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Picture courtesy of Norman Rockwell. Picture link.

 

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Mick Coyle

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The House on Grim Lane

 

John awoke with a start, something was not right, where was he? What was this strange room? Why did his head feel like it was imploding? The name Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to ring a bell, but so did Quasimodo and that is just who he looked like this morning as he glanced in the mirror.

The song “Young at Heart” was playing over and over in his mind; a smile crossed his face as it slowly started to come back to him, Susan had gone for good, his parole had come through he had escaped the proverbial ball and chain.

He was now a bachelor, with a new life, in a new house: Well! New to him, according to the deeds, the house had been built in 1902, a house that oozed with character and other things, he though as he stared at the mould on the window sill.

As he made his way along the landing he glanced back at the old enamel bath tub, not the best place to spend the night but it was better than bare floor boards; hopefully the rest of the furniture would arrive tomorrow.

His first order of thought was a cup of tea and a slice of toast, he had bought the bare essentials, and then he would walk down to the village and have a look round.

He slid two slices of bread into the toaster and clicked the kettle on, as he waited for the water to boil he wandered through the rooms. John was an estate agent by profession, and so when the property Grim Lodge came across his desk he instantly snatched it up. A practice frowned upon in the trade but he did offer the asking price, so his conscience was clean.

This was his baby, all building work; art and deco were to be his decision, with no female influence what-so-ever.

He had become thoroughly disillusioned with the female gender, after three years of marriage, three years of under the thumb; he had finally made the split.

Then he had moved in with his sister and her husband Paul. And though he loved his sister dearly, for four months he had to put up with her petty pedantic ways. He needed his own space or he felt his sanity was in jeopardy.

His headache was easing, his senses were coming back on line, and then he smelt the burning toast.

  “Shit, that’s my breakfast gone up in smoke” he declared as he hastened to the kitchen.

He started to scrap the burnt toast over the draining board. I can’t be bothered with this, he thought, as he threw the toast in the sink, a cup of tea with have to suffice, but as he took the sugar out of the carrier bag the bottom fell out, spilling its contents over the floor.

  “Double shit”

John just left every thing as it was and left the house, hoping to find a café. As he made his way down to the village his mind reflected on the previous evening. Having unloaded some of the furniture he thought he would walk down to the village pub and suss out the local cliental. They turned out to be a fine bunch of lads, however though out the course of the evening there were lots of remarks and innuendo’s made, things like,

  “It’ll not be long before you have Doreen in your bed”

He ignored these remarks as he assumed they referred to the village bike.

He finally arrived at the village high street, and sighted John Mackenzie’s emporium.                             “Emporium” he muttered, more like John Mackenzie’s kiosk

He entered and after the usual pleasantries he introduced himself.

  “So you’re the new owner of Grim Lodge said Mr Mackenzie

  “Ask him how he’s getting on with old Doreen” came a voice from a back room

  “Who’s this Doreen, then?” asked John

  “Oh! Take no notice of the wife, just her little joke”

  “I’ll tell you what lad, seeing as your a new neighbour, lets go in the back and I’ll get the wife to do us a bacon buttie and mug of tea, and then I’ll tell you a bit of village history”

This was music to John’s ears,

  “Thanks Mr Mackenzie, that would be great, or can I call you John”

  “You can call me what you like, lad, but the names Bob, John was my grandfather”

John sank his teeth into the bacon buttie as Bob started his history lesson, the monologue started to flow and John suspected Bob was guilty of numerous recitals.

  “This shop has been in my family ever since, Err, well I suppose ever since I was an egg” Bob gave a little chuckle then continued.

  “It would be about 1944; your house at the time was occupied by Mr and Mrs Forbes-Hamilton that would be Doreen and Major John. The Major was nearly blind, he copped for a load of mustard gas in Flanders 1917, and so they gave him a medal then pensioned him off.

The only time the major left the house was 8 o’clock every morning, he would march to his garage wash and wax his 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe then march back.

Ironic in a way as the car had never turned a wheel since he had it delivered.

Now Doreen she was a lovely little lady, besotted with the Major and always at his beckon-call. I suppose her only fault was she was obsessed with cleaning the house, she had a … what’s the phrase I’m looking for?”

  “Obsessive-compulsive disorder” injected John “I have an only sister with the same affliction”

  “That’s it” continued Bob “also she was a stickler for routine, every morning while the Major was washing his car, she dressed in her khaki pinafore, would call in for five Woodbines and a morning paper, that is with exception of Fridays then she would add a new brush head to the list, having worn the previous weeks out”

  “Now that’s what I call obsessive cleaning” said John, while picking a bit of bacon from his teeth.

   “This particular morning the Luftwaffe came calling, they took out the village hall, the local chip shop and the Majors garage took a direct hit, we never did find the Major.

This sent Doreen a bit do-lally, for some time after she could be seen wandering about the house, calling for her husband John, while sweeping the floors.

Then for a few days things went all quiet, Ken Hobson the village bobby was called, they entered the house to find Doreen sat in the armchair, stone cold, cradling her sweeping brush, a smile of contentment on her face, it would seem she had found the Major.

It is said from time to time her ghost can be seen wandering through the house sweeping the floors and dusting the furnisher.

Over the years, your house has had numerous owners, but they never seemed to stay more than a few weeks.

So it would seem Doreen haunts your house”

  “Yes! Doreen’s do have a knack of haunting me” said John.

John spent the rest of the day exploring the village and introducing himself to the locals. It was now getting dusk, so he made his way back home.

Strange! He thought as he got to his drive, I don’t recall leaving the lights on. Then he saw Tabby shoot across his path and under a bush in pursuit of some furry rodent. Tabby was a legacy of his marriage to Susan and probably the only good thing to come out of that union, he was sure he had securely taped up the cat flap. He got to the back door and checked the cat flap, Yep! That’s still secure; he checked the door, still locked.

He let himself in and was surprised to find the kitchen sink had been cleaned; the floor had also been swept, he looked in the peddle bin to find the remnants of the bag of sugar. He started to get an uneasy feeling about this as a shiver ran down his back.

Then he heard the creek of a bedroom door and footfalls across the landing, then what sounded like someone sweeping the landing floor.

As he slowly started to climb the stairs he noticed a rapid drop in temperature and gave a shudder, as if someone had walked over his grave. He reached the top step in time to catch a glimpse of someone in a khaki pinafore armed with a sweeping brush closing the door of the small bedroom.

Surely it can’t be her, he thought, this was his worst nightmare. He quickly pushed open the bedroom door and stood back with a look of horror as he came face to face with Doreen.

John sat in the old chair and pored himself another large Scotch, which he downed in one; he was slowly coming to his senses as the Famous Grouse started to filter into his blood stream.

  “Honestly John” said Doreen “Anyone would think you are not pleased to see your only sister. Anyway; I found this old pinafore and sweeping brush in the closet, so I’ve tidied up the mess you left this morning. I’ll mash some tea; you know I don’t like you drinking that rubbish and I hope those cigarettes on the window sill aren’t yours”

She started for the kitchen and suddenly stopped,

  “Oh! And by the way, last night I found out, for the last 12 months Paul has been having an affair with his secretary, so I have left him, you’ve got me as a permanent lodger, I knew that would please you”.

And off she went into the kitchen muttering to herself, “I have big plans for this place”.

John pored himself a triple Scotch as a tear trickled down his cheek. 

 

   Copyright © 2007 Mick Coyle

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