Thirteen minutes later, all of the Pierstree fielders were out on the field. The ‘Midwick’ opening bats were too, still with light pouring out of their faces, but looking slightly more confused than they had done when they thought they were going forth in glory.
The Scone was Cast. It was Cast well. In fact, it made its way around the bend in the road. Some of the Midwickians went chasing after it, hollering. The rest of Solstice Field clapped and cheered.
Julia, through all of her fear, still bemoaned the loss of a good pudding.
The woman marched to the centre of the field, Midwick’s previously victorious team behind her.
‘That’s odd,’ said Barbara. ‘I don’t recognise any of the primary squad from last time.’
It was two days later. The Solstice Field was busy. From the Pierstree temporary pavilion-tent, Julia watched and sweated.
For starters, her system’s weather forecast had been incorrect. It had remained gloriously sunny until today, yes; but it was continuing to remain gloriously sunny. She would have been sweating anyway, but this took the biscuit, heated the biscuit up, and stuffed it down her bra.
For main courses, the field was absolutely packed. She’d been prepared for a certain amount of packed-ness, of course. She’d skimmed over it in drones in previous years. That had in no way prepared her for being there.
‘Ah, Julia,’ said Barbara as the person with that name stormed out of the pavilion, ‘I was looking for you…’
Julia probably should have said something, or at least not walked past without saying anything. Her attention was diverted, however.
She hadn’t really seen Barbara. She had a vague inkling that Sherry was somewhere nearby, but she hadn’t really seen that either. Her eyes were fixed on Crane, in the nets, bowling to Larry. Crane bowled a deliberately slower ball which still seemed to ignite where it landed. Larry tried to hit it, and fell over onto his stumps.
Crane laughed, artificially. Larry laughed too.
‘Not bad, Lazza,’ shouted Julia, without breaking stride. She wasn’t laughing. ‘Mind if I take your place?’
‘Lazza’ (Christ) looked up. ‘Come on, Julia, I’ve just started…’
‘Yes, but we both know I’m on last chance saloon, and the captain’s watching.’
Larry shrugged, raised himself off the ground, and made way. Crane narrowed his eyes.
Over the course of Friday morning, Julia started to remember why she really didn’t like people, and why she liked team sports even less.
She was welcomed to the ground with keen introductions, smiles, and backslaps. Not from Crane, of course; but from everyone else, keen to see the back of Sherry. It was another gloriously sunny day, oozing a feeling that nothing could go go wrong. A few hours later, it was all glares and people avoiding her.
Julia left the recreation ground after practice, bricking it. It hadn’t been her first emotional response: in the moment between swearing at herself for not having been able to master the famously difficult art of legspin in six sleepless hours, in the one bit of her garden that had anything approaching flat safe turf, and between hearing Barbara say, ‘Bit jittery, but I reckon you’ll come good on match day,’ it had been relief. Perhaps even jubilation. Then they’d walked back to what Crickipedia reliably told her was called ‘the pavilion’, she’d seen Crane’s face, and the jubilation had flushed out of her system like a dodgy curry.
Barbara Byrne was still the third one to the recreation ground.
Her kid had died. Reggie. The big gangling idiot had killed himself in a car crash. There was apparently minimal alcohol in the bloodstream, but no evidence of foul play. That was what the police had said, based on what they could recover from what remained. She should have stayed with him in the car for longer when he was learning, she shouldn’t have let him drive as much, she should have followed the speed limits more closely herself…
However, it was Thursday. The Pan-Midlands Solstice Game was on Sunday. Players had died mid-training session in previous years, and the rest of them had played on. The fact that one of them was her son…
(She did a whole-body shudder.)
…couldn’t be allowed to put a halt to proceedings. Besides, the more she focussed on her cricket, the less she’d have to think about putting the best thing that had ever happened to her into a wooden box in the ground.
She took a deep breath in when she reached the pavilion, exhaled gently, and stepped through the doors.