Unaccustomed to social interaction, Laura is exhausted by the end of the first day. The workshop is intense, everyone’s brain on overdrive in the effort to solve complicated linguistic riddles, but also to charm and engage. No one wants to be left out when the members band together, their idiosyncrasies laid out alongside tricky idiomatic phrases to wobble and teeter on common ground until they devolve into knowing looks and inside jokes. Laura poses a convincing argument in the morning, hears a tongue-in-cheek suggestion fall flat at midday and, finally, in the late afternoon, provokes one thrilling outburst of laughter.
Dinner provides an unexpected shock of high-school-cafeteria angst, which the adult Laura squelches by crossing to the first empty seat. She is intensely grateful to the woman seated before her, whose expansiveness cloaks the entire table in a languescent, tipsy camaraderie that follows them back out to the square. The night is unEnglish, sultry and blurry-edged. Laura saunters past the pub, follows conversing bodies back towards the dorm-like rooms. When they reach the green, which the indomitable heatwave has turned pale brown, Laura finds that only she and Susan are left. They stand together under the bleary lamplight, transfixed.
“Oh! The bunnies!” she says, and Susan grabs her wrist.
“Aren’t they marvellous?”
The endless lawn is dotted with rabbits in various stages of adorability, white tails luminous under the full moon.
“You know they often hop over each other in play,” whispers Susan and, as if on cue, three small bunnies race across the grass and tumble together, hopping and nipping. Laura laughs, then shivers in the heat. Reluctantly, she and Susan leave the rabbits, and call parting niceties as they move away.
Laura cranks the window of her stifling room wide open. A flutter of regret leaves her bewildered, and for the briefest moment she feels the weight of her solitude drop through her stomach. When she goes to brush her teeth at the unfamiliar sink, she pointedly ignores her own reflection.