Hiraeth they call it in Wales. It has been growing inside her for years.
She stands, her hands immersed to the wrist in warm, soapy water, looking out of the open window into the garden. Fantails flitter, just out of reach of the stalking grey shadow of the cat. The magnolia is beginning to shyly open its blush-tipped blooms, jasmine has started to scent the air, and, in a glorious splash of gold, daffodils nod.
It is a beautiful September day, and spring is making its presence felt.
But she misses the snowdrops and crocuses of home. Daffodils, to her, are the latecomers of spring, the nouveau-riche arrivistes in their gaudy, showy colours: beautiful, but vulgar beside the delicate fragility of their less ostentatious cousins.
Spring always comes too quickly here. One day there are gales and fog, and then suddenly gardens are alive with colour, and people are casting off their coats for shorts and T-shirts. There is no growing anticipation, no sense of a gradual turning of the seasons, just a back-flip and a bow, and everything is changed.
She has been here nearly ten years.
She was so positive before they came, looking forward to the space and the solitude, the luxury of having room to breathe and spread out; something she knew she would never be able to have in England. She remembered the conversations with her friends and her family.
“It'll be permanent,” she had said. “It's too big a step to be anything else. We have to go, knowing that it will work, and that we have to make it work, because there isn't any easy way back.”
When they had called her brave, she had smiled and told them that home was people, not places, and that since Martin and the children were going with her she was taking her home, so where did the bravery come in? She had hugged her tearful mother and said “Just wait until you visit us. You'll understand then, I promise.”
She had really believed it too. There was no doubt in her mind that New Zealand was the right place for children to grow up – safer and freer than England, lacking the hazards of heavy traffic and the cities of close-clustered people where the density of the population made it so much more likely you would come across the one in a hundred who wished others harm.
When they stepped off the plane into a sun-soaked November dawn, she had been utterly convinced that they had made the right decision. They had been greeted by Martin's sister, Andrea, who had settled here when she married a Kiwi, five years ago, and driven the several hours to their rural farmhouse in a comfortable van where their new family, Andrea's in-laws, were waiting to welcome them. They had been wrapped in friendliness and hustled to comfortable beds to sleep off the rigours of a journey that had taken them half way around the world.
There was no difficulty settling. Within a week they had found a school in the closest city for seven-year-old Dominic and five-year-old Amelia, and a house to rent in a leafy suburb within easy walking distance of it. They decided to enjoy the summer holiday with the children before seeking work, since they had sufficient savings, and deserved a break after a long, hard-working lead-up to emigration.
Martin found a job the day the children returned to school, as a senior accountant at the city hospital, and she was employed two days later, as an editor in a publishing company. Of course, they hadn't expected any trouble, with their qualifications, but it was pleasant to see their confidence warranted.
And so, it had all seemed perfect.
The children quickly found friends, and while Dominic discovered a taste for rugby and the outdoorsiness of the lifestyle, Amelia's prettiness and bubbly personality swiftly ensconced her at the centre of an admiring clique.
And the adults? Martin loved work, finding it much less pressured than his job back in the UK. Fewer hassles, more appreciation, recognition and, soon, promotion. He got involved with several sports clubs, and generally, was having a whale of a time. She found her job challenging and stimulating, and was quickly given new responsibilities. It was VERY hard work though, and when she got home she was shattered. A 'net connection provided her relaxation, as she unwound with usenet, and quickly became a personality on a couple of newsgroups.
Over time, they found the perfect house to buy, in a small village just out of the city. Huge, and gracious, with large grounds and a view of mountains, it was the home they had always dreamed of. Her parents visited, wholeheartedly endorsed the decision, seeing the life that the family had built in New Zealand, and comparing it with the one they had been living in England.
After five years, Martin received another promotion, to national financial manager, and she started her own business as a freelance editor. It was work that she had always loved, and she started with a large contract for a series of children's books.
That was when the rot started to set in, she thinks, as she starts to rinse the glasses.
The new job took Martin away from home, often, whereas her office was in the house, and she was there all the time. She loved the setting, the freedom it gave her to work the hours she chose, but she was lonely.
She found IRC, a channel related to one of the newsgroups that she was most prolific on. While Martin travelled, and the kids slept over at friends houses, or brought the friends back to sleep at home, she spent her time chatting with perhaps the most invigorating social group she had ever encountered.
Primarily British, they were witty, and clever, daring to discuss the most contentious of topics, arguing from all sides, but always in a civilised manner. She struck up friendships with several of them, chatting in query, and found that she was telling them more about herself, and learning more about them, than she had ever revealed or listened to in real life friendships.
She was a warm woman, patient and caring, and she became very popular.
That alone would have been enough to throw her off balance. She had always been liked, but popularity had eluded her, reserved for the pretty and the sporty and the vivacious, not the intelligent, serious, ordinary-looking ones.
Some, she became very close to. It was a pleasant way to stave off loneliness.
It was time for the family's first visit back to the UK, planned long ago to happen after five years in their new home, timed to coincide with her brother's wedding. She told her new friends about it, and arranged to take some time during the holiday to meet them.
They flew in to Heathrow, to be met by her parents. They spent a week there, helping with wedding arrangements, met up with her old friends, and she realised how far she had gone away from them. It was lovely to see them, but no wrench to move on. She delighted in the countryside, and the beauty of a British autumn, comparing it to the evergreens of New Zealand, and feeling a pang of regret that there was no equivalent of this riot of russet and gold at home. She smiled, realising that it seemed home had come to mean something new.
They attended the wedding ceremony, and then leaving the children to be spoiled by their grandparents, Martin went to visit college friends she had never known, and she went to visit 'net friends she had never met.
And it was wonderful. For a fortnight she partied. People put themselves out to meet her, and their friendship was just as warm in person as it had been in text, she was hugged, she laughed and sang and drank and felt loved. She had fun. At the end of the first week, Martin joined her, and they collected the children and went off to another meeting, arranged just for her, before returning to spend a final week with her family.
It was a fabulous holiday, and they all went home feeling great.
She puts the glasses in the cupboard and cleans down the bench, checking the clock. Amelia is on a half day from school, she'll be home soon.
It took several months for her to become discontented. First she rode the high, chats frequently referring to things done, people met and sights seen. She could see faces now, in the text, hear voices, feel virtual hugs.
Martin took another job. Better, a higher salary, and more travelling. It was more pressured and left him tired and short tempered at the end of the week, but her work had dropped off sharply when the collapse of the tiger economies made people more cautious about how they spent their budgets, so the extra income was welcome.
As her time in England grew more distant, online chat turned to plans rather than pasts, and she began to feel a loss at not being with her friends for their various meetings. Knowing exactly what she was missing made the missing of it more real and immediate.
Then one of her closest friends made a suggestion in query. The company he worked for had an opening, a directorship. It was the sort of job she had never dreamed would be open to her, but more than being open, it was offered. On a plate. Hers if she wanted it. Hers if she would move back home.
Martin and the kids refused flatly to consider the idea. With regret, she turned the offer down, and prepared to get on with life, understanding their point. Dominic was selected for the national under-fourteens rugby team, and she almost burst with pride. Amelia won the regional science prize. Martin took up marathon running and trained hard, quickly making a show in the veteran men's competition.
She, looking at the quality of the books being sent to her to edit, began to write her own.
But resentment she didn't know she had began to grow, its roots digging into her subconscious before it blossomed into her awareness. As the children relied on her less, being home seldom, she grew unsettled. As Martin spent time training for the latest marathon instead of going out with her as they had used to, she grew angry. As inspiration deserted her, and paying work became sparser, she grew depressed.
Her new friends, her 'net friends, talked to her and kept her from thoughts of suicide, and she found herself wishing more every day to be sharing their physical presence as well as their thoughts.
When the publishing house that she was doing most of her work for went bust, owing her for more than eight months of work, she booked a plane ticket and announced she was going away, for a month, before she grew mad. She looked at the stricken faces of her family, aching with love for them, but desperate to get away from the place they kept her.
She turns on the ring under a pot of soup, pours herself a coffee, and lights a cigarette.
Martin made her promise to come back. He said he'd be lost without her, told her the kids needed her. She knew it was true, and had enough caring left inside her to agree.
She was met not by parents when she got off the plane the second time, but by a man, the closest of those new friends she met for the first time eighteen months ago. He took her to lunch, where several more of them were waiting. That night, as she and the man sat over whisky, the others gone, he took her hand, and said she could stay here with him, forever if she chose. She looked at his face, so serious, and listened while he told her he loved her.
He led her up the stairs, showed her two rooms, and said it was her choice whether she stayed in the one with the single bed, or joined him in the double.
She chose the single, and cried herself to sleep. She heard the man crying too, next door.
When she woke in the morning, he had left breakfast and gone to work. There was a note telling her about the arrangements for the evening, when they were going to a meet.
She called Martin in New Zealand, then went shopping, buying gifts to take back for the family, and gifts for those she would meet tonight. She went back to the man's house, undressed, and slipped into the double bed.
When he found her there, later, she explained that this was not a promise, but an interlude, and for a moment, she thought he would turn away.
They both wept again when she left, at the end of the month. She knew she would never dare to come back again.
Amelia brings her daffodils from the garden. They make her cage pretty, but no less a cage. Hiraeth they call it in Wales, the longing for home.