By Donna Teller
"....and the weekend promises sunshine and southerly breezes. Make the most of it!"
The weatherman's cheery voice came from the TV, precariously perched on a pile of books, the only way she'd yet found for its cable to reach the socket. Piles of books, papers, magazines had always been a feature of Maggie's lived-in kitchen and they had grown in the dark days since January. But recent weeks had found her more able to cope with her situation and a measure of organization had returned to her life.
But, like the TV, it was a delicate balance. To the outside world, she seemed cool and collected; inside she felt deeply vulnerable. Strategies had been adopted for coping, new routines found, places that would stir painful memories strictly avoided.
However, this was a small town and some places could not be ignored. Like the moor which looked down on her every time she opened her front door. Over the years, she and Mike had spent many hours walking on it, marking the changing seasons, content in each other's company.
Late summer had always been a busy time as they followed in the footsteps of countless couples before them and gathered in the harvest for jam.
The forecast helped Maggie to make up her mind. Despite misgivings, the attraction of the moor in the late summer sun was too strong. It had to be faced one day ①on her own; it was too beautiful to stay away forever. The time had come to lay this ghost to rest and picking a few berries would keep her mind occupied. Decision made, Maggie turned off the TV and went to help with homework.
Saturday dawned bright and clear. Resisting the desire to turn back, Maggie drove along the familiar lanes that lead to the parking bay at the foot of the hill. The walk to the top seemed longer, steeper. She was out of breath, her legs ached and her heart pounded.
But at last the path emerged from the trees and stretched away in the sun. On either side, the brambles clambered over heather and gorse, ②laden with clusters of fruit, ripe for picking; a riot of black and green, purple and yellow.
She need not have worried. The moor seemed to welcome her back like a long-lost friend and her spirits rose. Taking a deep breath of the clear air, Maggie deftly took a bag from her pocket and started to pick, stopping every now and then to straighten her back and enjoy the familiar view. With stained fingers and scratched hands to show for her efforts, the bag slowly filled with the dark, plump fruit.
Horse riders and walkers exchanged greetings as they passed. After a while, a solitary figure appeared on the path behind her, pausing and stooping occasionally, yet catching up quickly.
"Do you want to add these, then?"
The voice startled her, quieter than before but unmistakable. She hardly felt the pain of the brambles ③tearing into her hand as she jerked upright.
"What on earth are you doing here?"
"Thought I'd find you here, first weekend in September. Do you want these?" He ④held out a handful of berries, then tipped them into her bag. "Perfect day - are there any bilberries?"
How could he be so calm, so casual, when anger was ⑤welling up inside her? She wanted to rage at him for spoiling her perfect day, but the words in her head wouldn't come out.
"I - I haven't looked."
"Let me have a bag, I'll go see." Mike made his way across the heather to the dense, low-lying bushes and started to move the leaves aside to seek out the hidden fruit.