A hedge reared up and Sarah braked hard. She swung the steering wheel, skidding through the turn and almost plunging the car into a ditch. She should slow down. She couldn’t see a bloody thing on the unlit lane. Branches clawed at the door as she bucked and bounced. The chassis groaned. She hadn’t even wanted to come. It was Tim who had persuaded her.
‘Go on,’ he had said, ‘It’ll be fun to see everyone again. Go and have a bit of a laugh.’
‘But what about the animals?’ She knew it sounded ridiculous.
‘I think I can manage to put food in a few bowls.’
And so she had bought a new black dress and strappy heels and she had come. Richard had flown from Berlin. That was where he lived now – Berlin – with his second wife, a statuesque blonde, no doubt, and probably a spotless housekeeper, too. He’d rented an E class Mercedes at Heathrow and driven to Matthew’s country house in Norfolk. A big effort for a stupid university reunion.
Who hosts a reunion party in the middle of nowhere? Matthew, of course. He had always been the spotty desperate one and now, grown fat and made good, he was eager to show it off. A lot of people had turned up, including Richard – all the way from Berlin. Wayward Richard with his angular face and gold-flecked eyes. He hadn’t changed much.
A quick glance at her own face in the rearview mirror showed bruised lips, the vampish colour, so carefully applied, now a wine-dark smear. Her eyes looked black and wild. But it was okay, Tim would be asleep by the time she reached home, snoring gently under the counterpane she had quilted herself during one of the pregnancies. One of the many that hadn’t taken. But it was okay. They had each other. And their work. And the animals. In fact, Tim was having particular success with his Brazilian Blacktail Hens.
The lane straightened and Sarah pressed down on the accelerator. In the rearview mirror the lights of Matthew’s big house reached out. She kept going.
‘I came just to see you,’ Richard had said as they stood alone on the terrace after dinner. His teeth gleamed in the light from Matthew’s faux medieval sconce. How coy she had been, arching her back and flicking her tail. A cat in estrus. Sarah groaned. Who did he think he was, smiling his wolfish smile? While Tim waited under the counterpane sewn with her own two hands, she had swayed under the swirling moon with a rakish boy who was now a rakish man.
‘We should never have split up,’ he had said. ‘Don’t go.’ But she had wrenched her hands from his and fled, her heels sinking hopelessly into the muddy lawn.
Sarah shivered. Richard had stroked the back of her hand, just the one voluptuous flick of his thumb, and, in that moment, a cloud of butterflies shimmered under her breast, starlings wheeled and turned in her head, and low down in her belly a flock of bats swarmed.
She braked and the car stalled, startling the pale shapes of dozing sheep. Sarah closed her eyes and leant her forehead against the steering wheel. The engine ticked quietly. Then, with the sheep staring balefully on, she restarted the engine, ratcheted into first gear and turned jerkily in the narrow lane. In the distance, the smug house glittered. She drove back just as fast.
Philippa Hall holds degrees from the University of Natal Durban and from Harvard Law School but gave up a legal career in London to become mother to three children and, later, three step-children. Philippa has always enjoyed writing and recently completed two online courses with Curtis Brown Creative. “The Reunion” is based on one of their homework prompts. Philippa lives in London and in Kent with her husband and whichever subset of their children are home. She is currently working on a novel and, when not writing (or staring into the fridge during a break), can be found playing tennis. Connect with her on Twitter: @philippajuul