Monday, August 29, 2011

New Chapter! Chapter 5 - 'Poppy'


Chapter one here
Chapter two here
Chapter three here

{read the first chapter about 'Poppy', Chapter four  here}

Every Friday was market day. The local market was quite spectacular, and Poppy always looked forward to the outing that took her out of the house, down the narrow country lanes and into the small town of Bantry. It was not uncommon for weeks to go by with no other outing than the weekly trip to the market, so Poppy made the most of the occasion. Friday mornings started earlier than usual, with ample time allowed for a shower for herself, breakfast for her mother and a swift clean up job in the kitchen after. At 8:00 sharp Mrs. Perkins arrived to undertake the formidable weekly job of hoovering the carpets and dusting the multitude of bricabrac, changing out the bed linens, and chasing after any dust bunnies. It was understood that she would also keep a watchful eye on Katherine, and for some inexplicable reason, Katherine and Mrs. Perkins got on reasonably well, a fact that Poppy had never quite understood.

Today was especially important as Poppy was to order up provisions for ‘The Cottage’ down the lane. By way of making a little extra spending money, which was squirreled away thriftily in the hopes she could someday take a ‘Trip’, Poppy had undertaken the hostess and caretaking responsibilities for a holiday let on the property next to theirs. ‘The Cottage’ was really a spacious home that had been completely updated and redecorated about five years ago. About a half a mile up the winding driveway from ‘The Cottage’ sat ‘The House’, the large and imposing country dwelling of a string of families over the years, that now did service as a destination hotel for travelers wishing to experience the English countryside in style. ‘The Cottage’ had originally been the caretaker’s cottage attached to ‘The House’, but had long since been parceled off and was now let out occasionally through a property manager in Bantry who represented the interests of the owner, whoever that was.

This time the cottage was being let to an American woman, and for an extended period, perhaps up to a year the property manager had informed her, so Poppy was determined to make a good impression. Her duties would have her up at the cottage at least once a week, and the work would mean a steady stream of deposits into her ‘travel’ account, something that caused a flutter in the pit of Poppy’s stomach every time she thought about it. Being on good terms with the tenant would make things that much easier.

After getting Mrs. Perkins and her mother settled, Poppy bundled up in her tweed coat and grabbed her worn knit hat, her handbag and the car keys from the small table by the back door. Pulling her hat down firmly over her hair, she walked through the garden to the rear of the house where she struggled for a bit with the stubborn garage door, and eventually winning, pulled it fully open and slid into the driver’s seat of the old Volvo sedan. She backed the car carefully down the narrow driveway and out onto the equally narrow road in front of the house, being careful to check both directions in her mirrors for cars, farm vehicles, and the occasional bicyclist.

It was a good 30 minutes drive to the market, and aside from being in her garden, this was one of Poppy’s favorite places to be, driving away from her home, her mother, and her predictable life. Years ago she had started the ‘game’, pretending she was really going on a trip to some exotic place, off to explore the pyramids or see the Eifel Tower, or maybe even visit America, as a way to pass the time during the drive to town. Having read extensively about all of those places, it was a simple matter to allow her imagination to take over, transporting her to whichever destination she chose, and such details and specifics were invented that it was not unusual for her to arrive in town with no memory of having driven there.

Today Poppy imagined she was on her way to see a Broadway play in New York, dressed to the nines and glammed-up for an exciting outing with a dashing man. Her eyes sparkled and a small smile hovered at the corners of her mouth as she conjured up images and details. By the time she had reached town and maneuvered the Volvo into a parking space close to the market, she was deeply into the particulars of what the other women at the play were wearing and how her own costume compared. The bump as the front tires slid into the barrier at the top of the parking space ended her daydream abruptly. Sighing, she backed the car up a couple inches and turned off the engine, stowed the keys in the front pocket of her bag, and let reality settle over her slowly. With a small shake of her head and a wry smile, she got out and crossed the street to start her shopping.

Her first visit was to the grocer at the entrance to the market stalls, where she ordered all the staples any guest would require, and having made arrangements for their delivery, she then headed into the market proper in search of ‘goodies’.

She quickly passed the stall with the colorful French table linens, refusing to be seduced by the brilliant display, and made her way instead to the baked goods near the back. There she took her time choosing from several types of pastries, ending up with a variety of delectable treats that the dour faced girl behind the counter assembled into a plain white box and tied up with string before nesting it in a plastic carrier bag.

The baker offered several types of bread as well, but as Poppy baked bread every other day at home, when the cottage was let she just increased the batch and supplied the tenant herself. This made it easier, not having to head into town every other day, and truth be told, Poppy fancied her own baking every bit as good, if not better, than the local baker’s.

Flowers next. Poppy was a firm believer that the simple act of adding flowers to a home could bring life to an otherwise dull and lifeless space. During the summer months she was able to regularly fill the cottage with blooms from her own garden. This early in the season however, her garden could be a bit sparse, so she usually picked up what she needed at the market instead.

Poppy hummed cheerfully as she headed out the door of the bakers. The wind had picked up considerably, whipping her jacket flaps open, and her cornflower blue skirt, full and long, danced vigorously around her calves. Tucking her carrier bag firmly but carefully under her arm, she ducked her head and hurried across the market in the direction of the flower stall. She had nearly made it when she bumped abruptly into someone, sending the bag flying out from under her arm and end-over-ending it till it finally came to rest up against a light post a short distance away. Two strong hands settled on her arms, steadying her and a deep voice, obviously much concerned, apologized profusely.

'Oh dear...I am sorry.  Are you alright?"

Poppy tipped her head back and looked up into a pair of cheerful blue eyes, eyes that at this moment were full of anxiety, set in a face at once homely yet full of character.  It took a moment for Poppy to realize the anxiety was on her behalf.

"Oh...I...," Flustered, Poppy looked around for her bag. "Yes..." she made her way to where the remnants of her pastry box, now squashed and dented lay.  "Er... yes..., that is, yes, of course I'm fine." 

"I can't say the same for your pastries," The man chuckled and kneeled down next to Poppy, surveying the damage.  "You must let me replace those."

Quickly gathering up the battered box by the string on top, Poppy stood up.
"Don't be silly.  It was just an accident - not your fault at all."  She smiled warmly at the stranger and slid the now useless box into the refuse bin nearby.

"I insist." And before Poppy could protest again, he had tucked her arm under his and gently steered her back in the direction of the baker's.

Poppy snuck a glance up at his profile, and allowed herself to enjoy the momentary tingle that ran up and down her spine.  Something was happening!