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A Change of Course

by Cornelia 

Posted: 25 June 2012
Word Count: 2008
Summary: The pared-down version of a story I hope to send to a women's magazine.

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‘Fresh air, open spaces and great scenery; the kids will love it!’

Carol didn’t doubt that for a moment. She was pleased for Mike, too – it was a step up the career ladder for him. But would she be bored rigid in a small country town?

At first it all went well. They swapped their tiny London flat for a whole house that even had a garden. Under blue August skies, and sometimes in rain, they explored country lanes and picnicked in flowery meadows.

Come September, Mike settled happily into his new admin job in Nettleby College.

As Mike had predicted, Gemma, four, and Sam, two and a half, revelled in the extra play space of their own rooms.

‘Think you’ll like it here, m’dear?’ The friendly shopkeepers asked, and Carol nodded. Nettleby folk were calm and kindly; their families had lived here for generations.
What was not to like?

The week’s highlight was the Wednesday livestock market: fenland sheep, cows and pigs jostled in pens at the end of the High Street and an auctioneer shouted to be heard above the bleats and bellows.

While Carol held a handkerchief to her nose, Sam and Gemma clamoured to be lifted onto the pen rails, joining the chorus of ear-splitting squeals as piglets were urged down ramps by burly farmers carrying sections of wooden fence.

But there were other days, when Carol, too, felt like squealing. She missed London: the mother and toddler groups, the big stores and the free events laid on for tourists.

Despite emails and Skype, she missed the friends she’d left behind.

The college wives didn’t help: ‘At home with the children, you say?’ was the bored response at social events. Her descriptions of blackberry picking or carving pumpkins and dressing up at Halloween met with polite murmurs and blank expressions. She noticed or two cast envious looks, but they didn’t say anything.

‘Give it time,’ said Mike. Carol began to look forward to when both children were at school. A part-time job might be the answer to her loneliness.

Most of the mothers seemed to live on an estate on the other side of town. So when she spotted a woman her own age on a bench in the tiny deserted play-park, with a small boy kicking a ball nearby, Carol felt as if the sun had come out on a rainy day.

As she hurried over and sat down on the bench, Carol heard sobbing. The woman’s bracelets jangled as she took the tissue Carol held out and introduced herself as Kim. The boy was Ben, her four year old son.

Then, while Sam and Gemma played with Ben, Kim poured out her troubles.

Clothes apart, Kim’s London accent marked her out as a newcomer, and Carol soon found out that Kim was not in Nettleby by choice.

‘When my Pete lost his job, he thought it best we come here,’ she mumbled, dabbing at rivulets of mascara, ‘back to his home town. He said it’s only till we get on our feet again.'

When Carol asked what the trouble was, Kim explained: ‘We live with his horrible mother. She wishes Pete had married a nice local girl, instead of an out-of-towner like me.

Honestly, you’d think I was some kind of slapper.’

A young park-keeper was slowly sweeping leaves into a pile, lingering to catch an eyeful of Kim’s over-stretched T-shirt, miniskirt and five inch heels.

‘One of his old mates fixed him up with a driving job and he’s getting back into the body-building circuit. ’ Kim rummaged in a handbag with a gold chain handle then held out a photo of a young man with bulging muscles in a vest and shorts. He was grinning and holding aloft a huge silver cup.

‘This is my Pete: Mr Medway Towns. Gorgeous isn’t he?’ Kim smiled for the first time since the conversation began.

Carol nodded. ‘Shame he doesn’t stand up to his mother.’

‘Oh, he loves me and Ben to bits, but his mother doesn’t stop. It’s, 'Pete likes this,' and, 'Pete doesn’t like that'...’

She gave a resentful frown and blew her nose. ‘She told me I’m a rotten cook. ‘So what?’ I say to her. ‘Pete didn’t marry me for my cooking!’

Then, to Carol’s surprise, Kim’s mood took a sudden change. She kicked off her shoes, grabbed Carol’s arm and pulled her over to a roundabout. The children followed, and Kim lifted them one by one onto it, gave a terrific shove to the bar and then jumped on herself.

‘Come on, Carol. This is fun.’

Soon they met nearly every day at the park. Carol emailed her London friends with news that she’d found someone to talk to at last.

Conversations usually began with Kim’s indignant, ‘Do you know what the old witch said yesterday?’ Then, after talking things over with Carol, she cheered up. Sometimes they’d laugh about the competitions Pete entered and discussed the exotic jobs he applied for – everything from circus strong-man to night-club bouncer.

One day Carol found a way to help her friend. As she leafed through a college prospectus Mike had brought home, an entry caught her eye:

Gourmet French Cooking.
Add some ‘ooh la la’ to your meals!
(Suitable for beginners)

A cookery course; it could be just what Kim needed.

‘You must be joking! Can you see me in an apron and hairnet? ’ Kim wailed when she read the blurb. ‘Besides, it’ll ruin my nails.’

‘I’ll look after Ben for the afternoon and collect you in the car. Mike works at home on Thursdays, so it’ll work out perfectly.’

Kim was still unconvinced, but suddenly she chuckled and said, ‘It’d be one in the eye for Pete’s mum!’

And, at the start, it all seemed to go smoothly. ‘Pete loved the Boeuf Bourgignon,’ Kim reported, after the first week. ‘He said it was the best beef stew he'd ever tasted.'

In no time, Pete was insisting that his mother let Kim cook them her ‘special’ dinners.

It had a spin-off for Carol, too. Kim was happy to share the fancy recipes they covered in class. ‘It’s Saucisse de Toulouse.’ Carol informed Mike, when he asked why she’d served apple rings with his sausages, as well as the usual cabbage. ‘From Kim’s cookery course.’

Carol was disappointed when the rate of new recipes slowed down, although Kim seemed as keen as ever and never missed a class.

‘Didn’t you do Mille Feuille pastry in January?’ Carol asked her friend at Easter, but Kim just muttered something about revision.

Then, on a late afternoon in May, everything changed.
Carol heard the usual six o’clock sounds: the car door’s heavy click, a key scraping in the front door and the thud of a briefcase in the hall.

But no sooner had Mike shouted ‘I’m home, Carol, and I’ve something to tell you…’ than there was a frantic knocking and the sound of the door being re-opened. An angry voice called out, and she heard Mike reply: ‘What do you mean; you’re going to sort me out?’

Carol rushed downstairs and out onto the path, to stand beside her husband. A burly man, whose biceps strained his shirt sleeves, stood glaring at Mike.

‘Calm down, please, Pete. What seems to be the problem?' Both men looked stunned at hearing the name.

Realising the danger of fisticuffs was past, Carol stepped back into the hall. She was relieved the children were watching a video upstairs. They hadn’t heard the raised voices.

‘Come inside, both of you.’

In the sitting room Mike turned angrily to Pete. ‘What makes you think you can come round here shouting the odds?’

Pete scowled back at Mike. ‘A mate of mine does maintenance at the college and saw my wife in the back field with a man. She got into a car later and he wrote down the number plate. That’s why I waited in the car park today and followed you home. So what’s your story?’

‘Pete, it’s me who gives Kim a lift home from her cookery class,’ Carol blurted out. ‘Mike stays and looks after the kids. Besides, she loves you. She’d never do anything to make you unhappy.’

Then she slapped her forehead. ‘I think I know what’s happened. The man your pal saw with Kim was the cookery teacher! She told me every student on the course has a session on herbs in the college garden, so they’ll know how to tell them apart. It must have been her turn.’

Pete’s expression gradually softened as he drew in a deep breath. He lowered his gaze to the carpet, his big hands hanging at his sides. Despite his bulk he looked quite deflated, like a camping mattress leaking air.

‘He turned to Mike. ‘I’m really sorry, mate. It hasn’t been easy for her, living with Mum. That’s why…’ Mike nodded and muttered there was no harm done.

As Pete turned to go, there was another knock at the door, and the children shouted from upstairs.

‘Ben! It’s Ben!’ The video ended, they’d looked out of the window.

Kim stood on the doorstep with her son. Ben rushed inside, leaving his mother waving an already-opened letter.

Kim managed to make herself heard above the children’s clamour. ‘Carol, I had to tell someone; I couldn’t wait for Pete to come home!

Her eyes widened as Pete came out of the sitting room. ‘I’ll explain later,’ Carol said.

‘I couldn't resist opening a letter with an American stamp on it!' Kim handed the envelope to Pete and hopped from foot to foot as he read it. Then he grabbed Kim by the shoulders, kissed her, and they hugged.

Kim turned to Carol.

‘This means we’ll be moving to Las Vegas! Pete’s been offered his dream job in a casino – show competitions, mainly, and work as a floor supervisor.’ Her ear-rings jingled as she added with a Dolly Parton accent, ' Be sure y'all come an' visit, now. ’

‘This calls for a drink!’ Mike said.

Carol pulled Kim into the kitchen, opened the fridge and spoke in a whisper.

‘Pete’s here because his mate saw you in the college back field with a man.’ Carol cut short Kim’s giggles by gripping her arm more tightly. ‘I had to come up with a story quickly. Who was he?’

‘Honestly, Carol! What are you suggesting? ‘Kim was indignant. 'The college let me change to an athletics course when I’d had enough of cooking. The ‘man’ was the coach.’ She looked down and lowered her voice. ‘I didn't mention it because I felt I was letting you down.'

’Phew! You should have said, but I’m just glad there was no harm done.'

‘That reminds me,’ Mike said later, as they raised glasses in the living room and the children blew bubbles into their orange juice. ‘I’ve some good news, too. It slipped my mind in all the kerfuffle.’ He looked at Carol.

‘The Principal has just got the go-ahead for a crčche at the college, starting in September. Janet Greene, one of the college wives, will run it, but she needs an assistant. Guess who has first refusal?’

As Carol gasped with surprise, he added, ‘Seems you impressed Janet with your enthusiasm and she told the Principal you'd be ideal. You can train on the job and she’ll let you take Sam. If you want the position, that is.’
‘Of course I do!’ Carol knew it was her chance to feel part of Nettleby at last.

‘Shame you’ve given up the cookery lessons, though,’ she said to Kim.

‘No, it isn’t! The Las Vegas job comes with free meals in the casino. So I can forget about cooking.’ She hugged Carol. 'I'll miss you, though.'

'Me too,' said Carol.

Mike put his arm round Carol and kissed her. ‘And with Carol earning we’ll definitely be able to afford a trip to ‘Vegas’. Maybe fit in Disneyland as well’

The children squealed louder than piglets on market day.

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Comments by other Members

Catkin at 15:47 on 02 July 2012  Report this post
Yes - even better, Sheila.

Only now ... you've put a lot of tell-y stuff about the process of deciding to move to the town up front. If this were my story, I'd just start with Carole holding her nose at the livestock market - it's interesting, it's unusual and it's in the here and now of the actual story. Having given the readers something to grab them, you could then backtrack to the explanation of what she'd doing in the market.

Did Kim have a too-tight t-shirt before? I thought the heels and the mini-skirt were fine, but with the t-shirt as well, she does start to seem a bit tarty-looking.

I spotted these typos:



You have done really good job of ironing out the problems in the earlier versions.

Cornelia at 19:08 on 02 July 2012  Report this post
Thanks again for commenting, Catkin. I've uploaded the version I posted to 'Woman's Weekly' this morning. Phew! I'm glad those typos disappeared with the final edit.

I think you've got a good point about the market and I did think of this but maybe there'd be too much backtrack. The mags do seem to prefer a linear story, unless it's some kind of nostalgic reminiscing. However, I will revise it, no doubt, when it comes back and hopefully the introduction of the kindly shopkeepers' remarks will lessen the 'tell' factor I wanted to make it clear that this was the kind of community Carol would eventually fit into.

As for Kim, yes she is a bit of a slapper. You can see why her ma-in-law didn't take to her. I predict trouble in Vegas.


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