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Write me a love story - Chaps2 &3

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 01 January 2017
Word Count: 2546
Summary: Onward and upwards - I attach another two chapters of my novel set in the 2nd WW. Flora has been deserted by her husband and now has to carry on alone.

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            The day he left, I forced myself to give him a peck on the cheek and then turned and bolted upstairs.  From out of the bedroom window I watched as Frank marched down the hill and out of my life, without once looking back.   How could he have done that when once we’d been so close?   It was then that I broke down and sobbed until my pillow was soaked as I realised that, slowly and with stealth, he’d turned into a different person:  someone I didn’t understand.
            The next day it seemed as though summer was over.  During the night the wind had veered northerly and when I woke, it was blowing a gale that ripped the still green leaves off the trees.  Fallen apples lay in drifts, like blood amongst the grass.   Most of them would be bruised and only be fit for pigswill but perhaps if I were quick I could save some.  As I opened the door, I heard the cows bellowing.  I’d forgotten the clock but they hadn’t, it was past milking time and their udders were swollen.  I put down the bucket:  the apples would have to wait.
  Leaving the farmhouse, a fine mist settled on my face.  The wind had dropped and a thick layer of cloud drifted towards the ground veiling the surrounding hills.  As I crossed the yard the drizzle changed to a downpour that drenched the manure spattered yard and turned it into a stinking sea of mud.  Listening to the rain drumming against the roof, I walked through the milking shed and pulled open the heavy doors on the far side, letting in the cows that were already jostling for position, their big brown eyes filmy with longing.  
When we’d first started to farm, large herds of Red Devons already grazed the surrounding hills so Frank had opted for Guernseys, delicate animals with pretty metallic grey-blue markings, saying, ‘we can’t compete with the big boys. They’ve cornered the market.  We’ll go for quality.’   
We had six now, all named after flowers, Daisy, Bluebell, Rose, Pansy, Cowslip and Clover.  Their yield wasn’t high but it was ideal for butter, cream and cheese.   One by one, I herded them into the barn and tied them to rings set in the walls before pouring a generous quantity of maize and sugar beet nuts into a manger. As the cows bent their heads and began to munch, I pulled a three legged stool towards me and turned to the first in line, reaching underneath for her teats.   Squeezing and pulling, I sat listening to the sound of the creamy milk squirting into the bucket, staring at the raindrops sliding down the windows.   It was still pouring with rain when I’d finished and within minutes I was soaked as I walked the heavy churns out into the yard before wrestling them onto the flat bedded float.   Although I’d often watched Frank do this, I hadn’t realised how much effort it took and was exhausted by the time I’d finished.   Breathing heavily, I stopped for a moment, then, wiping my rain-soaked face with a wet hand, trudged through the mire to the stable where Barley, our sturdy little cob, was waiting.   As soon as she saw me, Barley’s ears pricked and her soft muzzle reached forward and nudged my hand, searching for her usual morning apple, cut into half.    I ran my fingers through the coarse hair of her mane, the heat of her body warming my hands.   Then, with a brisk slap on her rump, once more I braved the deluge and led the pony into the yard to shut her into the float.   Scrambling aboard and taking up the reins, I suddenly realised from now on this would be my regular morning and evening ritual, day in day out, rain or shine, with no time off for good behaviour.   Tears diluted by the rain slid down my face as I sat hunched up against the weather, listening to the muffled sound of Barley’s hooves struggling through the soggy ground as she plodded down the hill towards the morning milk train.
Once back home, I stood shivering in the hallway stripping off my dripping clothes.   I caught a sudden glimpse of my face in the hall mirror; dark hair plastered to my head, I was as pale as a celluloid doll.   I turned away my eyes staring into nothing as I slotted together the rest of the day.    There’d be no time for breakfast.  My first job would be to sluice down the milking shed, then I had to feed and muck out the animals, before starting on the one thousand and one other jobs the farm demanded.  That night even my screaming muscles couldn’t stop me from plummeting into a deep pit, where all thoughts of cows, pigs and waterlogged fields were snuffed out by the spiralling darkness.
From then on my body fought a losing battle against fatigue.   Often I went to bed hungry, too tired to eat.   Even when Frank had been around, running the smallholding had been hard.  He’d done most of the heavy work while I’d looked after the cows, milking them twice a day and churning any left over milk into cream, butter and cheese to take to market.    I also took care of the books.   Each evening I would sit down at the kitchen table, switch on the radio and begin the job of smoothing and deciphering the crumpled bits of paper that had spent the day in Frank’s pockets.   Soothed by the music and flickering firelight, I’d blank out the chaos of the outside world, comforted by the sight of my cosy kitchen, neatly kept ledger and pile of spiked bills.   When I looked back those evenings seem idyllic.  Without Frank, my work suddenly doubled.   I became whip thin and had to punch new holes in the leather belt that held up my slacks.  By the time night came I was exhausted and went to bed as soon as it got dark, not bothering to draw the curtains.    And all the time an accumulation of bills hid the table and the spike stood empty.
But it wasn’t just the bone draining weariness that sapped my spirits.  Against my will, I pined for Frank.   Both of us were strong willed and over the years we’d had our differences but in spite of that I missed the feeling that we were two fused into one, soul mates tuned into each others dreams.   I missed the shared glances when in company and the warm bulk of him in bed beside me.    In the evenings when darkness drowned the fields and the night wind rustled the leaves, I would sit in his chair and burrow my head into its worn fabric, searching for a trace of him.  
For a few weeks after Frank left, I ignored market day.  In the past it had been a regular weekly event and the sale of our produce had made all the difference to our finances, but following his departure I hid myself away like a wounded animal.  Fully aware I’d be the centre of attention as an abandoned wife, I dreaded the thought of  the pitying looks and pointing fingers.   It took a curt letter from the Bank to twist my arm.   The farm was now running on credit and I needed every penny I could raise. Reluctantly, I realised the time had come for me to hold my head high and face out the stares and whispers.
Perversely, once I had made this decision, I began to look forward to it.  Market day had always been an opportunity to catch up on gossip, and recently there'd been little chance of that.  Apart from the occasional tradesman, I’d seen no-one except Sarah.   Sarah was my best and oldest friend and although she lived at Fernside Farm, over five miles away, she’d made the trek across the soft and rolling hills as soon as she’d heard the news.  
After my tears had dried, we sat looking at each other while the steam from a freshly boiled kettle filled my tiny kitchen.
‘What you need.’  Sarah said.   ‘Is a dog to keep you company.’
I shook my head.  I’d had a dog once.  Sandy, a collie cross.   Sandy was elderly when we first leased the farm and, by degrees, grew more arthritic until some days she could barely stumble outside to do her business.   One evening Frank took her for a walk, a gun by his side.   When he returned he was on his own.
‘It was the kindest thing,’ he’d said.
I remember staring at him, at first too shocked to react.  Then my fists clenched and I started screaming at him.
‘How could you have done that?  I never even said goodbye!’
Frank shrugged.
‘Her life was becoming a misery and if you’d had your way it would have dragged on and on.’
 I sank into a chair and covered my face.   At last I looked up and saw Frank hovering in the doorway, his face was half defiant, half sheepish and he wouldn’t look at me.   Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing and during the next few days, I decided he might have been right, but even so it had taken a long time for me to forgive him.  From then on I’d vowed that no other dog would take Sandy’s place.
* * *
As I laid out my wares on the trestle table, I realised how pathetic they looked.   There were eggs, potatoes and beets but I hadn’t had time to make any butter or cheese.  At the last moment, I’d raided my store cupboard and added some bottled fruit and jam.  After all, with Frank gone I wouldn’t need so much.   I remembered how much he had loved my home-made preserves and my heart twisted.
By now, the other stallholders were arriving.   As soon as they saw me, they stopped what they were doing and came over.   Soon I was surrounded by a crowd of women and warm words washed over me like a softly lapping tide.
‘I heard my dear…silly bugger.’
‘These men…’  
‘Fools they are…’. 
‘What they won’t do for a bit of glory…’
As they spoke, they comforted me, put their arms about me, patted me and stroked my hair. 
Up until then I’d kept my emotions under control but their kindness was too much.   My eyes began to fill and desperately I looked around, blinking furiously.   Then I saw Sarah and Sarah understood, as I knew she would.
Winking, she made a clacking gesture with her hands and lifted her eyes to Heaven.   Putting her fingers in her mouth, she whistled and the shrill sound cut through the hubbub.
‘Come on ladies.   Give the girl a rest; we’ve got customers to fleece.’  
With good natured laughs the women began to move away.   But they hadn’t done with me yet.   One by one they returned, each bearing a gift, a round ripe cheese, tomatoes, runner beans, watercress, a trussed chicken.   Brushing away my thanks, they piled their offerings onto my table before returning to their stalls.
Overwhelmed, I stood looking around from out of blurred eyes.  Suddenly, a ray of sun broke through the clouds and the figures moving slowly around the square were picked out in gold and my spirits soared.  I’d forgotten how kind people could be.  None of them was rich, all worked hard but they’d given willingly and somewhere deep inside me a tiny ember ignited and warmth coursed through me as I realised that, in this ancient place,  similar small acts of kindness must have taken place all through the centuries. I crossed my fingers, praying that it would always be so.
As if denying my prayer, a deafening roar shattered the sky and faces, aged by shock, swung towards the East.   Flying low over the horizon was a huge plane, hedge-hopping across the fields, its wings skimming the trees as it chased its own shadow.   As it drew nearer, its Luftwaffe crosses were clearly visible.
Hands were clapped to ears and panicked voices screamed out from the crowd.
‘It’s a bloody Heinkel!’
‘It’ll blow us to smithereens!’
Everyone had heard horror stories of Nazi bombers jettisoning unexploded bombs to speed their way across the channel, especially if they were being chased by British fighters.
Suddenly, a shrill screech pierced the air.   Mad Meg was standing, her scrawny arms outstretched towards the sky, her fingers hooked into claws.   Spittle flying from her lips, she howled abuse at the bomber, her greasy hair whirling about her head.
A silent tableau of villagers stood around the raving woman watching the plane’s progress.  As their eyes swivelled, the monster disappeared into the murk and as the rent in the clouds sealed over the dull beat of its engines faded into the distance.
‘Good for you, Meggie.   You saw ‘im off.’  A voice roared ebullient with relief.
Immediately, a gale of laughter erupted as people slipped back into their lives and went about their business.
* * *
My unsold wares packed up ready to go; I was having a last word with Sarah when I felt a hand brush my shoulder.   It was Becca, Joe Smith’s wife.   As usual she had a grubby toddler in tow; the child ducked behind its mother peeping out at us from time to time, twin canals of slime oozing from its nose.  Once more, Becca’s skirt was stretched tight over her belly.   Long ago I’d lost count of the number of children swarming through the dilapidated farmhouse the Smiths called home.
‘Joe asked me to remind you that you got Prince booked second week in September.’   
I gasped.   With all that had been going on, it had completely slipped my mind.   Second week in September!  That was just over five weeks time.    Round as an apple and kind as a Christian, Prince’s chestnut bulk was a familiar sight in the fields.  Most of the small farmers used Joe’s horse.   It worked to everyone’s advantage.  Hiring a heavy horse was cheaper than owning one and Joe made a tidy bit of money without lifting much more than a finger.
‘Have you ever worked with a carthorse afore?’
I shook my head.   That had always been Frank’s job.   I could deal with Barley, but the thought of turning a collar over Prince’s huge, restless head worried me more than I liked to admit.
I stared into her wet, black eyes. As usual they were inscrutable.  Once Frank had almost bought a mare with eyes like that.   An old horseman friend of ours had advised against it.  
‘Somewhere along the line, that mare’s been marked,’ he’d said.   ‘Never trust an animal with eyes like that.’  
   ‘Daresay Joe’ll help.’  Becca’s gaze slid over my face.  ‘It’ll be extra mind.’
When she’d gone, Sarah looked at me.
‘What are you going to do?’ she asked.
            ‘If I know Joe, he won’t be able to drag himself away from the pub.’  I said, forcing my lips into a smile.
            Sarah’s eyes darkened.   ‘Oh yes he will.’   She bent towards me, her eyes intense.
            ‘Just you take very great care.   You hear me?’

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Comments by other Members

LauraSco at 16:31 on 04 January 2017  Report this post
Chapter 2
So many good things in this chapter. The detailed description of the work this woman has no choice but to do - ending up too tired to even eat - made me feel exhausted. Then the unbelievable, but believable (if you know what I mean), "Against my will, I pined for Frank." I'm rooting for her to get over that one fast.
Your descriptions generally are good, they certainly paint quite vivid pictures. One of my favourites - As I crossed the yard the drizzle changed to a downpour that drenched the manure spattered yard and turned it into a stinking sea of mud. Lovely!

Chestersmummy at 18:12 on 04 January 2017  Report this post
Thanks for your comments Laura.  I'm glad you enjoyed the chapter.

Best wishes


salli13 at 07:20 on 08 January 2017  Report this post
I really enjoyed this - (had to re-read chapter one to recap).  I  loved the conflict you portrayed so well, of her being so angry with her husband whilst simmultaneously pining for him.  I also loved the comradery of the women.  I recently watched the BBC show about the women that worked behind the scenes in the war and this chapter reminded me of that show.

The only things I found was a missing comma here

I turned away(,) my eyes staring into nothing as I slotted together the rest of the day.  

and here - Sarah is repeated to soon I felt

 Then I saw Sarah and Sarah understood, as I knew she would.

perhaps you could change this to  "I saw Sarah who understood, as I knew she would" ?

Not sure if you intended this aliteration but I loved 

I stood shivering in the hallway stripping off my dripping clothes

Anyway I hope this is useful and I look forward to reading more.

michwo at 09:21 on 08 January 2017  Report this post
I'm impressed by your knowledge and deep understanding of rural life.  The nearest I've ever been to it was occasional visits to my Aunty Gerty and Uncle Arthur, now both passed away, who lived in a village called Norton between Knighton and Presteigne in what is now Powys in Central Wales, a sheep and dairy farming area.  But I never had much contact with the farmers themselves.  From your writing about it, it sounds like a pretty hard life!  You have the gift, which I don't have, of making the mundane totally real.  In comparison to what you do, what I do is fantasy and high-faluting fantasy at that based on 'foreignness'.  Keep up the good work and it is good work, it really is as far as I can see.  Are you already a published writer?  You certainly deserve to be on this evidence.

Chestersmummy at 17:41 on 08 January 2017  Report this post
Hi Salli

Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed it.   Agree about the missing comma but think I will keep the two Sarah's in - to me it sounds more lyrical - if that's the word.   The alliteration doesn't come as a surprise to me so I suppose I must have meant to put it in - I wrote this a few years ago and have only just dredged it up from underneath the bed!



Chestersmummy at 17:49 on 08 January 2017  Report this post
Gosh!  Thanks Michwo - really chuffed by your comments.   Like you, I know absolutely nothing about farming - in fact it wasn't until I was halfway through the novel that I was told that cows were milked twice a day.  I had thought they were only milked the once, (I had to change a bit in the book).  So am really pleased that you think it sounds authentic.

I have had a couple of short stories published in women's mags and a few bits and bobs published elsewhere but am not a published author unfortunately.  Having said that, I haven't tried hawking my stuff around so can't really complain.  (I always moan about not winning the lottery but  never buy a ticket).

Best wishes

Catkin at 14:07 on 25 January 2017  Report this post
A pair of good chapters, which effectively convey Flora’s suddenly changed and much harder life. Reading them, I got a pretty detailed idea of what her environment looked and felt like, so no problems there.

The major point I’d make is that I think you have missed a trick, and a big trick, too. You haven’t written something that could have been one of the most exciting and interesting parts of the book. You go straight from Frank’s announcement that he is leaving to the day he leaves, with nothing in between. This period must have been full of argument, discussion and serious conflict. Flora would have begged him not to go. I would like to see and hear some of those arguments, because I’m sure they were dramatic, heated and interesting. I want to know exactly how Frank could justify leaving his wife with far too much work to manage on her own. I want to know what Flora said about that - didn’t she tell him that it was impossible to manage without help? Did she consider refusing to try to manage on her own? Did she consider moving away from the farm? Why did she decide to try to tough it out alone? The fact that we don’t know any of the reasons for the choice that she made to stay does make her seem very passive: it’s as though this situation has simply been dumped on her, and she is being forced to cope with it.

Other that that, it all works very well. I found these minor nit-picks, but these are really all I could find to pick at:

as though summer was over

- or possibly ‘were over’ - that would be more elegant.

the still green leaves

- I’d use a hyphen; still-green (because otherwise, it sounds as if the leaves are both motionless and green).

like blood amongst the grass

- I’d say ‘blood on the grass’, because apples can be amongst the grass, but real blood couldn’t be - thus ‘amongst’ sounds slightly odd.

I’d forgotten the clock but they hadn’t, it was past milking time and their udders were swollen.

- comma splice

the manure spattered yard
the flat bedded float
Both of us were strong willed

- here are some more places where you could consider using a hyphen. I would, but I think the use of hyphens often comes down to personal preference. Personally, I like them, and I think they can aid clarity.

the sound of the creamy milk squirting into the bucket

- there is a lot of good visual description in this novel, and a lot of sound, but there are very few smells. I think your work needs a little more use of the sense of smell. This is a farm. Farms are smelly places. I would have thought that milking a cow would be quite a smelly experience?

Against my will, I pined for Frank.   Both of us were strong willed

- will and willed close together

Sarah was my best and oldest friend

- did the fact that her best friend lived in the area have anything to do with the decision to lease a farm there?

The unilateral dog-slaughter tells us a lot about Frank’s nature. Not many women would forgive him for that in a hurry ... or even at all, ever.

Then I saw Sarah and Sarah understood,

- if you want to keep it like this (and I can see why you would), how about putting a comma in? Then I saw Sarah, and Sarah understood

Do the other women give Flora some of their wares so that she can sell them, or is this intended as a gift of personal food for her?

I feel that Mad Meg should be seen earlier, before she is suddenly introduced in such a dramatic way.

Chestersmummy at 15:17 on 25 January 2017  Report this post
Hi Catkin

As usual, thank you for your very helpful comments.  I value them tremendously although I will have to look up comma splice again!   Will definitely expand on the Frank/Flora issue although not sure whether to put it at the end of Chap 1 or beginning of Chap 2.  Will think about it.

Best wishes


Catkin at 16:26 on 25 January 2017  Report this post
You're welcome, Janet. I'm only sorry it takes me so long, sometimes. My life is very busy and stressful at the moment.

There is a link to the best info. I could find about the comma splice right at the top of the group forum:


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