Here’s another instalment from my unfinished story, The Button. Clare has moved to Easthope where she unexpectedly bumps into someone she was at school with, someone who bullied her mercilessly. The woman, Jenny-Lee recognises her but for some reason mistakes her for another girl called Clare who was Jenny’s best friend. Jenny and her husband Darius are restoring an old watermill and Clare unexpectedly finds herself on a guided tour of the old place:
Clare could hear Darius telling the rest of the group about the mill, it was his idea that this was an ancient site going back to Roman times. She heard the name ‘Trajan’ again, and then his voice became muffled as he moved away.
What was she doing her? What on earth was she doing here? She had stopped to look at one of the diagrams on the wall explaining the plans for the old mill and the others had moved on. She felt distanced from the tour although she would have been interested in any other mill at any other location and with any other owners than Jenny-Lee and Darius.
She’d had enough and felt edgy and nervy – not nervous but twitchy and ill at ease. She’d go – out through the main entrance then cut through the trees just in case Jenny returned in her red sports car… but as she passed the staircase for some reason – and later she couldn’t think what it was, for some reason she went up the old open staircase. Upstairs, in a similar chaotic state as the ground floor, was the accommodation. She had come out in a large room but some of the floor boards were missing and it was apparent that they lived in one end by the window where there was a kitchen area.
Clare went and stood by the window looking down over the track down from the lane. Then carefully negotiating the gaps in the floor she made her way round to the other doorways. There was one without a door which led into a chaotic bedroom with clothes strewn everywhere. The next room had a proper floor and there was a big table covered in papers and a computer. The next room had a door and it was locked… which seemed kind of strange.
She would have turned to leave except she noticed on a book-case which was balanced precariously across a several joists, a small fabric clown, with its head lolling to one side, the stitching gone.
“The clown… she still has the clown…”
Clare grabbed it, turned it upside down and felt under its baggy threadbare shirt… and the key was there!
She couldn’t resist. In seconds she was inside the small room. This had floorboards covered by a rug, a table by the small window, a computer, files… this must be where Jenny-Lee worked. The wall behind the desk was covered in notices and documents, and in the corner there were photos, many black and white. It all looked organised and efficient…
At the sound of a car Clare went to the window, glancing out, hoping she wouldn’t be seen. It wasn’t the red sports car but in actual fact a van. The driver got out, took some packages from the passenger seat and disappeared from view as he went in through the wide double doors below her.
“What am I doing her? I must be crazy!” she whispered.
It was chance that Clare went round behind the desk past the wall covered with photos and papers… in fact she had got nearly to the door when she stopped abruptly.
She went back to the photos stuck with blue-tack onto the unpainted plaster of the wall. The photos on the wall were from school, and she remembered, Jenny had come in one day with a camera, an Instamatic… she had taken pictures of them all… Clare saw herself, a small child compared to the others, her face an utter blank, holding in her misery. There were several pictures of Clare Cherry… how was it possible that Jenny-Lee did not now realise that she was Clare Mason, not Clare Cherry?
There were several photos of Hazel too, Jenny’s best friend until Clare and Clare had arrived at the school…
Clare’s first instinct was to take a couple of photos, but then instead of literally taking them she took pictures instead with her phone.
She hurried out of the room and closed the door… then opened it again and stared at the photos on the wall… this was so strange…
She locked the door and put the key back in the clown, arranged him as she had found him, and taking care not to slip on the joists, made her away across the room and back to the staircase. She stood for a moment looking at the two rooms with no doors at all, and the one with the locked door.