Alice Stanton: After the Thaw

 

Dear Jen,

 

What a Christmas we've had! I've never seen snow like it, not even in '47 or '63, though it's all thawed now and unseasonably warm, as if spring wants to come before January is even over.

 

Was the snow really terrible where you are? I was thinking of you, when we were all huddled by the fire, with the power lines down and the telephones not working. At least we have the village, and the river keeps things a bit warmer for us, or so Roger told me once. I hope you all got through it. Well, silly me, I know you got through it, because we spoke on the phone last night, but I did worry. It's at times like this that I'm glad we don't live in the middle of nowhere, though it's lovely where you are. But each to their own. I know you're happy and have never looked back.

 

Now, I have something to tell you. I didn't tell you last night, because we didn't have long, you with the dinner going cold on the table. I'm afraid I was a bit of a silly during the height of the storm. I was coming downstairs when there was the most terrible clap of thunder. It was only thunder, but it did make me jump. I fell all the way downstairs, and I managed to knock myself out.

 

No, don't worry about me. The doctor came in no time, and he said I'd only managed to sprain my knee the children were panicking, you see, thinking I'd broken my leg. He sent me to bed and told me to take it easy for a few weeks. So that's it. I'm fine, really. I didn't want to tell you, because I knew you'd be worried, and I'm nearly better, as right as rain. But you know how men are so bad at keeping secrets. I thought Roger would let something slip on the phone, or one of the boys. I didn't want you to find out that way, because then you'd worry that I'd only kept it from you because it was worse than it sounded.

 

There. That's over. What a lot I've said about myself. How was your Christmas? How's David, and the boys?

 

My lot are still growing, as ever. Will had his eleventh birthday just before all this started thank you for his present. If he hasn't sent a thank you letter yet, I'll give him a nudge this evening. Max is all grown up, spending more time with his Deb than with us. He's been taller than Roger for years, but it still gives me a shock to see them together, because they always remain your little babies, don't they, even when they're grown up. Barbara's quite the young lady, and Mary is so sure that she's grown-up, when of course she isn't.

 

They're all taking their responsibilities very seriously now I'm supposedly confined to bed. Gwen's been doing the lion's share of the cooking, but of course she always does. Mary I must have told you before how Mary likes to shirk housework. Now she's bustling around, busy doing important jobs like bringing me tea. I think she feels a bit guilty about me falling, for some reason. She actually went missing for an hour or so just after I fell. They weren't going to tell me, but James accidentally let it slip. I'll let you imagine how angry I was with Roger for a while. A mother needs to know these things. Anyway, she came back safely, and no harm was done. By the time I woke up, she was back to her normal self, or almost.

 

James made me breakfast this morning. I wish he wouldn't, but of course I wouldn't dream of telling him. No-one can ruin bacon like a twelve year old boy. Will just comes in often, and just quietly spends time with me, and brings me little things I hadn't realised I wanted. He's grown very perceptive all of a sudden, as if he decided suddenly to grow up as soon as he reached eleven. I don't remember James or Mary changing like this after their eleventh birthday, but I suppose it has been a trying week. With all that's happened since Christmas, you can't blame the boy for being changed.

 

We really must visit you this year. It seems as if you've been inviting us for years, and we never manage to make it. Maybe some of the children can come by themselves. It would be a good change for them. You mentioned once that your Welsh mountain air would be excellent for someone convalescing. I hope none of them will get ill touch wood but if they do, I think that's a lovely idea.

 

Or, if not, maybe Will could come and visit in the summer? His closest school friends are often away in the holidays, and I think he gets a bit lonely sometimes, though he's the sort of child who seems perfectly happy in his own company, his head in a book. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing, having so many children. It's easy to get overlooked when you're one of so many. He's a bit less adventurous than James, too, who's perfectly capable of having hair-raising adventures all by himself. It would do Will good to have a change of scenery in Wales.

 

Besides, didn't you mention a boy who lives in one of the cottages on your farm? Quite a lonely boy, you said, and almost exactly the same age as Will. I don't believe in forcing children to spend time with each other, expecting them to make friends just because they're the same age, but it might be nice to give them a chance.

 

But here I am, thinking ahead to the summer, when only three days ago we were half drowning in the snow. There was something quite frightening about the week, don't you think? It didn't feel like normal snow, with the way it just kept on falling, and no-one could go anywhere. It's not supposed to happen in the twentienth century, at least not down here in the south of England.

 

And the floods, too. Did you have floods? I expect you did, what with all the snow melting on the mountain. I didn't see the worst of it, since I was tucked up in bed, doctor's orders, but there was all sorts of flotsam and jetsam in our garden the next morning. No-one died, though, and no-one lost their homes, and that's the main thing.

 

And now it's over, and everything will go back to normal. I'll be up and about by the end of the week, and it will be as if none of this ever happened.

 

Well, I'd better stop now, because I can hear James and Mary squabbling on the stairs about who's bringing me my supper tray.

 

All my love to you and the family,

 

Alice

 

******

 

Alice Stanton folded the letter and placed it on the bedside table. The door opened, and in came a tray of supper, closely followed by Will. Beside the bread, she saw a bunch of snowdrops in a glass vase, though how on earth he had found some snowdrops so early in the year, she did not know.

 

"I thought I heard James and Mary out there, fighting for the honour." She smiled at him. She had not meant to let on that she knew about the rivalry, but something about Will's appearance surprised her. "I take it you won."

 

"Yes." He placed the tray on the table already prepared for it, then sat down on the bed. His smile was serene. "We won."