To give you all a taste for the amazing Stories For Homes anthology, I’m going to post my story Fields of Gold for you here. I wanted to take part in the anthology because having a roof over your head is a basic need that a lot of people are finding more and more difficult to secure. Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood came up with an amazing idea to get a stable of authors together, crack the whip and got us using our writing skills to give a helping hand.
There are over 60+ stories in this anthology and all the royalties go to Shelter themselves. It’s an amazing project that I have been creating author ‘Stamps’ for. (I will post and babble about these on another thread.) but you can find the team here: http://storiesforhomes.wordpress.com/news/ for more information.
The theme was home and for my particular piece, I wanted to explore why someone would want to leave an idyllic setting and what exactly home was. I hope that my story will inspire you to download or buy the paperback of the anthology! Homelessness… let’s put a roof on it!
The video below is a snippet from ‘Fields of Gold’ published in the anthology Stories For Homes, a project supporting Shelter:
Fields of Gold
By Jody Klaire
Alina heard the words ‘Not guilty’ and her heart dropped into her stomach. Two years of hard work, sacrifice, long hours and the jury had found a guilty man innocent. She looked over at the ‘Defendant’ who was smiling, his supporters cheering. Alina looked at the family of the victim. What could she say?
The rain hammered her windscreen as she drove the 300 miles from the city to a tiny fishing village, the one she had been born and raised in. The one she hadn’t visited in five years. She felt sick. Her own personal failure stung but failure to get justice for the family… her body trembled with it. She gripped the wheel. She was going back to her parents for the summer. She’d promised her mother that she would at the end of the case… whatever the outcome but Alina couldn’t help but see the faces of the family, they had lost so much and now there would be no justice.
The motorways became country roads and the towering buildings became hills covered in patchwork green. Alina wanted to turn around. She wanted to go back to her apartment, her empty apartment, and crawl into bed. Anything not to face the people she barely knew anymore.
The road narrowed again and she made her way down the little cobbled street, her car suspension juddering. The brightly painted little fishing cottages on either side, their lights twinkling against the puffs of mist coming off the sea. It was a forgotten village on a forgotten part of the coastline, the houses not reaching twenty, the population as small.
Alina pulled up to her father’s shop. The lights were still on and it was nearing midnight, nothing changed. She should go up to the farm, to see her mother but Alina had rented the little apartment above the pottery shop for the summer. She needed the space. Alina didn’t want to face her father and her head throbbed at the thought.
“Get out and get this over with,” she muttered to herself.
She took a deep breath and braved the torrential rain. The mist was now fog, the sea gale stealing her breath as she dragged her luggage from the boot. Her heel caught on the cobbles.
She looked down, they cost most people’s monthly wage. Stupid cobbles, stupid place. Why couldn’t they have tarmac like the rest of the world?
Alina fought with the heavy shop door which slammed behind her, nudging her inside and stood in the empty space: wet, freezing cold with her hair smattered across her face, covering her eyes and mouth like seaweed. Why the hell was she here?
“Can I help you?” Came an oddly familiar voice from somewhere beyond her hair.
Alina laughed. Help? She needed more than help. “Who are you?”
“I work here,” came the amused reply.
Alina frowned, she knew that voice. “Frauke Bärbel?” Pulling her hair from her eyes she looked at the woman who used to be her childhood friend. “Since when have you worked here?”
Frauke smiled. “Only five years.”
Frauke, the girl, had been a mass of brown wavy hair, charcoal eyes and a lopsided smile; she had been all legs and arms and adventure. Frauke, the woman, was so different that Alina hardly recognised her: Burnt copper hair, shaved, weather tanned skin, an earring in her nose and a seashell necklace. Frauke had grown into her frame but she was still slim and still had mischief in her eyes.
“You left,” Alina stated.
“You didn’t call.”
Frauke shook her head.
They stood in awkward silence. Alina soaked and starting to shiver. “I’m renting the flat,” she finally said.
“I heard… it’s open,” Frauke answered.
Alina nodded and started to pull her bags but Frauke took them off her. “I don’t need help.”
“Didn’t say you did,” Frauke answered.
Alina followed her up the back stairs into the flat. It was not the dingy place she had remembered from childhood. Now, it looked like they’d hired an interior designer.
“The lights were on,” Alina said as Frauke set down her bags.
“Yeh, it’s easier than working in the dark.”
Alina frowned and Frauke shoved her hands in her jeans. She was covered in clay, a pencil shoved behind one ear. Alina saw the memory: Frauke leaving in a car after her grandparents died. Her tearstained cheeks and her wild brown hair. A year later Alina left herself, headed to the city and never came back.
“So, here’s the key… home sweet home, huh?” Frauke said.
“Not even close.”
The smell of freshly baked bread drew Alina into the shop the next morning. Frauke sat at the design table with a baguette in one hand and her pencil in the other. Alina looked around. Her father was still nowhere to be seen.
“Didn’t you go home?” she muttered. Did Frauke live here?
Alina put her hands on her hips and Frauke laughed.
“Where is my father?”
“In the house… I would guess feeding the chickens like he always does at this time.”
“How the hell do you know?”
Frauke shrugged. “I listen.”
Alina growled. “Fine. If you know him so well, you can introduce me!” She yanked open the shop door and flipped the sign to ‘back later’. Frauke raised her eyebrows, then got to her feet, baguette still in hand.
“Only if we walk,” she said.
Alina looked up the steep hill. Could she be bothered? She hadn’t been for a run in months… maybe it would help keep her temper in check. “Fine.”
The sun oozed warmth into her bones as they walked up the little cobbled path. The villagers all waved to Frauke, exchanging greetings but no one recognised Alina. Clearly fifteen years in the city had rendered her a stranger.
“Want some?” Frauke asked, offering her baguette.
Alina’s stomach rumbled but she was too tense… too wound up… too nauseous at the decision in court to eat.
“It’s good… you used to love it,” Frauke offered.
Alina shook her head. “I’m not fifteen anymore.”
Frauke sighed. “You always this mad?”
“With you, yes.”
That wasn’t the entire truth. No one made it to the top of the legal food-chain without learning to battle and argue for every point. She worked hard, she went home. Smiling was for people with time.
“What the hell are you doing back anyway?” Alina snapped.
Frauke walked on, forcing Alina to catch up with her. “City changes people,” She said. “My brother lives in the city, he’s a cop now by the way… hates it… but there’s no money here.”
Alina nodded. “A bunch of pensioners and the past.”
Frauke laughed. “I look pretty good for a pensioner don’t you think?”
She forced herself not to smile, not to laugh. She was still mad. No way was Frauke getting away that easy. “You didn’t answer the question… why are you here?”
“Some things are more important than money.”
Alina was expecting some drivel about tradition or the sea air. Frauke almost whispered her response, as though to say it aloud would mean breaking the illusion.
“You seemed pretty happy to leave it behind before.”
Frauke stopped, her eyes narrowed. “You can’t be that cold. My grandparents died, Alina… I had to go.”
Alina turned to look at her parent’s farm. A red painted door, cream walls splashed in the vivid colours of summer in full bloom. “You forgot me soon enough,” she said and before Frauke could reply, she stomped to the door. She almost knocked. She didn’t live here anymore.
“Ada, the prodigal daughter is here to see you,” Frauke called out before Alina could turn and bolt. Fields of Gold – Themes of Home Short Story Jody Klaire 5
“Hmmm… what did you say, dear?”
Alina’s breath caught. A little old lady stood in the kitchen, candyfloss white hair and eyes like bottled sunshine. They were almost amber, like hers.
Her mother touched her hand to her mouth, her eyes drifting over every inch of Alina. “Hello, Sweetie… welcome home.”
She tensed at the words. Home? No, home was the city, home was a grey power-suit and a courtroom.
“I heard the verdict,” her mother said. “The media said the jury were scared.”
Alina nodded. “Scared and I didn’t do my job properly.”
Ada turned to Frauke. “Still a perfectionist, like her father.”
“A guilty man got away with murder!”
Her mother tutted. “He was convicted on two other counts, Alina… he’s behind bars.”
“Until he appeals… or his sentence for assault ends.”
Her mother smiled, throwing Alina off her argument. “The family said you worked wonders to get them that… you did your best.”
Alina rubbed the bridge of her nose. “My best wasn’t enough.”
Her mother walked forward and planted a kiss on her forehead. Alina’s inner child wanted to be wrapped up in the warm, soft arms of her mother, smell the scent of fresh washing and sea air. The adult in her detested the needy response, she was a grown woman.
At a loss of how to act Alina hugged herself instead.
“I’ll go check on the old codger… leave you two catch up,” Frauke said, sauntering out the kitchen door.
“So, how long has she been running things?” Alina asked.
“Three years. You know how much your father loves her.”
“She must be good if he’s left the workshop.”
Her mother smiled, touching Alina’s cheeks with her hands. “She’s a very shrewd business woman too. We’re in safe hands.”
“What happened to her?”
Alina’s mother shook her head. “I don’t know. She turned up on the doorstep, not long after your last visit and bought the Bärbel farm from us outright. It’s as though she never left.”
Alina heard laughter and looked out of the kitchen window. Her father with a chicken under his arm chuckling with Frauke. What the hell was so funny about chickens?
“She seems happy. You, my girl, do not.”
Alina shrugged. “Just tired.”
“Nonsense, I’m your mother. I know better. Was it… well—”
“Jana? No… it didn’t work out.”
Her mother fiddled with her glasses, taking them off and cleaning them. Alina sighed. Why was she here? Everything was so awkward.
“Is that why you’re so unhappy?”
Alina shook her head and walked over to the breakfast bar. She lifted herself up onto it, like she had as a child. “I don’t know what it is… I wanted to reach the top… I have… and now I’m there–”
“It’s not enough?”
Alina nodded. “Sad, isn’t it?”
“No, I would say you’re lonely. You can go to all the glamorous parties and get awards but if all you go back to is an empty apartment. Is that really success?”
“Maybe I should get a cat?”
Before her mother could answer. Alina’s father strolled in. Her heart hammered in her chest. She’d been his little girl and he’d adored her. Her ‘other life’ as he called it had separated them. All her fault, of course.
“Come on… I’m starving and you’re not getting any younger,” Frauke piped up from behind him. His eyes warmed at Frauke’s words, then he turned and walked off to get cleaned up. No hello, nothing. He didn’t even look at her.
Lunch was eaten in silence, speckled with Frauke and Alina’s father chatting about business. Alina didn’t eat much, she didn’t breathe much either. Her mind was too busy replaying his stinging words… years passing hadn’t dampened the pain.
As Frauke and Alina walked back down to the shop, she stopped and sat on the dry stone wall running between Frauke’s farm and her parent’s. “You seem more laid back than you used to be,” she said.
Frauke smiled. “I have all this. The city makes you think success is instant… the future all that matters, life online… success, popularity,” she grabbed hold of Alina’s hand and dragged her through the wooden gate. “Take off your shoes,” she said, pulling her boots off.
Alina sighed. The days of following Frauke’s next whim rippling through her mind. There had always been some adventure.
“Come on,” Frauke said.
Alina took off her flats and followed Frauke to the centre of the yellow field. The earth drying from the downpour, soft beneath her toes.
Frauke ran her hands through the barley. “Life here is about patience… about today… not tomorrow. Success is measured in how happy you are… in simple things.”
“You sound like a hippy.”
Frauke waved away the comment. “I sowed this field myself like grandpapa did. Every single glint of gold is here because I tended it. My work… and nature’s.”
Alina looked around the massive field. The barley swayed in the gentle sea breeze.
“I give some to the bakery and he gives me baguettes.”
Alina slumped onto the ground feeling lost. “My father disowned me.”
“Yeh, and he was an idiot… but he’s human.”
“He told me I was sick, Frauke!”
Frauke nodded and sat beside her. “Five years of dealing with me… He’s pretty ok now.”
Alina rubbed her head, trust Frauke to sweep in and save the day. “Wouldn’t surprise me if you’d rode in on a horse.”
“It was a Suzuki but close.”
Alina laughed. “I missed this.” She didn’t even realise it until the words fell from her mouth. Had she? Days spent wandering, talking, laughing, hiding from lightning under the oak tree and lying in the forest of golden barley.
“Where did you go?” Alina asked. She was fifteen again watching Frauke leave, not one word. “Convent.”
Alina raised her eyebrows. “Convent? That sounds awful?”
“Don’t believe everything you read. I stayed on after I finished school there… I nearly took final vows too.”
“Really,” Frauke said. “I saw so much through the outreach, y’know? The pain and the things people do to each other. I wanted to get in there and help.”
“So what happened?”
Frauke pulled her t-shirt up, a nasty round scar on her side. “Got caught in the crossfire.”
“Why did you come back?” Alina asked, trying not to look at the wound. The thought of Frauke lying hurt nearly suffocated her.
“Are you that dense?”
“Are all nuns this irritating?”
“Are all prosecutors as unperceptive?”
Alina growled and glared out at the swaying gold before her eyes. So beautiful, so familiar, she could almost be that teenager again.
“So why did you come home?” Frauke asked breaking her from her thoughts.
Alina looked around. She didn’t know where the hell home was anymore or if it even existed.
The days moved fast, too fast. The hot summer sun baked the fields, the little village filled with tourists. Alina spent her days helping in the shop, watching Frauke work. The routine fell into place so easily, too easily.
The world started to fill with colour, Alina didn’t even realise it was happening. It was only when the scent of late summer filled the air and the nights cooled that she felt the tension returning. She was leaving.
Her career, the city, her life beckoned and a few hours later Alina closed the boot of her car as Frauke stood in the doorway of the shop. Hands shoved in her jeans. “Let me know when you get there?”
Alina nodded and Frauke’s eyes filled with unspoken words, with confessions, with heartbreak. It tied a knot around Alina’s heart to know it was her doing, but this, here, wasn’t her life. “I Promise,” she answered and before she could say something stupid, got in the car and sped off.
Her head was filled with memories: The sky grey, tears soaking her shoulder, her life ripped out from her as Frauke was driven away, the driving rain, years of silence, of emptiness filled with work and endless ambition. The fields swayed, vibrant swathes of colour against blue skies, charcoal eyes that filled her soul. It all vanished that day. It just wasn’t home anymore.
Alina fled, fled to the city, in the hope of finding someone, anyone who knew her but all she found was loneliness and she had been emptier than ever. The city wasn’t home and as she pulled into her parking space, the truth hit her.
Home wasn’t a place, home was a seashell necklace and a soft laugh. She spun the car around but it took her until nightfall to drive back. Her heart hammered the whole time in her chest, like the sea hammering against the rocks.
By the time she pulled up to the little village, the lights in the shop window twinkled. She tried to calm herself, tried to think. Did she really want this?
She looked up to the hills, the fields of gold against a saturated sky, the smell of salt in the air, all of it resonated Frauke. Every seagull’s cry, even the crackling of the pebbles dragged out by the tide. Everything was her.
Alina was so terrified by the time she reached the door that her hands trembled. What if Frauke didn’t feel the same? Had Frauke come back for her?
She walked in and heard the bell over the door but Frauke was nowhere to be seen, instead her father stood there. “Forgotten something?”
Alina shook her head. He beamed and handed her an envelope. “She’s gone to the farm but she said to give you this.”
Alina cocked her head. There was mischief in his eyes. “You know, don’t you?”
“Of course, not even I’m that blind,” He whispered, the smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “Go.”
She walked over to her father and hugged him tightly. Years of isolation, of exile all vanishing with his quiet smile. No words needed.
She drove up to Frauke’s farm, down the lane lined with apple trees. She sat in her car, her head dizzy with thoughts and opened the envelope.
“A key… that’s it?”
Alina got out of the car. Frauke was lounging on her swing bench, cutting an apple with a knife. She smiled and patted the seat beside her. Alina sat down and looked out over the fields, right through the village to the sea.
“It’s to the farm, isn’t it?” she asked taking out the key.
Frauke nodded and handed her half of the apple.
©2013 Jody Klaire
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