The Retreat

A short story

 Cigarette finished I refill my polystyrene cup with hot water to squeeze the last drop of flavour out of the already worn bag of chamomile and head back up the stairs. I feel a little edgy, things are moving slowly, I want to get back to the others now to hear what everyone has to say about themselves. I think I have missed being in the presence of Peter, his reassuring bulk and his kindly smile encouraging me to be myself, allowing me to express myself without fear of reprisal. I interrupt the conversation between Kate and Ritch with my arrival at the top of the stairs, I plonk myself down on the chair and we descend into small talk. I try to think of something funny or interesting to say, of course I can't, we continue on, and on. Eventually something within Kate nudges her, "this is exactly what you two hate isn't it, small talk?" This is a good breaker, there is nowhere else to go so we head downstairs and await an open door making just the right noises to allow those inside the room to hear our disquiet. This proves to be a good tactic and the door is opened by Peter and his everlasting smile.

The others are chatting; they look a little worried that we have been allowed back into what has probably been, for the last hour or so, a normal sanctuary without us, goodbye outside lane hello central reservation. The room goes quiet and everyone looks at Peter. It is Kate who speaks, five heads do a quick about turn as we pretend we were looking to her for guidance all along. Kate tells us that now we are fully aware of our individual genii we have to share it with the group, we do so, it is less than earth shattering, but we encourage each other and wonder what is for lunch.

Ritch in his inimitable way pipes up after I have shared and asks everyone else whether they were expecting me to say what I did. All I had said was that I thought my genius lay in organising and motivating other geniuses, the others look at him as if he is mad. I think they are getting a bit sick of listening to me so I gloss over it as best I can and smile at Ritch albeit with teeth bared. Peter says we can take a walk after lunch, just to wander and ponder; this is not a task it is to enable us to enjoy the beauty of our retreat with newly opening hearts. As we get up to leave the room Ritch brushes up to me and asks if I would like to walk with him, I would, I accept.

Time for lunch, more food, I expect they have made up some lovely vegan, banquet for us all to enjoy, of course I expect wrong, damn why didn't I put vegan diet on my application. We have vegetable stew and dumplings for the vegetarians and roasted dead animal on a platter for everyone else it being Sunday and all. I have eaten so much this weekend that I am not sure I can face it, but again the thought of the £200 cheque I handed over on arrival yesterday, if I eat well again today I could quite possibly not bother for the next week. I deliberately sit opposite Ian, I like Ian, he is quiet and a deep thinker, he is also toweringly tall and very gentle in gestures and speech. He has come on this retreat to find out what he is good at, because he wants to be good at something. I suspect he is brilliant at everything he does. I wait until he has a mouth full of dead cow and I tell him I would like to hear more about his photography. He has shown real passion when talking about the subject and I genuinely want to know more. He looks a little alarmed but there is no escape, I take a mouthful of food to dispel any suggestion that I need an answer straight away but glance up at him to notify him that I definitely want an answer this side of walk time. The conversation is good, he likes to photograph buildings, apologising for my ignorance of photography terms I ask him if his photographs are raw. As his eyes widen I hastily explain that I am asking whether he manipulates the images on a computer after they have been taken, to make them better, he does not. With lunch over it is time to wash up, I manage to dry two plates but am anxious to get out into the fresh air, so I hang up my barely used tea towel and head outdoors with no regret, it is a beautiful autumn day and for some reason I am looking forward to this walk.