Gwynneth sat on the edge of the bed, the slight odour of camphor all around, her face slightly contorted from the aching down her back. It’s the old bones; she thought. Then she heard a call from downstairs.
“Breakfast is ready”
“I’ll be down in a minute, Archie my love” she replied
She then hesitated as ‘Fields of Gold’ drifted softly from the morning radio and a distant memory began to surface.
Her hand gently wiped the fine layer of dust from the lid of the old shoebox, a box of nostalgia.
She gave a sigh as she extracted an old faded photo of a small ragamuffin. Although the facial features were surrounded by dense foliage, they were nevertheless quite distinguishable. Big ears, snotty nose and even through the dirt and grime the spotty complexion was obvious. She tenderly kissed the picture before affectionately holding it to her bosom whilst muttering...
“A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet”
Again she sighed, as her mind drifted to another time, another place and what now seemed a different reality.EGIN
Gwynneth’s father had been a freelance photographer, from which over the years he had made quite a lucrative living, but in the recession of the early 1990s his clients started to dwindle and so did his fiscal reserves. Although not yet destitute, his status as ‘Man, the hunter gatherer’ was now in jeopardy.
After a few years of “making do” fortune smiled, for he was offered the position of reporter-photographer for a publishing company. However, this did mean upping sticks from the land of his Welsh ancestors.
It was Gwynneth’s tenth birthday and the first day in their new home. She was quite despondent at leaving her school friends, but as a special birthday treat her father had given her one of his old cameras. All her life she had been surrounded by artwork of some description, so she had taken to photography like a duck to water. Armed with her new camera she went to explore her new surroundings.
As she stood in their new garden, she gazed across Miotasfields, a total contrast to the rolling landscapes of the Rhondda valley.
Her first day and so home sick, to perk herself up she started to sing, as she always did when feeling sad. Probably not the best choice, for it was not so much a song but more a lament to her homeland.
“Hen Wlad fy Nhadau”
The land of my father’s is dear unto me.
As she wandered through the overgrown shrubbery, she spied a large cabbage white, basking in the early morning rays. With camera at the ready she zoomed in, she was just about to release the shutter when she noticed a slight disturbance in the background. She refocused on the dark foliage, as the hideous features of some strange creature came into view. Gwynneth gave a screech, the camera flashed, the cabbage white took to flight, and so did Gwynneth.
Back in the house, she told her father of the strange happenings. With Gwynneth in tow he searched the garden, but to no avail, explaining to her it was probably a trick of the light, a common occurrence in photography.
Feeling reassured she continued to explore her new surroundings as she sang.
Then a strange voice seemed to come from nowhere.
“Are you an Angel?”
Susan stopped, and gazed around her, there was no one to be seen. She must be hearing things, she thought, and continued to sing.
“Well! Are you an Angel?”
“Who said that?” she called.
“Me” came the reply
Once again she gazed around her, now feeling a bit apprehensive.
“Who’s me, show yourself”
Then the bushes seemed to come alive, and out stepped a small ragamuffin.
“Who are you? What are you?”
“I’m me. I’m a boy”
With a look of disdain, Gwynneth surveyed the scruffy urchin.
“And does me have a name?”
“I don’t know, do you?”
“No! You silly boy, do you have a name?”
“My name is Archie”
“That’s a very old fashioned name”
“It’s short for Archibald”
“That’s even worse”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Gwynneth, not that it’s anything to do with you”
“That’s a funny name for an angel”
“Angel, who said I was an angel?”
“My mother says; everyone from Wales has the voice of an angel”
“Silly boy, she was speaking metaphorically”
“Metaphorically, it means... Oh never mind, someone like you would never understand”
Gwynneth stepped back and gazed upon the strange creature, a creature that time itself had forgotten. Before her stood what looked like some Dickensian urchin.
Hair like alfalfa, spotty faced, apparel that would put a scarecrow to shame, his short trousers displayed a skinny pair of slightly bowed legs that looked more like knots in cotton. Then she started to snigger when she saw his wellington boots, for not only were they several sizes too big but also on the wrong feet.
“You’re very dirty, why don’t you go home and have a bath?”
“But it’s not Sunday”
“What’s Sunday got to do with it? You should have a bath everyday”
“Because you should. Are all your friends as scruffy as you?”
“I don’t have any friends”
“I’m not surprised dressed like that”
Gwynneth leaned a little closer to Archie and gave a sniff.
“What’s that awful smell?”
Archie gave a snort, as two long glutinous tendrils of snot retreated up his nasal passages. Gwynneth cringed, as she heard him give a deep gulp.
“I can’t smell anything,” he said
“Well it smells like pig manure to me”
“Oh! That will be me then; my Dad owns the pig farm, down the lane”
“Well why don’t you go back to your pigs and leave me alone” she gave an arrogant wave of her hand as if dismissing a servant and walked back to the house.
The following day, she sat by an old silver birch, deeply engrossed in her reading. She was not like your average child of ten years and had never been one for dolls, TV or video games, but would often be found with her nose deep in some book, for in the written word, she had found another world. From the descriptive prowess of Thomas Hardy, to the mystic mind of Tolkien, such authors only fired her imagination, for she was a bright child and eager to learn, not quite a ‘child prodigy’ but very advanced for her years. However, because of such a gift, she did have the tendency to be slightly arrogant, and proved to be a problem at her new school.
She read for some time then closed her book, giving a sigh of annoyance, and then called out...
“You can come out now boy”
There was no reply.
“I know you’re there boy, I can smell you”
Out of the bushes Archie appeared, head hung low, embarrassed at being discovered.
“I thought I told you to get a bath”
“I was going to, but it was full”
“Full? Full of what?”
“Piglets? You share a bath with the pigs? How revolting!”
“My father had to wash some piglets for market”
“Don’t you just hose them down?”
Gwynneth gave a little chuckle before returning to her book and totally ignoring Archie.
After about ten minutes and knowing Archie was sitting quietly behind her, she started to read aloud.
The archaic dialogue of Austin was confusing to Archie, but he was quite enthralled with the exploits of Miss Elizabeth and the arrogant Darcy.
After a further ten minutes, she turned to Archie, handing him the book, saying...
“Here, you read to me”
He hesitantly took the book and just stared at the ground.
“You can’t read, can you?”
“Yes I can, well, a little bit, well, I know my letters”
“What’s that letter then” she said pointing a slender finger.
“It’s, erm... It’s a number seven”
“It’s not a number seven, you dummy, it’s the letter “L”, the book is upside down. You’re not very bright for a... How old are you?”
“I’m eight and a bit, a big bit”
“Well, you’re not very bright for an eight year old, are you? When I was eight, I was reading Dickens”
“She! Is a he, you dummy and probably the most prolific writer of his day”
“You do say some big words, don’t you? I wish I was posh, like you”
“Well it’s not my fault you’re illiterate and I’m not posh, it’s you, you’re common, now go away and leave me alone”
Archie was far from illiterate, but because of his poor status no one had ever bothered to give him the time of day. Even at school his fellow pupils would scorn him and so he became a loner and would often sit all alone in class.
Whenever Gwynneth was out in the garden, Archie was always close by. Over the weeks, she started to mellow to him, to welcome his company and would sometimes refer to him as ‘my shadow’.
Sunday morning, after church, she decided to walk home by herself, and maybe take some photos on her journey home. As she rounded a bend, she came face to face with her shadow
“Archie, What have you done to yourself, have you had a bath?”
“Yes,” he said with a beaming smile.
“Well, didn’t you think to wash your face?”
The smile quickly disappeared.
“Oh! I forgot”
She looked him up and down.
“Is that your Sunday best?”
“Yes” came the reply
Then she started to chuckle as she noticed he had polished his wellington boots, they were however still on the wrong feet.
“Well, I suppose it’s a start, anyway I have something for you”
She rummaged in her bag, then handed him a book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
An expression of delight drifted across his face.
“A present! you’ve given me one of your books, no one has ever given me a present before“
Gwynneth suddenly felt a hint of embarrassment.
“It’s not one of my books; I found it down the lane and thought you may have lost it”
Archie opened the book and gave a puzzled look.
“If it’s not one of your books, then why has it got your name in it?”
Her gesture of goodwill had been discovered and her embarrassment grew.
“Well if you don’t want it, I will throw it in the bin”
“No, No, don’t do that, it’s what I’ve always wanted” he said, holding it tightly to his chest.
“And I’ve got something for you”
He rummaged in his coat pocket, and then presented her with a buttercup.
“I found this down the lane and thought you may have dropped it”
For the first time in her life, Gwynneth blushed. She covered her face with her hand, snatched the buttercup and ran all the way home.
Gwynneth had been saddened by the recent death of her Grandfather. However, there was one consolation, she was happy with the fact that her Grandmother, ‘her best friend’ had come to live with them.
Before retiring for the evening, she popped in to see her grandma, who was quietly sitting by the window reading “the common book of prayer”.
“Hi Gran” called Gwynneth.
“Ah, it’s my little cherub, come and give your old gran a bit hug”
Willingly, she did as she was summoned.
Her gran noticed the buttercup she was holding.
“I just saw you down the lane. Was that your young man, who had come courting?”
Gwynneth’s face took on a dire expression.
“No! He certainly is not my young man” she said quite cogently, “He’s just Archibald, the pig farmer’s son, and a scruffy little urchin”
Her Gran gave her a smile of omniscience.
“Hmmm, Archibald” she sighed “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
She lovingly rearranged a lock of Gwynneth’s hair.
“My dear, dear, Gwynneth, a mind so full of knowledge, and yet so naive. Remember, my little cherub, the powers of metamorphous transcends to all God’s creatures, even those of a lesser God”
Gran was renowned for such outburst’s of confusing idioms, and invariably ignored by Gwynneth.
Over the months, Gwynneth slowly introduce Archie to the art of English literature. He in turn, unknowingly, taught her the meaning of the word humble. Then one day disaster struck. ‘Foot and Mouth’ came to the area, Archie’s father was wiped out, and taking what small amount of government compensation was due, he sold up and moved to the city.
At first Gwynneth was secretly distraught. She missed her shadow and she missed the little notes he would write her, notes that, at first she discouraged him to write, for had these fallen into the hands of her class mates they would be deemed as love notes. However, Archie was not to be discouraged, and continued writing, so as a last resort she told him that if he was to continue, they should be in code, or at least his signature, replacing the A with 1 and B with 2 and so on.
These little notes came no more from her shadow, and so she threw herself into her schooling, trying to forget her ragamuffin, and would probably have succeeded, had it not been for the fact that every Valentine’s day and every Birthday, she would find a buttercup on her doorstep.
The years passed by, Gwynneth excelled at school, and was offered a scholarship at Bangor University, so it was back to her homeland. Then after four years and armed with a degree in Art, she returned to her father’s.
One lazy Sunday morning in February, Gwynneth was sitting with her Grandma, quietly reading, when her Gran enquired.
“Whatever happened to that young boy you used to play with? Was he a farmer’s son or something?”
“Oh! That would be Archie; I haven’t seen him for probably fifteen years or so”
“You didn’t fall out with him, did you?”
“Oh no! He had to move from the area. I’ll probably never, ever see him again”
“I wouldn’t be too sure on that my dear”
Gwynneth was just about to question that last remark, when there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll just get that Gran, be back in a minute”
She opened the door and there stood an RAF officer.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“I found this on your doorstep; I believe it may belong to you”
The officer presented her with a buttercup. At first Gwynneth was puzzled by this gift from a stranger, and then the light dawned.
“Archie” she called “is that you?”
Gwynneth turned; just in time to see her Gran shuffling down the corridor. She turned, gave a wink, and then disappeared into her granny flat.
“Archie, you look wonderful” she continued, “what have you done to yourself?”
“Well! I suppose I’ve grown up”
And grown up he had, his face had fattened out, losing his prominent ears, his spotty complexion had disappeared and was now more ruggedly handsome, his scruffy apparel now exchanged for the Queen’s imposing regalia.
Because of his introduction to English literature by Gwynneth, his schooling had gone from strength to strength; consequently, this had secured him a place at Lincolnshire University. He had then decided on a career in the armed forces, so it was off to RAF Cranwell for three years, he graduated with a commission and was now stationed at RAF Waddington.
Over the following months, they saw quite as lot of each other, then one day, Archie found the courage to ask for her hand in marriage, Gwynneth’s reply was.
“Oh! Archie, I thought you would never ask”
After a fairy tale wedding at St Crispin’s, they settled down to a blissful married life.
October dawned, and Archie’s orders came through; he was to do a four month tour of duty over Afghanistan, this was heart-breaking news for Gwynneth, but four months was such a small price to pay for a lifetime together.
Saturday morning was the church fair, after which, it was cup of tea and a natter at Grandma’s. Grandma was now getting on in her years, but she still held all her faculties. However, she was prone to occasional giggling bouts.
Invariably the vicar and Ethel, his wife, would participate in this little informal gathering.
“So how is that young husband of yours getting on Gwynneth”
“He’s fine, thank you Vicar. I haven’t seen him for four months, one week and two days”. She would have continued to the second, but decided against it. “But he writes every day and sends me a text when he can”
“Four months is a long time for one to be without loved ones, my dear. I don’t think I would last one week without my Ethel”
“Really Henry, you are most incorrigible”
“Sorry my dear, the gaiety of the day must have gone to my head”
“But the good news is that he’s coming home tomorrow” Gwyyneth continued.
“That would be Valentine’s day. How romantic!”
“Yes, and I’m cooking him a special meal, pied de cochon”
“Oh, that sounds exotic; my French is a little rusty, so what would that consist of?”
Granny started to chuckle, before saying “pigs trotters”.
“Well it is his favourite dish and it reminds him of his youth”
Then there was a sudden bleeping.
“Ha! Talk of the devil, oops! Sorry about that vicar, but it’s a text from Archie”
Gwynneth read the text for all to hear.
“Fly 2nite, will C U 2morrow nite.
“8.3.1?” Quizzed, the Vicar.
“I love you, Henry,” said Ethel
“I know you do, my dear, and I love you too, but this time of the year has a strange affect on the female gender, so please try to control your feelings for me, Ethel”
Ethel’s complexion started to glow.
“No, Henry. 8.3.1. It means; eight letters, three words and one meaning. I love you”
“Oh! Of course, silly, silly me, and here am I thinking you were getting somewhat amorous, my dear”
“Henry! A bit of decorum, if you please, and try not to be so inquisitive into one’s personal messages”
“Quite so, my dear, I simply must apologise”
“Oh I don’t mind Ethel” injected Gwynneth “I like to share my happiness with others. But I’m not sure what N.O.R.W.I.C.H means, it’s a new one to me, have you any idea Vicar?”
“Not at all my dear, what about you Ethel, have you any idea?”
“Really Henry! Your quite impertinent with your assumptions, how am I to know such a thing? I have never been acquainted with any young soldiers.”
Granny started to chuckle to herself.
“Do you know what it means Gran?” Gwynneth quizzed
“Yes, I know, my dear. Your Grandfather would always write it in his war letters, the wicked, wicked man”
She then started to chuckle again before continuing.
“It is a term of endearment the boys would send to their loved ones back home, it means...”
She then noticed the vicar’s wife giving her a stern look, so she whispered just loud enough for Gwynneth and her mother to hear.
“It means ‘Knickers off ready when I come home’”
Gwynneth instantly blushed and so did her mother, but her mother quickly composed herself, stating,
“Erm! More tea vicar?”
“Oh! I don’t mind if I do, my dear”
“Err! We won’t bother, thank you” injected Ethel, “we have the curate coming for tea, so we simply must be getting home”.
“But Ethel, the curate is not coming till this evening”
“Nevertheless Henry, I have lots to prepare, so come along. Remember, the devil makes work for idle hands”
“Quite so, my dear, quite so” said the vicar, as he was quickly ushered from the house by his wife.
“So what do you make of that then?” said Gwynneth with a puzzled look.
Her gran stopped chuckling just long enough to say.
“Well put it this way, Ethel is not as naive as the vicar looks”
There were cascades of laughter.
Valentine morning arrived, and the first thing she did was look on the doorstep. She was a bit disheartened to find no buttercup.
“Silly me” she muttered, “He will probably bring it with him tonight”
She slowly started to prepare the meal and the day rolled on. The clock struck nine PM, and she started to feel a bit apprehensive, for no sign of Archie.
Then came a knock at the door, she opened it, to find a tall handsome RAF officer.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Good evening Madam, I found this on the doorstep, I believe it belongs to you”
He then presented her with a single buttercup, Gwynneth had not seen her husband for four months, and could no longer keep up the masquerade, she flung herself into Archie’s arms.
Archie lifted his wife, and carried her over the threshold. He then back-heeled the door shut, and carried her upstairs.
After they had made love, they lay in each other’s arms.
“Dinner smells nice” stated Archie
“That’s if it’s not burnt, because of your little detour”
“Well, if you rather we hadn’t have”
“Erm,” she pondered “I think I will forgive you this time, just so long as you promise me, it will happen again”
“Oh! I can definitely promise you that”
Dinner was served with soft candle light and lazy music, no words were spoken, they just relished each other’s company.
Then, holding his hands on his stomach, Archie exhaled, “Well! That was a wonderful meal”
“A homecoming surprise, I know how much you like...” she gave a slight frown, “er... pig’s trotters”
“Yes, my favourite and I have a little surprise for you”
He presented her with a gift; she instantly burst into contagious laughter, for he followed suit.
She opened the book ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’, and read the first line.
“Oh, Archie” she sighed, “You still remember the days we would read and re-enact Harry Potter”
“Yes, I remember. You were always Hermione and I...” he gave her a scowl, before continuing, “and I was always made to be Wormtail”
“Oh Archie! I’m really sorry, in those days I was so arrogant and condescending to you”
“I suppose you were a bit, but, no matter, after all, it was your snooty little nose I fell in love with”
Again, they burst into laughter.
For the next hour or so, they laughed, joked, and reminisced.
“Well!” said Gwynneth “The dishes won’t do themselves,” and then she made her way to the kitchen.
The phone started to ring, she placed her hand on the receiver, Archie placed his hand on hers.
“Tonight, is our night, tonight, the world does not exist,” he said as he unplugged the telephone jack.
He slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her slender body to his. The velvet voice of Eva Cassidy drifted from the dining room.
“The dishes will be there tomorrow,” he muttered
Archie started to nibble the soft flesh of her shoulder. She fell powerless to his needs, and yielded to his every whim. It was spontaneous, they made love, there and then.
The following morning Gwynneth was the first to wake, she just laid in silence, listening to the dawn chorus that lazily drifted through the open bedroom window, and seemed to mingle with the gentle purring of her husband’s slumber. She gazed upon his ruggedly handsome features, and could not help feeling a little sad, as she thought.
Where has my little ragamuffin gone, the snotty nosed urchin I once knew, how right, Granny had been, with her predictions.
She was about to rise, when Archie awoke.
He did not speak, but gently pulled her body to his own, their eyes met and in that instance they exchanged dreams, desires, yearnings, among this chaos of unspoken dialogue their souls entwined, their bodies moved to the rhythm of a single heartbeat, until their very essence cried out with definitive pleasure.
They lay for some time, not speaking, but just basking in the reverie of what had gone before.
Gwynneth rose and slipped on her dressing gown.
“I will do us breakfast”
Archie sat on the edge of the bed.
“I have to go”
“No, you stop in bed; I will bring the breakfast up”
“No you don’t understand” there was an air of despondency in his voice, “I’m sorry, Gwynneth, I have to go, I shouldn’t be here”
Just then, there was a knock on the front door.
“Go? Go where? I don’t understand, why shouldn’t you be here?”
The knock became louder.
“You stop where you are, I’ll get rid of whoever is calling”
She started down the stairs, stopping halfway. Through the mottled pane of glass she could just make out two military uniforms. Her mind was a mass of conflicting thoughts, why did he have to go? Why shouldn’t he be here? She remembered the previous night, the phone ringing, Archie unplugging it. His statement “Tonight the world does not exist”.
She raised her hand to her mouth and gave a gasp. He must have been recalled, and knew it, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her, so he was officially ‘absent without leave’.
“Oh, Archie” she moaned “What have you done?”
She opened the door and was confronted by two burly military police officers.
“Good morning madam, we are looking for a...”
“I know who you’re looking for. Can’t you leave him alone, till his leave is finished?”
“No, you don’t understand, Madam...”
“I understand perfectly well, thank you. Why don’t you just let those blasted Taliban fight among themselves for a week?”
“I’m sorry Madam, you just don’t understand. Yesterday your husband’s plane took a direct hit from a Taliban missile. It was quick, he wouldn’t have felt a thing”
The officers gave a look of confusion, when they saw Gwynneth give a slight smile.
“My husband is here with me now”
One of the officers patted a reassuring hand on Gwynneth’s shoulder.
“I’m sure he is, Madam, I’m sure he is”
Her smile quickly faded and she sternly pushed his hand aside.
“Don’t you dare patronise me. I tell you he came home last night, and he’s in bed as we speak. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself”
She turned and led the way.
Upon entering the bedroom, it was plain to see Archie’s side of the bed had not been slept in. One of the officers put his hand between the sheets. It was stone cold.
“No this can’t be right” she cried as she called his name “Archie! Archie! Where are you?”
She ran to the bathroom then to spare room.
“I tell you he came home last night, we had a meal and...”
She ran down to the kitchen, and gazed upon the dirty dishes. One plate, one knife, one fork.
A bright light seemed to engulf her, and quickly dissolved into darkness, she didn’t even feel her head hit the kitchen floor.
After mild medication and some counselling, she was discharged from hospital.
They said it had all been a dream, but to Gwynneth, it had all been so real.
The kissing, the touching, the intimacy, all so real, she could not believe her Archie would never again be part of her waking world.
She glanced at the single buttercup on the window sill. Surprisingly it had not wilted in the slightest, and was as fresh as the day it was picked. Another puzzle, it must have come the day before Valentine’s Day, and she had subconsciously incorporated it into her dream. She read the card that came with the buttercup.
“No matter where I go, a part of me will always be with you. Love Always,
9, 14, 3, 21, 2, 21, 19.”
Two months passed, and although still grief stricken, she began to reconcile herself to the fact that Archie had gone.
Gwynneth had never believed in the power of the paranormal, but somehow that night Archie must have entered into her dreams, such a wonderful dream, but a dream nevertheless.
Today was her birthday and the first thing she did was check the doorstep, more out of instinct than anything else, but no buttercup.
She then picked up the small pile of birthday cards, which had just arrived. Feeling quite disheartened, for she knew there would be no card from Archie this day, she sat on the bottom step and fingered through the cards. One from her mother, her Auntie, her best friend from university, then she came to a strange official looking letter. She quickly opened the envelope and read the contents.
The tears started to trickle down her cheeks, not tears of anguish but tears of joy. Again, she glanced at the buttercup on the window sill, at the time she never thought to translate the signature.
“So that is what he had meant”
At first she thought it was the grief, for grief can have the strangest effect on the mind and the body, but now the question of her sanity was resolved, and she muttered to herself.
“Yes, you were a demon that night”
Again, through glazed eyes, she re-read the final line of the official letter.
Her tests, had returned positive, she was two months pregnant.