Monday, December 29

Tearoom

I AWOKE FROM A nightmare about her, my second night in a row, only this time cold tears were all over my face, having been smudged somewhat by my tussling on the pillow. I dried my face on the back of my arm, and appreciated the light in the room. The bed was empty. I got up and went downstairs. The floor was cold and the cats were meowing loudly by their bowls. The nightmare played greatly on my mind. I thought about it as I had my first cigarette of the day in the bitter morning, coughing against my throat infection. It was no use thinking about; it could drive me insane.
‘We’re going to visit Jade’s sister’s tearoom. You coming?’
I said I would go, though the mood was not with me; it would be good to get out of the house, spend as much time with my parents over the Christmas break as I could, and it would take my mind off of things.
The tearoom was in Long Telford, the next county over. The nightmares had left me tired and I fell asleep in the car and woke up as we parked. The village was empty. On each side of the main road – of which the village was almost entirely comprised – were houses and shops, but there was no life to be found. An overhanging plant caught me in the eye, such was the darkness; daylight was disappearing fast. It was so cold it took my breath away. I boxed my hands in my pocket. Occasionally a dog and its walker passed us by, but otherwise: nothing.
The village is a straight line; one can see from one end right to the other and out into the countryside again. Headlights dangled in the mist. Front doors were locked tight. Two young men cycled past—‘There must be nothing for young people to do here,’ my mother said. I remembered that city I had left behind and how different everywhere was.
I could not remove the nightmares – or their meaning – from my thoughts! Utterly despondent, I trudged along and felt my feet grow numb. The long village went on and on until the tearoom was spotted, dimly illuminated windows fogged up inside and I anticipated being warm again.
My parents greeted the sister of my brother’s partner. I was introduced and despite my outstretched hand she leaned in and kissed my check. A shelf of cake was behind her, humming and glowing. Outside was where the cold was; I was slowly defrosting. She showed my parents the tearoom, which was busy with villagers relaxing and getting warm. It was all nooks, a building structurally untidy and groaning under its own weight, bending over the twee faux-aged paintings of inspirational quotes and French flower arrangements, old furniture scattered about from a local antique shop, painted here & there and lumbered with hardbacks on leaf reading and the history of tea.
She sat us down in a vacant room upstairs; I climbed upon the heater to regain sensation in my limbs. Next, the mother came and talked to us, standing by our table, talking enthusiastically and gushing, pushing her breast out, rubbing her hands together and holding eye contact for almost too long. I let my parents do the talking while I ordered a much-needed coffee. The room creaked. Outside – the deep blue four squares in the middle of the wall – bled into the room through the gaps underneath the window frame.
The food came and I devoured it ravenously as I was very hungry. People came and kept talking to us; my parents talked back; that village tearoom friendliness is lost on me, as I choose to shy away and mind my own business, but that is difficult in a village.
I finished my late lunch and went outside to smoke. There was nothing going on. It was darker, the mist more dense, and a thin rain fell. As I re-entered, everyone paused, looked up and then resumed; the shuffle scraping of cutlery, the natter, the lukewarm entrance to the toilet. I was in no state of mind for a village! if only I had been warned. I ordered another coffee for a cream tea and finally – after many long conversations and drawn-out good-byes – we left.
Ghost village.
Cars hissed in the road. Everywhere was shut. My mother found a shop that seemed to sell everything, and benefitted, one would think, from being the only place open at four o’clock on Saturday the twenty-seventh of December. A rosy old man greeted us in a posh voice, stepped back from the door in shock at something or other, then took up his position back behind the till, watching us. He sold all manner of ornaments, kitchen utensils and housewares that were at once old-fashioned and yet timeless; a thin layer of dust lied on much of it. There was room after room of it, full and hectic, rammed with product all organised on shelves and on the floor and hung from the walls. ‘Imagine the value of all this stock!’ my father said to me. ‘Good evening,’ the man said as we left.
I did not want to go back on to the cold street.
Still, the nightmares plagued me! If only she were here and I could simply talk to her but she was many miles away and I was freezing to death in a village where nobody knows my name.
It was early evening, but the sky was all night.
We walked to the other end of the village where the car was parked. An old shop had been converted to a house and its front windows were thinly veiled, opening up to a living space with bookshelves, original paintings, a baby grand piano and many expensive items of furniture. A Scandinavian family and their relatives sat around a candle-lit dinner table as the fresh food steamed in front of them. They had just said grace. Blonde children settled into their seats and their handsome parents raised glasses. It was a scene full of colour and warmth, alien, abstract and utterly revolting to me. As the first fork stabbed the meat, I had passed their window.
On the way back to the car I was caught in the eye by the same plant that had assaulted me on the way there.
The car took some miles to warm up. Then it was cosy and I watched the bob of the headlights against the trees on the verges and the headlights bore on into the night, hypnotically.

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