“All I’ve ever done was be Somebody’s daughter, sister or Wife. I spent half my life running after, or waiting round for them. Now here I am again: The sister without a mister, but with my sister, who will never be independent and three houses weighing me down and dragging me out of my depth.”
It was summer, the season that makes you believe anything is possible, yet the ragged-edged knife of sorrow still scraped at her bones. With the warm sunshine shining in through the library window, the place seemed to be constantly shrouded in a layer of dust. Alice hit a deep low water mark in her existence. Inside she felt as if someone had ripped out her heart; she hadn’t realised how much she had invested emotionally in the twenty nine year relationship with Sidney and now she was hurting more than she had ever hurt in her life.
Perhaps it was the heat and the fact that Mr Yates the Surveyor was almost an hour late. He had been highly recommended, so she hoped he would be worth the wait. Alice had finished her coffee when he arrived.
Despite the warm day, Mr Yates appeared to have so many layers of clothes on, that he looked like a well worn packed suitcase. “All that was missing, was the rough string tied around the middle.” Thought Alice inwardly. The glistening sheen on his forehead did nothing to dilute the fact he had a shower with Lynx, instead of using water, earlier in the morning. Alice brought him through to the kitchen and offered some refreshment to break the ice, and to give her the opportunity to talk face to face for the first time.
He had a face like a fur hatchet, his voice was slushy like he was speaking with loose dentures, and he seemed to have as much life in him as a post mortem and steeped to the gills in serious purpose. It was not how she had imagined him from the phone calls. In fact she was beginning to wonder if it was actually him she had spoken to on three or four occasions.
Alice made tea, while Mr Yates talked. He was fond of talking. Talking of houses where families collected useless stuff in the attics for generations….. Keeping the life savings under the floor boards, in a mattress or buried down the field! This was a world that Alice was only beginning to discover. She also learned that a greater supply of tea, sugar and milk would be required, at the rate he was using them across the table from her. He liked his tea. Yes. He liked his tea well stewed, with a bucket of milk and a bag of sugar. He even brought his own monster sized mug to drink from.
“It might well take a mattress full of money to keep Mr Yates in sweet milky tea and buttered biscuits.” Thought Alice.
Over the next month she was to learn that he liked having ‘a cup of tae’ every hour on the hour with well buttered plain biscuits and saying “Aaah” after taking the first sup! His had a habit of shouting ‘Yeeeeeoooo’ when something happened, or he discovered something interesting.
One afternoon, while Alice & Morgan were in quiet discussion at the table, their chat was interrupted by a creak, a heavy footstep fall and ‘Mr Yeeeeeoooo’, as they had begun to refer to him, walked into the library, with his usual call of Yeeeeeoooo! It caused Morgan to raise his head and meet his gaze. In the brief silence that followed, it was clear the pair disliked each other. Once he had imparted the information of his latest find, left the box on the table, he creaked his way out of the room to go make another cup of tae.
Out of ear shot, Morgan quipped “I bet he dances with as much abandon as an elderly night watchman with arthritic knees!” That thought made Alice smile for the first time in weeks.
Deciding to finish what they were at, Alice rose, lifting the box to place it on one of the books shelves to the left of the fireplace. Stumbling slightly, she bumped the box against the row of books on the shelf. Suddenly the section of bookcase moved like a door opening easily, as if someone was waiting behind it. Morgan had moved when he saw her stumble and was by her side as quick as the action of the book door. They gazed open mouthed at each other in a silence you could cut a chunk out of with a spade.
“Wait!” said Morgan in a loud whisper, as Alice was about to walk into the space behind the door. I want to see exactly where the box touched the books. It must hold the mechanism to the door lock. We need to check it out before we venture further. “You would not want to be stuck in a secret room with me. Would you?” He asked gently with a smile. Morgan’s eyes told Alice that he understood the darkness and sorrow she was going through, he could not be more helpful, and did everything in his power to lift the weight. He saw it as his duty to the memory to Sidney who had been so good to him all down the years.
The room, a space as large as the master bedroom, was furnished like a private study.
A classic Georgian 5 drawer bureau with a fold down desk area, stood in the bay under the window. Along the opposite wall was a day bed in a solid mahogany sleigh design. A hideaway trundle pulled out on castors from underneath. A pair of swan carved side tables stood one at each end, topped with simple yet elegant table lamps. A small fireplace backed the one in the Library wall. The rear of the door was a replica of the other side with five shelves filled with books. The fourth book on the waist high shelf, next the opening, matched the one on the other side of the door, the trigger for opening from the inside.
Alice was aware of secret rooms and hidden passages from fictional novels and films. She had even dreamed of having a place where she could push a bookcase aside, and behind it have a reading sanctuary with chairs, surrounded by the characters in the novels that would line the shelves around her.
“Holey Buckets! What a project this is turning out to be!” It was Morgan who spoke as they returned to the library table to continue and finish the task they were interrupted from.
“Maybe we should pull up a few more floor boards, after all, you never know who might have slowly, over decades, socked some money away underneath them!” He said with a smile and a wink as they folded the papers they had just finished dealing with. “We have only scratched the surface so far!”
Alice laughed for the first time since…. well you know. The first time in months.
“Morgan, you will never believe it, but I had thoughts along those lines when I first met yer man. It might well take a mattress full of money to keep Mr Yeeeeeoooo in sweet milky tea and buttered biscuits were the words in my head.”
They both laughed.
“Right, Mrs Slave driver, time we packed up and headed back before Lovell and Crumbs send out a search party.” Said Morgan, adding “Let me bring that box and we will take a look at it tonight, after I have treated you & Lovell to her favourite Chinese take-away. An easy evening with no cooking is what we both need and Lovell will not object.
A waterfall of tears began to stream down Alice’s face once more. Not sure whether it was a feeling of betrayal to Sidney’s memory by laughing, or Morgan’s gentle teasing and constant kindness towards her, but she could not seem to stop the tears.
“Let them flow” said Morgan as he handed her a large handkerchief. “Just sit here while I lock up. I won’t go without you. Promise!”
“I’m sorry!” said Alice when he returned to the library.
“No need. Tears are salty. Salt is healing, and you have had your life turned upside down in this last year. Just remember skinned knees and bruised hearts, those are the things that make for a full life. Because Life isn’t life without a few scars along the way, and the perfect don’t get scars. You can’t get scars if you’ve never lived.
Alice, now is your time. You can put your roots back into the ground here, in this house, and be happy again…. But, you need to find a new name for it first!” He winked as he said so.
Alice smiled her thanks for his understanding.
“Now let us go, I am starving and ready for that takeaway, I have the box and the keys.” Said Morgan, “Here put that jacket on and let’s move.”
Lulled to relaxation by the movement & purr of the engine, Alice turned to Morgan and asked “What name would you suggest for Thudder house?”
Like children playing ‘eye spy’ they threw out suggestions for most of the journey back to Lovell, Crumbs and food. Many were giggle worthy but a few would be added to a short list.