tagNon-EroticOpening The Cottage

Opening The Cottage

byFable©

She brought the car to a stop and leaned back in the seat; closing her eyes to rest her head for a moment. The drive though only ninety minutes had been exhausting. Had she known how much traffic there would be on a weekday afternoon she wondered if she would have made the trip alone.

Compared to bearing a child the drive had not been that bad, she thought. She opened her eyes and looked around. Beyond the sea wall the water was kicking up small whitecaps that spilled half way up the beach depositing uprooted seaweed and bits of trash. Just being here made up for the last ninety minutes on the road.

What's he doing here? she thought. He looks old and forlorn. But so must I, she half laughed to herself. She opened the car door. It made a creaking sound; he turned and saw her.

"Let me help you with that." He was hovering like a seagull at a clambake; she had only had time to open the car trunk.

"Vinnie," you startled me. She straightened and looked into his face. He had changed. The lines in his forehead were deeper than she remembered. Why doesn't he do something about those eyebrows?

He was already lifting the single suitcase from the trunk. "You brought Jack's tools," she heard him say.

"That's all right Vinnie, just bring the case." She opened the car door to the back seat to retrieve a basket and turned to her neighbor. "Please," she added while slamming the door. Had he been looking he would have seen the decisive expression on her face.

He wasn't. "I'll bring them," he called after her. "You wouldn't want to drive around with this heavy case in your trunk."

"Damn him," she thought to herself while searching for the key to the porch door.

She unlocked the door to the enclosed porch then hurried to unlock the door to house itself. She sat the basket of food inside the doorway. He was there, damn him., right behind her.

"Just set the tools here," she made a waving jester toward the wicker rocking chairs that lined the porch. "I'll take the suit case."

She walked through the dark cottage, rolling up a window shade on the way to her bedroom. It was still dark and shutters blocked the light. She sat the suitcase on the bed and went back to retrieve the basket. He was still there on the porch.

"Thanks for the help," she said, ready to close the door.

"I'll take the shutters off for you," he said nervously. It was almost a question.

"That's not necessary, I'll do it later. That's why I brought the tools," she added.

"It's better if I do it," he argued. "I know where everything goes."

Infuriated, she raised her voice, "You don't know where things go, you've never been under this house, Jack would never have permitted it!"

Afraid that she would begin to cry, she quieted. She tried to think how long it had been since she had spoken this way, out of control. They stood in silence listening to the waves breaking 30 yards away.

"I didn't mean anything by it, Helen. It's just that I know how Jack operated around here, same way as me."

"I know you didn't," she softened.

Two years of dust had collected on the sheets that covered the few pieces of furniture. She switched a table lamp to 'on' but nothing happened.

The electricity was promised for today but was not yet on; she lit two candles and set about sweeping and dusting. There was no water to mop the floors.

She could use bottled water to make a cup of tea if only the stove was working. It wasn't.

She heard his voice from below. "Turn on the faucets, let it run for a few minutes."

She shook her head as a knowing smile crossed her lips. That's what Jack would have said, she mused, 'let it run for a few minutes.'

The faucet coughed, there was a rush of air followed by a reddish colored slush that soon changed to clear cold water.

"Try the one in the bathroom," the voice came from directly below where she was standing. "I'll light the hot water heater and furnace as soon as the power comes on."

'Damn him, how does he know my every move,' she thought. She had not given thought as to how much was involved in turning things on. Those under-the-house chores had always been left to Jack and she had always taken care of the upstairs. She had however thought to call the electric company to have the lights turned on. 'How did he seem to know that?' she wondered.

Soon she heard the growl of a power tool at the kitchen window. She raised the window shade and there he was, holding a shutter in one hand and a battery powered screw gun in the other. There was a foolish grin on his face.

'Damn him', she thought. That's where Jack always started; he knew I needed light from the window to put the groceries away. She heard the sound of his ladder being hoisted at the side window. With moistened fingers she doused the candles.

"Won't you have one of these cookies?" She held out the round tin, expectantly.

The table had been cleared except for tea cups, a half full bottle of wine and the cookie tin.

The offer had come on the spur of the moment. "'Supper' will not be much but I can open a can or two; you're welcome to stay," she had said. "It will be my way of paying you for what you have done." He had insisted on fetching the wine; a rich burgundy which she had pretended to enjoy.

The meal was more than grub from cans. The basket had contained a loaf of French bread and a slab of cheese. She had opened a can of beef stew which she served in large bowls; the larger portion ladled into his.

She had watched him break off a piece of bread and dip it into the stew. His hands, she noticed, were clean and his hair had been combed; 'that's why it took so long to get the wine', she thought.

After a false start or two the conversation started to flow. Soon they were sharing glimpses of their lives. 'Did Carolyn ever marry that sailor?' 'Where did Eddie end up going to graduate school?' 'Do you recall the name of that girl he brought here that summer?' 'I didn't know Peter's wife had twins.'

She poured more tea without asking as was her habit. "Vinnie?" she started, then thought better and silenced herself.

His stare captured her attention.

"I hate to ask this," she began. "Do you think we can have that pile of fence moved? I saw it out there. It's been that way, how long?"

"I'll take care of it, I was thinking the same thing," he spoke too quickly.

"I didn't mean for you to do it." How could she make him understand that? "It's such an eye sore and," she paused in thought, "such a reminder."

"I was thinking the same thing," he repeated, "I'll get rid of it."

"How did that start? It's been so long. What was it, 1977 or 78?"

'77 I think, '78 was the second gas shortage and we were speaking again by then."

"Barely," she laughed.

"It was the stair thing, remember? We were sitting out back there, all of us were. Jack and yourself, Nell and me and four or five of the kids. We had a little fire going and the kids were roasting marshmellows. We got into this conversation about how to fix creaking stairs. Jack's the one that brought it up. He said that was one of the things he was going to do that next week; seems you had a tread that was squeaking. So I asked how he was going to go about it and you know Jack, that set him off. He thought I was going to tell him how to do it. Before I knew what was happening we had an argument going."

"Yes I knew Jack." She said, a glazed look in her eyes. "I knew Jack."

"I didn't mean it that way," he said defensively.

"I know you didn't," she said, seeming to satisfy him.

"First thing I knew, Jack got up and moved his chair away from us. That's when he said he would sit on his own property. The next weekend he had that lumber on top of his car when he pulled in. Naturally I objected to him putting up a fence between us. We got into it and if you and Nell hadn't come out to settle us down who knows what would have happened. It has been out there ever since."

They sat in silence, each contemplating the past in their own way.

"That was such a nice thing you did, calling him," Helen broke the silence.

"That was Nell. She pestered me to make the call. You were calling her all the time and I could see how much good it was doing her, you doing that."

"I was heartbroken that I couldn't go to the funeral."

"I know," his voice was shallow. "You sent flowers and all those cards. They were appreciated. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to Jack's funeral."

"I understood," she said. "It was too soon."

"Helen, can I ask you something?" his upbeat tone took her by surprise.

"Sure Vinnie, what is it?"

"Do you pump your own gas, have you learned how?"

"Well yes, as a matter of fact I do," she said amused. "What would make you ask me such a question? I'd really like to know how your mind works."

Her remark did not faze him.

"I was just thinking about the time we were sitting in a gas line, back in 1978. You remember? That summer Jack and I carpooled to conserve gas."

"Of course I remember. That was the first time you had spoken to one another since the fence incident."

"Well, we were in one of those Friday afternoon gas lines and Jack was talking, just to make conversation I guess. He was wondering how many hours were being wasted in those lines. We got onto the subject of how things could be speeded up. That's when he came up with the idea of pumping our own gas. We explored the idea all the way down here. It was the best conversation we ever had. Every time I pump my own gas I think about him and that day."

"That's a nice story, I'd never heard it," she said dreamily. "Is that what made him laugh? Did you remind him of that day? When you called I mean?"

Vinnie nodded. "Yes it was," he said solemnly.

"Were all the children able to come for the funeral?" She was attempting to change the subject.

"Barbara couldn't make it," he said. There was no further explanation. "The others came."

"Same here, three of them came but Steven said the trip was not possible. He's in Sweden. Did you know? I think he's found a girl there."

"Sweden? I knew he was across the pond but didn't know where. He's the diplomat?"

She nodded. "Do you remember the night you two got drunk together?" Her mood changed to near hysteria. She tried to continue but it was no use. Her hand banged down on the table and her head shook with uncontrolled laughter.

Vinnie found her merriment contagious and gleefully joined her although he had not remembered the incident in those terms.

"The two of you discovered the kids were missing about the same time. What were they, 16 and 17? Somehow you both concocted this idea in your lame brain heads that they were together, at the pub of all places!" This brought on another uproar. She shook her head and pointed her finger at him.

"You were as bad as the kids only they came home not long after you two left. They hadn't even been together. Barbara had been with a girlfriend and Stephen had been out with some local girl he had met. You and Jack were gone for hours. Nell and I didn't know if we should come looking for you or call for help. How did you think they would get in the pub? Who's idea was it to go looking for them there?"

Vinnie's face showed the satisfaction he was taking in his neighbor's joyful disposition.

"It was mine," he admitted. "But it was Jack's idea to stay. The place was so crowded we couldn't tell if they were there or not. So Jack suggested we have a drink and look around."

"So you looked around for three hours?" She said, accusing and joking at the same time.

"There were young kids in the place so we thought our kids could get in too. They may have been friends with one of the summer waitresses who would serve them. That's what we were thinking."

"For three hours? You thought that for three hours?"

"Jack started talking to this couple. I guess the time passed faster than we thought." Vinnie's explanation was half serious, half tongue in cheek.

"We heard about the 'couple', Nell and I. We heard they were a couple of cute females."

Vinnie's eyes were downcast. A semi grin was on his face. "I don't know where you could have heard that."

"Jack told us," she confessed. "Years later."

"I better get going," Vinnie broke the silence. "Jennie and the baby are coming on Saturday and I've still got to get a room ready for them."

"We've got tomorrow," Helen thought out loud. "I'll come over and help."

"You don't need to, I'm getting pretty good at housework."

"No you aren't and you know it. Besides, that's the least I can do."

Vinnie played with the door knob as if contemplating if it needed to be tightened.

"Vinnie."

He looked her way.

"What did you say that made him cry? When you called?"

He studied the door knob again, considering what he was about to say.

"I told him I would look after things around here." Their eyes met straight on.

{My thanks to my editor friend, Angel}

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