How many words do you know in English?

That’s not a question. It’s the title of the “story” I wrote for my writing group homework this week. The subject was “tree house”. I tried to find a word which sounds like it and failed. Not it’s not my best ever story, but here is it anyway. It’s got good bits!

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

How many words do you know in English?
by Cath Barton
I was on the train to Lymington with my Mum. She’d said the name so often, with all the excitement of going away for Christmas, but don’t ask me where it is, because I must have been no more than about five at the time and I don’t remember. One thing’s for certain, Dr Beeching will have axed the line. And what’s also for certain is that it was on that train that I heard a woman say she hadn’t been born in a tree-house. I can see myself now, snuggled inside my warm velour-collared winter coat, gazing at her and thinking how cold that would be. For a baby. To be born in a tree-house. I think I must have leant forward or opened my mouth or something like that because I can see Mum’s face glowering at me, all big and close up.
I thought of this a little while ago when Jimmy was talking about Madame de Sousse. She’s his landlady and she’s very chichi. Everything is très this and très that, he says, and she does a lot of arm-waving. Knocks her own ornaments off the mantel piece. Jimmy finds that very reassuring, her being clumsier than him. Anyway, as he was saying it over and over I realised that that was the way that woman on the train had said it. A posh tree, more like Madame de Sousse’s très, or perhaps the kind of tray you put your tea-cups on. But what, I thought to myself, is a tray house or for that matter a très house? So I asked Jimmy what he thought and he said what did it matter, the woman would be dead by now, which was not the point so I shut up.
But I did keep wondering, long into the night after the drinking and the banter were done and it was just me and the cat and her snoring away, no help to a man who’s trying to make sense of something. And I tried to think whether I’d misheard the word house as well as tree, but nothing came to me and eventually I must have fallen asleep because next thing I knew the cat was kicking and squalling under me. So I kicked the cat our of the bed and the whole business of the tree, tray or très house out of my mind, Jimmy being right about it not mattering.
Except that it obviously does, because yesterday something happened. It was as if the years had rolled away, except that I’m not five years old anymore and the train was an express going to London, not a corridorless puffing billy. There were two women sitting opposite me. They had cups of coffee and I was a bit bothered because I didn’t want them spilling it in my laptop. I was probably looking a bit cross because the woman dead opposite me suddenly pokes her head forward and tells me she’s not stupid and to stop looking at her like she was born in a tree-house. A tray-house, she repeated, very deliberately. I couldn’t say anything. She probably thought I was foreign.

About Cath Barton

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, and her novella The Plankton Collector was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, was published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. Cath is also active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction.
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