BESSIE by Barbara Shean

The kettle had boiled, steam filling the small farmhouse kitchen like winter fog. Bessie later found the kettle blackened and strangely smelly where the water had boiled away, leaving white flakes and the tin metal handle far too hot to touch. She turned the gas off and sighed. These strange happenings confused her; yesterday she found the cat’s food in the refrigerator and a bottle of milk by the back door. Poor Buster, it was a good job I fed her again when she kept crying and fussing around me.
“I shall be glad when Tom and Ellen get back, I miss them dreadfully, and the twins” she muttered.

After a long winter on the farm and the foot and mouth outbreak of the previous year, Tom decided they needed a break and had chosen India for a five-week holiday. Bessie knew she would regret not travelling with them when she had the chance but there was just too much to look after and organise here at home. Just maybe, if they gave a good report of their trip when they got back, she might go next year.

Her neighbours on the adjoining farm had suffered badly in the cattle crisis, losing all their livestock, yet Yorkshire folk were renowned for their stalwart and forthright approach to any difficult situation and it hadn’t taken the County long to recover and regroup. For many farmers it meant starting again or diversifying to keep afloat, as her neighbours could testify.

Keen antique collectors like herself, they had opened up their empty barns for dealers to sell their wares. These weekly shows attracted hoards of collectors and the BBC had approached them to do a show for television.
Antiques were Bessie’s passion. She had written a book about Victorian glassware that was still in print these many years past. A smile would capture her face whenever she thought about it: reflections of her own hard-won achievement.

As a semi-retired owner of a thriving ‘bygone age’ antiques shop in York, she was not averse to putting some valuable time into helping out in ‘The Barns’ for free, loving the chatty outgoing atmosphere and sellers’ gossip.
A reader of murder mysteries and a lover of 50’s and 60’s music, many of these items were bought for herself rather than for re-sale at a profit! She vowed one day to set up a stall in the Barn and sell off all the collectable ‘rubbish’ she’d acquired over the years. “If only my tongue wouldn’t keep running away with my thoughts all the time” was her constant murmur.

Tonight, after a busy morning overseeing farm workers, and an afternoon going through old boxes of shop stock, all Bessie wanted to do was sit her ample body in front of the fireplace and relax with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other, but tiredness took hold and the book was forgotten. The fire was warm, the chair comfortable and Bunty’s purring rhythmic. Memories drifted in waves through Bessie’s mind, old memories of younger days where loved ones, long since left, floated briefly about to say hello. Her mother, sister Julie, and the beautiful baby girl she nearly gave up for adoption, changing her mind right at the last moment before it became too late. Such a lovely girl, she recalled, who went on to become a promising portrait painter. Her own son, Tom, but here the memories became confused and Tom didn’t grow to be the man he was today, a husband and father. He remained a schoolboy, fixed in time’s eye in Bessie’s head so that she had to go upstairs to see if he was still sleeping soundly in his bed.

A frightened Bessie made her way back to the warmth of the kitchen, confusion leaving her bereft and shaken. She sat down in her chair, recoiled into her own nightmare until perception outweighed all thoughts and normality and rationale became lucid again. Present time returned, and with that Bessie put away her books, sorted out the fire and retired to bed and sleep. Tomorrow she would be visiting a doctor, to give understanding to these regressions of memory and thought.