Letters and Diary Fiction posted September 20, 2015

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A startling walk

Taken by Surprise--Part 5 of 9

by jpduck

Tuesday, 25th July, 1951
“What are your plans for today?” Mum asked me at breakfast.
“Jack and I decided we’d like to do some walking.”
“Sounds good,” said Dad. “Is it okay if I come too?”
I felt the jog as Mum kicked him under the table. They are so funny, those two. Mum suddenly remembered the gas was getting low and asked Dad if he could get another bottle from the site shop. He dutifully trotted off, bless him.
“So, Jack sounds like a good friend already.”
“Yeah, he’s not bad … for a boy. Can you make us a picnic to take with us?”
“Of course I can, Ruthie. You go off and find Jack; I’ll have it ready for you in twenty minutes.”
I know Mum; if I had let her, she’d have asked for every detail of what I thought about Jack, and what he thought about me. But it’s none of her business. Anyway, I’m not sure if I know what I think about him, and I certainly don’t know what he thinks about me. It’s just for us to find out, and no-one else’s business.
I was very keen to know more about Jack’s boarding school. I imagine it must be ghastly. Today’s walk should be a good opportunity to find out.

“Tell me about your school. Do you like it there?”
“Horrible. I hate it.”
“Why? What’s so awful about it?”
“Everything, really.”
I waited for him to say more, watching his face. I’m quite good at reading faces; they tell their own story. First there was irritation, then real sorrow, then … I think it was shame.
He blurted, “I get home-sick a lot; I can’t seem to stop it, even though the other kids give me a hard time about it.”
“I’m not surprised you get home-sick, not seeing your parents for a whole term at a time.”
“No, it’s lame and pathetic of me. I should be tough and hard and strong. I am all those things most of the time, but I just can’t make it when I’m missing Mum and Dad. You must think I’m a weed.”
“Of course I don’t, because I already know you’re not.”
We walked on in silence, as I hoped he would tell me more. Finally, I asked, “Is it a co-educational school?”
“God no! Just boys.” He looked red in the face. Then he stopped walking and said, “I’m sorry Ruth. Can we talk about something else?”
That brief conversation had explained a lot: why I sometimes felt he was hiding himself behind a hard shell; why there were also times when I sensed a wounded creature. It also explained why he often seemed shy and awkward. What must he make of me? It’s probably a bit like meeting an octopus for the first time. I expect he’s never really met any other girls. Poor, dear, struggling, brave, generous … gorgeous Jack.
We talked about all sorts of other things, and Jack soon cheered up. But I can’t write anything more about that miraculous walk. I feel I should try to, but I don’t think I have the words for it. All I can manage is to say the entire day was completely beyond my experience — perhaps as if a Neolithic person had suddenly been transported to the most beautiful garden with a string quartet playing on the lawn. That’s as close as I can get.
Perhaps I will write about it tomorrow … or next week. Oh, God! Next week. How can that happen? I may have to write about it next week.

Tuesday, 25th July, 1951
This is a momentous occasion — my first entry in my new journal. I told Mum about Ruth’s idea, and she thought it was a good one. She bought this for me today when she went shopping. It’s a beautiful foolscap size, with lovely hard covers, and over a hundred pages. That’ll keep me going for a while. Mind you, when I get to be an old man, I will have several shelves full of them — all written by me.
It has been an extraordinary day, although it got off to a bad start. Ruth and I did a ten-mile walk. It was Ruth’s idea; she has done lots of walks round here, and seems to know where all the rights of way are — she didn’t need a map. We started off walking westwards along the cliff path. Almost immediately Ruth asked me to tell her about my school. Why would she do that? Who wants to know about smelly old school? I just told her I hated it, and hoped we could leave it at that. But she kept asking me more questions. I eventually had to tell her I didn’t want to talk about it any more, which was incredibly rude of me, but I just had to stop her.
After that tiresome start — which can only have lasted ten minutes — the rest of the day was amazing. It was warm and sunny again, with a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea. We followed the clifftop path for a couple of hours or so, as far as a village called Crandown. Here, Ruth turned inland along the village street. At the church we followed a footpath signpost through the graveyard. At the far side, over a stile, we came to a narrow path between high hedges. Ahead of us was a kissing gate. Ruth strode ahead, went through, turned and leant on the top of the gate with her lips puckered.
I was rooted to the spot, not really knowing what I was supposed to do.
“Come on, Jack. It’s a kissing gate. You have to kiss when you go through a kissing gate.” I knew my face must have been bright red, and I was so, so ashamed of that. But I leaned forward and touched my lips to hers. She put her arms round my neck, and my tummy exploded with a thousand butterflies. I don’t know any other way to describe it.
“Was that nice?” Ruth asked.
“Nice?” I blew my confusion away. “It was wild … It turned my insides to jelly.”
I gazed at Ruth’s dazzling face, and into her liquid, brown eyes. She was beaming with delight. She turned away and danced ahead along the path. I hurried to catch up, and I … I wasn’t at all sure I should do this … I held her hand. She took a firm hold and swung her arm back and forth, with her golden smile towards me. I think she was saying it was okay to hold her hand.
In this style we walked ahead up a broad path cut through a field of wheat. Tramping on the hard-trodden soil, I could see, looking ahead, the path snaking its way gently to the top of a hill with a small copse right at the summit.
The path ran to the south of the copse, so we were still in full sunshine. Ruth said, “This is where I usually stop for lunch. We can see for miles from here. Are you hungry?”
“I certainly am.”
Ruth reached into her rucksack and pulled out a rug which she spread on the grass between the footpath and the copse. I took out the large picnic box, which Ruth’s mum had put in my rucksack. Opening the box, it looked to be filled with delights. Scattered across the top were four what looked like pastry buns.
“What are those?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re called knish. They’re scrumptious. Inside the pastry there’s minced beef, mashed potato and onion. Try one.”
I took a bite out of one them. “They’re really yummy.”
“Mum makes them quite often.”
We finished our picnic. “Let’s just lie here in the sun for a bit, shall we?” Ruth said as she lay back on the rug with her eyes closed. “We’ve got bags of time.”
I shuffled awkwardly forward on the rug, and lay back … uncertain. My hand hovered over hers, and thought better of it. Instead, I turned on my side and gazed intently at her profiled face — an outrage I could get away with only because her eyes were closed.
Such a beautiful face — the most beautiful I have ever, ever seen. A skin, nut-brown from the sun, a marble-smooth forehead, long, curved, black eyelashes, a perfect nose (not all squashy like mine) and that mouth, that faultless mouth with the soft, pink lips that kissed mine. Oh, how I wanted to kiss them right then. But the moment had passed; I no longer knew how it could be done.
It was just then she opened her right eye and swivelled it toward me, catching me mid-stare. She gave me her Cheshire Cat grin and we both burst out laughing — I, in response to her, and in a hopeless attempt to cover my plight.
I can’t write any more; I just haven’t the words for it. The rest of the walk, wonderful though it was, will have to remain without report; although, heaven help me, I wonder what Ruth has written about it all. That’s not for me to know, I suppose. Actually, at the end of the walk we both agreed we would read to each other an extract from each of our journals. But we also agreed they would not be from this Dorset week. It should be very interesting.



These are extracts from the diaries of two 12-year-old children, Ruth and Jack, who meet on a caravan holiday in Dorset, UK. It is fictionalised biography. The main characters are all real, with names changed. The broad outline of the holiday is also real.

The nine episodes will be posted on alternate Sundays, interleaved with further chapters from the novel, 'Time & Again'
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