Another Time by Vivienne Moles

‘Nearly there,’ said Harry, driving through almost horizontal rain.

‘Not the best day for a move, eh?’ said Sophie. She had left her job at the university as funding for her research had come to an end. She had found a teaching post near where they were so she could at least use her skills.

‘Dad, have you got them fixing up the Wi-Fi today?’ said Taylor.

‘Give it a rest, Taylor. There’s lots to do when we get there. I’m sure it’ll be done later,’ said Harry.

Taylor gave her customary grimace. It wasn’t her idea to come to some godforsaken rural hole anyway. An electrical storm had been raging these past few miles and tempers and nerves were getting frayed.

They had no sooner landed at their new house when there was a knock at the door.

‘It’s an old custom,’ said the archetypal matron figure, holding a silver platter with three pies on it. The woman had a huge smile to go with her huge frame— a true rustic stereotype, a long brown skirt and no-nonsense white pinafore. Sophie’s partner Harry and his teenaged daughter Taylor had given up their London flat to live in the heart of the bucolic south. Now she was wondering if this was a step too far.

‘Thank you,’ she said hesitantly to the woman. Did she expect to be invited in? Sophie fluffed a bit and looked embarrassed.

‘Look, I’d ask you in but…’

‘Don’t you worry about that, m’dear,’ said the woman, still holding the platter, her smile almost as wide as the platter.

‘Oh, sorry, thank you,’ said Sophie, taking the platter and doing a half-curtsey to hide her discomfort. It was all so weird and anachronistic. Where had this woman come from— next door or the Victorian era?

‘Hang on,’ said Sophie, ‘you don’t know where we could go to get some fish and chips, do you?’ she said, thinking they would have to do something about a quick meal. The woman looked blank.

‘Oh, never mind. Thank you,’ said Sophie, not unkindly.

The woman, who had failed to leave her name in the excitement, retreated backwards down the path in almost Uriah Heap-style. Sophie shut the door and with her back to it, let out a sigh and a giggle.

‘Who was that?’ said Harry, not missing the platter of pies in her hands.

‘I haven’t a clue,’ said Sophie laughing. ‘These are for all of us, I think. A welcoming gift. “An old custom”,’ she added the last bit mimicking the rural accent. Harry went to pick one up. Sophie tapped his fingers sharply. ‘Not now! Wait!’ Taylor ran down the stairs.

‘What am I missing?’ she said, her eyes glancing between the two of them and finally the platter.

‘Ah, food!’ she said, about to take one.

‘Hang on!’ said Sophie, pulling them closer to her chest. She inspected them carefully.

‘Why not?’ said Taylor, about to take a bite.

‘To be honest, I’m not sure we should,’ said Sophie. ‘She seemed a bit strange. There was something not quite right about her.’

‘Everyone seems strange to you, Soph,’ said Taylor.

Sophie said in a calm and measured manner, ‘Please don’t call me Soph. I’m not one of your school mates.’

‘Sor-ry,’ said Taylor slowly, ‘Soph-ie,’ she added emphatically. Harry looked but said nothing. The ongoing settling of the role of step-mother was not without its dramas. He thought the new location might be a fresh start.

There was another knock at the door.

‘Expecting anyone else?’ said Harry.

‘Cakes,’ said Sophie, half-laughing, ‘to go with the pies?’

‘Hello?’ said a young girl, about Taylor’s age, as Sophie opened the door. ‘I’ve just baked these fresh. I wanted to say “welcome”. I hope you like them,’ she said, holding up a tray of assorted cup cakes. Unlike the woman before, the girl was wearing shorter skirts, still well below the knee, and a frilly pinafore.

‘Oh, thank you,’ said Sophie. She was a bit taken aback but odd things did seem to be happening.

‘Hey, anything to do around here at night times?’ said Taylor. The girl looked overcome — stunned— worried.

‘No,’ she said finally.

‘Any clubs, you know, dancing?’ said Taylor.

Harry interrupted, noting the girl’s vacant expression. ‘Thank you for these…,. Sorry, what’s your name?’

‘Oh, I beg your pardon. How silly of me. I’m Emily, she said, her cheeks flushing.

‘Well, thank you, Emily,’ said Sophie. ‘Would you like to come in for a moment?’

‘Oh, no, that would be too much trouble. I don’t mean to impose. Thank you. I’d better be going.’ She turned and fled.

Harry and Sophie looked at each other.

‘What sort of place have we come to?’ said Sophie. They both laughed.

‘Don’t know what’s up with you two. People arrive here with food and all you can do is laugh or complain. I’m going out for a while,’ said Taylor.

‘Hang on,’ said her dad, ‘you don’t know the area. Leave it until we all go exploring later.’

‘Can’t wait for you guys. You’re so slow. Perhaps I’ll be able to pick up a phone signal,’ said Taylor, and she was off before they had a chance to persuade her otherwise.

‘You know that research you were doing?’ said Harry.

‘I was really getting somewhere,’ said Sophie, ‘it was just so wrong they pulled it.’

‘What was it again?’

‘About the effect of electrostatics on the Einstein-Rosen bridge — you know what I was working on,’ she said.

‘Well, on our way down, we had all that lightning…,’ he said.

‘Ah, I see where you’re going,’ she said nodding, ‘we’ve gone in to some sort of wormhole!’

‘Well, if nothing else we do seem to be out of phase with everyone here,’ he said.

‘It would explain a lot,’ she agreed.

‘Any phone signal yet?’

‘Nope.’

Selected: 14th Picture This
Published in Issue #30

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