He left yesterday morning. He wanted me to
go with him, but I insisted on staying. Someone needed to look after the
chickens and keep an eye on things. He said he would be back before I knew it
with someone to sort out the generator.
It seems a long time ago. It’s a long time
since I had a charge on my phone, and longer still since the last log burnt out
of the fire. Now all I can do is watch the flame ebb on the lamp and wait.
And all the time the pad of paws pacing around the house grows louder. I hope the lamp lasts the night.
My grandmother’s funeral was three years
ago, but I still missed her. We were very close. Mum and dad had been caught up
in their careers and while that meant I went home to a lovely, large house with
every comfort, I spent more time with Gran.
Gran was as driven as my parents. You did
not dawdle around or dither. You decided what you wanted to happen and then
went out and happened. She had given up work the week before my mother was
born, and was soon on every school board and committee in the area. As a
result, she knew everyone, she knew their parents and she knew what they had
been up to behind the supermarket. She was a force of nature.
And that is how I came to spend most of my
Saturday mornings at The Grange. It had been the old vicarage, and the last
vicar to use the big house had bequeathed his collections to the parish as an
educational facility. For a few years it had taken off. People donated fossils and
relics found on travels. There were unnaturally posed stuffed animals donated
by a bankrupt taxidermist. A few Roman coins, an alleged Neolithic axe and a
selection of postcards filled up other cases.
But now The Grange was closing amidst
council cuts and restructuring, and the donors were being contacted to claim
the dusty contents before the council disposed of the leavings.
Gran had donated the pieces of Goss china inadvertently won at the Dutch auction in aid of the local donkey sanctuary, only at the suggestion of the curator. Poor Vicky did her best, and she was trying to get a china exhibit together to fit around the miscellaneous donations. I remembered Gran writing the labels as she commented with acid precision on ‘museum quality’ china and cheap knickknacks and why someone styling themselves a curator should know the difference. I had been around five years old and I perched on the chair next to her, swinging my legs, as she wrote label after label in her immaculate copperplate for fake Spode, dubious Wedgewood and what she dismissed as cheap fairings.
The back room had a forlorn look. “You’ve
come for your Grandmother’s donation?” Vicky managed a tired smile.
“Sort of.” I said. “You know what Gran was
Vicky’s eyes flashed for a moment with the
shell-shocked gaze of someone who had tried to manage Gran. “I remember.
Anyway, here’s your little cache.”
For a moment my throat closed over as a
wave of longing for my Gran. She would have organised this a lot better, I
thought, and would have had a lot to say. I swallowed, managed a smile, and
rummaged in my bag. “I know what she would have wanted.” I said, my voice
husky, and snipped off the labels. Blinking back tears, I hurried out of there,
clutching the labels and leaving the china behind.
“Why do they still use iron railings, Mr
Benson?” Ollie worked his shoulders before getting back to rubbing the paint
“Hm?” Mr Benson was checking the cans of
paint. “Make sure you get a good surface on those railings. Get all the gloss
off before we paint it.”
“But why don’t they put in those Perspex panels?”
Ollie said. He tried to find a better angle. “Lots of places have those panels.
And they don’t need much upkeep.”
“Never try and talk yourself out of a job,
lad.” Mr Benson squinted at the fine print on the tins of paint. “It may only
be work experience, but it’s better than nothing at all, and it gets you out in
the fresh air. If it was them new panels then you wouldn’t need someone to
paint them. No, they have to be cold iron.”
Ollie changed hands, now thankful that Mr
Benson had insisted on gloves. “Why iron, Mr Benson. Why not wood, if you need
to make jobs and keep people out of the ruins.”
“Iron is special.” Mr Benson said, shaking
the tin. “It’s long lasting, if you look after it. You can shape it more or
less how you like, and it’s been around for a while so you know what to expect.”
He looked down at the young lad. “You’re doing alright there, lad. Yes, iron is
special. There’s a lot of superstitions about iron, you know. They say fairies and
elves can’t stand it.” He paused. “I suppose I can tell you what I learned as
an apprentice, when I was about your age. I don’t know how true it is, but it’s
what Mr Harvey, the old gaffer, used to say. You see, this was a fine Abbey,
very rich, with lots of monks and servants and despite what they say, a lot of
good was done as well as a lot of bad. But when the Abbey was closed down by
King Henry, something odd happened.” He paused. “Don’t forget to rub under than
ledge there with the glass paper.”
Ollie shifted, changing the paper from one
hand to the other again as cramp set in. “You mean, like witchcraft?”
“I don’t know about that, just that
strange things happened.” Mr Benson looked between the railings. “All I know is
that people still see strange lights inside the Abbey at night, when no-one’s
supposed to be there. Sometimes iron railings aren’t there to keep people out.
Sometimes they’re there to keep something in.”