By late afternoon the muscles along Lisa’s back were starting to ache from the exertion. There were only so many boxes you could unpack before it caught up with you. She’d been working like a machine determined to have unpacked at least the basic necessities before nightfall, and somewhere along the way the definition of ‘necessity’ had expanded to mean practically everything. As she stretched her arms above and behind her to loosen the tension she laughed inwardly at her own obsessive and relentless nature.
‘Enough is never enough,’ she muttered, under her breath, a personal motto, one of many.
‘What’s that?” her daughter Mandy asked as she passed by the bathroom, carrying her own bounty to her bedroom to unpack.
Lisa looked up with mild irritation, more at herself than her daughter, as she hadn’t meant to speak aloud. Sometimes she did just that, though, at inconvenient moments and sometimes at embarrassing ones. Although she had her daughter, her loneliness since her marriage break up was such that she often found herself talking as though there was someone to listen, and of course, there so rarely was.
‘Nothing,’ she responded, shaking her head, ‘Just aching a bit from the work. How is your room going?”
Mandy frowned slightly. She knew her mother asked because they were polar opposites on most things, and this need to get things done quickly was but the tip of the iceberg. When unpacking for a home move Lisa would be like a robot, relentless, box by box, making decisions on where things would be placed rapidly and with little real consideration. There would always be time to re-arrange later, for the moment it was just an imperative to get rid of the boxes and get it done.
In comparison, Mandy could dwell over items found in boxes which displayed items long forgotten, and sit for many moments contemplating the memories that such discoveries evoked. And she often put away little – Lisa knew if she ventured down the hallway to Mandy’s room now little use would yet have been made of the extensive built-in robes the room afforded. Everything would be strewn around the floor awaiting an eventual home.
Lisa did not want to be annoyed by her daughter. Deep down she realised it was a character trait that was just different from hers, not better or worse. It may well prove to be the trait that transformed into some kind of talent or special intelligence. Mandy had patience, where Lisa had little. Perhaps that was just the balance of things.
‘Slowly,” Mandy admitted into the silence, “But I’m getting there. Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?”
A wonderful idea! Lisa needed an excuse for a break, or her body did at any rate, and tea was something even the ponderous teenager could not do slowly. It seemed the perfect antidote for the potential argument that hung in the hot, still afternoon air.
‘Yes please,’ Lisa said, “That would be lovely.’
Mandy smiled and bobbed her head, her dark straight hair lapping her shoulders. The dark hair was the last remaining remnant of a period of goth obsession for her daughter. Happily she no longer wore the over-emphasised moon like makeup, nor listened to the same dirgy, dark music. She’d outgrown that quickly, but even Lisa had to admit the darker hair colour suited her pale skin more than the light red of her natural colouring. So the dark hair had stayed and sanity and taste had returned.
Little mercies were better than none – another of Lisa’s mottos.
After a few moments the tea had not materialised. Lisa found herself unable to stop unpacking another box. A vague irritation at her own need coalesced into internal questioning of her daughter. What could possibly be taking her so long? Then she heard the sound of a kettle coming close to the boil and settled fora moment.
More moments passed without the sound of the water being fed to the teapot. Lisa stopped her unpacking to consider. Had she even found the teapot when she was unpacking in the kitchen earlier? Could Mandy be seeking it out now? And if so, had she missed one of the boxes marked ‘kitchen’ or had the removalists put it in the wrong room, destroying her perfect order as they do often did in their haste to just unload and be gone?
Nothing professional in professional anymore, she mused.
‘Hey mum!’ Mandy called out from the kitchen, and Lisa expected any moment to be asked about the teapot whereabouts. “You know that house just down the road from here, the supposedly empty one, like for years?”
Lisa hadn’t expected that. She’d heard about the house and the hill and the unfortunate girl of many, many years ago. The real estate agent had told her – full disclosure she called it, as though what happened in a neighbour’s house really mattered to the property values of the other houses surrounding it. Well, perhaps it did, perhaps the urban myths and tragedy did permeate real estate values that much. Thankfully she was renting, so it wasn’t really her concern. And given that, perhaps the agent just liked to gossip and that was all.
‘Yes,’ Lisa called back and stopped herself from asking where the tea was. They were both tired and the arguments that arose from her daughter’s tendency to procrastinate were too common and too inflammable for such an afternoon. Lisa wanted to finalise most of the unpacking and have a quiet dinner with her daughter, without such mother-daughter stress.
‘I don’t think it’s empty anymore!” Mandy continued, ‘I can see a man in the backyard, doing some gardening!’
The curiosity made Lisa leave the bathroom and join her daughter in the kitchen. She was leaning out the kitchen window, and Lisa was shorter than her daughter – girl got her height from her father, lucky thing – so she really had to stretch up on her tip toes to see what Mandy was seeing. But as she did so she realised the stretch was perfect for her back, so sometimes the universe was kind.
Sure enough there was a man hard at work trimming rose bushes along the side of the big house. It was a fair way down the street from them, sitting like a lone sentinel with the eerie hill at the zenith of its backyard. No other houses had been built inbetween, on either side. It was as though the community felt the house needed distance from other dwellings. Or it could be, given its size and general majesty, that it had once been the home of wealth and community power, and its isolation was a choice of former owners rather than an aversion from others.
In any case they could just see the man, and pondered his presence in silence. Lisa was thinking that it was good to see someone in this community that obviously wasn’t superstitious after all. Mandy was wondering if the man had a son around her age. Both peered in happy contemplation, confident their spying would go unseen.
But then the man stood, turned, and looked directly back at them, almost as though he had sensed their contemplation from afar. It had a strange, disturbing affect, like unfamiliar power. From this distance his expression was unreadable, but they were both instantly in no doubt he had indeed sensed and seen them. Whether by surprise or some deeper instinct, both jumped back, in fright, like guilty schoolchildren. For a moment they looked at each other in a kind of horrified surprise, and then both laughed at the absurdity of their reactions.
‘Mustn’t get spooked by the neighbours,’ Lisa said finally, as their laughter settled, and she spontaneously hugged her daughter, who returned the hug. And for both this was with some surprise, because such affection was unusual between them, and neither really knew why.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved