Locking Up Part 1

With Halloween fast approaching I’m working on a new book of short stories appropriate for the season. Whether I’ll meet the deadline or not remains to be seen, but it was great fun looking through my half-finished collection, and discovering other stories I can use for my blog. This was one of the more recent ones which won’t be in the book. It’s in two parts with more next week.

Locking Up

‘Ron. Can you come and have a look at this window? It’s sticking again and I can’t get it open.’

‘What have you done to it now, woman? Try unlocking it before you resort to brute force and you might get somewhere.’

‘I’ve told you before. The lock is faulty. You were the one who forced it open two days after the workmen installed it, and all because you were too impatient to go through the keys to find the right one. Can we stop rehashing old ground? I just want to open it to get some fresh air. Are you going to help or not?’

Pam didn’t know whether to scream, throw something or bite her tongue for the sake of peace and quiet. She’d had to do that a lot lately, but the constant bickering and arguments were wearing her down. At first having a man about the house had seemed a good idea. She had been friends with Jenny since they were at school together, and stayed close ever since. Jenny had always wanted to become a vet, but had to give up her dream to care for her elderly parents. When they had died, she had somehow inherited her Uncle Ron who had recently lost his wife, and was unable to cope on his own.

‘He’s a bit old school but he’s not a bad old stick, Pam,’ Jenny had said one day when they sat drinking coffee after spending a girlie day shopping. ‘Don’t forget he was brought up in an age when the man brought home the bacon, and the woman of the house cooked, cleaned and looked after the kids. He was devastated when his wife died and had no idea how to cope on his own. They never had children so he was totally lost without her. It’s rather sad, actually.’

‘Jen, you are so nice, sometimes you make me feel selfish,’ Pam replied, ‘but don’t you think it’s time you thought of yourself for once? It seems to me you’ve spent your whole life looking after other people. I’d love it if someone pampered you for a change.’

Jenny’s face went red and she looked away for a moment, but there was a sparkle in her eyes. ‘Well actually, that was something I was going to tell you, but I’ve got to decide what to do first. Mike proposed to me last week.’

‘Jen, that’s fantastic. I’m so pleased for you. When’s the wedding? Congratulations. Is he moving into your flat, or are you going to find somewhere new together?’

‘Woah, hold your horses,’ Jenny laughed. ‘I love Mike but when his secondment finishes, he’ll be going back to Australia. We were hoping they might extend it but we’ve just heard they won’t. The idea was we’d get married here then have a few weeks honeymoon before he had to start work again.’

‘So what’s the problem? As his wife, surely you’ll be able to get a visa to move back with him.’

‘No, it’s not that. Even if I couldn’t work, he can afford to look after both of us. In fact he’s already said it’s entirely up to me whether I want to get a job or not, or even do voluntary work. It’s Uncle Ron. No way will he leave England, and if I sell up, I can’t leave him homeless.’

‘What about a residential home? He’d have companionship, meals provided and still have his independence.’

‘He refuses point blank. We even went to look at a few places, and he said he’d rather sleep on the street than not have his own front door key. He needs to be a lodger with someone to cook for him and do a bit of washing, but places like that are impossible to find. Apart from the domestic side, he can actually be quite useful. Oh well, something will come up. Assuming it does, will you be my bridesmaid?’

‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world,’ Pam replied. ‘Mike is a lovely man and you so deserve to be happy. I’m sure Ron will find somewhere soon, but you can’t let concern for him stop you beginning a new life.’

The answer came in an unexpected way. A few weeks later Pam was at Jenny’s house discussing the ridiculous quotes she had received, just to move a couple of electrical sockets by a few yards.

‘Why don’t you let me have a look?’ Ron said as he overheard their conversation. ‘When I had my own business, I was everything from an electrician to a handyman so it shouldn’t be too difficult.’

True to his word, he made an excellent job of repositioning the sockets, filled in the gaps left behind and even gave the skirting a quick lick of paint so it looked like new. He refused any payment, but was delighted when Pam presented him with a bottle of his favourite red wine after she discovered he enjoyed the odd glass at weekends.

A few days later he mowed her lawn, then helped her plant some shrubs in the garden. As she treated him to a home cooked meal as a thank you, she realised the key to solving Jenny’s problem was in her hands. The wedding date had been fixed, her friend had a buyer for her flat but nowhere for her uncle to live.

Pam’s large, rambling house always seemed to need something doing to it, but Ron had proved to be pleasant company and proficient in the odd jobs he had done for her. If she cleared out the back room downstairs, she could use it as her office and personal space, he could have the smaller room as his sitting room, and they could share the main room for meals and as a communal space. With two spare bedrooms and two bathrooms, it could be the perfect answer and although Pam enjoyed living on her own, it might be nice to have some company.

Should she charge rent? What about the bills? How much of his own stuff would he want to bring with him? Realising she was jumping the gun, Pam decided to have a chat with Jenny first, before approaching Ron to see if he would be interested in having her as his landlady.

‘Are you sure, Pam? It would mean I could leave with a clear conscience, but he is my responsibility as family, and I wouldn’t want you to get into something just to help me out. He’s not much use at “women’s work” but I think that could be stubbornness as much as anything. He’s good at other things, isn’t untidy, and paying rent was never a problem. To keep things simple, I made it inclusive of bills and although it wasn’t full market rate, it wasn’t far off. Obviously, you could come to your own arrangements, but I know he enjoys your company and I’m sure he’d jump at the opportunity.’

She was right. An agreement on finances was quickly reached, a simple legal contract was signed with six months’ notice either side, and as he had disposed of most things when his wife died, a couple of trips with a van were enough to move him in with all his personal possessions. Jenny and Mike’s wedding went to plan, they waved them off to their new life with promises to visit, and Ron and Pam quickly adapted to their new routine.

It took nearly a year for the cracks to begin to show.

To be continued next week. See you then and thanks for reading.

© Val Portelli April 2022


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