Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Three by Mark Colbourne

  1. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter One by Mark Colbourne
  2. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Two by Mark Colbourne
  3. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Three by Mark Colbourne
  4. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Four by Mark Colbourne
  5. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Five by Mark Colbourne
  6. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Six by Mark Colbourne
  7. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Seven by Mark Colbourne
  8. Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Eight by Mark Colbourne


Willingworth Farm: Letter Three


May 15th


From the rear window of the kitchen at Willingworth Farm, one is rendered practically breathless by the view which presents itself. Miles, I would estimate, of rolling, pristine countryside. The land stretching to the horizon with the characteristic planarian spread of Norfolk. Fields chequered in an earthy palate of greens, browns and yellows; the harsh boundaries of criss-crossing hedgerows surrounding the single grey slither of road that ploughs from my drive all the way back to the B362. I remember when my wife and I would sit in that spot, gazing out upon the world as the seasons changed and accordingly charged its display. Happy memories, and it was therefore with a great swell of warmth that I entered the room this morning to find the latest recipients of my bed and board, Kim and Steve, sipping freshly brewed coffee in a pose identical to the one which Barbara and I would once upon a time have held.

Steve is in finance. Up to his neck, apparently. He revealed this to me within seconds of walking through the door. Working in The City, he confided, was not for the faint of heart. By all accounts it was a visceral conflation of teeth and claws, of dogs eating dogs, of backs being washed or scratched or stabbed on a seemingly indiscriminate basis. Kim – obviously no stranger to this monologue – failed to mask a dismissive chuckle which, I noted with my own wry smile, stole the wind somewhat from Steve’s billowing sails. Kim, however, had quite the contrary vocation to her partner’s. I was greatly impressed by her account of volunteering for various charities: the soup kitchens, the refuge centres, the fundraising and campaign management. What a dedicated, compassionate and resourceful woman! It was apparent there and then that the long weekend ahead would offer the chance for some stimulating conversation.

They claimed they had come to Willingworth Farm to “wind down”. I wasn’t at all convinced that this would prove itself a serviceable ambition. The very second that Steve had prised the wireless network key from my lips, he practically barricaded himself in their bedroom with a spread of laptops, tablet computers and phones. Kim seemed to accept this behaviour with the nature of one well accustomed to it and spent the majority of the weekend walking the local area by herself. I offered – on more than one occasion – to provide her with company, although each time she demurely declined. As I watched her from my bedroom window, it occurred to me that I had inadvertently taken a ringside seat to a marriage falling apart. A dilemma arose: should I try to offer advice from the benefit of my own experience? I had, after all, been in a very similar position. I could have comforted or counselled; I could have offered a shoulder upon which to cry. But where should the host draw the line? The privacy of a guest is paramount, and there are moments when all one can do is look on from a distance.

That evening, I heard them arguing in their room. Not that I was listening, but Willingworth Farm is an old building with thin walls and echoing corridors. Occasionally, there are things which just cannot be ignored, no matter how hard the individual in question believes that they should try. The row was constructed from all the usual wrangles – that he worked too much, that she had no grasp of the real world, that he was absent from the relationship, that she was unrealistic and demanding… And so on and, indeed, so forth. The collapse of their relationship was in no way unique, but this didn’t diminish their pain nor lessen their suffering. I retired to my bedroom, bare feet stepping softly back along the hallway in darkness, to contemplate this quandary alone.

The next morning at breakfast, Steve and Kim were pleasant enough, but this comportment felt like a curtain behind which I had already peaked. I cooked and gave them the low down on Belminster, suggesting that perhaps they should pay a visit to the town. Steve, however, was adamant that he’d need to put in a few hours at the computer. As I cleared away the plates, he returned – true to form – to the bedroom, while Kim donned her fleece and took to the fields. For a while, I followed her progress. First from the kitchen, then round into the living room, and then from the bathroom window – which I had to race upstairs and open – for one last angled view afforded only as I perched with tiptoes on the toilet seat. They’d be with me for one more day, but it felt as if they hadn’t been here at all. Not really. It was to my great regret that, for this particular pair, Willingworth Farm had failed to cast its spell.

Kim didn’t return until late afternoon while Steve’s appearances were short and sporadic. He would emerge from his room to indulge in the coffee and sandwiches of which I maintained a ready supply, only to disappear again the moment the plate or mug was clasped in his hurried hand. It was the strangest situation. That evening, I prepared supper for the three of us, but the conversation around the table was sluggish at best. Not even my celebrated tale of when Mr Gister, the owner of the farm four miles away, got his foot caught in a drain managed to raise spirits. Eventually, they went – quite reluctantly, I suppose – to bed. I remained in the kitchen and pondered their situation, considering what mercy I could possibly bring. As guests they were not the slightest trouble, and yet they were obviously so very troubled themselves. It made me realise that it would be impossible to completely understand precisely who I was welcoming through my door. I would never fully appreciate the secrets folded inside their luggage. I would never be privy to the complications they would carry to their bedroom, the complexities they would unpack into my wardrobes and drawers, the character they would sweat into my sheets.

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