It was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning in early summer when Joey Maynard came out the door of Our Lady of the Snows church on the Gornetz Platz and stood aside to allow a throng of schoolgirls to walk past her. Nodding greetings to some of the girls who greeted her as they passed, she thought to herself that, taken en masse, the school sounded like nothing less than a huge flock of chattering starlings. She smiled at the thought, and made a mental note to work the simile into the story she was currently writing.
Skirting the groups of girls she moved across the churchyard to the Anglican chapel, whence a similar eruption of gentian blue was issuing from the doors. She said a brief hello to her own daughters who had been at Mass with the RC contingent of the school, and made her way towards a tall, slim woman who was standing on the step of St Mary’s chatting to the vicar. Jo paused for a moment to gauge whether it was appropriate for her to join in the conversation, but the woman turned and smiled a welcome at her.
“Good morning Hilda, Reverend Soames,” said Joey as she stepped forward to join them. “Isn’t it a lovely morning?”
“A perfect Spring day,” agreed the Reverend pleasantly. “Well, ladies, if you will excuse me, I must go and clear up inside.” He bowed to them both and went back inside the church.
Hilda and Joey murmured farewells to him and turned to make their way out of the churchyard, but their way was hampered by the crocodile of girls that was forming for the short walk back to the School a few hundred yards away.
“They sound like a flock of starlings!” laughed Joey. “You flatter them!” was the wry reply from Hilda, as she touched the arm of the mistress nearest to her – Deputy Headmistress Nancy Wilmot, as it happened – and urged her in a low voice to restore order among the girls as quickly as possible. The gentle message worked its own magic, and silence soon reigned as the long line of girls turned and marched out of the churchyard, accompanied by the staff.
Joey and Hilda followed at a more leisurely pace. Jo was alone, for her husband Jack had been called to an operation at the San earlier that morning. Now that the youngest of her children were at school she could take things at her leisure. Even with two staff to help out at home, things had always been rather frantic when the children were about, and while Jo had thrived on the excitement of it as a younger woman, now that she was in her forties she appreciated the slower pace that her life was taking these days.
“You’re still on for this afternoon?” she asked Hilda, with a wicked glint in her eye. Miss Annersley was noted for her ferocious defence of the Queen’s English, and Joey could rarely resist dropping slang words and phrases into their conversations together. Today Hilda glared at her but merely said, “Of course! Four o’clock, isn’t it? It will be nice to get away from school affairs for a while, and it’s a lovely day for a walk, even if it is only next-door!”
“This is the life,” sighed Hilda, as she relaxed in a deckchair on the patio of Freudesheim later that day and sipped at a glass of home-made lemonade. The hot weather was becoming rather trying, especially as exams were looming and the atmosphere in the school growing stressful in consequence.
Her companion murmured in agreement, although life for Nell Wilson, Headmistress of St Mildred’s, was less stressful, since most of her students were not doing state examinations, and those bound for university had finished their interviews some months previously. Still, it was always nice to escape the routine for a couple of hours at Joey’s. Plus, Jo had hinted over the ‘phone that she had some news for them all, and it wasn’t another pregnancy because Nell had asked her outright if it was the quads this time. (“Ha! Only if Con has suddenly gone all ‘Swinging London’ and got herself pregnant out of wedlock!” had been the sarcastic reply.)
The other guests relaxing and enjoying the warm sunshine and cold lemonade were Jo’s neighbours and great friends, Hilary Graves and Biddy Courvoisier. Once they were all settled, Jo took a sip from her own glass and prepared to give all four of them a shock.
“Jack and I are moving at the end of the year,” she said casually. “Here, Nell,” she continued without missing a beat, “wipe yourself with this napkin, or your blouse will be sticky and smell of lemons when you go back to St Mildred’s.” She sat back and smiled at the four women.
“Where are you moving to, Joey?” asked Hilda calmly over the agitated stammering of her companions.
“England,” replied Joey equally calmly. “Jack is going to head up the Welsh San and we will move to Armishire.”
“Are you sure?” asked Biddy, stupidly.
“Well, I’m pretty sure that’s what Jack and I have been discussing for several months, yes,” said Joey with a grin. “However, I assume you’re asking if we’re sure about the wisdom of moving back to England and the answer to that, my dear, is a firm ‘Yes’. The San here is a thriving operation – do pardon the wretched pun, won’t you! –but Jack wants to be working on more serious things than he gets to do here. I mean, moving over to more cosmetic medicine made financial sense, of course, now that TB has been largely eradicated, thank God; but they’re still working on some challenging research in Wales and Jack would prefer to be part of that. I can write anywhere, of course, and being in England would mean I could visit my publishers more often than two or three times a year. So, we talked it over for simply ages and eventually we decided that it was time to move on. Or back, if you like.”
Joey looked around at the thoughtful faces of her friends, and sighed gently. She had been dreading making the announcement, but the time had come when she could no longer put it off. As it was, her own children – the youngest ones at least – were unaware of the great change looming in the near future. She had to tell the school’s headmistress first, and not Philippa or Claire, who would have broadcast it to all and sundry before an hour had passed no matter how many promises of secrecy they would have made to their mother!
Now that the announcement was out of the way, she felt more peaceful. The logistics of moving lock, stock and barrel from Switzerland to England would be exciting, she knew, and she was looking forward to the adventure. Still, she reflected, they would be leaving so much behind: friends, home, work, memories. . . She sat up and poured herself another glass of lemonade and said:
“Well, has the cat got all your tongues?”
Originally posted in two parts on LGM. This is my first toe-dip in SDL!