The Picture

“I don’t know why you’re so fascinated by that picture,” Freddie said. “It’s nothing special. My mother was an art student once. She painted a few pictures.”

Alice continued to stare at the painting. “Why?” she asked. “Every time I see that picture I ask myself, why? Why did she frame it like that?”

“I don’t know,” Freddie said impatiently. “You know what my mother was like. She probably found a cheap frame.”

“But it’s a shame. It should be mounted properly, with a proper matte backing and a larger frame, perhaps a darker one, and a decent amount of wood, not those skinny sticks.”

“Well, it’s all ours now, so take it and reframe it.” Freddie looked around his late mother’s flat. “All of this is ours now. What a mess.”

“You keep saying that your mother had money, and the will said that she left it to you and to not waste what you’re given, but there’s nothing really here.” Alice stared at the painting. “Except this painting.”

“It’s just something she did as an art student.” Freddie frowned and checked the piece of paper in his hand. “The solicitor said that she talked about having planted the money in the flat.”

“Planted…” Alice murmured, still staring at the picture. “Mind you, I don’t think she had two pennies to rub together. Look at the state of this flat.”

“She was careful with her money,” Freddie said. “And she liked a bargain.” He glanced at his expensively dressed wife. “You could have learned a thing or two.”

Alice ignored him and looked around the tousled flat. “That sofa is older than I am! And that side table is scratched to bits.”

Freddie slowly lowered himself onto the sofa and relaxed. “I remember this sofa. It’s one of the comfiest I’ve ever sat on. Mind you, it needs a new cover.” He looked at the side table, cluttered with dirty cups and dried up houseplants. “Though the table isn’t fit for anything. It was only cheap chipboard to begin with.”

Alice turned back to the picture. “Planted. Your mother really liked this painting, didn’t she?”

“Hmm?” Freddie settled himself in a corner of the sofa and looked around again.

“I mean, it’s so striking, and in such a central place.” Alice leaned over. “I bet that’s where she put her savings book. Behind the picture. Or perhaps there’s a safe.”

“She liked the picture because she already had it and it took up enough wall to make it look decorated,” Freddie said dispassionately. He looked around again. “I remember those mugs from when I was a kid. She got them as a free gift.”

“How much money did your mother leave?” Alice asked. “I mean, just a savings book with a hundred pounds or so wouldn’t take up much room.” She grasped the picture and, after a quick struggle, lifted it down.

“The solicitor who handled it all has already paid the inheritance tax and that was a fortune,” Freddie said. “It’s more than a small savings account.” He frowned, then sighed. “She did love her plants. I suppose she wanted us to take care of them, but they died before we got the news.” He reluctantly pulled himself out of the comfy corner of the sofa. “What are you doing?” he asked Alice.

“The information – it’s behind the picture!” Alice said as she wrestled with the painting. “Look, it’s about plants, and everyone knows that you can keep papers behind pictures in frames.”

Freddie shook his head and started lifting the houseplants. “You need to take that picture, reframe it, hang it where you like and then forget about it.” He lifted a formerly magnificent specimen of philodendron. Between the pot and the pot stand was a key. “The safe deposit box key. Mother was never that complicated.”


tree against golden sun
Image from Unsplash, taken by Simon Wilkes

Lady Freydis sighed. “It is the autumn equinox,” she said. “They used to call it Mabon.”

“Did they?” Fiona looked warily at Lady Freydis. She was looking wistfully into the distance as she polished the coffee machine.

“The day and night will be the same length,” Lady Freydis said softly. “An equal balance between light and dark. Then the nights will lengthen and the air grow chill. Frost will fall.”

“Are you feeling well?” Fiona asked.

“I agree.” Kadogan seemed to appear from nowhere. “The daylight hours dim and the night deepens.”

Mrs Tuesday came out of the back room with a tray of muffins. “What is going on?”

“You shouldn’t be carrying that with your bad back,” Fiona said. “You should be taking it easy.”

“There is no threat of grave danger to the White Hart,” Lady Freydis said. “Just the wheel of the year turning.” She sighed as she wiped the nozzles. “I always think of it as the sunset of the year. The long day of summer is over and now we sink into darkness to Yule, at the year’s midnight.”

“You’re bored,” Mrs Tuesday said, ignoring Fiona’s efforts to take the tray. “That’s what it is.”

Kadogan nodded. “It is strange that we have no great peril,” he said. “But the shop is flourishing.”

“Thank goodness for the mail order business,” Fiona said. “It’s really helped over the last year or so.”

“It seems so placid,” Lady Freydis said. “And it’s autumn.”

“It will soon be Christmas,” Fiona said. “We’re always busy then.” She looked at Mrs Tuesday, who shrugged. “And there is the new store opening,” Fiona added.

“Is that definitely happening?” Lady Freydis asked.

“Yes, we’ve discussed this,” Fiona said.

“I have some grave doubts,” Kadogan said. “It is very near the border with Leeds, and Lord Marius may wish to interfere.”

“I would not allow that,” Lady Freydis stated. She frowned. “I could visit occasionally, to ensure that the coffee was being prepared correctly.”

“And knowing that I will not be able to constantly monitor candles in two places concerns me,” Kadogan added.

Fiona sighed deeply. “We’ve all discussed this. The main shop stays here, but the depot for the mail order and space for secondhand furniture and gently used magical equipment go to the second shop. It’s about space. You know how expensive rent is in York.”

“I suppose so,” Lady Freydis said. “But you are making a mistake. It is autumn, the sunset of the year. The White Hart was opened near the spring equinox, in the dawn of the year. It is inauspicious.”

Mrs Tuesday slotted away the final cupcake. “Trust me, when you find out who will be in charge there, you won’t be bored.”

Blast from the Distant Past

I’m having something of a shake up. Traditionally I bite off more than I can chew in September. This year is no exception. You would think that at my age I would know better, but here we are.

I will be posting spooky stories and poems every day this October, just as I always do. There will be plenty of old favourites with some new stories sprinkled in. I’ll also be taking part in the October Frights Blog Hop Oct 10th-15th, which once again is organised by the amazing Anita Stewart. There are always great stories shared in that.

I’m rejigging the old ‘Tales of the White Hart’ stories. I should be able to get them into book form soon, but I have found an old, free blog that means that I can make them easily available, just as they used to be. I’d love to hear your opinions, and you can go to that blog and give your (polite) suggestions here. You, the person reading this and the one who may be interested in the stories, have the most important views.

This means that I am armpit deep in all sorts of things and a little distracted. Rather than not post, though, I thought I would share a story I wrote and put on an old blog back on the 21st May 2014. I hope that you enjoy it. And please let me know if you have any ideas, suggestions or just want to say hello. I am grateful for all who read this blog.

“Did you see her, the one with the dress?” Angie asked as she splashed the dirty cups through the water at speed.

“Her with the dress and the handbag?” Betty said. She switched to a dry cloth for the next batch of cups.  They had been washing up together after the meetings for thirty four years this June and they had perfected the routine.

“No, the one with the dress and the handbag is Zoe. She reckons that the handbag is designer and cost a fortune. But you can’t tell me that handbag is designer, I saw one just like it on the market,” Angie sniffed.

“Well she said that he was doing alright and had got a bonus at Christmas. I told her that everyone gets a bonus at Christmas but she wouldn’t have it.” Betty rattled the teacups into a stack and slotted them neatly into a cupboard.

“My Den said that he was doing well, but they aren’t spending that much. You should see the state of her sofa.  I’d be ashamed.”

“You do like your furniture nice,” Betty nodded. “Of course, he could be spending some money on her at the corner, you know, just past Mrs Henderson.  She always has nice things.”

“Her at the corner, she’s the one with the dress. She said that it was a charity shop find, but you can’t fool me. That dress cost a fortune, and her with her car in the garage.”

“She spends her money on something. There must be some money going into that house with them both working and I know they ask the lad to tip up now he’s started at the call centre, but they still have that old car.”

Angie sniffed again. “My Jim said that it was a scandal that car, they’ve had it for four years now. But I saw her in the supermarket and she had a bottle of wine in her basket.” 

Betty nodded knowingly as she switched drying cloths again. “Mind you, I heard that her aunt was the same, you know, the one who married the plumber and moved to Brighton.”

“Is it her aunt that married the plumber? Well that explains it.” There was a pause as Angie changed the washing up water.

“I see Mary’s got new curtains.” Betty rattled some more cups into the cupboard. “I would have thought she would have done something with her kitchen first. I don’t know how she cooks.”

“Mary told me that she got them second hand. You can’t tell me that they are second hand, not with those seams. And as for cooking, she buys frozen veg. I pity her husband.”

“Of course he makes up for it with the darts team. They were out again last night. Ted from two doors down came in at midnight.”

“By the way, what was the talk today?” Angie rinsed out the washing up bowl.

“The dangers of gossip.” Betty gathered her cloths for the wash.  “See you next week.”

I have never, ever known a function where the washing up wasn’t a chance for a full exchange of views.  I did ‘hear’ it in the local accent, but I am confident that the sentiments expressed are universal.