The Cottage | By: christopher howells | | Category: Short Story - Introspective Bookmark and Share

The Cottage

That can't be right, he thought, £50 for a weekend in a cottage. He read on.
"Set in the lovely Pembrokeshire countryside FelinMawr is a peaceful retreat from the rat race, no electricity, heat comes from a traditional wood burning fire and candles provide subdued and relaxing light. Running hot water is of course provided, but no shower instead a luxurious bath. Open for couples or singles, the price is the same."
The advert was a home made one, a battered postcard fading in a newsagentís window. No it could not be right, it must have been forgotten about, he thought. He sighed as he read the last line again: "Open for couples....." A few days ago it would have been the perfect place for him and Jan, a weekend away from their high pressure jobs and perhaps, just perhaps they could have patched things up between them and it might have worked out. He paused for a moment; did he really want to make things up? Damm he wasn't sure! Yet the moment she left was still vivid in his mind, the look on her face, the sadness in her eyes.
Why? He had asked.
He knew it was pathetic and she had stared at him with that withering glance she was so good at, once she gave that glance he knew he had done something wrong and he knew it would be a long time before she told him or even gave him a clue. A few times over the year they had been together he wondered if it had been worth it and then she would do something to make up and then for a little bit everything would be ok between them. But not that glance, no there would be no making up and in that moment everything had changed.
Itís funny, he had mused latter. How a whole life can change in a moment.
After all this time, she had said softly, I still don't know you.
What had she meant by that? He had been open with her about his past, there had not been many lovers, in fact she had been with more than him and he didn't mind that. When they made love he had been attentive and considerate, he remembered anniversaries, birthdays and as often as he could he spoilt her and they went out together, she paid for as much as him, in all he thought they were a modern couple and he hoped that perhaps she was the one. Until she left.
I still don't know you. Those words echoed in his mind and he had left messages on her mobile and yes he knew he sounded pathetic and his friends, especially Mike had told him to forget her and move on, he was young, good looking and successful so why worry about her. And perhaps Mike had been right because even though it was raw he wasn't sure that he was not going to think that, they had been together for over a year, his first real love affair and it had been good.
He took down to the number on the advert and a month latter he was sitting in a small and warm cottage on the Welsh coast overlooking the sea and feeling more relaxed than he had ever done in his life. He had arrived late Friday night and the owner, a middle aged, balding man called Ian had been waiting for him at the cottage door, he seemed friendly enough and told him to enjoy himself and he would be around late Sunday night to pick up the key. He didn't think about it at the time but Ian had simply been there, no car, no indication of how or where he had come from and the moment after he had taken the keys and looked at the cottage Ian had simply disappeared. He knew that was nonsense of course, there must have been a car nearby or perhaps he lived just a few miles away? It hadn't really bothered him because he had felt a weariness come over him and when he had slipped under the clean, laundered smelling sheets he had fallen asleep. And 12 hours latter he had awoken refreshed but shocked at the length of time he had been out.
He felt he should be doing something but he just couldn't be bothered and, he had let the whole day pass sitting on a small wooden seat outside the front door looking out to sea. There were supplies in the cold food larder, basic salad stuffs and it was enough for him that day and again before he knew it he was back in bed and sleeping.
He awoke and he was walking down a path amongst lush grass, it must have been a little further from the cottage because when he looked back he could not see it. He did not remember getting up and setting out but there he was feeling the cool breeze on his face and walking next to a young woman.
A young woman?
No, more like a teenage girl of about fourteen and familiar. He could not think where he had seen her before because when he asked himself the question it had gone and he was comfortable with this girl named Ann. Yes he knew her name and knew they had been walking for a while. She was pretty, had a great figure and all his friends fancied she and they were walking and talking about one of those friends called David. He had been going out with Ann for a few weeks and they had kissed up on the football pitch.
Football pitch? He asked himself and once again as soon as he thought of the question it was gone and he knew the football pitch was in the middle of the village and he had played football on it regularly with his friends and he liked being in goal.
Village? But he was an executive in a large city firm and of course that question faded and he was a fourteen year old boy living at home with his mum and dad, he had an older brother who was away in the army and he fancied Ann, but he thought he was too fat and ugly for her to fancy him. Ann had only just arrived at the village, she had seemed exotic to all of them and even the girls of the village were a little in awe of her, yet she never acted as if she knew that. She was nice, approachable and very, very fanciable. Dave was the best looking of everyone, he was a good footballer and had a really fit body or so Lynette one of the girls of the village had told anyone who would listen. Lynette fancied David and they had done it in the woods.
What woods? He asked and then knew it was a small clump of trees that had been saved when the local council had cleared the land around the football pitch and left just a little patch in a far corner for some reason or other, nobody knew because the council did not tell you anything. All of this did not matter to him because he was close to Ann and he was talking to her and they were alone together and that was all that was important. They talked and they walked and David was the topic, did he fancy her? What could she do to get him to notice her? Could he help please because he was a nice guy and she wanted him to be her friend? And yes he wanted to be her friend; in fact he wanted to be more than that but nothing came from his mouth because how could he compete with David? They stopped by a gate to a field and sat on it and talked a little more and then there was only the silence all around and for a long, long time they both sat and said nothing. He wanted to speak, wanted to tell her that he fancied her and would she like to be his girlfriend. He didn't have one, the closest he had come to any physical contact with a girl was a play wrestling match with Wendy, another of the village girls and that was fun and she wanted to do it again but he didn't and she stopped asking.
"She was waiting for you to ask." The voice came out of nowhere and for a moment he thought he was hearing things because Ann didn't seem to hear it.
"She did like you." It was the same voice and he looked around and saw himself as he was.
He did not think it was strange that he was looking at himself as a thirty two year old man in a business suit in the middle of nowhere and for a second he saw through other's eyes and he was fourteen and he wasn't fat at all, in fact he had lost weight a few months before and looked slim and what was more he was as slim as David.
"Yes," The other he said. "You weren't fat and you weren't ugly, that was just in your head something you carried all of your life."
He wanted to tell the other him that Ann did not fancy him, that he was wrong because she fancied David.
"Sometimes people say things they don't actually mean," The other him smiled. "You should know that better than anyone."
But, he wanted to say why didn't she ask me then?
"Because she was fourteen years of age, unsure and just like you she lacked confidence to ask."
He wanted to ask why did she keep telling him that she fancied David.
"Because she was fourteen years of age, unsure and just like you she lacked confidence to know her own mind."
He wanted to ask something else but the other him said.
"You always hold back and this is where it began."
He then saw himself running through time, saw himself in school looking at other girls he liked, but not asking. He saw himself at university doing the same. There had been moments, usually drunk when he had somehow managed to collide with a woman and had made love, although that was not the right word because it had not been love. He saw himself trying to forget his emptiness by doing well in his career and making lots of money, he saw his mother and father proud of him and his mother worrying about him being alone. He saw his brother marry and have children, he saw himself as an uncle. He saw himself at his parentís funeral, they had died a few moths apart and he felt nothing. He saw himself looking at his brotherís family and feeling nothing and then he saw himself looking at Jan in a bar after work and feeling nothing.
"Yes thatís what you have never admitted to yourself have you?" The other he said. "You look out onto the world and feel nothing and it began here."
He wanted to ask how that was possible; this was such a small moment in his life.
"You would be surprised how many small things in a life are important." The other he said and then he was sitting outside the cottage and it was evening and Ian was standing over him.
Both men did not say anything and he simply got up off the chair went inside picked up his unpacked bag, handed the keys to Ian and headed for his car, he looked back and when he saw that Ian had disappeared he smiled to himself. Latter back in the city he phoned Jan and took a deep breath when he heard her soft "Hello?"

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