The first chapter, of my first novel
|Nobody could believe their eyes as the old farmhouse crumbled under the flames. Lancton Hall had stood proudly on this land since 1830 and over the years had housed a number of characters from wealthy farming families and business owners to young men with a lucky inheritance.
The firefighters tried couragously to control the fire but to no avail. The people of the village watched as the roof collapsed under the heat of the flames. The surrounding farmland which once financed the house were shrouded in the darkness of the night, offering an occasional hint of their existance as the fire intensified, lighting up the land around it.
"The stables!" a lady cried "check the stables! there are horses in there!"
"There's nothing in there" reassured a firefighter, they were empty when we arrived."
All they could do, was stand and stare, as the iconic house which had watched over their village for hundreds of years succumed to the fire.
"It's gone" said James, of number 39, Swindon street "Lancton hall is gone".
Chapter 1 - Let's start from the beginning?
The 6th October, 2018
Angie sat on the chair near the window. There were 3 chairs, one beside the computer where she assumed the psyciatrist would sit, one at the side of the room, which for some reason didn't feel right and one beside the window. Something told here that this chair, was intended for her. She sat nervously as the receptionist assured her "he won't be long".
Why is it, in the movies psyciartist offices are always huge, with plants and a large sofa for the patient to relax? This room certainly didn't live up to this image. The room was cold, with white, clinical walls, old, plastic office chairs on which to sit and an out of date computer sat amongst coffee mugs and paperwork on a "pine effect" desk. The walls were plastered with numerous posters, offering advice on who to call should you, or someone close to you be considering suicide and domestic abuse helplines. Beside the door, a paper calendar hung loosly featuring comical images of dogs in various seasonal outfits. Angie noted that the calandar, was still stuck on the previous month.
Then there was the noise. On the street below, cars drove past in both directions, revving engines and beeping horns. Traffic lights controlled the days commuters as drug addicts stood on the corners, awaiting their next fix. It was was noisy and chaotic, certainly not the enviroment she was used to, alone in the countryside with just the happy chirping of birds providing an audio.
A tall man entered the room. He wasn't your stereotypical psyciatrist, that much was true. Angie was expecting an older man, perhaps with a grey beard and glasses. Someone who looked like he'd devoted a lifetime of work to understanding and interpeting the minds of others. Who stood before her, was a black man with no beard and no glasses. He was possibly in his mid 40s with short cropped hair. A slim, if not muscular build and a nice smile. He dressed in a casual grey combination of shirt and trousers, no tie, no name badge. A handsome man with a friendly and approachable persona. Behind him, a younger woman with shoulder length brown hair and a pretty face closed the door. She didn't look a day over 30. Armed with a clipboard, paper and pen, she sat on the seat to the side of the room. The one that didn't feel "quite right" when Angie had entered, five minutes prior.
"Hello!" said the man as he walked over and shook Angie's hand enthusiastically "I'm Dr. Mowthorth". He took his assigned seat near the computer "And this is Sarah" he said as he gestured to the young woman with the clipboard "she's a junior doctor, do you mind if she sits in on our chat?" It didn't feel like this was a genuine choice, more an indication of what was happening.
"Sure" Angie replied.
Dr Mowthorth and Sarah sat, staring at Angie with faux smiles on their faces, as though awaiting a response.
"Well, I'm Angie" she offered.
"Excellent start! we have the right patient!" Dr Mowthorth laughed as Sarah laughed along with him and wrote something down on her clipboard.
"So Angie, can you tell us why you're here?". he continued.
She thought for a minute. Wasn't it obvious? If truth be told, there were a number of reasons she could be sat here, a number of unfortunate events tarring her recent history and she wasn't entirely sure which ones they were aware of. She decided to guess at the most recent example. "Because I burnt down my house?" she asked.
Dr Mowthorth laughed again. He sat relaxed, cross legged on his chair like he was at home chatting to his wife.
"Yes, there was that … " he replied playfully "but I'm more interested in you, tell me about yourself?" he asked.
Well, what was there to tell? her life up to this point had been pretty uneventful to say the least. She grew up as a single child in a middle class suburb. Her mother made cakes which she sold with varying profits and her father was a plumber. She wasn't bullied at school, infact, she often wondered if anyone realised she was there. She had no friends to speak of but no enemies either. A quiet child, not overly intelligent nor bottom of the class. She was far from sporty but not overweight or clumsy either. The sad truth was, that if you fit in the middle of all stereotypes, you fit nowhere.
"What do you want to know?" Angie asked.
"Well, whatever you want to tell me!" Dr Mowthorth replied with what appeared to be an everlasting smile "perhaps start from the beginning? where did you grow up?".
Why did it matter? it all seemed so irrelevant now. Angie tried to think back to her earliest memory. She must have been around 5 years old and her father had shouted at her for something in which she couldn't recall. She remembered the feeling of shock, un-justification, confusion. She remembered her mother reacting in horror and shouting at her father not to take his work problems out on his child. She remembered as he tried to approach her afterwards and apologised for shouting but she feared him, she'd seen a side to him that she'd never seen before and this had left her suspicious and hurt.
"Angie?" Dr Mowthorth had uncrossed his legs and was now leaning forward in his seat as though the script had changed.
"I'm fine" Angie replied "I was just thinking about an early memory I had as a child."
"Would you care to share it with me?" he asked.
"It's nothing really, I don't even know why I remember it!" Angie laughed "My dad told me off for something and it shocked me because I'd never seen him get angry before".
"What had you done?" Dr Mowthorth asked, his smile returning.
"I can't remember! I don't think it was deserved as my mum told him off for taking his work problems out on me."
"Did he do that often?" Dr Mowthorth pressed. Sarah at this point was furiously writing on her clipboard.
"No, he was a good dad, that's probably why I remember it, it seemed so out of character." Angie confirmed.
It was true, John was a good dad. Although it was often retold that he'd hoped for a son, once his little girl was born he was besotted with her and treated her like a princess. She could do no wrong in his eyes, she was perfect. If ever there was trouble, she was never involved, how could she be? she was practically an angel. "It's the other kids, they're the problem!" John would declare at the first hint of trouble "They're encouraging her to be naughty, they're teaching her words that she shouldn't know and showing her things that she shouldn't see" he would insist. As lovely as he was, he was never a good judge of character. He didn't see the side to his little girl that others saw. He never noticed when she introduced forbidden words to the neighbours small children and he never noticed when she purposely left the tap running with a towel stuffed in the basin to flood the bathroom. He noticed the water alright, but who could have done this? certainly not his little girl.
"Is he still with us?" Dr Mowthorth asked sympathetically, as though he already knew the answer.
"No, he died years ago." Angie lied. She preferred this version of the story as the truth was too painful. Even more painful than a parent dying, was a parent who abandons you in favour of a new life, with a new woman, and new kids. Better kids. Kids that have friends and are good at sports. Kids with manners and good grades. Kids with prospects and no 'issues'.
"I'm sorry" Dr Mowthorth offered "And your mother?"
"She's still alive, but I've not seen her for years." Angie replied.
The truth was, she also found a better life, with a better man and better kids. She denied this of course, but the truth was blatantly obvious to anyone who paid enough attention which, admittedly, was nobody.
"We just don't really get on." Angie replied.
"This must be quite difficult?" Angie was momentarily shocked by the addition of Sarah's voice to the conversation, she had forgotten she was there.
"You get used to it" Angie smiled. Sarah offered a sympathetic smile in return.
Dr Mowthorth took a deep breath, re-crossed his legs and leant back into his chair.
"Ok, how about school? could you tell me about that? did you enjoy it? did you have friends?"
Angie let out an involuntary laugh. Remembering her school days was like being taken back to a dark period of her life, a time of constant embarrassment, awkwardness, isolation and constant reminders that she was 'not like the others'.
"I hated school" she offered.
"Why? were you bullied?"
"No, I just didn't fit in" she replied "all the other kids seemed to have more money, their clothes were always more modern and newer than mine, all their parents were happy and they all went on holidays and had nice cars. They were all really good at sports and I was always the last to be picked for teams … " Angie became aware that she was starting to sound like a petulant, whining kid all over again " … well, I suppose they all just had better social skills than me!" she offered with an awkward laugh.
"So you struggled with social interaction? do you still struggle?" Dr Mothorth asked as Sarah turned the page and continued to scribble notes.
"Not really, but then, I don't really try anymore so I suppose it's hard to tell." Angie said.
Dr Mothorth checked his watch and then uncrossed his legs. Clearly, her time was up. It was a short, sharp introduction to what would become weekly meetings with the shrink and his understudy.
"It's been lovely to meet you, Angie." the Dr declared as he rose from his seat. "Unfortunately, our time is up now but what I want you to do, is over the coming week, write down everything you can remember about school. From your earliest memory of it to leaving at 16 and next week, we'll go over it and discuss what you've written. Does that sound ok?"
Again, Angie realised this wasn't a choice but more of an indication of what was going to happen. The script.
"Yep" She replied.
"Sarah will see you back to your room and if you have any questions or you need to contact me, just let the nurses on the ward know and they'll pass it on." he said with a smile.
Before he left the room, he handed her a writing pad and biro pen "See you next week!" he smiled.
Angie took the pen and paper and followed Sarah back through the long, twisting corridors to her room. This room had been her home for the past two days and try as she might, she couldn't actually remember arriving here. She remembered parts of it, she recalled the fire and the way the fire engine lights turned the land from blue to red in the otherwise dark night. She remembered someone placing a blanket over her shoulders and a police officer gently helping her into an ambulance. She remembered a conversation going on outside the vehicle which she couldn't hear the detail of, but it sounded serious. Then there was the female paramedic who smiled at her and told her "It's going to be ok."
"Here you go" said Sarah as she greeted a nurse waiting by the door of the ward as though she was returning something she had borrowed. The nurse smiled in return and gestured for Angie to follow her. Back to her room, or her cell, whichever way you look at it. As they walked through the ward, other patients went about their daily activities as though this was all perfectly normal. Business as usual. One man sat playing dominos with what Angie presumed to be a member of staff whilst a younger woman dressed in pyjamas and a nightgown sat beside the window colouring pictures. Nobody looked crazy here, bored, but not crazy. Angie wondered what these guys had done to earn their residency but didn't care enough to ask.
"Would you like a cup of tea or anything?" the nurse asked as Angie entered her room.
"No thanks" Angie replied. She learnt that lesson on day one, the hot drinks here are not hot. They're luke warm, presumably purposely so to avoid injuries, intentional or otherwise.
"Ok, just press your bell if you need anything" the nurse instructed as she shut the door tightly behind her.
Angie's room was how you would imagine a bad hotel room to be. There was a bed which thankfully didn't wear hospital colours but instead, a flowery patterned duvet cover with curtains to match. The carpet was beige and featured a variety of old stains and the wardrobe was an old oak structure. It was empty of course, as all her belongings were lost in the fire. All she had to her name was a new pair of pyjamas, a new pair of jeans, a polo neck sweater and a new pack of underwear. White cotton briefs, a multipack purchased through a key worker on the day she arrived.
Sitting down on the bed, she looked at the writing pad Dr Mowthorth had given her. A full week to write about school? what on earth could she write? She tried to recall significant memories of her first days at school but nothing came back. It was as though her brain had filtered out the information as irrelevant. She tried to recall her favourite teacher but she had none. They were all awful. She tried to picture the school dinners which returned vague results. Pink custard, some tasteless sponge concoction and flapjack. Oh flapjack! she loved the flapjack, finally, a positive recollection of her school days although, she was sure that school dinners wasn't exactly what Dr Mowthorth was interested in.
Staring out of the window from the comfort of her bed she gazed at an old willow tree beside the car park of the hospital. It reminded her of the school field, how every play time the kids would charge out onto the grass and start organising their games. She remembered the smell of freshly cut grass and how she would sit and make daisy chains for no one in particular. Occasionally, she would be invited to play a game. British bulldog was her favourite but it soon got banned as too many children were injured playing it, especially if the boys were playing. Back then, it was rare for boys to play with girls and whenever they did, someone usually ended up crying and then they'd all be in trouble. One boy in particular sprung to mind. Martin. Smug, smirking Martin. A hugely popular kid with teachers and pupils alike. He was top of the class at everything. He was on the highest reading book, the highest maths book, he was captain of the football team and he was picked for the main part in every school performance she could remember. Everyone loved him. Everyone loved Martin.
Angie sighed as she opened the first page of her writing pad. She remembered how, back at school the first day of term presented the first page of a writing book. Crisp white pages, untouched, no mistakes, no crossings-outs and no "Try Harder!" comments. The first page in a new writing book presented an opportunity of new beginnings. A fresh start, a new chance to have a perfect term, to be the best that she could be. Of course, by the second week of term, all this would be forgotten as the mistakes started to appear, the red circles strategically placed by the teachers to highlight spelling mistakes. The smudges of ink as new pens malfunctioned. By the second week, Angie would realise that this term, would be exactly the same as the last. She wouldn't reach the high reading books and she certainly wouldn't impress with maths but art? art was her thing. If nothing else, she was creative and every now and again she'd get the chance to shine with an art project. One in particular, sprung to mind.