Leonie Prior was well aware that she didn’t quite fit into the Sunnythorpe Scribes and Scribblers. Oh, she was tolerated. She was humoured, and everyone agreed that she definitely brought the best biscuits, well, apart from Alison Montgomery’s home-made ones, of course. Even if they did wish Alison would occasionally vary the recipe.
There were no set rules and regulations about what the Scribes and Scribblers were supposed to write and present to their fellow-members as they met in the upstairs room at the library. They had used to meet in each others’ houses, but the group was too big for that now, and quite a few of them were secretly relieved.
The only criteria was that you had to be 16 or over (there was a separate Junior Writers group) and have a passion for writing. Well, at least quite enjoy it. And because there was a Junior Group, some “adult content” was permissible, but by common tacit consent it wasn’t pushed beyond the equivalent of “12A” in the cinema. Maggie Rochester’s animal poems were fine (even if her puppies did tend to be adoring and their eyes imploring rather frequently) and Eva Proctor’s vignettes of local history were fascinating.
Ghost stories were fine, particularly around Christmas or Halloween (Bob Halliwell, the vicar, wrote some very pleasingly creepy ones) but that same tacit consent meant that out and out horror was best left alone.
There was no policy whatsoever on the matter of Science Fiction. Eva, the oldest member, recalled that they had once had a member with a penchant for tales about alien abduction, but though he was a pleasant enough person, there was that same sense of unadmitted-to relief when he moved away.
“I’m pretty sure she wasn’t like this when she first joined us,” Joyce Dale (who was working on a cosy murder mystery) said to Maggie, who was the local sub-postmistress. “I seem to recall a very nice story about people working in a garden centre. And I know it’s bad manners to talk about people behind their backs. But, well, I wonder if a few gentle hints might do the trick.”
The thing was, Leonie, for the last few meetings, had been regaling them with her tales of the Purple Children of Pennythorpe. And these tales became more and more unlikely and more and more fantastical whilst set firmly in a seaside town that – well, was hardly that well disguised.
“Apart from anything else,” said Joyce, “It’s quite obviously based on the Legend of the Green Children of Woolpit. So it’s plagiarism.”
“I’m not sure that’s technically true,” Maggie mulled it over. “I mean – either it’s just a legend or it’s partly true. And can you be guilty of plagiarism if either is the case?”
Joyce was a little short with Maggie as she paid for her parcel. She was a good friend of hers, and everyone was glad the town’s post office had been saved when others weren’t, but she did have a way of knowing better that could be irritating. Well, after all, Leonie did spend a fortune on biscuits at the shop attached to her Post Office. The next time Maggie rhymes Floppy Ears and Dry My Tears I just might say something, Joyce decided.
The trouble was, thought Joyce, incomer Leonie might be, but she was popular and had done her best to fit in and help out with the small seaside town’s activities. And single mother she might be (not that I have prejudices about that sort of thing, Joyce reminded herself) but her children Jake and Jodi had excellent manners.
Like most people, she had originally thought they were twins, but then found out that actually there weren’t, Jake was ten months older. Well, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t think she certainly didn’t waste her time, Joyce thought. At the moment they were both ten – it was the time when they overlapped as Leonie put it. According to Glenda Myers, who taught the top class at the junior school, and was in the Scribes and Scribblers, they were delightful children, bright and obliging and with wonderful imaginations. Take after their mother, obviously, thought Joyce. Oh. Wait. She had just accused Leonie of plagiarism. The two didn't exactly go together. Joyce wasn’t a spiteful woman, and was already feeling a little bit ashamed of her slightly petty attitude. The fact that her spaniel Daniel had an ear infection didn’t help. There were distinct disadvantages to floppy ears, too.
Joyce wasn’t the only one who was turning things over in her mind. Leonie was worrying about the children. Not that there was anything unusual about that. It was her default mind set. Nothing brought her more joy and more concern.
She had known all along that they would not have any contact with their father. She had gone into that open-eyed. They’d had a brief, glorious spell together, and then it had to end. “It’s up to you, of course,” he had said, in that soft, sonorous voice of his, “But it would be nice if they could spend at least some time in Sunnythorpe. I did, you know. It’s the kind of place that might seem shabby and yet there’s that marvellous long beach and at night, when it’s quiet, you can hear the see no matter where you are. Being brought up where I was, that’s something that always seems wonderful. And there’s a writers’ group, too, remember! You’ll like that!”
She had never regretted her decision to move there. It was no idyll, but he had been right. It was a good place to bring up children.
She knew, though, that this was not going to carry on forever, both the children were bright and would have to be told things sooner or later. They already knew a certain amount. She’d had no choice. But it would only be a few short years when they were in their teens, and she was unsure about so much that would happen then.
They were perfectly healthy, and never even seemed to get the odd sniffles and bellyaches that other children did. She had been determined from the start not to wrap them in cotton wool and treat them as different, though it was hard.
She could already see them trotting up the road, not literally hand in hand, but somehow looking as if they were. She was glad they got on so well. Oh they had their odd scraps. It was only – well, it was only natural. But she would have hated to see them pull each others’ hair and sometimes seem to hate each other the way other siblings did. Their father had always admitted to being mystified as to why folk took that so lightly and were almost proud of it. Of course she knew he had lost his little brother, whom he adored, in circumstances that he still found it hard to talk about, even to her. And she preferred not to think about it, too, knowing he might meet the same fate. That he might already have met it. He lived a life that was dangerous and demanding. He was always so gentle and so contemplative when he was with her, she could almost forget that.
Leonie had never seen the need for a school uniform, especially in a junior school, but if there had to be one, she was glad it was a simple one, with no hard collars and tight cuffs and constricting ties. And those turquoise sweatshirts with a stylised picture of a seaside pier and a seagull on them did suit her children’s shiny chestnut hair and piercing blue eyes.
In common with most children, they seemed to be perpetually hungry. They were not remotely picky eaters, though Jake had an aversion to anything that wobbled, and Jodi wouldn’t eat a runny egg. Over tea, they prattled away about their day at school. But when the tea things were put away, Leonie said, “You know it’s a Friday, so there has to be a proper bath tonight.”
Generally they accepted this, though they didn’t like it and she didn’t blame them. But Jodi pulled a face and cajoled, “Oh, Mummy, can’t it wait?” Jake backed her up with a drawn out “Plllleeeaassse!”
She was so tempted. But she knew she had to stand firm.
At least once a week, or it was putting their health at risk, they had to have a proper bath. It would not do just to lather up with bubbles. They had both been capable of doing that for themselves, and doing it properly, for several years now, and never complained about it.
But this was another matter. It took a couple of hours, and though it was not exactly painful, nor was it a comfortable or pleasant procedure. But she still remembered when, just once, she had let it go a couple of days over the limit, when she had been ill herself, feeling wretched with the flu, they had started to have side-effects, and when she did give them the proper bath, it was even more of an ordeal than ever. She had sworn then that no matter how ill she felt and no matter how much they protested, until they were capable of doing it themselves (and that was as much a psychological thing as being capable) it must not be ignored.
So they had to submit as she rubbed a lotion in and then washed it off, a little patch of skin at a time. She had promised them in advance that when it was over and done with, setting out very early the next day, they would spend a long weekend at their little cabin in the nearby woods. They loved the sea, and were both strong swimmers (though she had worried about that at first) but for them there was nothing new or novel about it, and though there were trees in Sunnythorpe, they were far more fascinated by the conifers around the cabin. They were sociable and friendly children, but Leonie was privately glad that, like her, they were also quite happy in their own company. Their father had bought that cabin, and they had been conceived there. They didn’t know that yet, though they did know the facts of life. She had never seen another person near the cabin, and the children loved the birds, and the little scuttling things. Even something as prosaic as a wood louse seemed magical to them, as if they were viewing them with fresh and unaccustomed eyes.
She had to do it for their health, of course, but even though, like any mother, she never liked her children suffering any discomfort, even if it was necessary, she had to admit that when it was done, when it was over with, she liked to look at them, liked to see them as they really were, instead of in that disguise. She liked to be reminded of their father, of half of their inheritance, as she looked at their soft, glowing, purple skin.