Maria Thermann

As One Door Closes , Another One Opens

 

            “Quiet, I think someone’s coming!” The man stopped shovelling earth out of the grave and paused. “Listen, somebody’s coughing!”

 

The night watchman’s cold had betrayed his presence before his torch light could. The old man was on his midnight round. Only five more minutes and he’d be back in his cosy trailer, warming his hands with a cup of tea and refreshing his soul with the late edition of Her Sexy Secrets being broadcast on the radio.

 

The two diggers stood still and listened. Footsteps approached. Silently the intruders climbed out of the open grave and hid behind the statue of an angel.

 

            “I’ll take care of it.” The woman gave her husband’s velvet sleeve a squeeze and disappeared into the shrubs lining this remote and neglected part of the graveyard. She had only to follow the guard’s pounding heartbeat. It wouldn’t take long to find him.

 

Moments later a strangled cry announced that the remaining digger could resume work. The man took off his green velvet coat and folded it carefully, so as not to spoil his wife’s delicate embroidery on the back. He picked up his shovel, spit into his hands and jumped lightly back into the grave. When he looked up again, his beautiful wife smiled at him from the edge of the grave.

 

            “Quite romantic, really. We haven’t had an outing like this since our child was born. We should do it more often, Darling.” She gazed up into the starry autumn sky. “We’d better hurry before the watchman wakes up. Unwise to kill him. Far too much publicity.”

 

Together they lifted the coffin out of the grave, opened the heavy lid and removed its inmate from his final resting place. The diggers unwrapped a large parcel hidden behind the marble angel and placed its contents into the open coffin. The late insurance broker Mr. Paine had met with an untimely end during one of his house calls. Perhaps the conservative village of Stinkforth-upon-Avon hadn’t been ready for his aggressive sales technique or maybe he had just been unlucky to visit the family Band, whose vampire lifestyle didn’t agree with health or travel insurance policies.

 

            “There, that should please our first born! One dead salesman safely enshrined in the finest coffin the undertakers had on offer and the other dead old bird about to become compost for our garden. The child’s always pestering us we should do more recycling.” Mr. Band stamped down the soil over the newly closed grave and brushed down his trousers. He wiped his hands on the wrappings of their parcel and looked at his wife’s rear end. “Let’s go home, Babe, I’m feeling at bit –“

 

            “Peckish?” His wife put her arm around his waist. “I’m sure I could do with a midnight snack –“

 

            “…frisky, actually! Let me give you a cuddle, before we get home and Willow ropes us into any more of her schemes.” He held her in a tight embrace and for a moment, Mrs. Alice Band was reminded of their courting days.

 

            “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for ages and ages!” Their eleven-year-old daughter Willow greeted them upon their return home. Her father quickly removed a piece of straw from his wife’s red jumper and Alice hurried into the house, before her perceptive daughter could ask any more embarrassing questions.

 

            “Look Dad, do you like it?” Willow had placed candles around a hole in the ground under the tallest oak tree behind their cottage. From its lower branches hung ribbons with jam jars containing bird seed. “When he looks up, he’ll be able to see the birds feasting. He’d have liked that…” Willow’s voice broke off.

 

            “I’m sure you’re right, Princess. Let’s wait for your mother before we begin.” Absentmindedly Mr. Band ran his fingers through his long brown hair. This movement dislodged a twig and he brushed it quickly away. He looked impatiently over his shoulder towards the house.

 

            “You’ve got straw all over your coat, Dad.” Willow said, when her mother returned a few minutes later, having changed from her red jumper and slacks into a black silk dress and short coat. She held a bunch of yellow roses.

 

            “Sorry you had to wait,” Alice smiled apologetically. “Can’t have a decent funeral without flowers and a little black dress.”

 

Mr. Band lowered Eddie’s remains into the hole in the ground. They had wrapped their daughter’s old friend in Willow’s favourite woolly blanket. Willow dropped a small flask of rum into the grave.

 

            “Just a bit of grog to keep the autumn out of his old bones. He didn’t like the cold. It was always cold in prison, he said.” Willow swallowed hard. “It was always cold in his draughty house, too.”

 

            “He’s got a comfy home now, Princess. We’ll rake leaves over his grave and cover it with fir branches.” Mr. Band laid his arm around Willow’s shoulders. “It’ll be ever so warm and cosy in there, you’ll see.”

 

            “You’ve got straw sticking out of your hair, Mum,” Willow admonished her mother, when they returned to the house.

 

The next day, after the funeral of her friend Eddie, the late convict and former wife killer, Willow walked back to the bus stop after ballet class. She was deep in thought, wondering about life without Eddie. She would miss his advice and their chats by the fireplace in his kitchen. A door seemed to have slammed shut, just when she wanted to go through it and explore some more. But most of all she was pondering about her parent’s shifty behaviour the night before.

 

            “Hello, little fiend.” A woman sitting at the bus stop hailed her.

 

            “Oh, hello?” Willow thought she’d heard the voice before but couldn’t place the face. In the gloom of the street light, the woman didn’t look at all familiar. She wore a grey coat and black boots. A wisp of blonde hair peeped out from under her headscarf.

 

            “We’re on the move again,” said the woman and patted the basket next to her small suitcase. “Otto won’t like the change, but there you are. Onwards and upwards, as they say.”

 

            “Oh, it’s Rita! I’m sorry I didn’t recognise you without your …erm…” Willow wasn’t sure how to continue. Rita Ramona had tried to convince the audience at the Hungry Heart Club that she was as youthful as her fellow dancers. Without the layers of make-up and the exotic dancer’s outfit she was really just another middle-aged woman. However, not many middle-aged women had escaped the Band’s dinner table before, so Willow had a certain amount of respect for Rita. Having survived a whole day in the cupboard under the Band’s staircase, she had calmly tried to help stroke-victim Eddie upon her release.

 

            “Who’s Otto?” Willow asked quickly to hide her embarrassment.

 

            “My snake! Would you like to see him?” Rita’s eyes lit up. She opened the basket and Willow peered inside.

 

            “Wow! He’s huge. How beautiful. May I touch him?”

 

            “Of course! Here, he likes being tickled under the chin.” Rita demonstrated and the snake hissed with satisfaction.

 

            “Where are you off to? Another engagement at a club?” Willow noted the shabbiness of the suitcase. “Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s village club can’t be much of an audience for you and Otto.”

 

            “When I didn’t show up for work the other day…I lost my gig, didn’t I, duckie? Oh, never mind, it was a draughty, unhealthy sort of place anyway. Otto and I don’t like the cold, dearie.” Rita closed the snake’s basket and fastened the lid carefully. “Won’t get very far on our last pay cheque, mind! The manager at the Hungry Heart is a tight-fisted toad!”

 

            “I’m so sorry you lost your job! We didn’t think…I mean, not many people ever leave us…at least not walking on their own accord…can I do anything to help?” Willow had only her bus fare and mints in her pocket. There had to be something she could do. “Where are you going to stay?”

 

           

“Ah, now there is a question, dearie! Not everybody likes having a snake in the house. Good as gold is Otto, never harmed anybody, but you know how prejudiced people can be against anything that’s had a bad press…” Rita sniffed contemptuously. “Last landlord asked for extra rent, just because of Otto!”

 

“Listen, I can’t take you home or anything, Mum and Dad would never allow a human…I mean, it would be rather tricky…but I know of a place you can stay for a while until you have found a new job?” Willow had suddenly had an idea.

 

“It would help me out no end, I must say, duckie. What have you got in mind?”

 

They took the bus as far as Wilberforce Lane and walked the rest. Willow carried Otto’s basket and they took the footpath leading to Eddie’s house. They walked past an old barn, where a neighbouring farmer kept hay and straw for his cattle. A cow farted somewhere in the darkness and an owl swooped over their heads in search of mice. The cold air smelled of manure and distant log fires. Willow pointed to a dilapidated house on a hill.

 

            “I know it’s a bit run down and all that…but Eddie left it to me. We had a letter from his solicitor. Dad was going to have it cleaned and then let it via an agent…I could tell him, I’ve got a tenant?” Willow lit a lantern in Eddie’s kitchen.

 

Rita surveyed the pre-war wallpaper, the crowded shelves and rickety kitchen table. She ran her index finger over a sideboard. “Nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of elbow grease and a good sponge, my mother used to say! How much a month?”

 

“Just pay us when you’ve found a job…least we can do after nearly eating you…Eddie would have liked Otto.” Willow sighed. “Dad had the chimney swept and the windows seen to. Eddie hated the cold…”

 

“Me too, duckie. This is great!” Rita opened cupboards and peered into closets. “Otto will love this alcove by the hearth.”

 

Willow left Rita in front of the fire, sipping tea and marvelling at Eddie’s drawings of birds and squirrels. Just before closing the back door, Willow saw Otto leaving his basket and slithering over to the hearth.

 

She returned home and paused in the garden to look at the yellow roses brightening up Eddie’s grave under the oak tree. “You’d have liked her…and Otto.” She whispered and turned towards the house.

 

The back door stood wide open. Willow stepped cautiously into the dark kitchen. She flicked the light switch.

 

            “Oops, how embarrassing! Would you mind making yourself scarce, Princess?” Willow’s dad snatched a tea cosy in a vain attempt to hide his nakedness. Her mother Alice giggled. The sound came from somewhere under the kitchen table.

 

Willow ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs into her room. Last night’s incident involving straw finally explained, Willow threw herself on her bed and decided that some doors she’d rather leave shut until she was a bit older.

 

The End

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Maria Thermann.
Published on e-Stories.org on 28.11.2009.

 

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