Where Wild Flowers Grow
Jess woke in the stillness of a dark autumnal morning, thoughts flooding her brain of what lie ahead – making mental notes to do this, that or the other. Sleeping is sketchy with many an evening spent lightly dozing and subconsciously dreaming, battling the ‘what ifs’, inherited from her father who was much the same - an affiliated member of the ‘worried well’, living on in her tentative footsteps.
For little over four years, Jess has lived alone with her son, Jonas, in a modest, two up-two down terraced house in Friar Ridge, Somerset - comfortable, but not seamless - happy in their ‘lived-in’ semi-organised world in so far as knowing roughly where to find a tea towel, but that it wouldn’t always be folded with defined creases.
Jess hauled herself out of bed having heard a faint knock at the bedroom door – one of Jonas’s incidental taps of the ‘I don’t want to disturb you’ kind. He is a thoughtful, almost angelic child who rarely woke before the alarm, and if so, would stay in bed, read a book or go downstairs to watch TV until a reasonable hour. Jess wasn’t a devil mother who grew horns at the merest sound before sun up - he was just a caring child, which was a blessing, given her often bedraggled and sleepless state.
Jonas stood patiently waiting, dishevelled and pyjama clad, clutching Trevor - a barely recognisable threadbare grey rabbit in desperate need of repair. The age-old toy is a family heirloom passed down through several generations, permanently attached to her son. “Best get ready” Jess said, ushering him along while stepping into her raggy slippers and hauling on her pink spotted dressing gown, freshly picked from garments assigned to the wardrobe until a seasonal drop in temperature. There was a definite nip in the air, unaided by the age-old boiler which struggled to circulate the heat on such a cold morning.
It was unusual for a child to dislike sugary cereal, especially puffed rice grain steeped in milk, although Jonas could manage porridge with a little jam splodge on the top or soggy toast pooled with melted butter. After a frantic search for a clean white shirt and grey uniform trousers, he was almost set. Maybe such things should be prepared the night before, Jess thought, but this would require organisation and forward-thinking – both of which she was inept - being better prepared and self disciplined was merely wishful thinking. The ‘Jess’ regime was simple and uncomplicated and as such, was in a permanently semi-ready state. Funny how life changes following childbirth, recalling that not long ago getting dressed was a work of art - a marked impression of who she was, as opposed to the usual mad dash – crumbly biscuits and random slurps of luke warm tea while threading one arm in her jacket and ferreting through her bag with the other. Every week day morning the door would open and close several times before they were officially on route - lunchbox – check, house keys – check, Trevor – check.
The routine school drop was purposefully swift, avoiding the awkward, meaningless conversations with legging-clad mums holding sticky fingered toddlers. Jess wasn’t so much a snob as she just didn’t have the patience and was a little anti-people, like mum, who was often perceived in social circles as a little aloof - always on the hot foot – flitting from one place to another with little pause for thought depending on whose company she was in.
Mum always maintains that the personality of any one individual is shaped by early childhood experiences and that life itself builds character and strengthens or weakens our tolerance for others, and it was exactly that - Jess was bullied at school and incessantly let down by those claiming to be her friends, so, socialising wasn’t a strong point.
Jess heard Miss Roundtree call her name from beyond the playground and as any mother would, she feared the worst – what’s the little man done now, she thought, as she stood facing a rather petite young woman with a porcelain complexion and remarkably white teeth, which illuminated the dark November morning, reminding Jess of a childhood friend, who although was as stiff as a board, had an amazing smile.
There were concerns about Jonas’s progress, or lack of it, in reading class, and Mrs Roundtree subtly suggested assistance at home, which of course Jess did, but perhaps not as often as she should. The school policy acclaimed the importance of parent/child interaction and its essential role as part of a successful education. Well, maybe in an ideal world, but it wasn’t. Jess did her best with the time she had, believing this to be just as relevant. Miss Roundtree went on to say that Jonas was introverted, as were other pupils, and to help, she was giving them the opportunity to read aloud, a paragraph or two from a favourite book to the whole class. Jess was probably being over-fussy, but was physically fearful for Jonas, knowing he would struggle with such a task. “He’s just shy” she said, in his defence - for her, the word ‘introvert’ was not a favoured descriptive, casting a bleak image of a child cowering and alone in the school playground. Jess was well aware of her son’s social demeanour which was acceptable in that it was individual to him. We can’t all be social wizards and anyway, such inherent branding inferred it was a mortal sin to be reserved, as Jess knew only too well, having once been a socially withdrawn, geeky kid with ginger hair and national health glasses. As a consequence, she was referred to a child psychologist, but she didn’t morph into an outgoing, ostentatious child as a result.
During the swift walk home, Jess mulled over Miss Roundtree’s comments among other things, realising, albeit shamefully, that it had been several weeks since she’d sat down to read with her son. It’s not like they didn’t interact in every other sense, she thought, but felt she was clearly failing somewhere.
Jess decided to take a detour via the second hand market in the village. She very rarely called, but knew of a reputable book seller who regularly pitched there who might stock a couple of decent reads to inspire Jonas and her faltering reading skills.
The market is a weekly event run by local farmers and traders - a popular meeting place littered with prams and people eating various food concoctions while kids aimlessly weaving in and out of legs, chasing each other and frightening the pigeons away. The stalls stretched over the entire village square, spilling over into side streets and beyond.
When busy, sellers hollering offers of the day, stepping out amid punters as they walked by was both an assault on the eyes and ears. Even though fresh produce was appealing, Jess wasn’t tempted by their forthright approach and preferred to shop without the pressure to buy.
The stiff breeze accentuated the various aromas from takeaway food stalls and marketers - some good and others not so depending on personal taste. Jess did struggle with the smell of frying onions, filling the air with a pungent eye-watering fusion of fat and shredded veg, triggering memories of a childhood visit to playground when she was around twelve years old and spinning ad nauseam on the waltzer ride, twisting one way then the other. She recalls suddenly and violently hitting her head on the back of the car she was clinging to, praying it would stop. Following the ride she staggered slowly down the wooden steps, holding on to a splintered rail while trying to fend off the nauseous feeling, but her dizzy head combined with the onion stench induced profuse vomiting all over the grass.
Pre-Christmas season was a novelty with sellers trimming up their stalls with an array of tinsel and shiny things – mostly cheesy and throwaway, as were the weirs of the counterfeit goods stall, usually manned by a twitchy guy in a woolly hat, on constant look-out for the constabulary.
Jess paid no mind to crying children before her son was born, but now cannot bear the sound, especially the torturous wailing of the ‘lost’ ones. The incessant screaming shreds her head and is compelled to reunite the distressed child with their irresponsible parents as she has done once before, with a little boy around two years old who came hurtling towards her, yelling loudly and smothered in snot. She sat him on her shoulders so whoever had let go of his tiny hand would hopefully see or hear him and sure enough, within minutes - thankfully, as he was quite heavy - his nanna came forward, overly thankful and crippled with guilt. She held the little boy so very tight, nuzzling her head into his tiny chest. The relief was gratifying, as was her gratefulness.