They were the Norsemen who thundered past, their great steeds salivating white foam through the leather face mask, their own wild hair escaping the terrible helmets. The darkness enclosed their yelling ferocity as Marianne drove her Polo into a lay-by on the A49 to let them pass.
Cautiously emerging from the car, Marianne breathed the darkness and stretched each leg, cramped on the journey from Bristol. There were lights in the village ahead, and the yellow florescence of the A5 could now be seen a few miles away. Electricity meant 1988 and home in an hour or so. Briefly Marianne sniffed the manure on the road and dabbed a finger into the drying spittle on the car roof.
Just past the sign for Great Hugston the red sandstone of the square capacious house set back from the road glowed in the outside light. The moon had come out, and there were lights in the upstairs bathroom and the hallway. Surely Mark was not still out at his friend’s? It was only eight o’clock, but he had homework to do this week for a mid term test. At only twelve, the children sometimes worked for two hours after school as well as taking part in sports, music, voluntary work, or other interests. The pressure seemed far beyond that experienced by their parents at the same age.
A brief peacefulness enclosed Marianne as she stepped into her house. The kitchen light was on and Mark’s slender figure appeared in the doorway. His hair was sticking up – a sign of distracted fingers sifting his brain for inspiration. “Oh Mum, thank goodness you’re back. You know about Europe, don’t you? Which countries have which industries? It’s a kind of project, but I think most of them now are run by multi nationals.”
“Hello love. How about a cup of tea while we think about it? You’re probably right administratively, but goods have to be produced somewhere. Take the motor industry. Most larger countries make cars, especially Italy, Germany, France, Britain marginally, but where do the steel and components come from? The days when a particular industry was associated with a country were probably before World War II. Have a look in the encyclopaedia under the European countries. It’s up to date.”
The kitchen was littered with unwashed dishes. Marianne had left a casserole which had obviously been eaten, together with cheese and biscuits. Automatically she closed the biscuit tin and returned the cheeses to their wrapping. “Is your Dad in the bath?” she asked.
“Yes – he was very tired. He’s been there for about an hour now.”
“Put the kettle on, there’s a good boy.” She went upstairs, taking her coat and briefcase to the bedroom first. In the bath, Richard was half asleep in the steam. He jerked up. “Oh, you made me jump. I didn’t hear you come in. Come and give me a kiss. I’ve had a terrible day, and from ten o’clock I’ve got to have the bleeper on.”
“Why? Where’s Jonathan? He’s supposed to be on tonight, isn’t he?”
“He has flu, and I mean real flu. I saw him this morning and sent him home for the rest of the week. Doreen agreed. She’s been in surgery for most of the day and this evening. I was called to an accident. Two cars on the main road – shattered. The worst of it was there was a young boy, a year older than Mark, same height and build. He was crushed. The firemen freed him, but I couldn’t do much. He died in the ambulance. His mother was there. They were from Chester – just going home from school.” His hands were shaking, and Marianne helped him out of the bath. “Yes, I’m sorry, I’m afraid I broke down.”
“Don’t be sorry about that, my darling. People like to know doctors are human, and I’m sure the mother will remember you with gratitude. Heaven knows, there are enough official people buzzing around the relatives after a death, and she will know that you at least were there with her. Did you tell Mark?”
“Yes, he said he was sorry, but he didn’t really react. He told me to leave the dishes. Has he done them?”
“No, he’s in trouble with his homework, but he’s making a cup of tea. Come along, let’s go and drink it, and then wash up together. It will get you in training for all the indigestion calls during the night.”
Marianne decided not to mention Brussels for the next week or two. After all, Easter was still a few weeks away, and the three day visit would be after the holidays.
There was tea waiting when they went downstairs, and Mark was making notes on his project, which he said was falling into place. Marianne produced some pastries which she had bought at a baker’s on the road home, and the three of them relaxed.
Yes, it was a friendly, pleasant house, open to neighbours and their children. The housekeeping was well organised, as Marianne had a tidy nature and also enjoyed cooking, especially in the holidays or when she had time off. Mark was popular at school and an excellent all round sportsman. His friends stayed over, camping in the garden in the summer, and Richard loved his work as a G.P. It was five years since they came to Great Hugston after the usual nomadic existence of the trainee doctor in various hospitals and helping in G.P. practices.
Mark had arrived shortly after Richard’s graduation, and so became a nomadic baby. Marianne gave up her administrative job in a hospital during the pregnancy, with a view to becoming a freelance later, but then was shattered by post-natal depression. Never before had she known any serious illness, physical or mental, and she found the whole episode terrifying. The blackness of no hope engulfed her, and she could not reach anyone. Through opaque glass she knew Richard’s love and anxiety, Mark’s bewildered grasping for her arms, and the concern of many friends. None of this meant anything to her as she floundered and sank in her bottomless hole. Very gradually, with the help of an expert, patient nurse, Marianne emerged, holding the baby cautiously for brief periods and studying his face. He recognised her now and clung as her friend Shelagh took him away for a change and a feed. Shelagh had a two year old of her own, and took full responsibility for Mark as well during Marianne’s illness. The baby was six months old when Marianne felt able to care for him for a day and a night. The success of this twenty four hours and Mark’s contentment encouraged Marianne, and she now began to enjoy this new personality who needed so much care and company.
The bonding between mother and child was six months late, but was obviously working, to Richard’s great relief.
During the recuperative discussions the nurse had suggested that Marianne look into the possibilities of freelance work. Marianne’s own mother lived locally, and she and Shelagh would have Mark while Marianne was out for one or two days a week. This would give Marianne plenty of time at home with her baby, as well as enjoying the stimulus of business. All went to plan, and Marianne, with habitual efficiency, reorganised her life. During Mark’s school years her business had grown, and Richard now felt that she was doing too much. Once or twice he had suggested local jobs, but Marianne felt freer driving around the country and advising companies on their organisation and preparation of business plans.