Kathleen Glassburn


I’d flown into London from Seattle and stayed at a hotel at Charing Cross Station. Music outside kept me awake most of the night. In the morning I stumbled onto the train to Bath for the start of my tour.

At the Dunton Guesthouse a matronly woman with eyeglasses hanging from a gold chain introduced herself as Mrs. Remington. “Your roommate is settled in,” she said.

Following her into the small room, I noticed windows overlooking a manicured garden. A younger woman sat at a writing desk, printing in large capital letters on a piece of cream-colored stationery.

“This is Phoebe Martin,” Mrs. Remington said. “And this is Bethany Thomas.”

Phoebe stood up. Trim, with a dab of pink lipstick and a curly mop of sparrow-brown hair, her smile seemed pleasant enough…maybe a bit reticent.

I put on my meeting-a-new-client expression. “I’m sure we’ll have a great time on this trip.”

Exiting the room, Mrs. Remington called back, “You best go down as soon as possible. Mr. Morgan is starting the kick-off meeting in a few minutes.”

The pillows and quilt on a twin bed were rumpled. I stashed my rolling suitcase under the other and said, “Well, Phoebe, shall we?”

A man with peaked eyebrows and a well-toned build bore a strong resemblance to the singer Sting, a favorite of mine. This man’s name tag said Lloyd Morgan. Standing at the door to the breakfast room, he shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Welcome, people!” he kept repeating as we slogged in and slouched onto folding chairs arranged in three semicircular rows.

I sat next to Phoebe, trying to keep my tired eyes open, sipping a cup of coffee that would definitely hinder sleep.

“How long will we be at this hotel?” Phoebe whispered.

Didn’t she read the itinerary? “Three nights.”

The guide started with obligatory introductions. “I’m Lloyd from Wales. It’s a grand place that I look forward to showing you.”

My deceased husband, Owen, was Welsh.

“I’ve been leading tours for over twenty-five years.” Lloyd turned to the first person on his right. “Tell us a bit about yourself.”

“Name’s Darren. I’m from Seattle, Washington.” His light-blond hair, silver threads among the gold, stood out in our group. “Being single, I figured a trip with a lot of people would be fun.” He looked Phoebe’s age, which I guessed to be about forty-five.

Twenty other participants were paired up as couples. They all appeared to be middle-aged or older.

When it got to us, my roommate said, “I’m Phoebe from Minneapolis, Minnesota,” in the same way a new kid might stammer to a classroom of unfamiliar children. “I’m by myself. My family wanted me to take this trip.”

I said, “Bethany from Seattle.” They don’t need to know anything else.

When the last person finished speaking, Lloyd passed around a clipboard for names, home cities, and emails if we wanted to share (I chose not to). Next he started his talk. “Here we are in jolly old England for fifteen days.” He looked around the room. “You Americans are going to notice the reserve and attention to detail immediately.”

At the time we laughed. Then he started in on the National Trust. “Terrible organization. They prey upon the elderly, convincing them to bequeath scant savings. My own father gave everything to them except a two-room cottage.”

Aren’t many of the sites we’ll visit supported by this trust?

Still, I didn’t let his words bother me. Owen and I had planned a trip to England with our Episcopal church fifteen years before. It was to be a pilgrimage that fit in with what he taught.

Now I had come on my own.

* * *

That night in our room, after dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, then ale tasting at The Hop Pole, I got Phoebe to share a bit of personal information.

She had worked as a bookkeeper at her late husband’s commercial window-washing company. I had been a psychologist with the diocese, and Owen had been a professor of medieval history at the University of Washington. She had one grown son. I had no children. After indulging in Cadbury chocolates delivered by Mrs. Remington, we prepared for bed.           I could tell by Phoebe’s regular breathing that she was out almost immediately.

Not me. No matter how tired, I still had a difficult time getting to sleep. I crawled under a tent of covers with my travel flashlight. Skimming through a previously notated guidebook, I reached the entry about Glastonbury, which we would visit in a couple of days. Midway through a description of the Chalice Well, Phoebe shrieked several times. I bolted up, throwing my covers aside. She sat stiffly, ramming the mattress with her fists. I shone my light in her direction. Phoebe’s dark eyes were glazed and unfocused.

Moments later she quieted, fell back on the pillow, and her breathing steadied.

My heart pounded like an ancient clock counting off seconds. What to do? Did anyone hear?

A tap on the door and a low male voice said, “Is everything all right?”

I opened it a crack. Darren, with his blond hair going every which way, stood there.

“Phoebe had a nightmare. She’s back to sleep.” I didn’t need to explain night terrors to him.

“I’m right next door if you need anything. She’s probably over-fatigued.”

“Thanks for your concern.”

The rest of the night I dozed on and off, pondering this incident and hoping it didn’t happen again. Phoebe remained quiet.

* * *

 In the morning I watched her stretch and yawn and get to her feet. While her eyes were bloodshot and her face looked more haggard than before, she seemed none the worse from the night terror. When she came out from her shower, wearing a somber gray jogging suit, I broached the subject. “Something strange happened last night.”

“Uh-huh?” She zipped her jacket tighter.

“You had a terrible dream. You hollered out.”

“I’m so sorry. They’re called night terrors. I’m not aware when I have one.”

“What causes them?” How much does she know?

“Stress. This trip has been hard. I was awfully tired and besides that, I didn’t want to come.”

“Why did you?”

“My son and daughter-in-law thought it would be good for me. I’ve been helping them take care of their little girl for several years. She went to kindergarten a few weeks ago, leaving me at loose ends. They coaxed me into taking this trip.”

“Are the night terrors serious?”

“They can require medication but mine don’t. I’ve had them since childhood. My granddaughter, Emily, has them too. After my husband’s accident mine started again—only occasionally.”

“Do you want to talk about his accident?”

She cocked her head to the side for a second. “Larry’s company specialized in office buildings. He hadn’t done any of the actual work for a long time, but one of his employees called in sick. He hesitated about doing the job himself, saying that he wasn’t sure about going up there. I told him that I knew he’d be okay.”

Holding my breath, I waited for what was to come.

“A cable broke…Larry fell seventeen floors.”

“That’s horrible.” What else could I say? “It’s always an enormous shock when a person in their prime dies accidentally.”

“He was such a good husband and father. His foreman called me to the scene. I’ll never forget Larry’s mangled body on the sidewalk.” Her face had turned red with emotion. “I blame myself.”

“That’s understandable.” My heart went out to her. “I hope you can let your feelings go, at least for this time away.”

She didn’t respond.

“How about something to eat.”

“You go ahead. I’ll be down soon.”

* * *

While munching granola I looked at the Bath section of my guidebook and planned a stroll around town with Phoebe. She never showed up. By myself I visited the Jane Austen House and the Costume Museum before going to No. 1 Royal Crescent. There I sat on a hard wooden bench in an empty room, waiting for a video to start.

Lloyd wandered in. “Hello there…Bethany, is it?”

I nodded.

“Been here long?” He sat down next to me.

“A few minutes.”


“I am.” Is this house sponsored by the National Trust?

We watched the video in silence, after which Lloyd followed me up the stairway. On the landing I stopped at a vintage dollhouse exhibit. I loved miniatures. “Are you interested in these?” I asked when Lloyd stopped as well.

“The craftsmanship. My father did construction in our village,” he said. “My daughter was more into playing her violin than this sort of thing.”

We gazed at tiny rooms for a few minutes before traipsing up to the actual living quarters. The Parlour’s table was set for four—teatime. I glanced at the furniture descriptions. “That’s a Chippendale bookcase desk.” I pointed to a sign. “A tidy place for dealing with business matters.”

“My office is a mess.” Lloyd shrugged.

He tagged along into The Gentleman’s Retreat.

A docent with heavily wrinkled features that made him look as old as the displays launched into a talk about everything from books to a globe circa 1790s to a medical electrical machine replica.

When he finally took a breath, Lloyd moved closer to me, his eyebrows raised.

“This is fascinating but we must move on,” I said to the man.

Out of earshot Lloyd said, “Thanks for the escape. We could have spent the rest of the day listening to him.”

“It’s nice to see a man who enjoys his work.”

Once we had gone through the whole house and were out on the sidewalk, Lloyd offered a hand. “Good browsing with you.” He turned and walked up the street.

Searching for a pharmacy, I ran into Darren. “How’s your roommate?” he said.

“I think she’s fine.”

“She seems sad…and the nightmare…”

“Her husband died a few years ago.” I couldn’t help myself. “She is attractive…and single.”

“I’m divorced. Also a few years ago.” From his pained expression I assumed it wasn’t his choice.

“You never can tell…” I stepped away. “Must be off to find something to help with my sleep.”

* * *

That night Phoebe and I lounged in our room after fish and chips at a pub, anticipating the Cadbury chocolates.

“What do you think of Darren?” I asked.

“Who?” Phoebe looked truly puzzled.

“Darren. The guy on our tour.”

“Which one is he?”

“Striking silver-blond hair. Tanned and healthy-looking. By himself.” Like you!

“Oh yeah, he’s from Seattle. Did you know him before?”

“Never met.”


“Obviously you aren’t interested in him.”

“Should I be?”

I paused. Do I say he asked about her? “I’m going to turn my light out. It’s a big day tomorrow.”

“Where are we going?”

“Glastonbury. King Arthur and Guinevere—all that romantic stuff.”

“Glastonbury…the only stop that appealed to me.” She rolled over and mumbled, “I love stories of Camelot. My first date with Larry was to the musical.”

At least she should have pleasant thoughts going to sleep. I braced myself for a repeat performance while my mind took off.

Darren was a presentable man. Did Phoebe have no desire to date?

Mind your own business. Did I regret not trying harder to meet someone? Was that why Phoebe’s situation hit a nerve? A sweet woman, albeit troubled, I didn’t want her to be, decades up the road, going on trips by herself, rooming with strangers.

An hour later Phoebe’s night terror struck.

Darren didn’t come to the door this time.

Despite the disturbance, eventually I slept fairly well—thanks to the Tylenol PM.

* * *

After breakfast, which Phoebe skipped again, we loaded into a coach, as the British call buses, and headed for Glastonbury. It was a lovely late-September day. The sun shone but it was cool enough to require a jacket. Indian Summer. What do they call it here?

Once we were on the move, Lloyd spoke into a microphone. “This is not my favorite spot—not by a long shot.”

Odd comment for a tour guide.

“Glastonbury is a haven for aging hippies and New-Age enthusiasts. There are more crystal shops than useful establishments. I won’t even go into the music festival that attracts hordes of nutcases. That said, the town is on our list. Go there we must.”

Within an hour we disembarked and he led us through the Abbey ruins, talking about different areas in a brusque way: St. Dunstan’s Chapel, the Lady Chapel, the Chapel of St. Thomas à Becket. “Supposedly the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere are buried in a so-called grave outside.” He marched off that way.

Remnants of walls surrounded the rock-encircled plot that looked as humble as a pauper’s final resting place. An inobtrusive plaque said: Site of King Arthur’s Tomb.

“You probably have a Hollywood notion of Arthur.” Lloyd’s face twisted into a sneer. He looked directly at Phoebe as if she must be guilty of this sin. “Poppycock! There might have been an Arthur, probably a Roman soldier, but so long ago it cannot be substantiated. He’s not buried—”

“An iron cross was found here in the twelfth century with his name on it,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Lloyd stretched taller. “Never proven. Of one thing we are certain: he did not look like Sean Connery. Arthur was small with spindly, twisted legs, yellow, broken-off teeth, lice, and he rode a stinky mule.”

I recalled Phoebe’s words before she went to sleep.

One fellow, standing beside me, took off a tweed cap and rubbed his charcoal-gray head. He muttered to his wife, “Sure knows how to wreck a good tale.”

She nodded and they shuffled away, holding hands, followed by almost everyone else.

I remained, looking at the little grave and choking up, wishing that Owen held my hand. How he would have enjoyed Glastonbury.

Phoebe, a few feet away, had a tear rolling down her cheek. I watched as Darren went up to her.

“That might be the truth,” I heard him say. “I’ll keep my own picture of Arthur.” He paused as Phoebe brushed the tear away and acknowledged him for the first time. With a kind smile he went on, “These legends are part of our heritage.”

“I appreciate your opinion.” She sniffed. “Lloyd’s words were a real downer.”

Their shoulders touched as they walked away.

Lloyd had gone to the Chalice Well. Will he spoil that too?

“It’s all right, Owen. He can’t change my mind about this place,” I said out loud.

I moved to the fringes of our paltry group and listened to Lloyd’s spiel.

“It’s said the chalice that Joseph of Arimathea brought to England is at the bottom of this well. The waters have healing powers. Who knows…maybe that’s the case.” He sounded more respectful. “You can buy a vial of water to take home.” His tone changed to sarcastic.

My icy-feeling eyes pierced Lloyd’s. Stomping off, I saw Darren and Phoebe crossing the street and entering a crystal shop. That lifted my spirits.

I bought a vial of water and two books and found a tiny café off the main street. Opting for a sausage roll and a cup of Earl Grey tea, I reflected on some of the things Owen had told me.

Unlike Lloyd, he was certain of Arthur’s existence—being a true Welshman. “There are documents that prove it,” he’d said. “Like the controversy over whether there was one man named Shakespeare or several who wrote the plays attributed to him, this has been left to individual interpretation.”

Owen chose to believe that William Shakespeare was the author and poet. He also believed that King Arthur lived in fifth-century England. A charismatic leader, he drove the Saxons out of his country, at least temporarily. Wounded on Salisbury Plain, maybe he even was taken by boat to Avalon, where Morgan le Fay healed him.

“‘An Arthur will come at Britain’s hour of need,’” Owen would quote. “During World War Two they held onto this idea, along with the image of St. Paul’s Cathedral rising from the dust and rubble of the Blitz.”

As we rode back to Bath, I felt a swell of delight seeing Darren and Phoebe sitting together, comparing crystals. Phoebe’s was a pink quartz. Darren’s was white with a golden glow.

Upon arrival at Dunton Guesthouse, tired from the first outing, we all headed to our rooms for a rest before dinner. Halfway up the stairs, I realized I’d left my jacket on the coach. The door was open and no one else was around. I rushed to my seat and would have rushed back out except a flash caught my eye. Lloyd was hunched in the rear, studying his notes with a torch, as they called flashlights.

He gave me a limp-fingered salute.

Doesn’t he want to be in his own room?

* * *

I didn’t go right upstairs but made a cup of tea and rested at a little round table for two in a corner of the empty breakfast room. The prospect of Lloyd’s bitterness for the rest of the tour upset me. Maybe I would explore Wales independently.

“May I join you?”

He had quietly entered the room.

“I’m leaving.”

“Please don’t let me chase you away.” He put a tentative hand on my arm. “I’d like to talk for a minute.”

I took a sip of tea and scrutinized him.

“I’ll get a cup too.”

Lloyd returned and sat down in the other chair. “You don’t like me.”

No point denying it.

“Most people don’t. I don’t like those who do.”

“Why are you so mean-spirited? Couldn’t you have expressed the questionable nature of Arthur’s story in a more tactful way?”

“Soft and gentle?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I touched the vial of well water in my pocket. “Some people want to believe these old myths. You made them feel like fools.”

“Did I make you feel like a fool?”

“I’m beyond that. But how about Phoebe? She’s having a hard time.”

“She does seem wounded…I’ll apologize.” He stared at his folded hands. “This is my last tour. I’m about to retire to my father’s cottage in the mountains.”

“Were you always this jaded?”


“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Never have…” He rubbed two fingers in a circle on the table’s surface. I must have seemed trustworthy because he proceeded to tell me how too many years being away on these tours, much as he had enjoyed them, took a toll on his personal relationships. His wife left him for another man…a man she met at the Glastonbury Music Festival. “He claims to be a descendant of Arthur’s, and they own a crystal shop.” On top of this, Lloyd’s musician daughter was estranged. She blamed him for their broken family and wrote folk songs about fractured relationships.

“That’s all very sad.” He looked like a rudderless boat at the mercy of the Fates. I felt the ice in my eyes melt away.

“These sites that used to mean so much to me have poisoned my life.” He drank some of his comforting tea. “What about you? Why are you on this trip by yourself?”

Why not? I hadn’t spoken to anyone except my priest about what happened. I told Lloyd of my life back in Seattle and, after a hesitation, described Owen’s accident.

“I was a coxswain on a rowing team…something I’d done since college. My husband stood on a bridge watching our most difficult race. We were ahead. He got so excited that as we went under that bridge, he ran to the other side.” I took a deep breath. “Owen never saw the SUV. He died immediately from head injuries.”

Lloyd took my hand and bowed his head as if in prayer.

* * *

Over the next several days, he became more pleasant, and we dined together every evening. Phoebe no longer shared a room with me. Darren proved to be more exciting, shaking her out of the doldrums. I didn’t hear any more night terrors.

Lloyd and I communicated after my return to Seattle. I never heard what happened with Phoebe and Darren.

When Lloyd wrote about reconsidering his opinion of Arthur and that he probably was a noble soldier, I wrote back that he was sounding like a true Welshman.

It wasn’t long before Lloyd moved across the ocean.

Now, in good weather, after a restful sleep, we spend lovely hours rowing our double shell at the Montlake Cut.


© Kathleen Glassburn