Peace And Quiet by Katie Ashmore
Her neighbour had too much of it – but with two teens in the house, Kerry longed for some!
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.”
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.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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!”