WRITTEN BY SUE COOK
A whiteout and blizzard conditions hold no fear for an Arctic scientist, but her elderly friend is full of surprises
“Typical!” Jude glared through the kitchen window as snow fell in soft whispers on her herb bed. The rosemary and sage wore white berets already, which were rapidly growing into bowler hats. “Today of all days!”
She had “commitments” on other days, too, but those were movable feasts – lunches, walks and so on. The world wouldn’t stop if she stayed home today, but she must get to Miriam’s for the weekly chess club meet.
She owed a lot to her old teacher, who had convinced her that science wasn’t just for boys. Without her, Jude would have ended up in secretarial college, like so many of her friends in the Seventies. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but she had achieved so much more, even spending time at the South Pole on a scientific expedition.
And now, after her recent operation, Miriam was alone and housebound in her hilltop farmhouse.
The sensible answer was to stay home and ring Miriam for a chat. If Miriam had connected to the internet, they could play online, but the woman had seemed unusually Luddite about that.
The farm was a mere mile away, nothing compared to hundreds of kilometres of Antarctic wasteland. She had the right gear for this sort of weather, and she’d promised to collect Miriam’s prescription for her.
Jude changed into her warmest clothes, pulled on weatherproof outers and grabbed her goggles and poles.
“I’m going out, Boris,” she said to her ginger tom as she topped up his food dish. “I may be some time.”
Boris sniffed his food and shot her a look that said, “Again?” before returning to his cat hammock on the radiator.
She stopped at the chemist, and the grocer’s for milk and biscuits, before texting Miriam that she was on her way.
Once she left the lee of the high street, the wind picked up and drove snowflakes into her face like splinters. Jude adjusted her neck warmer, hat and ski goggles until no flesh was visible and continued along the field path, which, being exposed, was swept free of lying snow by the wind.
Half a minute after ringing the doorbell, Miriam’s door opened a smidgen. “Jude?”
Jude pulled her gorget down and her goggles up. “It’s me.”
Miriam peered into the whiteout.
I can’t believe you walked in this weather. I phoned to tell you not to come, but you didn’t answer.
Jude peeled off her layers.
“You’d have tried to talk me out of it.”
“Absolutely! Everyone else very sensibly cancelled.”
“But they live miles away. Did I hear the kettle?” Jude asked.
“What? Oh.” Miriam grinned and turned her walking frame in two moves.
Soon they were settled at a table, concentrating on the board in front of them, and were so engrossed it was dark before Jude realised the time.
“Oh! Goodness!” She jumped up. The snow had stopped, and bright moonlight presaged a hard frost. Quite looking forward to the walk home, she began pulling her layers back on.
“Will you be all right?” Miriam asked anxiously at the door. “It’s frosty, so it’ll be terribly slippery under foot.”
Jude pulled out crampons and slipped them over her boots.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll call by again tomorrow.”
“I’ve got internet, you know,” Miriam blurted. “If you’re that desperate to play chess, we could do it online.”
Jude stared at her.
“When did you get that?”
“Years ago. I didn’t tell anyone in case everyone stopped coming and wanted to play online instead.”
Jude’s mouth fell open, and she snapped it shut. Was Miriam that lonely? She stepped forward and clasped one of Miriam’s hands in her gloved one.
“Don’t even think it!” she said. “It’s not just the game. We come to see you.”
Miriam’s eyes grew moist, and she flapped her free hand. “You’re a saint, Jude, but get gone before I blub. No one should see their old teacher blub.”
Jude grinned and walked outside. She pulled her goggles down and grabbed her poles, wondering what excuse would justify calling again tomorrow.
“Wait!” Miriam disappeared into the house. She returned dragging a plastic sled. “If you risk slipping anyway… You’ll be used to one of these. Sort of.”
Jude laughed. Sort of indeed. The sleds she used in the Arctic were six feet long and pulled by dogs! Even so…
Jude took the sled to the edge of the field, whooped with joy, and pushed off. Her cheeks were glowing with glee and wind chill when she reached the hedge at the bottom.
That was so much fun, and now she had been handed an excuse to visit again the next day.
I’ll bring it back tomorrow, she texted, and strode off for home.