(Awduresau Cymru Publishing)
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The Making of Annie-May
Chapter by Chapter
Here are the opening chapters of my novel 'The Making of Annie-May'. The formatting isn't as it would be - and is - in the printed book, so apologies for that. I'll put up a chapter a week for a few weeks, to see how it goes. For this first instalment, I'll put up the Prologue and Chapter 1.
The Making of Annie-May
Sorting through the bags of clothes had become monotonous work, even with the small-talk.
‘Part of being Lady of the Manor, eh?’ Peggy’s tone was light, but Jessie resented it nonetheless. She was very aware of how she was perceived in this little seaside town, despite its being her childhood home. She smiled.
‘It’s nice to be able to give something back, you know?’
‘Yes’ said Peggy, arms outstretched in the process of folding a vast jumper. ‘It’s great that so many people have given us their cast-offs for the Jumble. I’m sure that all the poor people will love them.’ This time there was no mistaking Peggy’s tone.
When the doorbell rang it was a welcome distraction for Jessie. Peggy opened the door to two police officers.
‘No, I’m Peggy Morris, the housekeeper. I’ll fetch her.’ She turned, and started towards the drawing room when she saw her young employer walking across the hall.
‘Jessie, it’s …’ she began.
‘It’s ok Peggy, I heard.’ Jessie turned to their two visitors. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Mrs Hughes? Mrs Jessie Hughes? May we come in?’ Their ID badges were flashed briefly.
‘You’ll have to excuse the mess – we’re sorting some donations for tomorrow’s charity sale’ Jessie said.
She led the officers into the spacious drawing room, where several boxes stood, carefully stacked. A neat pile of folded clothes lay on a large polished table, and the sunlight streamed through the two tall casement windows. A magnificent dollshouse stood on an impressive stand in a corner, and a toddler was playing, very gently, with its contents. Jessie noticed their glances around the room, and became aware that this was not the sort of “mess” they may be used to. She sat on one large sofa and motioned them to another.
‘How can I help you?’ she repeated.
‘Do you want me to stay, Jess?’ asked Peggy.
‘Yes please Peggy - can you keep an eye on Anya for me? She’s due for her nap soon.’
‘Mrs Hughes’ the constable began. She cleared her throat. ‘I’m afraid we have some bad news about your husband, Michael Hughes.’
She hesitated. Then,
‘I’m sorry to tell you that he’s been found dead in his car’.
Jessie was silent for what seemed a long time. Doris Day was singing Que Sera, Sera … Whatever will be, will be on the radio.
‘I’m afraid …’
‘Dead? Michael? Dead?’
‘I’m sorry, yes.’
‘Would you like a glass of water?’
Did she look as numb as she felt?
The officer looked at Peggy, standing near the door, now covering her mouth with both hands, horrified.
‘Could you fetch Mrs Hughes some water, please, Mrs …?
‘It’s Miss. Morris. Peggy Morris’ she whispered. ‘Yes of course.’
Jessie heard her daughter, oblivious to the earthquake around her, offering tiny pieces of china to the mannequins seated in the dollshouse. ‘Cuppa tea?’ she was saying.
‘Do you feel up to answering some questions Mrs Hughes? Or can I call you Jessie?’
‘When did you last see your husband, Jessie?
‘ … um … this morning, early. About eight.’
‘Did he say where he was going?’
‘No, not really. He was going to the office I expect.’
‘And did he do or say anything unusual?’
The door opened again, and the officer waited while Peggy handed over the glass of water with shaking hands.
‘He said his usual goodbye stuff – have fun, take care, enjoy your dollshouse … love you …’ Jessie swallowed. She took a sip of water.
‘Enjoy your dollshouse?’
‘Yes. Family joke. He called this…’ she waved an arm around the room ‘… my dollshouse.’
“Ah, I see. Jessie, I’m afraid I must ask you to come with us to identify your husband’s body.’ Her voice was gentle but firm.
‘Is there anyone we can call for you?’
She shook her head. Then,
‘He said things aren’t always what they seem’.
The sergeant looked up sharply.
‘He said that?’ he asked. ‘This morning? What did he mean?’
Jessie shook her head.
‘I have no idea’ she whispered.
In a quiet but steady voice, she asked Peggy to finish folding the clothes.
‘And can you look after Anya for me please?’
As Jessie was leaving the room, the child ran to her, holding out a scrap of paper.
‘There y’go Mummy!’ she said, beaming.
Jessie bent to kiss her, hug her, willing herself not to fall apart.
‘See you later Sweetheart’ she said. ‘Be good for Auntie Peggy.’
She allowed herself to be escorted to the black car waiting at the top of the long drive.
Jessie looked down at her husband. She felt strangely distant, removed. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be her Michael. She’d kissed him this morning. Said goodbye, went about her day. And now this. No, this wasn’t happening.
‘Why is he so pink?’
‘Can you confirm that this is the body of your husband, Michael Hughes?’
‘Yes. Why is he so pink?’
‘If you follow me to my office Mrs Hughes, we can talk there.’
She walked after him, stiffly, conscious of putting one foot after the other. She sat on the hard wooden chair in front of his desk. Who was he?
‘I’m from the Coroner’s Office, Mrs Hughes.’
As if he’d heard her. Had she said it aloud?
‘I will try to answer any questions you have.’
‘Why is he so pink?’ she asked again.
He took a deep breath.
‘We’ll need to wait for a post-mortem before we can be certain about the cause of death, Mrs Hughes. But your husband’s pink colouring leads us to believe, at this point, that your husband may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was found alone in his car. The Coroner will ask the police to gather the information about his death. I’m so sorry Mrs Hughes.’
Jessie sat, hands folded in her lap. She tried to take in what he was saying, but her mind was numb, foggy, full of cotton wool. This was harder to grasp than being told he was dead. Eventually she spoke.
‘He committed suicide. That’s what you’re saying.’
‘As I said Mrs Hughes, we will need to wait for a post-mortem before we can be certain …’
“No. No. He wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t choose to leave us. He wouldn’t ...’
She bent her head, but not before she saw the glances between the people in the room. Even in her state of utter disbelief, of shock, of horror, she knew what they meant. She guessed that all the wives said what she had said. They all thought their husbands loved them too much to do this terrible thing. The fog cleared.
‘My husband didn’t kill himself. And your post mortem will prove it.’
A new voice. She looked up.
‘Mrs Hughes, I’m Inspector Daly. Would you like to come with me? There are a few questions I’d like to ask you – and you may have some for me.’
Another name. Too many names. She’d never remember them all.
She sat in his office.
Rob Daly looked across at her, not unsympathetically. Pretty woman, he noted. She wasn’t looking her best, naturally – no tears yet, but her eyes were reddening and her blonde hair looked dishevelled. Quite a bit younger than her husband, he guessed. An affair? Maybe. Jealousy? Too hard to live with? Or corruption? Bribery? Time would tell.
‘Mrs Hughes, can you tell me something about your husband? About Michael?’
‘OK. When did you last see him?’
‘This morning. When he left for the office. About eight.’
‘Did he have any money worries? Work worries?
‘No. He had a big contract coming up. It was a lot of work; he was a bit distracted, waiting to hear whether he’d got the job.’
‘And what job was that, Mrs Hughes?’
‘A big contract with the council. But he has other jobs on – smaller ones. He’s a building contractor you see, my husband’ she said proudly, lifting her head.
‘I mean – he was …’ Her head dropped again.
‘And did he have any problems with colleagues that you know of? Or with neighbours? Friends?’
She shook her head, not raising it. After a pause, Inspector Daly stood up.
‘That’s all for now, Mrs Hughes. Thank you for being so helpful. We may need to be in touch again. Is there a relative or friend we can contact for you?’
Jessie realized she had no relatives now, no friends. Not here, not in her home town. She shook her head again. She left the office and the building, sat in the waiting car, was barely aware of the drive back home. Home? Not now, she thought. Not ever again.
The next few days were a whirl of activity and nothingness. Peggy stepped up and helped. She changed from being the often critical, wordlessly disapproving and sometimes downright sarcastic creature she had been since she had started working for the couple. She took over the arrangements for her widowed employer, making phone calls and answering them, contacting the funeral director, protecting Jessie from curious journalists. She came into her own.
Then on week two, the nothingness stopped, to be replaced by a series of small explosions. Explosion one - the police had carried out their routine checks and found that Michael had made a large withdrawal of cash a few days before his death, and had virtually no money in his account. Explosion two - he was suspected of bribing council officers.
And so it went on. He had recently taken out a much larger mortgage on their house than she knew about. The news that the insurance company wouldn’t pay out if the cause of death were confirmed as suicide.
There was a shame attached to those left behind after a suicide. A guilt. And, she now knew, an anger that he could have done this to her, left her with nothing – not just the money, the house, but her dignity, her memories, her security, her feeling of being loved – all gone. Just like that. And without saying goodbye.
‘How was she then?’
‘Er – sorry?’ Anya was thrown for a moment.
‘Lucy’s first day today, wasn’t it? How was she?’
The low brick building with its multi-coloured windows came back into focus. She was standing on the small square of concrete separating the two blocks of the school.
‘Oh sorry – of course. Miles away!’ She brushed her hair out of her eyes. ‘Yes, she was fine – she’s been looking forward to joining her sisters for a long time. How about your little one?’
‘Well he’s a big boy now – in Class two already’ said Veronica proudly, as
the row of mums stepped back in a well-rehearsed move, almost knocked off their feet by the sudden stream of children pouring from the door marked Infants.
‘Mum!’ shouted Anya’s youngest. ‘Mum! I made a picture for you! And I did a wee on the tiny toilet like you said!’ and she hurled herself at Anya’s knees, to be engulfed by a laughing hug. Francesca ran to her, close behind, confirming that her little sister had been fine.
Then the mothers turned, as one, to face the Juniors door on the opposite side of the square, and settled to wait ten more minutes for their older offspring. Emily, at eight, had insisted she didn’t need to be met, but endured the embarrassment for the sake of her sisters.
‘So’ continued Veronica, ‘You finished that course you were on?’
‘I have indeed!’ replied Anya. ‘A fully fledged teacher now – better late than never! But no jobs around at the moment, and now the school year’s started, there’s not much likelihood of anything coming up, for a while at least.’
She cringed inwardly at the memory of the only job interview she had managed to secure so far. In desperation, she had applied for a post in a secondary school even though she was trained as a primary teacher, and was amazed and thrilled to be short-listed. After all, this was not the best time to look for teaching posts. But it all went downhill from there. She found she wasn’t at all prepared for the experience. The full day, the expanse of school governors she was confronted with, the list of three questions she was handed with such a short time to digest them, and the awful, embarrassing experience of drying up a few minutes into the allotted time, having to sit there in silence as the clock ticked. It had almost convinced her to call it a day for a teaching career, and look for a nice safe office job. Almost.
‘That’s a shame. It’s taken you – what – three years?’
‘Yes.’ said Anya. ‘Three years’.
Three years. Not the easiest of times, but she’d stuck at it. Now she wasn’t sure it had been worth the hassle.
‘Well I don’t know if it’s any help,’ Veronica was saying, ‘but my neighbour was telling me that they’re looking for someone to teach biology in the college she works at. Biology’s your subject, isn’t it?’
‘Yes it is’ said Anya, surprised. ‘But what college is that?’
‘Haven’t a clue, sorry’ said Veronica. ‘In the backwoods somewhere, I think. Not local. I’ll ask Elaine to give you a ring, shall I?’
‘Anya? Hi. It’s Elaine Walters. Veronica gave me your number. Is now a good time?’
Clutching the phone and glancing from the hallway back into the kitchen, she saw that the dinner was simmering contentedly on the stove; David was sitting in the lounge opposite her, can in hand, and she could hear the girls laughing upstairs.
‘Oh, hello Elaine – thanks for calling me. Yes, now is fine’
‘Veronica tells me you may be available for some teaching.’
‘Well yes, I am – but I’m primary trained – and I don’t know anything about college teaching.’
‘FE. Further Education. “Second chance” college. Don’t worry, I can fill you in. We all can. We’re a friendly bunch.’
‘I don’t know …’
‘The science woman has left. After seven years, she suddenly decides to pack it in at the start of term. So the Head of Department is pretty desperate. Call in tomorrow – I’ll set it up’
‘Science? Oh, I…’
‘Don’t worry. Glyn will tell you all about it.’
‘It all seems a bit informal Elaine!’
‘Yes, that’s FE for you! This would be part time, hourly paid. No holiday pay, no pay if you don’t turn up. Full time? Permanent? Well that’s another story. But it’s a start isn’t it? Anyway, call in about ten if you can. And remember – whatever he asks you, say you can do it. You’ll be fine.’
Giving hurried directions to the college, Elaine signed off with ‘You can’t miss it!’
Anya stared at the phone. Did that just happen? She glanced into the lounge. David hadn’t moved. He stared at the TV. He hadn’t had his dinner yet.
‘I think I’ve got an interview’ Anya said to the room. ‘For a teaching job. At a college.’
‘That’s good.’ He didn’t look up.
The spaghetti was bubbling and the sauce starting to spatter over the cooker as she went back into the kitchen.
‘Girls! Tea’s ready!’ she shouted, and hungry footsteps came running down the stairs. The three little girls didn’t need telling twice. They sat at the big wooden table in the cluttered kitchen, and chatted, and laughed, and ate gratefully.
‘I’m just taking your dad’s dinner in’ she said automatically as she lifted the tray.
‘Mum, why is Dad’s called Dinner and ours is Tea?’
Anya laughed. ‘Good question Lucy! I’ll think of an answer in a while!’
‘It’s because he’s an adult and we’re not’ answered Fran knowledgeably. At six she knew these things.
‘And why is Dad allowed to have his tea – I mean dinner - in the lounge and we’re not?’ Lucy continued.
‘Well, Dad’s a bit sad you see, Luce’ explained Emily. ‘He used to have a job and now he doesn’t. So he stays in the lounge.’
‘And he’s a bit grumpy’ added Fran helpfully.
Anya carried the tray into the lounge, where David balanced it on his lap without looking up from the TV news.
As she was leaving the room he suddenly asked ‘A college? What college?
‘Um … I’m not really sure. It’s FE apparently’. She felt wrong-footed at his uncharacteristic show of interest. She should have asked Elaine more questions.
‘It’s up the Nantllai valley.’
She turned to leave the room, then,
‘Nanty Tech you mean?’
‘Nanty Tech. That’s probably not the proper name, but lots of the boys went there. Did motor mechanics, engineering, that sort of thing.’
‘Engineering?’ She was confused now. ‘No, I don’t think so. They want a science teacher.'
David returned to his dinner and his lager and the news.
Anya wasn’t sure if she’d remember Elaine’s directions, so she left early the next morning, straight after dropping the girls off. Lucy was an old hand at this school business now, having spent a whole day there. Emily and Fran assured their mum they would keep an eye on her. She drove the battered Vauxhall Viva towards the west, along the coast road as far as she could, before turning inland, and made her way to the little town of Pontarafon. She reached the square with its impressive-looking community centre which dwarfed the shops, post office and single estate agent’s surrounding it, and headed up the road ahead of her. Was there really a college up here? She’d lived in the seaside town of Port Haven all her life, and had never heard of such a place. There again, she rarely – if ever – ventured this far west, and then only to head towards the Mumbles or one of the bays along the Gower coast. And now she wondered why. After half a mile, after passing the ugly square building of the sewing factory, and the parallel rows of shops selling saddles, ropes and tractor equipment, the view was transformed. The mountains on her right reared up, dotted here and there with a few houses and outbuildings. Lanes and tracks snaked across the landscape, hardly making any impression on the patchwork of grasses and hedges. To her left, the drop to the valley below became steeper and deeper with every mile. The river blinked between dense patches of trees, and the mountains beyond climbed high above. This was spectacular, she thought. But a college? Here?
After half an hour, she passed a colliery on her left. Of course! The colliery! She knew about this. It was one of those on the news these days, threatened with closure. She’d heard that this was a big deal, although it didn’t affect her. Apparently large numbers of people in the area relied on the mine for work, and just as many relied on the miners’ business. She could see the great wheel turning slowly as she drove past, men walking through the gates, heads down, silent, preparing for their descent into the Welsh mountain. She drove on till she came to a fork in the road. A small black and white sign told her that “Dref y Nant College of Further Education” was to her left.
She didn’t have to drive far. The college was brick-built, and seemed to be set at an angle, so that the entrance was in one of the corners of the squarish building. It was low at the front, with a two-storey tier rising up at the rear, the whole thing neatly surrounded by a wide driveway, a grass verge, and high railings. The gates stood open and she drove in, parking in a signed and conveniently-placed visitors’ area. She walked up two shallow steps and through double doors and was met by a smiling receptionist.
‘I’m here to see Mrs Walters’ she said. ‘I’m Anya Gethin’.
She listened to a brief phone call, and having been assured that Mrs Walters was on her way, she sat in the small waiting area. True enough, Elaine wasn’t long. She swept down the staircase, blonde, slim, elegant in a fitted dress and flowing scarf. Anya thought of how she must look. Her untamed bouncing red curls, the green suit she’d bought for her first teaching practice and worn for all the following ones, the handbag she’d borrowed from her mother last night. No padded shoulders and power dressing for her. For some reason she thought of Veronica – neat and tidy Veronica, with her hair in that tight little bun, her sensible shoes and her serviceable cardi. She felt better.
Elaine welcomed her and marched her briskly up some stairs, along a corridor and into a large, airy room full of comfortable chairs.
‘Staffroom’ she announced unnecessarily.
Large windows on either side of the room gave a pleasant airy feel. In one corner was a small kitchen area, comprising a counter covered in assorted cups and mugs, and an old water geyser on the wall. A few people were sitting in a huddle in another corner, seemingly engrossed in something on the coffee table in front of them.
‘Don’t worry about them’ Elaine said. ‘They’re the bridge fanatics. They try to get here early for break.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Hmm. A bit too early I think!’ and she walked over to the back of the room where she made two cups of coffee in record time, and brought them to where she had left Anya.
‘OK – why don’t you sit? – this is the deal. Glyn John – head of department - is desperate for a science teacher. It’s not rocket science – excuse the pun – so just say yes to whatever he asks you. Now …’
Anya interrupted. ‘About that - did you say science? My subject’s biology, not the other sciences. I don’t think …’
‘Don’t worry, it’s all pretty basic stuff I think. I teach sociology so I know nothing about that side of things. But there’ll be plenty of books. Come on, drink up – I told Glyn we’d be there at ten.’
Anya gulped down as much as she could of the steaming coffee, stood up, and followed her. Another quick-march along corridors, up and down stairs, across an open area that gave onto another building, and they were outside a door marked ‘Head of Caring and Personal Care’. Elaine knocked quickly and walked in.
‘Glyn, this is Anya I told you about. I’ll leave you to it’, and she was gone.
‘Come in Anya. Take a seat. I’m afraid I don’t know your surname – Elaine gave me the minimum amount of information about you.’
She sat in front of the huge wooden desk, and looked at the perfectly round glasses on the perfectly round head, the shiny black skull-cap of hair, the intelligent eyes and the smiling mouth.
‘It’s Gethin, Mr John. Anya Gethin.’ Her breathlessness was more to do with racing along corridors than being nervous – she hadn’t had time for that.
It was the strangest interview she could imagine. Glyn John told her about the course – which turned out to be hairdressing – and the need for the students to have a sound understanding of chemistry and a little physics, as well as human biology. He told her that all the students would be girls, that the rest of the staff would be helpful, and that she would have a parking space. He chatted about the history of the area and of the college, established to educate the young boys starting work in the mine. Anya could see that he must be, or have been, an inspiring teacher. She was taken aback when he suddenly said,
‘So does that sound ok to you? Happy with all of that?’
‘Just a couple of questions …’
This was the bit she was dreading. Experience? None. Subject knowledge? Biology, yes. But chemistry? Physics? The prospect of having to speak on any of these threw her, although she should have been prepared. She felt panic beginning to rise. But the question, when it came, was more personal.
‘So, Anya – tell me a little about yourself. What would you say are your strengths?’
Strengths. Anya composed herself. This should be easier that chemistry or physics questions. Strengths. She should say “I’m a team player”. But where was the evidence for that? She’d just spent three years studying on her own, not letting herself be part of any group, rushing home after lectures each day to children, cooking, housework, husband. No, no team playing there. The thoughts went through her head in a flash, and flew out just as quickly.
‘Umm - I’m enthusiastic. And I’m well organised. I’m punctual....’
‘Lovely, lovely. Let’s see – today’s Tuesday - could you start tomorrow?’
‘Mr John …’
‘Glyn, please!” he said, smiling.
‘I haven’t done my probationary year yet’ she blurted out before he could go any further.
‘Probationary year? Oh, we have none of that. Not in FE. Now, about tomorrow…?’
‘Maybe a bit too soon, eh? OK – how about Thursday?’
Anya found herself nodding. She wasn’t sure what she was agreeing to, but it seemed rude not to. A knock on the door made her jump.
‘Ah, Ethan, right on cue. Ethan Lowe, this is Anya. She’ll be taking the hairdressing science – years one and two. I thought you’d be relieved!’
Looking back at Anya, he added, ‘Ethan has been stepping in for us. On loan from Engineering.’
‘So Ethan, can I leave Anya in your capable hands? To show her round and fill her in?’
Anya turned and saw a tall, slender young man wearing a khaki overall, his fair hair falling over his eyes.
‘My pleasure Glyn. Come with me Anya, and I’ll give you the grand tour!’
The “grand tour” was an extended- and considerably more leisurely - version of the route-march Elaine had taken her on, this time with commentary. He showed her the various departments, the laboratories, the workshops. She was sure she would never find her way around this place. He opened a door in the middle of the ground floor corridor, and they walked into a small classroom with high windows, bare walls, desks in rows, table at the front, and a large grey steel cupboard. Nothing else.
‘Here we are. Survey your domain!’
Ethan had been so helpful and friendly that Anya at last felt able to ask some of the many questions that had been building in her head since leaving Glyn’s office. She was already thinking of him as Glyn, and she recalled Elaine’s words “They’re a friendly bunch”. But her first question was about the dismal little room they were standing in.
‘It’s very – bare’ she said timidly, not wishing to criticize this world of which she knew nothing.
‘Bare? It’s appalling!’ he said. ‘How on earth can you inspire youngsters in a room like this? They don’t want to be here anyway. They want to be in the salons - I’ll show you those in a minute. They didn’t expect to be learning science, and doing exams. They aren’t exam material, Anya. Well, most of them. They want to get away from all that. So – you’ll have your work cut out just to get them to turn up, never mind engaging with you. Sorry – not putting you off am I?’ He grinned.
‘I must come clean’ he went on. ‘I haven’t made any effort here. I’ve been covering the science– mainly doing the physics and hoping like hell that someone would come along and rescue me before I had to learn the rest. So you are a very welcome sight! Term only started last week and I’ve been treading water. So it’s up to you – do what you will! That cupboard is full of bottles and packets of chemicals I’ve never come across before. Use them or don’t use them – up to you.’
She turned to face him and took a breath, knowing that the admission she was about to make could mean the end of her career in further education before it started..
‘I don’t think I can do this Ethan. I haven’t done any chemistry or physics since my school days. I’m not trained to teach sixteen and seventeen year olds – I’m a primary school teacher. I don’t know what they need to know, and I’m sure I won’t know it anyway, and I don’t know what exams they’ll be doing …’
‘Oh bless you love, I’m sorry. I’ll be giving you the syllabus. And I’ll give you a textbook – it’ll be your bible. It’s written especially for the course. The students won’t have a copy, so you can impress them with your knowledge! And I’ll give you your timetable. You’ll be doing sixteen hours a week I think. Thursday is quite a light day. You’ll be fine. Come on!’
And she followed him out into the corridor, somewhat reassured but still decidedly anxious. He took her to the practical areas, fully equipped as working salons, and introduced her to the staff teaching the hands-on elements of the course.
‘Come down one Wednesday afternoon love, I’ll sort that hair out for you!’ offered one, not unkindly, as she ran her fingers through her own purple spiky hair.
Anya had her first sight of some of the students she would be teaching. They looked so big. Tall. Grown up. Made up and coiffured, more like Bonnie Tyler than her idea of students, they looked so much more stylish than she felt. Anya remembered the informal advice they had received on her teaching course: “the class will listen to you because you’re standing at the front and you’re so much bigger than they are.” Well that just went out of the window, along with everything she had learned about teaching, it seemed.
They walked through the rest of the small college, noting the canteen, the office, and the staff workrooms. Ethan introduced her to staff as they went, she forgetting names and subjects along the way, but everyone seemed pleasant and approachable. They ended up back at the main entrance, taking a detour for him to pick up the paperwork and book he had promised her.
‘Well, welcome aboard Anya. I need to go now – I have the mining apprentices next, workshop theory. Always a joy! Any questions or worries, you’ll find me in room A12. See you Thursday. You’re a lecturer now. Good luck!’ and he too was gone.
She drove home in a daze, listening to Come on Eileen and Goody Two Shoes on the radio. What had she done? Surely this was insane. A lecturer? Was he serious? Teaching grown women subjects she knew nothing about, for a career she knew nothing about, in a sector she knew nothing about? And starting on Thursday! She was scared. And excited. She had a job!
They certainly needed the money. She thought of the bills she had hidden under the sofa cushions, retrieved from the postman before he reached the front door, as she not-so-innocently hovered by the gate each morning to waylay him. It solved nothing, she knew, but coward as she was, it at least delayed another row, another outburst. It’s not as if he doesn’t know we’re broke, she thought. How could we be otherwise? The odd day’s labouring didn’t bring in enough to cover the bills, never mind clothes and shoes for the girls. She had made all their dresses and skirts, and even coats, but vests, knickers and socks had to be bought. And the mortgage – she went cold at the thought of losing the house she loved so much. But logic seemed to have left David since he’d been made redundant.
It was four years now. Her eventual decision to train as a teacher had started one of their biggest rows yet. Three years to train? Ridiculous, he’d said. She needed to take any job she could, get some money coming in, he’d said. But she’d stuck to her guns, though trembling inside. She’d tried. Over and over, she’d tried to find a job, but slowly she’d realised she must look at other options. Then - they needed to take a long-term view, she’d said. With hours that would fit around the school holidays for the girls, and with decent pay. Jobs were scarce anyway, and she had no office or retail experience. She could do this. But it wasn’t until she told him about the grant and the travel expenses she’d receive that he’d calmed down. She’d promised him – with fingers crossed behind her back - that nothing at home would change. Nothing would change for him, at least. And with help from her mother, she had done it. She had been exhausted. Just the planning involved in running the home, ensuring the children were cared for, and the travelling to and from the college, often by bus, nearly wore her out. She was sometimes in tears after putting the girls to bed and starting to write essays and lesson plans, but she had done it. And now she had a job.
As she turned into her road, she realized she hadn’t asked how much she would be earning, or when she would be paid. How stupid! She knew that David would expect her to know that vital piece of information, that he would start shouting, advancing on her as he did in that intimidating way. She took a deep breath and put her key in the door.