“Seriously, just stay there.” Ben glared at his wife.
Helen looked shifty. “It’s driving me nuts.”
“You cannot come in and rearrange the pictures.” Ben said. “We hardly ever visit Aunt Violet, the least we can do is be good company.”
“Those pictures make my eyeballs itch.” Helen said.
“She’ll be back in a second.” Ben said. “She’s just nipped out to get your favourite brand of tea. She’s an old woman. Let her have her way.”
“But they’re not straight!”
“It doesn’t matter. Look out the window instead.”
“Have you seen the state of that garden?” Helen said. “She can afford a gardener, I’m sure.”
“We don’t know that she has any money.” Ben said. “She’s my aunt, not yours, and for all I know she hasn’t a spare penny. But she was really kind to me when I was a kid.”
Helen fidgeted on the dusty sofa for a moment. “Perhaps I could come over a couple of times a week and do the garden. I remember it being really nice.”
Ben looked out of the window at the weedy flowerbeds. “She’d like the company.”
“And I could give her a hand with the pictures.” Helen said.
“Will you forget about the pictures.” Ben snapped. “It’s not doing you any harm.”
“But they aren’t straight!” Helen wailed. “I can’t bear it.” She jumped up and adjusted the dull print at the bottom.
The picture swung a little on its cord and settled straight for a second. Then, in front of Ben and Helen’s appalled stare, the picture sagged and pulled the nail right out of the plaster. As the picture fell, glass and frame shattering on the wooden boards left bare by the antique carpet square, the dry plaster behind the picture hook cracked and gave. Slowly, like snow sliding from a steep roof, shard after shard of the plaster fell, in widening sections, bringing down the pictures with it. As the dust settled gently over the remains, the coving at the top sagged.
“No,” Ben said, shaking his head. “No!”
With inexorable slowness, the plaster coving pulled away from the wall and slid majestically down, crashing into the furniture as it fell.
Helen looked at what had once looked like an antique drum table but now looked like kindling and the cut flowers that had been placed on it strewn among the wreckage of the glass vase. “I think I’ll give Aunt Violet a hand with the house over the next few weeks.” She winced as another chunk of plaster slid down the wall. “Or as long as it takes.”
Ben shook his head. “The whole house probably needs replastering and redecorating, and goodness knows what else.” He turned to his wife. “But I suppose you can make sure that the pictures are straight then!”