Dale opened the front door and almost had it ripped out of his hands. A blast of cold mid-February wind hit his face and barged passed him down the hallway. The kitchen door banged open, making Ava jump. She clutched his arm and dug her fingernails sharply in his skin.
‘It’s fine,’ he said, prising her fingers away, ‘just that storm rolling in like the weather forecast said it might.’
They both peered out of the door and saw rain lashing wildly about, threating to come inside. The empty flower beds on either side of the cracked pathway, looked like mud baths. It was growing darker too as the evening had already set in the sky was a jumble of dark grey and black thundery clouds. The working street lamps flicker on, bring them back.
‘I forgot to ask, did you want to bring any of those bin bags down?’ Dale spoke.
Ave turned to him, but her eyes looked passed him and up the stairs. ‘Yes, but they can wait…’
‘Be easier now. Which ones are they?’
There’s three; two near the bookcase and one I’d nearly finished which was…on that side and where I was sitting.’
‘Okay. You get in the car then,’ Dale said and handed her the keys from his pocket.
‘You’ll need to lock up,’ Ava replied and after a few seconds of digging in her pockets she pulled out a large single key with a tattered strip of faded red ribbon on the end.
Dale took it from her and headed back up the stairs. Ave stepped outside, bracing herself to run straight for the car. From out of nowhere, she recalled leaving her jacket in the living room. Stepping back in, she turned to the door on her left and went through. The light had been left on, but the room was still gloomy. She went to the sofa and pulled her cotton jacket off the arm. Then she walked out quickly, trying not the let the image of the room imprint on her mind.
Battling against the coming storm, she got into the car and sat huddled, watching the front door. Dale appeared carrying the two bin bags. He dropped them, opened the boot and shoved them inside. Without a word he went back inside the house. Left alone, Ave listened to the rain hitting the car. She tried to keep her eyes fixed ahead, but she could easily make out the wasteland that seemed to surround her.
How did my aunt ended up like this? Ave wondered. She searched deep in her memories, but could only recall Araminta a few times. There had been a holiday at her Cornwall cottage, a birthday party, the funeral of another relative, a wedding and maybe a holiday in Scotland.
Shaking her head, she watched Dale returned, having first wrestled with the front door and the lock. Dale placed the last bag in the car, closed the boot, then opened his door. Ava took the horse and book from him and Dale’s eyes darted back to the house. He drew in a couple of deep breaths.
‘Are we stopping for pizza on the way home then? Or should we order in?’
He grinned and Ava couldn’t help the small smile on her lips.
‘I know, I know. If I phone them now, it’ll be almost ready by the time we drive over.’
‘You still have the number in your favourites?’ Ava asked.
Dale pulled out his phone, ‘yeah.’ He found the number and called it. ‘What do you want?’
‘My normal…Though thinking about it I’m pretty hungry…’
‘Hello? Hi. Can I order for pick up please? Yeah, sure. Can I get two medium pizzas; an Hawaiian and a meat special. BBQ chicken wings, wedges and a garlic pizza bread? Ah, good. Yeah that’s it. Twenty minutes? That’s fine. Yeah. Thanks.’
Dale ended the call and turned to her, ‘Done. You ready?’
Ave nodded and settled back in her seat. Balancing on her lap was the book and horse. She looked down at them and relaxed her grip on the horse’s legs. Dale started the engine and pulled off. The CD player came on and Drowning Pool began wailing songs from their latest album.
Ava shut her eyes, she felt tried, but not sleepy. She wanted to block out the blurred, wet view going past the windows. The faster they got out of council estate the better she’d feel. As she was sort of drifting off, she heard Dale humming along to the music. He was trying to stay in high spirits she knew and it made her wonder how long he could keep it up. Switching her thoughts she tried to guess where they were just by the feel of the road. It was a game she’d often played on car journeys. I should know the route well enough now, she thought, this has been, what? Our fourth weekend here? Yes.
‘Hey, Ava? You going to sleep there?’ Dale’s voice cut through her thoughts.
She opened her eyes, ‘No. Just thinking.’
‘About that photo? It still gives me the creeps too.’
‘So… George Herman was like your great aunt’s second husband?’
Ava swapped around the horse and book in her lap. Opening the book she looked at the photo again. Dale glanced across then fixed his eyes back on the road.
‘I think so…I’ll check when we get back. I’ve not really read through all the documents yet. I never know any of them…at least I don’t have any memory of them. The memories I have just of her are so few and blurry.’
‘You’ve told me, I remember that. Maybe, I can help you look? You know I like a good mystery!’
Ava stared out of the window. A row of boarded up houses went by. The weather making them appear to be in a more dilapidated state then they were. She looked down at the photo and the figures staring back at her. She turned it over and re-read the inscription. That in turn made her think about the phone call she had received at work and the news of her great aunt’s death, which had now changed so much.
‘It’s difficult,’ she heard herself say.
‘I know, angel, but it’ll be alright. I’m here and we’re going to get through this. You’re going to let me help, aren’t you?’
‘Of course…it just feels…so unreal.’
‘It can be like that. Damn, those speed bumps are coming up again.’
Ava looked up and saw that they were on Wood Street, going past the Doctor’s clinic. Dale over took a bus pulled up at a stop and went over the first of the bumps. Forgetting to brace herself, Ava jumped in her seat then slammed down again.
‘Ouch. Do you have to go over them so fast?’
‘Fast? I’m doing like fifteen. It’s because they are so high.’
‘Yeah, you said before…’
The car bounced over another bump. Dale growled and tightened his grab on the wheel. The car before them had really slowed down so he was force to as well. They went past the Catholic and the Protestant churches, both of which looked more inviting than some of the houses. They were silent for the rest of the journey. Ava tried to stop thinking about her great aunt. She turned her thoughts to the week of work ahead and how many orders she had to complete. Her online business of handmade clothes, furnishings and toys might have taken years to get established, but she was getting more and more orders every month. That and working part time at the Vintage Clothes and Home shop, kept her busy.
However, she couldn’t keep Araminta out of her thoughts and giving in decided that though her great aunt might have only died four months ago, she was still making her presence felt. In a way, Ava was worried she was becoming haunted by the woman. Once the house is sorted and sold, I can get back to my life again, she thought.
Dale pulled up on the curb and Ava looked at the window. They were outside Palace Pizza. Switching off the engine, Dale turned to her, ‘be back in a few,’ he said then got out and walked inside the takeaway.
Chilled by the wind he had let in, Ava rubbed her hands. Her nails caught against the horse and a small scratching sounded squeaked in her ears. Tutting, she put the horse and book in the foot well. The wind and rain lashed out at the car as if angered by its present. Looking out on to the street, she saw a figure hurrying for cover. Turning back again, she saw Dale coming out of the door.
She reached over and popped opened the driver’s door for him. Dale handed her the pizza boxes, a paper bag on top and the bottle of coke cola from under his arm. Ave took them gratefully and placed everything around herself. Settling the hot boxes into her lap, she was careful not to knock the horse at her feet. Dale got in the car and started the engine again.
‘It smells good. Pass me a chicken wing,’ he said.
‘Nope. We are five minutes from home. You can wait.’
Ave smiled and shook her head.
‘Let’s see if we can make it in less than five minutes then.’
He put his foot down and the car shot off the curb. With Ava shouting a no in his ears, he slowed down just enough as he got back on the road. There was no traffic to get stuck in, so they did make it home in just less than five minutes. Pulling up outside Ava’s house, which he’d moved into a year ago, Dale cut the engine.
The rain and wind hit the car louder than before and as they looked out, they saw a bin in the road. Rubbish was flying about and the wind was shaking the hedges of neighbours and the trees that appeared out above the end of the street, wilding.
‘Run for it,’ Dale said.
Juggling the food, Ava opened her door and quickly stepped out. She heard Dale do the same behind her. Car doors slammed then they were both on the doorstep. As Dale unlocked and opened the door, the wind whipped it out of his hand. The door banged loudly against the wood window sill, but the noise was hardly heard. Hurrying in, Dale closed the door and Ave went straight through to the kitchen.
Dale took off his coat and shoes, placing them in their respective places in the hallway. He then turned and walked into the living room. Flicking on the lights, he walked over to the windows on his left. There lined up on the window sill, was a collection of twenty pot shire horses. Most were the same height and colour, but others were bigger or small, white, black, dappled or bay. Some wore leather strips, looking ready to be attached to a plough, others looked weary and the rest seemed happy enough.
Dale added the horse he’d found today almost them and it fitted in perfectly. Once again Dale wondered how many more he’d find before they were through. He didn’t mind really and the collection did look nice. It made the house feel more lived in. That was the biggest difference between this place and Amanita’s. Her house was packed full of stuff, old treasure, loved objects, antiques, everyday things. There was something on every surface, wall and floor. Behind every door, there was something stored and secrets. There were so many of them and they had just been scratching the surface of it all.
‘Pizza!’ Ava’s voice called from the kitchen.
Giving the new horse a final look, Dale walked into the kitchen. They ate in the living room, watching the news on the TV, lost in their own thoughts. Afterwards, they snuggled on the sofa together and Dale pointed out how the new horse was fitting in with the others.
‘Seems she was a collector and a hoarder,’ Ava said. ‘She had nice taste in clothes though, but far too many.’
‘What and you don’t?’
Ava giggled softly, ‘Just if you’d have seen that wardrobe before, you’d have understood.’
To Be Continued…