This story was written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge round 1; I was set the genre comedy, the setting of a mansion, and had to work in a saxophone somewhere.
Before reading, check out my thoughts first.
Evelyn vs the World
By Lauren McMenemy
Written August 2011; 1000 words
“Before we go in, I do need to warn you about something. The lady of the manor is a little… shall we say… a bit of a handful. And still not exactly happy about her husband leaving her family home to us in his will.”
“It’s OK. Old ladies love me.”
“This one won’t.”
Intrigued? You could say that. New job, new town, new life: that’s what I thought. Live-in, look after a gorgeous country estate, and in my spare time focus on my writing. Leaving London was what I needed if I was going to make a go of things.
So far, Littlefield Manor had been everything I could ask for. OK, so the widowed matriarch still lived in the Churchill Wing – out of bounds to the public throngs gathering here every weekend to picnic by the lake – but I was to get the run of the rest of it. I am the lord of the manor…
Beatrice, head of the local National Trust, guides me down the hallway (cracked ceiling, faded green wallpaper), knocks gently on the oak door and calls out. She puts the giant key – one of those secret garden style ones – into the lock and turns, pushing the heavy door with her tiny frame.
Even though the creaking of centuries alerts the inhabitant to our arrival, she doesn’t turn from the window. She probably can’t. Aged 83, bejewelled and besuited, she’s standing on a chair and calling out the dirty third floor window.
“GET YOUR POSTERIOR OUT OF DADDY’S PRIZE HYDRANGEAS YOU OAF! SCOOT! WE DON’T WANT THE LIKES OF YOU HERE!”
Beatrice coughs. I gawp.
“Mrs Littlefield, may I introduce you to the new caretaker.”
Evelyn Littlefield motions, a little shooing of the hand, and maintains her vigil at the window, scanning the entrance and picking out the less appropriate visitors for scrutiny.
“FANCY YOURSELF THE OWNER, DO YOU, YOU MANKY MUPPET! DREAM ON! YOU COULDN’T AFFORD THIS HOME AFTER TWO LIFETIMES’ AWHORING IN SOHO!!”
Beatrice steps forward: “I say, Mrs Littlefield…”
Finally, the lady of the manor turns slightly to face us. Framed by the floor-to-ceiling window, standing next to a bureau that dwarfs her, hand on the top of the chair she has just been standing on, sunlight streaming in, Evelyn Littlefield looks positively regal. I get a flash of the imposing figure she must have once been, entertaining the well-heeled in the drawing room below – the one that now has that look of faded grandeur, the sort of look the lady herself has (greyed, sallow, worn).
“Mrs Littlefield, this gentleman has been interviewing for the caretaker post. I thought I’d bring him up to meet you, since he would be living with you.”
“Not living WITH me, dear. I would be tolerating his presence in another wing.”
I clear my throat. Perhaps this would be hard work. I feel Evelyn Littlefield’s eyes cast over every fibre of my being. She tuts at my paisley tie, she has to stop when she gets to my scuffed shoes.
“And your name, child?”
She arches an eyebrow, waiting expectantly. I wonder if I should tell her I’m 34.
“Alfie Lovell. Pleased to meet you, Mrs Littlefield.”
The arched eyebrow closes in on its neighbour, furrowing a look of pure evil.
“So you’re a gypsy?”
“A gypsy. All Lovells are gypsies.”
“I’m not. They are?”
“Even worse than I suspected! A gypsy! You’ll have your lot park their caravans in the maze and bathe in the fountain, no doubt.”
“Don’t you ma’am me, gypsy Jones. I won’t have your lot nicking my silver tea service. No, no, no. This will not do. This simply will not do.”
Gobsmacked, I turn to see Beatrice clearly flustered and proving herself useless. I also see Evelyn Littlefield get back on her chair and ready another holler for the masses.
“COMMUNISTS, THE LOT OF YOU! WHAT HAS THE WORLD COME TO? MY POOR GEORGE WILL BE TURNING IN HIS GRAVE…”
She turns back to her astounded visitors: “Don’t tell me you’re a red as well, Beatrice? I thought better of you. Such a good family, the Cadburys.”
“Mrs Littlefield, you know the drill. George left us Littlefield Manor in his will. He left provision for you to remain on the premises, but you must not abuse the guests and you absolutely must accept our choice of caretaker.”
“Pish posh. Get out of my boudoir. Shoo, skedaddle!”
As Beatrice tries to reason, my curiosity gets the better of me. I glance around the room: giant four poster bed in the centre; centuries of dust on the skirting. I wonder how long since they could afford a housekeeper to clean the place.
And that’s when I see it: in the corner, between the tapestry and the washstand. Surely not?
I am drawn to it. It is calling to me. It needs my caress. I move towards it, reach out my hand.
She sees me. I’ve never seen an old lady move so fast.
“Don’t you even think about it, tinker.”
“So you should be. That was my George’s prized possession, left to him by his father. No one touches it but him. Which means no one touches it.”
“But ma’am, it’s an Oscar Adler Victorian-era alto saxophone! I’m in awe of it. My father had one just like it. He was taught to play by Plas Johnson, y’know.”
“Yes, ma’am. May I?”
I don’t wait. I grab. I blow. I triumph.
Evelyn Littlefield’s head is turned for the first time in 60 years.
“My dear gypsy boy, that was fabulous. Care to take a walk around the grounds and tell me more about your father?”
“I’m no gypsy, Mrs Littlefield, but it would be my pleasure. Shall I take your arm?”
“No touching, dear. I don’t want to catch pikey.”
I’m sold. I wanted to write: she’s my muse. I wonder if she’ll expect a little extra “rent”…
Best. Job. Ever.