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U3A Writing: Clouds

... Sarah was just about to sit up when she noticed a particular cloud moving very quickly from right to left. It had the head and forelegs of a horse quite clearly, and something was forming on its back - a figure, surely, with hair streaming out behind...

Mary Cryer tells a sad atmospheric tale.

Ever since Tom left for work Sarah had felt out of sorts, with no good reason that she could fathom. It was a lovely morning but she felt queasy, with a headache threatening, and knew she must get out into the garden, into the warm sunshine and dew laden grass, if she were to break the malevolent spell. The key turned easily in the lock of the old shed where she kept her gardening tools. She pulled on old shoes, selected a spade and fork, and set off to dig up the early peas.

The garden had always been Sarah’s special place, a retreat when she had a problem to solve, a solace when she felt overburdened with cares. The mixture of fresh air and hard work cleared the mind wonderfully. Very soon she found the rhythm: spade in, push down hard with foot, lift and turn over the sod; the smell of newly turned earth fibrous and delicious. The occasional pea pod, missed on previous gatherings, found their way into her pocket to provide sustenance for the work in hand, and steadily the pile of uprooted plants grew to form the basis of the next bonfire.

Time passed and she looked at her handiwork with satisfaction. The ground was now ready to plant out winter cabbage and sprouts. She straightened her back and removed her gardening gloves to fish for her handkerchief, wondering if she had picked up a summer cold as her nose felt prickly and watery.

As she brushed past the rosemary bush its pervasive aromatic smell lingered in the heavy July air. Sarah sat down under the greengage tree, one of her favourite places, to lie in the long grass and look up through dappled light at the infinite sky above. She took off her shoes to feel the grass tickle between her toes and lay back as she had so often done since she and Tom had bought the house when the children were small. The unexplained sadness was still with her, though she knew not why. A tear trickled across her cheek and she brushed it away with the back of her hand as she would a fly. Then blessed sleep came, lulled by the sound of bees from the hives that Tom kept at the very bottom of the orchard.

Two hours later she woke with a start. The air was fanning her cheek and a slight wind had sprung up, shimmering the leaves above her. It was only five o’clock and there was ample time before she had to cook the evening meal. Instead she gazed up at the sky. Her grandfather had taught her how to take note of the varying moods of the heavens and now it was filling with scudding clouds, the wind obviously stronger at that height. These clouds formed and reformed, racing as if they were in a hurry to arrive at an unknown destination. Sarah found herself smiling as she recalled how, as a child, she had watched just such clouds; seeing in their shapes animals, chariots, even human faces which, while perfectly decipherable one moment, changed into something else the next. An imaginative child, she had thought they were the spirits of the dead rushing to take their place in Paradise. She had had similar strange ideas when she saw a patch of sky reflected in a puddle of water in country lanes. If she were to step into that puddle, she felt sure that she would fall right through, right down through the clouds into the deep blue sky beyond. She had been very careful to walk carefully round each one. Incredible the ideas children have!

Sarah was just about to sit up when she noticed a particular cloud moving very quickly from right to left. It had the head and forelegs of a horse quite clearly, and something was forming on its back - a figure, surely, with hair streaming out behind. Was that an arm clasping a rein? No, it was free; it was raised up in a salute. As it passed overhead the figure of the rider was fading, but the horse’s head was clear and it appeared to be charging forward on its two front legs in a hurry to be gone . . . and then it all got blurry and merged in the cloud ahead and the illusion was gone.

The dinner was nearly ready when Tom came home. “I must cut the lawn this evening,” he said as he joined her in the kitchen to give her the customary homecoming kiss. “You look rather pale tonight darling. You haven’t been gardening too much in this heat, have you?” He was such a kind and solicitous husband. Sarah patted his hand and reassured him that she was perfectly all right, only it had been a bit of an off day.

“Darling,” he said gently, as they stacked up the dishes in the sink, “Sad news, I’m afraid, but I thought it could wait until we had eaten. Pity to spoil a delicious dinner. Bill rang up this afternoon to tell me Kate was killed out riding early today. He wanted me to break it to you gently, because you have been her best friend all these years. It was instantaneous. She fell and broke her neck and he doesn’t think she felt any pain . . . ”

The tears that had been behind her eyes all day began to fall silently down her cheek as she felt his arms around her.

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