Posted by: Debrah Martin | March 10, 2015

The last time I was in the loft …

As ever, I’m immersed in writing – my passion – and a new writers group has been born in my hometown as a result.

Wonderful!’ you say.

“Yes, oddly enough, it is,” I reply. 

Oddly? Well – oddly because it’s taken me out of my novel-writing world for a fresh skirmish with writing shorter pieces, and that’s something I thought I’d left a long way behind me now my goal is more like 100, 000 words generally, not 1000.

A fresh perspective and fresh angle is always good. Here – for a bit of amusement – are some of my fresh angles, appearing as they’re written (so don’t expect too many of them all in one hit; novels are still my first love …).    

 

trap doorThe last time I was in the loft

 

The last time I was in the loft I smelt a rat. I sat in the musty gloom and thought about it. After a while, I went downstairs and told Frank.

‘I’ve just been up in the loft and I smelt a rat up there.’

He dismissed the idea with his customary scorn for me and anything I had to say. He didn’t even ask what kind of rat.

‘Really? I don’t know why you go up there, Delia. There’s nothing up there but a load of old rubbish – and your phobias.’

He picked up his newspaper, shaking it to straighten out the pages and shut me out – as usual. True, the loft was the general dumping ground for everything old, worn out, outmoded or outgrown; like I’d become for Frank. It stored all the stuff that should have gone to the tip really, but I’m a hoarder. Not an out-of-hand, keep everything, even newspapers and old envelopes hoarder, but a hoarder of anything that has been important or relevant or useful in the past – and might be again in the future. My phobias and neuroses too. That’s why I smelt a rat; because this thing was important, relevant and useful, yet it was up there where it would be put if it wasn’t; waiting to be devoured by vermin.

‘I know, but nevertheless …’ I can be determined. Frank knows that. Doggedly determined. They told him it was best to go with it when I was.

‘Oh, for goodness sake, if it’s going to bother you …’ – for that, understand bother him, because he knows I will – ‘get a cat.’

‘Be a crazy cat woman? Is that what I’m to become?’ He put his paper down. I watched it crease in the middle, imagining it razor sharp and cutting, like Frank could be.

‘A mouser,’ he replied, soothingly.

‘They don’t do that anymore. They’ve forgotten how to. They’re just well-fed parasites these days.’

                Like you. I could almost hear him thinking it.

He sighed. ‘Alright, put down a trap. A lump of cheese, a trap and Bob’s your uncle.’

‘I don’t like traps. And I’d hate to have to remove the dead body from it. Besides, cheese gives me nightmares.’ He surveyed me irritably from his Sunday afternoon hiatus between being out or on the verge of going out, paper on lap, phone in breast pocket and patience on the line. His shirt pocket lit up, reflecting the arrival of a new text. He made no attempt to check it. ‘Aren’t you going to check that?’

‘It’ll be Joe, telling me what time we’re meeting tonight.’

‘Joe Haddon?’

‘Joe Haddon; team captain, remember?’

‘Again?’

‘Semi-finals,’ he reminded me. ‘The pub dartboard’s all ours on a Sunday. Don’t you listen to anything I tell you?’

‘I thought the semi-finals had already happened?’

He flicked the newspaper impatiently.

‘What do you want to do about the rat then?’ he asked brusquely.

The rat. What did I want to do?

‘Poison,’ I said decisively, remembering the contents of the loft, and suddenly sure. ‘We should put poison down. Someone said once that they eat it, then creep off somewhere else to die – and get that damn hatch door sorted so it closes properly. I don’t want any more of them getting in.’

‘Will that stop you going on about it? Alright, I’ll get onto it tomorrow. Can I read the paper in peace now?’

‘I think so.’ I watched him nod, shake the newspaper and raise it again like a drawbridge. Pointless trying after all this time. I left him to it, lingering at the door just long enough to see him put the paper down, check his phone and then go back to reading, a pleased smile on his face – the sort he never shared with me anymore. I crept back upstairs to the loft for one last check. Yes, no doubt about it. I smelt a rat. Clem from Dinner party

***

He was as good as his word. Frank always is, just not true to it. The loft hatch was fixed by Tuesday morning and the poison in place by Wednesday. I made a stew to celebrate, but he was on his way out again.

‘More darts?’

‘Semi-finals,’ he agreed.

‘I thought they were on Sunday?’

‘No, that was quarter finals.’

‘Oh, of course. Still at the Red Lion?’

‘Where else?’ He stared at me. ‘Is this twenty questions?’

I shook my head hastily and pulled my cardigan a little tighter round me. Shapeless. Formless. Useless.

‘Do you want to eat early? I’ve made stew, your favourite.’

‘Well, they usually have a buffet there but,’ he considered my determined expression, ‘since it’s stew, alright. I won’t eat as much later.’

‘I’ll just add the thickener and serve it up so you can get off, then,’ I smiled, jubilant. He’d think I was pleased he’d allowed himself to be swayed. Out the kitchen I waited for him to go upstairs to get ready, then I rang the Red Lion again.

‘Didn’t you ring the other day? There’s been no darts here for the last two months. The team folded, like I said. Team captain was having it off with one of the players and her husband objected.’

I thanked them and added the thickener, and a little more flavouring to the stew. He tucked in for my benefit although it probably tasted bitter. I ate little – nothing in fact, pretending a headache threatening.

Someone said once that they eat it and then creep off somewhere else to die.

He went out at seven and said he’d back by ten-thirty. ‘See you later.’ The sense of escaping was unmistakable. And as with the poison and the trap door, he was as good as his word. He arrived back home at ten-thirty. But he wasn’t meant to come home. They creep off somewhere else to die. He didn’t look as happy as when he went out.

‘I think I might be coming down with something. I feel … sore, weak.’

His eyes were red, his lips dry. A tiny fleck of blood glistened in the mucus running from his nose.

‘Better get an early night, then,’ I forced the sickly sympathy into my voice.

‘Yes,’ he lurched against the stair rail.

‘But before you do, will you check on the loft?’

‘The loft? What the hell for?’ He swayed, half-way up the stairs, left eye leaking a teardrop of blood, like the warning symptoms on the packet had said. External blood from the orifices.

I shook my head urgently. ‘There’s something wrong up there – really wrong.’

‘Oh, Delia, can’t it wait until the morning?’ I can be determined. Frank knows that. Doggedly determined. ‘Oh for God’s sake, if it’ll shut you up.’ He turned and staggered up the last few stairs, stood unsteadily on the landing and pulled the loft hatch down. I followed and stood at the top of the stairs. The drop-down step ladder clunked at his feet. He glanced across at me.

‘Are you sure this can’t wait. I feel terrible.’ His voice wavered and his face was grey – like my soul. I shook my head vigorously, playing on the old neuroses.

‘It might be …’

‘Alright, alright; for God’s sake!’ he cussed again, and started heavily up the steps, clinging to the rail like a climber on a cliff face. I could smell the dusty dark of the loft waiting for him. I moved to the bottom of the step ladder. ‘Turn the bloody light on then!’ I clicked on the light as he reached the top and stepped awkwardly into the loft.

‘What’s up there?’ I called, foot on the release mechanism of the step ladder.

‘‘There’s nothing here, apart from rubbish, and now I need to come down now, Delia. I feel terrible – giddy.’

‘The rat – do you see it?’

‘I can’t see any rats. I’m coming down.’

I clicked off the light and the release button for the step ladder. I heard him stumble and crash into something – probably the box of old photograph albums, remnants of when we’d been happy; a real couple. Now they were just gnawed remains of the past in a vermin-infested future. ‘Dee, I can’t see! Damn it, I’m bleeding. And I can’t get up, I can’t get up – what’s happening to me…’

red lipsI lost the rest of his words in his final agonised attempt to stand again, smashing into something that tinkled and shattered. Mum’s old mirror. He’d always hated it. Fitting. Now he was silent. Must be low blood pressure – and falling. It had said that in the symptoms too. May cause unconsciousness. He must have passed out. Now time alone would do the rest. I pushed the step ladder back into place and it automatically took the loft hatch with it, clicking shut and locking in my phobia’s and neuroses. No rats? No. There was only one, Frank – you. The darts team fixtures for this year – before the team folded up told me that, and the name of the team captain. Jo Haddon; Jo, not Joe.

***

It was a year later that I put the house on the market – when all the fuss about Frank upping and leaving me had died down. The estate agent wondered why the loft hatch was sealed over.

‘There was only old junk up there, and then there was a rat. We put poison down. I couldn’t bring myself to go up there and get rid of the body.’

 

If you live in or around Wantage, Oxfordshire, come and find us on Wantage Writers, or find out about all of my books on my websites:

www.debrahmartin.co.uk Patchwork series covers

and

www.lily-stuart.co.uk

 

Webs_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @Storytellerdeb

Or find me on Facebook: facebook.com/DeborahMartin. Author

 

 

 

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