Sitting on the decking at our Dartmoor holiday cottage, overlooking a verdant village, on a balmy September afternoon, I chatted across the fence with our temporary neighbour, Janet. ‘You’ve got to enjoy your work,’ she said. ‘I loved being a care assistant. Going home at night knowing that you’d made at least one person smile that day.’
Janet’s a doer. She’s just finished redecorating her hall, and is about to mow her lawn. The garden is immaculate, and colourfully planted. She’s always busy. Tonight is quiz night, it’s, ‘a bit of a laugh, I go with my sister, she lives in the next village, so I pick her up. She can’t get about much, with her hips.’
Janet’s a fiction, a character I’m putting together as I write. She has a story I want to tell, but I don’t know it yet. The things I do know are accumulating. Some of them contradict what I thought I knew, and so I’m adapting my ideas. For instance, her hair has fluffed out from short to long, from neat to artfully dyed and sculpted. Perhaps you think it doesn’t matter about something so superficial, and maybe I won’t be including that information in the final version of the story I write. But I need to know it.
Janet is not a figment of my imagination, I’m dreaming her into existence. I care about her, and the things that she cares about, and if I do this well, when I’m finished she may make you smile too. This evening, when she comes out of the back door, in her black lace blouse, sharp black trousers and her neatly painted face, you will glance up from the Devon Life magazine you’ve been flicking through as you wait for your tea to barbecue, and wave. ‘Good luck,’ you will call.
Janet will give a cheek-lifting smile, and hurry across the firm dry lawn to ask what’s cooking. ‘Smell’s good,’ she’ll say, rising on tiptoes to look over the fence. ‘What are you planning for tomorrow? Weather’s looking kind.’
She’s taking her granddaughter into Exeter in the morning, for a hearing test. ‘But I expect I’ll see you in the evening. Don’t get lost on the moor, or go shaking hands with any ghosts.’ Then she’ll adjust her hot pink pashmina around her shoulders and hurry down the garden to her honeysuckle covered car-port. Her white blonde hair glows in the dusky shadows as she moves round to the drivers door.
From the decking we watch her drive out of the cul-de-sac and onto the narrow lane.