“Moving? So soon?” queried Pearl, her lips pursed into their familiar expression of disapproval. “Why, Emerald, George has only been gone six months.”
Emerald, or Em, as she preferred to be called, helped herself to one of her sister’s heavenly butterfly cakes. “Yes, Pearl. I rattle around terribly on my own in that big old house. And the garden is far too large. I’ve found a snug little bungalow on the outskirts of town.”
“I wish you’d said. I rather thought I’d move in with you when the time was right. Or perhaps you’d come and live with me.”
Em shuddered involuntarily. The idea of being bossed around by her elder sister for the rest of her life would have been enough to turn her hair white overnight, had the passage of sixty-three years not already done so. “Very kind of you, Pearl,” she said tactfully. “However I’m due to complete on both the sale and the purchase shortly, so it’s too late to make other arrangements. And I think my bungalow would be rather too small for the two of us,” she added hastily.
Em excused herself as soon as possible after taking tea with her sister. She drove the sixty-odd miles back to her home town. Back at home, she locked the car in the garage and turned to look at her garden, thinking of all the hours she’d spent weeding and mowing over the twenty-three years they‘d lived here. George had been too careful with their money to hire a gardener, even when Em’s back and hands had succumbed to arthritis. At least since his passing she’d been able to get someone from the local agricultural college at a reasonable rate. And he had also been willing to clean the windows for fifteen pounds.
Em’s attempts at finding a cleaner had been less successful. The first woman had been rather slapdash, and she’d caught the second woman snooping about in drawers and cupboards. So Em decided to look for a more manageable house, and it had taken just a matter of days to find the bungalow, whose owners had already gone to live in Spain. This may have accounted for the bungalow’s somewhat Spanish style. It was modern and smart, and would require very little effort to keep it clean. Having spent nearly forty years of marriage scrubbing and polishing, Em was determined to make positive changes to her way of life. George had been a rather old-fashioned husband, the type who thought housework was the prerogative of the woman, even though Em had also held down a job. George had had no qualms about putting his feet up and reading the paper while Em dashed about dusting and vacuuming.
In the weeks after George’s funeral Em had tried to be less particular around the house, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty at leaving dishes in the sink and dust gathering in the dining room. Her friend Vera had tried her best to get Em to loosen up. Vera, who had never married, was a keen member of the local rambling club and spent very little time at home. Her flat was certainly a testament to laissez faire, with grimy windows and piles of newspapers on the kitchen table. Vera had always been rather scathing about George’s insistence on domestic perfection, but Em found Vera’s chaotic existence hard to bear. She didn’t like going round to Vera’s flat for meals - apart from the clutter and dirt, the cat sitting on the kitchen bench with a smug expression on its face was rather off-putting. Not that she disliked cats, she just didn’t like them in close proximity to her dinner.
After the first couple of uneasy months of widowhood Em began to get things into perspective. George had had his shortcomings, but to her amazement it turned out that his parsimonious lifestyle had left her quite well off. Much more so than she had ever imagined. Em knew she was going to enjoy furnishing the new bungalow in her own style. And after years of the annual September week in Eastbourne, come rain or shine, Em was looking forward to holidays of her own choice. Vera had mentioned walking holidays in Italy and France that sounded interesting.
The day of completion soon came round. Em sent up a silent thank you to George for leaving her with sufficient money to buy the bungalow outright without relying on the sale of their home. This meant considerably less stress, and a few days’ grace to vacate the premises. Her hands were already aching and raw from cleaning: old habits died hard, but pride prevented her from leaving the house less than perfect.
Having collected the keys from the estate agent, Em drove with trepidation to the bungalow. Would she regret her hasty purchase? But as soon as she clapped eyes on the high white wall which surrounded her new home, she knew she’d made the right decision. Beyond the secure iron gate, the house was rendered in white to match the wall. A fountain tinkled restfully in the front garden, which consisted of large potted palms on a tiled floor. No lawn to mow, no weeding. On into the house, with marble flooring which would be heated from beneath in winter. A much smaller house, everything light, bright, modern and easier to keep clean. Em felt at home already. And beyond the patio doors at the back, a courtyard garden beckoned. More potted palms. A hammock would suit the patio, she thought.
On the way back to the Other House (she had to stop thinking of it as home), Em stopped at a car showroom. Minutes later, she was behind the wheel of a nifty little sports number that she’d had her eyes on these past few weeks. Much more to her liking than the cumbersome estate car. With the test drive satisfactorily completed, she signed the paperwork, debited a chunk of money from her account with a flash of her card, and arranged delivery of her new car two days hence. Em knew she could expect more disapproval from Pearl, but she didn’t care. It was her life from now on, and she’d live it as she chose.
by Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015