Welcome to the nineteenth Story a Week! Slightly different style this week and slightly different timing. Part two of the story will be posted on Wednesday.
This is fantasy, 1858 words. Jenny is a typical 22 year old, until her mother dies and she moves back home…
Part One – Finding
“Jenny?” The voice asked, the tone querying, yet fearful. As though the voice didn’t want it to actually be Jenny.
“Yes?” Jenny answered, the tone of one word had thrown her off. She added, “this is Jenny.” The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She scrubbed at her wet hair with a small towel, her short, dark brown bob dried quickly.
“Oh. This is your Aunt Eleanor.” That’s it, Jenny realised, that’s who it is, but she sounds wrong. Eleanor’s voice tailed off, a sentence unspoken. She had Jenny’s full attention now.
“Hi, what’s up, Aunt Eleanor? Are you OK?”
“Yes, er, yes. I am. Are you sitting down, dear?”
Jenny was stood holding the cheap phone the landlord had bought. Some off-white, wired one piece device, with hardly any electronics inside and the shortest cord on any phone she had ever seen. Sitting wasn’t an option. Then it hit her, why it was people asked you to sit down, the clichéd reason. Something sickening uncurled in her stomach, the phone creaked softly in her suddenly white knuckled hand.
“Yes,” she lied, “I’m sitting.”
“I’m sorry, Jenny, I really am, your mother is dead, she was hit by a car …” Jenny wasn’t so sure what happened next. She knew she wasn’t on her feet. She knew that as she looked up at one of her room-mates. The phone hung from the wall, vomit streaked and beeping softly. The last memory that Jenny recalled before she was found on the floor was her Aunt’s voice, breaking.
Jenny numbly ran through the following weeks. The arrangements for the burial seemed to more or less make themselves. Eleanor helped with that if nothing else. The funeral itself was long, dull and somehow didn’t seem connected to how she remembered her mother. People kept walking up to her and asking how she was. If she was OK? That she seemed to be managing so well, and they kept asking if there was anything they could do. Then they left as quickly as possible. As though funerals could be caught like head-lice.
Jenny quit her minimum wage job, moved out of her shared bedsit and back into her mothers home. Once it was a farm, the fields sold off years ago, they now held houses of there own. The house itself was slightly run down, certainly not modern, twenty minutes’ drive outside a small town. The bus ride took Jenny an hour and the sun was setting as she walked down the lane, turned the corner and walked toward the badly painted large white wooden gate.
She spent time unpacking, ate some baked beans, and decided that was enough work for one day. Her feelings arrived in an uncontrolled wave, a tsunami of emotion washing away her artifice of constructed coping. Jenny had gone to bed back in her old room, stripped of what made it hers and turned into a guest room a few years ago, but it was where she slept as a child. The closest thing to hers in the house. To her shock she woke up crying, and fell apart.
A few weeks later the house had been cleaned. Jenny stood in her mother’s bedroom, a dozen boxes of various sized scattered around the room. From pictures to jewellery, the collections of a lifetime. She’d kept the things that reminded her of the good times, boxed the bad. Sadly, most had been boxed.
Peter, Jenny’s father, had gone missing when she was ten. One day he had been tucking her into bed, smiling, and talking about Easter, the next he was gone. Everything had been left – not even a change of clothes was missing. He simply vanished. The police assumed he’d left of his own accord. The police opinion that it was likely related to another woman went unsaid, but was heavily implied. As they looked into his disappearance it became clear another woman wasn’t involved and the investigation became more serious. Eventually they admitted that they didn’t know where he was or what had happened.
The case had stayed open for years. When Jenny turned eighteen her mother had Peter declared dead. After some wrangling, and arguments over what missing meant, the state eventually agreed. For Jenny he stayed missing. Something inside her was missing, her father and some part of herself that was him. She didn’t believe he was dead and argued with her mother vehemently, even up to her death. Her mother’s every waking moment was a preoccupation of thanatopsis. The led to the worst arguments they had ever had, those were four years ago now. They’d never been the same since, cordial but never close again.
She didn’t even have the same slight comforting thought as she did with her dad, the abiding belief that he could turn up. Not with her mother. Her mother was just gone. As days passed the crying subsided and Jenny started the long drawn out work of putting herself and her mother’s past in order. Her aunt called every few days, Jenny thought more out of duty than love, but she wasn’t sure. Maybe that was just her insecurity. She turned down the polite offers of help to clean the house. Enjoying the work herself, it took her mind of the minutiae of of the incessant paperwork.
“Well,” Jenny said to herself softly, “I need to stop putting it off.” She turned from the room and looked up at the small loft hatch in the hallway. Jenny wasn’t large in any way, but as she pulled a chair out into the hall she wasn’t looking forward to squeezing into the loft through that hatch. Standing on the chair, she knocked the loft hatch up and slid it across. Old dust fell like tears in fat droplets. Jenny sneezed and looked up into the gloom. She could reach just inside the lip of the loft. It had wooden boards everywhere she felt, but it was above her eye-line so she couldn’t see in.
“Yeah,” she said, realising that in no way could she pull herself into the loft from the height of the chair and even if she did, by some miracle, manage it, she was going to need a light. She sighed, left the hatch pushed back into the loft, pushed back the chair and walked downstairs. The hallway to the back door was tiled deep red clay, the only bathroom was off the hall, almost separate from the house. To the left of the heavy dark green back door was a smaller latched door which opened into the windowless storage room.
She flipped the round Bakelite switch, a hangover from the days where plastic was an expensive luxury, a single, unadorned 40-watt bulb lit the room. After pushing the contents around for a few minutes, Jenny found the small wooden ladder she’d remembered. Chipped and splashed with the paint of years of projects the ladder was solid wood and heavy. It took a while to get it back upstairs. She leaned it against the loft hatch, went back downstairs and picked up her battery camping lantern and a small torch.
“Ah, my childhood.” Jenny said, the boxes nearest the loft contained what was left of her room when she’d moved out. They were labelled by her mother’s untidy handwriting in large marker. As she climbed into the loft the light grew dim with motes. A large nailed proved handy and she hung the lantern high up in front of the hatch. It cast a thin light from its LEDs, spreading shadow more strongly than light. The loft was packed, a small winding gap ran through the piles of stored goods, memories and bric-a-brac.
She didn’t clean, or sort, Jenny ended up rifling through the forgotten contents of the loft. Many items were in wooden boxes, she had no idea what they contained. Quite a few suitcases were resting towards the sides of the house. She opened one at random. It contained old clothing, her grandmother’s. For a moment she smelled her gran’s house and memories swelled, she blinked back tears and closed the case.
As she moved further from the hatch the objects became more dusty, more obscure. A coat rack on its side. Pictures of tall ships, paintings by her great uncle, all leaning up against each other. Before Jenny reached the end of the loft the way was blocked by stacked boxes. They were mostly empty as they were very light as she moved them. Jenny stepped through the gap she’d made, swinging the shard of the torch. The space was nearly empty, different from the rest of the loft.
There, in the corner, on a tea chest, was a red hardback notebook. On the front was an aged brittle label. Jenny blew on the cover, then wiped it on her jeans. In neat handwriting the label read For Jenny, Dad, x. She flipped it open, the torch shaking in her grip. The book was lined paper, half filled with sketches of wild fantastical creatures, half writings of customs, dates, and holidays that didn’t exist.
One entry read:
Lomb Day: A traditional feast day on the south chain of Somuli Islands. It takes sometime during the month of Faru, though the date seems to change each year. The feast is vegetables only, to bring meat, even fish which is the traditional diet, causes great offence. The locals decorate their bodies with intricate art and wear very little. What clothing is worn, scarves, some arm or leg wraps, is either yellow or red. They are strict with these customs so you must be careful.
It made no sense, like a fantasy travelogue mixture of Dr. Seuss and Tolkien. She flipped through the last third of the notebook, the pages had the occasional sketch with no written details. As she reached the end she noticed a loose sheet, held to the card back cover with tape. She sat on the chest, then read:
Jenny, you need to go and see Richard and Claire Gilbert. When you do, ask them for an adventure and say that I sent you. The address is …
The page had a small sketch of a cat on it, wearing a flat sea captain’s cap. It was looking up at some stars, a group of four in a diamond formation. The address itself was local, outside the nearest city, in a village she’d been to once on a school trip. It would take a few hours to reach with the vagrancies of public transport. She searched for a date, on the taped note, then in the notebook. Nothing that she could recognise, more fantasy dates. So she had no idea when this had been written.
Her mother had never mentioned the notebook, nor had the Police. Had anyone known? She stood up, banged her head on a beam and sat back down.
“Screw this,” Jenny said rubbing her head. “Tomorrow.” No more house sorting, certainly the rest of the loft could wait. Tomorrow she would travel to see this couple her father had known.
MJ Cook: Translations for North America: Loft = Attic. Torch = Flashlight. Bedsit = Shared house or apartment.
I really wanted this story to be in one, not two parts. Oh well, I just don’t have that much time I guess.
So I came up with a compromise, a mid-week part 2 followed by a new story next week.
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