First Day is a short story I wrote when I first began considering a career in writing. It’s a simple little story, but I still love it after writing it 20 years ago.
Arriving at the destination, she looked around her surroundings and drew in a deep breath. The sea air smelt clean and fresh with a cocktail of fish, salt and ozone, filling her nostrils and heightening her whole sense of well-being and tranquillity.
Sitting down on the highest sand dune she could find, she looked out to the sunny horizon. The sea lapped lazily at the shore and she decided to make a mental note of everything, burrowing her long, lean fingers in the golden sand that felt like warm silk caressing her hands.
She threw her head back and closed her eyes, listening to the immense body of water in front of her singing its own rhythmic tune, the rustle then crash of the waves rocking back and forth with the tide. The heat of the sun beat down on her face, with an intermittent cool breeze delicately tickling her arms and face. The dry, prickly sand-dune grass rustled and swayed gracefully, creating a tranquil ambience of her perfect and safe place – On this first day of the rest of her life.
A child giggling in the distance broke into her private thoughts as she opened her eyes to look down onto the vast, golden beach below her. A father was clutching his little daughter, no older than four or five. They were playing ‘horses’ and he neighed loudly then trotted around, kicking up the sand as he did. The little girl squealed with delight as he held her tightly on his back. Smiling to herself she reminisced many a happy and fun holiday here as a child, at this beautiful, picturesque and more importantly secluded Welsh town. She and her brother had spent the hot summer days playing hide and seek in the dunes, burying each other in the sand or swimming in the ice cold sea. Children didn’t worry about trivial things. Everything was a new and exciting adventure to the and she wished with all her heart to feel that innocent exhilaration once more.
She smiled to herself as the she about her own adventure she was on right now, but it was far from fun or exciting. This was to be the first day of the rest of her life and what a first day it had been. Reliving the tumultuous events in her mind that had brought here.
The day had begun at 5.30am, although she had already been lying, wide awake for two hours listening to the snoring stranger lying next to her. Fearful of him awakening and reading her thoughts and discovering precisely what she was to do that day. Another fear had struck her as she watched the dawn breaking through a crack in the curtains of their bedroom window. ‘What if he awakes to discover he is too sick to go to work and decides to stay at home all day?’ The nausea had shuddered through her at this thought, but had pushed the fear deep down and closed her eyes in an attempt to go back to sleep, but it was no use. The thought was now planted deep in her psyche and would not leave her until he had left the house to go to work.
Time had dragged by, but finally he awoke and with huge relief, left the house as usual without kissing her goodbye. Despite this, a pang of guilt washed over her as she realised he would never she her again. It was the last time she would ever feel guilty about him though. She heard the familiar sounds of his sports car pull away from the drive and speed up the road and into the distance.
Leaping out of bed, she had put on her dressing gown and retrieved several boxes she had hidden under the bed a few weeks earlier then ran down the stairs and began packing ornaments and belongings she wanted to keep. It wasn’t much an the job was rough and ready, having already decided that some of the pieces would have to be sacrificed, because time was so limited. The removal men were due to arrive and there still was so much to do.
The packing was finished with half an hour to spare so she’d decided to take a shower and try to unwind. There had been no time to think too deeply about the situation earlier, but with nothing left to do except wait, she had begun to shake violently as she worried at the prospect of him returning unexpectedly home for his breakfast at nine o’clock, as he sometimes did. A cold sweat ran down the back of her neck at the thought. She would be in so much trouble f he did come home now.
Lighting her tenth cigarette that morning, as she watched the removal men park their lorry, big enough to carry two houses full of furniture, she cursed under her breath. The vehicle was so conspicuous on this tiny street, littered with nosy neighbours and where the perpetual net curtains always twitched. As the removal men entered her home, she felt slightly embarrassed at first, it would also be the last two people who would see her now as she was, the scorned woman about to abandon the life of the permanent doormat and reclusive, submissive housewife. She instructed the men to remove the items she wanted and they did so in an obviously awkward silence. She hadn’t the heart to clear out the entire house; it had been hard enough just to continue the pretence of the relationship for the last two weeks as arrangements were made.
She decided to make herself scarce and made her excuses that there was no milk left for a cup of tea. Walking to the corner shop, furthest away from their home and her ‘in-laws’ was the best option. Careering into her retired father in-law or one of their friends was too much to risk, too many awkward questions could alert her husband to her intentions and she no longer had the strength or inclination to continue to lie any more. Admitting to anyone who asked that she had resigned from her job and was leaving her husband seemed like such a good idea right now.
As she arrived back at the house with supplies, the net curtains in the neighbourhood were already beginning to move. She had to control a hysterical laugh, twisting and turning in her stomach as she noticed through a window one of the local residents attempting to dash behind his curtains, but in his rush to hide from view, he walked straight into his welsh dresser and almost knocked himself out.
Luckily, by the time she had arrived back at the house, the majority of her belongings had been packed into the storage pallet. The removal men were standing in the half empty living room, sipping hot tea whilst attempting to maintain polite conversation. Looking around her, the house appeared quite empty, despite the fact that she was removing only the bare essentials and she began to wonder what the two removal men made of it all. Did they feel sorry for her husband? The place had been left the place habitable and his favourite sofa and television had not been removed because he’d constantly reminded her…’As long as I have my sofa and tele, nothing else really matters’. He probably wouldn’t even notice she’d gone until his dinner failed to appear magically in front of him whilst watching football.
The house had been emptied in less than an hour, but there was no time to relax though. He could still burst in the front door and she really couldn’t cope with any more confrontations. She felt worn and weary, with a six hour coach journey still ahead of her. Taking one last look around the house, which had never felt like home, just somewhere to sleep and eat for the last five years.
How someone or something could feel so right then go so horribly wrong in such a short space of time, she couldn’t fathom. Inhaling deeply, she had decided not to waste another moment watching life pass her by. Waiting until the removal men had left, she placed a carefully written letter on the coffee table then slung her rucksack on her back and walked out of the house and up the street without even a backward glance.
The taxi was ordered to pick her up further down the road to take her to the bus station. It was on the outskirts of the town so the risk of bumping into anyone, especially her husband was very slight. However, sitting on a bench at the station, waiting for her bus, her nerves were on a knife edge, she was becoming paranoid with every tick of the station clock, believing everyone who so much as glanced at her knew what she was doing.
A city girl born and bred, she was used to her face being lost in a crowd and be herself or any one she chose to be and no-one would notice, but in this sleepy farming town, everyone knew everyone else’s business. Every word, action and suggestion was duly noted then gossiped about over morning coffee. She couldn’t handle it, just the way she couldn’t handle the old, local families treating her like a leper.
She broke off from her thoughts; her cynicism wasn’t helping the situation. She needed to move forwards and not think about the past. You’re right where you need and want to be.
As she herself off the velvet sand, she felt the pins and needles in her feet stab and prickle then she walked over the sand dunes until the landscape changed to the black rocks of the coastline. Walking up the coastal path that wound its way up to the top of the dark, volcanic mass and clambering through the thorny bracken and bright green, luscious ferns, she finally found the calm and peace for her troubled soul.
At the highest point of the coastal hilltop, she looked out to sea then something below her on the cliff face caught her eye. Rock steps had been forged out of the stone face and she could not resist an exploration as to where they would take her. Winding down the steep slope, she lost count of the number of steps when she saw the stunning views that beheld her. It was a secluded beach with rocks all the shades of grey and black enclosing this tiny alcove of paradise. The turquoise sea lapped over the indigenous rocks, but barely brushed onto the clean, golden sands.
Sitting down by one of the many clear rocks pools, brimming with colourful tiny marine life, she drifted into deep thought. As she swirled the water with a long elegant finger, she smiled, reminiscing of the two kindly nuns she had met on the coach that brought her to this place. Relief had washed over her once she’d finally boarded the vehicle and the worst chapter of the escape plan was over. The nuns were elderly and quite frail, but very warm and friendly. They had sat opposite her for the entire journey an with the worries of the world weighing on her mind, she had completely forgotten to pack refreshment supplies, not even a bottle of water. The two nuns had brought some jellied fruits with them and she must have looked thirstily at them both enjoying the juicy sweets as one of the kindly nuns offered her their bag of sweets at regular intervals throughout the long journey. Perhaps they had felt sorry for her because she was travelling alone or maybe they could see she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, but she was grateful for their kindness and wished them both well on their continuing journey as she left the coach.
Checking her watch, her heart skipped a beat. The husband would know the truth by now. He would have read her letter and seen the state of the house. Worrying suddenly, she thought about how he might have reacted to the news. Did he crumple to the floor crying into her letter with regrets or had he flown into a rage and vented his anger on the household furniture that was left.
Shaking the fearful thoughts from her head, she was surprised to notice that dusk was creeping in on a blanket of indigo, violets and pinks across the coastal sky. It was time to head back to the warmth and safety of the caravan that she would call home for a while. Her streetwise, city-girl instincts had not left her completely as she knew it would be foolish to remain here in this unlit and uninhabited place for much longer.
As she walked back along the coastal path she took her phone from the coat pocket and felt brave enough to switch it on. Ten messages had been left. She felt sick again and turned it off. Living in a daydream, fantasy land was much more desirable than reality, for now. Perhaps, she would call her parents, just to let them know she was alright, but deep down she still couldn’t face the music just yet. The accusations and ridicule she knew she would have to face eventually, but for now they would just have to wait for the explanations and apologies. This was the first day of many that would pass before she strengthen her resolve return to her hometown the same way she had left it five years earlier, happy, independent and free.