The Big White House – Short Story
The Big White House – Short Story
Okay, so I’m a loner, and perhaps in view of the course my life has recently taken, that’s not necessarily the way to a continued healthy life. However, and I think this is meant to be said with a “rueful grin,” any chance I had to change my personality has now disappeared forever, but we’ll come to that later.
Living alone in a one-beddie in Darlinghurst, my possessions are meagre, a small TV, an old stained lounge chair, a fan/heater, which does both jobs, a sagging bed, and a phone in the corner which never rings. Oh, and I almost forgot, a battered old Ford Cortina which I’ve managed to park in the back laneway for 10 years without being booked. Who said parking police don’t have a heart?
When I said the phone “never rings,” well, it did last Thursday. A solicitor fellow, Marcus Bentley, was on the other end demanding confirmation I’m Rebecca Sanderson, born on the 21st April, 1980, in Campbelltown and my parents were the now-deceased William and Sadie Sanderson.
In the time-honoured way of solicitors, whom I’ve always thought would rather make a dollar than make you happy, Mr Bentley self-importantly intoned, “I believe I may have something to tell you which could be to your advantage.”
I’m always good for a laugh, and amiably agree to meet him at 2pm the next day at his office at No. 96 Evans Street, Ultimo. He was about to ring off, when he suddenly asked, “You do have a reclusive aunt named Florence McIntyre, don’t you, or should I say more accurately, you did have a reclusive aunt named Florence McIntyre, didn’t you?” For a moment, I contemplate hysterically breaking down at the news of poor old Aunt Flo’s demise, and giving Mr Bentley a lesson on tact, but as I hadn’t seen or heard of my auntie for a quarter of a century, and as Mr Bentley didn’t seem the type to dry my tears, I resist.
No. 96 Evans Street is hardly the last thing in modern architecture. It’s a dilapidated old building, with, from what I can see, very few working offices, although it’s the eve of a long weekend, so I figure most white-collar workers have already taken off for the fun weekend they imagine they deserve.
The ground floor houses a gym, and a seedy-looking sandwich shop, and the old lift which lumbers me up to the 4th floor threatens disintegration with every rumble. I ask myself, several times, why I’d bothered going to the trouble of coming along, as whatever it is that Mr. Bentley has to tell me, chances are it’ll benefit him much more than it will me. Then I think, “Oh, what the hell, I’ve nothing better to do, and where has my natural caution ever got me up till now?”
The office has a sign on the door reading: “M. Bentley and P. Holebrook, Solicitors-at-Law.” As I push open the door, I can see around a dozen desks housing mainly young people busily studying their laptops. Coming towards me rapidly in mile-high stilettos, is a woman around mid-fifties in a smart black skirt and crisp white shirt.
“Rebecca, I believe, pleased to meet you. I’m Phoebe Holebrook, and I’m working with Mr Bentley on your behalf?” She ushers me to a desk at the back of the room while I look around expectantly for any sign of Marcus Bentley. She catches my curious glance, “Oh, by the way, Rebecca, Mr Bentley’s been working on an extremely difficult case all morning, and is taking the chance for a coffee and sandwich – he’ll join us shortly.” All at once there comes wafting across the room the smell of a pungent coffee, almost breathtaking in its pervasive odour. “I’ll guarantee you that coffee’s not from Aldi,” I joke uncomfortably, and am rewarded with a taut half-smile from Phoebe.
“I think I could say, Rebecca, I’ve some good news for you and some bad news, but I can also say, the good news far outweighs the bad. Do you remember much about your Auntie Florence McIntyre?” Phoebe asks.
I manage to mumble something about a distant memory of my mother taking me to visit her in an old studio room overlooking Bondi Beach when I was about six years old. As the memory comes in more strongly, I add, “Auntie Flo seemed a jolly old lady in a bright yellow hat, orange jacket and bright red slippers, and she was very kind to me, and gave me a lolly.”
Phoebe doesn’t seem in the mood for long chats about bygone days, and is quickly back to business. “The good news is, it seems she’s left you her house, the bad news, or perhaps I should say, more daunting news is, it isn’t located in Vaucluse or Paddington, in fact, it’s located in Spencer.”
“Spencer? Where on earth is Spencer?” I ask.
“I believe it’s a very small township just north of the Hawkesbury Bridge. Can’t say I’d heard of it either, not until this past week.”
Phoebe pats down her very neat hair, coughs, adjusts her skirt, and rattles around some important-looking papers. “So, we’d best get down to tin tacks, and have you sign these papers, declaring you are indeed the person we’re looking for to inherit a property in Spencer. I have the official documents already drawn up, so we’re all good to go.”
Around 20 minutes later, Phoebe seems singularly pleased with my signing efforts, and bundles the papers into a large folder, just as Mr Bentley emerges from a back room. He smiles extravagantly, but seems a little preoccupied, and holds his hand to his forehead as if experiencing a splitting headache. He’s a tall and beefy man with a pronounced wheeze, and wears thick glasses more on his nose than assisting his eyes.
“Phoebe fix you up, Ms Sanderson? You’re a very lucky person, not often a distant relative leaves a house to a person he or she barely knows.” He reaches laboriously into his back pocket and produces a large set of keys. “Here are your keys to No. 10 Riverside Close, Spencer, back and front doors – any idea when you might be paying a visit to see exactly what you’ve inherited?”
“Geez, Mr Bentley, I’m already so excited, nobody’s never left me anything before, not even their old train set, so I’m thinking, all things being equal, I might even drive up there late tomorrow afternoon – just need to check if I’ve enough petrol to get me there.” Next thing, I’m back in my one-beddie, doing a jig of excitement. Maybe, after all the grim, sad, and non-productive years of my life to this point, I might finally be able to do something, and be somebody.
Of course, I’ll sell the house, and even if it only brings a few hundred thousand, I can maybe start up a little business. I’ve always been good at drawing, and in years gone by, people even paid me for the colourful caricatures I was forever mucking around with – of course, I’ll upgrade my unit, maybe a two-beddie?
I know the way to the Hawkesbury River Bridge, and am tearing along, the window open, lustily singing Good Vibrations, when I see the turn-off I’d been told to look out for. The road itself turns out to be winding and long, and I whizz past small village after small village. Around fifty minutes goes by, and I begin to wonder if I’d imagined the whole crazy set-up, when, rounding yet another corner, there it is, writ large, “Spencer”.
The fast food store owner makes it clear closing time is imminent. Two straggly customers stare long and hard at me as they wait for their battered fish and chips. “I’d like some bread and milk, and maybe you could direct me to the nearest motel?” This request reduces both customers and proprietor to guffaws of uncontrolled mirth: “The nearest motel, is it? And would you like your bed turned down for the night?”
Okay, I got the message, loud and clear. “Well, can you direct me to Riverside Close – there’s a house there I’m interested in looking at before it’s too dark, and I can always sleep in my car for the night, I’ve done it before.”
“Which number in Riverside Close?” says the shop owner, coming to life.
“No. 10, I believe it was old Flo McIntyre’s place, but apparently she has recently passed away.”
“Not as far as I know,” offers the cook. “Nobody told me she’d passed, though I haven’t seen her around for a good few months. What’s yer business with Mrs Mac, she’s a nice old stick?”
Quickly back in my car, I follow the grudgingly given instructions, “Jes keep goin’ down this road fer a bit, an’ past the big left bend, an’ you’ll see on yer right a large yellow letterbox and a very narrow road, an’ that’s Riverside Close, an’ yer follow that, an after a minute, you’ll see an old white house on yer right – that’s Mrs Mac’s.”
Light misty rain spots onto my windscreen, the narrow road is heavy with protruding rocks, and huge trees sway back and forth in the rapidly increasing wind. I have the window open, not from choice, but because it doesn’t ever close, and strange night noises rend the air while a weak moon sneaks between the trees. If “eerie” is in search of a template, then Riverside Close owns it. It’s fully five minutes before I cautiously round a snaggly bend, and on my right, silhouetted by a momentarily accommodating moon, stands a large old white house.
Immediately, I imagine I can see a light coming from the back of the house, but quickly dismiss it as an illusion, drawn from my jittery thoughts, but the light doesn’t go away. A frisson of disquiet hits my chest – have I been too adventurous coming out here on my own. But you already know, because I’ve told you, I’m a loner – who could I possibly have brought along with me? The wind picks up pace, and I draw my jacket more tightly around me. Already I’m up onto the wide front verandah, and it is now pitch-black. I scrabble anxiously in my bag for the keys – why didn’t I put them somewhere more accessible? My hands are shaking alarmingly now, and the key refuses to go into the lock. I tell myself to calm down, and this time the key slides into place.
A long, wide hallway stretches in front of me, rich with old pictures, a classic hallstand, and a row of beautiful gold vases. At the end and off to the right, a room is brightly bathed in light, and I think I can hear somebody softly crying. I see a wheelchair at the end of the hallway, with a grey shawl draped over it, and stumbling forwards, I clearly hear the click-clack of high heels over tiles.
Suddenly, somebody is behind me, the front door is shut firmly and a male voice barks an order. The rope is thick and strong, and bites into my wrists and ankles, and the towel stuffed into my mouth is already wet with what seems like blood.
Just before the huge piece of metal crashes into my temple – and there’s no mistake – the very pungent aroma of a particularly strong coffee fills the air.
AUTHOR ROSEMARY O’BRIEN
Long infatuated with words and inventing stories, Rosemary O’Brien most likes writing short stories, as the dénouement arrives more speedily. Her plots tend to lean towards the macabre. She has four adult children and a brood of constantly interesting grandchildren. She has recently moved into an activity-focused over-55s village, where she is hell-bent on imagining more bizarre tales.
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