It’s probably important that I start this story by telling you who I am. My name is Lizzie Fuller and I’m the tallest female member of my family, measuring in at 5’ 2”. I’m average weight with a small waist and hips. Unfortunately, I was at the front of the queue when God handed out breasts. I got my brown eyes and long, dark, curly hair from my Mum’s side of the family. I also have dimples. I don’t know who I inherited those from. Grandma Mabel was a bit of a wild card, so we don’t really know what’s hidden in the family gene pool. As far as intelligence goes, I’m not stupid but I’m not a genius either. Today I’m debating that.
I’m standing here trying to turn the sticky lock preventing me from opening my new front door. Well, new is a stretch of the imagination, but it’s new to me, so I guess it’s okay for me to say that. About a month ago, I had a premature mid-life crisis and realized that at the age of thirty-one, I didn’t own anything of significance. Sure, I own my car and a collection of high-end fragrances, but if I was to take an unscheduled trip to the Pearly Gates, I had nothing that stated this is who I am. True to form, I rushed out the next day and bought a house. No time like the present, hey?
Now, I’m wondering if I should have had an affair like every other sane member of society having a mid-life crisis. It would have been much easier…and cheaper.
“Hurry up. It’s freezing out here,” complained my sister Molly. Molly had come along today to help me move, but I was about to ask her what her definition of ‘help’ was. So far, I’d yet to see it.
“It’s stuck,” I grumbled, rattling the door in the hope that it would miraculously unlock itself.
“Use your shoulder,” she suggested. “Give it a good shove.”
The timber door looked pretty solid from where I was standing. “You’re welcome to give it a go.”
“Sure, but you’re wearing jeans, whereas I’m in a skirt. Jeans are much more appropriate for the job.” I’m not sure what occasion Molly had come dressed for today. It definitely wasn’t moving house. Her skintight jumper, mini skirt and high heeled boots looked amazing, but that was all they were good for.
Looking at the door again, I reached out and picked at the peeling paint, considering my options. I’d never rammed a door before, but maybe Molly was right—it just needed some encouragement. And the condition of the house was pretty decrepit so maybe the white ants might have weakened the frame for me.
“Stand back,” I warned Molly before I changed my mind. Taking a couple of steps backwards I then ran at the door. My aim was perfect, my shoulder hitting the door above the lock. I’ll admit to not being the strongest person on the planet, but I gave it my best shot. Unfortunately, the door was stronger than I was and it held firm, causing me to bounce off it, landing on my butt on the timber boards of the porch.
Molly stared down at me, her hands on her hips looking thoughtful. “Maybe you should have just climbed the drainpipe and gone in through the open window up there,” she said, nodding in the direction of an upstairs window.
“You couldn’t have mentioned that before I threw myself at the door?” I snapped.
“I know you don’t like heights.”
I sighed and accepted her outstretched hand, getting back onto my feet and rubbing my shoulder as I moved.
Negotiating the couple of front steps, I stood on what was left of the front lawn, squinting up at the window Molly was referring to.
She was right. The timber casement window was ajar.
“Why don’t you climb it?” I asked. “You were good at scaling drainpipes when you were a teenager.”
Her smile beamed at the memory, before she looked down at her skirt and boots.
“What exactly did you come dressed for today?” I asked.
“Lizzie, it’s important to always look your best.” I sighed. “Come on, I’ll tell you how to do it,” she encouraged.
I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I knew it. But I did it anyway.
“Take your shoes off,” she suggested, “You get a better grip with your toes that way. Then you just grab the drainpipe and start to climb.”
The window wasn’t that high, and it was directly next to the drainpipe, so if I didn’t look down, surely I could do this.
Doing as Molly instructed, I kicked off my sneakers and started my ascent. The plumbing creaked and groaned, but before I knew it I was nearly at the top.
Once the window was within reach, I stretched to grab it. The bolts holding the drainpipe to the wall didn’t seem too happy with the extra strain put on them, and with an almighty snap they gave way, allowing the drainpipe to fall away from the building.
I screamed and held on to the rusted metal pipe with all my might.
Molly yelled something to me, but I didn’t hear a word of what she said. The only noise that my brain was receiving was the loud groan of the metal, the sound of rust flittering past my ears, and my blood pounding through my veins.
I said a quick prayer that this would all end well, as the pipe gave its final groan and succumbed to my weight, plummeting to the ground with a mighty crash.
The descent had been much faster than the ascent, and as the air gushed from my lungs, I saw Molly’s anxious face peer over me.
“Are you alive?” she cried. “Oh please tell me that you’re alive!”
As relief washed over her she succumbed to an uncontrollable fit of giggles. By the time I had managed to roll over, push the rusty drainpipe off me, and sit up, she was on the grass next to me holding her sides as tears of laughter dripped off her chin.
“That was so not funny!” I cried.
“Oh yes it was. You should have seen your face.”
I was considering if I’d actually broken any bones, as a man walking his dog down the street, looked over the tiny fence towards us.
He gave me a small smile. “Afternoon ladies. Is everything okay?”
Brushing the rust and grass off my top, I smiled at him and explained that I had just purchased the house and couldn’t get in.
“Oh, well I’m Edward. I live at the end of the street.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, nodding to him.
“You should just go in the back door,” he suggested. “It’s never locked.”
“Pardon?” I asked, as the heat raced up my neck.
“The lock doesn’t work on the back door and the previous owner never bothered with it. Everyone in the street knew that if they needed to get in to her, that was the way to do it.”
“Oh. Okay. Well…thanks then. I’ll try that.” Why I hadn’t thought to do that before listening to Molly’s hair-brained ideas was beyond me.
* * * *
Walking through the knee length grass towards the rear of the house, I wondered what the hell possessed me to buy the very first property I’d seen. The house was a tiny, detached two-bedroomed Victorian. Probably the best way to describe it is a dilapidated cross between a gingerbread house and the house of horrors. It’s a money pit. I know that. But the only other registered bidder at the auction wanted to knock it down, and I couldn’t let that happen. All I saw was the memories the house would hold, and knew that now was the time to protect it. It needed to be restored to its former glory. But why I thought I had the skills necessary to do such a thing is beyond me.
“Why didn’t you buy one of those new apartments they’ve just finished overlooking the river?” complained Molly, looking around the overgrown yard.
To be honest, I was wondering the same thing myself.
Pushing my hands deep into my pockets for warmth, we walked to the back porch. The morning had started with the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky, but as the day had rolled on, the clouds had moved in and the wind had picked up. Typical Westport weather. I’d lived in Westport most of my life, only moving to the city ten years ago for work. As the city is only half an hour’s drive away, I spent most of my free time back here, so it kind of felt like I’d never actually moved away. But I’d had enough of working in the city, so I’d made a deal with my boss and would now be working from home.
I looked up at the old house and groaned. I really should have bought something with a useable office.
Reaching the rear timber deck, we negotiated the few steps. My first attempt to push the door open was unsuccessful, but with the use of my hip and a bit of force, we finally made it inside. Finding the light switch, I flicked it on and waited until the dim 60-watt bulb illuminated the room. I looked around and bit my lip. The excitement I’d felt when I awoke this morning was fading by the second. I surveyed the room, biting down on my disappointment. Molly followed me in. As she stomped her feet to warm herself up, I watched the dust rise and nearly consume her.
“Bloody hell,” she coughed, waving her hand in front of her.
The smell of a stale, damp room hit me. I looked around at the dirty old kitchen cabinets and scarred timber flooring, and felt a lump form in the back of my throat.
“Leave that door open will you Molly, and for goodness sake stand still.”
Silently, we walked through the house. I don’t think either of us could find the right words to say. We were walking back down the stairs from the attic when Molly finally broke the silence.
“Who the hell thought this wallpaper was a good idea?”
It’s funny, but I don’t remember seeing the wallpaper the day I bought the house. To be honest, I don’t remember the house looking this bad at all. That day, all I could think about was how it would look revamped.
The house had a simple floor plan. There was a main hallway with the staircase off the front door. To the right of the stairs was the lounge room and to the left was the kitchen. It’s the same on the second floor, only to the right was my bedroom and to the left was the bathroom. The second set of stairs led to the attic, which was home to a second bedroom. The amount of work needed before this house was even livable made me feel queasy. The butterflies in my stomach were going crazy, telling me to run, but what the hell did they know? This was going to be fun, right?
“It’s going to be great. A bit of a cleanup and you won’t recognize it,” I said, not daring to look Molly in the eye.
“A bulldozer would be better. You’ll need a hot handyman now to help you spruce this house up. And what is that smell?”
“Rodents, I think.” I felt my nose twitch and tears threatened an appearance. I hated rats. I mean, really hated them. Like phobia-hated them.
“Don’t worry,” said Molly. Sensing I was about to cry, she placed a hand on my shoulder. “The cat should help with that.”
“What cat?” I looked at her, surprised. “I don’t have a cat.”
“Well, maybe he came with the house. He was sitting on the window seat in the lounge when we walked in and looked quite comfortable, if I may say so,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Didn’t you see it?”
“No. But there are a lot of things about this house I don’t remember seeing,” I said, feeling a weight on my chest. “How could I be this stupid, Molly?” I asked, feeling the sting of tears.
Molly pulled me into a big sister hug. “You can come and stay with me if you like.”
“Thanks, but no. I got myself into this so I have to see it through,” I said sniffing. I took a minute to enjoy the warm, safe feeling of Molly’s hug before I stepped back and pulled myself together. Feeling sorry for myself was not going to improve this situation. “Now, where was this cat?”
I followed Molly to the lounge, and there, sitting on the window seat, was a particularly large, fluffy ginger cat. Damn, she was right.
“But I don’t want to own a cat,” I whined, thinking I have trouble looking after myself. I should never be allowed to own any animal. You see, I did fish-sit for my mum once and—between you and I—the results were disastrous.
“I don’t think you have much choice.”
Okay, the cat did look quite at home sitting there, leg in the air, licking his privates. It stopped mid-lick, tongue sticking to its fur and gave us the once over. Deciding we were of no interest, it resumed what it was doing.
“Do you think it wants food and then it’ll disappear again?” I asked. I was hoping it had the wrong house.
“It’s worth a try.”
“There’s enough bloody rodents around here it could have a smorgasbord.” Maybe a cat wouldn’t be a bad idea. This last thought was actually encouraging. I mean, a cat isn’t like a dog, is it? You can forget to feed a cat and it will find food itself, won’t it?
“I think you should go and get it some real cat food. It looks far too lazy to actually catch anything.”