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Archive for Mawrth, 2011

Blodwen watched from the doorstep as Osian walked awkwardly across the lawn, carrying the canister of petrol they had given him. As he reached the gate he turned briefly and waved, smiling, before vanishing into the night; and so he was gone, as suddenly as he had arrived. How strange it seemed to be stood in this doorway, after all these years of it being locked and forgotten; it had taken a stranger’s knock for the spell to be broken.

She stood there for a few seconds, replaying the evening’s events in her mind; such a different evening, because of the visitor. They so seldom had visitors these days – and when they did come they were usually on ‘mercy visits’ with much clock-watching and sighing, before the inevitable “must get back to….do such and such”, almost as though they had been doing her and Glyn a favour by visiting.

But this evening had been lovely. Blodwen recalled with pleasure how Osian had heartily tucked in to the food and had complemented her on the Bara Brith and the butter – “churned right here on the farm mind you!” She had added with delight.

“Lucky I’d made a fresh batch of Bara Brith this morning” she’d thought then. How nice to have someone enjoying her Bara Brith and butter. A new person; a new stamp of approval!

As she stared out into the blackness she shivered and pulled her shawl over her thin, aching arms. For sure there was a bitter wind this evening and it must have been a shock for poor Osian, what with him having just stepped off the plane from Israel; they did travel far these days, didn’t they, young people? Why the next county had seemed a distant land in her youth…her youth, a hazy memory now.

She sighed and stepped back into the hallway, shutting the door; it really was in such a shabby state, what on earth must he have thought as he stood there knocking?

“And with me being so house-proud too” thought Blodwen miserably.

But it had been many years since anyone had knocked at this door, or even since it had been opened to let the air in, not since – well, there was no point dwelling on the past…and it was doubtful they’d have another visitor any time soon…

Once the door was shut the house seemed to embrace her, hugging her, with its dark woodwork and low ceilings; a comforting sense of history, familiarity and belonging. This was a truly Welsh house; a testament to the culture and traditions she so dearly cherished. As she passed the old grandfather clock it struck eleven

“High time we were both in bed” she muttered “If we’re to be up for the milking”.

She bustled into the kitchen with her mind set on the tasks to be completed before bed: return the butter dish to the pantry; wrap the Bara Brith; wipe down the table; wash up the dishes…

Glyn was sat in the rocking chair by the fireplace watching her quietly; he seemed a little uneasy and she suspected he was stewing over something, as was his way, rather than just coming straight out with it. Perhaps it was to do with the farm? Perhaps it was something the visitor had said? Perhaps he wouldn’t talk to her about it at all, whatever it was? She decided to test the waters by speaking first:

“Well he was a very nice young man wasn’t he?”

“Mmm” said Glyn, not lifting his eyes from the fire.

“So nice to have a visitor…and a Welsh speaking one too. It would be nice to see him again; I wonder why he had to rush off like that? But then perhaps he was tired…from his trip…so maybe he’ll come back this way…when he’s got time obviously, they’re busy these youngsters aren’t they…”

She stopped then, berating herself. She was doing it again – rambling on and on when she was nervous. All these years and she still couldn’t help herself. Glyn looked up and she knew from his face that it was something she had done. She felt her stomach tighten.

“Blodwen my love, why did you have to go and say all that about the border?” He said, in a disappointed tone. Blodwen exhaled erratically, and said in a wavering voice which threatened tears:

“Because that’s how I feel; and because that’s what’s in my heart; and because how can I not talk about these things when they torture me so?”

“But he won’t understand – and how could he? I certainly wouldn’t if I weren’t living in this confounded place! Said Glyn.

“I just had to can’t you see that? So that I know that it’s real, so that I know that I am real, I’m so lonely out here Glyn, I feel like I’m drowning…”

“I know” said Glyn “I know. But we must be careful. Try and see it through the outsider’s eyes. What if word gets around that the old lady who lives over at Ty’n y caeuau farm thinks she hears the border ‘whispering’ and ‘breathing’ and ‘scratching at the old front door’ and for goodness sake, if anyone heard about you being afraid that the border waits outside the front door to ‘suck us away’ well what do you think would happen? “

Blodwen stared at him blankly.

“Well aside from them carting you off to Denbigh, what if they started asking questions? What if they wondered why two prominent young activists suddenly vanished? What…”

Glyn noticed the distant look in his wife’s eyes and realised that he had gone too far. Blodwen was staring into the fire now, playing with the fringe at the corner of her shawl. She didn’t say anything for several minutes. She didn’t even seem to be aware that he’d stopped mid-sentence. When she did speak her voice was small and quiet, almost menacing in its lack of emotion:

“Maybe they should”

Glyn paused before answering. What did she mean? Had she misheard him? Was she even speaking to him?

“Blodwen, you do understand don’t you” he said, gently. “We’re both quite old now and we’ve got no one to stand up for us.”

Blodwen turned her head towards him and fixed him with a calm expression:

“So what if they do come looking?” she said defiantly. “Supposing they do ask where my beautiful sons have gone? It’s not as though we have anything to hide is it? Maybe they could get to the bottom of it…”

“Unlikely” Glyn interrupted grimly; he didn’t like the way this was going. He’d always felt responsible for what had happened, and guilty for not being able to protect his family.

“Oh I didn’t mean – you know I don’t blame you. But I can’t live like this. I hated having to lie to Osian like that. It was so lovely to show him their photos” At this point she reached for one of the photographs from the dresser and gazed at it lovingly.

“My boys, my boys, all they achieved, everything they stood for, and I have to deny them, lie about them, say they abandoned their entire belief system, sold out – went to live in England and turned their backs on their language and culture I HATE IT I TELL YOU!” She was shaking now, tears of frustration in her eyes and she strode across the kitchen, making a grab for the kettle.

“I know, I’m sorry” said Glyn, trying to make amends. “And I’m sure Osian isn’t the type to gossip, I’m sure in my heart. I felt as you did, he’s our kind – on our side.”

Blodwen was stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, still clutching the kettle, not moving.

“Come here” he said at last. “Come and be warm by the fire and let’s think no more about it tonight.”

She hesitated then went over to him and he wrapped his arms around her tenderly, then held her so that he could look into her eyes. “Such pretty eyes” he thought, “As pretty as the day I met her.” Her hair was silver now but still soft as silk, still long and shiny and she still wore it pinned back, as she always had.

“There, there my sweet” he said, kissing her forehead and stroking her hair. “We have each other and that’s more than most.”

“But what happened to them Glyn? Where did they go? Where are they? My babies, and their babies…my Dylan, my Carwyn; I ache for them…”

“I know, I know. There are so many unanswered questions from this life, we can only hope to know more when we move onto the next”.

This appeared to comfort him, but he’d always been more comforted by religion than she had; the idea of heaven had always rather frightened her.

The fire crackled bathing the kitchen in a warm and cosy light, “if only life hadn’t been so cruel” she thought “I could have been happy, living the simple life, here, with my family. But that’s all gone now, ruined, there’s nothing left.”

As she stood hugging her husband she heard a faint scratching. “A fox” she thought, but then the wind began to howl and the house shook; she could hear the eerie breathing and cackling of y ffin…

She separated herself from her husband with such force that he stood stunned for a moment, but then sped after her through the hallway. Her shawl hung off her shoulder and a strand of hair had come loose.

“Blodwen what are you doing?”

She’d paused by the door and was staring at the Grandfather clock.

“One minute to go” she was saying “Just one minute”.

“So come away from the door” said Glyn “let’s get to the centre of the house where it’s safe…”

“But safe for how long?” She said angrily. “No, not this time, not this year and not on this day. I’ve had enough. I need to know…”

“But Blodwen, you saw what happened, it’s too dangerous”.

He tried to grab her hand but it slipped through his fingers as she threw herself against the door and undid the bolt.

“Please Blod” he pleaded, tears in his eyes now.

“Don’t make me go on my own, Glyn. We belong together…”

They stood staring at each other. He seemed lost, like he had run out of things to say. She wrenched open the door and the hallway filled with white light. He saw the outline of her face against the light and it seemed young and vibrant. Her eyes were wide and bright and she stepped forwards. He couldn’t let her go, he couldn’t lose her, his love. He grabbed her hand and they stepped forward together…

******************************************************************

Osian sat in the coffee shop at his favourite table, waiting for Catrin to come back from the counter with their coffees. When he looked up she was almost at the table and smiling awkwardly. On the tray in front of her were two huge slices of chocolate fudge cake. He sighed; she had a sweet tooth but was too self-conscious to indulge by herself, so he was often roped in as an accomplice.

“One for you and one for me” she said, charmingly.

“Thanks” he said, picking up a fork.

“So what exactly was it that happened to you the other day that left you high and dry with a bunch of pretty flowers?” she asked eagerly, her green eyes shining.

“It was the strangest thing” said Osian. “Do you remember me telling you how I ran out of petrol on the way back from Cardiff?”

“Oh yes, when you nodded off at the wheel!” she teased.

“That’s right. Well I felt that I’d rushed off, after they’d been so kind…I was worried about the drive back you see…”

“I’ve run out of cream, could I have some of yours?” She said, cutting across his story.

“Sure, have it all…”

“Oh no I couldn’t possibly…”

“No, really, I’m not a fan of cream anyway…”

“Oh, really?” she said, sounding rather bewildered. “How odd. Anyway, sorry – go on”

“Anyway” continued Osian “I decided to go back with some flowers”

“Ah that’s nice”

“Yes I thought so” he said, rather impatiently. “But when I went back, I couldn’t find the farm”.

“Oh?”

“And I drove up and down for about 2 hours.”

Catrin observed him thoughtfully. “And you’re certain it was the correct stretch of road?”

“Yes” Said Osian patiently “The Arddlin road, along the border. I found the first farm house, and…even the hedgerow…but that farm just wasn’t there”.

“Woah, dude! That sure sounds like one of your short stories in the making!” She said, smiling.

She was about to tease him further but then she noticed that all too familiar expression crossing Osian’s face, as though a light had come on somewhere. And she knew it was hopeless; from here on in, his mind would be fully engaged with piecing together the story. She finished her cake.

“Right, I’m off-ski, got a list of books to get from the library for my thesis” she said, not expecting much of a response.

But Osian was momentarily distracted by this, he’d been worried that the break from her studies had been too long, and that she was going to find it hard to get back into things.

“So what are you working on at the moment then?” he asked, genuinely interested.

“Oh, erm…the theory chapter” she said, looking glum. “I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to write, nor even which theory to go with…”

“Oh, you’ll be fine” he reassure her, although he had found some of their previous discussions about Sociological theory rather alarming, and it was certainly not anything he would fancy trawling through!”

“So, I’ll see you at the Eisteddfod next week?” she enquired, swinging her multi-coloured, hippy-esque bag over her shoulder.

“Yes, I’ll be there for the dechrau canu, dechrau canmol sing-along” he replied, smiling.

“Right you are then, I’m pitching my tent over on maes-b…going to catch a couple of gigs while I’m there, groovy hey?…see ya!” she said, making her way towards the door.

Osian smiled as he sipped his coffee, Catrin could seem so mature one minute and so young the next. She was right though, he could turn this rather disturbing experience into a short story…Y Ffin…The Border, yeah; it would add a touch of sci-fi to his latest collection for young people, that’s what they liked wasn’t it? At any rate Douglas Adams seemed to be pretty popular! He reached into his bag and pulled out his notebook and pen and wrote everything out as it had happened; you couldn’t make this stuff up!

Later that year, Osian’s editor called:

“Hia Osian, yeah, we want to publish the collection, we’re going with the ga’i ddarn o awyr las heddiw? title – great collection Osian, especially Y Ffin, spooky vibe, I’m liking it!”

“That’s great Phil, I’ve got a great idea for the cover by the way, it’s a bit out there, but if we can get the right person, with the right expression, I think we can capture the mood of the book…”

There was the faint sound of a telephone ringing in the background and of someone answering it.

“What? oh, sorry Osian, I’ve got to go…that sounds great though, we’ll talk more next month, we should have the proofs through by then”.

“Great, speak soon” said Osian, hanging up.

***************************************************************

The old couple sat at the back of the chapel, dressed like everybody else, looking like everybody else – smart, respectable and inconspicuous. The Vicar began to speak. After a while the old woman noticed that one of the visiting speakers looked familiar – where had she seen him before? She wondered; then she let out an audible gasp

“Duw annwyl!” she said

“Shhhhhh” said her husband incredulously. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s him, it’s Osian, the one who came to the farm” she said, her dark eyes sparkling.

“O rargor, I knew this was a bad idea” he said.

“Glyn, what an awful thing to say – coming to church is never a bad idea.”

“It is if it raises awkward questions” he said. “Now there’s no need to panic, let’s just sit quietly, there are lots of people and it’s unlikely that he’ll spot us. Then we can just slip away at the end, quietly, no problem”.

But Glyn must have known that Blodwen couldn’t pass up this chance. She’d so often wondered about Osian – had he made it home safely? Did he ever come back to look for them?

And, predictably, once the service was over, Blodwen slowly made her way to the front. Glyn tried to reason with her but she was determined:

“Look, you said yourself at the time, even if we told him the truth it’s unlikely he’d believe us…he’d just think I was an eccentric old lady who made up stories to amuse herself!”

“Now I don’t think I quite said it like that did I?” said Glyn. “And don’t you think it will strike him as odd that we haven’t aged in the last 20 years?!”

“It hasn’t been that long” she retorted, but he was ready for her:

“I’m afraid it has my dear, well, 19 years anyway. So you see he’s going to suspect something…”

“Oh give over” she cut across him. “Look, there’s Meinir Llywelyn over there, she hasn’t aged a bit in the last 30 years let alone 20…why some of her former pupils look older than she does!

“Yes, but…”

“And look there are the Williams sisters, they must be technically in their 90s now, and still gallivanting here there and everywhere”

Glyn looked over at the twins, still identical, with the same short hair style, similar long skirts, the same style of blouse but in different colours – and yes, they must have been touched by Y Ffin, because they didn’t look a day over 60.

There was a bit of a queue to speak to Osian, and it seemed, from the snippets of overheard conversation, that he was quite the celebrity these days – a successful author no less!

Having waited patiently for ten minutes while the woman in front monopolised his attention, Blodwen finally came face to face with Osian.

“Excuse me” she said “I’m not sure if you’ll remember us but you came to our house once…”

Looking into his eyes she saw the disbelief as it slowly dawned on him who they were.

“Gosh, Mrs Jones, Mr Jones…how lovely to see you again. I hadn’t expected…well you know I came back a couple of days after you gave me the petrol, I had some flowers…”

Blodwen had thought as much, and now she felt sorry for him and it showed in her face. But Osian mistook this for doubt; he thought miserably of how unlikely it would sound, but he tried anyway:

“I came along the road, but it all looked so different in the daylight and, well, I know it sounds ridiculous but I couldn’t find the farm…”

To his relief Mrs Jones didn’t seem to be holding a grudge:

“Oh that old stretch of road likes to play tricks, lots of farms and they all look the same”

“Well, do you have time to go for a coffee now? Please, let me treat you, to thank you, belatedly…we could go to the coffee shop in the library…”

Blodwen smiled as she recognised the same tendency to ramble when nervous as that which plagued her. She was so pleased to see Osian that she had quite forgotten the need to get back and she was about to accept the invitation when Glyn cut across:

“Erm, that’s very kind of you Osian, but we really must be getting back to the farm now you see, got to feed the animals and such, you know how it is”

“Oh of course” said Osian, disappointed. He smiled and waved to them as they left the chapel and was quickly reengaged in conversation by Mrs Bowen, who had enjoyed his recent poem in such and such magazine and wondered if it was part of a collection, and so on and so forth. But Osian didn’t forget. He was curious; and he was determined to show his gratitude to the Jones’s for their kindness.

***************************************************************************

“So what’s all this about Oz-man” asked Catrin with an amused expression as she arranged herself carefully on the seat opposite him. She looked so different to how she had been last time they had sat at this table, talking about that farm. She was Dr Evans now of course, married and settled, and working as a lecturer at the University. Gone were the bohemian outfits and childish jewellery; they’d been replaced by slick suits and a big sparkly engagement ring and matching rose-gold wedding band. But underneath she was still the same cheeky little scamp who was forever teasing him.

“Catrin, I had a rather strange experience on Sunday”

A smile twitched around the corners of her mouth and she was obviously suppressing the urge to make a joke, so he pressed on with his story.

“How very odd” she said, when he had finished. “And yet…”

“Go on” said Osian, wondering why she’d stopped mid-sentence.

“Well haven’t you noticed that the old folks of Treffin don’t seem to get any, well, older?”

“Erm, maybe, but I’ve always just thought it was down to good, clean living” he said.

“Come to think of it, it’s especially true of those who live out near Arddlin…hmm…I wonder…well certainly you should try one last time with some flowers” she said, thoughtfully.

“Yes, that’s what I thought, only – they did seem keen to get away, and I wouldn’t want to impose”.

“Well, you can only do that if you find the house right?”

“Right”

“And if you do find the house at least you’ll know it was just a trick of the light or something last time right?”

“Right”

“And if you show up and it seems you’re unwelcome, at least you tried, okay?

“Okay”

“Splendid, now finish your coffee and we’ll go now”

“What?”

“Yeah, no time like the present”

“What…you’re coming too?”

“Sure, two pairs of eyes are better than one and, besides, you’ve got me curious now!”

So they set off in Osian’s car, stopping off at Tesco on the way to pick up some cheerful gerbias.

As they reached the Arddlin road along the border Osian slowed down.

“Now look out for farm gates, let’s take them one at a time.” He said.

“There’s one” said Catrin, excitedly.

“No, we’re looking for a privet hedge.” Said Osian, decisively.

They drove all the way to the end with no joy. The light was fading, but they turned the car and drove back up, determined. The sky had changed colour and visibility was poor. Osian switched on the headlights. Then, as they drove along, they saw a ribbon of light, swaying in their path. It was too late to swerve and within seconds the car had been enveloped. The landscape swirled and the tyres scuffed along the curb; Osian stopped the car.

“What on earth was that?” asked Catrin, bewildered.

“I’m not sure – are you okay?” asked Osian, anxiously gripping the wheel.

“Yeah I’m fine” said Catrin, reaching for a bottle of water from her Radley handbag. As she slowly sipped its lukewarm contents, she noticed an old lady come through a nearby gate; an old man followed her…and then two young men and some children…

“Hey Oz”. Said Catrin. “Look over there?”

Approaching the car Blodwen felt a twinge of guilt. She’d known in her heart that Osian would come and she hadn’t tried to dissuade him; and now he was here, mixed up in all of this. Oh but she was glad to see him.

She smiled at Osian and prepared to greet the new Arddlinians

This short story is ‘fan fiction’ to Aled Lewis Evans’ short story ‘Y ffin’ (The Border) and was originally written for a cinnamon press competition but was unsuccessful; it has not been published anywhere else.

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