Here and Now - Santa Montefiore

Chapter 1

It was snowing. Fat, fluffy flakes, as large as cotton balls, tumbled from the sky, while dawn struggled valiantly to herald the day through the canopy of dense cloud. Marigold stood by the kitchen window with her cup of tea. A stout figure in a baby-pink dressing gown and matching fluffy slippers, she watched with delight as the landscape was slowly revealed to her in all its glorious softness. Little by little the garden emerged out of the night: the yew hedge, the borders and the shrubs, the trees with their gnarled and twisted branches, all hunched and still, sleeping deeply beneath a luxurious quilt. It was hard to imagine life there in the frozen soil. Almost impossible to picture the viburnum and syringa flowering in the spring. Impossible to think of spring at all in this dead of winter.

At the bottom of the garden, beside her husband Dennis’s shed, the apple tree was materializing through the falling snow. With its thick trunk and knobbly branches it resembled a mythical creature caught in suspended animation by an ancient spell, or simply petrified by the cold, for it really was very cold. Marigold’s eyes caught sight of the feeder hanging forlornly from one of the branches. It was still attracting the odd intrepid bird which fluttered around it in the hope of finding an overlooked seed. Marigold had filled it the day before but now it was empty. Her heart went out to the hungry birds who survived the winter on account of her feeder. As soon as she’d finished her tea, she would put on her boots and go out to refill it.

She sensed she was being watched and turned to see Dennis standing in the doorway, gazing at her with a tender look. He was dressed for church in a dark blue suit and tie, his grey hair parted at the side and brushed smooth, his beard clipped. He was handsome to Marigold, who still saw him through the eyes of the twenty-year-old girl she had been when they’d met over forty years before. She lifted her chin and smiled back at him playfully. ‘What are you looking at?’ she asked.

‘You,’ he replied, denim eyes twinkling.

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the garden. ‘It’s snowing,’ she said.

He joined her at the window and they both stared out with equal pleasure. ‘Beautiful,’ he sighed. ‘Really beautiful.’ He put his arm around her waist, drawing her close, and planted a kiss on her temple. ‘You remember the first time I held your hand, Goldie? It was snowing then, wasn’t it?’

Marigold laughed. ‘You remind me of that every time it snows, Dennis.’

His smile was bashful. ‘I like to remember it. A beautiful woman, a beautiful night, falling snow and her hand in mine. It was warm, your hand. You didn’t take it away. I knew I was in with a chance then. You let me hold it. That was a big deal in those days.’

‘What an old romantic you are!’ She tilted her head, knowing he would kiss her again.

‘You love your old romantic,’ he whispered into her hair.

‘I do,’ she replied. ‘You’re a rare breed. They don’t make them like you anymore.’ She patted his chest. ‘Now go and sit down and I’ll bring over your tea.’

‘They don’t make them like you anymore, either,’ said Dennis, moving towards the kitchen table where Mac the black-and-white cat sat awaiting him on his chair. ‘I knew I’d caught someone special when I held your hand.’

Their daughter Suze shuffled sleepily into the room in floral pyjamas, a long grey cardigan and bed socks. Her blonde hair was unbrushed and falling over her eyes in a thick fringe, her attention on her smartphone. ‘Morning, sweetheart,’ said Marigold cheerfully. ‘Have you seen the snow?’

Suze did not look up. She had seen the snow. What of it? She sat down in her usual chair beside her father and mumbled a barely audible ‘Good morning’. Dennis caught Marigold’s eye and a silent communication passed between them. Marigold took down two mugs. She’d make Dennis his tea and Suze her coffee, just as she did every morning. She enjoyed the routine. It made her feel needed and Marigold loved feeling needed. Then she remembered they were no longer just three and took down another mug.

‘Oh dear, have you seen outside? Snow! The whole country will grind to a standstill,’ said Nan gloomily, wandering into the kitchen. Marigold’s mother searched hard for the negative in everything