Friday, 7 December 2018

Uncanny Tales – (05) The House Guest and the Wise Counsel

I was trapped in the cottage and its environs, I was earth bound because I shut myself away to wallow in self-pity after the death of my wife Rose.
So, I had come to the conclusion that I must help another person in order to “move on” and re-join my Rose.
It would have been easier if I had done it while I was still alive I could have gone off and sought out someone to help, but as I was dead I had to wait for someone to come to me.
But then if I had lived out my last months in the world in the same way as I lived the rest of my life I wouldn’t have been in the mess I was in.
Or maybe this was how it was meant to be, it was my destiny to help someone, which is where Julie came in, she had come to the cottage to escape the world.
At that moment I didn’t know why, and I would need to know that before I could help her, and I was determined to help her whether she liked it or not.
But to find out what I needed to know I needed to be on good terms with her, which was not helped by my clumsy handling of the situation.
So, it was with some trepidation, after our angry exchange, that I went into the sitting room later in the day.
I feared she might take out the anger she felt towards me and channel it at the innocent revellers.
To be on the safe side I remained invisible until I had assessed the lay of the land, I half expect to see Julie sitting in a rocking chair swigging from a whisky bottle and catapulting sweets at the trick or treaters heads, but she was humming, I hadn’t witnessed her humming before, she did impatient tapping of her fingers, she did grinding her teeth, but I had never witnessed humming.
Despite the fact that the humming was a little unnerving, I took a gamble that it was safe, so I materialized.
“You’re humming” I said, and she jumped, I had startled her, and she was clearly flustered, then her face went scarlet.
“No, I’m not” she said indignantly.
“You were humming, I heard you”
“What you heard was me clearing my throat” Julie said without conviction, so she changed the subject.
“Anyway, where have you been, have you been keeping out of my way?”
“I thought it advisable” I said.
Before she had chance to comment she was alerted to approach of trick or treaters coming down the long winding path.
At this time of the day Julie would normally have to employ her stick to move with any kind of speed around the house but I noticed it was leant discretely against the wall behind the door out of sight of anyone who might be standing on the step if the door was open.
She pulled the curtain back a couple of inches and peered out.
“They’re coming, what do I do?” she asked urgently
“Well” I began.
“Oh, come on, you got me into this mess”
“Calm down you’ll have a stroke” I said
Julie took a deep breath and waited for me to speak.
“All the children will have a bag for their sweets” I told her.
“Yes, yes” she said impatiently.
“Well you put a small handful of sweets into each bag but don’t be too generous to early or you won’t have enough to go around everyone”
“Ok” she said and nodded.
“But first you have to open the door” I said inclining my head towards the closed door.
“Oh God yes” she said and laughed nervously “that would help”
Julie opened the door and was met with a chorus of “TRICK OR TREAT” from a small group of excited witches, warlocks, ghosts and ghouls.
“Wow look at you all” she said “What brilliant costumes”
“Ok who’s first?” she asked as she picked up one of the sweet tubs and scooped up a handful.
At the back of the group keeping order was a tall dark-haired man, wearing a flat cap and leather jacket, Julie caught his eye briefly and smiled and he smiled back, then carried on with the sweets, but she kept glancing in his direction, and she estimated he was in his thirties.
Soon she had deposited a handful of sweets into every bag and the group moved back up the path.
“Goodbye Miss Molesworth” the tall man said and smiled, and she smiled back and then looked self-consciously in my direction.
Despite herself she was still smiling as she shut the door.
“You didn’t smile at the children did you” I asked
“You’ll scar them for life”
“Oh! and which poor child was it that you made cry” she retorted
“Or was it someone else you were smiling at?” I said, and Julie blushed deeply just as the doorbell rang.
“Saved by the bell” I said
Julie opened the door and repeated the exercise, and then another three times until the sweet tubs were empty and all the village children had had their share, then she closed the door and reached for her cane.
“I’m exhausted”
“You enjoyed it though?”
She gave me a stern sideways glance and I could see pain in her features.
“Ask me later after I’ve had a drink” she said and then with a bottle of wine and a glass she hobbled towards her armchair.
“Will you join me?” She asked smiling “Oh I forgot you can’t”
“Oh, that’s cruel”
After her first glass of wine she began to relax and after the second she had lowered her guard.
“You had a good time, didn’t you?” I ventured.
“Ok yes I enjoyed, it though I’ll deny it tomorrow”
“And the smile?”
“I admit he was very handsome, for a yokel”
“His name is Paul Warwick and he’s not so much a yokel more a country squire”
“Really” She said with disinterest
“So, which of the little darlings were his children?”
“None of them” I answered “He’s not married”
“Oh!” she exclaimed then replaced it with a rather muted “oh”
After another glass I thought it was safe to raise the subject of this afternoon’s exchange of views.
“Am I forgiven?” I asked.
“What for?” She slurred
It became apparent I had left it one glass too late for a sensible conversation, I had forgotten to take into account that she hadn’t eaten since lunch.
“This afternoon”
“Of course, you spoke very wisdomous words”
“Wisdomous?”
“Yes, you are very wisdomly” she said as she leant forward to raise her glass to me and slopped half of it on the table
“I think you mean wise”
“Well I was close” she almost said slopping more wine this time down her blouse.
“Time to get you to bed I think”
“You cheeky old ghost you” She said trying to get out of the chair.
Once she managed to get vertical her bad leg gave way and I had to catch her before she hit the floor.
It was a good job I had been practising otherwise I would never have been able to help her, it would have appeared as a very comical scene as I had a firm hold on Julie yet when she tried to hold onto me her hands kept going through me.
“You’re a difficult man to get to grips with Harry” she remarked with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well you concentrate on staying upright and I will propel you upstairs to bed”
“Ok”
So, with her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth and one eye closed tight shut she managed to adopt a stance which kept her more or less upright.
I then gave her instructions “Left, Right, Left, Right” until we had made the journey up to her room then I guided her onto her bed.
“I hope you’re going to behave like a gentleman” she said and smiled, still with one eye shut tight.
“You’re quite safe, I’m dead remember” I replied as I covered her.
“That’s the story of my life” She said
“What is?”
“Trying to raise the dead in the bedroom” this caused her to explode with a laugh so dirty it wouldn’t have been out of place in a Carry On film, she was still chuckling when I turned out the light.
“Good night Julie”
“Night Harry”

The next morning, I was sat in the kitchen reading the local newspaper, when she walked in, surprisingly bright though she was walking quite stiffly, and she was a little shamefaced.
“Good morning Julie and how are we this morning?”
“I’m fine” she said shortly then she added.
“Was I very embarrassing last night?”
“Not very” I replied.
“Oh God, I was embarrassing though?”
“You were very funny it was nice to see you happy”
“Thanks to you” She said quietly.
“I beg your pardon?” I said and looked up from the paper quite shocked, but she was already on her way out the door for her physio appointment.

It was late afternoon when she returned, and she was moving only a little more stiffly than she had been when she left that morning.
“Didn’t you go to physio?” I asked
“Yes, I did, and it was the best session I’ve had” She replied “I think I’m turning the corner at last”
“Excellent”
“Good news and bad news from the doctor though”
“Oh?”
“The good news is he’s changed my medication which is stronger, but I only need to take them as and when needed”
“And the bad news?”
“Strictly no alcohol with these ones” She said holding up an innocuous looking brown bottle.
“A small price to pay though” I said encouragingly
“That’s easily said by someone who can’t hold their drink” she said then laughed like a drain, but her mirth was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Quick hide” She said
“Ok” I said jumping up.
“Wait a minute I don’t have to hide I’m a ghost, I’m invisible”
Julie looked at me and put one finger up to her lips indicating I should shut up even though she was the only one who could hear me, then she opened the door.
When the door opened it revealed a very wet Paul Warwick.
“Oh, look it’s the yokel” I said
“Hello Miss Molesworth” the yokel said
“Please call me Julie and do come in out of the rain”
“Thank you”
He stepped in and Julie closed the door.
“He’s dripping on your carpet”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you” Paul said.
“No not at all” She replied
“Good, it’s just I thought I could hear voices before”
“That was probably the radio” She lied
“Good” he said unconvinced.
“Quick change the subject” I suggested.
“Can I offer you a hot drink?”
“No thank you I can’t stop I’m afraid, I just called to see if you were aware of the November 5th bonfire party?”
“No, I wasn’t” Julie answered
“Well we run a coach from the church hall over to Little Trotwood every year, they have an organised display, would you be interested?”
“That’s very kind of you but…”
“Go on say yes” I urged
“…my leg isn’t really up to it…”
“Liar”
“…. It’s not good in the damp weather”
“That’s a shame” Paul said sincerely “It’s always a very good display and they have the best hog roast in the county”
“Thank you anyway” Julie added
“If you change your mind just give me a call” He said reaching into his coat and bringing out a card which he handed to her.
“I will”
She opened the door again and Paul stepped out into the rain again.
“No problem, bye”
“Good bye and thanks again” Julie said closing the door.
“Coward” I said after she had shut the door.
“I don’t like fireworks that’s all” she said pulling a face.
“Coward”
“I’m not a coward” She replied indignantly.
“What else do you call it? He’s attracted to you and you to him”
“Nonsense” Julie said clearly flustered
“And even if there were any attraction I don’t need anyone in my life”
“Everyone needs someone” I said
“Rubbish, in the end people always let you down”
“You can’t tar everyone with the same brush” I said
“I don’t need anyone Harry, I’m perfectly happy on my own”
“Paul’s a good man” I pointed out
“It doesn’t matter how they start out in the end they always let you down, trust me”
I started to speak but she interrupted
“Harry let’s just agree to disagree, shall we?”
I knew I was fighting a losing battle so meekly I said “Ok”
“Good now I’m off to have a bath”

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