Change of Plans
“Daph, you’ll need to check the map again. I’m worried I’ll miss the turn off with so little light. We just passed Conways Track.” John Jones didn’t take his eyes off the narrow road.
Daphne Jones grabbed the map which had fallen into the footwell near her handbag. “Got it. Conways Track? Hm.” She traced the route with her finger which John had highlighted in red at their last stop. Then she turned it upside down. “Okie dokie. Another three curves, no, two seeing as you’ve done one. Another two curves and then there’s a bridge. Just after that you need to take a left.”
“Is there a street name?”
“Shady Bend Road.”
John laughed shortly. “Plenty of shade here.”
He slowed to navigate another long curve and Daphne glanced in the side mirror at Bluebell. Their beautiful caravan made their travels a little more challenging at times but was a blessing they would never leave behind. Turning the car and caravan around on such a narrow road was not something John would want to try if they missed their turnoff. And not so close to nightfall. Daphne leaned forward to better see the road ahead.
“Kangaroo at two o’clock!”
John touched the brakes as the headlights reflected in the eyes of a grey kangaroo staring at them from the side of the road.
“Stay there, Mister Roo.” A joey popped its head out of an oversized pouch. “Whoops, sorry. Missus Roo.”
When they’d left their last stop a few hours ago, they’d planned on already being settled into a new town, where Daphne would officiate a wonderful wedding on the weekend.
But then her phone had rung and within minutes they were on a different road.
“Daph, you said a bridge then a right turn?”
“Left, John. I wish there were some lights along here. One might break down and never be found.”
John really needed to put one of those digital location things in the car. A GPS. Maps made little sense to Daphne and she navigated under duress.
“I think that’s it!” she pointed ahead. “Over the bridge and almost straight away there’s a sign.”
A moment later they’d turned onto Shady Bend Road, which curved up a steep hill. Bluebell weighed them down and John changed to a lower gear. According to the car clock it was a little after six, which in late spring was still daylight. It was the heavy canopy of gum, wattle, and blackwood trees towering over the road which made visibility so poor.
“We’ll pull in somewhere in the town to find out where we can stop tonight.” John said.
“I’ve got the name of the place but not an address. Shall I check the message?”
“Think we’re almost there.” Even as he spoke, they reached the crest of the hill and the trees gave way to houses. Bigger properties at first, then smaller and closer together as they approached a township. The speed limit dropped and houses changed to a row of shops on either side of the road. Unlike the roads they’d left behind, there was hardly a tree in sight. For that matter, hardly a car or a person either.
“Guess it is after closing time for most shops. Is that parking space big enough for us?”
John nosed the car alongside the pavement about halfway through the town. “Good spotting, doll.”
“Doesn’t look like much is going on here.” She checked her phone for the message which had arrived after the phone call. “Shady Bend Camping Ground. Can’t be too hard to find?”
“How about we duck into the supermarket over the road? We can get directions and pick up the shopping you wanted.” He climbed out and met Daphne on the footpath. After locking the car, he held his arm out. “Be good to get to our camping site before night completely falls.”
Daphne tucked her arm through his. “I’ll zoom around the supermarket while you get directions. Only need a couple of things for dinner so it won’t take long at all.”
It was just as well both she and John were flexible with arrangements.
There was no room at the suggested camping ground thanks to a local event which had drawn competitors from around the state. They were directed to an unpowered ground in the next town. At least it was only a few minutes’ drive away and the lack of power would be manageable for one or two nights. As John performed his ritual of checking Bluebell was secure and had no ill effects from what had been a relatively short drive, Daphne read the message again.
Dear Daphne, following our phone call I want to thank you profusely for changing your plans to accommodate our late notice request.
The phone call from Fred Yates had surprised Daphne.
The deceased is a local resident of some note and her passing leaves many of our community saddened. On consultation with her daughter, a decision was made to reach out to someone with a proven record of great compassion. Your name was put forward.
Who had recommended her services?
The funeral tomorrow has every arrangement made, but the deceased’s daughter asked me to find a suitable person to help say goodbye to our beloved Edwina and celebrate her memory. Attached is information about her life, her place in the community and achievements, along with certain requests.
She’d look at those once they settled in and had the generator going. Easier to view on the laptop.
“Think we’re right. Not much point using the awning tonight.” John unlocked Bluebell. “Sorry, thought I’d done this.”
“Oh, I could have used my key but I was keen to take another look at the message from Mr Yates.”
“If I turn on the lamps, are you happy to do a quick check in here while I get the generator going?”
“Can you pass me the shopping first?”
It took little time to unpack the shopping and turn on the lamps which were a clever addition when Bluebell was refurbished. An addition to the usual lighting, these lamps were solar powered from panels on the roof of the caravan. Perfect for using at times like this and meant once the generator was off, they’d still have light.
John kicked the generator into action and then joined her with a smile.
“Not ideal but we’re getting better at making do.”
She glanced at her watch. “I should get the pasta started.”
“What if I do dinner?” John gave her a big hug. “You, my celebrant sleuth, have to prepare for tomorrow.”
Daphne grinned. John’s funny term always made her smile. “As long as you don’t mind. But I’m not here for sleuthing.” She squeezed him back and wiggled out of his arms. “I shall find my notebook and get started.”
Halfway to the bedroom, she glanced back. “John? Thanks for this. For agreeing without hesitation to come here on a moment’s notice.”
“Anytime. It is a small detour and will give me an unexpected chance to visit another graveyard. Assuming you don’t mind me being there at the same time, albeit in another part?”
John’s passion for genealogy fitted well with Daphne’s new career. He visited the local graveyards and small churches to work on a project he said little about. But it made him happy and Daphne loved seeing him enjoy doing something for himself.
“You are most welcome. Always.”
Notebook and pen in hand, Daphne settled at the table. John set a pot of water on the gas cooktop alongside a deep pan. He chopped lots of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and a selection of herbs. As the aromas drifted across, Daphne’s tummy rumbled in response. She enjoyed John’s cooking and now they were on the road most of the time, he more than shared the load. The only thing he couldn’t outdo were her homemade cookies.
She scribbled a shopping list on a spare piece of paper. Flour. Choc chips. Extra butter. Tomorrow would be a busy one but there was always time to do a bit of baking.
After opening the laptop, Daphne located an email from Fred with the extra information and printed the couple of pages out. The little printer was so useful and took up barely any space in one of the cupboards. At the top of the page, she wrote out the timetable for the next day.
10am. Meet with Mr Yates and concerned parties to go over the ceremony. (Allow one hour)
1pm. Quick lunch and get ready.
In between the meeting and lunch, she’d finalise her words. She had a lot of ideas bubbling in her head based on what she’d read so far and would write them first thing in the morning. Her mind was at its sharpest early in the day. She’d not officiated many funerals but she would make Edwina’s send-off special. A memorable day for her family and friends.
Over dinner, Daphne filled John in on more of the details. He wasn’t disappointed by the sudden change of destination as this region was on his ‘to visit’ list anyway. The list he kept on his phone.
“Edwina Drinkwater passed away at her home from natural causes. She’s only sixty though, so it seems a bit young for natural causes. Anyway, she has one relative, a daughter. Sonia.” Daphne read from the notes she’d handwritten on the printed pages.
“Some more mineral water?” John collected the bottle from the fridge. “Nice with the lime, isn’t it?”
“Very. And this pasta is as good as any from a restaurant, love.”
Daphne was always the first to compliment a person. Her kind heart and generous soul drew him to her in their last year of high school, and if anything, her love of people was even more obvious with this late life change of career.
“She lived alone, although her daughter has her own cottage on the same property. She had a busy life. Owns a small shop. Oh, this is interesting. She sold the wares of local craftspeople, artists, and amateur cooks. Preserves, jams, cakes…there’s a list. And she was president of the Rural Craft, Cooking, and Creation Society. RCCCS. Sounds a bit like the Country Women’s Association.” Daphne rolled linguine around her fork. “I imagine she’ll be missed.”
“What else do you know about tomorrow?”
“Mm…this was so nice.” Daphne said. “Edwina lived in Shady Bend most of her life. She was divorced but there is no mention about her ex-husband. Sounds like a normal life in a normal town. And she donated to a local wildlife sanctuary.”
“I’m sure you will find some beautiful words to comfort her loved ones, Daph. It must make it so much easier when you’re officiating for someone who was a nice person.”
“Yes. Yes, I think Edwina Drinkwater was a nice woman who will be deeply missed.”