A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Josiah Pyke is growing, both in stature and confidence


We could go to the baths,” suggested Penny Longlane as she and Josiah Pyke found themselves walking together out of the school gates. Most of the rest of the students had already gone home, but the two of them had volunteered to do extra work as the class prepared to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to an audience of parents in a week or so’s time. They were busy creating thunder and lightning out of spot lights and a tape recorder.

You and me?” asked Josiah, almost horrified. He had established a sort of relationship with Penny because it was the most natural thing in the world for him to have done once they started talking and the worst of his nerves evaporated. He thought the world of her and to his surprise she seemed to like him. But the baths? Swimming? Nearly naked? Together? Wet? Towels?

Of course, you and me,” she smiled. Nobody could get to know Josiah even the smallest amount without having to come to terms with his reluctance to do anything that might alter things. He’d always been like that, at least ever since he’d started at secondary school when he was eleven. They didn’t know it, but it was all part of the long shadow cast by the way he had been treated at home for the first ten years of his life. Having found stability and happiness he was desperate not to lose it, and change might risk doing precisely that.

But...” he began.

How could he tell her how much he really, really wanted to see her beautiful body in a swimming costume? How could he even start to explain that the very sight of her would probably cause embarrassment that would be only too obvious if he was wearing swimming shorts? He was abnormal. It was dreadful, a secret that he had to keep to himself. But it meant that he was a filthy wretch with no more right to breathe the pure air of Henstooth than the lowest rat in the garbage dump.

But...” he continued, “it’s late.”

Don’t be silly, Joe,” she said, and that smile almost ripped the heart out of him. He’d never had a girlfriend and so maybe Penny was one of those and if she was she was his first.

Tonight?” he asked.

After tea,” she confirmed, “I’ll call for you. I know where you live. You can introduce me to your mum if you like. I know who she is!”

You know who she? My mum? Not my real mum but my … what do I call her if Penny asks, my proper mum? Yes, that’s what she is, my proper mum. The one we buried, the one in the churchyard, she was never my proper mum… And I could tell mum about Penny, about her beautiful long hair … but she’ll see that for herself.

How do you know who she is?” asked Josiah.

Everyone does, silly!” laughed Penny, “if she’s known at all she’s known as the wise woman! Back in the olden times, the very olden times, they might have called her a witch because she knows too much but these days she’s simply the wise woman and people like her...”

I never knew that! It never crossed my mind that people know her! To me she’s just the mum who saved me.

Is it true she’s got graves in her garden?” asked Penny, “if you don’t mind me asking,” she added.

For the ashes of the three men she was married to. One at the time, of course! She loved them so much that she wanted to keep their ashes for ever, and have a place like other folk have to honour them with bouquets of flowers and such like. I never knew them. She adopted me years ago, but they were all dead by then and I never knew them.”

What a lovely thing for her to do,” sighed Penny, “it means so much! So I’ll call for you. About six?”

He felt uncomfortable, scared even. But he did like Penny, not just the look of her, not just that wonderful hair, but the way she spoke, the things she said.

Her words are the light that shines from her heart, he thought, a little romantically, but he was a teenager and it was a teenage thought.

Six o’clock,” he agreed, and they went their separate ways. He supposed they didn’t really live so far from each other, but Tom’s Playground was what Mildred described as in the sticks. It was too far away from anyone else for the mystery about her to do anything but grow.

Penny said you were the wise woman,” he told her when he got home.

So you’re still talking to that girl?” smiled Mildred. “Do you like her? I mean, really like her?”

She wants us to go swimming later, to the baths?”

What baths might they be?” asked Mildred, frowning, “there aren’t any in a place as small as Henstooth.”

We’ll take the bus to Brumpton I should think,” assured Josiah. “Mum, when she calls for me I’m known as Joe,” he added, “it’s what I told my dad I was called when he asked me in a scripture lesson at school. It was when he didn’t know who I was.”

Mildred remembered him telling her, and sighed. “Well, make sure you’ve got enough money,” she said. “Do you need any?”

I’m loaded,” he grinned, “the pocket money you give me just keeps piling up. There aren’t so many shops near here for me to spend any of it!”

She looked at him as he sat down for his tea. This wasn’t the nervous creature who she’d taken in all those years ago, but a young man who needed just a pinch of extra confidence in order to be the star she knew him to be.

And this Penny wants to go with you?” she asked, casually.

It was her idea,” replied Josiah. “I wasn’t likely to suggest it. I wasn’t even likely to think of it, and when we’re at the baths she will only be wearing a swimming costume. You know...” and his voice trailed off.

I do know,” she nodded, and smiled. “Maybe you’ll find the baths offer you a healing stream as you plunge into its depths. Maybe you’ll conquer a bit of your shyness and get to know the girl a little bit better, without stammering and blushing.”

You are a wise woman, aren’t you?” smiled Josiah, “I like to think of you as that. My wise woman mum!”

Now don’t you get cheeky!” laughed Mildred, but the whole idea of being a wise woman mum appealed to her.

Six o’clock came round so quickly Josiah had barely had time to change into more casual clothes, collect a pair of swimming shorts and a towel and look at his face in the mirror, paying too much attention to his hair, when Penny arrived.

Her knock was gentle like she was.

Well well, so you’re Penny,” smiled Mildred, “I know that Joe’s got good taste, but I didn’t realise how good!”

Penny was dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts over black tights with that glorious hair of hers free as a bird down her back. She had a bicycle with her, a pink one, and Josiah realised they were supposed to be cycling the two or three miles to Brumpton baths rather than taste the bus, which at best was irregular.

I’ll get my bike,” he said to Mildred.

I told him it’s a healing stream, with you at the baths,” whispered Mildred to Penny, “because that’s what he needs: a healing stream.”

I know exactly what you mean,” smiled Penny.

What a lovely, lovely smile, thought Mildred.

Josiah wheeled his bike to the front of the house. He rarely rode it to go anywhere special, though he did enjoy pedalling along the country lanes around Henstooth, away from the small crowds that can gather in small villages, on his own like he’d always been.

Then the two of them set off, a boy and a girl. Towards a healing stream, hoped Mildred, and maybe a future.

© Peter Rogerson 13.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 13, 2018
Last Updated on March 13, 2018
Tags: school play, Josiah Pyke, Penny Longlane, swimming baths, embarrassment, bicycle.



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 78 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..