Times and Places
Ten years after his daughter Justine’s death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife. On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one. These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world. Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible. By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
“Times and Places” spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.
I would like to thank the author and blog tour organiser Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to be part of the blog your for Times and Places.
I am delighted to be able to share an extract from Chapter 23 of the novel.
Fergus is on a sightseeing bus with Sylvie, his wife, when he loses a gift given him by his deceased daughter, but he then receives something else almost as special.
They liked Funchal, by day or by night it was pretty, and the banana plantations were thick and tropical, despite them now being over a thousand miles north of Praia, which had been their most southerly calling point. It was certainly cooler than Cape Verde, but still much warmer than England would be when they arrived home in a few days’ time. As the bus took them higher, they basked in sun and temperatures which would equate to a very reasonable British summer’s day, whilst also enjoying the cooling breeze blowing in from the sea. Fergus began to relax. Suddenly, as the bus turned a corner and entered a particularly exposed stretch of road, a strong gust of wind caught under the peak of his blue grey baseball cap, lifting it off his head, high into the air and then dropping it somewhere in the gorge far below.
“My cap!” he cried out, putting his hands to his bare head and just catching a glimpse of his souvenir from the Isles of Scilly hanging in the bright sky, before it disappeared out of sight.
“My cap!” he repeated, this time with resignation and barely aware of the uproarious laughter from his fellow sightseers in the rows behind.
Sylvie didn’t know what to say, it was irretrievable, irreplaceable.
“Oh Fergus, I’m so sorry.”
“I know, I know Fergus,” she interrupted gently, taking his hand, the sadness in his face breaking her heart. She wrapped her arm around his, laying her head on his shoulder as they continued the circuit in silence, leaving the baseball cap somewhere further and further behind, while the same wind that had stolen it in a moment of spite, blew tenderly against their faces, as if seeking still to be friends.
Once the tour was over, Fergus, slowly coming to terms with his loss, said that he had had enough of sightseeing and Sylvie was graceful enough not to try to persuade him otherwise. They ambled back contemplatively from the town centre to the ship, which around three hours later slipped its moorings for the final time.
When they next walked on solid ground it would be back in England. Neither was quite sure how they felt about that prospect: they loved being out at sea, but they were also a little jaded from so many ports of call in quick succession. Anyway, three weeks was a very good length for a break and they were increasingly feeling the call and the pull of their idyllic home. To quote Justine, deep down they were both ‘home birds’ after all.
They watched from deck as the ship moved sideways away from the quay and then slowly forward, before turning a sharp right to exit the harbour, lose its pilot and head north east along the coast, eventually leaving Madeira behind and ploughing on in the direction of Southampton. The holiday, though, was not yet over, there still being three full sea days to go and, whilst they knew the weather would only be going in one direction too, they both looked forward to them, as well as to seeing their house again thereafter. Sylvie slipped away while Fergus sat on deck, dozing and lazily watching the sea and the island of Porto Santo come and go in the distance.
After a while, he too headed back to the cabin but, predictably, encountered Mrs Huffington in the corridor. He really didn’t feel like talking, but it was too late, she had seen him.
“Why Fergus, you appear very distracted.”
“I’m sorry Mrs Huffington,” then, thinking of his lost baseball cap, “I suppose I have something on my mind.”
“Madeira can do that to you Fergus,” she stared at him intently as if expecting him to ask why, but he didn’t, risking another question instead:
“Do you still miss your Lawrence, Mrs Huffington?” There were a few moments of quiet while the old lady considered her response to this unexpected query.
“I carry him with me Fergus.” It was a good answer and Fergus was about to say something to that effect, but she hadn’t finished:
“Anyway, we’ll be together again soon enough, I’m sure. You see death isn’t what most people think Fergus. There’s a curtain yes, but I believe there has to be, that what comes after is so wonderful that if we could see it we would all immediately jump through. But we have to live here a bit first, some of us longer than others. Just as we grow physically in the womb, so here we grow spiritually, it’s like the gestation for the more important life that follows.”
Fergus was momentarily stunned, he hadn’t expected such a thoughtful reply from the old lady and he couldn’t match it.
“I hope you are right Mrs Huffington.”
“I am right Fergus…” again she eyed him as if daring him to disagree, one hand on the zimmer, the other playing with the silver chain and medal she had bought herself at a discount with her bingo winnings.
“I very much like your pendant Mrs Huffington.”
“Thank you. It’s a St Jude, he’s the patron saint of lost causes, because everyone always confuses him with Judas Iscariot.”
“But you’re not a lost cause Mrs Huffington.”
The old lady again stood there silently for a few moments and then slowly put her hands around her neck, unfastening the chain’s catch.
“I hope you aren’t either Fergus.” She held out the pendant: “I hear it was your birthday yesterday, so please…” the silver glistened in her palm as she held it out towards him.
“I couldn’t possibly.”
“But you must Fergus, you must, otherwise I shall simply drop it here.”
He tentatively took it from her hand and stared at it, losing himself in thought. By the time he looked up again she had already turned and was shuffling away from him.
About the author
Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London. He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea.
Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school. Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well.
Keith’s other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success. He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children’s fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places” the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.
You can follow Keith Anthony on Twitter.