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A Life Half-lived

A Life Half-lived

For Eloise, a chance discovery provides advice from a dearly departed friend.

“I found this upstairs.”

Box-shaped and covered in grey dust, he placed it on the kitchen table.

Eloise frowned, “Mmm, what is it?”

He shrugged, “I dunno, I’ve not opened it.  I found it under some floorboards.”

It felt heavy in her hands and her heart leapt with anticipation, “Interesting.  Thanks Joe.”

He nodded to where he came from, “Erm, I’ll get back to it.  It’s going well so far, better than I expected.”

“Do you want a brew?”

As he smiled, it revealed his dimples, “In an hour or two, the secondary glazing is being fitted tomorrow so I need to crack on.”

She smiled back and looked deeply into his eyes; Joe lingered too.  Savouring the moment, she smiled just that bit wider,  “Erm, give me a shout when you want that brew.”



“Say that again?”

The solicitor’s sigh of mild exasperation punctured the quiet air.  Amidst the bequests of fine china crockery, the occasional antique or sentimental keepsake, this was unexpected. 

He cleared his throat, “To my dearest Eloise, you were always more than a daughter-in-law to me.  My dear friend, I appreciated greatly your many acts of kindness when you had so many distractions of your own.  I bequeath you Roselea Cottage.  Watching my grandchildren grow up and sharing that with you were the happiest of all my days.  I know you will take good care of my home.”

With a squall of indignation, the solicitor wearily appealed for calm, and all except Eloise complained bitterly.  A cold chill petrified her body and panicked she looked to Peter. 

He squeezed her hand, “It’s okay Els, it’s okay.”

His words felt hollow and devoid of any tenderness.


Roselea Cottage had been in the family for five generations.  Within its slate-walled environs sat a home crafted without much of a plan.  A mish-mash of oak timber beams supported the whitewashed rendered exterior, topped by sun-bleached clay tiles and weathered brick chimneys. 

Inside, dense stone flooring and the cast-iron range carried the patina of centuries.  Lead lattice windows with mottled air-spotted glass were a whimsical defence against the elements.  It was as picturesque as it was ancient.  In its rambling garden, azeleas and lupins, sweetpeas and hollyhocks accentuated the beauty of this humble yet proud building.

Over the years, many unsolicited offers came and went.  Steadfast, Jane refused to sell and Eloise admired her resolute sense of history.  Her avaricious offspring made no secret of wanting to cut and run when she was gone.

Peter’s older siblings, his three sisters, soon rounded on Eloise.  At first, there were appeals to reason and polite requests for their fair share.  They wanted to sell the cottage.  When she refused, there was anger, the old woman was not in her right mind, and Eloise had manipulated her into it. 

Eloise stopped answering the phone.

Now, affronted by their accusations, Eloise carried the heavy burden of her defiance alone.  Peter offered only lukewarm support.  During their twenty-six years of marriage, her husband always sided with his sisters.  He would never change the habit of a lifetime now.

There was a hopeful expression on Peter’s face as he put the phone down, “They are going to consult a solicitor to contest the will.”

If he thought she would be cowed - he would be disappointed.

A bitter argument ensued as her husband refused to countenance paying for a legal contest.  As one anxious day ended and she awoke with trepidation of another, it came to nothing.  Her mother-in-law was right; they did not have the spine they were born with.  Eloise ignored her husband’s pleading too; she had a plan of her own.


She felt her chin wobble and a fat tear well in her eye.

In the box laid a book, feint ruled foolscap, nothing extraordinary.  Written by a carefully scripted fountain pen, it recorded little more than nondescript days in simple words.  There did not need to be a name in this diary, her mother-in-law was alive before her eyes, and Eloise could not stop reading.

The heatwave of 1976 made her laugh with tales of queuing at a standpipe for a bucket of water and swimming in the village duck pond.  Peter, born in 1973 was a wilful child and such a handful that it drove his mother to the most rudimentary language.  It explained a great deal in this more contemporary era.

“12th November ‘77

It is unseasonably cold, the children have been packed off to bed with enough eiderdown to keep an eskimo warm.  Ralph is at his other home, the pub, again.  Still, I have the radio for company and the warmth from the range.  I finished knitting a jumper for Laura, she’ll need that this winter.  It is so peaceful and quiet here right now, I can close my eyes and hear nothing after such a boisterous day. Bliss.”

She turned each page carefully with the gentle sanctity they deserved.  So captivating, that Joe knocked on the doorframe and laughed.


“You looked so engrossed in it.  Sorry Els, I didn’t mean to make you jump.  Any chance of that brew now?”

Still a little startled, she looked at the mantel clock over the hearth, two hours passed in reverent silence.

She smiled, “Of course, take a seat.”

She could feel it, that uncertain ease.  Eloise leant back against the kitchen worktop as the rising growl of the electric kettle gathered pace to reach its crescendo. 

She observed how Joe quietly craned his neck to look at the open book.  He shuffled a little in his chair to get comfortable.  Tall and muscular in the real sense of the word, he earned it all through decades of hard graft.  He was her first unrequited crush at sixth-form college.  Divorced now through no fault of his own, he had not changed much in all that time.  His handsome features faintly masked by a weathered lean ruggedness.  His piercing blue eyes still sizzled with that first burst of youth.  Eloise envied his sunny optimism; he was never short of a kind word or a cheerful remark. 

She liked the clink of the spoon against the unclaimed china mug.  It looked so fragile in Joe’s shovel-shaped hands as he respectfully cradled it.

Joe nodded towards the open pages, “Looks like a diary?”

“It is, it’s Jane’s diary from the 1970s.”

“Oh.”  Joe recoiled a little, his reaction to intruding on something private.

She sipped at her tea, “It was in the box you found.  Take a look, it’s okay.”

She paused to catch her breath a little.

“What is it Els?”

Exposed by the intimacy of the moment, she felt compelled to gather her feelings and hide them.  She dug deeper to maintain her carefree façade.

“Oh nothing.  Take a look, you knew her well.  I know you want to.”

Her tone ended with a playful tease.  Blank faced at first, Joe let out an eye-sparkling smile, “I am truth be told.”  He paused as an implicit statement of reverence, “You sure it’s okay?”

Eloise nodded, “Sure, of course it is.”

He pored over it for a moment and looked up, “I bet Peter will be thrilled to see this.”

“Maybe,” her happy tone diminished a little.

Watching Joe’s face light up as he read, Eloise knew that Peter would have no such sense of wonder.  Life was the incidental thing that carried on around him.  He lost interest in Eloise and their family years ago.  An absentee son, father, and husband, he barely found time for anyone except himself.

She scanned the kitchen and its tired homeliness.  Peter’s behaviour accumulated like the puddle in the sink from the dripping tap.  Self-absorbed distractions here, late meetings there, the boozy client dinners, the overnight stays and the excuses and the tiredness – drip, drip, drip, drip… drip.

There was no lipstick on his collar or an errant hair on a jacket.  He did not come home freshly showered from something innocuous like a late business meeting or dinner.  She knew what Peter was doing when he made an extra effort when going out.  As long as he did not pester her for it and did not rub her nose in it, he could come and go as he pleased; she did not care.  He could fuck whoever he wanted, that part of their marriage was as dead as her mother-in-law.

Their youngest left home last year and nothing changed; Eloise had her business, her friends, her yoga and long country runs.  Having her children early in life, she felt blessed.  Only just heading into her mid-forties now, she still turned heads today. 

That sense of worldliness felt poised to burst though as she watched Joe read.  Her pre-occupied mind arrived at the new flame that burned brightest inside her.  Her eyes scanned over the muscular contours of his upper body.  It strained against his tight faded t-shirt and stretched over his brawny wide shoulders.  She indulged herself in how his body might feel upon her, embraced against her, moving with her.  Pulses of pressure tightened and its swell grew inside a body and soul suppressed by years of disappointment and neglect.

Joe looked up and broke her train of thought, “It’s wonderful to read,” his eyes looked at the mantel clock.  “It’s got me doing it now!  I need to go, same time tomorrow?”

Eloise nodded animatedly, “Sure.” 

Joe stood up and made his way to the back door.

“And Joe?”

He spun quickly to face her, “Yes?”

“Thank you.”

He deferred with a hint of a smile, “See you tomorrow Els.”


“17th January ‘78

It’s too cold to cry.  Cathy Simmons came here today fresh with the village tittle-tattle and always on the hunt for more to broadcast.  She broached me with a false concern for my wellbeing.  I had to endure the look of anticipation on that dreadful woman’s face like a crow waiting its turn to pick over fresh carrion.  I changed the subject effortlessly.  I’m proud of myself that I did.

Ralph is having an affair.  I held such high hopes that this would be a happy home, those hopes are all dashed.  Despite my anger, it pains me to acknowledge it but I cannot bring up these little monsters on my own.  I need what little help and what little money Ralph provides.  Now, I have a bigger monster to deal with and deal with him I will.

21st January ‘78

Like drawing blood from a stone, Ralph confessed.  I could have killed him when he told me and I flew into an almighty rage.  He looked so helpless like a lost puppy.  At least he didn’t do it on our doorstep, I could not bear the humiliation.  I threw a suitcase at him and told him to pack his things.  He begged and pleaded for two solid hours.  I did not flinch and left him to stew in it.  He can sleep on the sofa and I will see how contrite he is in the weeks to come."

Stunned, Eloise sat upright and her mind raced as she paused to reflect.  Jane barely mentioned Ralph and he predeceased her by a decade.  Eloise only knew him as a taciturn soul and teetotal too.  He was good with her children as well.  He really was contrite and spent the rest of his lifetime with Jane being so.

The parallels with her own life went beyond the serendipity of the moment.  A suffocating pall gripped her; Jane made her decision and chose to fight.  Her marriage was a compromise for the sake of their young children. 

Eloise grieved with copious tears during these last few months.  Its catharsis was not a surgeon’s scalpel; she felt how it challenged deeply repressed emotions – the malcontent and the desires.  She chose a life half lived too to maintain a status quo, now she realised there was no reason to.

Rising from her chair, she paced the kitchen, the finality of death brought new meaning to life.


It felt so innocuous at first, Joe handing over that empty china mug.  Close enough to feel the warmth from his body and the scent of his toil.  Her mind jolted her body into a subconscious caress of his hand.  Everything else faded away as he looked into her eyes and moved closer.  The anticipation made her chest pound and when he placed his lips on hers, an unquenchable need consumed her.

They kissed once; the look of concern on Joe’s face only absolved when she placed a single finger to his lips to tell him that she wanted this.  As he held her close, each kiss dissolved the years of repression and awakened sensations long forgotten. 

An overwhelming lust fused with the tender embrace from his strong arms.  Possessed by body and soul, she clasped at his groin, and made a silent demand.

He broke off, “Eloise, we shouldn’t.  You’re married.”

Her eyes filled with a requiem for the past looked deeply into his.  She consoled him with a tender caress of her hand to his face. “Only on paper Joe and I want this as much as you do.”


Their bodies moved as one and his tenderness belied his size.  Instinctively, her back arched at the apex of another slow lunge.  That exquisite pressure surged through her as she felt the full fill of him.  His groan hummed through her body and she wrapped her legs around him to devour him whole.  She wrapped one arm around his back and squeezed at his behind to demand more. 

His rhythmic barrage did not stop; his lips tender against hers skilfully stoked the fires raging at her core.  Embracing him tightly, she gave her body as the supine feminine to venerate her man.  Air laced with his scent of warm sandalwood made her purr with encouragement.  Baring her teeth, she sank them softly into his shoulder to stifle a heartfelt cry.

For so long she denied herself, now she felt intoxicated by this delicious freedom.  She gorged on these luxurious sensations and her soft yelps marked time with every perfect thrust.

His touch, so firm and yet soft, squeezed her full breast.  Grazing her erect nipple, its bolts of electricity agitated the swelling tension in her body.  The sublime upswing of his hips sent hers to instinctively press against him.  Rhythmically, she met him each time and cried aloud. 

Involuntarily, she bore down on his girth and met his heartier thrusts.  Her voice cracked into soft moans as that deep-seated pressure threatened to burst forth.  Its intensity made her restless and she fought to right a capsized boat.  His body relented as she pleaded with him to watch her inevitable climax.

Astride his fevered body, she braced herself against his shins with locked elbows.  He would witness how she impaled her naked body upon him.  Snug against its swell ensconced within her, she skilfully nurtured their release.  The promise of deliverance beckoned as her once fluid body jarred against the tumescence of his ominous girth. 

“I can… I can feel it,” her wavering voice only capable of a whisper, “Come inside me, fill me up.  I’m yours now.”

Unable to continue, she sought his assistance.  Leaning forward with interlaced fingers, they moved as one.  From the hang of her full breasts, he took a nipple with his pursed mouth and flicked at it.  Tiny yelps rushed from pouting lips as her body rose and fell.  Synchronously, she bucked back and took his entire shaft at its zenith over and over again. 

Their eyes locked together, she nodded and gazed upon him lovingly as a trickle became a flood.  From her core, small spasms became delicious violent tremors.  The heavy throb of his girth followed and together they released the torrent of their symbiotic climax.  Deep-seated convulsions in unison propelled forth a primal wail of relief.  In their yells of ecstasy, she exorcised it all. 

Wrung out, she fell upon him softly.  With her body soaked in a blissful warmth, she sought solace.  Running his fingers through her long damp hair, she purred in happy contentment.  Together, they fell silent as he embraced her, safe from harm.


Calm in peaceful tranquillity serenaded by brittle birdsong, the metallic click of the gate broke the silence.  Looking over the top of her sunglasses, he smiled at her, squinting in the bright mid-day sun.  Leaning in, the deckchair groaned as he counterbalanced himself and placed a soft kiss on her lips.

“Hello,” his voice low and tender.

“Hello yourself.”

“Are we going out for lunch?  Only you don’t look like you are getting ready.”

His playful tone demanded a riposte.  Throwing her arms up, she stretched out to loosen muscles and reveal her lithe curves to him.

“Yes, we’re going out.  It’s just I had a little good news today and I wanted to sit out here to quietly celebrate.”


“My decree absolute came through, I’m officially single.”


He took both her hands in his and pulled her into him.  Laughing, it felt so free and effortless.  In his gentle embrace, it felt so easy to forget now it was not always so.  As a memory, it felt so ethereal and faded.  Squeezing herself against him, her body slotted so perfectly against his, they felt fused as one.

“I love you Joe, you big lug.”

He growled, squeezed her a little tighter, and kissed her neck, “I love you Eloise and I always will.”

It gave her butterflies, he told her every day and she would never tire of it.  Locking the front door, he held the gate open for her.

“I really like the new name Els, it seems so appropriate.”

They paused in happy remembrance for her dear friend and inspiration.

Carved in slate for all to see, it read, “Jane’s Cottage”.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © © 2019 by The Travelling Man. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of The Travelling Man.

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