Driving Home For Christmas

I’m not ready to move yet. Thirty minutes ago I helped Sophie Anne unload her belongings and carry them into the university’s dormitory block. Apart from a couple of damp tissues, the passenger seat sits empty.
Alone, I sit motionless, pretending the reason for my stagnation is to allow time to recover from the long drive down. But I’m kidding myself. I’m not touching the gears, because I don’t want to drive home to our empty house and to face the void Sophie Anne will have left behind.

“Come on Jo,” I say loudly. “Think positive, warm thoughts.”
I’m surprised to hear my own voice, then try to obey. My imagination takes control.

‘Our house is too big for one person.
I could sell up; ‘downsize’.
The cash will allow me to travel, just like that woman who left home and headed for Greece; she soon found a lover there.
And there was that posh American lady who married a stranger, just because he had a house in Venice; she enjoyed a 1000 days of happiness.
Such brave women.
I’m not brave; I’m scared.
Scared of being alone; afraid of living an empty life; nervous about a non-existent future.’

‘Selling the house.
‘That’s a decision too big to make. Yet.
I need to take smaller steps. Shuffle carefully into my new freedom, tightly holding the handrails.
Okay, I’ll simply challenge my comfort zone.
On the drive home, I’ll stop at the idyllic country pub we passed on the way up here. The one with accommodation and a courtyard. The perfect location to sit and sip their finest wines. I’ll accept an offer from a gorgeous African gentleman to share his table, bore him with stories about my wonderful daughter and my disastrous marriage.
Later, well over the driving limits, I’d book a room; a double.’

I start the car, hesitantly pull out of the parking space, briefly cast a last glance over to the heavy oak doors and head towards my new future. For the first time, since that university acceptance email pinged its way into our lives, I relax.

Swinging the car around the back of the inn, my confidence drains away and is replaced with deep, rumbling anxiety.
For the second time today, I’m sitting in a car park talking to myself.
Again, I listen.

There’s a free table, still catching the sunlight. I notice a smartly dressed, middle-aged man, sitting alone in a shadowed corner. With a false confidence, I pick up the ‘Beverages List’ and read through the options, ignoring the prices.
A smiling waiter approaches and notes my order.
Within minutes he returns, balancing my drink on an oversized wooden tray.
‘Spiced Latte,’ he announces.
(‘So brave, Maggie!’).
It’s just what I need to safely complete the rest of my journey. It is best to get home in the daylight. Tomorrow morning, I will strip Sophie Anne’s bed and remake it; ready for when she comes home at Christmas.

Second Place, Life Stories Around The World