Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about conversation by Deborah Jenkins.
Deborah Jenkins is the author of Braver, a Fairlight Books novel publishing on 30 June 2022.
Deborah is a freelance writer and primary teacher who has worked in schools in the UK and abroad. She has written several educational textbooks, as well as articles for the TES online and Guardian Weekend, among other publications. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and she has also published a novella, The Evenness of Things.
Deborah lives in Sussex and enjoys reading, walking, gardening, travel and good coffee. She writes a blog at https://www.stillwonderinghere.net/.
‘Something For Yourself’ follows a woman who forms an unlikely friendship on New Years Eve.
A woman drives through woods in winter. On either side of the car, tall trees stand and sulk, resisting winter’s demise at the year’s turn. The woman is scared. She is the fifth carer for the old man, and no one has told her why. But she’s heard the stories and she is afraid.
It’s New Year’s Eve but that makes no difference to the woman. Her sons are at work, her husband sleeps. There is no party for her. Claire and Sue had offered to bring wine round but, as ever, she had pushed them away. What was the point? It was another year of it; there was nothing to celebrate.
She is getting older, they all are. Her life has grown small, shrunk to the size of the labels she wears – nurse, carer, cook. Recipient of Universal Credit. At home, she feels trapped, in the street, invisible. No one looks at her. There is nothing remarkable about old people. She has signed her name on so many forms, so how come she’s almost forgotten who she is?
The light is dying, and the road ahead narrows and fades. This piece of woodland, in spring, is covered with flowers but in winter, it feels barren, brooding. She turns on the headlights and slows to avoid potholes and fallen branches. The trees shoulder together, thick as thieves. A deer darts out in front of the car. The woman is mesmerised by its velvet eyed grace, almost forgetting to stop. But she is going slowly, and instinct takes over. They pause, nose to bonnet and the woman sees briefly in its face the same fear that’s in her own. Then it’s gone, swift and slender, a flit between trees.
The car lurches on until the road itself ends, a footpath disappearing into the forest. The woman was warned of this.
‘Are you sure?’ Her boss, Maureen, narrowed her eyes, looked her up and down with a doubtful face. ‘It’s very isolated, the cabin. You’ll have to walk for ten minutes in darkness once the road ends. That’s why no one will do evenings.’
The woman nodded. But it was only a half-hour drive away and better pay (double for awkwardness, triple for New Year). Apparently, the latest carer threw in the towel just before Christmas. Maureen coped but wanted a regular now.
‘I’ll take it,’ she replied. What else would she be doing on New Year’s Eve?