I’ve no idea how I ended up walking through this field. But here I am surrounded by long grass, wild flowers and the calling of birds. It’s a warm afternoon, but I can’t see the sun above me and the sky is a strange off blue color.
There’s a cottage ahead. The yellow thatch roof rising through the green leafy trees and tall bushes. There’s nothing else to do but go over and see if anybody is home. The field leads me to a small brown fence over which is a short carpet of grass. Bright flowers dot around the cottage and a wire washing line is stretched in the garden.
I go to climb over then stop. There’s an old woman beating a green rug on the washing line with a wooden tennis racket looking thing. Her white hair is piled up on top of her head and she’s wearing many skirts, a grey blouse and a pale blue apron. I can just about hear the thwacking sounds.
Climbing the fence, I walk slowly over, hoping that she spots me before I have to call out. Luckily, she does and she stops her work long before I reach her.
‘Hallo!’ she calls out and waves the tennis racket thing.
‘Hi,’ I answer back with a wave too.
‘Nice day for a walk,’ she adds.
‘Yes,’ I reply.
I come to the end of the washing line and look up. There are many green rugs hanging down…actually….they are strips of grass….
Puzzled, I look across the garden and see strips of dirt close by. There’s also a small red wheelbarrow, a spade and a large black bucket.
‘I’m just dusting my lawn,’ the old woman says, cheerily and as if that’s a perfectly normal thing to do.
I open my mouth, questions popping, but no words come out.
‘It can get quite dusty you know. And yes, there are other ways to do it but I prefer the good old fashioned method!’
She shows me how by beating a strip of grass. Only, she does it lighter then before.
I nod and slowly say, ‘how does it get dusty?’
‘Oh! Heaven knows!’ she cries and throws her hands up to the sky.
I glance up, half expecting to see a pig flying by.
‘Do you some time to spare? I’d be ever so grateful if you could help me,’ she asks and nods towards the dirt strips.
I look around, shrug and reply, ‘why not?’
‘Good. Then start digging, deary!’
Still puzzled, I walk to where the last dirt strip is as the old woman takes up beating the grass again. Looking down, I see how she’s cut the strips out and then I pick up the spade and start with the next one.
It’s actually easier then it seems as it appears the grass is use to being cut up. I slice the spade in and make my way around. It’s like a knife through butter. The smell of fresh cut grass and unearthed soil floods my nose. The grass strip comes up and I put it into the wheelbarrow. I start on another and quickly cut that strip loose too.
I look up as I place it into the wheelbarrow and I see the old woman taking down the first strip of grass. I watch her replace it into the lawn then return for the second piece.
‘This is so weird,’ I mumble.
Returning to my task, I dig up more pieces of grass and when the wheelbarrow is full I drive it over. I help the old woman take them out and hang them up. She begins beating the first one and dust raises off it.
‘How long does this take you?’ I ask her.
‘A few days,’ she answers.
‘And how many times do you do this?’
‘Oh, three or four times a year!’
‘Grass gets very dusty in the summer, deary,’ she explains.
I look at her, but her face is just that of a plain woman in her early seventies. Her cheeks are fat and wrinkled like the rest of her skin. Her eyes are a warm blue, shinning with knowledge and happiness. Her white hair is long and tightly held back in a bun. Around her neck is a string of white pearls and there’s an old wedding ring on her finger.
‘Don’t you have anyone to help you?’ I ask aloud.
‘Sometimes, I do,’ she replies with a mysterious tone to her words, ‘it’s mostly just me though. I don’t mind. Keeps me busy.’
I nod and hear a shrill whistle sounding. Looking, it seems to be coming from the cottage and there’s smoke now rising out of the chimney.
‘It’s time for tea. Do you want to join me?’ the old woman asks.
She hurries off, leaving the grass strips on the washing line but taking the tennis racket with her. I follow and go through the small blue door after her. It leads straight into a kitchen. I stand in the doorway and look around.
It’s a very old fashioned farmer’s wife like kitchen. There’s a huge black wood burning stove against the far wall. A large oak table and chairs in the middle, a metal sink and draining board under a netted curtain window. Sky blue cupboards and work surfaces line another wall.
The old woman rattles around cups and things. Humming to herself. I pull out a chair and look down to see a fat old ginger cat curled up on it. I pull out another chair instead and sit down. I hear a clock ticking somewhere and the warmth of the kitchen hugging me like a old friend.
‘Here we are,’ the old woman says and sets down a tea tray.
There’s a tea pot wearing a tea cosy, milk jug, sugar cube bowl, a plate of biscuits, two pattern flower china cups and matching saucers.
‘Thanks,’ I reply.
We have tea and it’s good. I nibble at a biscuit and look around the kitchen. There’s not much else to see though. I want to talk, but I don’t really know what to say. Finally, the old woman breaks the silence.
‘I must get back to keeping my corner of the world tidied now and you should be getting home.’
‘Home?’ I say aloud.
‘Yes. It’ll be dark soon and the woods can be a dangerous place. Even for yourself.’
She pats my arm and gets up.
‘But….I don’t know the way…I found myself in that field. I don’t even know where I am!’ I cry.
The old woman tuts at me, ‘just head back the way you came, deary.’
I move my tea cup away and get up.
‘Goodbye,’ she says and gives me a little wave.
I don’t wave back, but go straight out the door, too confused to speak.
In the garden, the grass is still hanging on the washing line and there are dirt strips in the lawn. The sky is turning a dark blue and the birds are still singing. I walk off, feeling like that’s the only thing I can do. I go back over the fence and through the field. I look back at the cottage, smoke is still coming out of the chimney and the old woman has gone back to beating the grass again.
I turn, take a step and stumble. My legs go out from under me and I land face first in the grass. My eyes shut. I take a deep breath and open then again…And I am no longer in the field.
My study comes to life before my eyes. I blink and the rest of the long grass is gone, replaced by the bookcases, my desk and a fire crackling of the fireplace. I sit up in the deep plush chair, disturbing the book that’s slipped down on to my lap. I pick it up and read the title; Maps Of The Old Worlds.