claims.”
There was a stunned silence from the people.
Ceri broke the silence.
“Thank you very much for your explanation Monica. I would be more than happy to verify what you say. Until then the result stands.”
“But… Madam Chairwoman, this is not right. I deserve to be announced the winner.”
“Angharad,” said the Chairwoman in a stern voice.
“My decision is final. Besides, we still have a justice system that in the main believes in ‘Innocence until proven guilty’ and as long as I’m chairwoman that will remain the case.”
That clearly was the last word on the subject. The two sisters stormed off and I was suddenly being asked about my baking secrets. As if I had any compared to the women in the village who’d been baking since they were girls.
I left the Fayre feeling a lot better with myself. I had made a lot of new friends amongst the women and even a few were actively looking a boyfriend for me. That fact alone, made me very happy as on the surface, I’d been accepted just that little bit more into the community.
[To be continued]
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