The massive house stands like a sentinel at the edge of a green. Standing proud between the church and the pub it looks comfortably wedged into village life. Gen finds the Georgian frontage intimidatingly symmetrical. It’s the kind of place the vicar would get killed in the Midsomer Murders reruns his mum watches. When he said he had a job in Lower Wickham her eyes went wide and she made him change his trainers for the posh black shoes he’d had to buy for Dad’s funeral.
Gen eyes the door suspiciously - there are three knockers. Feeling like it might be some sort of test he is destined to fail he ignores them all and instead thumps his fist against the wood. The door opens almost immediately. Too quickly - almost like she’s been waiting.
A wizened face peers out of the gloomy interior, ‘You’re a bit young.’
Gen wants to say he is 18 this year. He wants to say she is a very bloody old but he remembers his mum urging politeness and manages to restrain his tongue. Instead he smiles and offers his hand formally, ‘Genesis Clearing Company. I’m Gen and you’re Mrs Greenwood?’
‘Oh, thank you so much for letting me know my own name. One can never tell these days.’ Her posh voice is laden with sarcasm. ‘I was expecting you at 2pm.’
Gen falters and checks his phone - 2.04pm. ‘I’m sorry but I’ve just come from another clearance.’ A lie but one that makes him sound busy and professional.
‘I’m sure,’ Mrs Greenwood says with raised eyebrows. I’m sure you’re very good at your job but I don’t want or need your services.’
Gen had been warned this might be difficult, ‘Your daughter…’
‘Yes, my daughter hired you I know - but it’s not what I want and while there is breath in my body I am still the owner of this house and I say no.’ She leans a hand against the doorframe to recover her breath from her passionate outburst.
‘Laura, your daughter, Laura told me that you needed just a bit of help clearing a few things to help you move around in there.’
‘What does she know. She hasn’t visited in months.’
Everything in Gen’s being is rebelling against the personal nature of this conversation. The bloody daughter should be here to help him convince the woman. He tries again, ‘Laura mentioned you had a fall the other week. Perhaps we could just walk round together and check that the walkways are as clear as we would want them to be for safety?’
Mrs Greenwood is looking angry now - by the fact her daughter has shared personal details with him or because he’d dared to suggest he came inside he’s not sure. He needs this first proper job and she can’t get much more annoyed so he pushes just a little bit more. ‘Laura said you might have some unusual things to show me?’
Her hackles seem to fall somewhat and she sniffs, ‘Well, that at least is true. You better come in then and no touching anything.’
She picks up a walking cane from beside the door and disappears into the hall. Gen follows her in noting the limp as she shuffles down the corridor. The front shutters are closed and only artificial light permeates the hallway. Books, journals and magazines line either side of the corridor and different lamps stand on unsteady piles with three lamps on one console table alone. The amount of stuff in the hallway alone overwhelms him. He’d quoted a day rate to Laura thinking about the size of his mum’s council semi. Seeing the scale of the challenge he makes a mental note to email Laura straight after this meeting. If the rest of the rooms were like this maybe he could he do it in two days?
Gen follows Mrs Greenwood through to a dining room.
‘Sit’ she commands and he walks through a clear channel in the debris to one of the plush armchairs looking out over the garden.
A clinking of china indicates she’s busying herself in the kitchen.
‘Do you need any help?’
She appears in the doorway, annoyed face back on again. ‘No. I can still make tea thank you very much.’
Gen makes a mental note to tell his mum how politeness only seems to cause offence. The whistle of the kettle draws her back out of sight and Gen looks more around the room. The books feature heavily once more but there’s also furniture; a grand piano with several stacks of paper, boxes and various typewriters, a reclining chair with a collection of teddies and musical instruments and four footstools piled high into a crooked tower in the corner. It might take three days to do this too.
Mrs Greenwood has come back in with one cup of tea in her hand.‘I only ever make proper tea. Lap-sang Souchong with lemon. It’s good for you.’ She slips a little whilst bending to hand it over and the hot liquid slops over her hand. She winces but doesn’t drop the cup.
‘I’ll just get mine.’
Gen watches her go back and hears the tap running for a long time guessing it’s cold water for the burn. He looks down at his tea most of which is in the saucer. This day was just getting stranger by the hour - he was drinking tea with fruit in it.
‘I will employ you.’ Mrs Greenwood had reappeared in the doorway. ‘I’m quite tired so you’ll have to go now but I expect you Monday.’
Gen exited sharply but stopped before the door and remembering, ‘I think it might take about five days?’
She waved a hand at him dismissively. ‘Tell Laura. She’ll pay you anything now you’ve got me to agree.’ He opened his mouth to say thank you but she shut the door on him and he stood looking at the three knockers wondering what the hell he had got himself into.