Not As It Seems

Jeff kept his professional smile as he showed the couple around the car dealership.

“It’s a very reasonable price,” he said.  The Ford Fusion gleamed.  “Very low mileage and we include a full service before delivery.”

India’s lips were pressed together so hard that you couldn’t see her lipstick.  “I don’t see why I have to pay out for that kid.”

“Sweetheart, it’s my godson.  He’s seventeen, he has a hobby…”

“He’s a spoiled brat.”  She turned back to Jeff.  “The kid is just going to take it to pieces.  He hasn’t even got his licence yet…”

“He’s got his test booked…” Jason said helplessly, taking a swift mouthful out of a small flask as India turned back to Jeff.

India hadn’t noticed the flask.  “I have to scrape by and make do, but when it comes to the kid he can’t say no.”

“His name’s Oliver.” Jason muttered.

India shrugged then turned to Jeff.  “Honestly, something a little cheaper.”

“He should have been called Nancy.” Jason mumbled.

Oliver can see it as a project.  What have you got that needs work?”

“I wouldn’t let them call him Bill.” Jason managed another crafty mouthful from the flask.

“You’re making less sense than usual.” India looked at Jeff.  “Anything?”

Jeff smiled.  “Between you and me, there’s one vehicle we weren’t thinking of selling at this moment,”he said with absolute truth.  It was booked for the scrapyard.  “It’s a fixer upper, but at a very good price.”

“What do you mean?” India followed Jeff to where the wrecks were stored.

“It’s a nice little car.” Jeff waved a hand at the wreck in front of them.  “Once it’s done up it could be quite desirable.  Is the lad handy?”

“He’s a good lad.” Jason said quietly.  “Good with his hands.  I was thinking of taking him on as an apprentice.”

Jeff watched India’s hands clench into fists and then slowly unclench.  Then her shoulders slumped.  She nodded.  “We’ll take it.”

“Why don’t you look it over while I sort out the paperwork.” Jeff didn’t like leaving people alone, but today was an exception.  “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

Jason slumped against the Toyota, shielding India as she knelt next to the wheel arch and quickly felt inside.  She looked up.  “Keep talking to cover me,” she whispered.

“She could have called him Sikes,” Jason said, his voice getting a little louder. “She never called him after me.”

“Hang on.” The woman struggled a little then nodded.  “I’ve got it.”  She pulled out a small, tightly wrapped package.  “Okay, let’s stage the argument and get out of here.”

Jeff was shuffling the paperwork on the when he heard them shouting.

“What do you mean, he’s your son?” India yelled.  “I can’t believe it.  After all these years!” She stormed over to their car and threw herself into the driver’s seat.

“Sweetheart…” Jason scrambled into the passenger side as the car rattled out of the yard and screeched around the corner onto the main road.

Jeff shrugged.  He may have lost a sale, but at least he didn’t have a headache.

Originally published June 5th 2017

Domestic Demon

“I’m sorry, darling.” Darren smiled nervously at me.  “But it is only twice a year, and it is only from Thursday to Tuesday.”

I took a deep breath.  “Of course, I know.  Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye, but that’s okay.  She’s your mother and we both love you.  That’s why I’ve got the day off to get the house all set up for her.”

Darren winced.  “I’ll pick her up from the airport.  I’ll pick up a takeaway on my way back.”

“Absolutely not.” I said firmly.  “I’ll make a lovely casserole and that way it doesn’t matter if you are a little late.”

“Thank you, darling, I do appreciate it.” Darren gave me a quick kiss and hurried off to work.

Pamela, my mother-in-law, did only visit twice a year, the first weekend after the Christmas break and the first weekend in July.  It was some awful ritual where a demon was unleashed twice a year.  They could make a Nicholas Cage movie out of it.  As for the takeaway, I was not falling for that again.  Four years ago I had made the mistake of allowing Darren to pick up a pizza on the way back.  For the last four years I had been hearing about how a proper wife made her husband meals, no matter what the circumstances.

I slouched into the kitchen.  I had never felt less like being a domestic goddess.  It was all so humiliating.  I was far too particular, according to my friends, and wasted far too much time cleaning.  According to Pamela, I was a slattern.  Every inch of this house would be scrutinised.  Last time I thought I had her.  There was no dust on the top of the kitchen cupboards and the walls had been washed down.  I had put brand new bedding on her bed and I had dusted behind every stick of furniture.  I had had the oven professionally cleaned and steamed the carpets.  The old witch had actually taken the drawers out of her dresser and found dust on the inside of the frame.  She had been so smug, sitting opposite me in my kitchen, eating my food which I had cooked, while Darren sat between us, twitching.

I looked around my lovely, clean kitchen.  Not only would she go over the room like a forensic detective but she would also sigh and complain that it looked too bare.  “It’s a shame you don’t have any knickknacks around,” she had said last time.  “Of course, not everyone has a flair for decorating.  Perhaps it is just as well that you haven’t tried.” She had smiled a wide, fake smile and patted my arm.  “I’ll bring you some nice things next time I come.  Then you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong.”

The old trout had great taste – for 1972!  I knew that she would have a suitcase full of cheap tat when she turned up, and that it would have to be in the same place she left it when she returned six months later – and she would know if the plastic grot had been moved an inch.  I swear the old bat had a photographic memory.

I threw together a boeuf bourguignon and put it on slow.  I’d already taken out every removable drawer in the house and cleaned behind them.  All the carpets, curtains and rugs had been steamed last week.  Not only was the bedding in her room new but so was the curtains.  I’d cleaned all the lampshades yesterday and dusted all the lightbulbs.  I sighed and started to pull out the fridge.  Then I paused.

Why was I playing her game?  Why was I running round in circles trying to get her to like me when nothing short of a sharp blow to the head would ever make her accept the woman who stole away her baby boy?  I’d been doing it wrong for years.  If she ran out of things to check I swear she would pull up the floorboards.  Okay, if she wanted something different, she could have something different.

By the time Darren’s car pulled into the drive I was finished.  I ached with the efforts, and I had had to get a few friends to help out.  It had been entirely worth it.  I looked around as I heard Darren carefully reversing into the garage.  The kitchen was smeared with jam and I had done my best to give a greasy feel by spraying the wall with the oil spray I used in cooking.  I had found some kitchen curtains in a skip which were now drooping at the window.  I had gone to every friend and neighbour and scrounged the contents of their vacuum cleaners.  After some trial I found that a light mist of water helped the dust of a dozen homes cling to walls, sink and bath.  I had put a mouse trap at the back of her dresser, just where it would get her if she checked, and I put the contents of four dryer filters under her bed.

The trip to the charity shop had been the most fun.  The house was awash with ‘accents’.  Our house was now a temple to the worse taste that ever landed on an Oxfam donation table.  There was plastic everywhere.  I had also got some extremely washed bedding from the charity shop and begged some curtains for Pamela’s room that they were going to send to the rag man and rubbed damp instant coffee granules along the edges for an added artistic touch.  I had had fun, and so had my friends.  Everyone had got photos.

I turned round as Darren unlocked the door.  “Darling, my mother’s plane has been delayed and she has decided not to come until the Christmas break after all…” He stopped as he walked in to the kitchen.  There was a long pause.  “Darling, would you like a drink?”

Originally posted May 15th 2016

Everything has Changed

 

Zoe sighed.  It had been a long day at work but now she could relax.  She could have a salad and a glass of wine in peace.  Mark would be over later, and they could watch a film before another romantic night.  She felt that her life was perfect.  She set the table in the dining room, lit one of her favourite candles and uncorked the wine.  There was a knock on the door.

“Hello, Zoe.” Ryan pushed past her.

Zoe couldn’t breathe.  She shut the door and leaned against it as she watched Ryan saunter up the stairs.  What could she do now?  For a short, awful moment she listened to Ryan moving around upstairs, then she forced herself upright, went into the dining room and poured herself a glass of wine.

“You know I don’t like you drinking.” Ryan said.  “And you’ve redecorated.” He looked around.  “In fact, this is the only room that’s still fit to see.  You never understood how to achieve elegance.”

“I cremated you.” Zoe drained her glass.

“Apparently there was a mix up at the morgue.  I was embalmed instead.” Ryan turned around mockingly, flexing his shoulders.  “And I’m not in bad shape.  I’ve no idea who I was swapped with.  Obviously they enjoyed golf.” Ryan threw a golf glove on top of Zoe’s salad.  “I told you again and again that salad isn’t a real meal.”

“And I told you again and again that you needed to eat less meat.  That’s why you died of a heart attack.” Zoe poured herself another glass of wine.

“And I warned you that I would come back from the grave.  When I was dying I was very clear.  The house was to remain exactly as it was.  You were to dress in black and remain faithful to my memory.  Not that bit of rubbish you’re wearing. You’re thirty-three, Zoe, not a teenager.”  Ryan smiled thinly.  “But here I am.  I don’t suppose you kept my clothes as I instructed.  Wearing another dead man’s suit isn’t my style.”

“I sold your clothes.” Zoe said quietly. “I sold your car, your record collection, your shoes and your power tools.  I don’t know if I can divorce a dead man, but I am not staying.”

Ryan grabbed her wrist, hard.  “The only place you are going tomorrow is work and then to buy new wallpaper.  What were you thinking?  You’ve painted everything, it’s just not good enough.  You should be glad I’m back.”

“You can’t make me.” Zoe said, tugging her hand away from the unexpectedly strong grasp.  There was a giddy rush.  She had never said that to Ryan before and he wasn’t expecting it.”  You can’t make me do anything.  After all, you can’t stop me having money for the bus fare to work as all the money is now in my name now, legally.”

“I never liked you working in that office.” Ryan muttered.  “There were too many divorcees.”

“You can’t hide my clothes.  I’ve got a suitcase stashed in my car for the weekend and the money to get new stuff.  I have friends that would worry if I didn’t get in touch after a few days and a very nice boyfriend who would definitely come to claim me.” Zoe defiantly poured another glass of wine and took a long drink.  “I’ve just got a promotion.  I’m an Area Manager now.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ryan snapped.  “We both know you’re too stupid to get a decent job.  That’s why I wanted you at home, to protect you.” He looked away from her.  They both knew he was lying.  “And I told you, I don’t like you drinking wine.”

“You’re dead.” Zoe said. “You don’t have an opinion.”

“Pour the wine away, you stupid girl.” Ryan loomed over her.

“I could call the police and say that a strange man has forced himself in here and could he come and get you.” Zoe said recklessly, drunk on the sudden ability to disagree with her revenant husband.

“I would say I was your husband and point to our wedding photos.” Ryan paused and looked round.  “There are no photos of me.”

“I burned the lot.” Zoe took a deep breath.  She had to keep her head.  “This house is in my name only now.  You have no right to be here.  I want you to leave.”

“This is my house and you are my wife.” Ryan snapped and grabbed at Zoe.  She jumped back and ducked behind the table.

“I really loved you, really, really loved you.  When you died I cried for weeks.” Zoe made a grab for her car keys.  “But I’ve made a new life and I’m alive and you’re dead.”

“Come here!” Ryan lunged desperately at Zoe across the dining table, knocking into the candle.  It fell against his sleeve.  Zoe screamed as the flame caught hold of the fabric and raced up the sleeve.

“What’s happening.” She looked round for something to throw over him.

“I was embalmed, you stupid girl.  I’m flammable.” Ryan was panicking.

Zoe tried to remember her training.  “Lie down.” She pulled up one of the rugs.  “I can smother the flame.”

Ryan screamed.  The flames had caught hold of him now and he was burning up.  “Do something you stupid girl.” It was too late.  Ryan threw back his head and howled as flames gushed from his mouth.  The stench was unbearable.  Zoe tried to throw the rug over him but Ryan staggered away, stumbling into the wall and leaving scorch marks and ash.  Then he crumbled.

Zoe methodically dampened down the scorch marks and opened all the window.  She looked at the ash covered, burned carpet, the marks on the wall, the soot on the ceiling and sighed with a sort of relief.  Even Ryan would admit that she had to redecorate now.

 

Originally posted April 29th 2016

Burning up

“Are you sure you’re okay, ma’am?” The policeman was trying to be kind.

“It’s the shock.” His colleague said quietly.

“Would you like a tea or a coffee?  We’ve called a neighbour over to sit with you if you need it.”

“I’m fine.” I said, trying to breathe normally.

“There’ll be a lot of press speculation.” The first policeman said.  “We’ve had a lot of calls.  I suggest you get a legal representative and get a statement drafted.  Don’t feel you have to answer any calls.”

“I think my husband has a solicitor.” I said, then corrected myself.  “He had a solicitor.”

“He was in a hotel with his secretary, I believe some sort of business trip.  She may want to talk to you but perhaps it’s best if you don’t speak straight away.” The second policeman was trying to judge if I knew about my husband’s affair.

“There will have to be an inquest, of course.” The first policeman was watching me carefully.  “Perhaps you should sit down.”

I looked at him blankly.  This was all so unexpected.  “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” I asked the police.  “I’ve got some biscuits in.”

The police exchanged glances.  “I’ll put the kettle on.” The second policeman said calmly.  “I’m sure I’ll be able to find everything.”

“You need to aware that the internet have taken this up as a case of spontaneous combustion.  Someone filmed it on their phone.  I wouldn’t look at it, if I were you, ma’am, it’s distressing.” The first policemen gently eased me into a chair.  “We are going to have to take some samples, the people are on their way, we’ll be as discreet as possible.  It will all be returned to you.”

“Whatever you need, officer.” I murmured.  A cup of over sweetened tea was pushed into my hand.  “Take whatever you need.”

Because they would find nothing.  I kept my diaries on my laptop which was currently at work.  I kept my tools in my friend’s garage.  And no-one believed that ‘How to Cast Spells and Influence People’ was a book that actually worked.

Originally published November 27 2015

Impish

Image Thomas Marlowe (c)

“Don’t worry about a thing.” Trevor smiled with deep reassurance at the nervous store owner.  “The restoration will be completely sympathetic and we will be using authentic materials and techniques throughout.  It will look just like it was first built all those centuries ago.”

“I was warned about the little imp figure.” Mr Oliver had only recently bought the shop and was beginning to get unnerved by some of the unexplained happenings.  “Apparently if he isn’t painted red bad things happen.”

“Red is the authentic colour for a figure of that type.” Trevor mentally added another £100 to the eventual bill.  “And we will, of course, be using the type of paint authentic to the period.  You would not believe some of the shoddy attempts we’ve seen.  People think it’s find to go slapping modern gloss paint over medieval plasterwork.  It’s a shame really.”

“I’m not really bothered about the paint type.”  Mr Oliver said faintly.  “As long as it looks a bit better.  Of course as it’s in a conservation area I have to be a bit careful.”

Internally Trevor sighed and took £100 back off the bill.  “We are craftsmen, aren’t we Ryan?  We like to live up to the skills of the old masters who painstakingly put together these amazing works of art.  We think it’s important to keep the old traditions going.  It would be tragic if the old skills were lost.”

“Tragic.” Ryan agreed from up the ladder next to the imp.  “I mean, who puts an early twentieth century piece of chain on a medieval carved figure?  It would make you cry.  I’d say this chain was about 1932.”

Trevor made a mental note to warn Ryan about overdoing it and all three followed the chain with their eyes as Ryan threw it down on the floor.  As one they froze as a wicked chuckle came from out of nowhere.  Then they all slowly looked up at the red imp.  It wasn’t there.  Trevor swallowed.  “Of course I do know someone who does a very good rate in absolutely authentic carved wooden figures.”

Mr Oliver sighed a little with relief.  Looking into the shop it already seemed a bit emptier.  “I think that’s a splendid idea.”

 

Originally published June 14th 2014

Slot A

That is one of those instructions that are so much easier to write than to carry out. ‘Just pop the pill down the cat’s throat’ is another one.

The Housewife’s Handbook, 

Rachel Simhon

“Insert Tab A into Slot B.”

“Where’s Slot B?”

“Is that it?”

“That’s the housing for fixing G.”

“How about that?”

“That’s where you put in the backing, I think.”

“What’s this?”

“I think it’s Panel D.”

“What do we need Panel D for?”

“I think it’s to rest Housing M on.”

“I think we have too many screws.”

“I think you’ve counted them wrong.  See, this size is Screw R and this size is Screw S.”

“Why do we need different sized screws?”

“Because this was designed in Hell.  Next time we need furniture we are getting ready assembled.”

 

Originally published June 7th 2014

Just a Point

 

Once again I am taking the Trifecta Challenge to write between 33 and 333 words on the prompt ‘3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose : to doctor’

Kent waved the letter at his wife.  “It’s the valuation.” He ripped it open.   Rupert watched carefully.

“You can’t be thinking of selling it.” Alison said.  “It’s been in your family for generations.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “And you know painting is haunted.  Look what happened last time it was sent for cleaning.”  Rupert nodded.  At least someone else was paying attention.

“Those sort of accidents are normal for a house of this age.” Kent looked uneasily over his shoulder.  “And we have to face reality.  We are in a Grade I listed English Stately Home with a leaking roof.  We can’t just get any old tiles from the local builder’s yard and get the cheapest quote plus scaffolding.  Did you see how much the only firm I could track down wanted?  We need the money.”

“Do you want to sell it?” Alison asked as Kent pulled the letter out of it’s rich, cream envelope.

Kent shrugged.  “No, I don’t.  It’s part of the place, I was fascinated by the old man in the picture as a child.  But sentiment won’t patch the roof.”  He absently straightened out the letter.  “I wish we didn’t have to.”  He straightened his shoulders.  “And if I’m not getting a good enough offer, I’m keeping it.  There are grants, after all.”

Jenkins stuck his head round the door.  “It’s Soames about his business proposition.  He’s in the study, sir.”

Rupert waited until Kent and Alison had left the room and inspected the letter.  He concentrated.  Kent would certainly sell for £350,000 but while the figure was flattering, he could not let the portrait go.  It took some work to manipulate it but by the time Kent got back the offer was £35,000, take it or leave it.  The old ghost knew that Kent would never settle for that.  The portrait would be safe for now.  Rupert tapped his ghostly finger on the polished mantle.  Now how could he help with this business idea?

Originally posted February 3rd 2014