For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.
I cheated a little with this one because I had to rush out immediately the original 15 minutes were up, leaving this about half done. So the last half was done some time later, and typed straight onto my computer, seeing as I knew where it was going by then.
I have a nasty feeling I’ve given myself yet another constraint now – because all the pieces seem to involve baking! I’m not sure how long I can keep up a chain story of Manx baking-related tales, but there’s only one way to find out.
Oh, and for non-Manx readers, the man’s name Juan isn’t pronounced the Spanish way, but as it looks – Joo-ann, with a little twist that only a Manx accent can really do justice to (and no, I don’t have one).
Breesha Kinrade was not a fortunate lass. A plain girl, she grew into a plainwoman, and she caught the attention of Juan Cregeen, a plain man with a passion for nothing but the fish he brought up from the depths of the sea. Out on the water on his boat, the Sea Queen, he was as happy a man as ever lived, but on land he was sullen and prone to fits of bad temper, particularly when there was a storm brewing and he couldn’t get away from the shore.
Breesha bore with his surly ways and shouting as well as any woman could – and certainly he never raised a hand to her. But there was no love in their small house near the shore at Gansey, not between man and wife at least. He loved his boat, and she loved her baking.
For Breesha could make dough that you’d swear doubled in size the moment she left it to rise, and her bread was as light and fine as they’d eat in the dining room at Great Meadow, or even at the Governor’s table. But she baked only for herself, her ungrateful husband and the folk around who were too old to knead their own dough. They’d bring her the flour and maybe a little something extra for her trouble and Breesha would make them a fine loaf or a bonnag all gleaming and golden, and everyone would be happy. Even Juan tolerated her baking, because doesn’t even a fisherman need a full belly?
So Breesha was blessed with a talent but unhappy in her man and the poor cottage that was all they had to keep them warm at night.
And then one day on a trip to Douglas to visit her sister Ealish, who worked in a big draper’s shop, Breesha found herself in a bakery that sold the most delicious biscuits she’d ever tasted. Aye, you know the one – the fairy bakery. Because that place chooses them that will eat its wares. But it also chooses those that will serve behind the counter.
Well, the long and short of it was that Breesha soon found herself working there, and it was a terrible long way from Gansey to Douglas, even with the train from Port St Mary. But Breesha was happy. She loved serving the customers – a strange, bewildered lot most of them were, but always so grateful to taste the delicacies she suggested might suit them or theirs. A fine pork pie with glistening jelly might mend a broken heart, while a twist of pastry light as air would do as much for an ailing child as any tincture the apothecary could concoct.
And what was even stranger was that Juan didn’t seem to begrudge her the time spent away from their own hearth. True, she was bringing in wages, and that helped make their mean cottage a little more welcoming, for they could afford coal from time to time to supplement the peat for the fire, and real wax candles too. But he seemed to be more cheerful even than these little additions could warrant, and Breesha was puzzled as to the explanation.
Until one day the Douglas train broke down just outside Colby, and seeing that there was no help for it that day she turned around and walked home. She didn’t mind the walk at all, for it was a fine bright autumn day. And when she thought of it, she wasn’t at all surprised to find her husband sitting on the bench outside their cottage, laughing and singing as only a man deeply in love can do, while a mermaid sat on a nearby rock, combing her long dark tresses and smiling sweetly at him.
Juan jumped up guiltily at the sight of his wife, but the mermaid simply paused for a moment in her brushing and looked boldly at Breesha, then carried on admiring herself in the looking glass.
Breesha folded her arms and glared at the pair of them, but before she could utter a word Juan spoke with fierce determination. “I’m going to the sea”, he said. “I’m going to live beneath the waves with Mona here and never come back on land as long as I live.”
“Indeed, and I’ll not be giving him up”, said the mermaid swiftly. “For it’s plain to see you don’t want him, leaving his house all cold and dark all day and no one to pour the tea or keep the fire burning.” Breesha wondered exactly how the mermaid was going to pour Juan’s tea or stoke the fire under the water, but she’d learned at her mother’s knee that there was no arguing with a Ben Varrey. And, she realised, she felt no inclination to do so.
Instead, she went silently into the little cottage and gathered together her few bits of things – her mother’s Bible, and the little wooden cat she’d won at the Tynwald fair as a child, and the smart hat Ealish had given her last Christmas, and made a bundle of them and her scant other clothes. She’d come back with Simon the carter for her dresser and her fine china another day. Just now she felt nothing but relief at being freed from her marriage. For a husband lost to the Ben Varrey is as good as dead, and no blame at all on the wife who can’t stop him from leaving.
She took one more look around the inside of the cottage, then went out and watched the mermaid, still smoothing her shining black locks, while Juan looked on nervously. And before walking away to her new life she said, “I wish you well of my husband, for he’s been precious little comfort to me. I hope he’ll be more use to yourself”.