We are delighted to announce that the winner for August and September’s theme of ‘Deceit’ is Diane Wilson with her short story, Sitting Pretty.
What were they thinking? What sort of people hand over their house keys to a perfect stranger? Nice house it is, too – airy with modern, low furniture and large colourful artwork. A kitchen with every shiny gadget you could want. There’s even a glimpse of the harbour from the main bedroom upstairs. Not that I’m supposed to know that, of course. I should be staying in the guest suite which is at the back of the house, down on the lower garden level. I was there for the first couple of nights – it has French doors to a sunny courtyard, full of birdsong first thing in the morning. But the view’s better from their room.
The owners of the house are cousins of my ex-next door neighbour. Or something like that. She and I live on the other side of the country, they haven’t seen her for a year or two. She told them my story – a husband who’d died recently. Circumstances vague. The need for me to get away from it all. Some mysterious ailment of my own . They hardly hesitated, apparently. They offered before she had the chance to ask.
‘They’re going to be away, most of the time you’re there,’ the cousin explained to me, on the phone. ‘But they say you’re still more than welcome to stay. Perhaps they liked the look of you – they saw the photo of us on the boat that day on the river.’
They shouldn’t blame their cousin. She believed what she was telling them.
They were here for two days when I arrived, before heading off on a cruise. For three weeks.
‘Stay as long as you like,’ the wife said. ‘You’re doing us a favour, looking after the place.’
Perhaps that’s why they’ve trusted me – the resemblance between the wife and me is a bit startling. If my hair was a bit longer, and if her eyes were a brighter blue…That’s always been my best feature, and I’m not the only one to say that.
Would it be abusing their hospitality, I wonder, to stay until they’re back? She did mention that I’d be useful. I’ve been watering the plants and airing the place. Collecting mail, dusting and vacuuming. Listening to calls on the answering machine in case there’s anything urgent. Some of the messages are not very polite, given the way that they live and the friends that you might imagine they would have. Still, I’m not one to judge.
What precautions would you take, if a stranger was coming to stay in your house while you travelled the Pacific? Would you lock the drawers in your office? Make sure your computer was password protected? Hide bank statements? Well, they’ve done none of that. It’s been most interesting. Especially reading through their emails. There’s definitely something going on, that you can be sure the wife isn’t telling her husband about. ‘Who’s Nick?’ you should ask her, mate. And watch her face carefully as you do.
There’s even a little blue notebook, in a supposedly secret part of the desk, containing all of their passwords and codes. Not sure yet which one is their internet banking code, but I’ll try the one that looks most likely this afternoon. How many attempts can you have before the bank locks you out? I need to find out.
The wife and I are the same size, as well. Even the same shoe size. I haven’t unpacked any of my own clothes, I’ve simply worn hers. Much more stylish. Expensive. There’s a particular pale linen dress I’m very fond of. It was right at the back of the wardrobe, so perhaps she doesn’t wear it too often. She won’t notice it’s missing. Will she?
The wife’s car suits me very nicely, too. ‘Won’t the neighbours notice you’re driving about in her red Merc?’ I hear you ask. Well, they told me to take her car for a spin. Insisted, in fact, on presenting me the keys to the car while asking if I would do them another favour. Keep the motor turning over. It’s the perfect size for me – I didn’t need to adjust the driver’s seat or any of the mirrors. Correction, I did need to move the rear vision mirror the other night, when a car followed me home so closely that its headlights dazzled and blinded me for a moment as I headed back into this beachside suburb.
I’ve developed a taste for 10 year old wine, while I’ve been here. One of the keys in the office opened a door down to a cellar with more wine than my local bottle shop. That reminds me – I’d better make sure the recycling bin is emptied before they’re back.
Christ! What was that?
Popping noises and then glass breaking. Just here. Sounded like a gunshot. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not imaging things.
There, the kitchen window is shattered, and there’s a hole in the Sub-Zero fridge. I need to get out of here, fast. I’ll crawl along the hallway and back towards the garage. Is someone still out there?
Hell, another shot. This time even closer.
‘We know you’re there love,’ someone’s yelling, it sounds as though he’s coming up the driveway. ‘We told your old man we’d be around this week, if he didn’t pay up.’