Later, cosy in the cottage, with the curtains drawn against the darkness, Jean settled down to watch a DVD. She was content and looking forward to a longer walk the next day, if the weather held. If not, she had work to keep her busy. She tried not to think about the experience in the farm shop. It was done, and after Sunday she wouldn’t go there again.
At eleven she checked the door locks and went to bed.
It was hard to tell how much later it was when she woke. She struggled back to full consciousness, her skin prickling with nerves. She didn’t think she had been dreaming but something had come between her and sleep. She lay still and quiet in the warm bed, listening, waiting to see if there would be more, tense, listening.
An owl called, far away, and there was a click and buzz as the fridge cycled into life, the latter noise causing her to twitch with shock. Though all seemed well she couldn’t settle. She sat up against the pillows. Her ears were alive to every creak and rustle, and her heart thumped. Something had alarmed her.
Since the robbery at her home earlier in the year, she had been more aware of noises in the night, not exactly nervous, but less secure than she used to be. She knew, that the only way to get back to sleep would be to go to the rooms downstairs, and reassure herself there were no problems.
She sighed and reached to the bottom of the bed for her dressing gown.
It was chilly on the landing. She flicked on the light and stepped gingerly down the stairs.
It was all okay, wasn’t it? Everything appeared normal. Her walking stick, which she didn’t really need any more, but carried because she had become used to the feel of it in her hand, was leaning against the wall, beside the hat stand. She picked it up and turned to move down the hall. She pushed open the door into the lounge. She didn’t want to turn on the light it would be too bright for her night-time eyes, too glaring. Though the curtains were drawn across the window, she could see enough to know that all was as she had left it. Her empty glass was still on the table. Relaxing now, pretty much convinced all was well, she tutted, picked it up and carried it with her into the kitchen.
The tiny red light on the microwave glowed bright in the gloom, that, and the illumination from the cooker clock, was enough to see by. The moon shone through the small panes, glinting on the taps and the stainless steel of the drainer. She walked, in her bare feet, across the chilly tiles to the sink. Her nerves were settling as the ambience of the house, calm and undisturbed, wrapped around her. She reached a hand to the tap to rinse the brandy snifter. As the water ran over her fingers she glanced up, directly into the pale oblong of a face against the window, the eyes no more than a glint of moonlight on moisture, the mouth a dark gash. Jean gasped with shock.
The figure withdrew quickly as their eyes met, and she heard the thud of feet running across the garden, the swish of bushes in the narrow side passage. She cried out, just once, and then brandishing the walking stick before her, rushed to the kitchen door.
The key was on its hook, fastened to the side of the cupboard and, with shaking fingers, she slid it into the lock, struggling with darkness and nerves. She turned the key and handle and flung open the door. Afterwards she acknowledged that it was the worst thing to do. She should have turned on all the lights, maybe poked the buttons on the smoke alarms, made a fuss and bother but, in the event, she banged her hand on the switch for the outside light, and stepped into the cone of brightness outside the door. Replaying it later she even grinned at the sight she must have made, wrapped in white towelling, hair dishevelled, waving her walking stick, and shouting into the darkness, but in truth it hadn’t felt funny, and she was absolutely convinced she hadn’t made a mistake. There had been someone there, looking in through the window, and she didn’t want to think what might have occurred if she hadn’t disturbed them. Did they intend to break into the house, and then what? Had they any connection with the shouting and gun fire that she had heard on the first night? And, what, if anything should she do about it?
Now, she turned on the lights, all of them, and rechecked the window and door locks. There was a burglar alarm but she hadn’t set it, because she worried that she would forget in the morning and activate it walking down the stairs. She didn’t relish the thought of a blaring klaxon before she’d even had her coffee. She dug out the instruction leaflet and reminded herself of how to bring the darned thing to life.
She made a cup of warm milk, poured a shot of brandy into it, and took it back up to bed. Propped against the pillow, sipping the drink, she acknowledged that this visit wasn’t panning out the way that she had hoped.
From the disappointment of Lesley not coming with her, the outpouring of despair from Doris Smart, and the unsettling encounter in the new farm shop, it had all been disappointing. Now this latest thing had her wondering if she should cut her losses, call it a day, and go home.
If she did that though, she doubted that she would ever come back. She had loved this place for such a long time and hoped that this first visit, without Jim, would have been a move into the future by way of the past. She didn’t want to remember it as a place of upset and failure.
She only had one more day on her own. Lesley should arrive by early evening tomorrow and then she would feel better, they could visit old haunts, have pub lunches, talk and laugh into the early hours, and it would all be fine.
As she turned out the light she felt calmer, it had probably been an itinerate, a chancer, and she had scared him away hadn’t she. She must remember the alarm, but that was all that was necessary. She really was still too lazy about security, despite the events of the past spring.
She pulled the quilt up to her chin, concentrated on relaxing her limbs, and the next thing she knew the sun was sneaking round the edges of the curtains and warming the room.