I’m bored out of my mind, cooped up inside. Working from home is a new form of slavery it seems. They’re going to get me mad with all the legalese they ask me to review, approve, sign and all. These people don’t get a sense of what’s happening, they still cling to the familiarity of their mind constructs. But flog me instead, that’ll be less painful than another ration of compliance and control rules.
I’ve been listening to whale songs on the internet. Got to do something to keep me from going bonkers. The wife and I are barely talking, she spends her day on the balcony, planting tiny carrots in the hopes of what, I wonder? At least, she gets some sun.
Funny creatures the whales. Blue whales got to be the only creature that man hasn’t been able to build a zoo big enough to accommodate. Sometimes despite the pollution in the oceans, I envy the big bastards.
I got to laugh a little at being a fish in a tank like the rest of the world. You would think you’d get for free the much touted chloroquine from the tank cleaner too. Pity it’s just deadly, but not for the virus. Talk about being morbidly stupid. Too much reading of the news do that to the brain too I guess.
Thing is, if I continue on chugging wine and boritos, I think I may be able to outsize my container. Isn’t the dream of every aquarium fish?
The evening helper said she was very sorry to tell me that my niece wouldn’t be able to make it this week, as she’d been on holiday and got quarantined. You needn’t be sorry about that, I told her, I don’t know who she is anyway. Not that I’m ungrateful, it’s very kind of her to come and visit me. She tells me all about people I’ve never heard of, and I pretend to take an interest. I’m polite you see, brought up that way.
Then she said, you’ll have to go easy on the toilet paper, it’s all sold out. Panic buying, she said.
That’s what happens when people start shitting themselves with fear, I said, and she tutted at me as if I was a seven year old, the cheeky young whippersnapper. And how shall I go easy on it, shall I crap outside behind the flat topped bushes under my window? Wipe my arse on a leaf?
Don’t be daft, you’d fall over, she replied crisply. She had a point. My hip’s still playing me up, so my plans to escape are on hold. Not much point in it with all this quarantine nonsense going on anyway. I might get rounded up and put in a tent by a faceless moron in a hazmat suit. I must say the plague doctors outfits were much more stylish. And there was no panic buying of loo rolls in those days either.
I don’t know what the world’s coming to. A handful of people with a cough and everyone loses their minds. Then again, when the plague came, everyone lost their minds too. Not over toilet paper though. We didn’t start losing our minds until the carts started rolling past every night full of the bodies. No paper masks in those days either, we wound scarves around our faces because of the stench.
The worst thing was being locked in the house when the kitchen maid came down with it. All of us, all of the nine children, my wife and her mother, the cook and the maids, all of us untouched, all but that one kitchen maid. If only they’d taken her away, the rest of us might not have perished. Not having enough food did us in, we were weakened with starvation. Shut in the house for weeks, with no escape. Nothing to do but feast on the fears, like a smothering cloud. Like as not, we just gave up, and said, plague, carry me off, I can bear no more. I know after the youngest 6 children and the oldest boy died, I had no will to live. I died before the wife did and felt a bit guilty about that, leaving her to face the rest of it alone. She wasn’t happy about that, and who can blame her.
One thing for sure, it wasn’t running out of blasted toilet paper that was worrying me.
Finally! We’ve been disembarked, I thought I would go mad on this ship. Felt it must have been less excruciating for those on the Pequod. But whales are too smart nowadays, they don’t want to catch our silly viruses, they don’t taste as good as walruses.
The voices have quieted down for now, maybe it was only the voices of the other passengers carried through the pipes. Wife didn’t seem to suffer as much from the confinement, she just can’t wait to resume her life.
Just received a text from our daughter who went to buy groceries for when we return: “In the store now. All the pasta, rice and sauces have been cleared out. Preppers craze much? 🤦”
I had to laugh to myself. Guess it looks promising for when the real apocalypse comes…
I feel sick in my stomach. Been days actually. Got to try something new, and a line a day seems like a good start.
Had dreams last night, it was months I didn’t get any. Nothing really out of the mundane, though I was selling the house in one of the dreams.
To think we’re still stuck on this nightmarish cruise, nor on land nor on water, and I dream of the house. The brain has a sense of humour.
The walls are paper thin, we can hear the endless complains of the nearby cruisers. That’s two left, one right, 3 across the corridor, and at least 2 above and below — that I can count at least. I call them my voices, makes me laugh a little. I didn’t tell Lorel, she would call me barmy. I thought of giving them numbers, it’s like reducing the complexity of human nature to something more… geometric? Reduce them to lines of code, maybe you can hack into the collective mind, make it work for you.
I think one of the voice is a pirate. It’s coughing Awwr, arr, arr more and more now. I’ll call him Eleven. Won’t be long before they catch him and isolate him. Good thing he’s the guy under and not above, from what I hear, the thing spreads through the loos too. Maybe he’ll make a run for it, I heard some tried to escape this hellhole. Well, they missed the free booze vouchers, too bad for them.
So long journal, wife is coming back from her trip to the other room. Yeah, I mean the loo, don’t you enjoy promiscuity. We’re not rolling in dough, couldn’t afford the presidential suite you see. Maybe if we survive longer than everybody else, it’ll be ours, who knows…
Truth be told, April was missing the US. She missed all their little coterie of maids living in the shadows of the powerful. Missed the drama most of all.
She’d been secretly texting Norma and May, while June was lazily sipping mojitos with Jacqui.
Norma was fine, but May and the other alien staff had suddenly disappeared when the Secret Services had started to investigate more deeply into the staff’s backgrounds after all the kidnapping fiasco. At least, August had been covering for Norma, such kind soul he was. Besides, the President’s wife could no longer live without her butter chicken. But May and the others couldn’t face the music apparently. Funnily, they couldn’t find “real” American maids nowadays suited to replace them. Good luck with that!
April couldn’t tell June, obviously, since her friend harboured such hatred for the system that had them put in jail. As for herself, she couldn’t argue with the fact they’d deserved it. Nothing a good lawyer couldn’t fix though. That’s why she loved the idea of America. Guilty as charged, indeed. Those charges now vanished.
She’d thought first that it would fuel her inspiration nicely, but it was the opposite. The sudden extra time had distracted her entirely, and her inspiration seemed inaccessible.
She was starting to make up her mind. She would go back, to her family in Arkansas. That could only be temporary of course, as her mother, bless her soul, would start to have her meet all the gents in the neighbourhood in the hopes to finally get her only daughter married. Talk about drama. If that doesn’t kick-start her inspiration engine, nothing would.
Problem was, with the virus around spreading mass panic, there seemed to be no sure way to fly back. She would have to devise some circuitous plan.
“How in tarnation did ya do that?” Arthur looked at his wife suspiciously.
“Do what, honey?” Ella Marie replied, feigning innocence.
“This here lottery win! How did you do that? You aint been doing them there voodoo tricks again, have you? You promised…”
“Oh heck Art, it’s pure chance, a million to one, you know that! We just got lucky, is all.” But she couldn’t meet his eye. “Well I had to do somethin’! It aint for us, it’s for those friends of Jacqui’s. When I heard they’d been locked up in jail on cooked up charges, after being so excited about visiting the family, well I couldn’t bear it.”
“You promised you wasn’t gonna do that hokey pokey stuff no more,” Arthur said.
“Yes but it aint for us. This is different, just a one time thing, helping out friends. We can pay the bail money for ’em now and get ’em outta that stinking hellpit. Aint no place for decent ladies, Art.”
“They’ll need some darned expensive lawyers to fight the Beige House, and fat chance of winning.” Art looked doubtful.
“Oh they won’t stick around to fight the case. I had this idea,” Ella Marie had that old twinkle in her eye that used to get Art all fired up, back in the day. “We’re gonna buy them a boat. I been talking to Jacqui ’bout it. An old flame of hers turned up who can sail the boat for them.”
“How big’s the boat?” asked Art, an idea brewing in his head. He’d always wanted to sail around the world.
“Well we aint bought the boat yet, Art, the lottery check only just arrived. How ’bout we go down to Orange Beach Marina and see what’s for sale? We could have a seafood lunch, make a day of it.”
A big smile spread across the old mans face. ” Well, hell, Ella Marie, I guess we can do whatever we darn well please now! Let’s do it! And,” he added, planting a loud smackeroo of a kiss on her forehead, “Let’s get a boat big enough for all of us. I’ve got an adventure in me, afore I pop my clogs, I sure do.”
“The Spanish Moss Motel? Well, I’ll be darned, so this it where it is,” said Arthur, “But hell, it’s no place for a baby!”
“What do you mean, Art?” asked his wife. “Is it one of them there broth kitchens full of painted tarts?”
Art shook his head. “Not exactly. Nobody really knows, ‘cept everybody knows that things go on here.” Art shook his head again. “Aint no place for a baby.”
Arthur was driving the minivan. It was an old Chewy Express van with the big bold “DRAPES CLEANING” sign on it that he’d repainted by himself over the years. The business wasn’t doing great, truth be told, so he’d cut down the marketing costs, which according to Ella Marie wasn’t a bright idea. “You never know where you next patrons could hide.” She’d said, and then had him hooked up on some social website to post random things and get some likes and thumbs up. He’d come a little late for the new century’s game and couldn’t see any of the appeal, but he’d learned over the years never to make the missus irate.
He’d been so glad when she’d come back from the floods, unscathed and full of completely batshit crazy stories. Mummies and stuff. Sounded like being rolled in shredded drapes fanfiction to him. Complete garbage, but you can’t tell people they’re crazy, they’d hate you for it, and in truth you may be wrong. You might be the one crazy and all the others the sane ones. How’s that for a thought.
Anyway, he loved his Ella Marie dearly, and had learned not to sweat the small stuff. Like this night drive to a funny place she’d just received coordinates from an acquaintance on the Net. Those were mad times, mad times indeed. At least, she could have told him she wanted to catch a new rare pokemeon go! in the dead of night, and it might have sounded… well, just as mad probably.
They were driving steadily, being careful about the road signs; the van wasn’t much for crazy stunts anyway.
“How far is that?” he asked the wife, who was busy on her phone tracking the route and chatting on the thing with her friends imaginary or else.
“Not far, luv’. Next turn right, then left, then right and we should be there.”
The last turn took them off the road, and Arthur started to wonder if that wasn’t another “turn left at your peril” GPS experiment, where they’d have to haul the van out of a tar pit, but it seemed fine so far. The place looked ominous, and full of croaking noises 🐸🐸🐸🐸.
He killed the headlights, and moved in the parking lot at a crawl. There was no point in alerting whoever was there of their nocturnal visit. A barn owl flew straight in front of the van, scaring them.
“STOP!” jumped Jacqui, who’d been sleeping the whole time, and woke up to a frightful sight.
Arthur pushed on the brakes that gave off a screeching sound that would wake up a mummy.
“Och aye, now that’s intriguing,” remarked Jacqui, looking up from her phone. “Well I’ll be darned.”
“What’s that, honey?” asked her friend Ella Marie, looking up from her needlepoint. She was working on a cushion cover with an Egyptian theme.
“How far away is Chickasaw?”
“Why, that’s not far away at all,” Arthur said, and then went into some detail involving road numbers that neither of the ladies paid attention to.
“What all is a happening over there in Chickasaw anyway?” asked Ella Marie.
“Can you drive me over there? I have to kidnap a baby,” said Jacqui.
Noticing the astonished looks on her friends faces she hastened to add, “Oh it had already been kidnapped. I just have to kidnap it back, the mother misses it.”
Arthur and his wife said “Ah” in unison, recalling the time when the divorced father had snatched the neighbours children, causing poor Mary Lou no end of grief.
“Of course we’ll help you, that child needs his mother,” Arthur said. “Where in Chickasaw are they holding him?”
“That’s the tricky part, Art. The exact location isn’t known. In fact, ” Jacqui said, “In all honestly I don’t quite know where to go from here.”
“Don’t you realize we’re in trouble June?” April had sobered up quickly. June looked at her suspiciously, it’s been months she suspected April to swap her vodka drinks with plain water to avoid getting drunk.
“June! Are you listening?!”
“Of course I am, stop bawling like that horrid baby, I’m no deaf.”
“Speaking of which, I’m glad we’re rid of them. Leave it to May to handle, or the new maid?”
“What new maid?”
“The one who’s been pillaging your cognac’s stash, I though you knew her?”
“No I don’t. She’s been way too cosy here… you know her? She some of August’s little afternoon delights?”
“Stop with that, you know August is a married man, his wife’s so scary he wouldn’t…”
“Must you always kill the mood April, let me enjoy a little sneaky gossiping.”
“We must go to his last known location, find the boy!”
“Are you kidding? Old South USA? And I thought it couldn’t get worse than Washingtown. And in case you’ve all forgotten, I’m still wanted in so many places, even that splendulous new hairdo isn’t going to hide me forever. And how are we going to hire muscle, genius? As you must have noticed, all his security details have followed Gollump for his impricotment hearings.”
“I had a brainwave.”
“Oh, that’ll be grand, do tell. Are you proposing one of your remove throwing session from your little art club?”
“It’s remote viewing! — and yes,… no! Not yet. I was thinking of his mother, Mellie Noma; she loathes the oaf as much as she loves her spawn. She may lend us some resources.”
“Yeah, right… And you’re going to bribe her with?”
“Oh I have the perfect idea. You know how fashion vane she is.”
June had a realization which turned into a horror face. “No way! Not my pith helmet!!”
“Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson helped his wife Floribunda onto the camel,” Tibu spoke softly, gently turning the well worn page. “And clamboured onto his own. Cranky and Illi were mounted on donkeys, as were Tibn Zig and Tanlil Ubt, their local guides. Three hot dusty days, and two bitterly cold nights away lay their destination: Tsnit n’Agger and the home of the legendary giant of the Alal’ Azntignit.”
A movement caught Tibu’s eye and he glanced up. She was still there, listening.
He turned back to the book and continued reading. “Cranky was feeling like a fish out of water in the desert, but Illi had taken to it like a duck to water. Not that there was alot of water about in the desert, Cranky grumbled to herself. What she wouldn’t have given for a nice hot cup of tea and a crumpet.”
“Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” she interrupted. “It’s such rotten weather to stand out here and I ~ well, I like just listening to you.”
“But I can’t, I’m too busy with my new art deco project, repainting the gnomes in the garden, supervising Roberto to take care of my crops of… erm medicine. And of course, Uncle Oobie is staying in the caravan for the next weeks, I absolutely need to show him around.”
“Who would have known the housewife life was so stressful” a metallic voice came from the speakers.
“Couldn’t have said it better” Finnley said under her breath.
“Damn it Godfrey, thought you’d deactivated Fliz!”
“It’s not Fliz, Liz’, it’s Olexa! Not my fault if she has a temper in her notification mode. We installed it so you can reorder hummus by shouting in the air… Or… wait a minute… Has Finnley tricked me there?”
He looked around, but the maid had scurried along to tend to some important cleaning duties.JibParticipant
Roberto had gone to the swimming pool. He was mostly puzzled by how reality had shifted into those broken pieces that didn’t seem to fit together since he had come back from that strange tunnel with all the roots spawning strange characters from glowing pink bubbly growth.
It must have something to do with the pink liquid leaking frrrrom those strrrange pouches, he thought.
He looked pensively at the swimming pool. Half of it was covered by thick ice while the other half was boiling with micro bubbles rising from the bottom and the walls, and steam slowly rising in the cool spring air.
Roberto had first thought there might be something wrong with the water cleaning mechanism of the swimming pool, but he had checked it and nothing was wrong, except the cleaning bot was stuck in the icy part of the swimming pool.
His second thought had been that it was a fancy pool cover installed by la señora Liz. But he didn’t find the retracting mechanism. La señora Liz and la muchacha Finnley, his colleague, seemed busy with the man with the moustache. Roberto had the impression the man wanted to find a wife, he didn’t want to intrude and say anything. He had tried to talk to el mayordomo Geoffrey, but he was busy again preparing another viaje de negocios for la señora.
So Roberto was there pondering in front of the swimming pool. That’s when he noticed the entrance of the green maze just on the other side of the pool, at the junction between summer and winter. He didn’t remember if it was there before.
“I had another vivid dream last night, Sunny. I dreamed of a man I met when i was selling my potions in the market place in town. He was chasing a little red fox and I gave him some potion … “
Glynis smiled reluctantly.
“No, that’s what happened. I’ve not got to the dream part yet.”
“My apologies,” said Sunny, nudging her ear gently from his perch on her shoulder. “Please continue.”
“Anyway the man from the market came to me in my dream and thanked me. He said his wife was well now. He said to look for a gift in the heartwoods.”
“Excellent dream!” said Sunny. “I adore gifts. I will keep my eyes open and hope we find it poste haste. How much further is it now, anyway?”
“Another few days travel to the fringe of the heartwoods. According to the map, that’s where the first X is.”
They continued in silence, glad of each other’s company on the journey.
Glynis had been sad to leave the Bakers and more than a few tears were shed on parting They tried to get her to stay but it was without much conviction for Glynis had shown them the map and, though plain folk, they had sound instincts and knew when something had to be.
“Any time you want, Girl,” said Mr Baker gruffly, “you’ll find a home here. You hear me? And make sure you keep in touch.”
And Glynis nodded, unable to find the words to thank him for his kindness.
And Mrs Baker had made her a new burka. She’d stayed up nights sewing to surprise Glynnis. It shimmered, sometimes green and sometimes blue depending on where the light fell and it felt like silk to the touch. Glynis thought it was the most pretty thing she had ever seen.
“You’ve a lovely heart, Lass, and anyone who’s worth a penny will see that and not those scales on your face.”
It was the first time either of the Bakers had mentioned her appearance and for a moment Glynis was rendered speechless.
But not so, Sunny.
“Knock, knock!” he cackled loudly. “Oh come on! It’s a good one!”
“Who’s there?” said Glynis softly.
“Dragon your feet again?”
“Well, the backdoor was opened, you see, like my wife says…” Inspector Melon started to explain Finnley how he managed to be in the house no sooner had she turned back to dusting duties, or rather turned her back to the door and said duties.
“Stop it!” she interrupted, “and put those shoe covers on your muddy shoes, damnit, I’m not going to do the floors again on your behalf, you miscreant.”
Finnley put her fists on her hips with a defiant air, not gone unnoticed by Godfrey, “Well, THIS dripping wet gentleman pretends to be a policeman investigating on the Jingly girl disappearance… Not that we know anything about that anyhow.”
Inspector Melon couldn’t help but say “Interesting you should mention it, did I say I was looking for Ms Jingle Bells?”
Glynis had been staying with the Bakers for a few weeks now, since the night of the storm.
She had taken refuge on their porch, as the gale tore through the pitch black streets, blowing anything not nailed down along in its wake. Intending to leave early before anyone in the house was up, she found a dry corner and wrapping her burka tightly around herself for warmth, she fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
“Well, what have we here! Good Lord, girl, you must be freezing!” said a booming male voice. Glynis started awake, trying to work out where she was.
“This is no place to be in a storm. Come inside to the warm,” the man continued. And before she could gather her senses and protest, he took hold of her arm and gently but firmly pulled her into a cosy warm kitchen already filled with the delicious aroma of baking bread.
“Anne!” he called to his wife, “look what I found on the front porch!”
“Oh you poor dear! You are shivering! Come with me and let’s get you into some dry clothes.”
Anne Baker was a portly woman with a purple scar covering a large part of her face. Glynis never mentioned the scar and likewise the Bakers never said a word about the dragon scales, seeming completely unperturbed by Glynis’s unusual appearance. In fact, in their kindly presence, Glynis sometimes found herself forgetting.
To repay their kindness, Glynis helped with the baking. With her knowledge of herbs, she had created several new recipes which had proved to be most popular with the customers. This delighted the Bakers; they were people who were passionate about what they did and every little detail mattered. They rose early, often before the sun was up, to lovingly prepare the dough; in their minds they were not merely selling bread; they were selling happiness.
Glynis was most surprised the day the stone parrot arrived in the mail.
“This is very peculiar. Who is this “laughing crone” and what does she want with me,” said Glynis to the stone parrot. “I wonder, did Aunt Bethell send you to me? She is very good at stories — perhaps she sent me the dream as well.”
But surely Aunt Bethell would not call herself a laughing crone! No, that is definitely not her style!
Glynis stared at the concrete parrot and an uneasy feeling had come over her. “You are alive inside that concrete, aren’t you,” she whispered, patting the stone creature gently. “Have you too been caught in the spell of some malevolent magician?”
By the following spring, Trustinghampton had fifty seven inhabitants. Under the leadership of Leroway, all had comfortable homes and enough to eat. There were numerous workshops, a bakery and communal brick oven, vegetable gardens and a traveling scavenging team with a mule cart. It was Lobbocks who had suggested a distillery: what we need now is a pub, he’d said. Somewhere to party.
And that is how Leroway became the Lord Mayor. When the first spirits and wines were ready, the villagers held a party. The scavengers had found, among other things including additional wines and spirits and party drug stashes, a vast collection of clothing of all kinds, and so they had a fancy dress party. For fun they had a competiton of the best costumes, and Leroway and Jolly won, with their royal robes and tiara crowns. Eleri won second prize for her fetching maids outfit.
Lest anyone be confused as to the nature of the workings of the village, there was no hierarchy and no laws. It was a mutual cooperation under the obvious and natural leadership of Leroway. The villagers were fond of him and grateful for the part he played, and Jolly was popular with everyone. The First Party was such a success and everyone loved their costumes so much that they continued to wear them, and play the parts. Thus, Leroway and Jolly became Lord Mayor and Lady Teacake, and Eleri played the part of their maid, although nobody was dictating to anyone else as it was just a game.
It was the maids outfit that led Leroway astray. Try as he might, for he was devoted to his wife, he couldn’t subdue the flames rising in his purple clad loins. Eleri deftly avoided him as best she could, for she too was devoted to her friend Jolly. Had she fancied Leroway at all, she might have considered approaching Jolly with a view to an amicable ménage à trois, but the fact was, she didn’t. She had eyes for the latest arrival, the mysterious Mr Minn.
“There you go, little Fella,” she said. “Now no-one can see you.”
“Where’d he go, dammit! I saw him come over this way,” shouted a podgy red-faced man, puffing heavily with the unaccustomed exertion. “I’ll teach that little varmint to try and eat my hens! What did you do with him, Witch!?”
Glynis took one of the remaining jars from her table and held it out to the man.
“Give your wife three drops every evening as she sleeps,” she said, trying her best to sound crackly and old. “She will get well after 3 days — you don’t need to sell your hens to pay that doctor any longer. He wasn’t doing her any good.”
“Eh?” said the man in surprise, at the same time taking the jar. “True enough that is, but how did you know?”
“I know many things,” she answered mysteriously. “Now, take your hens home, and I wish you and your good wife all the best.”
“Well, this is remarkable. Thank you very much indeed,” said Fox when the podgy man had gone.
“If you are hungry I have a hard boiled egg and some fruit in my bag. Help yourself.”
“Ha ha!” laughed Fox. “People will think you are talking to the ground.” He was quite delighted with his new invisible status and considering the various possibilities it offered him.
“Now don’t you go taking advantage of any more hens just because you are invisible. It will wear off in about an hour, I think. I haven’t actually tried it on anyone other than myself before … I’ve never thought it ethical to sell the invisibility potion in case someone gets up to no good with it. But I like to keep some handy, just in case. “
Just then the Town Clock chimed.
“I’d best be going now. I have to go before the warden comes to check my permit … I don’t have one but as long as I get away early it is usually okay,” said Glynis. “Now, if you have any problems with the invisibility spell come and see me. I live in the old mansion in the enchanted forest. Do you know your way there?
“I think I can find it,” said Fox. “Thanks again for your assistance.”
Glynis had intended to head directly towards the forest after she left the market, but on impulse took the longer route through the pretty and tree lined Gingko Lane, part of the ‘Old City’. She walked slowly, in part to continue her ruse of being a person of advanced years, and in part because she felt a reluctance to leave the city and return to the solitude of her home.
She pondered the events of the morning as she walked.
The vision … the sandy haired woman on her sick bed, like stick and bone she was, with the doctor of dark intent leaning over her… and then the podgy faced man standing in the hen house and grieving over his hens.
It had been so vivid. And unexpected. So she had acted on it, her heart beating in trepidation though she had spoken with authority to the man.
And it had worked!
It was not the first time Glynis had such a vision. But never in such testing circumstances!
A young man was walking towards her. His face deep in concentrated contemplation, he did not look up.
Fae, thought Glynis, though she was not sure how she knew.
As he passed, Glynis reached out on impulse and touched his arm. He jumped, startled.
“I think this is for you,” she said, handing him her last vial of potion. “Use it when you need it most.”
The young man hesitated, unsure, but taking the vial.
Glynis shook her head, wanting to deflect his questions. She turned quickly away.
Relenting, she stopped and looked directly at him.
“Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.”
“What did Clove ask about the other lodgers? You didn’t give away anything did you?” asked Sue later that evening. Sue was in bed with her latest Mills and Boon novel: Caride’s Forgotten Wife. She said to John that reading them was her “secret vice” and she hid them in the bedside cabinet — the one with a lock — so that none of the children would come across them. She whispered her question about the lodgers to John, although it wasn’t clear who she thought might be able to overhear.
John sighed heavily and sat down on the edge of the bed. He didn’t believe in these sort of communications before bed time; sleep was a serious business and it was best not to get stressed prior to commencing. But he realised the importance of Sue’s question and decided to make an exception to his usual rule.
“Well, I’ll be honest with you, luv, she did ask. She did … and I confess it was I who mentioned the lodgers in the first place. In my defence though, I was getting fed up with her pestering to go out gallivanting god-knows-where in the middle of the night. I was quite sharp with her. But I don’t want you worrying.” He patted Sue’s leg under the woollen beige blanket in a reassuring way. “Tell you what, in the morning we will put our heads together and come up with a story to put young Clove’s enquiring mind at ease should the matter of the lodgers arise again. Now, promise you won’t worry, dear?”
Sue nodded doubtfully.
“Oh I hope not, John, she can’t know … I couldn’t stand it … you know. I just couldn’t go through it again. All the turmoil and … upset.”
“Now, young lady,” said John when Sue had left the room. “Don’t you go upsetting the apple cart. A bit of a chatter about travel and what not … well, that would be a good thing. But spontaneous jaunts and rambles after dark… that is another whole kettle of fish.”
“I just thought …. “ began Clove.
“That’s enough!” snapped John. “You watch yourself or you will end up the way of the other lodgers.”
“What happened to the other lodgers?” asked Clove nervously.
At that moment Sue bustled in with the tea.
“Here you are, my lovelies!” she said brightly. “A cup of tea is much more sensible this hour of night. Now I couldn’t remember if you had sugar or not but you can help yourself.”
“Thanks,” muttered Clove.
“Young Clove here was asking about the other lodgers,” said John, with a conspiratorial wink at his wife. “But I think that’s a story best left for another time. We’ve had enough upset for one evening.”
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