Another English Mystery


english breakfast

The front room was dusty and smelled of something, I couldn’t decide what. Old house, some cooking smells, ashes in the grate perhaps – Nigel had told me it would need a bit of care, but not bad overall. He’d dropped me off at the front gate, then took the Peugeot into the village to shop for me, getting sausages, tomatoes, baking soda, lemons, vinegar, hard soap, a rag mop, and a tin of shortbread.

While he was gone, I walked from room to room, pulling sheets off of worn armchairs, small tables, bookshelves, a fainting couch, a low embroidery rocker and an upright Victorian sofa covered in blue velvet. Most of the house was put away for the season, or for ever, I thought, without sign that anyone had recently left or recently been back.

Until I stepped into the kitchen. This room, which sat at the back of the house with a door leading out into an unkempt vegetable garden,  was in full and current use. Mac n cheese burnt into an aluminum saucepan, dishes stacked high in the sink. No running water, but a large jug of water apparently in use for general washing up. An old army cot with wool blankets and a flat pillow with dirty pillowcase. When I first opened the door into the kitchen, I instinctively backed away when I saw the signs of inhabitance, but realized almost immediately that there was nothing in the room to suggest that someone was in there at the moment. Still, after a quick look round, I closed the door behind me and went outside, where I stood awkwardly in the drive wishing Nigel hadn’t taken the car.

All around me in the yard were the peaceful sounds of a warm summer morning: bees buzzing in the snapdragons, a small white cat with a black spot on her nose passing through, stropping me briefly on her way somewhere else. In the distance, I could hear someone mowing their lawn. From the house, I could not see any of the neighbors, I realised, and thought what a good, safe place it would be for someone who did not want to be seen. I tugged on my skirt and walked down the drive to the gate and opened it, cautiously. It opened without a sound. I had remembered it as a creaking, loud gate that I could never sneak out of at night, and when I looked I found, as I had half expected, that the hinges had been recently cleaned and oiled.

Nigel came back, half an hour later, to find me sitting on a stump in the lane, picking at my cuticles. He’d been thinking about selling the house. I had decided to keep it. I quite understand the kind of situation that would lead a person to hide in an English cottage, and I thought I might know who this person could be.

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