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       Wonka Presents! Another Story for the New Year, p.1

          
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Wonka Presents! Another Story for the New Year
Wonka Presents!

  Another Story for the New Year

  (A sequel to ‘A Story for New Year’s Eve’)

  Copyright 2016 Madeleine Masterson

 

  It was pretty grim outside. The wind had got up. A blustery sudden wind, warm for this time of year. You blamed the wind and the drafts for all the strange noises about the house, and when the kitchen door creaked and closed on its own.

  The gulls glided and circled overhead and the rubbish blew up the street. The letterbox rattled, not in anticipation of long awaited news, but in protest at the driving winds. It was not seasonal weather. Dustbin lids opened and closed by themselves and the washing lines danced like skipping ropes adorned with coloured plastic pegs.

  Father Merry looked up from the article he was studying, and drifted off to the sound of the Radio. It was that nice Sunday morning presenter, and she had one of those voices, soothing, informative and, most important, not patronising. ‘- And now to play us out, Louis Armstrong….’ As ‘all the time in the world’ spread its magical rich sound all around the small cluttered study, Father Merry caught sight of the headline on his Sunday paper.

  “MYSTERY FALL but no suspicious circumstances surround the death of Ms Alice Snood.”

  She had lain there, it said, face pressed up against the letterbox at ground level (thus preventing the post) for the entire Christmas holiday. Finally, the Postman had reported it as an obstruction to the delivery of royal mail and the police were summoned. Alice’s sister had duly arrived to see to the arrangements and identify what was a pretty awful body, as her older sister.

  “Leaves everything to the Clergy!” continued the article. Father Merry, smiled without humour at this, for he had buried her, at her request (contained in the Last Instructions), in the local graveyard and even now was overseeing an expensive headstone for the plot. Her sister, Elizabeth, had been forgiving towards him if not towards her dead sibling. ‘You’re doing me a service Father,’ she told him, ‘I want as little to do with this, as Alice did with me – and Dad.’

  The Postman, who had tried to peer through the glass front door, thought he saw a shadowy person moving upstairs and was keen to talk about this in the cosy claustrophobic office where he sorted his mail before delivery. ‘If I had known it was a dead body blocking the letter box, I’d have run for it!’ and he shivered, thinking how close he had been to it. The stiff and cold body of Alice Snood. He now made a point of hurrying past the house, thanking whoever it was who had the mail redirected.

  The mourners had been a small gathering of the neighbourhood, mostly there out of interest in what family their snobby neighbour had; and very disappointed to see it amounted to one. Alice’s sister attended out of duty, and left as soon as the earth was flung onto the lowering coffin. With more curiosity, one of the group bent down to read the card, resting there on the only wreath of flowers; expecting a biblical quote, they were surprised to read instead a few lines from a poem by W H Auden:

  ‘Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,

  Behind the lady who dances, and the man who madly drinks,

  Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh

  There is always another story; there is more than meets the eye.’

  The curious neighbour would remain so, as whoever had written it had neither attributed the lines to any poet, nor had they said who they were. Doubly mystified the woman from further along the High Street hurried over to re-join her group and make up what she didn’t know.

  Father Merry did know. He knew that it was Alice’s sister who had arranged for the only wreath of flowers to accompany the coffin, and recognised the poetry quote from a copy of W H Auden poems. The lines were from a poem written in 1936, called: ‘At Last the Secret is Out.’ From a collection of Love poems.

  But what then, he thought, was the secret?

  January was underway, and the unseasonal weather continued. Walking up the cobbled streets of the Old Town, on the uneven paths and gutters, people hid under umbrellas and hoods and hats all hurrying home. One of them lingered a while, checking the sign that had gone up outside Alice’s last dwelling. Gregory, the young man from the estate agents had met Elizabeth at the house, seeming to take measurements without leaving the room, and telling her how much to expect. It appeared that Alice dying in the property could affect this.

  ‘Best not to mention it unless you get a direct question – no one wants you to lie....’ he advised. Elizabeth felt a bout of hysteria coming on and tried to think of something to ward it off. The debt she was in? The last failed relationship? No, all this was suddenly immensely funny. Gregory moved upstairs to inspect the boiler, for some reason housed in a cupboard on the second floor. Elizabeth used the space to ‘get a grip’, and then found that just being in the room alone, was enough to quell any emotion. For a moment, they all seemed shut down, as she felt frozen and as if she were to observe something, which however terrifying, she could not counter or shield with human emotion. She opened her mouth to say something – it could have been to tell Gregory she was leaving, now, - but words did not come out.

  Knowing that she had only one way out, past the landing with that mirror at the top and down those stairs, frightened Elizabeth into staying frozen to the spot. When Gregory reappeared all business like and triumphant, having found boilers, gas and electric meters all conveniently placed nearby, well he didn’t notice her white face or wonder at her open mouth; ‘I’ve got all the information I need Ms Snood – shall we?’ and he waited for her to go down the stairs first, leading the way to the front door.

  Now, a few days after, gazing at the For Sale sign, she prayed for someone to make any reasonable offer so she could be rid of it.

  And Gregory, in the Estate Agents further along the High Street, was more or less thinking the same. He had told him Mum all about it, and his girlfriend Elaine.

  ‘If I sell that property after all the gossip, the recent headlines and whatnot, you can all buy me a large drink!’ His mum, who worried about her son on just about any level, advised him not to go in there alone. ‘Who knows what really happened,’ she warned. Elaine, keen to set herself apart from this intense relationship, offered to go with him if he did go. Also keen to break free, Gregory smiled at Elaine and said he was up for it.

  The For Sale sign shivered a little in a wind that blew up out of nowhere, and Elizabeth turned for home. She didn’t look back and with any luck would not need to return, if Gregory did his job. Remembering the overwhelming and strange atmosphere of the house the last time she was up there, she increased her pace as if followed by it and only when nearly home, relaxed a little. Alice might be dead but her presence was not, and with this unsettling thought Elizabeth turned the key to her own front door, went quickly in and closed it.

  Jean, freed from cleaning the house whilst Alice was in it, and doubly free since her mysterious fall (Jean thought it was), was surprised to learn her cleaning services were still required. Gregory had discovered her number via his mother –‘I cannot recommend this woman enough. Lost her husband, no children and having to keep herself going. And, Greg, she has an excellent reference from Father Merry.’

  Gregory managed not to say Father Who? As that sounded daft, like some television series, one of those dramas he turned over after one minute. You had to give things a chance, and it would give him some edge with Elaine who did watch all that guff.

  ‘If you reckon Mum, I’ll give her a shout.’ It was a landline number so he left a short message, which Jean was glad to respond to, until she learned which h
ouse needed her services.

  ‘You don’t mean Alice Snood’s old place? Realising her unfriendly tone, Jean followed this up with –‘What a coincidence! I used to clean for Ms Snood.’

  Gregory explained that now it was up for sale, and the sister Elizabeth didn’t really want anything to do with the property (beyond getting rid he thought, what a hard hearted woman!) - It would be easier to get a buyer if it had a little facelift in the form of a clean-up – and perhaps a sort out? ‘Elizabeth said she was more than happy for me to arrange a clearance – she didn’t want any of it.’ (Again he thought this was so lazy, especially as she lived in the same town.). ‘Would you like the job – is it alright to call you Jean? We pay a good hourly rate and could take you on as a temp – there are always properties to look after.’

  Jean wanted to say yes please to all the other jobs that might come her way, and no, no, no to going back into that town house. Her head won and she said how much she would love the work. The minute she finished the call she rang Father Merry,

  ‘I said yes, but how on earth can I go back in that house?’

  ‘Because Jean, I will come with you. Perhaps between us, we can lift the harm that seems to have settled there.’ Not just that, thought Father Merry, as it means I can spend time with Jean and bolster her up. They both looked forward to seeing each other, and valued the friendship they now had. In other circumstances it could have been more, but weirdly, in accepting something less it was of more value that any short lived love affair, this rich companionship.

  Initially, apart from the cold and faintly musty smell, the house revealed nothing except the usual unlived in feel of an empty property. Jean marvelled, like the postman before her, at the lack of leaflets and circulars on the doormat. She went straight on to wondering if it was the same doormat that Alice had laid on, and couldn’t get up the stairs quickly enough. When it was first built, the novelty of going upstairs to the living quarters was new, and having your garage and basement below equally modern. Most people had reconverted these properties, preferring their downstairs to be downstairs, but Alice had always enjoyed this now retro, sixties appeal; and placing the mirror at the top of the stairs, just at the small landing before you turned right into the living and kitchen area – that meant she could see the shape of who was at the glass fronted door. Often they remained a shape at the door as Alice decided against answering it.

  ‘So far, so good Jean!’ Announced Father Merry, and she had to agree. There was nothing to worry about for now. Ignoring the chill as she inspected the next level up, the bedroom and bathroom on the second floor, she hummed to herself and wished now she’d brought the radio; even that annoying lunch time presenter would have been a guard against the silence. The more she tried to forget Alice, the more she remembered her.

  Someone else was remembering Alice too. Elizabeth had brought one thing back from Alice’s house, and it was an old suitcase full of family photos, and letters. People don’t do this anymore she thought, not with their smart phones and digital cameras. Not the same thrill, scrolling down a computer screen, as opening the catches on an old suitcase and smelling that distinct aroma of old papers and ink. And staring for ages at an old photo of yourself and Dad on the beach, she thought. It wasn’t too long before another, more horrid memory surfaced, of Alice and her string of lovers, the last one being Elizabeth’s friend (or so she believed) not that this had made any difference. Watching Alice at work, so to speak, Elizabeth saw how impossible it was to persuade her friend to ignore her advances and protect their long standing companionship. To no avail. The inevitable onslaught of Alice’s well-honed charm and social skills got the desired result and Frank disappeared for a while – until Alice ended it. By then, their friendship, Elizabeth with Frank, was also over, and it was this that caused such a row – her Dad (who was always smiling in his photos) made no secret about who his favourite girl was, and Alice could not forgive it.

 
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