BEHIND THE PINE DOOR
I’d always liked Virginia – Ginny, as she preferred to be called. We weren’t the sort of neighbours who were constantly in and out of each others’ houses. We needed our own space and respected each others’ privacy. But she was a comfortable and considerate neighbour, and I liked to think she thought the same about me. I knew she thought my garden was messy, and I wasn’t too keen on her excess of decking, but it never turned into an issue. At Christmas she had a beautifully decorated real tree and I had a haphazardly adorned purple plastic one. She was always fully dressed and usually with her make-up on when she opened the door, whilst I was quite happy to open mine in my pyjamas. But it didn’t matter. Her door was a soft pine-grain, with a polished brass letter box. I had painted mine a shade of blue that seemed a good idea at the time and under the shop lights.
But in other ways – the ways that mattered, some would say – we were very alike. Both of us liked to get involved in local causes and campaigns, but weren’t obsessive about it the way some folk were. We were, however, united in our support for the campaign to get a new bypass on the West side of town. I fancied myself to be slightly “green” (despite my choice of door colour!) and to some extent campaigning for a new road went against the grain. But the existing road was downright dangerous especially now even more lorries were using it since the closure of a container port up the coast meant the one nearest to us was busier than ever.
Of course, social media was important and we made the most of it, but even in the digital age, the good, old-fashioned petition still has a considerable clout, and we were both prided ourselves on being polite but persuasive garners of signatures.
There was a certain friendly rivalry and I couldn’t help wondering, as I rang the door-bell of number 43 (it had a pleasant, slightly sonorous two-tone ring) which of us had managed to get the most signatures.
“Coming!” The voice I heard from the hallway was clear and resonant – but it was not Ginny’s. In itself, that wasn’t at all strange. I don’t know if she actually had more relatives than I did, or if she just kept in touch with them more.
But when the door was opened, it wasn’t Ginny, nor her sister Barbara, nor her nephew (who was only five years younger than she was) Barry.
I didn’t recognise the woman at all, and yet had the niggling feeling that I should. Something about that curly black hair, and that slightly lop-sided smile – even the Fair Isle sweater she was wearing – but no, I couldn’t place her.
“I’ve come round to compare petitions with Ginny!” I said.
It was hard to read her expression. It slipped too readily into one of surprise and sympathy, and then back into one of somewhat studied puzzlement, in the same split second.
“Er – Virginia Drake …..?”
“Yes. My dear, you’d better come in.”
She led the way (not that I needed any leading!) to the lounge. The three piece suite was still upholstered in gold crushed velvet, and there was still a pine dresser that almost matched the door with floral plates displayed on it. It had always been one of Ginny’s few complaints about the house that she wished it had a larger kitchen. She wasn’t that marvellous a cook, but did like the idea of a farmhouse kitchen. But she compromised by having her dresser in the lounge. It looked as if she had just been polishing it; the wood was positively gleaming and there was an almost translucent quality to the plates and to their matching cups hanging on hooks.
The woman, who introduced herself as Lexie, gestured me to take a seat on the golden couch. I thought she was going to offer me a coffee – she seemed like the sort of person who would offer you a coffee – but she didn’t.
“The thing is,” she said, “You must prepare yourself for a shock dear, but Ginny is dead.”
“Dead!” I exclaimed, feeling sick and faint. For all we weren’t figuratively joined at the hip, Ginny and I had been close in our way, and this was – well, like a bolt going through my mind, except it was freezing cold.
“I hadn’t realised you didn’t know. Oh dear. But surely you must –“ Even in my shock and grief something told me that she was saying all the right words for somebody who was in the position of unexpectedly having go break bad news, but still seemed to be reading them from a script, even with the right pregnant pauses.
“When?” I asked, fighting for self-control.
“Oh – it must be ten years ago now.”
“Look, if this is some kind of joke I don’t think it’s at all funny!” But I, too, seemed to be reading from a script and hearing myself read from it.
“My dear, it’s no joke. That terrible accident at the protest about the bypass. It isn’t even really as if the lorry driver was to blame, though he got a ban for dangerous driving. Standing in the road – well, it’s a grand gesture and all that, but still a stupid thing to do. I think we all got carried away and took leave or our senses. I still don’t feel easy about this making of martyrs even though it did get the bypass built in double quick time. We were just regular people who had a legitimate grievance but were going about it the wrong way. Still, spilt milk and all that. And I suppose it’s turned out alright in the end.”
“How can you say that!” I exclaimed in that awkward, theatrical way. “And this “we” business – you’re not making much sense, and I don’t think I want to listen to it any more.”
“Don’t worry, Megan,” she said – her voice oddly gentle now, and in a way that could have been condescending, but somehow wasn’t. “I’m not trying to steal Ginny’s thunder. Nor yours.” She patted my shoulder – or at least, I think she did. “You do know you were in the path of that lorry, too, don’t you? None of us stood a chance!”
A door did not open, but Ginny came in. She was immaculately dressed, and had her make up on.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I felt the first-half of the story was too centred on the past relationship between Ginny and Megan. While it was informative and immersive, It did not try to hide that it was an info-dump or try to do it in a subtle way. Past that point, I found the pacing was welcoming and that the end was a little unexpected-which was perfect. I would advice that you keep the first paragraph as a short hook into your story for any reader to be drawn in, and that you enter as late into the story as you can.
I like the end of the story. It's unexpected and bright. You have a pretty detailed description of Ginny and Megan's friendship, so, to my mind, you don't need to mention literally "...Ginny and I had been close in our way....". We get it from the beginning. Thank you for the story!
Good pacing. Good luck.