Peace And Quiet by Katie Ash­more

Her neigh­bour had too much of it – but with two teens in the house, Kerry longed for some!

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KERRY heaved a sigh of re­lief and climbed back into bed. She wrig­gled about un­der the du­vet, try­ing to warm up. “You all right, love?” Her hus­band, Nick, yawned. “She’s fi­nally asleep.” “That’s good,” he mut­tered, rolling over, his eyes closed tight.

“I don’t know what we’re go­ing to do with them both.” Kerry waited, but there was no re­ply; only the sound of gen­tle snor­ing.

She gave a wry smile and checked her phone. It was mid­night, but sud­denly, she wasn’t sleepy.

She won­dered why it al­ways hap­pened – in your child’s room you could hardly keep your eyes open, but as soon as you got back in bed you felt wide awake.

She snug­gled down. At least Erin was OK now, but the bro­ken nights were get­ting worse.

Erin was their elevenyear-old daugh­ter. She had been strug­gling to get to sleep for weeks now, wor­ried about start­ing sec­ondary school in the au­tumn.

Kerry tried to re­mem­ber if she’d felt this ner­vous be­fore chang­ing schools. She didn’t think so, but it was a long time ago.

Then there was Robert, their fif­teen-year-old son.

His girl­friend prob­lems weren’t keep­ing him awake, but he was dif­fi­cult and moody.

Kerry’s head clam­oured, but the house was silent, ex­cept for the odd creak of the floor­boards or the shud­der of the boiler. Ev­ery­one slept.

Be­fore long, Kerry her­self fell into a rest­less sleep.

Next day, a pale sun was shin­ing as Kerry walked with Erin up their neigh­bour’s path, be­tween clumps of daf­fodils and tulip cups.

A chaffinch was peck­ing seed from a bird feeder and a pair of black­birds flew in and out of the hedge by the fence, twigs in their beaks.

Their re­tired neigh­bour, Anita, lived alone, and while nor­mally ac­tive, she needed some help with chores at the mo­ment, while she re­cov­ered from a bro­ken leg af­ter fall­ing at a Zumba class.

Kerry had taken Erin to the shops with her to get some things for Anita and to take Erin’s mind off her wor­ries.

As they walked to­wards the front door, she frowned.

“Anita’s grass is get­ting long again.” She wasn’t sure she’d have time to cut it for her this week.

Erin glanced at her mum, who looked pale and had shad­ows un­der her eyes.

“Maybe I could mow it for her, Mum?” she sug­gested.

“That’s a lovely thought, sweet­heart.” Kerry’s face lit up. “It would help us both.”

They rang the bell, then let them­selves in.

“It’s only us,” Kerry called, walk­ing through the hall to put the bags of shop­ping in the kitchen.

“In here,” a voice replied from the lounge.

They quickly put the food away in the fridge freezer, then went to find her.

Anita was on the sofa, grin­ning at them both.

“Well, look who’s come to brighten my day,” she said. “Lovely to see you, Erin.” Erin smiled back.

“Hi, Anita. We’ve brought you some of those Dan­ish pas­tries you like.”

“I thought I smelled some­thing won­der­ful. How about you make us all a cup of tea while I chat with your mum, and then we could share them.”

“OK, thanks.”

Erin wan­dered off in the di­rec­tion of the kitchen, while Kerry sat down.

Anita was small and slim. The wrin­kles round her eyes and mouth gave char­ac­ter to her face.

She looked young for her age with her hair coloured honey-blonde, and to­day she had tied a jade scarf about her neck.

“How are you?” Kerry asked her.

“I can’t com­plain, es­pe­cially with such kind neigh­bours.”

Kerry was al­ways amazed how cheer­ful Anita was, con­sid­er­ing she was stuck in­doors. She must get sick of TV and read­ing books, but Anita was more con­cerned about ev­ery­one else.

“You look tired, Kerry. I hope you’re not do­ing too much for me. You’ve got your job and the chil­dren to think of, and you must take care of your­self, too.” Kerry smiled.

“It’s no trou­ble, and Erin has of­fered to mow the lawn for you this week.”

“She’s a good girl. You must be proud of her.”

“I am, but . . .”

Kerry’s face fell.

She knew Erin would be fine once she set­tled, but it was months be­fore the new school year be­gan.

It had all started back in the au­tumn with the school vis­its. The re­al­ity that she would have to move on had hit Erin. A child who used to love school was now be­gin­ning to say she didn’t want to go.

Anita gave Kerry a pen­e­trat­ing look.

“I see. Things still no bet­ter, I take it.”

Kerry shook her head. “There’s no use get­ting in a stew,” Anita said kindly. “Erin’s a bright girl. She’ll love her new school once she gets started. It’s a big change, but she’s sen­si­ble. She’ll set­tle down.”

Kerry wasn’t so sure, but their chat was in­ter­rupted as Erin re­turned with a tray of steam­ing mugs and a plate of sticky treats.

“De­li­cious.” Anita sighed. “Thank you, Erin. I’ve got some books for you to say thank you, so don’t for­get to take them when you go. Now, tell me how that lovesick brother of yours is.” Erin made a face. “Robert’s a pain. I’m not sur­prised Is­abel dumped him,” she said. “He mopes around snap­ping at us or goes over to Grace’s and drives her nuts.”

Kerry nod­ded.

“He’s a bear with a sore head all right, but I don’t think Grace minds lis­ten­ing to him.”

Robert and Grace had been friends since nurs­ery and were al­ways there for each other in a cri­sis. Anita smiled.

“We all go through it. He’ll get over it.”

Kerry nod­ded. Robert was too young for a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship any­way, but he cer­tainly seemed to pick the wrong girls.

“Why would any­one want to date Robert?” Erin asked, wrin­kling her nose. “He’s so grumpy. Is­abel was out of his league,” she added knowl­edge­ably.

Kerry looked at her and raised an eye­brow, and Erin turned crim­son.

“I heard his friend say it.” “Your brother’s good enough for any­one, and so are you,” Kerry told her.

“Yuck!” Erin gri­maced. “I’m never go­ing out with a boy.”

“I’ll re­mind you of that in a few years’ time!” Anita chuck­led.

On Satur­day af­ter­noon, Kerry was in the lounge en­joy­ing a quiet mo­ment with the news­pa­per. The last few nights had seen an im­prove­ment and she was less tired.

She glanced across at her daugh­ter, who was ab­sorbed in a book.

Af­ter a mo­ment, Erin seemed to feel Kerry’s eyes on her and looked up.

“What are you read­ing?” Kerry asked her. “You seem com­pletely ab­sorbed.”

“Did you know that, in Vic­to­rian times, a lot of chil­dren couldn’t go to school?” Erin said, her eyes wide, her hand clutch­ing the dust jacket.

“Yes. I re­mem­ber learn­ing about it.”

“They had to work in fac­to­ries or mines. Some had to climb chim­neys and sweep them. It was grim, Mum. It says it in this book that Anita gave me.” Erin looked thought­ful. “I guess I’m quite lucky to have a place at school.”

Kerry smiled and nod­ded. “You are. It’s nat­u­ral to be ner­vous, but you’ll have all kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties and lots of fun, too.”

“That’s what Anita said when I went to mow the lawn.”

“She’s right.” Kerry grinned and of­fered up some silent thanks for her neigh­bour.

“Anita said she didn’t know any­one when she started school. She had to travel from her vil­lage into town, but she made lots of friends.

“She’s still in touch with some of them. Can you imag­ine that, Mum?” Kerry laughed. “Anita’s not that old, and of course peo­ple stay in touch over the years.” Erin looked sheep­ish. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that she went to sec­ondary school even longer ago than you did.”

Kerry de­cided to ig­nore this last re­mark. “What else did she say?” “She told me all about school in the Six­ties. She said it was all talk and chalk back then. Sounds bor­ing to me.

“You had to chant stuff and there weren’t any com­put­ers or cal­cu­la­tors.

“She even had to sit an eleven plus exam to go to sec­ondary school.

“Her teach­ers sounded scary, too. They could give you the cane.” Erin looked at her mum, a wicked glint in her eye. “Did you ever get the cane, Mum?” Kerry laughed. “Cheeky mon­key. No, I didn’t. It was banned when I was still young.”

“Imag­ine wear­ing a tie and hat to school and us­ing a foun­tain pen and ink in an inkwell!

“She didn’t even get to do wood­work and met­al­work – that was just for boys. She was stuck with sewing and cook­ery. That’s so sex­ist!”

Kerry grinned.

“It is in­deed. Things have changed for the bet­ter.” Erin wasn’t fin­ished. “And you had to be re­ally po­lite and stand up for older peo­ple on buses. You couldn’t even eat in the street – that’s crazy!”

“Hmm. A lit­tle more dis­ci­pline these days might not go amiss,” Kerry pointed out.

“Any­way, she said she was sad when she had to leave at fif­teen to get a job.”

“Well, there you go. You’ve a lot to look for­ward to.”

Erin shrugged.

“I guess sec­ondary school might turn out OK.”

Kerry heaved a sigh of re­lief. Per­haps now they’d all get some sleep.

She must go round and thank Anita for her book and words of wis­dom.

It was a fine evening. Bird­song drifted through the open win­dow and, ev­ery now and then, the scent of hy­acinths car­ried in on the breeze.

Kerry was cook­ing sup­per in the kitchen when the door­bell rang.

“I won­der who that can be?” she said.

“I’ll go.” Erin clat­tered out into the hall and Kerry could hear the door open and the sound of voices. “Guess who’s here, Mum.” Kerry looked up to see Anita in the door­way. She was lean­ing on a pair of crutches, her fin­gers grip­ping the hand­holds for sup­port.

Her cheeks were flushed, but she was smil­ing.

“What­ever are you do­ing? Sit down at once.”

Anita laughed, but ac­cepted a seat grate­fully.

“No need to fuss. Doc­tor Jakes wants me to move around again, but I have to say it’s hard work at first.”

“That’s won­der­ful. You must be thrilled.” Kerry knew how much the en­forced rest had been driv­ing Anita crazy. “Now you’re here, you must stay for sup­per. We want to thank you for your book and for talk­ing to Erin.”

Anita winked at Erin and smiled.

“I told you she was a sen­si­ble girl,” she said, turn­ing to Kerry. “And I’d love to stay, but I re­ally don’t need thanks. I should be thank­ing you.” Kerry shook her head. “You’ve been no trou­ble at all.”

“I’m not so sure about that, but luck­ily things are look­ing up for all of us now. I imag­ine even Robert’s mood has im­proved.” Kerry was con­fused. “Now I come to think about it, he has been more pleas­ant the last few days.” Anita laughed.

“Ah, I see you don’t know. You’d bet­ter not men­tion it, then, but I saw him go­ing down the road with Grace yes­ter­day. They were hold­ing hands.”

Erin looked dis­gusted, but Kerry grinned.

“Well, at least he’s cho­sen some­one more suit­able this time. Maybe we’ll fi­nally get some peace and quiet here.”

“Per­son­ally, I’ve had enough peace and quiet to last me a life­time,” Anita replied, her eyes twin­kling.

“It may have turned out that Zumba isn’t for me, but as soon as this leg’s healed, I’m sign­ing up for Pi­lates!”

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