UKArchive ID: 35976thegeeza
Originally published on December 14, 2015 in Fiction
‘She’s a strange one, isn’t she?’
‘No stranger than most,’ said Mabel, rummaging in her bag, looking for her purse.
Beryl scowled and looked at the door where Victoria had just left. ‘No, she’s stranger than most.’
The shopkeeper smiled and leant forward. ‘What makes you say that, Beryl?’
Joe knew well that Victoria was considered strange by all the people of the village. His well-stacked general store was in need of custom, though, and he would do whatever was needed to keep the customers coming back, anything to stop them getting on the bus and riding free to the supermarket that overlooked the Cornish village of Penryn. For a long time, it had cast a shadow over honest local commerce and endeavour.
Beryl looked around the shop to check her audience, ‘well, no one has seen her mother for some time, you know.’
‘Her mother is old and infirm. Victoria does for her,’ said Mabel, handing over money to Joe.
‘So, what are you saying, Beryl? That Victoria murdered her?’ said Joe, opening the till. ‘Dissolved her in a vat of acid?’ He gave some change to Mabel.
‘Don’t encourage her.’
‘She could be on to something,’ he said, leaning back and smiling.
‘She always came to Bingo… every Thursday lunchtime,’ said Beryl. ‘Bought six books and drank two halves of stout. Never missed it. Never missed it.’
‘And now, no more,’ said Joe, smiling at Mabel.
‘Why wouldn’t she go anymore?’
‘Too expensive.’ said Mabel.
‘She loved it. She lives in a big house. She’s got a bit tucked away, don’t worry about that.’
‘Did the Bingo people reduce the prize money?’
‘Never missed a week. She was nosey, always asking people about their business.’ She cast her eye at the shelves where all the crisps were stacked. ‘I don’t think she cared if she won or lost.’
‘Perhaps it was becoming too hard to get down there?’ said Joe.
‘Victoria drove her there every week and wheeled her in, in her chair. She got to the bar quick enough when she needed a drink. Nothing much wrong with her hips or her knees … not like me, my legs she should have!’
‘So, she’s dead then?’ said Joe.
‘Elsie sits at her table now. It’s Elsie’s table now. I wonder what would happen if she came back? There’d be a terrible row. What a commotion!’
‘If she came back from the dead?’ asked Joe.
‘Do you have eye spray?’ said Beryl, frowning, squinting at the shelves.
‘Eye spray? Will that help to find Victoria’s mum?’
‘It’s for Harold. My Harold. He says he’s got dry eyes. Dry eyes, I tell you! Who has dry eyes? They’d make your eyelids stick. We saw it on the tele.’
Joe smiled. ‘Eye spray, eh? Let’s see.’ He turned around to scan his stock and handed a small box to Beryl.
‘This is eye spray?’ she said, turning it in her hand.
‘Yes. Tell Harold he needs to spray it on his eyelids a couple of times and that’ll freshen his eyes right up.’
‘How much is that?’
‘That’s nine ninety nine.’
She handed it back, ‘nine ninety nine!’
‘Well, Harold will have to keep his sticky eyelids, won’t he!’
‘It seems he will,’ said Joe, putting the box back on the shelf.
‘The price of things,’ she said.
‘Blame the supermarket.’
‘Water. Water out the tap,’ said Mabel.
‘What’s that?’ said Beryl.
‘Use water out of the tap.’
‘For Harold’s eyes.’
She thought for a second. ‘That Victoria, she’s a strange one.’
Victoria got out of her car and opened the front door. ‘I’m home, Mother!’ she called out. No answer. She made a couple of trips to the boot of the car and set the shopping on the counter. ‘Do you want tea or coffee, Mother?’ she shouted from the kitchen. She listened. Silence.
She stood and listened to the ticking of the clock in the well-kept but dated kitchen. It was nearly four in the afternoon. Darkness would soon pervade the dark grey cloud cover. She stood in the kitchen and looked around for a task to fill the five minutes before she would make the tea and cut the cake. Her hair was neatly tied back and she had on a pretty white dress with small stitching in the shapes of flowers. Sensible but very presentable. Her nails were immaculate and subtle make-up and a pleasant smile made for a very amiable woman.
Victoria was in her fifties, never had a boyfriend and life had passed her by. Mother had taught her that nothing was more important than family and as such, fraternisation was off limits. Someone had to look after Mother and give her company, since Derek, her father, had left them alone when he passed.
She pressed the intercom button and it buzzed. ‘Mother, would you like tea or coffee?’
A young man had installed the device to enable her to communicate with Mother without the need for traipsing up the heavy wooden staircase of their old house. However, Mother’s malaise had made even pressing the button an insurmountable task. If nothing else, it meant Mother knew she would be up shortly. She could use the time to think about what she wanted.
The question now presented itself: Madeira cake or Angel cake? Mother had a slight preference for Madeira cake combined with coffee or Angel cake taken with tea. An Angel cake and coffee combination just didn’t marry well. Cake selection was therefore based completely upon the choice of beverage. The problem being that this was not settled. Hmmm, what to do?
The clock struck four and this made Victoria anxious. Mother has always stressed that afternoon tea should be served promptly at four in the afternoon. She had often preached that the once magnificent country had lost a lot of its traditions and they were to be very careful to ensure that their home would not follow suit. If she displeased Mother with tardiness, then Mother would likely dash the tray onto the floor. This could stain the carpet and Victoria would have to scrub it away or pay a young man to come and remove it. Mother had cautioned her previously that one day the stain would not go away and the cost and trouble caused would make that a very bad day indeed.
Victoria decided that she should go upstairs and ask for preferences. The second hand on the clock seemed to be moving awfully fast. If she went upstairs with nothing, then Mother would be very angry. When she was mad, her face would turn crimson and Victoria was concerned that this would do her an injury. It was quite a quandary. Did other houses suffer these difficult moments, too? Perhaps if Father had lived longer, then she would be better organised and would not be such a let-down as a daughter. Perhaps she could make tea and coffee and take a piece of both cakes upstairs and ask Mother to choose? No, she couldn’t do that. The cake would start to spoil in the air and by tomorrow, it would lose some of its freshness. Mother said that stale cake was the devil’s work. She had once nigh on choked on a Madeira that was harder than it should have been. Victoria had been made to eat the whole cake in one sitting as just punishment.
She walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up. Although it was still light out, the upstairs curtains were all drawn and it was very dark. Mother did not like the lights to suddenly come on and dazzle her. Victoria decided that overall, it was best to ask about the cake. Just to be sure. Mother would prefer this.
She walked carefully up the stairs, determined to make as little a noise as possible, although the stairs were very creaky. Mother did not like sounds, they made her anxious and gave her headaches. It was right to be thoughtful of this. Your elders are your betters. She skipped the stair before the landing as this was especially loud. Mother had remarked on this before and chastised her for creating such a terrible din. She remembered that Mother had said that the noise would wake the dead.
She walked along the dark hallway. It had wooden floors with heavy curtains at the windows. The dark pattern wallpaper was tatty and in need of replacement. She put her hand on a door handle and very slowly turned it, pushing the door open. The smell of Neutradol was strong and this pleased Victoria. Joe had told Mother that it would stop even a workman’s boots from smelling. Victoria had used it for some time and was very pleased with it. Mother was too.
Victoria tapped the base of a lamp and it gave out a very dim light. She knew that if she was to touch it again, it would be brighter but both her and Mother were very happy with such a low light.
She looked at the figure laying on the bed. It was still and lifeless and dead.
Father had always seemed so peaceful and had been no trouble these past few years. Victoria kissed his cheekbone and withdrew carefully. She left the light on for him at this time of day. This was to be done prior to serving afternoon tea.
She closed the door as silently as she had opened it and proceeded down the hallway.
Mother’s door creaked when she turned the handle. It was a shrill sound that nailed her to the spot. Mother would be furious. Absolutely incandescent with rage. She stood for a while, hand on the door handle, in the gloom of the hallway and convinced herself that perhaps it wasn’t that loud, that it was just the contrast between that and the silence. Then she imagined it as loud as an air-raid siren and knew that Mother would want to severely punish her. She deserved it. She should have oiled the handle. She was bad. She needed to be hurt. She needed to bleed.
She closed the door behind her and tried to adjust her eyes to the gloom. The lamp was on and Mother was in bed. The lamp was to be left on a low setting permanently when Mother was in the room.
‘Mother,’ she said, softly. ‘Are you awake?’
No answer. Too angry to speak.
‘I just wanted to know whether you wanted tea or coffee and what cake you wanted. I know that you would normally like Madeira cake with coffee and Angel cake with tea and I also know that you want me to keep the cake fresh. I know it’s past four and I know I disturbed you with the door. I’m truly, truly sorry, Mother. Will you forgive me?’ She buried her head on the bed. Silence. ‘Please forgive me.’ Nothing.
‘No,’ said Mother.
Did she imagine it? She raised up her head and placed her ear just in front of Mother’s mouth. She caught the sound of her wispy breath. She looked in Mother’s eyes, cold and staring straight ahead. They looked just like Father’s before they had punctured and deflated back into their sockets.
‘I’m so sorry. I’m such a bad daughter.’
Victoria cocked her head. Strange. The mouth had not moved but she could hear her voice. Ever bitter.
‘I hate you.’
‘Oh dear, how sad,’ said Victoria. She opened the bedside cabinet. ‘So, is this Angel cake or Madeira?’ she said, pulling out an IV bag. ‘Angel cake,’ I think. She took off the empty bag from the drip stand and plugged in the full bag. ‘There, enjoy.’
She looked in the cabinet. ‘Supplies are running low. I will have to ask Joe to get me some more. Such a good shopkeeper.’ She shook her head. ‘But you know that already.’
She opened a drawer and took out a syringe and a small bottle. She sucked the liquid into the syringe and injected Mother’s arm through the drip mechanism. ‘And there’s your anaesthetic tea, Mother. You will experience a bit of a cold sensation. It’ll soon pass.’
She walked across the room to the dressing table. All of the items on the table were things that an older person would use to make themselves up and were neatly in position. At the back of the table was a stereo. ‘Eminem, I think today,’ she said, turning to Mother. ‘You like Eminem, don’t you?’
She pressed a button and loud music boomed through the air. The volume was set to its highest level. Victoria grimaced at the sound as she walked back to the bed. She watched Mother’s face turn crimson. It made Victoria smile and forget about the awful sound of hardcore rap music hammering at her eardrums. This was one tradition that she had introduced. A modern one.
‘You have a nice colour to your face,’ she said. ‘You look well.’
Archived comments for A Strange One
Gee on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
I liked the beginning, the interaction between the people and shopkeeper came over very well. I was a bit lost at the next part though. I wasn't clear about who killed the father or why Victoria had suddenly decided the mother should be killed.
Thanks, Gee. I'll take a look at how to address that.
THEGOLDENEGG on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
Nice to see you back.
I have to say, this isn't up to your usual standard technically as I remember it, but I still read it with interest.
e-griff on 14-12-2015
A Strange One
sorry, that was me. forgot to change my identity . sorry!
Andrea on 21-12-2015
A Strange One
Wow, great to see you back, Steve! Merry Christmas 🙂