Viv nodded sympathetically and looked back to her computer monitor to check rotas. “Of course we can organise that,” she said, although her face looked less certain in the light of the screen, “It’s too important not to.” There can’t be many bosses in the country this nice, Lia thought to herself and then said it out loud to Viv. “We work in a library, not a surgical theatre.” Viv said, smiling, “Books are the most important thing in the world, after people.” Lia felt her eyes prickling a little bit.
She and Harry had stayed up well into the night talking. It felt like it had been months, years maybe, since they’d talked so far beyond the contents of the current day. Since they had had discussions that weren’t shopping lists and work schedules, television choices and meal prep. They talked big.
“Let’s jump out then.” Lia had offered up, “I know you feel stuck, and I’m not saying we can fix that all in one go, but we can at least blow the dust off.”
“What do you mean?” Harry shifted his weight off his left arm where he had been leaning over. She watched him shake the blood back down to his hand. Florence had burrowed her head down into the elbow of his other arm and Lia watched with affection as he tried to get comfortable without disturbing her.
“Well look, I know we can’t do anything we want all the time, but… it’s not like we’re hand to mouth. Let’s go somewhere? Take some time off work and go and do an adventure.”
“How are we going to pay for it?” Harry frowned.
“We’ve got the savings account.”
“That’s savings.” Harry said automatically.
“And what are we saving for?” Lia felt buzzed.
“The future.” He replied limply.
“What future? If you’re sad now, what’s the point of building that all up and being sad and getting sadder? Sorry, I don’t know if sad is the right word. I don’t want to be getting this wrong.”
He just smiled, “Sad seems about right. Small. I feel like a small person.”
“Well you’re not. And we’re not. And, look, we’re lucky people who have savings and don’t have to be stuck. So let’s get out.” And so they built a plan. “What are you craving?” She asked, leaning over the arm of the sofa to grab the notepad that kept all their board game scores in.
“An adventure that’s not frightening. And to go home. And to be far away. Somewhere familiar and refreshing. Can you make all that happen?” He had his eyes closed and was laughing to himself a little bit. Lia felt it hit her for the millionth time that evening how different he was being. She was looking at him and thinking “yes this is Harry” and then wondering who he had been for the previous months if not this, and how she hadn’t noticed him changing?
“Cor you don’t want much do you? Ok… let me have a think.”
She’d gone to bed swirling. A mix of euphoria, and fear that all the ideas would seem grey and unrealistic come the morning. But the trick to making a plan realistic was to kick it into action and the first stop for that was Viv.
“Three weeks then?” Viv looked at Lia. Lia nodded. “Are you ok?” Viv asked, and Lia swallowed and blinked away the instant heat across her face and chest.
“I’m… I’m very sad.” She said, “But, I hope we caught it in time. Maybe I’m about to remember that I could be happier too?”
Viv nodded. “Off you go then.” She said cheerily and rubbed a hand briefly on the back of Lia’s.
“Oh, no, I can work today - I don’t want to leave you short and Harry is working anyway.”
“I’m sure we can cope. It’s a Wednesday in Taunton library. It’s basically a place for parents at the end of their budget and patience to hide in for free until relief arrives. We can manage with three of us.”
So Lia got on the bus. The bus she had craved for so long, and cursed Harry silently for not letting her be on. It smelt of damp and other people and stopped every 15 yards between the library and their suburb. She found herself furious at the bus. How dare you have turned my head from a man who I love. Stupid bus.
She put her key in the door and pushed it open to find Florence bouncing around on the door mat wanting to say hello. This was definitely a better way to come home. Ok dog ownership, you win this one.
“Lia?” Harry’s voice cam through from the front room.
“Viv is cool with it!” She called back, leaving her keys on the sideboard. And kicking shoes off between much requested rubbings of Florence’s head.
“I see that!” Harry met her in the door way and she took a moment to hold his waist and kiss him in greeting. They held eye contact and she focused on him, on his face and tried to make a moment for them.
“So, I’ll call the guy and see if I can collect the van tonight then?” She grinned nervously at him. “God I hope it’s as nice as it seemed last night?!”
“Yeah. Are we mad?” He smiled back and she had to break eye contact, feeling too close, too exposed.
“Maybe. But we’ll deal with that later. We’re sorting out sad right now.”
He’d gone back to his desk for one last meeting and she’d gone upstairs to pack. They got a taxi out that evening to the van and drove it home immediately having fallen in love with the shabby little bed they barely fit on and the miniature kitchen. What on earth were they doing.
Thursday morning they loaded everything they could possibly assume they needed into their new home and set off, fervently hoping Florence wasn’t the car sick kind of dog.
The Brecon Beacons felt right. Home, but new to them. Far away, but not scarily far away. Beautiful, windswept, refreshing, and near enough to a city that if this whole idea was ludicrously less romantic when they started doing it they could give up and find a hotel.
The van was much less intimidating once it was on a motorway and Lia was trying to get to grips with it before they reached the windier roads of Wales where manoeuvring would be more complicated.
They listened to loud, nostalgic music and sang and laughed. Lia made sure to keep reaching out for Harry when he took over the driving, and she noticed his hand creeping over hers on the gear stick when she was in the drivers seat. It was nice. Within a few hours of tarmac they were pulling into a rather bleak looking field behind a very isolated pub and hooking the van up to an electricity main.
“Toilets are there. It’s got a sink. Are you eating with us?” The man who owned the pub and field asked. He was a short man with curly hair who looked like he’d been born in a wax jacket. Lia and Harry looked at each other.
“Yes,” Lia said, reading Harry’s eyebrow raise, “Yes, we’ll eat with you.” The thought of getting the van back out of the field and finding a supermarket now was not appealing. The landlord left them too it and they pulled on their wellies and marched Florence out into the wilderness for an explore. She stuck by them, clearly not too eager to delve deep into hedges unknown and Lia felt very in synch with the dog’s priorities. There was rain threatening and so at the point where Florence started to slow, her joints clearly not as greased as they once were, they headed back to the van and sat in the near silence.
“We did it.” Lia said. “We changed the world.”
“Yeah.” Said Harry. “Yeah.”
“I can’t believe this time two days ago I was pre-emptively mad at you for being late to pick me up and now we’re in Wales in a van with a dog and no plan.”
“I forgot you could just do different stuff.” Harry said.
“Yeah.” There was a companionable silence while they both breathed it all in. “You still want to go for dinner at the pub? Not too late to change that too if we want!”
“No, let’s go! I assume dogs are welcome?”
They put more music on while they got ready and then tramped across the field to the pub. Florence did a very neat piece of business on the way and Lia had her first experience of scooping a poop, having quite resolutely left the garden ones to Harry so far. Depression or no depression the dog was his idea and therefore the poops his responsibility. She knew she’d have to get over that at some point though and yanked a poo bag out of her pocket and got stuck in. Not too bad. Squashy, and one of the only times where warm was repulsive, but not too bad. The drizzle was now coming through on its threats and so they hurried across to the pub.
They were the only ones camping so the field was dark and quiet but when they pushed open the heavy wooden pub door they were pleased to find a good number of people inside despite zero cars outside it. Absolutely no one keen to be the designated driver, even on a Thursday.
Dinner was filling and hearty, with a much better vegetarian option than Lia would have expected. She would have felt guilty for expecting badly of such a remote location but all her guilt strings were twanging a Neglect of Harry note and so she just pushed it away for now. It would find her again in the middle of the night some time when she desperately wasn’t interested in thinking about it.
It was only as the landlord was clearing his throat and standing near their table holding a large ring of keys that Lia looked up from the conversation and noticed they were the last people left in the pub. Somehow, three hours had raced by full of conversation and food and an absolute focus on being in the present. They apologised for not noticing they were holding him up and made their exit. They heard the bolt scrape on the door as it closed behind them and they giggled and linked arms, Harry’s spare hand shining a torch ahead of them.
“Oh no I feel terrible! How long did we keep him going for?”
“I don’t know! I didn’t really notice people leaving!”
“I’ve not had a night like that where I wasn’t thinking about tomorrow in a long time!” Lia giggled. “I’m not even drunk, I was just fascinated by you!” They stopped in the dark and kissed. It was beautiful, until Florence wondered what the stopping was about and jumped up Lia’s legs to get her attention. Lia laughed into their kiss and they broke apart, Harry leaning his forehead in to rest it on hers.
“I love you.” He said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t talk to you earlier.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She said, and they held hands as they made their way through the rain across the mud and back to the van. They stopped outside and Lia removed Florence’s lead while Harry unlocked the door.
“You’ve got the keys.” Said Harry, as Lia straightened up from removing the lead and realised he hadn’t been unlocking the door.
“Oh sorry,” she said, and patted her pockets listening for the jangle. Nothing. “I don’t think I have?” She looked at him.
“You locked up, as we were leaving didn’t you?” He patted his pockets to check. Lia felt her stomach sink.
“Yeah, I did… I locked the van, would have slipped the keys in this pocket along with the… Oh god. They must have fallen out when I pulled out a dog poo bag. Wasn’t there a spare?”
“Yeah it’s in the van.”
“Well that’s not helpful!”
They stared at each other and then laughed a touch hysterically.
“Where did she poo?”
“Erm, somewhere between here and the pub… oh we’re never going to find the keys tonight. It’s so dark.”
“Shall we go back to the pub?” They turned to look across the field and just as Lia’s eyes landed on the building the last light in the windows went out. They couldn’t help but laugh.
“What are we going to do?”
“Erm…” Harry looked around, “Under the van?”
“What about it?” Lia was blank.
“Do we try and sleep a bit under the van and then seek out the keys in the morning?”
“I suppose… I mean… Oh god. Poor Florence. She needs to stay dry. Yes ok… I mean… let’s try it.”
Trying to persuade a spaniel to join you in crawling under van in the pitch black onto damp grass is not easy but they managed to get her to creep underneath with them and placed her in between them and inside their coats so that she could stay as warm and dry as possible.
“The poor thing. She’s going to wonder what she’s got herself into.” Lia muttered, stroking Florence’s soft head. Harry began to shake with laughter. “What?” Lia asked, trying to make out his face in the dark, “I mean… except for the obvious? What?” She tried to shift her weight and he shoulder caught on the underside of the van. This was ridiculous.
“Those poor people from the dog shelter. They worked so hard to check we were absolutely the right people to take care of her and it was such a waste of time. That very careful home visit asking where she’d sleep and where her food and water would be and the little monkey is here in Wales sleeping under a van in the rain.”
“Are we terrible people?” Lia asked, Florence was already asleep so Lia wasn’t terribly worried about her at the moment, but she didn’t know enough about dogs to know whether this was going to scar her for life.
“I don’t know,”Harry said, “but at least I vaguely feel like a person again.”
So, the next morning… do they find the keys?
- Yes, and something else
- No, but they meet someone