Conker

I moved up here about four months ago I think, to a place just outside Cambridge. I’ve never lived far from that belt of towns that joins London to Reading, and this felt close enough to feel like home, but far enough away to seem adventurous to my untraveled mind. I’d got one of those millennial jobs which involved bringing teaching out of the school system and into the community. I’m the person responsible for all those long lines of bibbed infant school children you can see parading through your town centres on a week day, you’re welcome.

It had been a great idea, a great opportunity. It never felt like I was making a sacrifice, because there was so little for me back home. Family busy, friends gone, home wasn’t home anymore. Plus, up here, I would have my own house. At my age! In this day and age? And the job was great, and by extension I thought my life would be too.

Then one day, after I’d been here for a couple of months, a co-worker asked if I’d like to join a group of them at the pub. I said no thank you, packed up my things, and went home. It was a small thing, insignificant even, but it unravelled a lot of things I’d been keeping tightly wound in my mind.

When was the last time I’d gone to the pub? Or the last time I did anything? After my long hours at work I would go home to do nothing. I would spend weekends in my house, doing more work or just watching TV. I’d never been the most adventurous of people, or maybe even had that many friends.

But I’d never been this, just existing, just coping. I reassured myself that it was all to do with the fact that I lived in a new area, that I had to meet new people. I resolved to do something about. But then when I was asked to the pub for the second time I said no. I was asked again, I said no. And again, and again. Eventually they stopped asking.

I just couldn’t face it somehow. I couldn’t handle being around that many people, it was just to chaotic and ungovernable. It was easier to just go home. Though I was lonely, and I realized that, I also realized that my loneliness would be made worse by being with strangers, people I couldn’t connect to. My life had become a cliché. I was the middle aged woman doing her food shop at Asda’s on a weekday evening, eating microwave meals because my cooking was crap, and making up for lost calories in bottles of red wine. I was a bit of sad sack, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

When I say they stopped asking me to the pub, I mean as a whole. One woman held on. Angela has bright blonde hair, and a bright personality, she is optimistic and excitable. It annoyed me at first, I’ll admit, but then she wore me down and we became something like friends.

Cups of coffee at work turned into cups of coffee after work, that much I could handle. But I felt like I wasn’t great company. Though, I have to hand it Angela, she tried to turn me around. She encouraged me relentlessly; I should do online dating, go to group events, pick up a hobby. I said no to everything, all the time, until the one day she suggested Bletchley Park.

One thing she did manage to glean from me, because she asked a lot of questions, was that I was fascinated by World War II. Bletchley Park was not far away and she thought I’d love it. Take the day off she said. I couldn’t leave work I said. Think of it as work then, she said. Think of it as research. She’d tried everything and she finally had me. She even convinced me to go in jeans, drive straight from home, do something normal as all normal people did on a day off.

And she was right, Bletchley Park was pretty amazing, you can’t really say much more than that. There was the right amount of history, not too depressing, mixed with fascinating mathematical science, all in seventies buildings that reminded me of my comprehensive school. Plus, the grounds were gorgeous and the sun shone in a way I hadn’t seen in months. Suddenly, all at once, I felt content. Then my mind wandered. And I felt sad.

I sat in the large stately home that overlooked the park, I stared out the windows, and I felt sad. I looked over the past couple of years. I saw my life after university, I saw my friends leaving for other lives, I saw the death of my grandparents, one after another. My mum had been ill, she was better now, but still.

My older brother and his wife were having another baby, my sister had met someone. And I felt great misery at being behind, left to cope alone. I felt everything all at once and I realised that my effort to strike out and be brave and successful had been nothing but a rouse; a distracting idea, which fooled me into thinking, just for a moment, that I was going to find my place, my own source of happiness.

I’d been alone for too long, I knew that. My last relationship had ended over a year ago. Although I wondered if that wasn’t the point, maybe it wasn’t a particular person next to me I was missing. I was missing the life I wanted, but which had not even begun to create. Someone new in my life, maybe that would be my key, but even on that front I found my hope was slipping. I had given myself a day off and all it had given me was a chance to think about how bad I felt. No wonder I’d been avoiding it.

I sat for a long time on the window seat. Tourists buzzed around me. Idle bits of chat began to penetrate my thoughts. Eventually I woke up to the sound of a rather loud American asking where the park was. I looked out at the trees and lake, and scrunched up my face. That did make me smile, if only for a moment. I didn’t know how long I’d been there, but it was surely time to go. I had to get up and stop feeling sorry for myself. I needed to do something, anything.

I walked out into the sunshine with my mind not quite made up. I was so close to just driving home and getting wasted on red wine. The sky turned grey so swiftly it appeared to be magic, and my mind was made up for me, time to go home. I walked across the lawn. And as I walked on to the road I heard a thunk and a roll. I looked around for the source of the sound, then it came again. A thunk and a roll. Like a cricket ball going awry.

That’s when I spotted it; the horse-chestnut tree, overhanging the road. I walked closer. I looked up at it; marvelling at its ingenuity. How strange it is that we humans marvel at something which is so normal, so ordinary, and existed so many years before all the iPhones and miracle medication we could think of. I thought of playing conkers as a child. Without thinking I walked further under the tree, smiling at my memory. That’s when I saw him.

His walk was long and languid, reminding me of the stretchy man in that old ad for mints. What were they called again? He wore a green shirt and loose fitting trousers; a bunch of keys at his waist, he was a gardener maybe? He had dark hair, brown? Black? I couldn’t tell. It went in a thousand directions, pushed about by hands, and grease, and bush, and branch. He looked weather beaten, his skin just this side of healthy looking. His eyes seemed small, dark, lined. I guessed his age at forty, but the closer he came the younger he seemed.

I was looking right at him, and he at me. Then I heard a crack. I’m not quite sure whether it was the conker leaving the tree that created the noise or whether it was when it made contact with my head. Either way it was bone cracking, and nausea inducing. Although, that might not have been the sound, but something to do with the pain that began to coarse through my head. I stumbled forward, holding my head for protection. Though the damage had been done. A small trickle of blood began its journey down my forehead.

I was too caught up in the moment to really understand what was going on. When I looked up again the man I had been watching wasn’t too far away. I couldn’t really think much, and I was used to thinking quickly. What would I say? What would I do? It turned out not much was necessary. As I grimaced, closing my eyes at the brightness of the light, he came right up to me.

‘Oh jeez, that looked awful.’ I nodded, tearing up as the pain shot through my eyes.

‘Can I take a look?’ I leant forward to let him inspect what I imagined was a pretty pitiful looking nonsense of a wound, how idiotic I must look. For a moment I felt his hand. For a moment I felt nothing but his hand.

‘You really got the full force then.’ I lifted my head and we locked eyes for a moment, he was much younger than I thought. I tried to grasp back some dignity.

‘How could that have been just one conker?’ I exclaimed pitifully.

‘Ah, you never know,’ he said ‘tiny hard thing like that, travelling down from such a height.’

He looked up into the tree. My wits flooded back in and I began to feel embarrassed. I put my hand back to my head, and was greeted with a palm sized patch of blood. It was horrifying but kind of exciting and justifying. I had a proper injury, I wasn’t just a weakling. I felt impressed with myself, I was going to be an anecdote for one of the tourists who had begun to collect around me.

There were offers of handkerchiefs and tissues, they were that kind of old school crowd; concerned for their fellow man. I like that there are some people who still have that way about them. Although, something about the pitch of their voices, and the style of their dress led me to suspect they all voted Tory. It made me not want their tissues.

Luckily, whoever the man in the green trousers was (this was about all I could see with my head hanging), he was proficient in First Aid. Or so he said. He led me back toward the café down the side of the main house and sat me at a table. I still couldn’t really raise my head at this point. Which I was happy about; I didn’t think I could look him in the eye again.

I slumped over the table before becoming aware of other people walking around. I straightened up and tried to find a more dignified pose, leaning on my hands perhaps? I heard the voice of a cheery older woman and saw the flash of a white apron. I heard that sucking in of air everyone seems to do when they’re assessing an unsightly injury.

‘Oh love, you’ve got quite a gash there,’ she said, ‘you need a nice cup of tea, bit of cake, that’ll do you right up. Courtesy of the management of course.’ She giggled to herself, I got the impression that she was the management, maybe called Babs or Sheila. She was the kind of lady who thought cake could fix a head injury, and I decided not to argue with that.

I tried to raise my head as I thanked her. But as I looked up, the nausea overwhelmed me and I sank back into the chair. My head almost hit the table and I swore loudly.

‘Now, don’t you worry love. You keep your head down. What do you fancy?’ By this time I had my head buried in my arms, my voice echoing around in a deep howl of pain and distress.

‘Coffee?’ I asked, ‘any milky kind?’

‘Not a problem love, I’ll be two ticks. Oh look there’s your man now.’ I heard the woman shuffle off, which made me a little sad right then. I missed my mum. A chair was pulled up to the table and my eyes flicked up long enough to see “my man” opening a large first aid box. ‘Now let’s see what we’ve got here’.

‘Don’t you have like a first aid station or something?’ I tried to speak up from underneath the maze of hair obstructing my vision. There was silence. I felt a new kind of embarrassment. ‘I just mean.’ I floundered for my words ‘won’t people in the café find it a bit gross or something?’. Silence reigned again.

‘True, true,’ came a deep voice, which I now recognised as having a Yorkshire lilt. ‘But,’ I heard him looking through the box ‘I didn’t have any better ideas that were close by. It was either this or have you faint and me carrying you down to the main building.’ Him? Carrying me? I swallowed, embarrassed all over again.

‘Yeah, sure, understandable,’ my voice came out meekly.

‘Right, let’s take a look here,’ he moved his chair over and I felt him touch my head, so gentle, a bit too gentle in fact.

‘It’s okay to touch it, if you need to,’ I blurted out ‘I don’t mind’.

‘Oh, okay, I didn’t want to presume to, um…’ I heard him begin to fluster.

‘It’s fine, it’s fine,’ I said, trying to bat away his nervousness.

‘Well okay then,’ he moved forward in his chair and I lowered my head to the table. I felt his hands on my head, his fingers gently combing back my hair. My body relaxed and I exhaled loudly.

‘Oh, does that hurt? Did I hurt you?’ he jumped back.

‘No, no, you’re fine. Just feeling a bit, um, sick… but I’ll be okay’. He seemed to accept my appalling lie and leaned back over.

‘Okay, so I’m going to clean this, it might need stitches though’.

‘Stitches?’ I blurted out, raising my head and realising too late that I shouldn’t have. I locked my eyes on his and was struck by two things. He had lovely eyes. Also, I was going to throw up. My eyes darted quickly around the few people in the café until I spotted a sign for the toilets. I ran as quickly as I could.

That’s the thing about throwing up. As a kid you always spot the signs too late and end up throwing up in all sorts of public or inappropriate places. As an adult you’ve drunk enough to know the signs. Experience meant that just as my body took its first spasmodic lunge I was already standing over the toilet. I threw up. And I threw up. Again and again. I felt my vision blur and my legs went from under me. I just about managed to sit myself down on the cubicle’s cold floor.

After a moment I heard a familiar voice; the lady from the café. ‘You in here love?’.

‘A-huh,’ I mumbled quietly. I was slumped, dazed, against the wall of the toilet cubicle. I always prided myself on being that person who didn’t end up too drunk, the front of their dress stained with vomit, slumped on the floor of the ladies. It was something I had always made a smug point of in uni. That didn’t win me any fans. But that day, I don’t know what it was, but my pride in not showing weakness, my pride in always looking my best, it left me. I began to cry. Everything caught up with me at once, and I sobbed. I always thought sobbing was just another name for crying. But it isn’t.

I garbled and whined, I went on for what felt like forever. When I came to I became aware of a warm arm around me, and a quiet, patient body, sitting next to me on the floor, in the open door of the toilet cubicle. The lady from the café was hugging me warmly, and for a while, we just sat there in silence. ‘It’s just been a lot lately,’ I said quietly.

‘Sometimes it is love, you can’t keep it in, you got to let it out,’ she said in a clear and commanding voice. I looked up at her, and tried to speak over the tremble in my voice.

‘I think I’ve been lonely’. The kind-faced lady nodded her head and squeezed me tightly.

‘Don’t worry love, in my experience loneliness doesn’t breed loneliness. Usually the minute you realise you’re lonely is the minute you go out looking for other people.’

She surprised me, and I’ll admit to not knowing how to take what she said. Was it a platitude? Was she right? I paused for a second, unsure of how to respond. Sensing a change in my atmosphere the lady began to get up.

‘Come on,’ she said ‘I think you’ve earned yourself some comfort. Come with me.’ She put an arm around me and helped me get to my feet. My head began to pound, I ducked my head and whined as the light hit my eyes.

I put a hand up and tentatively touched the spot on my head, my hair was dry with blood. ‘Oh, that still looks pretty nasty. Let’s get you out to Ben so he can take a look at it.’ She motioned for us to leave, but seemed to sense my hesitancy. I felt her hands on my arms, she rubbed them gently. ‘Why don’t you take a second. Get yourself sorted. You come out when you’re ready.’ I nodded lightly.

When she was gone I turned to the mirrors and, very slowly, looked up. I was imagining the worst kind of mess, but was surprised by the awfulness that greeted me. My face was red and blotchy, my hair was matted and wild. My breath must have smelt awful. But all this was by the by as I couldn’t get over the pain in my head, and now in my stomach, and my throat.

My brain would usually have gone into survival mode and fixed things as best they could. But I didn’t have the energy or the patience. Betting on the fact that I could keep my face hidden under my mass of hair for at least another half hour I decided to risk making my way back to the café. I gave my face a cursory dry with some coarse paper towels and worked hard to keep my balance as I walked out the door.

As I walked back into the café a figure approached me and I felt a gentle touch against my arm. ‘How are you feeling?’ came the Yorkshire lilt. ‘Better, thanks,’ I replied with as much confidence as I could. The hand guided me back to the table we’d been sitting at.

‘I’m so sorry, if I hurt-’ he started.

‘No, no, it wasn’t your fault,’ I rose my head quickly before pain and embarrassment sent it back down. ‘The pain I mean, I’ve been sick from migraines before. I was going to be sick either way.’

I sat down in the chair and he sat down next to me. ‘I’m afraid it’s probably a worse mess now,’ I said brightly, trying to make a joke. I leant my head forward for him to inspect.

‘Nah, I’ve seen worse. We can do something with this,’ I heard the smile in his voice.

‘Gardeners get a lot of injuries?’ I asked, trying to keep my mood bright.

‘Oh you’d be surprised,’ he began sponging the top of my head, I heard water sloshing in a small basin, ‘working with chainsaws, falling out of trees, pitchforks, fires, you name it’.

‘Ugh,’ I said in surprise ‘really? Though, yeah, actually, that makes sense.’

I felt him smiling at me, it was reassuring. I stopped talking. I lay my head down on the table and for a while I just felt the warm water on my head, and the way his hands moved; so delicately, so softly. ‘I’m Ben by the way,’ he said. A moment passed before I realised I should respond. ‘What’s your-‘ he began, before I cut him off, half-giggling at my own silliness ‘oh, Charlie. I’m Charlie’.

‘Charlie,’ he announced while attempting to dry my hair, I could hear him smiling again ‘short for Charlotte?’.

‘Yeah,’ I said ‘but I never liked it’.

‘No, yeah, Charlie suits you better.’ He pulled his hands away and then drew closer, I felt him leaning over me, and I could smell – something. It was him I think, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. Just him. ‘I think you’ll be okay without the stitches actually, but they’ll be an almighty bruise I think.’ He sat back down and began looking through the first aid box.

‘Shame no one will get to see it,’ he said. ‘What?’ I replied, still in a slight stupor from, well, everything that had happened in the last – How long had I been there? ‘Your bruise,’ he repeated ‘shame no one will get to see it.’

‘Ah, yeah,’ my voice loosened up ‘shame, there’s always something kind of cool about a really great bruise. I got kicked by a horse when I was kid, that bruise was pretty brilliant.’ ‘Yeah,’ he responded, that smile in his voice again.

‘Yeah,’ I said ‘you get a tremendous amount of admiration and sympathy when you have a properly evil looking bruise.’

‘True, true,’ he said. He opened a package then, of something plastic, and crinkling, and loud. We went quiet for a while and I closed my eyes, listening to the small echo of his hands as they moved around the table, thinking of how nice it was to feel looked after, even if for only a little while.

Sill lost in my revelry, I felt him lean over me. He came closer than before and I stiffened slightly. ‘Now this,’ he remarked ‘is probably going to hurt like hell.’

‘Couldn’t hurt any more,’ I said. ‘It’s okay. Go ahead.’ I felt the press of cotton wool on my head and the sharp sting of the antiseptic. The sting rattled through my nerves and travelled through my body like a lightning strike. I gripped the side of the table lightly, jumping as my fingers brushed against his chest.

‘Oh, sorry,’ he jumped back, ‘is it too much?’. I was relieved he misunderstood me.

‘Oh no, you’re okay. It’s fine. It’s fine,’ I spoke in a rush.

‘You’re sure you’re okay?’ he asked again, still leaning away from me. ‘Yep. Fine,’ I nestled my nose against my arms and felt a small smile creep on to my lips. As Ben cleaned the wound his confidence rose and his hands became firmer and more deliberate in their approach. When he was finally happy that my head looked, at least, better than it had been, it gave the cut a gentle, testing touch.

I grimaced a little but tried not to let it show, he seemed to shy away easily. ‘I think it’s going to be okay,’ he said, sitting back in his chair ‘you’ll just have to be gentle with it.’ The time had clearly come to sit up, so I steeled myself and raised my head slowly. I leaned back gently in my chair. My head ached, my neck was stiff, but I wasn’t about to throw up.

I cast my eyes up at Ben and his darted away, a small blush forming. He began tidying up the mess on the table and I took a look around the room, noticing finally that there was no one else there. Which was probably for the best, this hadn’t been my finest moment.

The kindly faced lady re-appeared from somewhere and walked up to our table ‘now then, you’re looking much better. I’ll just go and get your coffee.’

‘Um, yes, thank you,’ I faltered. I would usually have been quite guarded, but she was nice, he was so nice, and I didn’t want to refuse. ‘I’ll only be a second now,’ she said, walking off ‘something for you too Ben?’ she shouted back over her shoulder.

‘If you wouldn’t mind love, that would be grand,’ he yelled back, stretching in his seat, and smiling to himself. I watched him. I liked how he looked right then.

His eyes flicked up to mine and I looked away, we both smiled nervously. I touched the damp lump on my head. He watched me as I reached into my bag, long forgotten on the floor, and pulled out a hair-tie I had in the side pocket. And he watched me as I gently scooped my hair from the sides of my face and pulled my hair into a loose protective bun around the bump, it seemed like a good idea, I was proud of it. I took a quick look at my make-up mirror, the blotchiness had been replaced an unhealthy pale hue. I kept my eyes away from him, partly embarrassed at how I looked. Partly because I enjoyed him looking at me.

When I finally turned to look at him, he looked away. ‘Thank you,’ I said ‘for this,’ I stupidly pointed at my head because I didn’t know how else to say it. But he got it. He shrugged, then stretched his arms up and around his head. I noticed his biceps, they were hard to miss. ‘I’m sorry you got hurt,’ he said kindly, his voice dropping.

‘Oh, no, it’s fine. I’m probably going to sue the tree though,’ I said awkwardly. He smiled kindly at my bad joke but said nothing more. Silence fell.

When another person is quiet I usually go hell for leather, talking for the two of us, probably out of nervousness. But he didn’t make me nervous. Not one bit. The café lady approached us with a tray of mugs and cake and biscuits. She was over doing it, in that way that worried mums usually do. ‘Here you go,’ she said, setting the tray down on the table.

Ben hurriedly packed the first aid box, his hands moving quickly. His hands as he ordered everything in the box, his hands as he took the plates from the tray, his hands occupied every inch of my mind. He noticed my staring and mistook me for wanting the piece of chocolate cake he was holding. ‘You want this one?’ He set the plate down in front of me. I responded with a quiet smile. I liked chocolate cake, but in truth had no other ready response.

I really didn’t know what to say now the matter of my head had been resolved. It was such a surprise to suddenly be faced with someone I liked. As he set to work on sugaring his tea I allowed myself another glance at him. He was so… What can I say really? He wasn’t very tall, but he was broad, but maybe not any broader than other men I knew. He had dark eyes and hair. His eyes were kind, and he had this huge smile which prompted weather-beaten crinkles on his face.

I guess he didn’t look like much as a whole, but there were so many things there. He had this natural physical warmth that some men do, and sitting next to him it felt like the heat from a radiator. That doesn’t sound very romantic, but it felt lovely. And I found it hard to focus on anything else.

The café lady had gone away and now she returned. She placed some grilled panini on the table, about three, it was very mum overkill. I looked up, she blushed lightly. ‘I didn’t know what you’d like.’ My brain rushed up with excuses to shirk her good intentions, but I batted them down, she was being so nice. Plus, I was hungry. ‘Is that tuna?’ I asked, reaching for the plate. ‘Yeah, tuna and cheese,’ she handed the plate to me and seemed very happy to feel useful.

I hadn’t realised how hungry I was. The café lady who, I came to find out, was called Henrietta, Hen, for short, sat with us for a while. She made more coffee and we ate and talked. Time ticked on, occasionally a customer would come in for a coffee and she’d dash off, but the time moved slowly for me that afternoon. Occasionally I would panic, and look to my watch for affirmation that I still had time left, but still the afternoon stretched.

Ben and I talked about my moving up north and him moving down south, I told him about what I did, he laughed at my stories. He didn’t need to, but he did. I liked that. He talked about problems with the lawns and preparing for the Winter. He talked about the horse-chestnut tree that I’d had my run in with, and about how great lumps of conkers had been striking the road all week.

He’d had a feeling that someone was going to get hurt. He held his coffee in his hands and went quiet when he said this. He looked angry, or maybe guilty, I couldn’t tell which. We wondered if maybe it wasn’t one of the big lumps of conkers that had knocked me on the head, but there wasn’t any real way of knowing. Neither of us had been paying attention, to the tree, anyway.

I took some painkillers and the combination of them, the food, and the good company left me feeling content. I was exhausted, and quite sore, but strangely peaceful. They say that a good cry can be cathartic. I definitely felt relaxed, it was like that feeling you get when you’ve spent all day out on the beach or in the garden, when your body feels knocked by the wind and tired from over exertion. You feel exhausted, but more awake somehow. The explosion of pain and emotion had knocked something out of me. I tried not to analyse it too closely, and just feel it, instead.

Before long, though, I did start to tire. My conversation with Ben became more confused and quickly jumped back and forth between different subjects as my concentration waned. In the end I lay my head down on the table, and looked up at him. I should have felt self-conscious, but I didn’t. He leant forward in his chair, dipping his head to my eye level.

‘I think it’s time to get you home,’ he said, in this vaguely commanding way. Which I kind of liked; I felt at this point that I wouldn’t be able to drive, and I enjoyed him taking responsibility for me. Or maybe I just appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to think, for once.

I don’t remember if we talked much from that point on. I remember being with him though, and I remember the sound of his voice. My tiredness was clearly impairing my senses and I found myself thinking only of him, my attraction to him overwhelming every other thought. Not in the way you’d think though. It wasn’t something like you’d read about in romantic stories. There was just something about him, magnetic almost, and staying close to him was the only thing I could think about doing.

I remember trying to stay awake in the passenger seat of a dirty – mud and garden dirty, not McDonald’s drive-in dirty – old blue escort. I remember him making conversation about the towns we passed by. As we got closer to my house he began talking about all the things they could teach at the park. Its history, the grounds before the forties huts and ugly seventies buildings had taken their place.

He talked a lot about that. I realise now he was looking for reasons for me to come back to the park. It was nice, for once, to have someone seem to be interested in me and not the other way around. He couldn’t have known that I had every intention of coming back to see him.

We had already agreed that I would come over in the morning to pick up my car. But when we reached my house and it came to say goodbye we suddenly became awkward, not knowing how to part. After a moment’s hesitation I climbed out of the car. I steadied myself on the pavement outside my house and turned back to look at him through the open car door. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then,’ I said, testing the air. ‘Yeah,’ he said, smiling widely ‘make sure you come in and say hi.’ He paused.

‘I can show you around the grounds if you like, if you have the time.’ He tried to pass this off as an afterthought, but the way his voice caught made me think he’d been working his way up to this. ‘Yeah,’ I said, probably too quickly. We smiled at each other and then both looked away in embarrassment.

‘Tomorrow, then?’ he said. ‘Tomorrow,’ I repeated firmly. I slammed the car door carefully and turned to go into the house. I felt his eyes on me as he waited until I got inside safely. I liked that about him. I like a gentleman. As I turned the key in the front door my heart rose a little. Maybe I was going into an empty house, but tomorrow, tomorrow there was something, someone, to look forward.

That would have been ideal wouldn’t it? Sad, hopeless middle-aged woman finds love in the most unlikely of circumstances. That in the depths of her great pain and embarrassment she is surrounded by kind people who make an impact on her and the way she sees the world; someone had cracked her conker hard shell. It would have been nice, except that it didn’t happen. Something like it happened, but not what you’re imagining.

My name is Charlie, and I am from Reading, and I do really work in education. That’s true. And I did go to Bletchley, and I saw a man there, but meeting him and everything that happened afterwards, that part I made up. To be honest I haven’t been feeling great recently, haven’t been myself, I suppose that much of the story is true too.

And when Angela suggested a new hobby I decided to try some creative writing, people say it can open up your mind a bit, relax you. I don’t have much to do after work, and this seemed like a good focus, maybe even a way to comfort myself. Mostly though, it’s just been a sort of escape.

He does exist, that man. That particular man. I saw him from across the lawns. I was watching him as the conker fell from the tree. It dropped just behind me. It rolled along the concrete and came to a halt where the grass verge began. I had stopped and picked it up. I rolled it over in my hands and wondered what would have happened if it hit me.

I don’t know how much damage it really could have caused if it had hit me, that part was made up, and probably medically unsound. I had put the conker in my pocket and I walked around the perimeter of the lake. I had sat on a bench and thought about the people who had worked there before. I thought about the intensity of their work, of the relationships. It made me feel pretty lonely. So I went home, I drank my wine and I placed the conker here on the desk, next to my laptop.

It’s here still. It’s rotten away on one side and has become brittle. No longer the shiny, hard nut it was just a few weeks ago. I look at it and it makes me sad. I don’t know why though. Is it the time passing? Is it the missed opportunities? I don’t know why I feel like this. It’s not over yet. I’m not over. There are still things out there for me to see, still people I can meet, still someone to fall in love with. At least I have to hope there is.

I could even go back to Bletchley Park. Maybe continue looking for whatever it was I found for the briefest of moments that day. Or I could finish my wine, I could throw the conker away, I could go to bed, and forget it all. Or could I? When I can still remember him. We looked at each only for a split second, but we saw only each other. That might mean something, or it might not. I could go back and find out. I could. I might.

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