Hope and Happiness in Bluebell Wood - Ali McNamara


‘Where is the exit?’ I cry for what seems like the hundredth time. ‘I can’t find it!’

All around me are people. People crying. People shouting. People panicking.

None of us can find the exit. None of us is going to get out of here.

But then the deafening noise of the voices that have engulfed me for so long stops, and I can hear nothing. Not a sound.

The silence is a welcome relief, but at the same time weighs heavy upon my already weary shoulders. As the voices stop, so do the people, they stop moving and stand still – too still. Everyone is motionless, frozen like statues in some ghoulish museum. All these people. People with lives. People with families.

This is where it will end for them.

‘I have to get out of here,’ I cry in anguish, this time into the eerie silence. Otherwise, that’s it – the end for me, too.

I sit up in bed – covered, as always, head to toe in sweat.

I reach for my bedside lamp and switch it on. The soft light immediately cuts the cord that joins the trauma of my mind to my physical reality, and allows me to begin my recovery.

I take a sip from the glass of water by my bedside, and try to control my shallow fast breathing, until it returns to something more manageable.

Then I climb slowly from my bed and retrieve the fresh pyjamas I always leave on my chair in case this happens, and I exchange them for my cold damp ones.

After I’ve splashed some cool water on my face, I return to my bed and, with the light still on, I pick up my phone with the intention of scrolling through monotonous social media posts until I feel calm enough to try to sleep again.

This was nothing new to me. The nightmares, night sweats and subsequent attempts to get back off to a patchy night’s sleep have been a constant in my life for over a year now. I’m well practised at this routine, but it never gets any easier.

I look at the screen on my phone – I have a new email notification from the letting company. I open the email and read:

Dear Ava Martin,

You recently registered interest in renting properties in the Cambridgeshire area. I am pleased to tell you that a property fitting your requirements has just become available on a short-term lease in the beautiful village of Bluebell Wood.

Please find enclosed details of the property ‘Bluebird Cottage’ below.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us should it be something you love as much as we do.

Kind regards,

Jenny Magpie

Aviary Lettings

Bluebell Wood . . . I think, as I click on the link and look over the property they’ve suggested – a pretty cottage in a quiet and attractive village.

You could be just what I need . . .


‘Are you sure you’re going to be all right here on your own?’

I turn away from watching my scruffy grey-haired dog tear around on the unmown grass and look at my daughter.

‘I’ll be perfectly fine,’ I try to reassure her. ‘This is what I want right now, Han. No, correction: this is what I need.’

Hannah sighs. ‘But this cottage, it’s so . . . remote,’ she says, looking at me with concern. ‘And so quiet. Listen . . . ’

I listen with her for a moment. ‘I can’t hear anything,’ I say after a few seconds. ‘Only a few birds singing in the trees.’

‘Exactly. There’s nothing around here for miles once you leave these tiny villages.’

‘I know, isn’t it lovely?’

Hannah sighs again. ‘But what if you need something important, Mum? You know your . . . health hasn’t been too good lately.’

‘My mental health, you mean,’ I correct her. ‘Don’t be scared about saying it.’

‘I’m not. But we worry about you, we both do.’

Matthew, my son, emerges through the French windows of the cottage to join us in the garden. ‘I think that’s the last of your stuff in now,’ he says. ‘I can’t actually believe we got all that packed into my car.’

‘Thank you, Matt,’ I say, smiling at him. ‘It was good of you to drive me.’

‘Don’t be daft, Mum. We wanted to make sure you got here okay.’

‘Wanted to nose around my new home, you mean!’

‘Well, there is that!’ Matt says, grinning. ‘This village is so old-fashioned, isn’t it? I can’t quite believe places like this still exist. There are no modern homes here at all, as far as I can see. It’s like