This is the title story from my collection of the same name.
The Journey By Sherrie Lowe
The December sunshine slants straight in through my windscreen as I turn the key in the ignition. I’ll be heading west so I suppose it will sear into my eyes until it sinks below the horizon, then the resulting sunset will brighten my journey and add to the suffusion in my soul as I savour the purpose of my impending visit. I am exacting retribution. I don’t consider myself evil or vindictive but this scab has been picked at at every milestone in my life. I was robbed and someone has to pay.
I have made every preparation for this; no I is left undotted, no T left uncrossed, right down to my physical appearance. I’ve been to have my roots done to blend away the grey and keep the dark colour, as those morons will remember me. I don’t want them to mistake who I am for a second. My eyebrows are shaped, my clothes crisp, most important to look the part when the shock registers on their faces.
Children are coming out of school, laden with Christmas decorations created by their own tiny hands and there is an excitement in the air as they are now on a four day countdown to hanging up their stockings. The traffic is heavy as I intersperse with the school run. After that I might make good progress for a while until the rush hour starts. A stupid time to travel I know but I want my arrival timed to achieve maximum impact, a sadistic bedtime story.
I don’t like to think I’ve allowed the issue to fester and rot away my peace of mind but I suppose it must have done to some extent. I believe in being fair, each person having what they deserve, what they’ve worked for – what is their birthright. I was denied mine.
I’ve left the village on the North East coast that has been my home for many years behind me and I’m heading for the motorway, well the A road first, a dual carriageway; it’ll be about an hour before I reach the M62 which will take me in a South-westerly direction. My destination is The Midlands, Newcastle under Lyme where I grew up.
It could never be said that my childhood had been unhappy, quite the contrary. I don’t suppose any marriage is perfect but to my child’s eyes my parents’ was. They were in tune; each personality balanced the other. My father was easily irritated, had an effervescent temper, but just like an exploding soda bottle his fiery fizz soon calmed as it flowed into the placid waters of my mother’s gentle nature. In turn, she would worry about any tiny detail.
“If two flies are crawling up the wall your mother will worry about which one will get to the top first,” my father always told me.
His take-it-or-leave-it attitude counteracted her worries and he was able to rationalise them. Their characters complimented each other. I knew nothing of soulmates at the tender age of ten – indeed I have never met mine – but I understand it to mean now that two souls are one half of the other and they are only complete when they are together.
Soulmates. I ponder on them as I negotiate a roundabout. I would love to have found mine. My marriage was based on physical attraction. John was the man I wanted at the time and for a few years we were happy. We had two fine sons, now grown and flown but our marriage crumbled long ago. I will not be controlled by anyone. Maybe some people are happy with that but I couldn’t accept it. When I was contemplating divorce I was given a piece of sound advice.
“I’d rather be on my own than with someone I don’t want to be with.”
I acted upon those words and they stay with me to this day.
Maybe I’ll find my soulmate in the next world. Some people believe we live through many lifetimes on this earth. Some believe that in each lifetime we find our soulmate and travel these lives together as twin flames, or is your twin flame the one you meet in your last earthly life? I don’t know, or what I think of it. It would be a pleasant thought I suppose, but my mind has wandered from its purpose.
The earth has turned and the sun has left our Northern Hemisphere for this day. The sky is streaked with lavender clouds and outside the warmth of the car I know there will be a chill in the early evening air. Snow has been forecast overnight but I will be in a comfortable hotel by then. No immediate need to travel back home tomorrow, as long as I am back to spend Christmas with my boys and their families. I have a Christmas present of my own to deliver first and that little flicker of satisfaction slumbering within me becomes a flame and a smile touches my lips in the darkness. Subconsciously my hand finds its way to the inside jacket pocket of my smart work suit and gently, fondly caresses the envelope nestled there, close to my heart. I press the accelerator pedal and join the motorway.
It is busy with commuter traffic, everyone leaving work and heading home. Fortunately it is moving at a good speed, for the moment at least. I don’t suppose it will continue to move so freely once I approach the city junctions. Robbie Williams is singing ‘Radio’ on the CD player with its lyrics of retribution. Oh yes, retribution, beautiful, satisfying retribution. My inner flame grows in strength.
My mind regresses back to the events that culminated in this moment, this journey. My idyllic childhood was to be cruelly shattered; my parents’ perfect marriage smashed by God’s Almighty hammer. My lovely mother was taken from us: me, my sister, my dad. We were left alone to cope. I wanted a mother; I wanted my dad to be happy, but then I wanted my mother, and no amount of wanting would bring her back.
Years passed, teenage years, and the rawness left the pain but the void was still there. Love came for me in the form of John, then Dad found someone himself.
“She’s like your mum,” everyone said, but not to me she wasn’t. However I vowed I’d get on with her for the sake of my dad’s happiness.
She wasn’t alone. With her came her obnoxious family. Large, loud and overbearing, that’s what they were. I felt a stranger in what had been my own home, the cosy house on the outskirts of Newcastle that my mother had worked so hard for. My dad didn’t seem to mind but I wondered what my mum felt if she was watching from above.
“You won’t remarry if I die will you?” she’d once asked my dad.
“What a bloody daft question,” he’d replied with his characteristic lack of patience.
“But you won’t will you?” she’d persisted.
He’d sighed, “No of course I won’t but stop talking about dying, you’re not going to die.”
She wouldn’t have been happy with these people in her beautiful home and I’d almost felt her angry presence pervade the room on several occasions.
The traffic is slowing now approaching Manchester. The yellow gritting lorry is a few vehicles in front of me with its amber flashing lights, a welcome sight to motorists in this dark, icy winter season, keeping the roads safe for us to drive on. A Sainsbury’s wagon with its orange logo is to my left and an Eddie Stobart truck behind me. I can just make out the name Aurora Rose on the front of the cab in the strong motorway lights, although it’s difficult to read backwards in the rear view mirror. I force my distracted observations to the road ahead; I don’t want to plough into the car in front whilst pondering who Aurora Rose might be.
I’m hogging the middle lane but what else can I do? The traffic to my left is going slower than I am; the traffic to my right is going faster, although none of us are going very fast at the moment, what are you supposed to do?
The CD has come to an end and I flip it out and leave the radio on. Roy Orbison is singing ‘I Drove All Night,’ quite apt on a drive time programme, and for me, but my destination is no romantic assignation.
Beyond the bright lights of the carriageway the darkness of the fields have given way to the lights of the outskirts of the city. As the traffic slows further a sign for motorway services shows up. I think I’ll get off, have a toilet stop, something to eat and kill some time to allow the traffic congestion to ease a little. I look in the mirror, indicate left and move over, a few yards further and I exit onto the services.
They are busy enough but not too busy and I find a space not far from the entrance to the building with its welcoming lights and buzz of activity. I get out and lock the car, walk away but turn round to admire it. My lovely Volvo XC90 SUV, my trusty steed. Gone are the days when I worried about getting stuck in the snow. Tyson as I call him will get me out of anything; I even enjoy driving in the snow, it gives me a sense of achievement.
I join the queue in the cafeteria and select a packet of cheese and pickle sandwiches and order a pot of tea. I can’t eat anything too heavy I’m too excited. My stilettos click on the hard floor as I walk over to a table in the corner by the window where I can watch the traffic to see when the congestion eases enough for me to continue my journey. Sitting in traffic queues is my pet hate and gridlock makes me impatient.
As I eat I people watch. Where are they all going? I make up stories about each of them. The businessman sitting alone is going home to his family after a week working away. Maybe he’s having an affair. I imagine him with his tall, attractive P.A perched on his desk, swinging her legs seductively at him. What is his wife like? Is she the dowdy, stereotypical stay-at-home-mum or has she got her own successful career? Does she neglect her husband in favour of it? He catches me looking and I lower my gaze, hoping he can’t read my thoughts.
My eyes stray onto the young family of four. I decide they’ll be going to visit their parents and grandparents. The young couple on the table opposite them is so in love they can see only each other. I see the diamond sparkling on her third finger. They are going to announce their engagement to their families. None will have such a fulfilling end to their journey as I will; I can hardly wait!
The sandwiches are tasty, cheese and pickle is my favourite. The tea could be better though. It never tastes the same in a café, nor in an earthenware cup. I like my tea in a china mug, hot, with just the right amount of sugar and milk. This is weak and has soon gone cold. It suffices though. I look out of the window to see the traffic moving freely. Time for a toilet visit and back on my way.
As I walk towards the car the first crystals of snow are starting to fall. I’m not concerned, Tyson will get me through. Let it snow. I get in, settle behind the wheel and put him into gear, then we rejoin the flow of traffic.
Soon enough the junction to the M63 looms up in my headlights and I feel a sense of coming home. Almost inevitably I think of my family, of my father’s death and its consequences and dark anger clouds my vision.
“You ought to make a will Dad,” my sister used to say.
“Pah! I don’t need no will, she’ll die before I do.”
She hadn’t though, and she and those parasites had inherited the house that my parents had worked so hard for.
I didn’t need the money. It wasn’t about money, it was about principle, who deserved what, what rightfully belonged to whom? They were a bunch of graspers, gold diggers, profiting from someone else’s misfortune.
Around that time, once again I’d felt my mother’s presence, her anger which was so uncharacteristic, but I am now about to avenge her, act on her behalf, put right the wrong.
I leave the M63 and join the A34 heading for Newcastle under Lyme. The road is dark, lined with hedges and trees looming stark in my headlights, their skeletal fingers reaching out into the night sky. The snow crystals have become flakes, sparkling in my beams of light, being swept away by the windscreen wipers. I continue on my way through towns and villages. I cast glances into the homes I pass, see Christmas trees lit with coloured lights, figures of reindeers and snowmen standing proud in front gardens, lit from within. I wonder about the families. Are they traditional families: mum, dad, children, or are they splintered as ours had become with Dad’s remarriage? Happily for me I’d never had to live with my stepmother but that hadn’t lessened her effect on my life, hence this journey.
I’d be wrong if I said her presence had destroyed my life; it hasn’t. I’ve done very well. She has only affected this one issue, which I am about to rectify.
No, my life has been very successful. I had always enjoyed selling and always been fascinated by property. When our youngest son had started nursery school I had enrolled on a course, which gave me the qualification to work in an estate agents. As time passed I became more ambitious, clawing my way to the top, buying and selling property until I could open my own chain of agencies throughout the North East. I parted company with John; I’d had enough of him controlling my finances, I controlled my own and vowed that no-one would ever again control any aspect of my life. I am happy and content with where I am at this moment – well almost. There is just this one issue to settle then I will have complete satisfaction.
I am nearing my destination now and as I drive through the streets I remember the view from my bedroom window. The winter view comes to mind as the snow continues to fall and I remember the silver/blue glow of the street lamps on the snow covered streets in the distance.
The morons squandered the money they made on my parents’ house and are now living in a rented cottage in a country lane. Sounds idyllic but the few properties that remain there are in a bad state of repair. I’ve made it my business to gain this information; as I said, I’ve dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts. This land is ripe for development – my development!
I stop the car a little way up the lane, I want to appear out of the night like a spectre come to take souls. I get out, lock it and walk towards the cottage. It isn’t easy walking in stilettos in the snow but I take steady, measured steps. I feel for the envelope in my inside pocket. Yes, it’s there, guarding its surprise. I open the dilapidated gate and walk up the short path.
They open the door to my enigmatic knock, my obese stepbrother with his equally obese wife hovering in the background. They are wondering who it could be at this hour. Shock registers on their pasty faces as they recognise me, looking every inch the businesswoman. The look I return is triumphant, almost joyful – the joy of the season – as I taste my victory.
I pull the envelope from my pocket.
“I’ve bought this land and all that stands on it,” I inform them in a voice as chill as the snow cloaked night. “I’m demolishing the properties for a new housing development. You have one month to get out.”
I almost lick my lips in a snake-like manner as I envisage them trying to find somewhere in the cruel, harsh January weather and a sinister smile escapes.
I hand him the envelope containing the eviction notice before turning to walk away.
My name is Sherrie Lowe and I am an indie author. At the moment I have two memoirs, two short story collections and seven novels, soon to have a novella added, the sequel to my last novel.They are all available from Amazon in digital format and some in paperback. All paperbacks are available from feedaread.com . Here is the link to my website if you are interested in finding out more. Thank you for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it.
One response to “This Christmas present is payback!”
I befriended fellow author Sherrie Lowe a few years ago after reading and enjoying her ‘The Author, The Gardener and the Woman what Does’ The title drew me in and I loved her easy way of writing. I have read everything she has written since, and admire her tenacity and dedication to writing despite suffering for many years from M.E. Her short stories are quite intriguing.