The Telegram (Author only)

Written by: Linda Alley

Yorkshire, England - July 2008

Lilian’s calves throbbed as she struggled up the hill. Well, alright. Slope. Beneath her cotton slacks her varicose veins bulged like knotted tree roots.

Ahead, she spied her granddaughter sitting astride the stile. Scarlett’s denim shorts barely covered the tops of her thighs as she dangled her long, sleek legs either side of the fence. As usual, her head was bent over her phone, fingers flicking between the keys at lightning speed.

A warm, moist nose ploughed into the back of Lilian’s legs. Apollo, her Irish wolfhound, deposited a muddy tennis ball at her feet.

“Well, at least someone’s prepared to wait for me,” Lilian panted, tossing the ball.

Apollo streaked down the slope, muscles rippling. Lilian sighed.

The day after Derrick’s death, she had run over a hedgehog and decided it was time to give up driving. If she made one more concession, she would end up like her sister Enid, whose only opportunity to glimpse the moors was from the windows of the Chesbrook Nursing Home minivan once a fortnight.

Lilian shuddered and gripped her walking stick.

“Blake says it’s raining in Leeds,” Scarlett announced by way of a greeting.

“Soon - here - too,” Lilian puffed, clutching her hip and glancing up at the granite sky. “Put that thing away and enjoy being outdoors for once.”

“Like you are?” Scarlett pouted her crimson lips and sprang effortlessly down.

Lilian was reminded of herself at sixteen. She’d even favoured the same heavy shade of lipstick.

“You don’t understand, Gran. We’ve never been separated for a whole week.”

Lilian laughed. “A week? People didn’t see their sweethearts for years during the war.”

“You did,” Scarlett pointed out. “Grandad never left your side.”

There was a distant rumble of thunder. Down in the valley, Lilian could just make out the colourful dots of tourists, making their way around the grounds of Chesbrook Hall. The heritage trust had asked Lilian if she’d like to be a guide since she’d been stationed there when it was a wartime hospital. She’d politely declined. It wasn’t the ghostly waxwork nurses that bothered her, or even the audios of moaning soldiers. Even now, her dreams were still visited by the same wide, glassy eyes. Eyes that peeped unblinkingly over the top of the bedcovers while other men slept.

Lilian forced a smile for Scarlett who had returned to her phone.

“I wasn’t a nun before I met your grandfather, you know.”

Scarlett’s head shot up. “You had other boyfriends?”

“Well, I don’t know if the use of the plural would be accurate here,” Lilian said, suddenly wishing she’d kept quiet.

On the other hand, Scarlett had just slid her phone into her pocket for the first time that afternoon.

“Tell me.”

“We should get home first.” Lilian looked at the sky. “Where’s Issac?”

Scarlett grimaced. “Being a kid. He found a cave to explore.”

Lilian’s face paled. A large crash echoed across the valley. But this time it wasn’t thunder.