Bus Stop – Chapter 21

This wasn’t a stately home, the National Trust hadn’t had their hand on it so there were no canopied beds in the upstairs rooms, no tapestry wall hangings though there were paintings in heavy frames.  He knew nothing about art but couldn’t imagine that this house would hold worthless copies or cheap imitations.  He didn’t pay them too much mind, that was not his job but he made a note to mention them to the auction department.  Maybe there would be more work to be had here and yet another feather for his cap.

The rooms were good-sized with large windows, most had fireplaces and walk in closets and the one at the front had an en suite bathroom and dressing room.  The furniture matched what he had already seen and though he would have loved to linger, gazing down to the river from this higher vantage point he had to move on.  The bathrooms were old-fashioned and though there were four, on this level they had the air of disuse.  They would be changed by a developer, though the old fittings could well be incorporated into new bright rooms with a little imagination and the will to do it.

He had inspected five of the six rooms on the first floor.  One more and then to the spaces that were in the roof.  He expected they would be smaller and more in need of attention but they were essential if the place were to be turned into a decent sized hotel.  The downstairs rooms had to be gracious and impressive but the guest rooms in the upper floor increased the letting potential and providing they could be made into en suite units and were large enough for a couple of twin beds and some storage they would work.

He reached his hand to the last door on the left hand landing. “Locked.” He turned to where Libby was standing leaning against the balcony rail. She nodded her head towards the door, “That one, it’s locked.”

“Oh.  Don’t you have the key then?”  She shook her head and began to move away towards the narrow stairs in the corner. “Libby hang on.  I need to look at this room.  It’s the bigger one at the front isn’t it, to match the one at the other side?”

“Dunno, never been in.”

“Well, this is a bit of a problem.”

“Why?”

“Because I have to inspect it of course.”

“Well you can’t can you. It’s locked.  Always has been.  I dunno why. Not my business anyway.  You’ll have to guess.”

“Guess?”

“Yeah, say it’s like the other one only back to front. “

“But Libby that’s not the way it works.”

“Can’t be helped.  It’s locked.”  Jed swallowed his disappointment; it wasn’t her fault after all.

“If I can have the contact details for the owners then I can get in touch with them.  I can ask for permission to have a locksmith open the door or perhaps someone has a key.  Their solicitor maybe.”

“Thing is they want me to talk to you.  They don’t want to be bothered with it all, this viewing and stuff.  They said they’ll pay me if I deal with it all so I can’t give you the phone number or I won’t get paid.”

“Shit, sorry – okay.  Well when you speak to them can you ask them about this room?  I really will need access.  I can say in the particulars that it wasn’t examined but when we do viewings we are going to need to get in there.  Nobody is going to be interested in buying a place that they can’t see.  Then there will be surveyors and so on they’ll have to get in to make sure there are no structural problems.”

“It’s a bloody pain all this.  I thought you’d just take a picture, stick it in the window and then someone would buy the place.”

“Good God Libby, no.  That’s nothing like what happens.”  Her reaction was a sullen shrug and she turned and began to climb the steps.

“You’d better get it finished then.  We still have the outside to do and my place and I’m gasping for a drink.  I’ll make us a coffee when we go to my place yeah.  This is boring.”

“Yeah a coffee would be great, I’m sorry to put you out.  I did say I could do it on my own though.”

“No, it’s my job.  I need to be able to tell them I watched you.”

So she had a work ethic and moral code and maybe it wasn’t part of her duties to keep the garden weeded and the furniture polished.  The place wasn’t actually filthy and there were no signs of mice or roaches and it was a huge place for one person to look after.  “Is there just you here Libby?”  She spun to face him and peered down at him from the dimness of the upper landing. “Course it is, how do you mean?  Course it’s just me.”

“I just thought that it was a lot for you to look after on your own.”

“Oh right, yeah well a bloke comes once a month to cut the grass.  He used to do the garden properly but that’s been stopped now.  I guess they think there’s no point if they’re selling.”

“Right, so you just check the security and so on do you?”

“Yeah and now and again I do a bit of cleaning, where it needs it.  Nobody lives here, why would you need to clean it.”  He could have told her why but it wasn’t his business, though he would suggest a team came in to smarten it up in preparation for viewings.  No matter it would probably all be gutted and decorated and altered, first impressions were still important.  He climbed into the attic rooms to find that in fact they were better than he had hoped with charming windows under the eaves looking to the river at the back and down the long drive and to the town at the front.  He was ready for the coffee Libby had offered and then looking forward to a walk round the grounds and down to the lake.

 

***

No Sarah today and I did want to talk to her.  This is all too much for me.  I have calmed and thought things through and I am reaching a decision.  I don’t know how she will feel about it, with what happened before and the repercussions but maybe, just maybe she could be persuaded to return.  Oh not for all the time I know, she has her other life but if I was to tell her that I will sign over the house to her, make it hers  would she come and stay and let me see out my days here in comfort.

I can understand why she would not, but it is all such a long time ago now and nothing can be done about it.  I have cried again as I cried at the time, endless, useless tears.  She must know that in the end she will have this place to do with as she wishes and, if she has it now and takes control maybe my life can become more than this tortured existence of loneliness and isolation. 

It may well be that she will refuse totally and I would understand.  If that is the case then maybe the other solution would be to sell, to move into a – oh what do they call it a facility.  It appalls me to even think of it but then I never imagined my life would end like this.

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Another Holmes

 

New on Kindle by author James McEwan 

 

 

Mahjong Dragon

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Bus Stop – Chapter 20

To the right of the front door was a study.  Jed had his laser measurer ready to take dimensions but for a moment he stood at the doorway and looked around.  The space was not particularly large, but it was bright with light from two long windows on the front aspect of the building.  The floors were old polished boards with a carpet covering the centre.  One wall had been lined with shelves and they were full of antique leather bound books, but there was a selection of modern paperback novels on the lower shelves.  This wasn’t a room caught in time – well not until quite recently he thought. There was a gorgeous old fireplace with marble tiles and brass fender.  The remains of the last fire were still there, dirty and disturbed by drafts and insects.

The furniture was dark wood though the shine had gone and there was the faint bloom of damp.  He moved and ran a hand over the polished desk.  He could imagine how it might have looked with the orange glow of the fire and the gentle light from the floor lamps and desk light gleaming and reflecting from polished surfaces and glass and silver ornaments and desk furniture.   There were high back leather chairs pulled up before the hearth.  It looked like the set for a television costume drama and he couldn’t wait to begin taking the photographs. He knew that the flash would brighten the tops of the desk and side tables and bring the place to life.  It was neglected but not to the extent that it would show in his images.

He made a note of the dimensions and the wooden shutters on the insides of the windows, the coving and moulding and the decorative ceiling rose.  Libby was watching from the doorway, she didn’t speak and moved aside without a word to let him back into the hall.  On the opposite side was another door and behind that was a small sitting room.  Heavy drapes at the windows matched those in the study but these had been pulled across the large windows.  He moved into the room and dragged them back.  A cloud of dust filled the air with sparkles in the low sunlight and tickled at his nostrils.  This room had an inglenook fireplace and book cases in an alcove beside it.  It was furnished again with old fashioned furniture which was obviously good quality but neglected.  So it would seem that Libby wasn’t employed as cleaner or housekeeper, if she was then she was falling down on the job.  There was another small room which was furnished as an office but it wasn’t as beautiful as the other one, this was more of a working space with a couple of wooden filing cabinets and a rather plain desk.  He measured it , made his notes and moved on.

The Dining room towards the rear of the hall on the right hand side was wonderful.  It was very large and impressive. French windows opened to a terrace, which led into the garden where a lawn sloped gently down to the banks of the river.  He could see the trees that had given the estate its name, a line of them beside the lake, their ribboned branches swaying in the breeze. Other trees dotted about the grounds and along boundaries were just turning to their autumn glory.  Further away the miniature woodland that he had seen on the plans glowed red and golden.  He stood by the window mesmerised.  The view from this room was must be magnificent in the spring and later autumn.  And, in the summer with the light dancing on the flow of the river and the lake with its reeds and lily pads gleaming in the sun it would be impossible not to open the French doors and step out onto the old flags.

The table in the centre of the room was huge, he estimated that it would seat twenty.  There was a sideboard holding a dull and tarnished butlers tray and Claret jug and then in the corner near a charming angled window a smaller more intimate set of table and two chairs.  There were two crystal chandeliers, dusty and cobwebby and a couple of straight chairs with tapestry seats.

The main reception room was at the rear with French doors again overlooking the lake and the river.  Windows along the left hand side opened to a rather overgrown rose garden. When he examined the casements closely it was apparent they could all be pushed back in the warm weather to open onto another flagged patio with a stone balustrade.  There were wide steps down to the roses and then on to a lawn criss crossed with narrow flagged pathways.  Yet more flower beds were weedy and struggling beside the walkways and shrubs desperate for pruning were losing their shape and form.  Jed glanced at Libby and almost asked her what exactly she did do but then, it was none of his business.  The place wasn’t ruined but it was sad and in need of love.

The room was furnished with a couple of settees and several armchairs, one of which was pulled up to the fire with a foot stool placed before it.  A paperback was sitting on the little round table near the arm of the chair and a book mark poked out from between the pages.  How very odd it seemed to leave a book half read and to go off and travel abroad.  He was struck by the thought that the story can’t have been that good.  He picked up the volume, it was poetry, ah well that explained it then he thought as he laid it back in the thin layer of dust.

“Where next then?”  She had hardly spoken to him and it wasn’t the way that he had imagined this  would be.  She was quirky and prickly at times but he had enjoyed their chats at the bus stop.  They had laughed as they discussed topics in the news, the television and on occasion books and reading.  This was a different person to the one he expected to be with him today.  It must be more difficult for her than he had imagined and maybe now that the proceedings had begun she realised just how real it all was.  He had come into contact with clients before who had backed out once they saw just what it was going to mean when they decided to market their homes and even people who changed their minds the night before they completed the deal, though that was thankfully pretty rare.

This wasn’t her house, though somewhere in the grounds was her home but he was surprised at the tension in the air.  “Kitchen next and then upstairs.  Are there cellars?”

“One, but you get into it from outside.”

“Right I’ll do that later then.”  She turned and headed back to the narrow passage under the stairs which led to the kitchen.

It had been updated at some stage and he was quite disappointed not to find original cupboards and fittings but it had been well done with high quality units.  It was not as impressive as the rest of the downstairs and he didn’t linger but just noted the sizes and layout.  It didn’t matter because, no matter what happened the kitchen would be one place that would be sure to be gutted and refurbished if the place were to be converted.  He hated the idea that the other gracious rooms on this floor might well be demolished by the unfeeling claws of construction equipment.  He hadn’t thought himself sentimental but for a moment he wondered just what memories were locked within these walls and what the present owners would feel if their beautiful house were to be flattened and lost.  He shook his head.

“Wassup?”

“Oh nothing, I was just thinking about the history of the place.  I don’t suppose you know much about it do you?”

“Some.”

“Oh really.  Do you know the family?”

“I know they split up, they all went their separate ways and they didn’t look out for each other.  Not the way families should.  Are you ready to go upstairs now?”  She turned and stomped back to the hall and stood waiting for him on the bottom step.

***

I dragged myself from my bed, I meant to go to the door and call for them, to tell them to get out of my home and to leave me.  Then I became afraid.  If I do that I will be alone and even the few steps I took exhausted me.  I fell to the floor and crawled back like a dog and crept under the covers and I have cried but still the anger is there, seething. 

The only blessing, and it is small is that I do feel clean and the room smells fresher with new bedding and the commode emptied.  I want to draw back those blessed curtains and throw the windows wide and breathe in the untainted air but my strength failed me.

When Sarah comes again we will talk this over and I will regain some control. I am so disturbed.

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Bus Stop – Chapter 19

He couldn’t sleep, it was ridiculous and he knew it but he felt like a kid on Christmas Eve.  He had checked his phone and his documents from the Land Registry and he had his camera charged and the laser measuring device checked and ready.

Looking at the plans revealed there was a part of the garden that led down to the river.  A stretch of the bank and the water with fishing rights belonged to the house.  There was a lake and about six acres of grounds including what was shown as a miniature wood.  It was all bigger even than he had imagined.  He was quietly hoping that it wouldn’t go to a developer.  If it lived up to his expectations it was a beautiful property and to see it turned into a cluster of houses fed by narrow roads and cut back and forth with paved walkways would sadden him.  He had to get the best deal he could though and that was all there was to it.  Of course he would give the owners all the options but his experience was that, at the end of the day the amount of cash on offer was the deciding factor.

His first stop was going to be the hotel and conference centre developers.  The partnership had a substantial list of people who might be interested and he would speak to Simon and Charles about whom to approach first.  He had no choice about speaking to the bosses at this stage because they had cultivated the relationships but he would dig his heels in and be there at all the meetings.  As he rolled about in his bed the thoughts whirled and spun he was itching to get on with it.

***

It was a bright morning, a bit chilly but sunny.  He had arranged to work from home to save traveling time and passed the first couple of hours checking and double checking his kit and getting rid of some of what he had come to think of now as the dross.  He completed details on one of the small flats and took an offer on a little terraced house which he passed on to the owners and then handled the inevitable back and forth on the telephone only for the whole thing to fall apart because of a difference of a couple of thousand pounds between the asking price and the offer.  He flung his phone down on the desk in the home office in frustration.

Just after half past ten he left the house and walked slowly towards The Willows.  He had dressed in his usual business clothes and carted his pilot’s case with all his bits and pieces stowed inside.

When he reached the wooden gate he paused.  It felt ridiculous to knock when he had no idea whether or not there was anyone behind it, but after Libby’s reaction last time he didn’t want to walk in. Damn it this was stupid, if she had a mobile phone he could just call her.  He would go at the first opportunity and buy one and give it to her and tell her it was for while they were doing the deal.  He didn’t want to offend her though and so would engineer it so that she believed it was a usual thing. Later it could all be forgotten and she could keep it.

He reached out towards the round iron handle and as if she had been waiting for just that Libby flung back the gate.

She was dressed in her normal casual manner but without the leather jacket.  She had on a loose t-shirt and a necklace of beads and feathers dangled across her chest.  He felt overdressed and faintly ridiculous and had to fight a strong urge to drag off his tie.

She stepped back to let him in and then turned to walk down the narrow pathway towards the half glazed door.  “Where do you want to start?”   She was tense and the habitual playful grin was missing this morning.  He remembered yesterday on the bus when he had realised for the first time the impact all of this would have on her.  He would let her set the tone and if she wanted it all done in a cold professional manner so be it.

“I like to start measuring and dictating at the front door, do the downstairs and then upper floors.  Later I’ll do the grounds and finally take pictures of everything. “

“Some of it’s a bit messy.  It doesn’t all get used.”

“That’s okay, I can deal with that.”

He stepped into the utility room and she walked ahead of him through the kitchen and to the main part of the house.  There was a narrow passageway which emerged from behind the grand staircase and then he was in a large square hallway.  The flight of stairs was central, broad and imposing.  At the first landing it split and the two flights that were formed turned back on themselves to serve left and right galleries overlooking the hall space.

Jed walked to the front door.  Coloured glass panels sifted the light which pooled in blue and green sploshes on the old wooden floor.  Though it was dusty and cobwebby it was beautiful and all that he had hoped it might be.  Libby perched on the bottom step and leaned back with her elbows supporting her, obviously she was sticking with him.  He smiled at her, a little embarrassed to have the audience as he began dictating into his ‘phone.

***

There has been disturbance early today.  I was awoken by the noise of the vacuum cleaner.  It cheered me immensely.  I believe this is more of dear Sarah’s influence.  For so long there has been silence and I imagined my home falling into filth and decay.

 It is such a homely sound, that of someone carrying out the humdrum of housework.  I wish they had pushed open the door and wheeled that noisy old machine around my space here.  How normal that would have felt.  I am pushed back in my mind to the summer when I had rheumatic fever and spent weeks in my room and how wonderful it was to have Rita come in with her lemon scented polish for the wood and then the carpet sweeper rattling under my bed and around the chairs.

Now that I have no future, so much of my time is lived in the past and today has been one of memory upon memory and all the result of such an everyday occurrence.

***

I must have slept again and they have been in and cleaned around me, they have changed the bedding and I dreamed.  I have struggled with beasts and Beelzebub.  I was held and handled and abused.  I have the impression of panic and of roughness.  When I regained my senses it was all made plain; they have been and washed me while I slept.  The small bliss I had enjoyed earlier was ruined.  It is unacceptable.  It is the first time for a while that my passions have been so stirred but I am wrought with anger.  The agency is paid to provide me with care and they are paid well.  I have had no care, no compassion.  They  sneak and prowl and intrude when I am asleep,  How it is accomplished  without my waking I don’t understand,  but it must stop.  I will speak to Sarah and we will dismiss them. 

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Bus Stop – Chapter 18

Mr Bailey paused on his way through the office.  “That matter we discussed Jed, how is that coming along.”

“I’m working hard on it Mr Bailey.  I’m waiting for the agreement back from the owners and then I’ll schedule the inspection.”

“Excellent – first class.  Don’t forget it I can be of any help just let me know.”

“Yes, thanks – thanks very much.”  He felt his gut clench, he knew what would happen if he did call out for help.  The partners would slide into negotiations and slowly and surreptitiously they would take over more and more of it.  It wouldn’t be deliberate undermining of his position, but they wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off it.  He had no doubt that at the end of the day he would be paid a reasonable commission but was determined to do it all himself.  He would take it right through to Completion, he would show them, show everyone that he had what it takes to handle the good stuff.

It was Friday though and he hadn’t seen Libby since the glimpse of her dodging between the traffic on Thursday.  Now he would have to face the whole weekend waiting and wondering.  He worked Saturdays, it was one of their busiest days but his dad brought him in on his way to the Golf Club and Sunday was a more casual day with just one or two of the agents working a rota.  It would be Monday before there was any chance of moving forward.

She didn’t have a mobile – who didn’t have a mobile? – how on earth could you function without one?  He had three, one that he used exclusively for work, a personal one and a spare just in case one of the others ran out of juice at the wrong time, and they always went flat just at the wrong time in his experience.

If he was to buy her one would that give the wrong impression?  It was so easy to step over the invisible lines that stretched around the business world.  Would giving her a cheap mobile so that he could contact her be seen as a bribe to make sure they were given the listing.  The agreement for him to conduct the inspection was only the first step.  After he had done that and written his report and crucially come up with his valuation only then could they really begin to market the place.  If he was going to have to wait days and days between each step then it would take forever.  Not only that, any delay left the way open for another agency to move in.  The owners must be telling people about their plans and, okay they were abroad – he must find out where at the very least, he should have done that already.  But word would spread and the vultures would descend and the only chance then of his firm to hold onto the deal would be for the partners to handle it.  So, the gift of a mobile phone – would that be unwise.

He couldn’t ask for advice, if Simon Bailey were to find out that business was being conducted on such a casual basis he would lose all credibility.  Again the little worm of disquiet nibbled at his gut.  He wasn’t sleeping well, four times he had woken the night before with the what ifs and maybes churning in his mind.

***

When he saw her walking towards him on Monday morning with the brown envelope clutched in her hand he had to fight back a strong urge to leap up and hug her.  He had spent the weekend in a fug of apprehension.   He’d been snappy and short tempered and the inevitable result had been a row with his father and a lonely session in the The Feathers on Sunday evening.

“Hiya.”  She held out the envelope and then flopped onto the seat.  He pulled the papers out a couple of inches and let them slide back down.  He was itching to check the signature but it would look unprofessional to drag them out here in the bus shelter in the fine drizzle.   “All okay then?”

“Hm, guess so.”

“Have you not looked at them?”

“Well – duh – no I put them in the envelope with my eyes closed.”

“Oh yeah, of course.  Sorry. So when did you get them back.”

“Friday.  They came by courier.”

“Oh right.  Where from?”

“What?”

“No, what I mean is where are the owners, where did they have to come from.”

“Oh right. Yeah umm Africa or somewhere like that.”

“Oh – right.  Blimey.  Do they live there then?”

“Yeah, I think so, dunno.”

“Right well, now I can organise the inspection.  When would be a good time?”

“It’s going to take a fair bit of time you said?”

“Oh yes, I think a good couple of hours.”

“Not today then.  Maybe tomorrow.”

“In the morning.”

“Okay but not too early.  About elevenish.”

“Great yep I can do that.  Brilliant.  So I’ll just come to the front gates then and you’ll let me in?”

“No, come round the side.  Where you were prowling about the other day.  Come round that way and I’ll let you in through the kitchen.”

“Oh, fair enough.  I wasn’t prowling.”

“Yeah well it looked like prowling to me.  So, once this is done what happens? How long is all this going to take?”

It struck him then that she would lose her job and not only that but her home as well.   She had never mentioned that side of things and he had simply not given it any thought.  He felt an unaccountable need to comfort and reassure her.  “It won’t be fast.  We will probably go to our own contacts first of all, this sort of property we don’t just stick a picture in the window, not straight away.  We may eventually do that I expect but yes first of all we’ll take it to people we know will be interested.”   She was nodding and looking forward across the road, he couldn’t read her reaction.

“Then, there’ll be viewings and offers and the searches and all of that, it takes quite a long time.”

“Searches? What’s that?”

“Well the solicitors have to make sure everything is in order legally, that whoever owns the property owns what they say they do. Oh yes I need their names.  So I can put it in the paperwork.”

“Its Carmody.  Mrs Carmody.”

“What’s her first name?”  She just shrugged.

“I just call her Mrs Carmody when I speak to her, anyway you were telling me, what are the searches.”

“No problems I can get it from the Land Registry.”

“How do you do that then?”

“Well you just apply, the details for all properties are held there.  You really haven’t had anything to do with property have you?”

“No, why should I?   When do you think I last sold a bloody house?”

“Sorry, yeah.”  He’d been thoughtless and a bit mean, he knew his life had been privileged and he tried to be kind when he dealt with other people who perhaps had struggled more.  He felt ashamed for a minute as he looked at her in her scuffed shoes and tatty jacket.  He’d buy her the phone, it’d be a nice surprise.

“So, anyway the searches – they check boundaries and borders and Rights of Access, loads of thing like that.”

“But if you’ve done this viewing thing and you’ve got your agreement signed and everything, isn’t that enough?”

“Oh no, blimey no.  It’s much more complicated than that.”

“Oh right – It’ll be a while then?”  He was really sad for her then but didn’t know what to do or say.  The number 3 swept down the road and squelched to a stop on the wet tarmac.  He left her sitting in the damp morning gazing ahead knowing that she was going to lose her livelihood, her home and be forced to move on.

Why had he not seen this before – well obviously because he had been so caught up in the excitement of a huge deal that’s why.  He felt dull and empty and really rather disgusted with himself.  She had told him about the deal, she was helping him with it and at the end of the day she would be homeless, why?  Why would she do that for someone she hardly knew – unless…  Samantha’s comments in the office came back to him “I reckon she’s got a thing about our Dave.”

Libby had told him about it when he had said that he might lose his job, might have to move to London.  Surely, not! surely this strange skinny girl wasn’t trying to hold him just for the sake of a few minutes chat some mornings and the occasional, very occasional drink together.  It didn’t make sense because if her home was gone anyway … he shook his head and stared at his faint reflection in the grubby window.  He pushed it away, if the place was for sale it was for sale and someone had to handle it so why not him?

***

 

No Sarah today.  Again I found a meal beside my bed when I woke, some cheese and bread and a drink of fruit juice.  I can hardly be bothered to eat but the empty pain in my belly forces me to chew and swallow.  I enjoyed the drink though, it was a little warm and there was that rather unpleasant aftertaste but the liquid felt good in my throat.  

Someone opened my door and I called out to them to come in, please come in and talk to me but there was no response.  I heard music again from somewhere, I expect it was the cleaner from the agency.  Are they still keeping the place nice?  I have no way of knowing.  Maybe they sit all day in the kitchen drinking tea.  I will ask Sarah when she comes.  I can’t remember how long it is since I walked around my home, not since the dizziness first started at any rate.  

I have been wandering in my mind, remembering the old days and the family before it fractured and fell apart.  There is only Sarah now I think, oh yes and of course Elizabeth but I haven’t seen her since she was a baby.  I wonder how she has grown, whether she favours her mother or Brian.  I don’t expect I shall ever see her again.

 I don’t know what I believe about an afterlife but maybe soon now I will join my sister and her husband, maybe they are truly all together in some blissful place waiting for me.  How wonderful that will be, to see them all again, mummy and daddy and all the dogs and kittens and of course my beloved Edward and our poor dead baby.  Rebecca – my daughter.  If she had lived how different my life could be now.  I would go now, right now if I had the wherewithal and to hell with those who would call me a sinner.  What am I saying? there is no way for me to accomplish it, I am fated to slowly decay here in this room.

I pray that Sarah will come tomorrow. 

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Bus Stop – Chapter 17

“Hiya”

“Morning Libby.”  He had seen her walking towards him empty handed and Jed struggled to keep his frustration under control.  It was after all only yesterday that he had given her the agreement.   “How are you?”

“Yeah, I’m good?”  She settled in beside him and began her morning ritual.  She glanced at him and grinned.  He had an idea she was goading him, waiting for him to refer to her habit.  He turned and peered up the road as if watching for the bus.

They sat for a few minutes in silence until she finished fiddling with Rizla papers and matches and then as the smoke swirled into the air around them she mumbled.  “How’s it work then?”

“Huh, sorry.”

“This inspection, how do you do it?  It will be you won’t it?”

“Oh yes, yes it’ll be me.  So, what I’ll do is come in and take some photographs, I’ll measure the rooms and have a general look around.  Then I’ll do the outbuildings and the grounds and so on.  It’ll take a while I expect – it’s a big place.”

“So you have to go into all the rooms?”

“Yes, I do. I have to write the particulars and describe the condition and any special features, the views, original mouldings in the plaster, fireplaces all that sort of thing.  I’ll probably dictate notes into my phone – that’s my usual method anyway.”

“And my place?”

“Sorry?”

“My place over the garage, it’s just a crappy little bedsit.  You won’t have to do that will you?”

“Oh erm, well I should do. It’s all for sale after all so yes I should do.  Is that a problem for you?”

She shrugged her shoulders and gazed at her feet swinging back and forth, trailing her toes on the gravelly pavement and scuffing up the toes of her battered boots.  She reminded him of his sister when she had sulked as a child.  He had never had that trait but recognised it in the bowed head and sullen expression.  “I’ll try to be quick and not intrude too much.  It’s up to you how I do it.  I can even come while you’re out if you like.”

“No.  Not that, don’t come if I’m not there.”  Her head shot up now and she looked him full in the face.  “I have to be there.”

Jed held up his hands palms outwards towards her. “Okay, okay don’t get upset.”

She turned away again and took a big drag on the joint.  “Well, I’m responsible you know.  I’m supposed to make sure it’s all okay, that’s why I can live there.”

“Yeah sure, of course.  Don’t worry I’ll come when you’re there and you can stick with me the whole time if you want to, but you know that’s the whole point of that agreement.  We take responsibility for what we are doing, did you not read it?”

“No, it wasn’t for me was it?”

“Oh no, fair enough.”  Now that it was out there he could ask her about it.  “Have you any idea how long before I get it back?”

“Day after tomorrow maybe, maybe longer.  I’m not sure.  It went by courier but well…” she gave a small shift of her shoulders.

“Great, that’s great.”  The bus pulled into the stop with a hiss of brakes and the familiar thud of the automatic doors.

“See you tomorrow then?”

She didn’t respond but simply tipped her head to one side and watched as he flashed his travel pass and wove up the aisle to his favourite seat near the back.

***

The office was quiet with most of the agents out working and Jed concentrated on his preliminary particulars.  He was doing a general overview and needed to get a comment in about the sound of the river that he had heard from the garden.  He knew it was close by, but if it was actually visible from the grounds that would be a huge plus.  He wondered if there might be a private access or better still a small stretch that actually belonged to the property.  He made a note to look that up at the Land Registry.

“Hey Dave, your girlfriend’s back.”  Samantha called across the office to where the older man was busy typing.  Jed spun to grin at her, detecting the note of teasing banter in her voice.

“Oh – has Dave got a lady friend.”

“Yes, there she is, out there.  Been coming and gazing through the side window at us now and again for a few weeks now.  Quick, she’s going, look!”  She pointed to the plate glass window in the side of the building.  It was almost completely obscured by notices and frames holding the photographs of houses and flats.  “You can’t see her from there, quick come over here.  I reckon she’s got a thing about our Dave.”  Samantha picked up a jelly bean from the little bowl on her desk and flung it at Dave who was doing his best to ignore her.  Jed strode around the corner of the office and tilted his head to peer between the posters.  The figure was turning away.  The dark jacket and mess of choppy hair was very familiar and he watched as Libby stepped into the road and jigged and dodged between the slowly moving traffic.

***

It has not been a good day.  I have barely been able to keep my eyes open and when I do the nausea is overwhelming.

Sarah visited.  She wanted to know why I hadn’t eaten the soup that had been left on the tray by my bed.  I told her that though it was a treat to have something hot, my stomach revolted at the thought of it.  I heard her tut and felt so guilty, for I think it is her doing that my food is improving and so I pushed myself up and as she watched I spooned the lukewarm broth into my mouth. For a little while I did feel better but in no time at all the room was spinning and whirling and I had to ask her to leave.  It broke my heart because my dearest wish is that she would stay.

I did manage to speak to her about having the doctor.  She said that if I wish it then she will of course call him, but she feels that they will certainly insist that I go into hospital.  I couldn’t bear it, not as I feel now.  She laughed at me when I told her I feel too ill to go to hospital.

We did manage to get the bit of business done.  It was just a couple of documents to sign.  She started to read them to me but It was about taxes and such and far too tedious and I simply asked for a pen and scrawled at the bottom of the pages where she showed me.  I couldn’t even make out my signature though I did clasp her hand for a brief moment.  I wanted to kiss it and to hold it to me but I felt her stiffen.  She never enjoyed physical contact, not since she was small.  She never was one for cuddles. I want to touch her, wrap my arms around her but she keeps her distance and in the gloomy room without my glasses, all I see is the pale moon of her face.   I let her go and when I woke again I was in total darkness, another of my days lost to sleep.

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Bus Stop – Chapter 16

“So, I saw you.”  Libby picked a stray piece of debris from the “herbal” cigarette off her lip.  She didn’t look at him but swung her legs, kicking at the small stones under her feet.

“Sorry?”

“Last night.  I saw you.”  Jed’s throat had dried, but then he thought perhaps she wasn’t referring to his trespass into the garden.   He had walked quite a way around the district and gone into The Feathers for a drink on his way home.

“Oh yeah.  Where was that then?”

“At the house, The Willows.  Is that what you do then?  Snoop around to see if you like it?”

There was an edge to her voice, an undertone of ice that he had never heard before.  Yes, in the pub she had seemed spiteful and petty but this was something else.

“Oh, right.  Well, no not normally but I was at a loose end and I was erm, interested, curious. I just thought I’d pop down there and have a look through the gates and well…“he shrugged his shoulders.  “I couldn’t resist.  I was careful to lock it all up again afterwards.  I just had a look at the garden.  It’s all part of the assessment process.”  Perhaps he could befuddle her with verbiage.  “A property of such importance you know, it takes time to properly assess and estimate values and measurements and so on.  I was just having a little look to get a better idea how we should present it to the market.  Always providing of course that we are given the instruction.”

“Or,” she turned to him now, looked him full in the face.  “You just thought you’d come in and have a drool about it.”

He twisted on the seat to look at her more directly, “I won’t lie to you Libby, I am excited about it.  If we do handle this it will be a huge thing for me.  I don’t suppose you have any idea how much a place like that is worth if it’s offered to the right people.   To make sure it makes as much as possible for the owners we have to plan.  Okay you’re right I shouldn’t have been in there but I didn’t think it would do any harm.  Actually I’m glad you brought it up because it would be really great if we could get things moving along you know.  It’s coming up to winter and it’s better to conduct viewings and things in the better weather.”

“Yeah, okay.  Thing is though I live there.”

“What?”

“Yeah, part of the job, I get to live there.  There’s a flat over the garage, that’s where I stay so, somebody breaking in and prowling around…”

“Shit Libby I am sorry.  If I’d known I would never have come in like that.”

“Well now you do know don’t you, so next time tell me first.”

“Of course, of course I will.  Tell you what, can you give me your mobile number so I can call you.”

“No.”

“Oh.  Okay, well perhaps there’s a landline.”

“No.”

“Well that’s going to be a bit tricky.  I mean we do need to have some contact. We’ll need to arrange viewings and so on. “

“I can see you here.”

“Well – that’s all a bit odd.  Could we make appointments, time for you to come into the office?”

“No, I never know when I’m going to be free, that’s not the way I roll.  Here is all I can do.  If it doesn’t suit you just forget the whole thing.”

“No, no we’ll find a way round it.  We’ll manage it.  First of all though I need an appointment to come and look round.  To take measurements and photograph the rooms all of that stuff and I really need to have proper permission to do that.  I could do with the address of the owners, their phone number – something.”

“It’s okay.  When do you want to come?”

“Oh, well no I don’t think you can give me that.  It has to be from the owners.  I need something in writing really.  I have an agreement here in my case.  Is there anyone who could sign that for me?”

“Yes, I’ll get that done.  I’ll give it back to you in a few days, here.”

She took the paper from him and rolled it into a tube.  Gripping it in her left hand she stood up and walked away towards the newsagents.

As he climbed onto the bus Jed battled the unease he felt.  This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be done.

***

 

Sarah came again.  She still has her cold the poor love.  She spoke to me from the chair beside the window.  How I longed to touch her, to hold her.  She is back in the area on business, she stays in an hotel.  I would ask her to come and stay with me but I don’t want to frighten her away and I am in such a poor state.

 I asked about Elizabeth but she wasn’t forthcoming.  I know there have been problems there but not what they are. It’s such a shame, her only child and no chance of any more since the divorce. 

She still appears to me so very young.   Since we were last together I have become a crone.  My sight is fading, my strength is gone and yet she seems to have hardly aged at all. She has an accent that is different from before they went away but I suppose that is to be expected, her voice is lighter somehow.  Perhaps the heat has affected her or maybe it is age after all.  She wore a pair of trousers and a shirt and her hair pulled back from her face.  I asked her to turn on the light, the better to see her but she thought the sudden brightness would be painful for me. Does she not understand that I would endure any discomfort to see her darling face more clearly?  Maybe next time. 

Apparently there are papers from the solicitors for me.  For so long I have given no thought to that side of life but yes, it must be done.  She tells me they were found downstairs, overlooked by the agency people.  She will bring them up to me next time. 

Brief as they are her visits cheer me but as she leaves the exhaustion overwhelms.  She carried up my food, a sandwich and a drink, it was better than of late.  Now that Sarah is here things must improve.  I had no idea aging would be so very unpleasant – or so swift for it seems to have come upon me unaccountably quickly.  But then perhaps not, it’s hard to follow the passing of time when so much of my life is wasted in sleep or in the horrible dizziness that has afflicted me. 

Perhaps I should ask Sarah to call the doctor.  I hate the thought of being prodded and mused over and I am afraid that they will make me leave my home.  I have heard that they have that power.  The agency who sends my help promised that they would do nothing regarding medical people without my consent but it seems so very long since I have heard from them. The young supervisor who used to visit hasn’t called for an age.  I will speak to Sarah. They used to sit with me, talk to me and then when the dizziness started they withdrew.  It seems that it began quite suddenly and maybe it is a temporary affliction, maybe one day I will wake and I will be myself again. 

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Bus Stop – Chapter 15

It was time to get things onto a more regulated footing, he couldn’t continue with fleeting chats at a bus stop.  This was a multimillion pound deal and it had to be professionally handled.

Jed walked down to The Willows.  The light was fading and there was a brittle chill in the air but it wasn’t unpleasant.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do except that he harboured a small hope that he would spot Libby in the garden and could have a talk.  He needed names and details and most importantly he needed a signature somewhere giving Bailey and Herriot the instruction and naming him as preferred agent to deal with the negotiations.

The huge gates were closed.  He was tempted to push them inwards over the weedy gravel and to walk inside.  He peered through, skimming his gaze back and forth but the garden was empty.  There were no exterior lights and nearer to the buildings at the end of the lengthy drive the shrubbery was a darkening blur against the old stone.  It was a beautiful building.  What a thrill it would be to have a look around.  He had always enjoyed that part of the job.  Even inspecting the nasty little places had been interesting.  He would walk around, mentally constructing particulars in his mind, putting a positive spin on old fireplaces, “original features,” and tiny gardens “manageable outdoor living space.”  Yes, lately he had become disillusioned by the obfuscation but back in the day he had loved it.  This though would be different.  Even if the place inside was decaying as much as the exterior it must still be pretty impressive and it wasn’t dreadful, just a bit “tired”.  He wasn’t expected and it would be bad form to simply turn up.  In addition Libby said the owners were abroad so perhaps the place was in fact deserted.  That would put him in a difficult position if he went in and was caught on CCTV – unlikely but not impossible.

He would have to wait, pin Libby down the next time she joined him in the morning and move things along.  She probably had no idea how it all worked, why should she? And she wouldn’t understand the routine.  He would push her to get permission to do the inspection as soon as possible and all his other work would be shuffled around to suit – this was the one, this was the deal that was going to make his name.

He walked alongside the stone wall, down the road and then turned at the corner.  Half way down the long run was a small wooden gate, the side entrance.  Temptation overtook him and he grabbed the round iron handle and turned it.  The gate swung inward smoothly and with two steps he was standing inside a small area of semi-cultivated garden.  Gravel paths wound between the beds and, though much of the soil was bare and going over to weedy growth he recognised some fruit bushes and an apple tree.  Remains of the summer fruit were rotting on the ground.

The house door was now only a few metres away.  It was partly glazed with blue paint just beginning to fade on the lower half.  He walked up to it and pressed his face against the glass. All that he could see was a small utility room with a large Belfast sink and some shelves crowded with jars and pots.  It was too dark to see further but he could make out some wellington boots and rain coats hanging from hooks on the wall.

It struck him as sad, harking back as it did to the time when the house had been vigorous and active.  Presumably this room had been used for handling and storing the produce from the plots around him.  Beyond this must surely be the kitchen and he itched to look inside.  He felt a flutter of the same excitement that he had felt five years ago when he had inspected his first few properties, before cynicism and disappointment had soured his enthusiasm.

He stepped away and went a little further into the grounds but it was getting very dark and there wasn’t much point in hanging about.  He spun in a circle taking in the declining grandeur and he grinned.  This is what he had been hoping for all along and he blessed the luck that had brought Libby to him on that rain-swept morning just a few short weeks ago.

He was careful to make sure that the small gate was fully closed and secured, he rattled the handle and pushed at the wood and then marched back to the corner with descriptive phrases swirling in his mind.  He would start the particulars tonight, just a few paragraphs about spacious grounds and imposing façades.  He couldn’t wait.

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Bus Stop – Chapter 14

“Jed, good morning.  Sorry about yesterday.”

“Oh it’s fine Mr Bailey.  Everything okay at the planning meeting?”

“Well.”  The man across the desk shrugged his expensively suited shoulders, “Planners, what can you say?”  Jed nodded they shared the joke and the frustration.  They were all in this together, except of course some of them were more in than others.

He drew in a deep breath.  He couldn’t believe the timing, yesterday he had dreaded this meeting but now!

“I wanted to just touch base with you about The Willows.”  Bailey leaned forward imperceptibly, but the change in his demeanour pushed Jed on.  “I have had a meeting with my contact.”  In the back of his mind a tiny red demon was laughing at the term meeting he ignored it.

“Yes?”

“And I have things in place now to make contact with the owners.  It seems that there is the distinct possibility that this is going to go ahead and that I, erm we, are in at the beginning.”

“Excellent, really first class.  Well done.  Now then do you need any help?  Would you like myself or Charles to sit in on your meetings?”

“I think at this point sir, they want to keep things very low key.  I hope that’s okay.”

“Yes, yes of course.  The clients are the ones who must drive this.  I would though issue a little word of caution.  I am sure Jed, that there is no real need  but I would be derelict in my duty if I didn’t mention at this point that the main thing right now, up front is to get something on paper.  A contract if possible, an understanding of some sort – Yes?”

“Oh yes of course sir, of course.  I will make that a priority.  I think you should know that the owners are abroad.  I am working now through my contact.  I know that isn’t ideal but…” He pursed his lips, left the phrase in the air.

“Hmm, no not ideal but, early days eh Jed.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves anyway.  We have a long way to go before we pop the Champagne.”

“Oh yes sir of course I realise that but I just thought I would keep you updated.”

“I appreciate that Jed, I really do.  Charles and I have had a chat.  We are of the opinion that perhaps we didn’t give enough consideration to how – invested – you were in your college work.  We respect that and so, I do hope Jed, that you didn’t feel that the meeting we had a few days ago was too negative.  It was more in the way of guidance.  You do understand that, don’t you?”

“Oh yes sir, absolutely.  I am grateful to you for being so honest.  I am ready now to commit totally and hopefully if this thing with The Willows comes together it will be the first of many.”

“Let’s hope so young man.  Yes indeed.  Let’s hope so.”

Jed took the stairs two at a time and gave a startled Samantha a thumbs up gesture as he hopped off the bottom step.  He sat back behind his desk and logged onto this computer.  Great , this was all great, it was all coming together.  He pushed away the tiny worm of disquiet coiling and twisting in his gut.

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Bus Stop – Chapter 13

The clear autumn sun just didn’t fit with his mood.  As Jed plodded to the stop he carried with him his own grey cloud of gloom.  All night he had tossed and tangled under the duvet.  His mum had been bright and cheery over breakfast. She had asked him about his plans, whether he had anything interesting happening, how sales were going.  She asked about Samantha and Mr Bailey.  It had been so hard to answer her brightness with enthusiasm.

They had no idea that his job was on the line.  As far as they were concerned he was a success already.  It just did not occur to either of his parents that he could possibly fail. He had done well at school, enjoyed his further studies, and had a job with an established and successful firm.

In their world it was all very straightforward.  He would step safely and surely up the ladder until one day he would either branch out to open his own business, as his father had done or buy into the partnership and sail towards retirement on the Good Ship Bailey and Herriot. The idea of coming home from work to tell them that his job was gone and his future was bleak made him feel physically sick.

It wasn’t as if he could hide it either.  It was only a question of time before Simon Bailey had the conversation with his father.  How sorry they were, how it was really not Jed’s fault but he was a casualty of the financial climate.  If things had been different, and so on.

The early bus was just vanishing into the distance as he plonked onto the seat.  A group of senior students in the uniform of the local comprehensive were larking about on the opposite pavement.  They looked so young and carefree.  He wanted to back pedal and try again but he knew that now it was more a question of running to catch up with what he had allowed to drift away.  He fiddled with his phone, checked his emails and then he heard the commotion.

Cat calls and whoops, it was the school kids of course and he glanced up the road to where they were gathered in a group.  They were hustling and pushing at each other, making obscene gestures and then from the middle of the group, her head high and looking as though she was completely unaware of their presence was Libby.  She crossed the road without once glancing back and the boys were left looking stupid.  They turned and headed off towards the school much quieter and just one of them glanced back and raised his hand, flipping the bird at Libby’s retreating back.

“Wankers.”

She flopped on the seat next to him totally unruffled, and pulled out the little box holding her joints.

He was lost for words and so Jed just gazed ahead and waited.

“So, how are you?”

He didn’t know what he had expected, perhaps an apology, maybe an explanation.  “I’m okay thanks – you? “

“Yeah.”  She carried on with the morning ritual.

“Yesterday, in the pub.”  He waited for her to acknowledge that she understood, but there was nothing.

“I think you got the wrong end of the stick.”  The thing was he didn’t have any idea what she had thought.  He had puzzled about it.  She had called Samantha his girlfriend.  Okay that was a mistake but even if she had been what did it matter to Libby.

“Samantha, she’s just a colleague.”  Now Libby turned to him, she tipped her head to one side, took a drag and coughed.

“Yeah well, sorry about yesterday.   I was out of order.”  It left him with nowhere to go, she had apologised, and there was nothing more to say.  To pursue it now would make more of it than was reasonable and his mind was already racing down another pathway.

“Libby, you know the other day?”

She waited , just watched him.

“You said that you thought The Willows might be coming to the market?”  Now he held his breath.  Now was the moment she demurred, told him it wasn’t true, it had been a mistake or perhaps she didn’t even remember.

“Yeah right.”

“Oh, well have you heard any more about that.”

“No.”

“Oh, so it’s not then?”

“Yeah, It is but no I haven’t heard any more.”

He turned and leaned towards her but backed off as the sweet smell of the marijuana tickled his nostrils.

“Okay, here’s the thing.  My job’s on the line. It looks as though I might get the boot and…” he paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  He had to handle this right.  “Well, the thing is that I may have given them a hint that The Willows is going to be up for sale and that maybe I could be in with a chance of handling it.  Do you think –  is there any possibility that you might be able to talk to somebody.”

“Oh, okay right.  Yeah, I’ll do that.”

“Or I could come to the house.  Maybe you could arrange for me to meet with them, the family.”  She shook her head.

“No, you can’t do that.  They’re not there.  They live abroad.  I talk to them on the phone.  Instructions and so on.”

“Oh right.  Do you have an email address f or them, anything like that?”

“What do you need?”  The question left him puzzled.

“Need?”

“Yeah to show your boss that you’re going to be involved.  What do you need?”

“Well, some sort of a letter, an appointment to do an inspection, something like that.”

“Okay – here’s your bus.”  She ground the end of the skinny cigarette under her boot, stood and then swung away round the end of the shelter and headed back the way she had walked that morning.

Sarah has been.  Dear, dear Sarah, the door opened and there she was.  Still so thin.  I was shocked.  “Hello Aunt Lydia.”  That was all she said.  It left me speechless.  I pushed up to try to sit but the dizziness beat me back.  “Don’t get up.  I can’t stay long.”

“I thought you were away.  I thought I was alone.  Come here, come closer.”

“No, I have a cold – I don’t want to give you germs.”

“But I can hardly see you”

“It’s alright, don’t be upset.  I am back for a while.   I can’t stay just now but I will come back and we’ll have a nice visit- soon.”  She raised a hand, blew me a kiss and then she was gone.  It was so brief, fleeting and even now I can’t believe that it wasn’t a dream.  After she had gone I could smell her perfume the girly flowery thing that she always wears.

Sarah has been.  She has seen and she will surely help me.  Oh thank God.

 

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