Knock, knock, knock.
“Yes! One moment, please!”
“I’m just coming to open the door!” Hasty steps. “Here! I’m here already!” The smiling full-set woman opens her home’s heavy door with a strong tug. Standing before her is a middle-aged woman with a decorated chocolate cake in her hands.
“Oh, hello!” she says, “Who are you?”
“Dora Wington. Your neighbour across the way. Nice to meet you! Are you really the new neighbours?”
Mrs. Sullivan nods.
“Wonderful! I’m so glad I didn’t make a mistake... I’d already begun to think you’re the agents or something like that. Rumours were about that a new family was moving in but I wasn’t certain... Here, I’ve brought this chocolate cake for you.”
She holds the cake out towards Mrs. Sullivan.
“It’s really delicious,” Dora says with a wink, “I baked it. Welcome to our little neighbourhood!”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Sullivan says, cutting into Dora’s words.
“We’re so glad someone’s finally moving in!”
“What do you mean, ‘finally’?” Mrs. Sullivan interrupts. “After all, the Hamiltons lived here beforehand”.
“The Hamil... who? Oh! Of course! Of course! The Hamiltons... well... blame my short memory. But they weren’t especially friendly, and we didn’t really get to know them, you see? And of course that was also a good while ago... the house has stood empty for about a year so it’s only logical that...” Dora peeps over Mrs. Sullivan’s shoulder before continuing: “Well, it looks to me like you’ve got your work cut out for you, what with cleaning and putting things away etcetera etcetera.... So don’t let me take up your time. I do hope you get used to things quickly, and if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll come over to visit tomorrow. Ta-ta for now!”
Turning to go, Dora waves.
“Goodbye!” Mrs. Sullivan responds, closing the door.
“And I never even wanted to come to this stupid town in the first place!” Jessie announces the next day, “It’s all because of you two and your stupid ideas! Now we live in this God-forsaken dump and trying, without too much success, I must add, to wipe dust off things that the previous tenants left behind!” she continues with annoyance in her voice as she scrubs an old wooden chair standing in the kitchen. “Of all the options open to you, and you had some pretty good ones,” she raises her eyebrows as she thinks back on them, “without even a second thought, you chose this... this house!! Damn! It’s insufferable!”
She throws the cloth on the floor. “I’m sick of this. The stupid stain doesn’t want to come out and I don’t have strength for this anymore. If you want to find me, I’ll be in a place which soon enough will be known as my room! Goodbye!”
The kitchen door slams shut loudly and a few seconds later another door on the upper floor slams.
Mrs. Sullivan sighs.
Sometimes they just don’t seem to understand her. It’s not that she’s so fickle or odd, it’s just that she’s... well, yes... she’s odd.
Of all the incomprehensible things she loves, what they understand least of all is her unnecessary fondness towards the supernatural and the dead. When she was a little girl, the excuse was that it helped her overcome her fears but now, as a maturing teen, or in fact, already quite mature (sometimes), it was all a bit irregular.
Once they learned they’d need to move house – because of Mr. Sullivan’s work, see, as an accountant who’d been looking for work for some time now, and when he was phoned with an offer that included excellent terms in the small town, he simply couldn’t refuse – they chose the house where, in their view, it would be less feasible that she’d come across the inexplicable. That was the Hamilton’s house.
Two birds with one stone.
The Hamilton’s were a comfortably off family, the house is in an excellent state, and relatively new compared to other old places in the town. It has two storeys and a small, nicely groomed garden. No gloomy basements or intimidating attics, or at least none with any access. Mr. Sullivan made sure of that long before they moved.
The Hamiltons, explained the agent, had to leave because their oldest daughter gave birth to twins and they wanted to live nearby to help her. Renting the house just seemed to them too much bother. The town was very far from their daughter, and the fees they’d have to pay for taking care of things from such a long distance were too high. So they simply decided to let the place go, and sell it. The Sullivan family gladly scooped up the bargain.
They just don’t understand why their sweet Jessica can’t leave all that nonsense behind her and start acting like all the other normal teenagers. What wouldn’t they give for her to come and tell them she wants money to buy the bestseller “Puppy Love” instead of “101 Ways to Conjure,” or ask them to buy that pink dress with the flounced hem that she and her mother saw in the window of a store in the mall, instead of the black shirt with its white skull print which she found downtown.
But they try to be as liberal as they can, because all in all, she’s a good girl, really, and they still hold out hope that it’ll all pass soon... “Let’s not despair,” says Mrs. Sullivan to her husband every time it comes up in conversation.
And in any case... Oh, here she is coming downstairs. Interesting, what she might have to say this time.
“Right, so I just came down to say that... well... that I’m sorry for what I said and for acting the way I did. I’m just so annoyed that you chose this new, ordinary place when you know how much I wanted something old and crumbling (and there are plenty of homes like that, as we saw along the way!) But I guess you only had good intentions (which are probably directly related to your wanting to wean me off my interests, Jessie thinks as she speaks) and of course you also probably thought that you don’t want to get old in a ruined house... so if we’re already here, and I don’t have much of a choice, I have an idea that will help me get over being bitter...”
Here it comes... Mrs. Sullivan thinks. Every time she apologises so sweetly, there’s some reasonable reason behind it. “Yes, sweetie? How can we help lighten your mood?”
“Well,” Jessie begins to answer, smiling, “remember yesterday when we drove into town and I saw that shop called ‘The Black Banshee’? When I called out to stop but Dad kept on driving?”
“Never mind. Anyhow, I did an internet search on it, and it’s got a book that I’d die... that’s to say, really want to buy, but... how should I put this... my pocket’s empty, dry... for now. Or, simply put, I don’t have a penny to my name. So I wondered if you could...,” and with a look declaring how important this was, Jessie added, “Could you contribute something?”
“Alright, sweetie. Let me consult with Dad and we’ll let you know.”
Mrs. Sullivan went off to talk to her husband briefly about whether it was right to let their girl carry on with these ideas, or perhaps limit her so that she’d learn that if she wants to delve into these oddities, it would have to be from her own money. But it ended this time in them deciding to make their daughter’s adjustment a little simpler. Yes, they’d help her out with the book she wants. But just this time.
Jessica, your father and I have made our decision, but before that we want you to know...”
Knock, knock. Ding dong.
“Oh, that bell... it really is annoyingly noisy,” Mrs. Sullivan mutters to herself. “Just a moment, please!” she calls out.
Mrs. Sullivan opens the door.
“Ah, Mrs. Wington.”
“Yes, m’dear, but please, do call me Dora. How are you?”
“Fine, fine, nothing’s changed since yesterday... we’re starting to get used to things here.”
“Lovely, that’s just lovely. You’ll see this is a very nice place, and very comfy for families with children. We’ve quite a large number of youth here, relative to the number of residents.”
“And relative to the town’s location,” Mrs. Sullivan added.
“Yes, and I did want to say, yesterday, that I’m happy you managed to make it into our little town. How often folks tend to miss the turnoff!”
“Hmm. The road can indeed be missed,” Mrs. Sullivan sighed. “Where it splits off just seems to disappear when traveling along the main road, and the route’s rather long and not in the best of shape. We came across several quite unpleasant potholes, if you ask me... and the truth is that the first time around, we did actually miss the turn, but realised it pretty quickly and backtracked to the right spot.”
“Yes, you’re right. Something should be done about making it clearer. We’ve spoken about it so much at council meetings. But there’s also some advantage to it, you know, because it prevents unwanted folks from coming and disturbing the town... even though tourists do complain of that a lot...,” Dora pondered softly under her breath for a moment. “Well then, and how was your first night in your new home?”
“A little stormy,” Mrs. Sullivan answered, smiling. “But that’s because of our daughter. She doesn’t seem to like it here too much.’
“And she has good reason,” Dora muttered almost inaudibly.
“Sorry? I didn’t hear what you said, Mrs. Wi... ah, Dora. Come again, please?”
“Never mind, I was just thinking aloud to myself ... would you like to come over later? You and your husband, and of course your daughter too.”
“Oh, gladly. Thank you.”
“Lovely. So I’ll go home and make some fresh biscuits. See you!”
“See you later, then, Mrs. Wington.” Mrs. Sullivan, about to shut the door, hears Mrs. Wington calling over shoulder. “Dora. Call me Dora.”
“Who was that at the door, my dear?” Mr. Sullivan asks as his wife re-enters.
“The neighbour from across the road. Dora Wington’s her name.”
“And what did she want?”
“She invited us to pop over for tea a bit later.”
“Very nice of her.”
“Yes, it is indeed.”
Jessica testily taps her foot on the lounge room floor. “MO-ther! You haven’t answered me about my book!”
“Yes, of course. Your father and I decided to help you...”
“Well, obviously there’d have to be a ‘but’ somewhere...,” Jessica retorts.
“But... you have to pay for half.”
“Whaaa?! But you know I’m totally wiped out! How can I afford it?!”
“Find some work.”
“Where? We’ve just moved here... and I don’t know anything about this place!”
“That makes it a great opportunity to get out and discover. And in any case, you’ll need something to do in the afternoons.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t always fair.”