[I was going to start another story that I started a year ago called, ‘Mourning Leaving’, but I recently had a computer die as I have mentioned, and during that week, back in August I finished it the old fashioned way, in my journal. Tonight I transcribed it and then the computer ate it. The beauty of having it in a book is that I will revive it again, no doubt with more rewriting, and will post it in two parts here, beginning November 2nd.
The story that begins this week’s post was written back in 2012, and I don’t especially like it. I did a lot of work on it, but don’t expect much praise. I”ll give you the lot in one go. Don”t choke on it, ha, ha.(Somehow I never got out what I wanted to say… Ever felt like that?]
Arf! Arf! Arf!
The sounds of her six-month old Alsatian reached her ears as Christina juggled grocery bags to grasp her front door key.
I’m glad I finally replaced my old dog. It”s been so long since mum and dad died.
The lock released and the front door opened. Then the now familiar voice of her neighbour, Julie interrupted her thoughts. Christina smiled at the friendly woman, as she remembered Julie’s favourite saying “dirtier than the north end of a south-bound cow.”
“Hi Christina, how are things?
“Fine, how are you?” She left her grocery bags at the door and went to the fence.
Julie inspected her like Christina”s mother used to. “I really like that blouse Chris. It suits you”
Christina had grown fond of Julie during their years as neighbours. At first she worried that she was living next door to a busy body, but Julie turned out to be genuinely concerned for her single neighbours. She had lived in Amoretti Court for fifteen years, after leaving her rural home, and little escaped her curious gaze. Christina leaned against the fence and listened dutifully to Julie’s tales from the gym and elderly citizens (recently joined) as Julie was just sixty. She chatted about their mutual neighbour, Judith; Julie and Judith were getting together for their usual Friday video night. Christina replied with the latest about her family.
The ritual finished she turned to re-enter the house. “Chris, can I remind you to do something for me?”
“Of course”, she smiled.
“Please remember to turn off the light on the back of your house. Ian is really crotchety lately. He hardly sleeps and he complains about that light shining on our bedroom window. Could you turn it off about 10.30?” She looked apologetic as she spoke.
“O.K. I’m having my brother, Daniel and Jennifer, my sister, you’ve met her, over tonight. Daniel’s bringing a couple of mates from work.”
Julie raised her eyebrows,” So you’re not going to the Aussie rules match.”
“No, Daniel and I only follow Richmond in the live matches.”
She returned to her door and went down to the back enclosed verandah, which was her laundry, patted and fed Maxie, then let him out into the back yard. Back in the hall she took the grocery bags she had dumped and entered the kitchen. She unpacked the drinks and snacks. An icy breeze stirred the blind over the sink, making her shiver and she pulled it down, after shutting the kitchen window. Her thoughts turned to the evening ahead, as she walked through to the living room to light the gas heater.
Christina thought about Daniel who was almost her favourite person in the world. He looked tough on the outside, and he was smart, but she thought of him as a big softie. Her sister, Jennifer, was her best friend. They had always been close, but grew closer after the death of their parents sixteen years before, when Daniel was aged 18, Jennifer, 15 and she only 14. They had developed a particular bond that most people marvelled at.
Since they had moved into separate homes five years before, around the time Jennifer got married, it seemed set in stone that Daniel would come to her place every Friday night, with or without his mates. Christina enjoyed being a landing spot for her bachelor brother. In her lounge room, with its large French doors overlooking a narrow courtyard garden, she put bowls of snacks on the dining table. She glanced at the time and went down the hall to shower and change before the guests appeared.
Daniel arrived with two workmates Christina had met before, James and Andy. Andy and Daniel had worked in two jobs together, a total of ten years. As soon as they arrived Andy said, “Have you heard the new light bulb joke about advertising executives?”Christina and Daniel looked curious while James had the look of someone who had heard it all before.
“So,” Andy said,” how many advertising execs does it take to change a light bulb?” He paused. “None. The client has already changed it three times.”
James smiled, “You’re just jealous, John Marsden’s is a difficult account but he’s worth a mint.”
Daniel interjected “I know mate, so no bragging on it. No talking about work. Have a beer.” He strolled through the lounge to the kitchen fridge and grabbed four beers. He placed them on the dining room table.
He looked at Christina who was still by the front door looking through the lounge room door.
“I’ve invited another bloke from work. He’s only been around a couple of months. His name’s Eric Day and he seems to be at a bit of a loose end. Should be along soon, he wanted to drive himself. Now, I’m going out the back to see Maxie, my favourite dog.” Daniel smiled.
“O.K. Fine. Maxie is in the back yard.” Christina laughed, “Guess he made his presence felt when you pulled up.”
Daniel nodded, “Atta boy! He needs to be frightening.”
When Daniel went out Christina stayed in the lounge doorway propped against the jamb, looking through the room to the French doors. She could make out the shapes of her pot plants against the fence, as the evening light faded. The guys were chatting, sucking on their stubbies, and munching peanuts. Suddenly, a strange man appeared at the doors. Christina stood upright and gasped. James, who had been discreetly watching her, turned and looked over his left shoulder.
“Man!” He said as he stood up. “Doesn’t Eric know how to find a front door?”
He went to the door, unlocked it and threw it open. A tall, handsome man with stylishly tousled hair and an unshaven face stepped into the room. He clutched at the front of a dark suit jacket, worn with a white shirt and black leather tie.
Christina spoke,” I gather you know this bloke, Jim.”
“Yes, unfortunately— this is Eric. He has been working in our sales department for the past two months. He’s a top performer once he manages to find the front door.”
Andy laughed. But Eric seemed offended.
James elbowed him, “Come on, mate.”
Eric turned to Christina and said “I rang the doorbell.”
Christina frowned—I’ve been standing by the door the whole time; the bell was working, last night.
She decided to let it go. “Oh well, you’re in now. I’m Christina. Would you like a beer?”
Daniel appeared. Looking at Eric he said, “You’re the one that made Maxie arc up. Lucky he was behind the side gate.”
“Yeah,” said James, looking at Daniel, “He had trouble finding the front door.”
“Come on Eric. You look tense. Have a beer.”
“I will. Your lovely sister just offered me one.” He smiled at Christina like a kid at Christmas.
She thought to herself, I could like him, despite the strange entrance.
Later in the evening, the boys were still watching sport. They’d gone from watching Aussie Rules to Soccer and were debating the respective merits of each game.
Andy had heard a joke that he just had to tell.
“OK, David Beckham is going to release his autobiography. The highlights will be his time playing with England, his life with Victoria and his great clothes——it will be titled “Three Lions, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Eric and James laughed loudly.
“Hey, who’s David Beckham?” said Christina. Andy frowned, looking down.
“Just kidding”, Christina elbowed him in the ribs.
Christina sipped the last of her beer, stood up and stretched. Heading into the kitchen to clean up she was surprised to find Eric right on her heels.
“It’s OK,” she said, feeling awkward, “There’s only a little to clean up.”
“Do you mind if I help?” he said.
“Guess not,” she shrugged. She had noticed him staring intently at her, a few times, during the evening. She wasn’t sure she wanted to encourage him.
“Will you excuse me a moment? I remembered something I have to do.”
She went out the back of the house and into the yard. Maxie was in his exercise enclosure and she brought him back to the enclosed verandah. On the way he was panting and nipping playfully at her heels. She looked down at him as she backed away and he chased her toes. Suddenly she hit something solid and human. She gasped as she found herself looking up at Eric.
“You appear in the damnedest places, don’t you?”
He smiled and said, “So sorry, I was just looking for the bathroom. I saw you out here——”
“Hey, you’re Canadian aren’t you? I”ve been trying to place the accent. Give me a minute; I’m just putting the dog to bed.”
He smiled again, dipping his head in acknowledgement.
“Come on, Maxine.” She put the dog in his crate in the back verandah and shut the hall door. As she did so she remembered her promise to Julie: she’d shut off the rear light so that it wouldn’t bother Ian. As she switched out the light, she read her watch:10.15. The doorbell rang as she approached the front door.
“Hooray, finally, it’s Jen!”
She opened the door and Jennifer folded her in a hug.
“Sorry I’m so late. I waited until the kids were all settled but I can stay a few hours.” She spoke into Christina’s hair. She lifted her head. “Who’s this?”
Christina knew she must be talking about Eric because Jen knew everyone else.
“Jen, this is Eric. Daniel’s new workmate.”
“Nice to meet you, Eric.” Jen grasped his hand firmly and gazed into his face.
“Hey”, Eric said quietly, “you remind me of Michelle Monaghan.”
“Really? Thanks,” Jennifer looked pleased.
The three went through to the lounge where all the guys greeted Jen.
“Let’s get me a glass of wine,” Jen grabbed her sister’s hand and led her through to the kitchen. “Well, isn’t Eric attractive, my dear?” With her head on an angle and her hands on her hips, she regarded Christina intently.
“Well, yes, but I’ve already noticed he’s a little weird.”
“Weird? He just seems at a loose end in there.”
“Yeah, he hasn’t been conversing much, that’s for sure.”
“Why don’t we ask him to play a board game with us?” Jen smiled. “I know—Taboo. That will loosen him up if he’s a bit shy.”
They set up the board game in the kitchen. Christina looked at Jen, “Do you really think we should ask Eric?”
“It can’t hurt to be friendly, Chris.”
Christina half-smiled, “You reminded me of mum just then.”
Jen went and tapped Daniel on the shoulder “Where’s your friend, Eric?”
She nodded at Andy and James who turned to smile at her.
“Isn’t he with you?” Daniel said. Standing up, he looked through the front lounge room windows.
“His car’s gone. He is a bit odd.”
Jennifer rolled her eyes. “Maybe he’s just really shy. I thought he was cute.”
An hour later Daniel, Andy and James got up from the couch; their plan was to walk to Daniel’s house.
“I’ll get a taxi home from your place,” Andy spoke. He was aware that his wife was expecting him home an hour before, and in one piece.
Daniel said to James “You can crash on my couch. You look a bit smashed.”
“Righty O, mate. But first I must thank the lovely Chris.”
He stuck his head in the kitchen door.
“Goodnight Chris. Thanks for everything.” With a grin from ear to ear, he gave a little wave.
“Goodnight James.” Christina snickered.
When the door shut, Jennifer turned to Christina.
“Looks like he’s still keen. Why don’t you encourage him?”
“I’ll think about it, as you know we went out several times. He’s not a bad bloke.”
Jennifer smiled. “And he’s still keen.”
The sickle moon looked as if it was halfway across the horizon when Jennifer left. The neighbourhood was dark and hushed.
Ten minutes later, Christina was already in her pyjamas when she heard a knock on the door.
Glad I locked up. She approached the door cautiously.
“Chris” she recognised the voice.
To make certain who it was, she called out. “Is that you, Julie?”
“Yes, I’m sorry it’s so late but I was on the way back from Judith’s——”
By this time Christina had the door open and was finishing,” and you thought you’d just drop in.”
“No, it’s just that you haven’t turned the back light off. I could see it when I went up my driveway.”
“I did turn it off earlier. Maybe I thoughtlessly flicked the switch when I checked on Maxine. I’ll turn it off now.”
Julie turned to go then hesitated, pensive.
Should tell her we thought we saw a man hanging around, but I might frighten her for no good reason. Judith wasn’t completely sure we saw someone. We were all worked up over Psycho and Rear Window.
“Thanks, Christina. Take care.”
Christina checked everything was locked before snuggling into her favorite pillow. Maxine whined a bit but eventually all was quiet.
Christina woke suddenly. She sat up.
Something woke me.
She looked around and saw nothing, listened for Maxine and heard nothing. She sat against her pillow in the dark for a while, listening. After a few minutes her heart was still racing, so she decided to grab some of her favourite bedtime reading. Entering the lounge she thought she heard footsteps outside the locked French doors. She grabbed her cordless handset off the coffee table and quickly dialled 00, while opening the blinds in two tugs. The side courtyard was lit by the lounge room light; she saw the potted Focus plants: all familiar she thought, breathing heavily; she did not dial the third 0.
She grabbed her book and headed through to the kitchen.
Calm down, Christina. Brandy and warm milk, which will help. Gran’s remedy.
As she reached into the cupboard next to the sink, she noticed that the kitchen window was open.
I shut that. Would Jen have opened it again?
She was in the habit of closing windows at night. She turned on every light in the house and checked all the windows. She heard Maxie whine behind the laundry door.
“It’s OK, Maxie.” she said her voice sounding over-loud.
Back in the kitchen, she heated milk in the microwave and added a generous measure of Brandy. She returned to the bedroom. Sipping the milk she settled against the pillows and opened the book but her neck was tight.
It’s OK, Christina. There’s a perfectly simple explanation for all this.
She took some deep breaths. Maxie isn’t barking or whining. Everything is OK.
Maxie whined, loudly, a few times. Her palms felt moist.
You”re being ridiculous. Settle. He’s whined most nights since he’s been here
She continued to read, trying hard to concentrate on the words:” The lighted path led to the edge of the dam.” lighted. Something clicked in her brain. When she had crossed the hall to the bedroom she had seen the glow of the back light in the hall.
Why? She dropped the book on the covers. Maxie whined loudly again; he began barking.
In her neighbouring home, Julie woke in her bed.
“Julie, Julie,” her husband Ian was calling out to her in his weak invalid voice.
Sometimes she dreamt about their farming days——of the strong man he had once been. She stood up and sleepily walked to his bed side.
“Julie, that damn light from next door is bugging me again.”
Christina must be tired to forget like this. Not like her. Time for the spare key.
Dressed in a tracksuit, worn over her night attire, Julie left her house and entered her neighbour’s yard. Feeling in her pocket for the mobile phone she had brought with her she texted Christina:You must have been tired. Forgot about the light. I’ll turn it off.
As she approached the back door she noticed something gleaming in the grass. The glass panel in the backdoor was shattered. She heard a noise and called out, “Chris, Chris.”
Dry-mouthed, she wondered what to do. Call the police.
As she reached for the phone, it vibrated in her pocket. Christina’s message read:
Hidden under spare room bed. Call police. Ring doorbell.
She stepped away into the dark by the side fence and called the Police. When she knew they were just a few minutes away, she crept around to the front doorbell; she rang it repeatedly. Inside the house, she heard loud thumps. Seconds later, she heard the sound of more breaking glass.
Julie wrote a text to Judith; her phone nearly fell from her sweaty hands: “Come. Emergency. Christina’s.” Anxious not to waste seconds she rang Judith before she had a chance to read the text. As soon as she heard Judith’s voice, she spoke, “Come, quickly to Christina’s.”
Sleepily, Judith said “OK”.
Julie unlocked Christina’s door while she waited.
As Judith appeared, they heard screaming. They threw open the door, smashing it against the wall, at the exact moment the Police turned in the driveway, lights flashing.
“Thank God.” panted chubby Judith, running to the officers.
Julie entered the house in tears, calling out, “Christina, Chris…”
Christina staggered into view. A frying pan hung limply from her right hand. She grabbed Julie who began to scream. Eric appeared behind Christina with a tyre iron raised above his head. They ran out as the police ran in.
Later Christina sat, shaken, in Daniel’s arms on the couch. One policeman had subdued Eric with capsicum spray, and the other handcuffed him. They had sent him off in a divisional van. “Usually in these cases we have to use more force,” one policeman had said. Christina shook her head.
The Senior Constable turned to Daniel, “Your workmate, Eric, is a long time sufferer from Schizophrenia. He had been stable but then stopped taking his meds. Your sister reminded him of some celebrity who’s been cheating on her hubby, and he believed he was sent to deal with her. That’s what set him off.” He looked at Christina. “I suggest you let your brother take you to the hospital.”
The policemen left and Christina stared at the lights from the police car moving across the window as it reversed out of the driveway. She trembled.
“Come to my place, Chris. We’ll go to the emergency department together on the way,” Daniel said.
“What about Maxie? I want to see Maxie,” she raised her bruised face to Daniel’s.
“Please, Chris, I’m just glad you’re OK, so glad.” He smiled, though a glaze of tears blurred his vision. “You can’t see Maxie, now.”
“No, I want to see him…Maxie——Maxie”
He put his hand on her head. “Please, he’s dead, you can’t see him now.”
The piercing sounds of her screams brought Julie running from the kitchen and her tea-making.
Daniel grabbed the phone, “I’ll ring Jen.”