Winner of the Hay Writers’ Circle Annual Short Story Fiction Prize 2014 – ‘An Anticipation of Sunshine’, by Angela Grunsell.
Many thanks to our esteemed judge, Phil Carradine.
An Anticipation of Sunshine.
by Angela Grunsell
The alarm on Marcia’s mobile rings. Tinny strains, of Boney M, crescendo.
‘By the Rivers of Babylon, there we sat down…ye-ah we wept.’
Marcia feels around to disable the beast. 10am: another day without work, without purpose, without company. But this is another day closer to IT.
The thought gets her out of bed. She feels in the drawer for the fat package. Underneath the socks, there is the envelope. Each day closer, it feels more difficult to imagine opening the subject with anyone.
‘Oh by the way I am off to….’
‘You know I’ve always wanted….’
‘With no work right now, life here just isn’t working out for me right now…’
So she has gone on filling in engagements in her diary, for a month hence and more, with him, with her, with them. What else do you do about something that just grows bigger but feels more improbable the longer it goes on?
Marcia wraps a blanket around her and walks over to the kettle. Outside the window, another grey day dulls the city. The redundancy has been a shock of course, after so many years at the Children’s Centre, but she knew it would happen sooner or later, as each year they have faced new rounds of council cuts. Every year between January and March going through budget scenarios and identifying who and what would have to go at different levels of cut- back. At last, with the amalgamation, her own ending, looked inevitable.. and she was right.
Joe, her grown up children, her friends, have all been supportive to varying degrees. Not that she has asked for sympathy; quite the opposite.
‘Now I can do all the things I have been waiting to do…..money in my pocket, fancy free.’
They all go on with their lives as if nothing is different….eat her suppers, have a bevvy with Sunday dinner, ask her advice, lose their keys. Meanwhile she clenches her secret, the other life, under her ribs. She stirs the gravy, relishing the normality of it all, horrified by the change she is going to wreak, even as she moves towards it. She puts her redundancy money in an accessible savings account. She changes currency and stashes it in the drawer. She reviews her clothes. She books a coach. And still she doesn’t say anything to anyone.
As a child in Hackney, Marcia had school friends from many different places as well as friends born in UK. Some talked of the smells, the taste, the noises of the places where they had lived before: the bright green fields, the buzzing cicadas, the pineapples for sale, the heat. They told stories of foods and languages and sunshine. Her own mum made ackee and salt fish, or rice and peas for street parties and birthdays and told stories of her childhood on a faraway island. But Marcia was born in Hackney and stayed in Hackney. When teachers asked her where she came from, she could only mumble: Omerton Ospital Ackney. In time this became her trademark joke to which she added, ‘On my bike’. She had never been anywhere else. When older she castigated the insensitivity of people that asked the same question. She labelled it racism.
Marcia has wanted to make this journey as long as she can remember. Lately the needling sense that home and belonging is elsewhere, has become a demanding monologue in her head, something she must do something about whatever the consequences might be. But now she is organised to do it, she alternates between energy for making all the practical arrangements at the same time as finding them unreal. She can’t explain the sense of somehow playing at making plans as she collects all her on – line data and photos on memory sticks. Ensuring she has all her documents, she keeps parallel lists of key numbers and stashes these in the sock drawer too. The university course offer is there also. This is no fortnight in the sun. There will be something to do, people to meet, but what will the Mona Campus outside Kingston actually be like?
How will she tell Joe? When will she tell Joe? Why hasn’t she told him? Why can’t she tell him? He will shout and slam no doubt. He will sulk and withdraw for certain. But he has never hit her. Each time her thoughts turn to how he might feel, her stomach muscles tighten, she is almost breathless. Week in week out she goes on shopping, making sure she buys his favourite sauces, keeping the clothes washed and ironed, asking him about his day. In 30 years this is the first time she has planned, organised and carried out a project that is entirely her own. Nothing must threaten this thing that is hers alone. She longs to share it as she has always shared everything else: laugh about it with him as they have always laughed at everything else. But this time it must be different. This is her time. This is her chance.
Each time Marcia rehearses what she will say to Joe, she can’t imagine the words, she can’t get beyond the first line. Anyhow she might change her mind, still with no harm done. So it is that she leaves announcing her plans until the very last day. He reacts as if she has hit him in the face. Then..
‘Get out and don’t come back’ is all he says
So it is that on October 20th 2007, Marcia Williams, aged 55, locks her front door, posts the key through the letterbox and wheels her case down the path to a waiting cab. At the bus station she gets on a coach for Gatwick. Everything is made more unreal by the greyness outside as the coach grinds up the motorway. At Gatwick she disembarks among grey and black coated travellers onto the paved forecourt. Grey pipes overhead, grey paint on all the facades. But the Check In and Departure signs are bright. Check in and security, go smoothly, though slowly, as she shuffles forward alongside so many others. She glances at her mobile, 10 messages. She switches it off again and puts it deep in her bag.
The Boarding Gate for British Airways flight 421 goes up on the list of departing flights. As Marcia walks towards Gate 19, she becomes aware that the others walking the same way are not grey at all. Jamaican families arrive in talkative groups at Departure Gate 19 in grey Gatwick airport, alighting on the black seating like a flock of tropical birds. There is talking and laughing, shouting over to friends already sitting down. A child dances at the barrier, another joins her. Everyone knows everyone else it seems. The anticipation of sunshine is in the walk and talk. A grey haired woman shuffles along, making room on the seat next to hers for Marcia. Some people wear straw hats, in purples or reds, one woman wears two hats atop each other. A bling rings shouts peace across the knuckle of a young mother. Big bums enjoy outrageous skinny tracksuits, staggering high heeled violet shoes clatter down the passageway. Shining new weaves and brightly beaded locks are tossed and tugged at. Warm blasts of Jamaica are already on the wing in the grey air, long before they all get on the aeroplane. Marcia hums to herself,
‘Ye-ah we wept when we remembered Zion.’
But Zion is not behind, it is ahead. This is the voyage home.