When you realise you have just one life left to live, how do you make peace with the mistakes of your past?
Fran should be looking back on her life with pride. She’s risen to the top of the job ladder, having left behind a council housing estate in post-war Glasgow, to forge a colourful, fulfilling career and enjoy all the trappings of success.
But instead, Fran is consumed by regret. A shocking revelation has cast her life, and her thirty-year marriage, asunder. She finds herself the full-time carer for her husband, a man she now accepts, she has never loved. The sacrifices she has made, the personal freedoms she has lost, have left Fran crushed. Her free-spirited friend Iona is her one salvation. Their friendship has survived the storms of conflict and loss since childhood, their deep affection for one another the only constant remaining in Fran’s life, a life she no longer recognises as her own.
Her husband’s new brush with death will give Fran the chance to reflect on what she has left, the choices she has made and the two men she has loved and lost.
Can Fran find a way through the ruins of her marriage and find inner peace, to make the most of what remains of her life’s journey?
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About the Author
Living in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Pat Abercromby has enjoyed a varied career – from recruitment consultant to journalist in Saudi Arabia and massage therapist – eventually setting up a training school for Seated Acupressure Massage. Today she continues to work within the field of corporate wellness with her business partner Davina Thomson with their joint company Wellbeing Direct. She also co-wrote and published Seated Acupressure Massage with Davina Thomson in 2000. In her spare time, Pat enjoys being an active member of her local creative writing group, classical music and the outdoors.
Fran and Rob’s marriage hit a low ebb when they were living in Germany. Rob is a pilot and Fran found out about an affair he was having. Although devastated at the time, Fran decided to forgive him and give their marriage another chance for the sake of their two young daughters. Rob signed a contract to fly for Saudi Arabian airlines and Fran got work as a journalist always hoping that her relationship with Rob would improve. Sadly Rob became more and more uncommunicative and moody, always wanting to fly the London trips. Ultimately this pushed Fran into the arms of a wealthy Saudi national that she was asked to interview…
Just One Life
When Rob wasn’t flying, they went to the beach at the weekends. They rented a part-share in a large family beach-hut on a gated waterfront compound, used exclusively by the expatriates. Rob, always highly competitive, had taken up windsurfing and spent all their family days at the beach, racing in competitions on the Red Sea.
At first Fran and the girls had watched fascinated, as he assembled the rig on the beach, pushed it into the shallow water, slipped his feet into the stirrups on the board, hauled up the huge sail and somehow caught the offshore wind. He would skilfully pull on the boom, tacking and gybing, turning the nose of his board away from and into the wind to be first at the start position for the race.
The girls would jump up and down with excitement as they watched the competitors’ colourful sails approaching. The windsurfers zig-zagged their way back to shore to avoid going over the banks of coral reefs which lay concealed just under the surface of the sea. Sometimes Rob’s multi-coloured sailboard lead the way. There would be several races during the day. Rob entered every single one of them.
The girls soon lost interest and would skip away to play with the other children, jumping in and out of the waves that kissed the sand and searching for crabs in the shallow water, as warm as a tepid bath. Fran stuck around for a while the first few times they went to the beach. Being supportive. But eventually it was just too boring standing at the water’s edge watching the windsurfers waiting for yet another race to start. Seeing Rob disappear towards the horizon just felt like a metaphor for the state of their marriage. Rob was always leaving, returning, briefly touching base before disappearing again.
Fran could feel the now familiar hollow emptiness that was pervading her being more and more these days. She stood barefoot at the edge of the water, watching the lapping waves pushing grains of sand between her toes. This, she thought, must be what loneliness feels like. Any connection she had known with Rob seemed to be stretching out further and further. Her optimism about their fresh start after the ghastly events in Germany was wearing thin. He was just so remote, like an island out at sea. Unreachable.
‘Fran, we want you to set up an interview with Akram Bashara. We need another feel-good piece for the ‘In Flight’ magazine. That piece you wrote for us on The Falcon Breeding Centre was popular. See if you can do something similar on Bashara.’ Joe Bartlett was the wiry, hyperactive editor of the Arab Chronicle and more recently, the ‘In Flight’ magazine for Saudia, the flag-carrying airline for Saudi Arabia. Fran had started off her career as a journalist with the newspaper, by submitting a few self-deprecating pieces about her own experience of expatriate life in the Kingdom and had been surprised and gratified when they were published. They were very lightweight, but the newspaper was short of English speaking writers.
She silently thanked poor deceased Graham Gordon, her old buddy from the Glasgow Express for giving her the chance at writing for newspapers all those years ago and for giving her a few tips on journalese. The Al Faisal Falcon Breeding Centre story was her best to date. She had travelled with Rob and the girls, south to the Asir region, to interview the eccentric English falcon breeder who ran the Centre and had stayed there for two days on top of Al Suda mountain. The Centre was up near the top of the mountain and Fran had watched fascinated and awe-struck as the stunning creamy-feathered Saker falcons glided on the thermals above the clouds, returning to their perches at night. It was marvellous copy to write and the colour photographs supporting the story were amazing. She had been quite proud of that piece which had been published in the Arab Chronicle newspaper and the ‘In Flight’ magazine.
Akram Bashara was a wealthy Saudi businessman and known philanthropist. Joe Bartlett gave her a bit of background information on him. Bashara had funded the setting up of hospitals and orphanages in some of the poorest countries in the Middle East and had continued to support them with regular injections of cash from a trust fund set up by his enormous business empire established in the Middle East and overseas. Apparently, his father had acted as a broker between the Saudi Royal Family and the oil companies wanting to exploit the black gold waiting to be harvested in the desert regions. Bashara had taken over the already cash-rich business when his father died and had developed it further, negotiating other contracts outside the Kingdom.
Fran had observed with distaste the excesses of the oil wealth amongst the rich Saudis, but it would not have been safe to write negatively about any of it – at least while she and her family were still living there. Knowing in advance that Akram Bashara, was using some of his vast personal wealth for good causes, cheered her enormously. If she had to write a sycophantic piece about him, there would be some truth and integrity about the writing. Too often, she had been forced to write articles about Saudi nationals, using hyperbole to describe some business achievement which had been born out of the exploitation of immigrant workers who were paid a pittance and treated like slaves in harsh working conditions.