part one

85.1K 342 109

In the Bleak Mid Winter.

He drifted awake as he always did long before light. For him there was no luxury of pulling the duvet higher and snuggling down until daylight filtered in through the window. Whatever the weather his day began at four thirty. He needed no alarm clock or cock's crow to wake him.

The house was silent except the sound of the long case clock, even though it was downstairs, its rhythmic ticking and deep chimes could be heard all over the house. A comfortable sound, one he had known since childhood. It had belonged to his granddad and had been in the family for years. It was comforting to have something that belonged to his family in a house that was his but didn't feel like home.

He'd sold the only home he had ever known. Sold it for her, for Carol. It had been a fool's errand. Hadn't he known that at the time? She had never loved him. How could she? Consumed as she was by her feelings for Andrew Lawton. It had been impossible working as he did on the farm, not to be aware of their love affair. Something had happened though. John didn't know what but Carol had left; just vanished one day taking young Lisa with her. Andrew had gone to university; returning when he had qualified to take up a teaching job, with his pregnant wife.

He often wondered if he had been to blame for what had happened. He'd brought Carol back to the farm and coincidentally back into Andrew's life. He'd had his doubts before the wedding, about her feelings for Andrew, even expressed them but she'd convinced him everything would be alright and so he had gone along with her plans. Looking back the reason for his agreeing to marry Carol was compelling, she needed him.

Even now he had remembered how his heart had beat a little faster when he realised that she needed him. In thirty one years he'd never been needed by anybody; family didn't count. Not that looking after his granddad had been anything but a labour of love it was just he was family and he just did what was expected of him. That some other person should need him, John Standring, had been amazing. Not wanted but needed. Wanting something implied you could live without it but needing, well that meant you couldn't survive without it.

Andrew's death had changed everything; guilt had eaten away at Carol. She blamed everybody for his death. Andrew's wife, parents, herself and finally him. John had realised that the only person to blame was Andrew, he'd been weak and like many weak people needy and destructive. He'd tried to explain this to Carol but he had only succeeded in making her blame him more. Her guilt had become pernicious; frequently lashing out verbally and physically, she had destroyed him. He had tried for so long to help her but she had rejected him at every turn. She lost interest in everything, especially him. Even Lisa had been unable to reach her.

John sighed, she'd been too young to die and yet he acknowledged she had been one of those people destined never to grow old. Life had been so cruel to her that eventually she had seen suicide as her only option. She'd been so cold when he had found her, so cold and beautiful. For a long time his grief had consumed him; he had been just another in a long line of people who had failed her.

It had been Lisa who had finally made him see sense. Sensible, adorable, Lisa. In the two years that he and Carol had been married she had become like a daughter to him, they had drawn closer as Carol had become distant. She had chosen to live with him after Carol had died. He wept the night she had told him of her decision to stay, overwhelmed at the honour he had felt at her words.

It had been about three months after Carol's death that she had told him to buck his ideas up. She had stood with her hands on her hips glaring up at him and then she had let him have it.

"It weren't your fault John. Carol, she were never happy. I loved her and I miss her she were me mam, but she were so sad. Sad to her bones and to her soul. She didn't know how to be happy. I sometimes thought she didn't want to be happy.

In the Bleak Mid WinterWhere stories live. Discover now