Things that go Bump in the Night
Kim made the long, roundabout journey from New Zealand to England partly as a sentimental pilgrimage, partly out of curiosity, and partly in search of something that she couldn’t pinpoint, but subconsciously both lacked and needed. She came to the cottage by chance... or did she? It seemed to be chance at the time, but perhaps it was some deep-rooted, unrecognised memory that brought her there.
She arrived in Liverpool from Ireland at the end of May, after six months spent in what her father, back home, described rudely as bumming around Europe, and spent a few informative days with his sister and her family. They hadn’t seen her since she was very small indeed.
‘Hmm,’ said Aunt Cath, looking her up and down. ‘Roddie and Ann certainly hatched themselves a swan when they took you into the nest! It’s lucky they never had any silly ideas of passing you off as their own.’
‘Now then, Cath,’ said Uncle Bill.
Kim, however, didn’t mind this tactlessness. Tact wasn’t an outstanding characteristic of her father’s, either, and she was extremely fond of him. In any case, her adoption had never been a big deal for her; it was simply a familiar fact of her life. She smiled, enjoying the teasing.
Because Aunt Cath took the fact that she wasn’t in fact a blood relation, but rather, as she endearingly described it, a love relation, so much for granted, Kim found it easier to talk to her than she ever had done to the members of her mother’s family among whom she had grown up. She learned things about her adoption that she had never known before, not, she realised, because it was any great secret, but simply because by the time she was old enough to ask, there was no need because she already belonged and took this fact for granted.
‘It was quite a surprise when Roddie and Ann upped and left for New Zealand,’ Aunt Cath told her, gossiping over the washing-up that first evening. ‘Of course, Ann came from there, and they had often talked about it - but it was always for when they had saved up enough to give them a start out there, some time in the future. Always tomorrow, with them. Everything was.’ She smiled with reminiscent affection, lost in the past, and Kim had to prompt her to make her continue.
‘So what made them go?’
‘God knows.’ Aunt Cath shrugged her shoulders, and then pointed the dishmop at Kim to emphasise her point. ‘There was no planning about it, that anyone could see. Rod had a nice little business over here and was beginning to do well enough, although I wouldn’t have said it was making enough to justify selling up and emigrating on the proceeds. It was like as if he had come into a fortune suddenly - whoomph! Here we go!’ She paused, rattling pots in the sink. Kim waited a moment, and then prompted again.
‘So? What happened?’
Aunt Cath frowned in the effort to remember so far back, or perhaps at what she was remembering, it was hard to say.
‘They turned up on the doorstep one evening, out of the blue, luggage and everything. Going to emigrate, they said, buy a farm in New Zealand at last, full of themselves they were. All the arrangements made, it seemed, and never a word to warn the family. Well, you can imagine, there was a bit of an upset. There was a lot of talk that night, but never a word as to where the money was to come from for all their grand schemes. Full of them, they were, you’d have thought they’d come up on the lottery!. And then, of course, there was you.’
‘Yes? What about me?’
Aunt Cath looked at her. ‘You dry those crocks properly, young Kim, no skimping. What about you, you say? Well, you were the biggest surprise of all. Funny little ginger-haired scrap you were, toddling into trouble if you took your eye off for a minute, falling over yourself and yelling fit to beat the band, good lungs you had too, a real handful and nothing to say you’d grow up the way you have - but one thing they’d never said was anything about fostering a child, although of course we all knew they had dearly wanted kids of their own, only it wasn’t to be. Oh well, I suppose it all worked out the way they wanted, but it wasn’t like Rod to be so secretive and it caused a lot of talk in the family, I can tell you. Your Aunt Rose never got off the phone except for meals for the next week and more, I swear it!’
‘They decided to emigrate that suddenly?’ asked Kim, to keep the conversational ball rolling, for this was news to her. Aunt Cath sniffed.
‘Suddenly to us, at all events. They said they’d talked it over between themselves, but it can’t have been for long, for secretive by nature, they were not.’ Aunt Cath looked at her long-limbed, attractive, sun-browned and redheaded niece consideringly, her nose wrinkled in thought. ‘I suppose the same went for you, chance came up and they took it, or they had a sudden idea - and that at least is Roddie all over, and always was. Act first, think second. Only you hardly pull up all your roots and cross the world for good without thinking first, I wouldn’t have thought, least of all with a child that’s not your own, and that’s where it always sticks for me, look at it how you will.’
‘But they didn’t live near you, did they?’ said Kim. ‘Mum always talks about the south of England. I suppose that’s where I came from.’
Aunt Cath laughed, not without sympathy. ‘Curious? I can’t help you there. What I know, I’ve told you.’
‘Nobody could help being a bit curious,’ said Kim.
She knew so little about those early days, when it came down to it. Just that her father, at the time of her arrival on the scene, had owned a garage in a small village called Emberton, somewhere in Dorset. She hadn’t given it a thought until quite recently, but her parents would talk - and did talk - endlessly about their youth, the days when they first met, the early years of their marriage, but about Emberton - zilch! It was not until she found herself in England that this had dawned on her, and curious, she now realised, was exactly the word.
Kim became very thoughtful. It hadn’t occurred to her before she spoke to Aunt Cath that there was anything particularly noteworthy in this reticence, and perhaps there was not, but curiosity couldn’t help growing. She told her kind Uncle and Aunt that she would like to take a look at Emberton, and would take in London and points south on the same trip, and a few days later they saw her onto a train, together with her rucksack and charged with messages for her Aunt Rose in Isleworth. They stood waving goodbye as the train pulled away from the platform, smiling and calling a few last messages, and Aunt Cath blew kisses. In retrospect, it always seemed that this was the last entirely normal thing that happened in all that long summer.
Kim arrived in London at the very beginning of June, and spent some days with Aunt Rose and her large and cheerful family, all around Kim’s own age and determined that she should have a good time. The weather, though, was close and thundery, and perhaps that was the reason why she left them sooner than she had originally meant. To country-bred Kim, London was crowded, noisy and unbearably humid, but that was only part of it. For all her friendly cousins and their generous welcome, in London, a sense of incompleteness that had afflicted her occasionally all her life, and which she put down to the fact that there was no actual blood tie between herself and her loved parents and was slightly ashamed about, seemed to crystallise into a nightmare feeling that some missing piece of her walked ever at her shoulder, just out of sight and reaching out for her. She had never felt so close to the spring of her private loneliness, and she had never felt so alone. She took the train on south and westwards to Embridge, the nearest town to the village where her parents had lived, with as much haste as she could without seeming ungrateful.
She passed the cottage the next day, as she sat on a bus, and saw it without really noticing it. It stood close to the road in the midst of its overgrown and jungly garden, the estate agents’ board, FOR SALE, leaning drunkenly on its weathered post. It looked as if it had been not only empty, but neglected for a long, long time. There was nothing about it to catch, or hold, anyone’s attention.
Emberton was a disappointment. Kim wasn’t certain what she had expected to find there, but whatever it was, if it had ever been there it had long since gone. It was a flourishing little place, big for a village, on the western shore of a huge natural harbour; its life for centuries had revolved around the Taverners Shipyard but the wind of change had blown here, as everywhere. The yard, smaller than in its heyday, now built yachts and dinghies in plywood and fibreglass, the workforce, running into hundreds in the days of the old sailing ships, was reduced to a mere handful. Of the cottages that had once housed them, many now housed summer visitors, weekend sailors, yuppies with second homes or retired couples. A familiar story, leading to a sort of backhanded, seasonal prosperity that gave the village a slightly unreal atmosphere.
There were two garages, serving a community that must have grown a lot since her parents left it, over twenty years earlier. Kim had no idea which one had been her father’s, and out of curiosity asked in them both. The girl in the mini-market attached to the big commercial service station just outside the village looked at her vacantly and was patently uninterested in a tourist who didn’t even want to buy so much as a packet of crisps, the young man in the untidy office at the small repair workshop with three pumps outside on the village street, said that he was terribly sorry, he couldn’t help her, he was a newcomer here himself, but how about a drink at the Two Pigeons before lunch? Kim refused this invitation and went out onto the street again, where she stood looking around her, wondering what to do next.
There were two shops besides the small garage; a combined post office and minimarket-style village shop, and a general hardware store. There was a pleasant old pub right on the street, with its car park alongside. And, of course, there was the shipyard, whose great iron gates stood open further down the little street, and which now incorporated a sophisticated yacht chandlery, selling a range of nautical goods from chain and shackles to smart sailing gear and everything one could think of in between. The rows of cottages drowsed in the sun and doves cooed softly to each other on the tiled roof of the pub. Kim felt instinctively that there was no point in enquiring further; if her roots lay in this pleasant place she would have to seek them another way, it was too much changed. She wasn’t even certain that it was roots, as such, that she was looking for; she loved her parents and had never felt the lack of her natural mother and father, although of course she had wondered about them. But logic offered this explanation for what was rapidly escalating into an urgent need to know more. She had never thought that there was any mystery. Aunt Cath had made her think that there might be. As simple as that?
She walked along the street in the sunshine, past the shipyard gates and onto the footpath that led along the shore. The green waters of the harbour sparkled on her left and ahead of her, a long spit of land divided harbour from sea. A cluster of buildings stood on the end of the spit and boats lay moored offshore. A lane leading towards the sea displayed a sign at its entrance.
NO THROUGH ROAD
EMBER VALLEY SAILING CLUB
PRIVATE ROAD SPEED LIMIT 15mph
Kim jumped from the footpath down onto the foreshore and walked across the shingle to the water’s edge. She stood there, looking out over the harbour, wondering if she had ever seen this tranquil view before. The thought was oddly disturbing. How much did anyone really remember of what happened in their early childhood? She had heard it said that nobody ever completely forgot anything, but if she had ever seen this place, no glimmer of memory remained.
It was a beautiful day. Wandering slowly back along the foreshore towards the big sheds of the shipyard, Kim thought seriously about moving into Emberton bag and baggage, and making a thorough job of her enquiries, or her search, or whatever it was she was planning. Even if she discovered nothing, which was probable, it would make a pleasant change from London and she had enough money saved from her working tour of Europe by this time to treat herself to a holiday. The pub looked pleasant, and a lot of the little houses had Bed & Breakfast signs outside. By the time she had scrambled back onto the footpath, her mind was almost made up. She would take the bus back to the town and get herself some lunch, and afterwards check out of the Hostel where she had spent last night and come back here. She could find a room somewhere in the village for tonight and look around at her leisure for a more permanent base and maybe find a part-time job to keep herself as she had done in Italy, Germany and France on her travels. The pub might give her one with the holiday season coming up. She had worked in bars before.
Unfortunately, it seemed that there was no bus back to town for two hours.
Having decided that she was coming back, Kim didn’t feel like hanging around. She had spent too much time lately sitting about in trains and cars and other people’s houses, and she was used to a more active life. If she began to walk now, she reasoned, she might even beat the bus back to town, and she could have her lunch anywhere if she bought a sandwich and some apples in the village.
So it was that about an hour later, she came to the cottage on foot, and this time she noticed it properly. Standing on the grass verge beyond a wooden gate silvered with weather and age, she considered its simplicity with interest. Grey stone walls, a central doorway with a tiny sash window on either side, a chimney standing up at each end, they didn’t build cottages much more basic than this one, it looked like a child’s drawing. It even had the obligatory large, shock-headed tree standing not too far away on the boundary of the adjoining field. A venerable old oak, very traditional. Curiosity getting the better of her, she put her hand on the gate and swung it open and walked through onto the overgrown flags of the garden path.
It was like the palace of Sleeping Beauty. Great swathes of tiny pink roses that smelt headily of summer fell across the tiny, tangled patch that had once been a square of lawn, honeysuckle brushed against her cheek as she pushed her way up to the low front door. Among the unpruned fruit bushes to the right, a choir of birds was singing, and a little lizard, sunning itself on a flat stone, darted away into the long grass at Kim’s approach.
The door was locked. Kim pushed her way through the honeysuckle and peered in at one of the windows. Inside, she could just make out a wide brick fireplace with a big black iron range in it, and a door opposite which must lead into the next room. There was a stone sink with no tap set under a small, dirty window in the back wall and another door beside it that would presumably lead back outside. The window looked as if it might be broken. Kim made her way round to the back of the house.
It was not so much broken, she found, as simply falling apart, and it didn’t take her long to pull down the top sash. The resulting gap was small and high up, but to an active young woman it presented no great problem. In a short space of time, Kim was landing feet first on the floor of the cottage. Dusting her hands absently on the seat of her jeans, she stood and looked about her.
The first impression she had was one of sunlight, trapped agelessly inside the shadowy room. It danced in the dust motes that thickened the air, spattered in golden patterns on the worn slate floor. And with the sunlight came the sounds, the wordless murmur of welcome, the laughter, and the feeling, strange but at the same time familiar, of having come home. And then she moved and it was all gone, shattered into nothing, like a broken spell. There was just the tiny room dirty with neglect, the shadowed sunbeams struggling through the obscured window, and a pervasive smell of damp.
It didn’t take Kim long to explore the cottage from end to end. The second room, tinier even than the first, had only one window, looking towards the road. The roses and honeysuckle had grown so thickly across this that it was as dark in the room as if the shutters were closed. Spiders and cobwebs lurked in the corners of the low ceiling and, as in the other room, dust and shrivelled dead leaves carpeted the floor and had drifted into the corners and into the empty hearth. But the stove in the bigger room looked as if it might be made to work, and there was a deep store cupboard in the wall beside it that only needed a good scrub out to make it fit for use. There wasn’t a stick of furniture in the place. Thoughtfully, Kim climbed back out through the window and secured it again as best she could before exploring the small garden.
Here, the shrubs had been taken over by the countryside, and it was a tangle of dead wood, brambles and stinging nettles. But Kim found a pump, rusty but still working, from which a stream of fresh-tasting water could be coaxed with a little effort. There was a stone shed against the back wall, with adjoining it a tiny lean-to which proved to house a primitive lavatory and another pump, presumably to take the water up to the high cistern. Kim wrinkled her nose. It all needed a good clean, but it would do.
She ate her lunch sitting among the currant bushes with the birds, doing some careful thinking. Living in a place like this and doing for herself would work out a lot cheaper than bed and breakfast, and it would be much more fun. It was very tempting. Of course, there was no way she could buy it, but it might be possible to rent it for a while. She was tired of travelling, and she liked this bit of England already, and if her money ran out, she could always find herself a job, she had done that in Europe. She could buy a second-hand bicycle to get around on, perhaps. Coming to a decision, she got to her feet, carefully stowed the folded bag from her lunch in her pocket, and went to read the board by the fence.
She spent the rest of the day in town after all. First of all, she visited the estate agent on the board. The man she saw seemed surprised when she mentioned the cottage.
‘I don’t want to buy it,’ Kim explained. ‘I’m only in Europe for a year, and some of that’s gone. I wondered if I could possibly rent it for the summer.’
‘There’s no furniture.’ He looked at her doubtfully. ‘That property has stood virtually derelict for years, and I believe everything has been removed.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Kim. ‘I can put in what I need - it won’t be much, and there’s plenty of second-hand shops around, I’ve seen them.’
He looked down his nose at her.
‘The landlord would be wary of an unfurnished tenancy, and in any case, there are no utilities laid on.’
‘I know. So what? A lamp and a jug will fix that, and I’ll waive my rights, whatever they are, if he wants.’
‘There’s no indoor sanitation, either.’
‘That needn’t bother you, if it doesn’t bother me, need it?’ Kim was beginning to get impatient. ‘I only want it for a holiday, for God’s sake!’
‘We have some very pleasant little holiday flats available to let on the seafront here,’ he said. Their eyes met. His slid away. He began to fuss with some papers on his desk. Kim said, ‘If it isn’t to let, of course that’s it. Is it to let?’
‘It has been let in the past,’ said the estate agent, cautiously.
‘Then I suppose it can be let again,’ said Kim. Really, it was like drawing teeth! ‘Couldn’t you ask the owner?’
He hesitated. ‘We have another cottage in the area that is to let on a long-term lease, but the owner there might agree to an interim short tenancy - I can show you details - ’ He began to get to his feet, but Kim stopped him.
‘But I like that one,’ she said. ‘I like it, and if I don’t care about the lack of amenities, I don’t see why it should bother anyone else. Anyway, I probably couldn’t afford the other.’
He sat down, opened his mouth as if to speak, and then closed it again. It was perfectly possible to see his natural instinct for business warring with some other, less easily identified emotion. Business won. He shrugged.
‘All right,’ he said. ‘If that’s what you want, of course. You must know your own business best.’
‘That’s right,’ said Kim. He gave her a measuring look, eyes half-shut, as if he was estimating her in some way.
‘Ring me in the morning, I’ll see what I can do for you.’ He stood up abruptly, walked over to the door and opened it. ‘Thank you for calling in.’
‘Thank you,’ said Kim politely. She walked out past him with a distinct impression that he didn’t want her to have the cottage, which she didn’t intend to allow to bother her. He hadn’t even bothered to ask her for her name, probably didn’t expect to see her again: well, she would see about that!
She returned in person on the following morning, circumventing any attempt at a put-off, and found that he was out, or at least he had left a message to that effect in the outer office, although she could hear his voice quite clearly talking on the telephone in an inner room. If he wanted to wash his hands of her, it was no worry to Kim, the important thing was the message he had left about the cottage. It was to be hers until the end of September, two months rent in advance, and she could have it at the end of the week.
‘The caretaker or someone’ll clean it out for you,’ the girl at the desk told her. ‘The landlord’ll be in town on Thursday for the cattle market, and he’ll sign the lease then. You can come in and sign and pick up the key any time after ten o’clock.’ She looked at Kim with interest. ‘Will you really not mind being out there on your own?’
‘No, why should I?’ asked Kim, surprised. ‘There’s plenty of people using the main road and it’s in plain view. It’s not isolated, or anything.’
‘Not at night, there aren’t people. Won’t you be scared?’
‘What of?’ asked Kim. ‘Burglars won’t bother with it.’ The girl reddened a little.
‘Oh ... just anything,’ she said, airily. Kim laughed.
‘If there’s anything to be scared of, I can probably scream as loud as anyone else. But being alone in a house, even after dark, isn’t scary.’
‘Rather you than me,’ said the girl.
Kim forgot this exchange as soon as she was back on the street, her mind was too full of more important things. She spent the remainder of the day pricing junk furniture, marking down suitable items and asking about delivery. She needed very little - a table, four unmatched but sturdy chairs to go round it because she would no doubt make some friends during a close-to-four month tenancy, a sagging but clean old sofa, a chest of drawers for her few clothes - woodworm, no object, it was probably there before her. She could sleep on a camp bed, she decided, and she had a sleeping bag with her. A couple of rugs, a pillow, a few pots and pans and some odds and ends of china, nothing that cost very much, but it would do for the few weeks that she would be needing it and she could sell it all again when she left or just tip it. She would enjoy herself making a home out of the little house. It had never seriously occurred to her that she wouldn’t get it in the end, it had felt hers from the moment she climbed in through the window.
Friday morning found her back on the estate agent’s doorstep. He had everything ready for her, and when he had filled in the final details of her name and permanent address, she signed where he told her without bothering to do more than skim through the lease itself.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘if you had been resident in this country, there would have been no question of a lease, but since you are not ...’ He sniffed, and let the sentence trail away. Kim thought that he meant her to feel like a country cousin from the old colonies, but of course she didn’t. She left with a cheery wave, with her copy of the lease safely tucked into her bumbag, and the huge old key to the cottage swinging from her finger. The estate agent had been businesslike to the point of being unfriendly, she thought perhaps her determination to have the cottage rather than something more expensive had annoyed him. It didn’t bother her, he was, after all, in the business of providing houses for those that wanted them, and criticism of their choice didn’t come into it. Or shouldn’t, anyway.
She took her personal things, her sleeping bag and rucksack, out on the bus with her. The driver dropped her right outside the cottage, it wasn’t a scheduled stop but nobody on the bus seemed to mind.
‘Any time you want to go into town, stand outside the gate and wave. Me or my mate, we’ll pick you up,’ the driver told her. ‘The bus company’ll never know, nor care if they did so long as you’ve paid the fare.’
Kim thanked him and jumped down onto the verge with her things, turning to wave as the bus pulled away. Half the passengers waved back. With a sense of warm satisfaction, she picked up her rucksack and crossed the road to the cottage.
The garden, she noted, was much the same as it had been, except that the hinges on the gate had been oiled, and someone had nailed up the front fence where a section had been broken and taken a scythe to the grass - you couldn’t dignify it by the name of "lawn". Nobody had touched the roses or the honeysuckle, and only the bees were showing any interest in the fruit bushes and flowering shrubs. But the house, she found, had been thoroughly scrubbed out for her, the range had been blackleaded and a fire laid inside, the broken window roughly repaired. There was even a jam jar full of roses on the big beam that made a shelf above the hearth, proper garden roses not the wild ramblers from the cottage garden. She shut the front door behind her, but found that she had to open it again because she couldn’t see adequately in the dim light. When she went into Emberton for some stores later on, she told herself, she would have to get some secateurs and do a little pruning.
There was little left for her to do until her few pieces of furniture were delivered that evening, and she decided to walk into the village now. With luck she should have time to get everything she needed before the afternoon bus left for Embridge, and she could get some lunch in the Two Pigeons.
Because of the all-pervading yachting influence, the few shops in Emberton were fairly comprehensive. Kim was able to get everything she needed in the way of stores in the minimarket, and was also able to leave the box there until the bus left, which was handy. They seemed to take it for granted that she was camping somewhere and she didn’t disillusion them, after all, it was very nearly true. But coal was a more difficult problem, she would need it for the range and she didn’t think she could carry it on the bus, not with everything else too. Over a pie and a half of lager in the pub, she asked the landlord’s advice.
‘George, over the road, sells pre-packed fuel,’ the landlord said. ‘If you ask him, I expect he’ll deliver it for you after closing time, he’s pretty good like that.’
"George" had a dark and crowded little shop bearing on its fascia the legend G. CROWE HARDWARE & GARDEN SUPPLIES. George himself, if it was George who eventually served her, was quite as helpful as the landlord had promised. He’d be happy, he said, to drop off two sacks of coal and a good bundle of kindling for her, where was she staying?
‘I’m at Rose Cottage,’ said Kim, having discovered from the lease that this was the unimaginative name of her temporary home. ‘It’s about three miles along the main road to Embridge, on the left hand side, I expect you know it...’ She tailed off, for a sudden silence had greeted the words. The shop that had been a second before full of chatter among the handful of waiting customers was momentarily still, and then the chattering broke out again, more animated than before. Kim felt, however, that nobody was really listening to the conversations between themselves, they were all listening to her.
‘So you’re the young lady as has taken Rose Cottage,’ said George. ‘My wife keeps an eye on the place, so I’d heard as it was let. Planning a long stay?’
‘I hope so,’ said Kim.
‘It’s lonely out there. All on your own, are you?’
‘Why not?’ countered Kim. ‘It’s nice, I shall like it.’
‘I hope you will, miss,’ said George. ‘Young Tim’ll be going out your way later, I’ll get him to drop your stuff off then. And if you want anything, you just call by and let me know, and Mollie’ll be over and see to it for you, bit of cleaning or baking or suchlike.’
‘Thank you, but I’m sure I shall manage,’ said Kim. She left the shop, conscious of a dozen eyes on her back, and walked slowly down the street towards the shore.
It was all becoming a little difficult to ignore. There was something to know about the cottage, there had to be - first that estate agent, then his assistant, now the ironmonger and a shopful of people, all staring at her and asking silly questions. She sat on the edge of the towpath and dangled her feet above the stony foreshore, thinking.
Was it remotely possible that the cottage was supposed to be haunted? Surely not! It certainly had atmosphere, but not that kind of atmosphere. Why, it had been like home, it had had a lovely feel about it as soon as she saw it, and even more once she was inside! But it was in a lonely place, and stories did grow up around lonely places, there was no argument about that. Some silly person only had to hear an owl making the strange noises that some owls could make, and a legend would begin and grow. That would be it, of course. Well she, Kim, had been brought up among country sounds and in relative isolation too, and she wasn’t scared of owls. Perhaps that was lucky.
If it came to that, although she personally didn’t believe in ghosts, it might be amusing if it was supposed to be haunted, it would make a great story to tell when she got home. When she knew her way around better and had made friends with the locals, she would ask about it. It was a very old cottage, so it would probably be a very old ghost to go with it; maybe medieval, the ghost, perhaps, of some long-deceased shipwright who had once worked at the great yard in the old days. Or a traditional grey lady, even. There were a lot of grey ladies, Kim had heard, in old English houses.
She decided that, whatever the truth, it was hardly worth worrying about it. She loved the cottage and didn’t care if people did consider it haunted. Whatever was there, if anything at all, was certainly not inimical towards her, in fact it had rather seemed to welcome her. With this thought in her mind, which it didn’t occur to her was at all contradictory, Kim caught the bus back with her groceries and once in the cottage again, began to make herself at home.
"Young Tim" dropped the sacks of coal and the kindling off soon after she arrived back, but rather to her disappointment he had no comment to make on the cottage. He wasn’t particularly young, either - mid-forties or early fifties, she decided, with greying hair and a lined, somewhat unhappy face as if life had been a disappointment to him - but then, George himself had been distinctly old, so probably Tim had seemed young to him when he first started work, and the name had stuck. This vista of years spent serving in that dark little shop was slightly depressing, but Tim did show her how to light the old range and regulate the damper, and gave her some sound advice on cooking, the soundest piece of which, she thought, was a suggestion that she bought herself a camping stove from the shop. She offered him a can of lager for his trouble, which he accepted and drank gloomily, and when he left she took out the gardening tools she had bought and went into the wilderness outside to cheer herself up with a bit of hard labour in the sunshine.
The remainder of the day passed without incident, except for the delivery of her sparse furnishings. The second hand furniture dealer - "the junk man" to Kim - had also agreed to transport her camp bed, extra bedding and kitchen equipment, so that when he had gone, she spent a happy hour arranging everything. It was getting dark by then, she lit the round-globed oil lamp she had bought along with the coal and closed the shutters; the little room looked cosy and friendly in the lamplight. The warm feeling of belonging was still there, and remained with her as she cooked her supper and afterwards read contentedly beside the warm stove.
At eleven o’clock, she adjusted the damper as Young Tim had instructed her, folded back the shutters again, and took the lamp through into the bedroom. It was pleasant here, too, with the white walls and the new bright blanket on her bed, and the little jug of run-wild flowers she had picked in the garden sitting on the chest of drawers with her hairbrush, and the photograph of her parents in New Zealand. She climbed into her sleeping bag with a feeling of deep satisfaction in her surroundings and fell asleep almost at once.
She woke in the early hours of the morning, assailed by a terrible feeling of loss. Barely awake, she was reaching out desperately for something - someone - who should be there and was not ... who was no longer there; even half asleep she knew that there was a difference. She thought that she had called out and wakened herself, and the awakening was dreadful, full of loneliness and fright.
It was dark in the room, and she lay there with the aftermath of her dream, afraid and knowing that it was silly to be afraid of a dream. It was a long time, after daybreak, before she slept again ... because the dream hadn’t been new. She knew that it reached far back into her childhood, that it was an old familiar enemy, even though her adult self had forgotten it. It belonged in that unknown past that she was planning to discover.
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