SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: The Old Cottage by Stuart Garcia

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Portsmouth Guildhall is looking for new trustees to help take it through its £15m Renaissance project

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.

The woman quickened her pace as the rain began to fall.

There was something old-fashioned about her, perhaps the way she dressed in a full-length skirt, a rather tattered tweed jacket and a head scarf, but as she turned the corner, one could see that she was not old, in her thirties maybe, and just a little weather-worn.

The woman started to worry when the newspaper which she clutched in her long spindly fingers began to get wet. She needn’t have worried, since she knew where she was going.

The gate needed a good push and as she entered, the wet over-hanging branches brushed against her face.

The woman looked around her – the grass was overgrown and the garden uncared for. She carried on down the pathway to the old cottage and towards a man in a cheap suit standing in the doorway trying not to get wet.

The man put on his best but obviously false smile. His combed down hair looked like a permanent feature not just caused by the rain. He was quite tall with very dark brown, almost black eyes. He had a thin nose and narrow features. He held out a hand, which the woman ignored.

A black cat, sitting on the windowsill, let out a meow and jumped down as the woman approached. It went towards the woman and let out another meow.

‘You found it then,’ said the man, stating the obvious.

‘It was not difficult to find,’ said the woman but the man was already opening the door and not interested in her answer. The cat was more interested and began brushing its wet fur against the woman’s legs.

‘I see you have the local paper with the details,’ said the man as he opened a cheap-looking plastic folder and handed her the sales particulars. ‘This will give you more detailed information.’

There was no hallway as such and the woman stepped down and straight into a large empty room with nothing save for a large white rocking chair set in the middle. There was a dark stain alongside the chair. The woman just stared as the man took the lead.

‘The room has lots of potential. You shouldn’t be put off by the dreariness of the place, remember it’s a dark rainy day. A good lick of paint will put it right.’

He looked towards the kitchen set off to the left of the door: ‘The kitchen leaves a lot to be desired but I’m sure someone like you can make it into something more homely.’

The man waited for the woman to take it all in and then began climbing the stairs. The woman hesitated but suddenly the cat darted forward and led the way. She followed.

The cottage had two bedrooms; the main bedroom had been stripped and lacked charm. The smaller bedroom had clearly been a child’s room since child-like drawings adorned the walls.

The woman said nothing but went around the room touching the drawings as she went.

She opened a painted wooden cupboard. There were markings on the inside of the door measuring the heights of the children and against each mark was a name and a date, presumably birthdays.

The man hadn’t noticed and was already walking down the stairs. He waited for the woman to come back down.

‘So what do you think?’ he said in a disinterested tone and without waiting for a reply added: ‘Do you have a mortgage?’

He had already taken the view that this was a time-waster. Judging from her appearance, he doubted she had the money for this ‘unassuming but welcoming cottage in need of love and attention’.

In the absence of a response, the man carried on: ‘It’s been empty a while you know. Are you local? I suppose you know the history.’

The man knew he should stay silent for fear of putting off a potential buyer but this woman, he thought, was surely not a real buyer, and he was a gossip.

‘The people who lived here before, some years back now, well the father murdered the children; he went for the mother but she was preparing food and had a large kitchen knife in her hand. She stabbed him to death.

‘The story is that he staggered into the front room and stumbled over the chair. I believe that’s why it’s still here. A macabre memento I suppose, and I think that stain might be blood, some bleach ought to do it.

‘It’s a very sad story really. The woman went to prison of course, although I heard she might be out soon.’

The woman was unmoved and said nothing. Once again the cat appeared and brushed its still wet fur against the woman’s legs.

‘Stop it, Tiddles,’ said the woman.

‘Pardon?’ said the man, suddenly taken aback.

‘Who’s been feeding the cat?’ asked the woman.

The man looked at her inquisitively. ‘What cat?’

Stuart Garcia is a former criminal lawyer who has returned to Southsea to write crime stories. He is currently creating audio-visual children’s stories.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.