Double Delivery by Lydia Penn

Part 1 of the “Double” Trilogy

The two storks flew wearily across northern France towards the English Chanel.

“Not much further now,” said one.

“It’s all right for you, you are nearly there,” replied the second stork. “I still have further to go.”

“Why don’t you just deliver yours near mine,” suggested the first stork. “I know a family nearby that is expecting a delivery soon, and I’m sure they won’t mind an early arrival.”

“I can’t do that,” said the second stark. “This baby was destined for another family from before the foundation of the world. I must deliver to the right house.”

“Suit yourself,” muttered the other as they reached the Devon Coast and he carefully delivered little Jason to join his two older brothers and sister.

The second stork flew on. “Born the same day,” he mused. “I wonder if they’ll ever meet. Most unlikely,” he concluded as he conscientiously delivered little Audrey to her waiting mother in East Anglia.

Jason grew up in a happy, if slightly chaotic, country vicarage. Two years later the stork delivered another girl, and now, with five children and her parish responsibilities, his mother had an extremely busy life; however, she still found time to make her own preserves and chutneys and to bottle fruit in season.

One of her sisters had married a French man with a thriving business in Brittany. So each August the whole family squeezed into the vicar’s old car and crossed the channel to stay with their French cousins. Those interwar years of the nineteen thirties were a time when people moved freely about Europe, oblivious to the storm clouds of war gathering overhead.

Jason was just eleven in 1939 when those halcyon days in France came to an abrupt halt. Sensing that war was inevitable and imminent, the vicar cut short their holiday to return to England in Mid August.

At home in Devon, life was not very different for the family during the war years. Jason’s eldest brother was soon called up into the army, but the younger children continued their schooling, and their mother continued to make chutney and preserves and bottle fruit. The vicar, however, found life busier with the influx of refugees and evacuees, while transport became more difficult with the onset of petrol rationing.

Audrey’s early years were very different – in fact, Audrey herself was so very different from the rest of her family that one could be pardoned for thinking that the stork had made a wrong delivery after all!

From a colicky baby whose screams kept the whole household awake night after night, she developed into a fractious, uncontrollable child whose chief delight was to annoy her older sister Anthea. With just eighteen months between them, the house resounded daily with their screams and squabbles.

Audrey became a tomboy who loved climbing trees and throwing down fruit or jumping out from behind bushes to startle the more elderly residents of the neighbourhood. Holidays (usually spent in North Wales or the Lake District) were often disastrous, as the two girls clashed and argued continuously.

“She’s more trouble to control than a whole class,” sighed her mother who was a teacher, and liked to work to a system and have everything under control. “Anthea was never any trouble either.”

“Maybe she is going to be like Uncle Joe,” suggested a tactless aunt.

Uncle Joe was the black sheep of the family. After a wild and undisciplined youth, he had left home shortly before the turn of the century to go exploring in South America, and was never heard from again!

At the outbreak of war, Audry’s mother seized the opportunity to send both girls away to school in the safety of North Wales. Typically, Anthea enjoyed both her school work and her leisure time in activities with her classmates; Audrey spent most of her leisure time in the detention room!

By the time the war was over and the two girls had returned home having both attained their School Certificate, Anthea had decided on a career in Art, for which she had a strong aptitude.

Audrey showed no particular interest in anything. She alternately mooned around the house or took a series of casual jobs, which never lasted long. Then she finally decided she wanted to train to be a teacher like her mother.

Totally unsuitable, thought her mother privately, but as usual, Audrey got her way, and peace prevailed in the home.

She took a two-year course at a teachers’ training college in Cambridge, and being actually very bright, she romped through college in more senses than one. She majored in Physical Education, showed a keen interest in sport, and after college took a job as a P.T teacher in a local Cambridge school. To her parents’ surprise, but relief, She seemed to have settled down at last.

Jason also was in Cambridge – he had won a scholarship to the University, and was working towards his chosen career as a botanist. From a small child, he had loved flowers and plant life. As he grew older he would wander around the countryside and marvel at the intricacies and beauty of creation.

At Cambridge, he was a popular and enthusiastic tennis and cricket player. He also loved to cycle out into the countryside looking for fresh species of plant life. After graduation, he stayed in Cambridge working past time and doing a post grad course.

His siblings had all also left home, but they returned as often as they could to the home which had such happy childhood memories. Such visits were however saddened by the absence of their eldest brother, who had been killed in action shortly after the D Day landings.

Audrey rarely went home except for special occasions. She shared a flat with three other teachers in Cambridge, and communication with her was by telephone only. She never wrote letters and didn’t often read those she received as she was always dashing off somewhere.

After a long silence, one Saturday morning her parents received a phone call. “I’m getting married,” she screamed down the phone, her words tumbling over each other in her excitement. “He’s an archeologist, and we’re going out to Egypt.” She went on. “He’s gor—-geous,” she trilled, drawing out the word to add emphasis.

“But –“began her mother, when Audrey interrupted.

“Gotta go — we’re going out,” she yelled. “I’ll ring again. Bye, Mummu.” As she put the receiver down her mother could hear a car horn honking in the background.

“Oh dear,” she gasped, sitting down rather heavily, “I do hope she isn’t pregnant.”

“Did she say she was,” asked her husband,

“Well, no, but –“

“Then why should she be? You always imagine the worst,” he commented, and retreated back behind his newspaper, leaving his wife to ponder which was worse, a possible pregnancy or a replica of Uncle Joe!

She did not, however, mention her fear to Anthea, who had finished her Art course and was now working three days a week as a therapist at a psychiatric hospital in the country just south of London. She wrote home and visited regularly, but the sisters had no contact with each other and met only on special family occasions.

Jason spent that summer staying with a fellow graduates, who lived in Surrey. It was there, at a tennis party, that totally unexpectedly, he became completely diverted from his beloved plants!

“She’s beautiful,” he enthused to his younger sister, to whom he was very close. “You can’t imagine how happy I am – so perfect – just like a delicate flower I’m such a lucky man.”

It appeared that Jason had met his future wife!

As that summer turned into Autumn, one evening Audrey’s mother rang her, not having heard from her for some time.

The phone was answered by a tearful Audrey sobbing violently.” It’s all over, Mummy,” She cried. “He left last night without even saying goodbye. How could he? What am I going to do,” she wailed.

Her sobs became louder and more hysterical until she was completely out of control. It took some time to calm her down, but finally, she was quiet, and her mother was able to say, “The reason I rang, dear, was to remind you that its Fathers 60th birthday in two weeks time and we are having a special family gathering. Please be sure to come.”

She felt it was hardly the time to tell her that Anthea had just become engaged. We’ll face that issue when she arrives, she thought.

It was a cold blustery October day when a pale dishevelled Audrey arrived home to be greeted warmly at the door by a radiant Anthea. A tall pleasant looking, bespectacled man stood behind her.

“So good to see you again,” gushed Anthea, embracing her warmly. “Come and meet my fiance. His name is Jason – and, guess what – he shares exactly the same birthday as you!”

Read Part 2 “Double Trouble


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