Flightsend arrived on their doormat, in an envelope from the estate agent.
‘This looks interesting,’ said Kathy, opening her letters by the toaster. ‘Here, see what you think.’
She passed one of the printed sheets to Charlie. These arrived so often now that Charlie had stopped taking much notice. At first, she and her mother had read them all carefully, making comparisons, highlighting important points; they’d visited countless unsuitable houses and had learned to read through estate-agent jargon. Even now, with the Sold
notice in their front garden and the buyers waiting to move in, most of the printed sheets went straight into the recycling bin: too expensive, not enough garden, too big, too small. If a house looked promising enough for a visit, Kathy went on her own, always – so far – returning disappointed.
With each reject, each sheaf of papers to hit the bin, Charlie’s hopes rose. Perhaps Mum would give up the idea of moving. They’d take down the Sold
board and stay here, close to the town centre, close to her friends. Close to the life she knew.
But the life they knew was the one Kathy wanted to get away from.
On Thursday, while Charlie was at school, Kathy went to see Flightsend.
‘It’s perfect!’ she reported. ‘There’ll be a lot of work, but it’s just what I’ve been waiting for. You’ll love it, Charlie. Just wait till you see.’
They went together on Saturday, a raw autumn day that was more like winter, stirring memories of foggy mornings and afternoons dark by four-thirty.
‘You’ll have to navigate. These country lanes are a maze.’ Kathy put the road atlas on Charlie’s lap. ‘Here.’ She pointed at a tiny black cluster around a road junction. Lower Radbourne.
‘It’s a long way from town,’ Charlie said doubtfully. ‘A long way from anywhere.’
Kathy craned her neck to reverse out of the driveway. ‘Yes! A real village. Pub, village shop, church.’
And what am I supposed to do for a social life? Charlie wondered.
She didn’t ask. Mum would only remind her – as if she needed reminding – that GCSEs were looming, mocks and then the real thing. As they left the town and took a country lane between hedges, Kathy sat forward, her eyes scanning the road as if her perfect house, her dream cottage, might have moved itself closer to surprise her. Dried leaves clung to the beech hedges on either side; an open gate showed a muddy field entrance, rutted and puddled. Charlie saw horses sheltering in an open-sided barn and sheep huddled against a hedge. Ahead, a ploughed field rose to a line of tousled trees and an unpromising grey sky. Nothing looked very cheerful today, but Kathy was humming to herself as she slowed down and pulled over to the verge for a Land Rover coming the other way. The driver raised a hand in acknowledgement; Charlie glimpsed a peaked tweed cap.
‘These roads are so narrow,’ Kathy said. ‘It must be difficult getting a coach round the bends.’
‘Coach. Bus. School transport,’ Kathy said.
She’s made up her mind, Charlie thought, before I’ve even seen the place. Well, I’d better decide to like it, then.
There was no one about in the village. The main street kinked at odd, awkward angles: a dog-leg by the pub, two sides of a triangle round a village green. Lower Radbourne consisted of one substantial Georgian house behind a gated wall; a pub, The Bull and Horseshoes
; a tiny shop and Post Office with an open sign on the door, and a scattering of cottages and small houses.
‘Here’s the church,’ Kathy said. ‘Norman, I should think.’
Charlie saw a lych-gate set in a hedge; farther back, gravestones and a sturdy building with a tower and an arched porch. Kathy turned sharp right down a track beside the churchyard wall, then pulled up.
‘This is it!’
They got out of the car. Charlie turned up her coat collar against the wind. The cottage, uninhabited for six months and wearing an air of abandonment, stood alone, sheltered by the churchyard yews. There was a tangled front garden, with a gate that hung lopsidedly from one hinge. Flightsend had blank, staring windows, and a porch that would probably collapse if no one did anything about it. In need of renovation, Charlie thought. And soon.
‘What does it mean, Flightsend?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know. Flightsend. Flight’s End. Well, that’s what it is, isn’t it? An end to – well, to everything that’s gone wrong.’
Charlie thought: I don’t want ends. I want beginnings. The gloom of the place settled round her like fog. She thought of long winter evenings marooned here, miles from her friends. We’ll be castaways, she thought, me and Mum. Flight’s End was making her think not of settled contentment but of clipped wings, of pinioned birds.
Excerpted from Flightsend by Linda Newbery. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Newbery. Excerpted by permission of David Fickling Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.