THE UNFINISHED STORY
No-one has lived here since the terrible thing that happened in the forties. The war had just started and the woman who lived here with her writer husband came from Hamburg (she pronounced it ‘haybag’ which made people laugh) .
Anyhow one day the postie noticed that the parcel he’d left for her outside the door was still there and he pushed open the door (nobody locked their doors in those days, still don’t, most of them) and went in and called out her name ( she and he were on first name terms ).
Perhaps they had gone over to the mainland, he thought, to visit the writer’s parents in Fraserburgh more than was likely (the father had his own trawler, so folk said) and he was just about to leave was the postie when he heard a strange noise from upstairs, not really a cry, not so much a groan but something in between, the sound you yourself might make with a bag or a pillow-case or a letter-sack pulled over your head.
So he went upstairs to that room high up on the left (you can just see the window) and stood outside the door for a wee while, his ear pressed against the wood, just listening.
Sure enough he could hear a sort of muffled sound, a human sound but not words exactly, not like someone trying to cry ‘Help’ or ‘Desist’ with someone’s hand over your mouth, nothing like that, more like someone away down a pit shaft, deep down, shouting up to someone, anyone, way up there on the surface, trying without too much hope to catch their attention.
Then the sound was suddenly stopped altogether and after that there was no sound at all.
He could hear the seagulls squabbling outside and a whirring from downstairs that was probably the freezer from the kitchen starting up or something like that but from the other side of the door, no sound whatsoever.
He coughed, knocked gently on the door, called out the woman’s name, with his voice rising on the ‘kya’ bit
then when there was no reply, more loudly, with a note of concern in the way he said it
at the same time he tried the door handle which turned easily enough in his hand and the door, almost of its own accord, swung open
Something went past him, was all he could say later. Something cold like the draught when someone rolls down the car window to chuck out his cigarette without warning you first…
Folk blamed the writer. The jury blamed the writer. The newspapers blamed the writer. Not that he had much to say in his own defence. For a man who earned his living by stringing words together, he had surprisingly little ability with the spoken word.
And the postie wasn’t a great deal better. ‘Something went past me’ he repeated over and over again as though whatever it was that passed him that sunny Summer’s morning had clean taken away his wits with it.
What about the parcel that was the thing that supposedly led him to go into the house? Did he pick it up? Was it still there when he rushed out? Was there ever a parcel in the first place?
Folk weren’t comfortable with him after all that and it was no surprise when he left the island, joined the army, never to return. Only the house remains to remind folk of what once happened there, gaunt and grey, not the sort of place you would want to buy, however cheaply, for your wife to turn it into a home and your bairns to grow up in.
Unless, like me, you find it hard to resist a bargain.