Golly Gosh Cafe

tea shop and sanctuary

conversations

I have introduced myself. You have introduced yourself. This is a very good conversation. ~ Katsumoto, The Last Samurai

They were two silver-haired ladies, still stylish and still a little mischievous.

Kate and Lizzie could no longer be described as young but that didn’t matter, at least not to them.  It neither hindered nor worried them for they were also formidable and wise, vivacious and free.  Forces of nature some might say.

A lifetime ago they embarked on life’s rollercoaster knowing only too well that the presence of vulnerability and fragility would accompany them forever.  They would come to know feelings of exhilaration and excitement and the adrenalin rush that makes the heart beat faster and faster; fight or flight.  The fear and the tummy flips, the nausea, the holding on so tightly that knuckle bones are displayed and close to bursting through the skin.  The need to trust and rely on something other than self and the tears and relief knowing that, for another day, survival was to be permitted.

Life’s experiences: unique, precious and detailed.  Stories: not to be challenged or touched.  And never dismissed.

Today was a milestone.  Lizzie had some news and wanted to share it.

Kate’s squeals erupted.  Tears of happiness streamed down her face and she squeezed her friend so tight Lizzie thought she might pop.

Lizzie’s going to be published! 

It would seem that life had been breathed into Lizzie’s girlhood dream of being an author and it was closer to taking flight than she could ever have imagined.  She couldn’t contain her excitement and why should she.  But all she could think of saying was:

Definitely something to tick off that bucket list!

Kate and Lizzie had been friends after a comical first encounter had brought them together almost fifty years ago now.  A long time to be a friend.  They reminisced but this wasn’t a day for reality checks and things forgotten or lost.  Today was memorable and magical.  Today a dream was born and everyone celebrated.

Lizzie sat for a while after Kate left.

She understood her friend’s need to be doing things.  Kate always had a schedule, a list of sorts and meetings to attend for one of the many groups she volunteered with.  There was always something to do for The Rural or The Festival Group or the Church office where she helped out.  But today was her aqua aerobics day and Lizzie couldn’t help but smile.  She pictured Kate, leading the way, at the forefront of other women of a certain age.  All shapes and sizes, in swimsuits with some wearing hats to keep their hair in place for another day, bobbing up and down in the pool, stretching, running, pushing against the water, in time to music of a different era.  All desperately trying to follow the instructions of a much younger version of themselves with the additional extras of makeup, lycra and a body that was fit for public viewing.  More comical Kate moments.

Lizzie had a gentler approach to life.  She preferred to linger in the moment allowing her senses free rein to attune to the surroundings and to the thoughts in her head.  Sifting and sorting, organising and refreshing.  Unrushed.  Missing nothing.  Always time.

More tea Lizzie?

Yes please Alice.  The meringues were delicious! 

I wasn’t too sure at first.  I think I’m more of a sponge kinda person.  I was going to ask you about meringues … your secret weapon!

They both laughed.

No secret Alice, just practice.  She winked.

What’s the book about Lizzie?

Thin places.

Alice felt a sudden tugging at her heart and looked up.

I think I’ll need a spare cup. 

She looked around.  There was little noise.  And like slow motion Alice located a cup and saucer from the shelf, pulled back a chair and sat, taking her place beside Lizzie.  She poured them both a fresh cup of Earl Grey tea and with elbows on the table she rested her chin on her hands.

She knew this would be a good conversation.

time

‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to week and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.’ ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The few offices and shops on the High Street were closed and there was little activity as Maggie and Jan made their way along the narrow pavement, walking briskly, on their way to Golly Gosh for some cosy cheery chat on what was turning out to be a surprisingly autumnal day.

Their attention was drawn to two men exiting the local lawyer’s office; Mr Fraser, always Mr Fraser, was accompanied by a stranger, a younger man. They were deep in conversation as they stood by the side of a black shiny Range Rover parked outside. The younger man’s hand rested firmly on the door handle demonstrating his eagerness to be gone. Mr Fraser waved and smiled in their direction but the stranger appeared to be distracted by his own thoughts and paid them no heed; he opened the door and disappeared into the blackness. As he did so Jan thought she recognised him as the man with the sunglasses and dishevelled hair who’d helped Noah with his kite on a blustery day at the beach. He’d looked different then, more approachable. There had been no time for any meaningful introductions and now she wished she’d at least asked his name.

Mr Fraser was well known in the village; a respected man, not only for his brilliant legal mind, but also a generosity and willingness to share his expertise with individuals for very little remuneration. Rumour had it that sometimes he provided a crucial service to people in need for nothing in return.

Mr Fraser could only be described as the jolliest of men with a cheeky sense of humour that won him friends easily; a raconteur of sorts who held court masterfully whether as an after dinner speaker or in entertaining the few people gathered in the hall for tea after church on a Sunday. He was small and portly in stature with plump rosy cheeks and sparkly blue eyes that looked playfully through round silver-rimmed spectacles. He preferred three piece grey suits with a splash of colour, today in the form of a red handkerchief to match his tie, the colour alternating depending on the day of the week, his mood and what was in his diary. In his waistcoat pocket hung a watch and chain that belonged to his great-grandfather of whom he had endless stories to tell. On occasion Mr Fraser’s silver curly hair got a little wild when a visit to the barbers was due and Maggie had teased him about it only last Sunday. In contrast, his now silver moustache, a remnant from his army days, was always neatly trimmed and tickled when he wished as many ladies as he could ‘happy new year’ or ‘happy birthday’. Maggie had grown fond of this older gentle man particularly over the last eighteen months when she sought his counsel.

This stranger seemed incongruous to his surroundings. He didn’t fit in. Maggie rolled her eyes as Jan, predictably, was drawn to the well-groomed dark head and smart suited appearance not to mention the height and confidence of his gait and the tanned skin. At ease with himself. He knew he looked good. Not that she’d noticed, not really.

There was also something familiar about him; indefinable from the distance and the smoked coloured windows of the vehicle as he drove passed them. She was hardly going to peer in now was she.

Maggie also thought he looked a bit too full of his own importance.

That was the first time she saw him.

The second time she saw him she was in a hurry. Always in a hurry. But she had to make the post office before it closed. She had to post the letter. Her smart working shoes clippety clopped on the concrete and she tried to concentrate on the red postbox at the end of the street. Inside her head a conversation was happening and she feared, for a moment, that she had spoken aloud. Nearly there. People are right. I need to slow down. Make time for myself. Catch my breath. I will. But I need to get this posted. She’ll be waiting for it and I promised her I’d write.

An important letter to an important person and the one she loved most in the world. Her grandmother.

But her beloved grandmother was of the old school. No internet or email for her. No, she preferred to receive mail in the form of beautifully handwritten notes, on ivory paper tucked inside matching ivory with chocolate lined envelopes; to be savoured and opened with care for therein lay fragile secrets. Quintessentially romantic and very sweet and Maggie loved her for it. She also loved that, despite her hurried life, her grandmother’s wishes made her take the time to sit down and write a letter. Like the old days. And Maggie obliged, every month, updating her on her progress and the goings on in the village her grandmother had left many years ago as a young wife and mother.

Maggie’s mind was racing with purpose as she brushed passed him. Had she taken time to notice she would have seen a glimmer of recognition and a smile in his eyes, the floral fragrance she’d sprayed as she left the office playing with his senses and evoking distant memories. But she didn’t want to notice, didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see.

Maggie made it just in time and as the postman picked up the mail and she was able to place the precious communication inside the big grey bag. At least that was something ticked off the ‘to do’ list. She could visualise her grandmother; rummaging around to look and find lost spectacles, making herself some iced tea then settling herself in the shade in the garden before opening Maggie’s much awaited envelope with tenderness and anticipation.

Today, of all days, hadn’t been the day she’d expected. Nevertheless she needed to clear her head. The anticipated swelling of grief, associated with an anniversary of the most defining moment of her life, hadn’t arrived. She felt confused, perhaps relieved but definitely not numb. Putting the key in the lock she could do nothing but smile.

She took the stairs two at a time and headed straight to the wardrobe, changing into jeans and warm walking socks, pulling a navy jumper over her head as she made her way downstairs. She hurried, stepping into bright blue wellingtons with bursting yellow suns, grabbed an orange waterproof and slid her arms inside. She made her way along the beach and soon stood at her favourite place beside the waves, wrapping the oversized jacket, his jacket, around her to protect from the wind and light drizzle. It had been a full day and people had kept her busy. Now she needed time on her own; to be.

Maggie stood staring into the distance enjoying the sound of the waves and feeling them splash against her boots. She looked down and saw the sand cover her feet.  It was then the tears were released. Silently she allowed them their freedom.  Memories of what had been and what there could now be. Not for what she’d lost but for the life she’d now gained; filled with potential and opportunity, grace and love.

If she’d only known she was being observed and protected from a distance. A stranger from a house on the hill.

The third time Maggie almost missed him.

Kate had offered her an old fashioned bicycle with a big basket on the front that she used to carry groceries and books from the library.  Maggie enjoyed cycling but couldn’t afford a new bike so thanked Kate for the offer.  This would certainly help perpetuate her reputation and image further.  It even had a bell!  What else could a girl need?  As Maggie pulled the old white bike onto the pavement and opened the gate she heard barking in the distance. But her attention was drawn to the window where Maggie, Sally and Alice stood. Like schoolgirls they giggled and pointed towards the beach, enjoying the show; a man throwing a stick and a dog doing what dogs do. Remarkable.  Is that it?

She noticed that the dog could have been Harry, Mr Crawford’s boxer. But that wasn’t possible because Mr Crawford, the retired headmaster, had died recently and she’d heard someone had inherited his dog.   It was definitely Harry.  Now curious she rested the bike against the wall and stood just for a moment.  That moment turned into five minutes, then ten minutes, rooted to the spot, spellbound.

A summer memory exploded into her mind in glorious colour and excitement; a bouncing dog and throwing sticks, taming kites and chasing the wind, laughter and new friendships, a wonderful voice and dark brown hair, a place in her heart and never forgetting.

He looked up and began to walk towards her and the knot that had dwelt so long in her stomach lost its power and supremacy. It gave way to something else; something new and old, something unknown yet known, something far away but within reach.

She knew him.

Tom.

And she thought her heart might just burst!

perception

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is; Infinite.  For the man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern’ ~ William Blake

When the time came Maggie was more than happy to be stepping down from the bus and waving thanks to the cheery driver as he reversed and drove off.  This shopping trip had lasted a liftetime and Jan’s effervescence and indecision left Maggie weary of stumulus, of vibrancy and zingy Jan-like things!

Too many choices.  Too little time.  Too much chat.  Too little planning.  Not enough focus on the clock quite frankly.

But she wasn’t cross, just tired, and a smile touched her lips as she observed her best friend.  Her practiced posture and obligatory high heels stubbornly uncompromised despite being on her feet all day and she wondered how on earth she did it. There really was no stopping her. Maggie had always admired her, always a little in awe of the intensity she displayed for life. It appeared that every second of every day she looked for opportunities to be happy, choosing to embrace rather than doubt or caution, thankful for the abundant gifts and relishing the challenges.  Harmonious and happy.  Simply Jan.

She wished she was more like her.

But Jan was also insightful and knew she’d pushed Maggie’s patience beyond the limit today … procrastination and girlie nonsense, excitement and the desire to have fun. And she knew, absolutely without doubt, that the new champagne bar suggestion had been the last straw!  Maggie was patient but she was no walkover.  Indeed she was more than capable of surprising people and shattering their perceptions. Maggie: smart, honest, beautiful, grounded, with a steely determination for justice.  An enigma that captured attention.  She was the friend you’d want most in your life and on your side.

She wished she was more like her.

The morning sunshine had long since gone, predictably replaced by dark clouds rolling in across the sea and in the distance they could see boats bobbing in the water, their sails rippling.  No wonder the natives were obsessed with the weather.  The wind was gathering speed as they walked briskly towards the high street and in unison they buttoned jackets and pulled up collars.  The bright bags flapped and struggled for freedom.

The end of another summer.

When are you going to be able to wear all this … stuff?!

Jan made a funny face and stuck out her tongue. Holidays need new things Maggie!  If you weren’t so stubborn you could still come.

As they headed for Golly Gosh, Maggie played out the scenario in her head.  It would be how it always is.

The room would light up because, suddenly, Jan had arrived and everyone loved her.  Maggie would order while Jan showed off every item of clothing with an exaggerated pose then a discussion on the topic of holidays and crash diets would ensue. Her excitement would ignite everyone else’s and there would be requests for more drinks and probably extra helpings of Alice’s to die for Victoria sponge and everyone would agree that the healthy eating plan could start on Monday. They’d ask Maggie if she was going too and she’d make up some excuse or other to satisfy their curiosity. It was all a game and everyone knew to play it.

After a year, the goodwill of people encouraging her to get a life was beginning to slightly irritate. Give it time they said and continued to say when they couldn’t think of anything else to say. She knew they meant well and appreciated their kindness.  She knew but for these people she’d never have made it in one piece.  But.  Honestly.  Sometimes saying nothing was better.

She knew she was stronger.  Resilient.  Ready.

An anticipation growing in the new knowledge that life was better, brighter, sacred and that happiness would come if she let it.

If she dared believe; limitless.

 

 

childhood things

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold
You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley ~ Sting

Each stop saw the bus empty and in time there would only be Maggie, Jan and the driver left. They were the last stop and as usual the driver was in no hurry. This really was the most beautiful of places and Maggie was grateful for being in this place at this time. She never wanted to be anywhere else.

She had grown quieter throughout the journey, mulling over the numerous action lists and things that needed to be done, the letter that had arrived in the post that morning lying unopened on the kitchen table, the end of another summer that always left her a little sad.

Maggie leaned against the window and shut her eyes tightly to block out the external distractions and remembered one glorious lifetime ago summer.  Maggie and Jan.  Jan and Maggie.  Inseparable.

A summer of bright red shorts and red satin ribbon tangled in her blond curly hair; yellow cornfields and the wrath of a checked shirted farmer; jumping waves and chasing the wind; running as fast as they could along the beach; climbing and hiding and bumps and scrapes; riding bikes and swings and dizziness and giggles; standing on tiptoes and two  boys they would never see again. A memory of shiny dark to black hair, of golden skin not of these parts, of straight white teeth and a voice and accent that could only be described as posh. She’d never forgotten.  Smiling and eyelashes glistening.

One glorious summer in childhood; one treasured memory.

Maggie’s enjoyment of nostalgia was to be short lived as Jan interrupted, landing herself with a bump into the free space beside her. Multi-coloured shopping bags full to bursting, spread out and now resting on their knees. Jan’s excitement clearly reflected in the break-neck speed chitter-chatter. Maggie found it hard to keep up.  Oh for a little quiet. But it was not to be.

Let’s drop in to Golly Gosh for a quick cuppa … and I can show Sally my holiday things!

Maggie.  Forced to let go of the memory.

restoring

“I have to be alone very often.  I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment.  That’s how I refuel.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

She’d joined in. This was a significant step, a sign perhaps. She knew what to look for and this afternoon’s contribution to a brief conversation with Kate was definitely a sign. When she spoke her voice sounded different than she remembered but then it had been several months now without communication and she was out of practice. Then, quite unexpectedly, the silence had been broken.

Six months ago she’d embraced a self-imposed exile making solitude her new best friend. She and solitude existed together in a place of darkness and pain, filled with disturbances that played over and over in her head usually in the middle of the night when sleep couldn’t be found.

On the days they could make it out of the house she and solitude would visit Golly Gosh where they knew they’d be left in peace.  Sitting in the corner they were allowed to exist in their preferred world devoid of emotion or meaningful social interaction.  Playing at being invisible; playing into the hands of self-pity.

But without her knowledge or understanding or agreement something greater was at work.  Something that knew how to heal and restore; gentle in presence and perfect in timing.  And over the months that pitiful darkness had slowly begun to ebb away.  Light had come in the presence of the people around her and she felt a strong connection.  She smiled and breathed deeply.  Closing her eyes she silently thanked God for the life and spirit they displayed and for the strength and comfort she’d received but had failed to acknoweldge out loud.  If there was a God she was grateful.

Today she didn’t want to give up. Today she felt alive and asked solitude to take a step back.  Just for now.

Today a new sense of purpose was emerging.

She watched as Sally and the others gathered around the window, laughing; something about a man and a dog and Maggie.  And they waved.

She lifted the cup to her mouth and drank soon realising her tea was cold and she’d been sitting thinking for a while.  Looking down at the beautiful purple notebook gifted to her in another time and place she knew the blank pages longed to be filled.  That was its purpose.

Beth wanted to write the story.  She couldn’t let go of that precious, precious, thought.  Holding on tightly, she held it captive, for fear that it would escape and slip away and, in doing so, take away the hope it inspired along with it.  This time she wouldn’t let it happen.

ghosts

A person who has no-one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost.  Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love.  Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body.  ~ Cormac McCarthy, The Road

She had to go back. To decide.

The rattle and hum of the city took her by surprise and she couldn’t help but compare its pace to the gentle steady rhythm of the small town she’d lived in the last two years. She was struck by how bright everything was; shiny and superficial, busy and impersonal, focused and without interaction. Souless. She looked around and wondered why she’d found this all so exciting, so vibrant and so full of opportunity. But she was younger then, less cynical. Now it irritated and set her teeth on edge, making her want to scream out for the quiet. Just for a minute she wished it would all stop.

Sally didn’t like indecision and the untidiness going on in her head. She preferred certainty and order but over the last two days her thoughts seemed chaotic and devoid of any real formation or structure; hard to separate. Conflicting options buzzing and blazing loudly; a blend of tinnitus and fast cars, dazzling zig zag lines and bright headlights making her feel out of control.

She fought back the memories of a past life: the pressure; the image and perfection; the hours of endless meetings and networking; the competition and unrealistic deadlines; the fighting to be heard and never feeling good enough; the big money that made her feel nauseous; the hate and deceit and false relationships; the insomnia and pretence and hiding the exhaustion; no time for food or a social life; stress and profound loneliness.

Her frown deepened and she knew her mood was different here.

Emptiness and noise. Ghosts and shadows. Almost broken. But not quite. She remembered.

One moment had made her realise life was about choices and in that moment her present became her past. A leap of faith some people call it. An awakening.  In the beginning she had no-one. Until, out of the blue, Kate arrived. Thank God for Kate and for the safety and sanctuary she eventually found in Golly Gosh and its people.  But Golly Gosh seemed a long way off now, almost surreal.

Time was running out and a decision had to be made by the end of the week. To carry on or move on.

What’s it to be Sal?

She felt burdened by the weight of her decision because she knew life wouldn’t be the same.  This was no longer transitional and self-serving, something for her to do, a project to focus on to get her back on her feet.  It wasn’t just about her.  Her decision involved lots of people; all with gifts and talents, idiosyncrasies and foibles, bad days and good, grumpiness and gratefulness.

Tears slowly tickled down her cheeks and she felt her heart would burst with emotion; letting go and possibilities and risk.  She smiled remembering the small place by the sea and the conversations; privileged to be trusted with innermost secrets, heartache and joy.  She realised that in serving she had found her special place.  Love and reciprocity.

She reached for a tissue, blew her nose and wiped her eyes.

I need to be home.

Vulnerable and out of her depth she knew she had work to do.

 

for-mi-da-ble

formidable (adj): tending to inspire awe and wonder; great strength, powerful

Jan and Maggie sat by the window and admired a glass jug filled with beautiful pink roses fresh from the garden; full and in bloom and softly scented.  Sally’s favourite had become  theirs too.  They were enjoying their usual choice of tea with Alice’s award winning lemon cake.  In cahoots.  Like when they were little and mischief was in the making.

I’m a bit jealous of her you know.   

Who?

Sally. She’s sort of … unflappable and I’m, well, more the Calamity Jane type without the horse and Howard Keel.  Guess it’s all part of my charm!  Aunt Kate knew her before she moved here and seems really fond of her but won’t go into any details. And you know what she’s like, she’d never give any information away.

There might not be any ‘details’.   And I thought you made a great Calamity Jane in that school production, actually.

Look at these! Silk, pure silk! I’ll bet her mother spun ’em!  ~ Calamity Jane

They giggled like two school girls, reminiscing; opening night in the school theatre, the badly fitting costumes and the wobbly scenery, the primadonnas, trying to keep a straight face singing Once I had a Secret Love, the boy who played Wild Bill Hickock and the gloriously camp and wonderfully funny director.  And wanting to do it all over again.

Their eyes followed Sally about the room admiring her grace and confidence.  In awe of a woman not that much older than themselves but in many ways older and wiser than anyone they’d ever known.  Charismatic.  Energising.  Always hopeful.  That’s what they saw.  This was their experience.

I really like Sally.  She’s lovely without being  full of herself. 

Honestly?  I think she’s formidable.  Maggie reflected on an earlier conversation she’d had with her boss that day; appraisal time.  Bet Sally’s got a five year plan!

She reminds me of you a bit Maggie but with a better taste in shoes and probably a social life.

Ouch.

Anyway … the only thing that Aunt Kate told me is that Golly Gosh wasn’t meant to be a long term thing and that’s the reason Sally has never moved into the flat up above the cafe.

I thought it was because she didn’t want to be available to everybody 24/7 and who could blame her? So, since your Auntie Kate’s the font of all knowledge, what’s next? Surely she can’t sell up?

We could always just ask her but I don’t want her to think we’ve been gossiping. Let’s ask Alice instead.

They laughed knowing that Alice would be the last person to tell anything.

 

 

friends

 

Jan and her best friend sat down to afternoon tea.  It was an unscheduled stop after a short day at work; an unexpected opportunity to catch up, so why not. Jan sensed an unspoken weariness in her friend and admired her for concealing it so well from others if not herself. Give it time. Time heals. Apparently. No ungratefuless meant but how many times had she heard that; ad nauseum.

Noah was with Aunt Kate and her friend had lots of space in her diary to do what she wanted when she wanted; if only she used it to her advantage.  Jan only wanted the best for this beautiful young woman who preferred sensible shoes these days.  They often laughed about the shoes thing; sensible and safe and comfy. Jan waited patiently for a glimpse of personality that would identify her friend as the carefree, happy, adventurer child she knew.   Nowadays there was nothing to stop her living the life she’d dreamed of but maybe she simply had to learn how.  Permission.  I don’t even know what that means for heavens sake and who am I to  be giving advice anyway …  maybe she just likes things the way they are?

Alice’s favourite lemon cake was the perfect accompaniment to the tea they ordered and they savoured every bite; choosing silence over speech, concentrating their senses on the memorable scent of citrus and a tangy taste that tingled their taste buds, melting away with the warm tea, ready for the next bite.  Delicious.  This lemon cake deserved their full attention and was far too tasty to be distracted by superfluous chat.

Jan noticed small cards on the table and picked one up, turning it over in perfectly manicured hands; recently applied burgundy nail polish, her favourite.  Maggie looked at her own hands and self-consciously removed them from the white linen tablecloth and hid them from sight.  She hadn’t really noticed before but today her hands seemed out of place and the thought saddened her.  Silly really.  

She lifted her head and caught Jan’s eyes; recognition but nothing was said.

It was no secret that Jan was forever seeking out nicely put together things and these delicate invitation cards were perfect.  They were embossed with images of books and her curiosity sprung into life. 

Oh these are nice! Sally’s handiwork?  

decisions

If people knew the story of their lives how many would then elect to live them? People speak about what is in store. But there is nothing in store. The day is made of what has come before. The world itself must be surprised at the shape of that which appears. Perhaps even God.~Cormac McCarthy,  The Crossing

Sally sat down on the hand-made bench; a special gift from her nearest neighbour on opening day.  She’d grown quite fond of the neighbour and the bench and did a lot of thinking sitting here.  The neighbour had carefully placed the bench in Golly Gosh’s small garden, maximising the view.  There was something about it that reassured her.  It seemed like a wise old bench and she thought of the carpenter, the craftsmanship, hard work, dedication and love, that had gone into producing it and wondered why and who’d sat on it before her.

A time to ponder.

Sally  looked out across the sea and fixed her gaze on the horizon.  Staring.  It was calm today. She liked the stillness of it and shut her eyes for a moment listening for sounds. There was a dull drone of town activity in the distance. It was the end of market day and she imagined people browsing stalls looking for a bargain and, in her imagination, she selected at random some of her precious Golly Gosh regulars having fun.   And children and grandparents eating candy floss, healthy diet plans giving way to freshly made sugar doughnuts, dogs chasing flying insects and pulling on leads, prams and summer sandals, umbrellas in bags just in cases.

Then, intervals of silence. Almost.  She could hear the waves gently lapping and appreciated the warmth of the sun on her face and a saltiness in the air. There was the hum of bees attracted by the fragrance of flowers in the window box and she pictured them now and gave thanks for this spot; perfect for her adventure into teashop ownership.

This, this venture, was only supposed to be for a short time but it had turned into something other than simply providing tea and cakes for people even if they were Alice’s and unimaginably wonderful. It had become a shelter, a place of rest, a meeting place, a quiet and rowdy place, a hiding place, a nurturing place, a place of creativity and laughter, of strength and wisdom. A safe place; enigmatic and graceful.

She realised the role she played in providing a place for people to ‘be’ and felt hugely humbled but herein lay a responsibility that she wasn’t sure she could honour.

Her breathing had finally, slowly, fallen into a rhythm and she felt relaxed; her finely tuned senses enjoying the stimulus around her.

Sally opened her eyes and noticed someone running on the beach with a dog in tow and recognised the stranger as the man who helped Noah with his kite.  She made a mental note must ask about him.

In the meantime, the closed sign awaited, and she had a decision to make.

 

autumn

How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and color are their last days.  ~John Burroughs

The softness of newly fallen red and gold and brown leaves, slippery under wellington boots that playfully rustled and kicked and swept on the way to school.   The feel of a new navy blue trenchcoat still to be softened and moulded, a buckle fastened tightly, the scratchy borrowed scarf and the hood tied under her chin to protect against the cold wind and rain, chapping at her face.  A brown leather satchel on her shoulders bobbing up and down and gloves dangling but still attached.  Her hand holding on tightly to the young man at her side.

I’m going to be late and I’ll get into trouble!

You’ll be fine.  I’ll explain.

It would be a typical exchange.  One who worried and one who tried not to.  Nothing would change as they grew older.

An unexpected memory from a long time ago interrupted Kate’s thoughts; a special day and the only time she could ever remember her big brother taking her to school.  She knew then he’d always be there for her and he was, for as long as he could be.

Since she was little, autumn had been Kate’s favourite time of the year.  There was no other season that reminded her of her mum so vividly than autumn with its vibrant colours.  Beautiful autumn, the transition from summer to winter, transforming the grey concrete roads and pavements into a carpet of blended colour, simply irresistible.  How her mum had watched everyday as the leaves fell, knowing that winter was on its way, and that this autumn would be her last.

Kate had never known her brother’s favourite season.  But she was certain if he’d had one, it would surely have been summer.  She couldn’t help but smile at the thought and knew, instinctively, that he’d agree.

She was doing lots of remembering lately and gave herself a talking to.  This self-indulgence had to stop!  Perhaps it was the celebration of her beautiful niece’s birthday or the shiny happy face of her great-nephew Noah or the fact that their lives had been turned upside down ten years ago or was it the earlier conversation she’d had with her best and oldest friend in the world that was the trigger.

Hidden emotions of a last autumn.

Unusually Kate had given herself permission to be alone today and now understood what it was about solitude that the woman in the corner seemed to like so much; quietness and a time to think and look around you. She observed the comings and goings, overheard snippets of conversations but always seemed to miss the punchline just before the laughter erupted.  She witnessed seriousness and hope etched in the faces of those around her and she realised, again, that everyone has a story to tell.

A boy in red and white with blond hair caught her eye in the distance, further down the beach.  He was flying a kite.  Her heart lifted and kicked.  But Noah and Auntie Jan weren’t alone.  The wind was too strong for them to control the kite and she watched curiously as the stranger stepped in to help.  Running and laughing together; chasing.

Well, that’s tonight’s conversation taken care of.

Her brother popped into her head again.  Mischief maker.  She smiled.

surprises

You can’t remake the world
Without remaking yourself.
Each new era begins within. ~ Ben Okri

Sally and Alice had colluded in the birthday surprise, inviting Golly Gosh regulars on behalf of the shopping girls who now waited, giggly and excited and a little nervous; their friend’s special birthday.  A birthday that, ten years ago, they were afraid to believe was possible.

They squealed with delight when they saw the cake and hugged Alice in gratitude; the red ballet shoes reflecting their friend’s personality to perfection.  They knew she had never regretted her decision all those years ago but also knew that the sadness and loss leading to that decision would never dampen her love of dance.

Where is she?

Sally stood at the window watching.

She’s coming …and Noah is with her!

Today, the dancer thought she was simply meeting her friends for some tea and cake.  In fact, she was.

Noah followed her through the door as everyone jumped up in unison. Happy Birthday!  Renditions of happy birthday to you rang out from voices with happy smiling faces, their tears mixed in with laughter and jubilation; party poppers and champagne corks; flowers and presents and fragrances that reminded her of Jerusalem; and beautiful ballet shoes taking centre stage.

Surprise and disbelief overcame her and she stood, still, like a beautiful statue with eyes glistening and tears welling up.

I don’t know what to say.  I’m speechless.  This is such a surprise … I had no idea!   You’re all so kind and I wish you knew how much you mean to me.  This place, this wee place, Sally, Alice, everyone else, you’ve been there for me and I couldn’t have done it without you.  You’re like my family.

So much for you being speechless!

Have a glass of bubbly, birthday girl!  What about you Noah, what would you like?

Can I have an orange juice please Sally?

Is this yours?

It’s my new kite.  Auntie Jan promised to take me to the beach to fly it before dinner.   She said we’re going to chase the wind.

That’s exciting!  Better make sure she doesn’t have too much champagne then!

dancing

“Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
Vicky: Why do you want to live?

Lermontov: Well, I don’t know exactly why, but… I must.

Vicky: That’s my answer too.”

The girl with the sensible shoes was the first to arrive; an agent on a secret and important mission.  The only thing missing was a disguise.  The thought ran through her head and made her chuckle.  Hope nobody heard.  She sought out Alice who called her through to the back of the teashop. Privileged indeed for this was a special place where the most delightful cakes and scones and pastries and tastiest bite sized sandwiches crafted from beautifully baked homemade bread came into being. Part of the beauty of this place lay in the wonderful results of that kitchen.

Alice it’s gorgeous! Just what we wanted. You’ve done a fantastic job, as always.

What about the birthday girl then, think she’ll like it?

A cake in the shape of red ballet shoes?  Her favourite thing … after high heels, champagne and Noah of course! 

The sparkle is on ice.  Waiting. 

I’m sure she thinks we’ve forgotten. 

The birthday girl, a shopping girl and a dancer, had put her favourite red ballet shoes aside ten years ago at the very beginning of what the ‘experts’ said would be a wonderful career.  But then life and injury interrupted the flow.  Choices.  It wasn’t merely a diversion it was a new path.  She thought dancing was her life.  It wasn’t.

But, still, she loved the shoes.

big blue skye

But that big blue sky
Shows me all that I have got

And you’re by my side

To be everything I’m not

The angels sigh

I breathe deep the breath of God

~ Bebo Norman

In the morning all the signs of last night’s gale were there.  The power of the wind unquestionable in the devastation and debris it had left behind.  But that same wind had failed to remove the humid, damp and depressive stillness that stubbornly clung on longer than it should, successfully crowding out any brightness.

A metaphor, perhaps.

The lady with the silver hair grabbed a rainjacket as she left home just in case there’s another downpour! It wasn’t her usual Golly Gosh day but today wasn’t the usual kind of a day.  Certainly it was grey and dark enough and she wondered if the heaviness of the air would ever clear.  The gloom was trying its hardest to claim her hopefulness and fortitude but she laughed in its face; formidable and strong.  Not today.  Especially not today.  Why did it still persist after all these years?

She arrived at Golly Gosh in time to meet her oldest friend in the world.

Big deep breath.  God’s presence.

Looking up she spotted some blue sky.  She needed it.

presence

Lift up your heart to him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to him. One need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer to us than we think. ~ Brother Lawrence

It was the end of the day and they took their time leaving.  But she had come to accept it and stood back watching as they lingered together in hushed sounds and movements.  Always stalling and wishing they could stay … just a few moments longer before stepping back into their lives.  The desire to hold on to an experience of the inexplicable; a presence of something tangible yet unseen.

Sally sensed it too and was certain she could open twenty four hours and people would still find their way here.

She turned the ‘closed’ sign against the door and locked it noticing the clouds gathering and rain fast approaching the shore.  The atmosphere had darkened and was heavy.

Your turn for the tea!

They both laughed.

Tallied up and tidied up, kettle on and loose tea in the pot,  china cups and leftover cake, it was time for Sally and Alice to sit for a while, quietly reflecting on the day.  They easily resisted the temptation for gossip.  Instead they shared their observations and encounters and took a moment to be thankful and wonder and plan.

Will the book club be starting back this week?

I think so.  I think leaving new invites on the tables would be a good idea.

She might come.

Yes, she might. 

I’ll get the shutters.

There’s a storm coming Alice.

sharing

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. ~ Mother Theresa

It was a stunning day and she was glad she’d made the effort to get out of the cottage and take the short walk along the beach that brought her predictably to her beloved Golly Gosh with its heart shaped pebbles.

She sat in her usual spot watching Sally and Alice bustle about making everyone feel welcome.  She’d come to recognise that people became friends here.

My it was bright; almost too warm and she wished she’d ordered a cool drink instead of her usual Earl Grey.  There was always time.  This was progress.

She squinted her eyes as the glare bounced off the big wide open shuttered windows and streamed into the room.  She followed it as it came to rest on the silver heads of two older ladies out for their regular Sunday afternoon tea. After church perhaps?  She’d seen them often and they’d always been kind enough to acknowledged her but intentionally didn’t pursue conversation, somehow sensing her awkwardness.  As one shielded her eyes the other relaxed as the warmth spread over her back; maybe today she’d take her cardi off.  They listened intently to one another the way only old friends can before throwing their heads back and roaring with laughter; glasses off and wiping sparkly eyes.   It warmed her heart to watch and one couldn’t  help but wonder what their younger versions were like.  They reminded her of her mother.

Suddenly the presence of happier times flooded her memory: sunshine and laughter and driving in the car with the hood down listening to favourite tunes and sunglasses and summer dresses and a light tan; mum and learning to ride a bike and the endless school summer holidays and winters with White Fang and Secret Seven adventures.  Life with purpose; relaxing and free.

Right from the start she’d thought of this place as her shelter.  How she’d needed the peace and quiet.  She liked Sally and Alice and had come to enjoy their gentle company over the months.  She’d never felt like a stranger and it was Sally’s special gift.  People always left feeling better; talking, listening, being.  And Alice, lovely Alice, baked the best cakes in the world!

Her thoughts were interrupted as colourful bags burst through the door and like breaking glass the laughter of shopping girls shattered the calm of the place. But it wasn’t disturbing, rather it was refreshingly curious. She admitted a renewed sense of nosiness and that was a good thing; an indicator that her mood was lifting. Who couldn’t be drawn into their world of fun and hope. Well that’s what it appeared.  At once she was envious of their knack of happiness.  And wondered if she could catch it.

healing

Andy Dufresne: [in letter to Red] Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. ~ Shawshank Redemption

She was forever patient. Hopeful. How could one be so certain. Like no other she displayed a tangible certainty of safety; witnessing her faith in life and its boundless shelter. Eternal.

They hoped for the best. They said. In truth maintaining the facade of optimism was exhausting them.

friends

life’s truest happiness is found in the friendships we make along the way

They meet on the last Saturday of every month.

Sally served the perfect afternoon tea: perfectly triangular sandwiches on a tiered stand, with perfect bite-sized homemade cakes made by perfect Alice and a chilled glass of champagne.  Fine china teacups and plates and tall flutes on white linen.

The perfect place for old friends to share their stories.

Ageing parents and the burden of caring; a game of who’s still alive and who isn’t; children fleeing the nest and the propriety of vetting significant others; partners and ever decreasing circles; expanding waistlines and mirrors; botox and airbrushing; tooth whitening that’s all the rage, receding gums and the pain and price of inevitable root canal; creaking bones, big pants, operations, hormone replacement therapy and hot flushes.  Doctors.  Cemeteries.  God.

It’s as good as it gets.

calm

Sally appreciated help with opening up this morning. She was already rushed and she felt the clouds gathering. Life had a knack of running ahead of her if she wasn’t careful and although it didn’t come easy asking for help she knew there really was no choice. She couldn’t do it all.

Ask Alice. Reliable. Understanding. Aware.

It’d been a difficult start to the day trying to juggle everything and there were times she wished she’d never embarked on this adventure. But it had become a part of her so very easily and quickly; a place of rest and fellowship. Santuary. It almost sounded biblical! She laughed wondering why. There was nothing deliberate in it. But it seemed that Golly Gosh had a secret weapon.

This little calming teashop with it’s whitewash interior, lots of glass and big shuttered windows was bright and openminded. It sat close enough to the water to be an escape, to be admired.

observing

Hope she’s ok. The woman in the corner I mean.

Sally said she always sits in the same seat; orders a cup Earl Grey tea. Nothing to eat, just Earl Grey. She can sit for hours. Quiet and invisible. Sometimes she reads or writes or just stares at the door as if she’s half expecting someone. Sad and far away.

I think she looks nice. When did she start coming here?

A few months ago now.

Does anyone know her name? Why doesn’t anyone know here name?

Don’t really know. No-one’s asked? Feel bad about that now. Thanks for that.

The next time I come here and she’s here I’m going to sit beside her, order a cup of tea and a scone, and introduce myself.

And start a conversation? Like Katsumoto?

Who?

Katsumoto, The Last Samurai.

I like him.  Much more than I like Tom Cruise. Did you know he’s had is teeth straightened and is divorcing Katie Holmes?  They looked alright to me.

Katsumoto? And are those two things connected? What looked alright – the teeth or the marriage? 

No, Tom Cruise. And, no they’re not connected. Well they could be I suppose … the teeth, the teeth looked alright.

Who played Katsumoto?

You mean that’s not his real name?

Oh dear God … please make it stop.

bags and laughter and sore feet

And so the colourful people arrived. Regulars. A group of young women in their early twenties wearing brightly coloured dresses on this gloriously sunny day.  In unison they pushed their sunglasses off their faces as they entered the tearoom, adjusting to the change in light, and headed for their usual table. The random shopping bags carrying their newest purchases were abandoned to the floor as they collapsed in a heap. The present hush evaporated as clatter and chatter took over. An entrance.

Why do you squeeze your feet into the pointiest shoes with the highest heels in the world going shopping then. You’re asking for trouble. You’ll end up with corns and bunions like my mother. It’s not attractive and bloody sore. You could end up having to wear Jesus sandals eventually – not a good look. Unless you’re Jesus of course or 3.

I know. It’s a bit vain but I don’t like flatties they make me look like Max Wall.

Who?

Just ask someone over 50. And don’t get her started on leggings.

Oh dear God.

Wee glass of wine anyone? Crisp and chilled?

Three glasses of white please and an Earl Grey tea … for the driver with her sensible shoes.

Everyone spoke together. Thanks Sally!

Sally smiled remembering.

They’d obviously had a good day and their stories and giggling about dressing rooms and special mirrors and sizing was infectious. People around them laughed including the woman in the corner and the girl with the sensible shoes and the shutter girl. The mood was lighter; for the moment the world, here, a better place.

Life and laughter.