*This short story is a work in progress, please feel free to tell me what you think of it. Thanks.*
The sold sign (subject to contract) in front of the “two bedroom terraced starter home with garage” was being taken down. The estate agent trundled the sign to his van and deposited it in the back. Walking back to the front of the house he smiled and reached into his pocket to withdraw a shiny set of keys.
Holding the keys out he said, “May I now officially present you with the keys to your new home.”
Frank and Liz Donovan both reached reflexively for the keys. They burst into pleased laughter and Liz reluctantly lowered her hand to allow Frank the privilege. As Frank’s hand grasped the keys, the estate agent smiled.
“Good luck in your new home sir.”
“Thanks.” Frank turned to Liz. “Honey, get Bethany will you?”
Bethany, their highly energetic 18 month old daughter, was inspecting something in the grass with impressive concentration. Looking up at Liz’s approach, Bethany stood up from her crouching inspection to point at the object of her intense scrutiny.
“Bug, Mummy, bug.”
“Yes dear,” Liz said. She held her hands out.
Bethany’s attention diverted, she forgot the bug and ambled drunkenly over to Liz.
Picking her baby up, Liz glanced uneasily at the spot where Bethany’s bug apparently resided.
Probably just a beetle, she thought.
She shivered slightly and decided not to tell Frank about it. He hated bugs even more than she did, to the point of phobia. Whereas she could at least force herself to kill them, Frank froze up completely when confronted with any multi-legged creature.
Frank stood looking proudly at their new home. Well, not exactly new, Frank thought wryly, a little over three years old if you wanted to be truthful about it. But it was their “new” home at any rate.
At the wrong side of 35 and stuck in a promotional slump in his civilian job for the USAF, and living in a foreign country to boot; Frank had given up hope of ever owning his own home.
A letter from his best friend who retired back in the states a year ago had done little to assuage Frank’s feelings of frustration. The letter contained pages of information about his friend’s new house. John called it his “Sticks and Bricks” retirement house. John had gotten a nice lump sum out of his retirement package and that had gone toward buying the house.
Frank had called John and they’d had a good laugh over the phrase “Sticks and Bricks.” After he’d finished his call, he made up a rhyme: “sticks and bricks and mortar and stone, I’ve got to find a home of my own.”
Liz said that it wasn’t funny. That is sounded forced and contrite. Frank thought she was right, so he didn’t repeat the rhyme again.
At least not out-loud, in his mind the rhyme had become some sort of nagging chant. It was caught in an endless loop that played non-stop until he thought he’d go crazy.
As he squeezed the house keys in his hand he thought, ‘Got it now Dad. I’ve got a house now. I’m not a loser anymore old man.’ With a lump threatening to form in his throat he turned to hurry Liz and Bethany along.
Liz felt as though someone had taken all her breath away. ‘Our first home,’ she thought, ‘maybe now it will all seem real.” At twenty-five Liz still couldn’t believe that she was married to this strange, maddening American; even though it had been six years and one baby ago when they’d “tied the knot.”
They had met at the village pub. He was hard not to notice; back then he had looked sad, older and lonely. He would come in every night and drink on average forty gin and tonics while quietly chatting to the old men at the bar. He would then stand just before closing time and, apparently sober, wish everyone a good night.
He would walk out the door ramrod straight without a trace of stagger. Liz was fascinated by this dark-haired, hard-drinking, stranger and she decided to find out what made him seek refuge in a bottle.
After finally meeting, they started a short furious affair that culminated in marriage before he was posted to Holland. Maybe Holland was why none of this seemed real. They only spent three months as a couple before they’d left. Now they were facing her home country for the first as a family.
As Liz headed up the path to Frank and their new house she thought, ‘England. God it was good to be home.’
She smiled as she joined Frank. ‘Home owners,’ she thought slipping her hand in his as they walked toward the door. Bethany pointed to the front of the house, “Owse? Owse?”
“Yes dear,” Frank said, “Our owse.”
Bethany had started this two-word repetition about a month ago. Frank found it hysterically funny along with her mispronunciation of bedroom (dreadboom) and scarecrow (carescrow). Winking at Bethany and Liz, he put the key in the door lock. Turning the key, he bowed his head. “Won’t you come in Madame and mademoiselle?”
Liz laughed as she swept through the door with Bethany in her arms. “Why thank you monsieur.” She went into the kitchen and stopped in front of the sink. She stood with Bethany and looked out the window. Frank stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders and they watched for the moving van to arrive.
The house seemed uncomfortably warm after the damp cold outside. The nighttime storage heating that they had so worried about seemed to be doing a fine job. As they looked out the window, a moth fluttered madly around the kitchen light bulb.
Bethany pointed to it and whispered, “Moff? Moff?” As if she knew neither Mummy nor Daddy would be pleased at its presence.
When the big van pulled up in front of the house, Bethany’s attention was drawn to the big men who came out of the van. They stood smoking and consulting their map as Frank jogged down to them and told them that they were at the right place.
Liz put the kettle on for a cup of tea for the men and Bethany watched the moth as it was joined by another one, fluttering and smacking the dead bulb.
The house was a standard two bedroom “starter home.” So called because it was so small that only a couple starting out could live in it. Space was at a premium. Entering the front door you encountered a short hallway with the kitchen off to the left. Go forward two steps and you entered the living room/dining room. The left side of the room contained the stairway to the bedrooms and one bathroom. The ceiling at the top of the stairs had an attic entrance.
The garage was detached from the actual building and housed in a block with two others. Frank knew that this would soon be the overflow for the house and that it would be full of boxes that had place to go yet.
Both the house and the garage were encased in red brick with redwood stained trim. Everything about the house shouted new and it was in one of “the neighborhoods.” Almost exclusive, most certainly snobbish and very definitely “up-town.”
Over the next two weeks Frank and Liz unloaded boxes and chased after Bethany. By the end of the second week, Frank’s nerves were frazzled. Bethany had gotten into everything and Liz had kept the windows open the entire time, letting in every insect from the neighborhood.
Sipping on a beer, Frank observed for the tenth time that day that he was amazed that the English didn’t have window screens. “Look at all the things that come in. We might as well be living outside.” Liz looked up from her unpacking, “I know dear, I grew up here, remember?”
Frank set his beer down hard, foam running from the top of the can. “Is that a spider?” He pointed to a dark spot on the wall. Liz stood up quickly. “Where?”
Frank frozen in place, thrust his finger out, “over there, by the hall door.”
Liz leaned toward the dark spot, squinting. “No, it’s only a moth.” Moving closer she took a jiffy cloth from her back pocket. “Got you.” She smashed the cloth down hard on the moth.
“Creepy things,” she said. There was a small brown toxic looking smear on the wall where she’d killed the moth. “Just look at that,” she shuddered, “Disgusting things, aren’t they?”
The cat arrived from the kennel where she’d been in solitary confinement, as Frank liked to put it. The poor thing had to stay in isolation for six months because of the draconian animal laws intended to keep rabies out of the country.
During the cats stay at the kennels, Clover (what a stupid name for a cat, Frank thought, but didn’t say) had gotten ridiculously attached to him. Liz refused to see Clover while she was in “nick” as Frank had taken to calling the poor animal’s enforced kennel time. So he’d had to visit the cat and bring treats and spend some time playing with it so, “She won’t forget us poor lamb.”
The end result was that Clover became Franks cat instead of Liz’s. He had taken to just calling her cat instead of Clover. His grandfather had called every dog or cat he’d ever owned just that, Dog or Cat. It made sense to Frank. In order to keep Liz from biting his head off, he changed the cat’s name to CC. It seemed to work fine as the animal pretty much answered to anything.
After the cat regally ignored everyone in the family, she went upstairs and sniffed each room and the carpet. She went into the bathroom and flopped in front of the small open window at the back of the room.
Frank, Liz and Bethany went out for some KFC at the new place that had just opened down the road. Leaving CC to her own devices. A gust of wind through the open window blew the bathroom door shut. The same gust then slammed the window shut.
The cat could care less. She laid her head down and flopped on her side and began to lackadaisically lick her stomach. A moth suddenly appeared and started bashing against the closed window.
CC immediately froze in mid-lick. She watched the moth and went back to licking and then she lay on her side again.
The cat couldn’t rest. She watched the fluttering moth with eyes so wide they threatened to swallow her face. Suddenly she leaped; paws clasping like little hands. She landed, twisted, and leapt up again.
The single moth she’d been chasing was joined by another as she leapt higher and tried to grab both these noisy fluttery things. The two moths became three; then they were joined by another and another.
The room was suddenly full of these maddening creatures. The moths bounced off the window, the walls, and the light bulb.
Tink, thwack, tink.
The noise increased with the mad fluttering of the tiny wings. It became deafening. The cat ran and jumped halfway up the wall swiping frantically at the insects. Faster and faster she ran and jumped until her sides heaved and her tongue lolled.
She tried to stop but she couldn’t. The moths continued to swirl and dive, now bashing into her face as well as her body. The moths focused their crazy fluttering attacks on the cat, driving her mad with the desire to catch these things.
Her jumps became shorter and she staggered when she landed and when she tried to run. Defeated she slumped to the ground too tired to even lick herself. The moths fluttered and jerked while she watched. Her sides pumped trying to draw more air into her exhausted and empty lungs. Gathering herself, she made one last launch into the air.
When she landed, she did not move again.
Copy-write Michael E Smith 14/03/2013