The view from the rustic log cabin was a sight to behold; idyllic to say the least, and yet, idyllic at most. For what detail could be altered to enhance and captivate the senses? On a grand or minor scale, what natural features could be fine-tuned and improved upon to uplift the soul? None, indeed, for this picturesque scenery was already a work of art, a landscape portrait; waiting, however, for its true colours to be revealed by the white light of day. Across the lake as foreseen, points and tips of treetops were the first to bathe in sunlight; a highlighted strip of greenery that would grow wider as the sun rose, until it reached the bases of the trunks and even further down to the shoreline. A few clouds, as if painted on by the stroke of a steady hand occupied the sky, shaped by the currents of air they so effortlessly glided through. And due to the early hours, each possessed its own shadow, creating a stunning contrast with that of the pink-blue hue of the atmospheric canvas behind.
The woodlands were no longer dormant and were gradually waking up. New voices were joining every other minute, amounting to a chorus of bird chirps, squawks and songs, as if set to sound as nature’s intended cheerful alarm clock. While most remained complacent, perched up on the branches where they woke, others took to flight, traveling short distances in and amongst the trees. Even fewer emerged from the wall of greenery and flew high to soar, soaking in the new light their little bodies had sought. And down below, like an unwavering liquid mirror, the immense stagnant body of water caught everything above and around its edge in reflection. Every now and then it would carry ripples, travelling outwards from where fish came to inspect, perhaps in search of winged insects either hovering dangerously low, or landing on the surface. And two beautiful otters yet to wake, afloat on their backs in the most adorable embrace, drifted gently along without disturbing the waters in their wake. This tranquil setting, one of nature’s havens, was truly a sight to behold; and this is what lay before and met the eyes of a young boy named James Galloway as he stepped out onto the front porch at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning.
Taking in a deep breath and refreshing his lungs practically to their capacity, he felt his mind begin to clear and his body revitalize. Focused and feeling happily more alive than he did a minute or so ago in his bedroom, he began to walk around examining the floorboards beneath his feet. Based on prior hot weather, the forecast was expected to be a scorcher, and though the porch would escape direct sunlight until the latter part of day, once the temperature reached its zenith, any manual labour would become unbearable. In addition to the heat, the traffic of folk in and out of the cabin would tarnish practicality. He was dealing with a large working space and thus considered sanding and varnishing every inch excluding a right-of-way: an area the width of a door, leaving the main entrance, leading straight towards the steps at the end of the porch. But first and foremost, he had to clear it of its furnishings.
He inspected the outdoor furniture and their seating arrangements. Glancing around unconcernedly at each item, he evaluated their size and shape, their weak spots and strong points, gauged what each item would weigh and came to the conclusion: the ten bulky rocking chairs, five on either side of the porch; four elevated footstool coffee tables, two for each of the five rocking chairs; two benches running along the breadth on opposite ends of the outdoor wooden area; and two yet lengthier benches, situated at the front edge of the porch, their stretch on either side cut afore the walkway and threshold of the first and highest step – each item would need to be hauled away and placed in an orderly fashion on the overgrown lawn below, instead of within the timbre dwelling.
Having realised this to be no easy-going task, the initial idea of sparing a right-of-way had been promptly discarded. He knew the idea had once held merit as it allowed for movement, ease of access in and out of the cabin. And in some guileful way, reduce the amount of labour. But what would that scheme ultimately achieve? Nothing – he would be compelled to the finish the job eventually; and sooner rather than later lest the furniture remain outside by twilight. No, what an idea that was; he realised with a lack of credence. Procrastination even to this extent is feeble. He had been thoughtful and considerate towards the others, but who will be doing the heaving? Who will be on their hands and knees, sanding and coating the floorboards? And he wouldn’t particularly relish in being harried while doing so. The only right-of-way that will be made available will be the back door. It might necessitate a further walk to the lake, but I’m certain they would be perfectly capable of bending over backwards while I’m hunched over on all fours. These thoughts humorously settled the matter.
Once the marginal dilemma had been resolved, it allowed for engagement of the errand at hand. He took another deep breath and indulged in one final regard of the lake by way of reassurance for a refreshing swim, at what time his duty had been fully tended or when he was in need of rest.
Turning around and drawing his attention to the coffee tables, he set about their redistribution. A difficult task for they were fashioned from solid wood and held an awkward shape, thus a challenge to manoeuvre. The residents designated the name “elevated footstool coffee tables” as they were low enough to rest ones feet on, although James wondered why and how this could be of service to any degree when the only chairs available possessed built-on footrests, and indeed, rocked back and forth. They were of course at favourable height to posit a beverage, although the word ‘elevated’ had better been dismissed, he decided. One would suppose the reasoning behind the inclusion of the term ‘elevated’ was as a means to explain why the footstools were not of standard stature. Yet despite the illustrative title, they were not to be used as footrests, but for the second half of their given names. The inconsistency annoyed James. Stringing four words together, producing a title to ultimately be bequeathed to what is essentially a block of wood? Not even I have four words to my name.
He was in no way amused, and became increasingly frustrated by how hefty and unwieldly it was to lift. Resisting gravity on its behalf his grip almost gave way, nonetheless recovering, and for a split second amidst the mental struggle he had it in mind to shift his position and hurl it over the wooden railings onto the earth below. He knew however he stood no chance at that feat. The edge to exceed was in no way of close proximity, and the object would simply not make the intended distance from launch. Instead, he could expect for it to have gone crashing at a ninety degree angle through the very floor that supported this would-be Olympic endeavour. And that would have definitively been the end of all his due efforts.
So by repelling this surge of emotion, he composed himself mentally and physically and went about stumbling and staggering with the cumbersome piece of furniture towards the steps; and carefully, with great balance, made his descent to ground level, and then lowered the burdensome footstool onto the wild lawn. After he rose, undoing the arch in his back and standing erect, bloodshot in the face from exertion, he appeared nonetheless proud and happy. This expression however had been replaced with discontent once he realised that of which he managed was but one act of displacement. He loathed his inefficiency, despite it not having been long since the days’ work commenced. And so like an athlete determined to prove himself and diminish his limitations, he bolted up the four steps within two strides for the next item.
Before long, down came a second, a third, and a fourth coffee table; each one transported with a developed manoeuvrability. His early morning endeavour urged blood flow in the muscles of his arms and legs, and thus harboured a new energy and potency for tackling the next set of cargo – the rocking chairs.
Despite his anticipation they were not as problematic to move, as he had come to find the use of taking advantage of their rocking motion and the momentum they offered. But there were ten that needed displacement. And so where the task at hand initially lacked the testing factor of his endurance in the same way the tables ensured, the numbers had compensated. Relocating them to ground level one might have thought posed a greater challenge. But the curved woodwork at their bases, responsible for their rocking motion provided a surface to slide them across and over the edges of the steps. But they too were hefty and called for his most vigilant actions. Instead of lowering the chairs from above, he thought it best to stand below, holding them up with rigid arms whilst cautiously descending backwards. Gradually the items of furniture were lining up on the lawn, and soon enough the four benches were the only set that needed clearing, of which he tended to without much bother.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he brought to rest a second hand on his hips as he took a fixed position in the middle of the path that led to his timbre residence. He gazed upon the three-storey building, and the sun, now a loftier in the sky, however behind the rooftop, submitted an impression that the impressive structure gleamed with a halo. The brightness it emitted caused for a hotter sensation to come over James, and amidst contemplation for a transient swim, he turned around and made the stroll towards the brim of the plateau overlooking the lake. Suddenly, into his line of vision, carried by a placid breeze, a paper plane appeared from above, and his stride began to pacify until it all but ceased. Judging by the fair distance it flew, he could only assume its origin of flight was one of ample elevation. But before he had time to confirm this hunch, a voice of youth, all too familiar to his ear, called out in query:
‘Do you fancy the plane I have made?’ Gyrating on the spot in order to face the abode, James turned to find, as his hunch suggested, the plane had been thrown from the uppermost storey.
‘Certainly, it flies well.’ he said, and turned once more to wander a way down the path to where the flimsy contraption lay. He approached and retrieved the model toy, pinching one of its wings as he brought it up to assess its shape. ‘I see, my friend, you are becoming ever more skilful in the art of folding paper planes. Perhaps later you and I can fold a several few together; but only once I have completed my chore; my mother wants for the porch to be prepared today.’
The boy who stood on the third storey balcony, whose outlook, somewhat obscured by the balustrades and the railing, the boy he conversed with five years his junior, was George. Peering from the daunting height, he replied in cheerful tenor:
‘That will do! I see today promises fine weather. Would you care to share a swim?’
‘Absolutely George, that would be delightful.’ said James. ‘But as I have previously stated, my duty must come first. The errand of which I tend needs my utmost attention. I will try my best to see it through and then I shall gladly join you by the lake side. Say, would you happen to know if breakfast has been arranged?’
‘I would not know, James; I have been amusing myself in my bedroom. Would you care to see my other creations? I have crafted many. That which you examine is merely one model, and if you genuinely take it to your fancy you may hold it in your possession indefinitely.’
‘Thank you my friend, tis within safe keep. And I would love to see what else it is you have designed, George, but if you will stand for me in the passageway and discern if there may be a hint of breakfast in the air. Is it not your mother preparing today?’
’Not that I am aware. Is it not your mother whom arranges breakfast with Aunty Julia and Aunty Helena on this day?’
‘It is perhaps so.’ said James. ‘Forgive me George, there be a great deal on my mind and I inevitably fail to retain awareness for week days midst the summer. All I know is that of having cleared the porch and thus I am positively famished, and so, would you mind making the inquiry? Otherwise, for now I shall be in the water. In due course, perhaps once I have completed my chore, or have made a significant indent to such an errand, I intend to share a swim, this I can promise.’
Unfailing to abide by aired wish and encouraged as a result of oath, the young boy promptly disappeared into the imposing abode. A minute or so had passed and the double front door opened to reveal George, who stepped out to announce in emphatic tone:
’Breakfast is served!’ This urged for a smile, followed by a chuckle that James, try as he might could not resist. He truly loved the merry persona that wholly embodied the boy.
‘Splendid, spare me a minute.’ said James, ‘I shall be around the shed so that I may splash my face whilst the water gush from the tap.’
Refreshed and bearing an appetite he could no longer neglect, James entered over the threshold of his residential front door and walked in on a scene unfolding of orderly chaos: boys and girls, husbands and wives, siblings and grandparents, single men and women with no blood-tie to any of the others, milling in the midst of a gathering within the single largest room; an open plan space covering a kitchen, a dining room and a living room.
Directly opposite the main entrance towards the rear of the cabin, three spacious countertops were arranged one short of shape that a fourth would aid true to form - a square of segregated space for the kitchen to inhabit: two countertops in linear of the east and hind wall, and a third spanning two thirds of the cabin’s width, running in parallel to the hinder of identical length. The countertop surfaces were carved out of wood; maple, collected from the forest that encompassed their home. At the kitchen’s centre stood a sizable island, accommodating numerous stoves and an assemblage of drawers containing scores of cutlery and crockery that would routinely come under maraud at the first sign of a meal. And four large windows at the posterior of the cabin offered a view from the kitchen: an area of mostly untouched land carpeted in a tall grass that met within twenty steps of the forest.
The dining tables took their position between the kitchen and the great fire place, whilst the latter dominated the heart of the open plan floor, as to ensure heat bestrew about the entirety of the spacious room.
Upon entering through the front door, one might be struck as to find an extensive seating arrangement, essentially acting as the reception but in fact as the living room, much like a labyrinth, including many chairs, couches, ottomans and similar furnishings to that of the porch, with cushions and pillows enveloped in patterns of variety and colour; some the length of a grown man decorating the maple carpentry. The seating was also an array of orderly mayhem; comparative to that of the occupants when attempting to arrange themselves. This was particularly true during those icy, winter nights when a roaring fire attracted the masses carrying their favourite item of furniture or decor once having ransacked the living room.
On either side of the open plan, basal floor, two staircases hugged the walls extending to the second and third storey. Each of these levels offered six bedrooms and two bathrooms, where the average room allotted to four people; relatives, parents and their children as per the standard occupants. A total of forty people occupied the timbre dwelling, and on that Saturday morning all were shuffling about downstairs, embracing and greeting one another; some grumpy, some smiling, whilst others were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
A delicious smell of a cooked breakfast now lingered in the air. Everyone appeared to have their noses fixated on the aroma that had been set adrift from the kitchen, whilst they were sure to follow the accustomed procedure of retrieving the cutlery and available beverages of either milk, juice, tea or coffee, so that they may be seated by the two large dining tables.
Amidst the convoluted din of conversation and the laughter of children, a woman in her mid-thirties called over the loud chatter:
‘James dear, breakfast is nearly set. How are you this morning my sweetheart?’
‘Well enough, thank you.’ said James. ‘And how are you this lovely morning?’
His mother, Jenny Galloway, stood aside of the hot plates grasping a glass of orange juice, tapping her wedding ring on its rim.
‘Well rested, I am sure you must be starving at this time.’ she said, coupling her enquiry of concern with a warm smile.
‘Indeed I am.’ said James. ‘I have cleared the porch as were your desires; all the tables and chairs are at rest on the lawn.’
‘As little George had informed me.’ said his mother. ‘Well done sweetie, now come, I shall pour you a glass of juice.’ As she prepared the beverage, other members of the household began to pay him attention by way of greetings:
‘Good morning, James.’
‘Morning to you, Mr. Galloway.’
‘Well hello there James, how are you this fine morning?’
‘Up early doing the necessary, I see; good lad, how are you?’
James was in what one could describe as a satisfactory mood; nothing to delight over, he simply held a fair disposition; all right for the time being, or in the way he had described - well enough. His appetite may have grown to take on a life of its own; a creature growling sporadically in the depths of his stomach, however he knew of no reason to complain for the impending arrival of food would ultimately keep the beast at bay.
He acknowledged the benign residents in requite to their kindly greetings, and then explained how he would complete his chores in succession to breakfast. His mother handed him a glass of apple juice and he thanked her for it, before taking a seat at the table situated closest to the kitchen.
Differential sitting arrangements correlated to the meals of the day, and the orders of which were atypical: it was not expected of relatives to sit next to one another, in fact, most children would invariably opt to occupy a space away from their parents, and every so often, for the mothers and fathers the feelings were mutual. There was no expectation for married couples either to sit aside each other, but from time to time one half had enough of the other’s company and would seek anything with the exception of an adjacent seat; and every so often, for the other, the feelings were mutual.
Upon this particular morning George sat to the left of James. He favoured sitting beside him for the amity; this was inevitable nine times out of ten. His adorable twin sister, Georgina, was to sit opposite James, however she had yet to present herself and her mother, Catherine Brighton, called for her from down stairs:
‘Georgie, Georgina, darling! Breakfast time! James expresses how starving he is and tells us how he will eat your eggs and bacon if you do not safeguard your plate. We can hear his stomach growling - you need to come down with haste!’
‘Say, Aunty Catherine, that sounds oh so tempting.’ said James. ‘I can say without doubt that I shall be looking to fill the excess room in my breadbasket with yet another plate full.’
It was the case that every child and teenager, no matter how defiant by nature, addressed the adults, excluding their parents, by the title ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’. It was a sign of respect; an integral part of their relationships and by now they regarded each other as family.
Aunty Catherine, who had taken a seat to the right of James, genially patted him on the shoulder and said amiably:
‘It would fail to surprise me. As a young man of fifteen you need as much nutrition as your tummy so desires. The same of you, dear.’ she added as to advise her son, whilst inclining towards the back of her chair, trying to fixate eye contact with George. ’You also require bountiful nutrition, and so it would be best to not negate this young man’s appetite and keep your plate at a safe distance.’
‘Your worry is not germane.’ said George. ‘As of late I have failed to eat all that is placed before me, and I fear this morning will be no different. You may encourage for me to eat more, mum, but it will not change the fact that I currently lack the stomach.’
‘You had better devour all that Aunty Jenny, Helena and Julia prepared or else I will not allow for you to swim with James later today.’
A perplexed impression emerged as he regarded his mother, and after a mute moment he asked in great suspicion:
’How is it that you know I wanted to do such a thing?’
‘I heard you earlier, dear, conversing from the balcony. You may do as you wish so long you do exactly as I say. Georgie, darling, come sit now.’
His twin sister, Georgina, who also went by the name Georgie, made her way to the table with her favourite doll and took a seat opposite James who, on her behalf, became a target for a vehement glare. It was not as effective as had been the intention, for he could identify her temptation to evade eye contact, whilst fighting the urge for a smile. Crossing her arms and intensifying her gaze, Georgina said in the sternest voice she could sound:
’You, Mister, will not touch my food.’
There were chuckles all round, and as James found her the cutest ten-year old she was, he mustered an appropriate, benevolent response:
’I would not dare, Georgie. I know Little Lady would be most upset if I did.’
‘Precisely.’ she replied, as she caressed the doll on her lap that James had referred to. ‘Little Lady and I infer that she also needs to eat.’
From behind a kitchen countertop, Aunty Julia asked aloud:
‘Has everyone something to drink? Knives and forks? Here lies a pair on the countertop. Georgie, is this yours dear?’
At last Georgina had wavered her gaze.
‘Oh, it may be;’ she said, ‘will collect them now.’ and placed Little Lady on the table before leaving her chair.
‘No worries, sweetie, it will be brought at the time I serve you. Is everyone hungry?’
‘Yes!’ They were sure to include a dollop of impatience in their collective retort. The mothers who were concluding breakfast looked at one another and nodded.
‘As we had thought. It seems to me that we ought to serve these starving people.’ Aunty Julia suggested per explicit sarcasm.
‘Absolutely - but have we prepared all the toast? Remember to glaze it with butter and as I recall, James does not palate the crust, so do cut round the edges.’
‘Nonsense.’ said Jenny calmly in responding to Aunty Helena. ‘Everything I put in front of my son he will eat.’
‘Oh, does he? Then perhaps another boy. Is it you, Oliver?’
‘Indeed, I do not fancy the crust.’ Oliver replied, and had taken a seat three chairs to the right of Georgina.
‘I do personally conclude it but a waste.’ said Jenny. ‘But no matter. The birds shall not rue when they feed on the crust the next we by the lake. However, you should know by now Helena, darling, that my James is not fussy.’
‘I do know, but oh, what ever am I to do; age may be gripping my memory.’ she said in wry humour.
’Age, my dear, our birthdays share 1890, and are merely a week apart. If you and I are regarded as old tarts at thirty-five…’ By this moment most were considered to have inadvertently eavesdropped on their dialogue.
‘What makes Uncle Paul?’ Oliver interjected, and all to have heard the question began to cackle.
‘Ancient!’ added a boy named Michael who occupied the adjacent table.
There was additional laughter, but none to surpass the initial, witty question.
‘Michael, Oliver, refrain yourselves from being impolite.’ Aunty Julia advised, showing a frown. ‘And what, may I ask, is wrong with the inevitable? - coming of age. Uncle Paul may be in his later years, but he is certainly in no need of a lesser respect than any of you boys.’
‘Why thank you, Julia.’ said Uncle Paul. ’But their banter may be the ways of the youth, as is what I chalk it up to; and laughter, keep in mind, makes for an impeccable start to ones day. Nonetheless, you little buggers…’ Continuing in good nature and rising to his feet, finger pointing towards the lake, he said: ‘If you two are not prudent in your ways, I will be sure to include a hole in the canoe you completed constructing yesterday.’
‘No!’ shouted George.
‘Ha-ha.’ teased Georgina.
‘Georgie, in relation to building canoes you are an ignoramus - so shut up!’
‘George!’ his mother exclaimed. ’Do not be so harsh on your sister - I expect you to apologise immediately!’
‘Precisely.’ said Georgina.
It was the sight of the three Brightons in argument, mainly the bickering between the siblings, and the consequences of which that prompted Michael, Oliver and James to begin giggling. Although they revealed their sense of humour, they had also shown their collective unease when catching a glimpse of Uncle Paul, for they knew he was perfectly capable of doing what he had warned. The man was in his late-seventies, but was young at heart and certainly harboured a surplus of vitality for someone his age. George was then, to an extent, justified in expressing concern, but in no way did it present any grounds for snapping at his sister, and typical of all teenagers, Michael, Oliver and James thought it amusing when a child was scolded for a bad mouth.
‘I apologise, Georgie.’ he said after a moment of sensed remorse. ‘I did not mean to be so coarse - I am truly sorry.’
His sister, who maintained grooming her doll, replied: ‘Little Lady and I forgive you.’
‘There, there, my darlings.’ said Aunty Catherine. ‘Let us be calm; breakfast will be served within the minute.’
It may have seemed inconceivable for only three mothers to have prepared every meal. Nonetheless, they were efficient, skilled behind the counter and communicated well with one another, and in due course, the loaded plates made their way to the table, carried by the chefs of the day: Helena Stirling, Julia Wiley and Jenny Galloway. Their services in the kitchen, pertaining to the arrangement of food, were offered on Saturdays; the rest of the week, differential groups of women were assigned to said duty; and yet not without taking great pleasure once in while roping in their children - that included their husbands - into the process and technical know-how. They were more demanding of their partners when it came to preparing tuck-ins, for their children by default were responsible for scrubbing resultant grimy dishes.
He took a bite of his buttered toast with light, fluffy scrambled egg plonked on top, and James breathed out through his nose a sigh of relief now that he could finally eat. By contrast, George had been idly inspecting the tines of his fork. James leaned over and said in a whisper:
’You mentioned earlier, if I am not mistaken, of breakfast having been served - and by served one implies on the table.’
George took a gulp of milk, swallowed, and said in a hush:
‘Aunty Jenny is culpable for me saying such things. She said for me to say so that you may come in.’
‘No matter.’ said James, and then raised his voice significantly to say: ‘Thank you to the lovely mothers for alleviating my hunger.’
There were jolly smiles from the chefs, and Jenny took her seat to the left of Georgina.
‘It is only a pleasure, sweetie.’ she said with bright eyes of love.
‘Always a pleasure, James.’
‘You are most welcome, dear.’ Aunty Helena and Aunty Julia replied.