With only two months to go before Love’s Journey Home arrives in the world, I thought you might like to know a little more about Jay and me. We used to love to travel together, and here’s a quick story about one such trip that’s not in the book…
Jay and I are visiting Gloucester in March – a great time to visit, if you want to avoid tourists, but when we planned this trip, I’d forgotten how short the English days still are, and the way a rainy sky makes everything darker, too.
We’re in the Cathedral, its high-flying columns meeting in the heavens above us, designed to encourage us to be good now, in the hopes of life eternal, eventually. Normally, in mid-afternoon, I would expect to see the brightly colored glass in the soaring windows telling stories that the illiterate builders of this place couldn’t read.
I think about a medieval mason, carefully laying the weighty first stones. He’s around forty, and probably reckons he’ll be long dead before the final spire is added to the top. For him, and the teenage son by his side, the windows, newly finished, are their Bible. Their eyes stray to the pictures as churchmen read the word of God in God’s own incomprehensible language – Latin.
It’s cold, working with stone, and it’s heavy work, too—the cutting, the lifting, the maneuvering into place. A man can get very wet and chilled when it rains. He can only comfort himself with the thought of the cottages he and his fellow masons have been allowed to build for themselves before beginning the largest structure for miles around. I hope he has a cheerful plump wife who keeps a pot of stew bubbling over a blazing fire as she waits for him to come home at dusk on a day like this one.
I shiver as I come to myself inside the Cathedral and feel the damp penetrating my wool coat. The flagstones beneath me, worn uneven over the centuries by the countless faithful, are making my feet cold. I want to stamp them, to restore the warmth, but that wouldn’t be right in this holy place. I take Jay’s hand, and he gives it a squeeze, dropping a kiss on the top of my head.
“Let’s go and find some tea,” I whisper.
Jay nods, smiling, and we stroll back along one of the side aisles, trying to ignore the click-clack of our footsteps, magnified almost to sacrilege in this acoustically perfect place.
Jay puts his shoulder to the huge oak door with the saints chiseled into it. They and their fellows, carved in stone along the façade, are still being martyred by the wind, the rain, and the floodlights in their faces. But they stare stoically forward, watching as we clasp our coats around us and run across the cobbled cathedral close.
I raise my face to the rain and laugh at it. I know my mascara is running, and my hair is plastered to my cheeks, but I feel elemental.
Jay points. There, tucked into a corner, are the cozy lights of a teashop, sparkling through the gloom. We burst in through the door, gasping and laughing, to the solemn and disapproving looks of the elderly clientele. I can almost hear them tutting, and suddenly feel very American.
The waitress gets it, though. She beams at us and shows us to the last free table, tiny, but in the bow-fronted window, where we can mock the weather outside. The smell of toast and wet wool take me back to my British childhood.
“Lovely,” I say. “It reminds me of the Tailor of Gloucester.”
“Oh, no,” she says. “That’s a couple of doors down.” She sees my blank expression. “You mean the gift shop?”
“Actually, I was thinking of the book…”
Jay has been ignoring this exchange, his eyes fixed on the small menu. We order a pot of tea for two. Jay has learned to like tea, especially when it comes with other treats, like tiny sandwiches, scones, and cakes. He looks at me ruefully.
“I’m not very hungry, yet,” he says. “We had a late lunch.”
I agree, but having caught sight of a toasted teacake on a nearby table, I cannot resist adding one to the order. Jay wonders if he should have one, too. What I know, and he doesn’t, is that in this establishment the teacake, a kind of bun with spices and dried fruit, is about the size of a plate—so plenty for two.
There’s music playing while we wait – haunting voices without words, which create a soothing chant. I want to take the music with me, so I’ll always remember this afternoon, this place…
“It’s Enya,” says the waitress when I ask. I’ve never heard of her, so I write down the name and slip it into my bag.
We sit looking at each other, pleased with ourselves for having visited the cathedral and having found this little teashop with its white linen and solid brown teapots. Jay, who’s been holding my hand across the table, abandons it when the waitress arrives, bearing a tray. Balancing it precariously on her arm, she unloads the tea, a small blue jug of milk, and a bowl of sugar cubes with tongs to pick them up with. Next comes my plate, almost invisible beneath the teacake, and a plate for Jay, so we can share. I watch the butter dripping down his chin and lean forward to dab at it with my napkin.
“So messy,” I say with a smile. He’s my messy.
It’s time to go back to our hotel, The Snooty Fox, and the four-poster bed with the crisp clean sheets for a late afternoon nap.