Empty House (Part 3)

A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Ava could feel herself drifting off. Right before she surrender to sleep, Dale rubbed her back hard and disturbed her. Pulling a disgruntled face at him, Ava dropped her head back to his chest and snuggled down again.

‘Let’s go to bed,’ Dale suggested.

Ava groaned and mumbled something.

‘Okay fine, but I’m going,’ he declared and eased himself out from under her.

Ava tumbled into the space he had just left and buried her face in a cushion. She felt too tried to move, her stomach and head were hurting. She felt Dale poking her arm and reluctantly she got up and let him take her to bed.

‘So much for an ‘early night’ hey?’ he said as he tucked her in.

Ava moaned and apologised and let the blissful sleep claim her fully.

After checking she was alright, Dale settled into the large double bed and opened the book he had found in the spare room. The photo fell right out, no longer sticking to the spine due to having been removed so many times. In the dim lamp light, Dale looked at the small black and white photo. He could make out the teenage faces of Araminta Costello and George Herman well enough. Araminta had been very pretty with curly hair and small features, or so the photo led Dale to believe. George looked skinny, had a slight moustache, flat hair and was clutching a bowler hat in his hands. He was wearing a suit, Dale noted and Araminta had on a summer dress. They both looked happy.

Dale turned the photo over and looked at the handwritten title again; Newchurch in Pendle, Lancashire, England, 1934. A weird feeling crept over him and Dale decided something wasn’t right. Not with the photo itself, but with the actual date someone had claimed it to have been taken on. Quickly, his mind tried to recall all he knew about Araminta from what he had glanced at in the paperwork he had seen, but he couldn’t be sure about any of that information.

Kissing Ava, he slipped out of the bed, but a dressing gown on and crept down the stairs. He went into the dining room, which they were didn’t really use and had now become a storage room for Araminta’s things. Turning on the light, he crossed the floor and put the photo on the folded down dining room table. Around him were stacks of cardboard and plastic boxes, a chest of drawers and a number of bin bags.

Scratching his head, he searched through everything till he found a plastic box marked paperwork. Popping off the lid, he discovered a wealth of documents inside and decided to go through some of them. Most of the paper was in readable condition, but there was no organisation and Dale didn’t have a clue what he was really looking for. Still going off his hunch that something wasn’t right, he spent the rest of the night sorting through that box and making notes in a notebook.

He finally went to bed around five in the morning, his mind still buzzing and reflecting on what he had found. As he settled behind Ava, he was half-tempted to wake her up, but decided she really needed to sleep. Anyway, he wasn’t sure what he had discovered and he now knew it was going to take a while to put all the puzzle pieces together.

Ava work up as the alarm went off. She struggled to free her arms from the duvet and switch it off. Rolling over, she found Dale fast asleep and breathing hot breaths on her face. She kissed him and tried to wake him, but he turned away with a long heavy moan. Wrapping herself up again, Ava watched his moving back and debated getting up. She shut her eyes and tried not to think about anything, but she couldn’t get back to sleep.

Getting up, she went to the window and peering through the curtain looked out on to her street. The weather was still stormy and the rain was pouring down. Growling at the gloomy sky, she let the curtains fall back and went to hAva a shower. After, she dressed and went downstairs for something to eat. However, it seemed her mind was in a very reflective mood and as she reached the bottom of the stairs, she couldn’t help but look at the collection of photos that covered the wall to her left.

They were all of her parents and family. Trying hard not to think about the smiling faces of her parents looking down on her, she hurried away and had breakfast. Still though, images lingered at the front her mind and she couldn’t help but think how great aunt Araminta’s death was reminding her of the loss of her parents and grandparents. Fighting back tears, she went back upstairs and woke up Dale.

Half-asleep he wrapped his arms around her and tried to comfort her, but she was beyond that for a few moments. Finally, when she was calm and he fully awake, Dale took her downstairs and showed her what he had been doing during the night. Picking up his notebook he read to her as they sat on the floor.

‘So, Araminta was born in nineteen-fifteen,’ Dale started, ‘and she got married to William Higgings in nineteen-thirty-four, aged twenty. Here’s a photo of their wedding day,’ he added.

Ava took the large photo from him and looked at it, ‘I knew she had two husbands,’ she shrugged, ‘where’s this going?’

Dale nodded and held up the Pendle photo, ‘George and her had been childhood sweethearts, but for whatever reason and maybe we’ll find out about it later, Araminta didn’t marry him first. They got married in nineteen-fifty, but and this is the interesting part, Araminta married him under a different name.’

‘What?’ Ava asked puzzled.

Dale handed her a few yellow papers and she looked through them as he carried on talking. There were two birth certificates, a small photo of a baby sleeping and a few letters.

‘Araminta’s parents had another daughter, but she died as a baby. Araminta stole her baby sister’s identity, Amaranta Costello, to marry George because William refused to divorce her and she was desperate to be with her true love,’ Dale concluded.

‘I guess that’s interesting,’ Ava remarked, though she still didn’t understand why her boyfriend was so excited.

‘Your aunt then led a double life,’ Dale explained, seeing the confused expression on Ava’s face and eager for her to become as interested in this as he was.

‘She carried on being Araminta Higgings up until William died in an accident in nineteen-sixty. She then changed her surname back to Costello, but,’ Dale paused as he handed Ava more documents he had found, ‘she carried on living as Amaranta Herman separately, even after George’s death in nineteen- eighty-two.’

Ava shook her head and handed everything back to him, ‘I don’t think that’s right. I never knew she had a sister, but everyone knew about her two husbands. So, if she was leading a double life why would the family know about George?’

Dale paused, thinking over what she had said.

‘The story I remember, Ava said softly, ‘is that William died in the Second World War and that was how and why she married George. Maybe you just got confused with all the dates? You were up all night, it could easily hAva happened.’

Dale looked down and shuffled through the paperwork, glancing at the dates of events.

Ava patted his arm, ‘get something to eat and get ready. We have to go back to the house today. I’ve decided we’re going to try and break that lock on that other bedroom, I really want to know what’s inside of there.’

‘Yeah,’ Dale sighed, ‘maybe there’ll be more paperwork and it might be the proof I need.’

Ava swept hair back and tugged his chin up, so that their eyes could met, ‘Why does it matter? She’s gone and so has everyone else. Maybe we should just let it rest with her.’

Dale pulled a face, ‘but it…interests me…I want to know what happened. It was like yesterday and wanting to find out how she’d ended up on a council estate. Doesn’t it just grab you a little bit?’

Ava shook her head and got up, ‘I just want it over with. I need to move on, Dale. Come on, let’s get ready.’

Dale opened his mouth to press her further, but Ava had already left the room. Sighing, he but everything back in the box and got ready to go. Blocking out his thoughts, he had a shower, got dressed and ate breakfast. He met Ava by the front door and she drove them over to the house. The car smelt damp and of last night’s pizza. Pulling upside the house, they got out and went to the front door. The wind had picked up again and was howling around them.

Once inside though, they didn’t feel any safer. Ava shivered and couldn’t help but think she had just walked into a tomb. They went into the living room and took off their things. The room was empty but for the big pieces of furniture like the sofa, arm chair and large cabinet.

‘We’ll have to get a charity or someone to remove these,’ Dale spoke gently into the gloomy atmosphere.

‘It’s on my To Do list. Let’s get into that room,’ Ava whispered back.

‘I think there’s a hammer in the kitchen. It might be useful.’

‘I’ll meet you up there then,’ Ava replied and left the room.

She turned on the light in the hallway and climbed the stairs. At the top she turned right and went to the locked door. She tugged and moved the handle, but the door stayed firm. Dale joined her and after a few moments, decided that the hammer might damage the door too much, but the screw driver he had also found and brought with him would probably do it.

Ava stepped back and Dale got to work, trying to break the lock. The air pressed heavily and dusty around them, making it difficult for Ava to catch her breath. She glanced up and fixed her eyes on the attic hatch which was above her head. She remembered going up there during the first day they had come to the house. It was in there that they had found lots of cardboard boxes containing documents, postcards, birthday cards and letters. Ava recalled how they had brought everything down, re-boxed it in plastic crates and took it home for them to go through later.

That’s where Dale found all that stuff last night, wasn’t it? she thought, Could it really be true what he said? I guess we’ll have to go thoroughly everything to find out for sure.

‘I think I’ve got it,’ Dale’s voice called her back.

Ava stepped forward and watched him push up the door. Together they peered into the room.

To Be Continued…