The Creative Peak
New inspired writing from an independent publisher
New inspired writing from an independent publisher
Fashion was Jessica’s entire life before she fell in love. She loved the drama at being at the cutting edge of the fashion world. She worked hard and played into the night in the high spots of London, Rome and Paris. Then she met Justin. He was a City high flier, with a salary to match. It was love at first sight and she never looked back. They married and two children quickly followed. She became a proud mum at home, and dedicated herself to her husband and kids. She is now in her late thirties and on impulse Justin has recently bought a farm in a remote part of the Peak District and moved his family there. But with her daughter at boarding school and her son starting university, she is getting lonely and longs for the high life again. And then Justin leaves as usual one Monday morning, but it wasn’t for work, he was going to another woman.
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Jessica sat at the kitchen table eyeing the last piece of chocolate cake. The cold November wind was blowing hard across the bleak moors and the old farmhouse door didn’t keep out the draughts. She shivered. The immaculate new kitchen, in which she was sitting, hadn’t been quite finished. The windows and doors were the same as the eccentric Victorian farmer had put in over 150 years ago. The kitchen was not the only project on the farm which had been started but was still ongoing.
As Jessica was fast approaching forty she knew she should have more willpower, but chocolate cake normally got the better of her, especially when she was feeling down and now she was at rock bottom. Her finger tugged at the waistband of her patterned flowing skirt. She ignored the tightness of the grip, flicked her long curly hair out of her face, and picked up the spoon. She was determined to do justice to the remaining gooey slice. She hesitated. How different life had turned out. The heady days of her early twenties swept across her mind. She was madly in love with Justin, who was just out of Harvard and had the pick of the plum jobs in the City of London. At the same time as they were married, she was being acclaimed as the best fashion designer in the metropolis and the world’s best designer of fashion accessories. Success looked certain for both of them and the route to the highest levels would be paved with serious money.
Her eyes filled with tears as she looked through the window to the windswept Staffordshire moors where the howling wind was whipping up the driving drizzle into swirls. The window panes were being constantly rattled by the windy gusts. The old farm, Cloughside, which had been neglected for many years, lay about a mile from the isolated village of Mossmoor. But even the journey to the village wasn’t simple as there was a steep valley to cross and the rutted farm track was about half a mile long before it reached the tarmaced lane. Mossmoor was built many centuries ago in the days of packhorse trails. The village was at the junction of two of the trails. It now only had one pub and a small general store but was once the market centre for the vast expanses of moorland areas with their isolated farms and small hamlets. For any of the modern-day residents of Mossmoor who wanted the facilities offered by a town, there was a twelve mile journey to Buxton.
Why had it all gone wrong? Jessica brooded for a while, but she knew that it was the change of character that seemed to come over her husband. It happened when he was appointed to be the head of the Environment Division of one of the country’s leading management consultancies. He started to look at the ‘eco’ labels and immediately changed his car to an electric hybrid. Jessica could just about live with the new approach, but her children, or perhaps they should be described as young adults, thoroughly embraced their father’s new ideals. For Jessica the hammer blow came when Justin’s company announced everyone could work from home. After that surprise announcement, he was emphatic about moving out of London to a small holding. But as the ‘eco’ bug caught him more, and he was egged on by their son and daughter, Justin became determined to run a full size farm. And that was why Jessica was here. Finally she took a deep breath and said to herself that she would be positive tomorrow. She was just about to raise the first spoonful of cake to her mouth when there was a banging and general commotion at the door from the kitchen into the farmyard.
‘Go away, Angela!’ shouted Jessica. There was silence for a short time, but before she could eat any of the cake, the banging and scuffling noise started again. ‘No, Angela, how many times do I have to say no!’ Her shouting just seemed to make the noise worse, so she put down her spoon and stood up. With a sigh she went towards the large square door which needed both her hands to open the huge handle. That was her first mistake. As soon as the door was a quarter open so the head of a donkey sprung in and brayed. ‘Get out, get out Angela!’ shouted Jessica pushing the head back with as much force as she could muster. She quickly realised her second mistake as the woollen socks on her feet began to slide on the flagstone floor. She wouldn’t be able to deal with Angela until she had her wellies on. The next few minutes were a battle between the donkey, Jessica, and the pair of wellington boots she was trying to put on. It quickly dawned on her that she was going to be the loser of the three. She knew what Angela wanted and despite continually shouting no, she reached back to the table and grabbed a handful of chocolate cake. It was quickly rubbed across Angela’s mouth and she threw the remainder out into the yard. The donkey knew she had won again and backed up to go and eat the rest of today’s treat. Jessica opened the door widely and grabbed the remains of the cake and threw it in front of the donkey.
She was standing in the doorway with one Wellington boot on and a muddy woollen sock on the other foot. She had chocolate down the front of her scruffy old fleece jacket. Suddenly, a tall handsome man in his late forties, wearing smart trousers, a check shirt and tweed jacket, came quickly around the corner of the barn into the farmyard. He shouted, ‘What on earth is all this noise about, and why is that donkey braying so much?’ Any handsome and well dressed man would normally have received the best side of Jessica but not today.
‘And who the hell do you think you are talking to?’ she snarled.
He eyed her up and down and looked at the donkey who was still eating the cake. He immediately went to the donkey and pulled his head up, ‘That’s chocolate cake you stupid woman!’
‘You leave my Angela alone!’ shouted Jessica, and forgetting she only had one welly on, stepped towards the man and the donkey. ‘I’ll give her what I like,’ she said as she picked up the last piece to give to the animal.
‘You will not!’ shouted back the man and knocked the cake from her hand and stamped it into the mud.’
Fortunately Jessica looked into his eyes, and his glare, along with his size and handsome features, brought her sharply back to reality. She stopped her advance, put her hands to her face and whimpered. She couldn’t believe what she had just done and how rude she had been. It was her husband’s fault for abandoning her in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It was making her go crazy.
She looked up at his face again. This time the anger had gone and the realisation had dawned on him that he had just struck a woman. It might have been only on the hand but he had still hit a defenceless woman. For a few seconds they just stared at each other as their tempers subsided. The silence extended to what seemed to be ages but neither knew what to say. Finally he said in a quiet voice as he stroked the donkey, ‘Come on old girl let’s get you back into the field.’ The donkey went compliantly with him. He picked up some hay as he left the yard and the animal was soothed and calmed.
Jessica turned back to the kitchen, took off her welly and socks and stood barefoot in the doorway and tried to work out what she was going to say to the stranger. It was only a minute or so before he came purposely striding across the yard, and while there wasn’t a smile, the frown and the anger had gone. Jessica mellowed, ‘Please come in, I’ve been very rude to you, I’m sorry.’
He came into the kitchen and looked her up and down. His first words surprised Jessica, ‘It’s not very warm in here and you’ve nothing on your feet. These flagstones must be freezing.’ He looked around the kitchen, ‘Isn’t the Aga working?’
Jessica tried not to sound pathetic but she didn’t manage it as she said, ‘My husband lit it last week and he’s not here now and I don’t know how it works.’ The instant flash of amazement quickly left his face and for the first time a small smile came to brighten his features. Jessica sighed.
He quickly set to work and after a few minutes said, ‘That will be nice and hot soon. I’ll show you how to work it before I go.’ Jessica was puzzled as to why he was going to stay, but she decided she had done enough damage to her reputation for one day and stayed quiet. ‘And now to business,’ he said, ‘do not feed chocolate cake to any of your animals.’ He looked at the front of her chocolate stained fleece and added, ‘It’s not good for humans either but at least they are supposed to make rational choices.’
Jessica could feel that she was beginning to bristle, but she wasn’t going to make a second spectacle of herself so she said, ‘Exactly who are you?’
His emotionless face turned to one of amazement and he almost seemed lost for words. ‘I’m David Hunstanton, the owner of the local Veterinary Practice. I’ve an appointment to be here this afternoon, I was only a few minutes late.’
All that Jessica could say was, ‘Ahh.’
David continued, ‘Justin made the appointment when we had a round of golf in Buxton about a fortnight ago. He asked me to come around and check over the animals as he hasn’t had them for that long.’
‘That’s because we only moved here a few months ago,’ said Jessica and then added in a more garbled tone than she intended, ‘Justin is away on business.’
‘Are the animals in?’
Jessica shook her head. Her confidence had gone. She didn’t know what he’d meant but she guessed the answer was no.’
‘You come from London, don’t you?’ he asked. Jessica meekly nodded. ‘Do you know anything about looking after farm animals?’
As much as Jessica resented the question which was going to show her general incompetence, she said. ‘No, Justin, Clyde and Paris have looked after them.’
‘Clyde and Paris are your son and daughter?’ Jessica nodded. ‘Are they here?’ asked David.
Jessica shook her head and tried to stop the tears coming to her eyes, but she managed to say, ‘Clyde has gone off to Uni for the first time and Paris has chosen a boarding school for her sixth form.’ Tears streamed down her cheeks but she was determined not to breakdown.
She could sense the compassion in his voice as he asked, ‘May I guess the length of Justin’s business trip is unpredictable? She knew she didn’t have to answer. ‘Give me a few minutes,’ he said, as he went into the yard, past the barns and under the arch in the farm buildings to the nearby fields and animal sheds.
Jessica had done her best over the last week or so and had tried to copy what she had seen the others in the family do, but she knew it wasn’t going to work. The few cattle that they had, frightened her. She had never liked birds and so the chickens were a problem and she had left the sheep to themselves in the field. And as for the farmyard animals, the donkey, the peacock and geese she had just thrown them some food. She slumped down at the table and cried. Eventually she glanced up and saw David coming from one of the barns. She would try to pull herself together. She took off the old fleece, smoothed her top and skirt, and ran her fingers through her hair. By the time the door opened she had splashed her face with cold water and was determined to ask for help.
David came striding in. ‘No damage done, but you should have really got some help, the animals need attending to.’
‘I’ll be blunt. Can you afford to pay for help?’
Jessica was too emotionally drained to take umbrage, ‘Yes, paying is not a problem.’
It took a few minutes on the house phone in the hall before he returned to say that the eldest of the Drinkwater sons would be down within an hour. Jessica had met some of the Drinkwater family in the pub a few times but she wasn’t sure who was who as there seemed to be a lot of farmers with the same name.
It had gone nine o’clock before Liam Drinkwater finally drove his quad bike, with his two sheep dogs perched on the back, down the track towards the village. He had hardly spoken since he arrived. He was a tall wiry man in his early thirties but he immediately took control and told Jessica to stay in the kitchen. A couple of times he had come in to ask her questions to which she didn’t know the answers. On both occasions he mumbled a few words, didn’t smile and left without a further word. As the evening had passed she tried to relax and the heat of the Aga certainly helped her become more positive. She cleaned up the mess left by a week’s neglect and tried to think about what to do next.
When the house was quiet, apart from the howling wind outside, and she was sure that Liam had finally left, she went into hall and sat by the phone. She couldn’t use her mobile phone as there was no reception at the farmhouse. There was only very little in selected parts of the village centre and she wasn’t going out in this weather. For what seemed the hundredth time she pressed the “play” button to listen to the single message on the machine. Justin’s voice was given a tinny resonance by the cheap, Taiwanese recorder, ‘Hi Jess,’ he said in his quiet way when he was nervous. ‘I haven’t the courage to speak to you, and I couldn’t write it down.’ There was a long silence and then he blurted out, ‘I’ve met someone else while I have been working in Germany and I’m not coming back to you. You can have the farm and the animals.’ His voice quavered slightly as he said, ‘I’ll contact the solicitor to put everything in your name.” There was another long silence and finally he whispered, ‘I’m sorry.’
Tears filled Jessica’s eyes, it was the same every time she listened to it. Her initial reaction had been one of disbelief and she had tried to ring him, but Justin’s mobile number was unobtainable. The previous weekend when he had been at home she had noticed that he was very much on edge. He had spent all of the days with the animals and, in the evening, he shut himself in his office and wouldn’t come out. He said he had masses of work to do. Last week, early on Monday morning he had flown to Germany. His company had asked him to sort out the German business and he had been backwards and forwards to Berlin and Munich for the previous six weeks.
Jessica’s disbelief was soon gone. He hadn’t contacted her again and, while his mobile was unobtainable, she had left messages on his email, but Justin hadn’t phoned her. She was confused for the first few days and began to blame herself. She had managed to keep calm when she spoke to Paris and Clyde on the phone. They were both enjoying their lives, Paris in her new boarding school and Clyde in his first year at Uni. It was obvious to Jessica that Justin hadn’t told them that he was not coming back. That was why she was getting so frustrated. Because of the lack of contact from Justin, she began to have serious self doubts, and for the last few days, kept thinking that she was to blame for him leaving.
Her confidence was at a low ebb and this afternoon’s scene with the vet was a total embarrassment. She hadn’t been thinking clearly since the message and the days had just drifted past. She took a deep breath. It was time to do something. But what could she do? She was alone in this isolated farm in the middle of nowhere and she couldn’t drive. There had never been the need for her to learn. She had spent all of her life, up to a few months ago, in London. Weakness was coming over her but unlike the past few days she was determined to resist it.
She took out a notepad and pencil. She would plan what she had to do next. The first priority was the children. She couldn’t tell them over the phone so she would travel to see them. Fortunately both of them were close to each other near London. She knew that it must be separate meetings as it would affect them differently. Paris will be distraught and she will not stop talking. It was a form of nervousness with her. Clyde would go into his shell. Jessica had to get him on his own so she could coax him into talking. At the top of the list she wrote, “contact Justin” and then added “and don’t accept failure.” This gave her a spur to action and she began to think a little more clearly, although she knew that she was still close to bursting into tears. She suddenly remembered that Justin’s boss was Michael and that she had his number on her phone from a previous corporate event.
She found the number and without hesitation she dialled it on the hall phone. The call was quickly answered in Michael’s curt business manner, ‘Michael, it’s Jessica Southwick.’
‘Hello, Jessica, how are you?’ but she heard the words gradually die in his throat and he stopped talking.
Jessica was determined to remain calm and speak with an even voice. She had planned what to say. It was written down on the pad in front of her. ‘Justin’s number is unobtainable so I presume that he has been issued with a new company phone. Could you give me his number? I need to contact him urgently.’ She was pleased her voice had remained calm and she had reached the end of her sentence without any tell-tale signs of distress.
There was a long silence at the other end, and Jessica had to prompt, ‘Michael?’
‘Oh my God,’ were the quiet words she heard.
‘What is it Michael? she asked with some urgency.
‘He hasn’t told you has he? Has he left you?’
Jessica’s voice rose in its pitch as she stammered, ‘What hasn’t he told me?’
Michael said, ‘Justin flew into Munich last Monday and went straight to the office and handed in his resignation. He handed over his laptop and mobile phone, then he walked out. We’ve written to him but there has been no reply.’ Jessica looked at the pile of unopened letters addressed to him. They sent many papers to him at home and so she had just left them on the hall table.’
She suddenly realised that Michael was talking to her, ‘Are you all right, do you need our help?’
Jessica took a deep breath and tried to control her voice as she said, ‘He has left me but I’ve come to terms with it now. It’s time to move on.’ She put the phone down to cut the call and burst into tears.