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Esthers house, p.4
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       Esther's House, p.4

           Michael Carter
 
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  ~ IV ~

  It was in the same year as the vigil in the loft but when the colder months had arrived when our household was woken one Saturday morning by a strident rapping of the front-door knocker. My father looked from the window and saw that it was Florrie who had ventured out with the morning light to bring us some hysterically-told and ghastly news.

  During the night, she said, the Knockers had worked harder than they ever had before and the dog had gone wild, jumping up at thin air and growling, snarling viciously in every direction. Florrie had rushed into Esther's room, scared, and the two of them had huddled together for comfort, all the while the dog making strange whelps of pain in the living room. After a time the dog went silent and the Knockers gradually ceased their sounds, only to return less than ten minutes later seeming much closer and much louder than before. In a flurry of adrenaline and fear, Florrie had leapt from the bed to put the latch down on the bedroom door, and this completed she had turned back towards Esther. Her sister was sitting up in bed against the wall, pale-faced and with a glazed vacant expression. Before Florrie could reach her, Esther suffered some kind of fit, head and limb flailing wildly around and incohesive mumblings emerging from her mouth. After perhaps half a minute she settled, uttered twice the name `Tommy' and slumped to the bed. Silence returned after this, and as soon as light began to penetrate the curtains, Florrie had left her sister where she lay comatose, checked the dog in the living room which was in a similar condition, and rushed down the bank to our house.

  My father returned to the bungalow while my mother tried to calm Florrie and telephoned for an ambulance. The former found that Esther was indeed in a coma, and she was rushed into hospital mere minutes after her discovery. In the living room my dad found the dog, Shep, sitting quietly on its blanket in the corner, showing no signs at all of unease.

  Esther died later that day, and the doctors said that the cause had been a massive stroke. The funeral was a sombre affair, taking place at the Salvation Army, with a small reception at our house, where a gaggle of uncaring relatives who had earlier abandoned the deceased took the opportunity to down free wine and share anecdotes about Esther.

  Florrie might have been admitted to a nursing home, then, but she absolutely insisted on remaining in her bungalow with Shep. In retrospect, I can make an assumptive guess that she hoped that my parents would ask her to move into our house. I would not have enjoyed this situation had it occurred, but because of a fortunate lack of space in our humble council home that particular nightmare did not occur. Instead Florrie moved back into her infernal bungalow, this time with only Shep, and anything which may have frequented the roof, for company.

  For a few weeks she coped quite well, only venturing outside when it was necessary and being quietly thankful for the regular checks from the home-help, meals-on-wheels and district warden, as well as the weekly visits paid her by my mother. As I was at school I am uncertain of how the conversations went, but I saw little of Florrie at our house -- only for occasional hot dinners did she encumber us -- and I assumed everything was going fine.

  It was quite a shock then when I returned home one day to be told that Shep had died of a heart-attack, and Florrie had suffered an instant mental fog, rushing to the post-office for an undue pension, slipping on the ice and breaking her arm, and forgetting completely where she lived and who she was. Only from her pension book was she identified. She was taken to hospital for several days and continued to demonstrate her loss of memory so was placed in a Psychiatric Hospital for initially a short spell. This period escalated into two months, and eventually she seemed to forget every detail about her life except the continual urge to draw her now-defunct pension. It was decided that it would be in everyones best interests if Florrie spent the rest of her days in a home for the Elderly, and her transferral thereof went without a hitch, without Florrie even comprehending her move.

  It fell upon my parents to empty Florrie's bungalow; an act in which I sullenly helped. What furniture was saleable my father abolished to second-hand salerooms and I was particularly pleased to see that large mirror and settee pass out of my life. Both Florrie's and Esther's (for the former had never sorted them out) clothes and possessions were donated to various charities, with a few photos, ornaments and Shep's collar taken to decorate Florrie's room at her new home. All that remained--all that which was of no use to anyone else--was burned in a large bonfire in a vacant field nearby. This fire-fodder included the very worse-for-wear rocking chair which seemed to have been passed down the Wharton generations, several old beds and wardrobes that were severely outdated, the rotten lino from the kitchen floor, and those dreaded plastic shields that we deemed unsuitable for sale. The metal swords and various other paraphernalia were given with glee to the scrap merchant who would melt them out of those hideous shapes. As my father locked that bungalow up for the last time before passing the keys back to the council, my mother noted that there were several tiles missing from the roof.

  So it was that my association with that house -- and indeed that line of our family -- ended, and this hasty separation brought with it no sadness. My parents frequented Florrie's nursing home less and less over the following three years until she too, the last in a long-lived and strange family-line, died by way of a stroke, like her sister. After her funeral -- which was even more low-key than that of Esther's -- her insurance money came to us as her nearest relatives. With it a headstone was fitted to both sister's graves -- when Esther had died Florrie would not afford any marker -- and what remained passed into my parents’ hands, a fair, if belated compensation for many sleepless nights and much eccentricity from the pair. From that money my parents purchased me a word-processor, and it is using that device that I now write these words of account.

  It is over five years since Florrie passed away, and I have noticed that an old married couple now reside in that bungalow which fueled so many phantasies. The tiles on the roof have been replaced, and I am confident that the atmosphere within will be much more congenial now that the building shelters new occupants. I have no idea, however, and nor do I wish to know, whether their sleep is punctuated with strange Knockings from the roof.

  © 1998 by Michael Carter. All rights reserved

  You read the story...now tell me what you think! With thanks and love to my wife, Emily Carter, for improving the cover.

 
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