Standing waiting in the arrivals hall at the airport, he felt like a small boy again. He was bursting to share his good news. He was sure it would thrill his wife when she heard. Bren had been away for three weeks on holiday with her sister. They always chose weirdly out of the way places with hardly any means of communications. He knew only too well, he had tried phoning them, but there was no reception, not surprising since they were staying at an oasis in the middle of the desert. Just then, she swept out, looking tanned and relaxed. His heart swelled. He loved her so much and he knew she would be pleased with his news.
They made their way to the parking with her, chattering about her holiday. He let it roll over him. She sank back into the seat, yawned and said, “I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to sinking into a hot bath full of bubbles and a cold glass of white wine. How have you managed without me?”
He was bursting. He had to tell her the good news. “Honey, I bought a farm while you were away. The house is sold too and the removals people packed everything and started out yesterday.”
There was a deathly silence. He looked across at her and realised something was very wrong. She was as white as a ghost.
“Bren, what’s wrong? You’ve gone very pale, like you’re in shock or something.”
In a strangled voice, she said, “Pull into that layby, please.”
He negotiated the traffic and pulled across. “Stay still. I’ll grab some water for you.”
She pushed the bottle away, staring at him. “What did you say about the house?”
Too late, he realised this was not the best way to break the news. They sat in the car with traffic zooming past as he told her all about the farm up for sale on auction. He put in a bid. The photos of the place looked good online. He saw there were a couple of acres of mature apple and plum trees. There were two other items of interest, a walled vegetable garden and a workshop with an old tractor. The house was sturdy, made of stone, unusual in that area of wooden slat houses high on stilts. A stream formed the lower border of the smallholding. The upper border of the land followed a sagging fence behind a small hill with a water tank at the top. He felt carried away by the possibilities. “Bren, I know it is a bit run down. That’s why it was on auction, but there is huge potential for us and we said we wanted a change. To be honest, I relish the thought of getting my hands dirty rather than spending the rest of my life in front of a keyboard.”
He said he spoke to the estate agent and, in one day, had sold the house. He thought it would please her how quick and efficient he had been. “You always say I dither now it shocks you when I don’t. I booked us into a motel for the night. Tomorrow is the start of our new life.”
She got her bubble bath and a glass of wine just in a different bathroom to where she expected. The next morning they were up early and on their way. Late afternoon the car turned off the road onto a dirt track, crossed the stream over a little bridge. She had to admit it looked cool under the trees, which grew along the side of the stream. They bumped along until she saw the house ahead. It was of yellow sandstone. Squat and sturdy, there were no graceful lines anywhere. It was strictly utilitarian. A wide verandah stretched across the front. What appeared to be a carbuncle clung on to the left side of the house.
Bren felt shocked at the speed her life had changed and she did not experience any attraction to this first sight of her new home. With a sinking heart, she followed Andy into the house. The place was filthy. It was obvious no one had lived there for a considerable time and mice droppings showed there were other residents there too. The “carbuncle” was a later addition that served as the lounge and dining room, which opened onto the kitchen. There was another veranda along the back of the house, but this was only wooden. She walked along to the other end where the bathroom stood. A dirty, chipped sink and a stained bath stood under a filthy window which also had a long crack running through it. There was no toilet.
“Andy, where is the toilet?”
He was looking a little less enthusiastic. “It’s there.” Pointing down an overgrown pathway to a ramshackle shack.
She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. She thought of her lovely home with its clean surfaces and matching bathroom accessories and, most of all, the en suite. After a deep breath, she hissed. “Andy, you sold our home and expect me to live in this dump. How could you?”
“Bren, I did not know the house was such a mess. The orchards and the shed looked good on the photos the auction house showed. That was what attracted my attention. I’m so sorry. Would you like to stay with your sister until I get this into some order?”
A pickup truck stopped at the front. Andy looked defeated as he strode through to see who had arrived. Two couples stood there with buckets and mops. A tall, thin guy stepped forward. “Hi, we saw the car pull in, you must be the new owners. We are your neighbours.” He pointed to a short man with a neat brown beard. This is Jake Williams and this is Katie, his wife. A woman in her thirties with her hair tied in a scarf smiled. The other woman was tall and angular and older. This is my wife Elfie, oh and my name is Dom Elliot. As this place has been vacant for so long since old man Hal died, we figured you might need some help to clean it up.”
Andy smiled at the welcome party, then showed as Bren arrived to see what was happening. “This is my wife, Bren, and I am Andy.”
They all trooped into the lounge and looked around. Then Dom said, “Right Elfie, please could you do your magic in the kitchen. Jake and Katie, can you attack the bathroom and the main bedroom?” He looked at Andy and smiled. “I bet your wife is ready to kill you about the lack of toileting facilities. If I remember right, there is a little room just behind the dining room off the back verandah. I can make that into a flushing loo with a cesspit in two days.” He looked at Bren and saw she was near to tears. “Could you give Elfie a hand in the kitchen? We know this place is not habitable as it is. We wondered if you would like to stay in our cottage until we have fixed the house?”
Andy accepted as he looked across at Bren.
Soon everyone was busy washing and scrubbing and Andy made a list of all the things which needed fixing immediately and what he would need to buy.
That evening over dinner at the Elliots, the story came out about Andy selling the house and buying the farm without Bren knowing. Elfie understood why Bren looked so glum. When they were standing in the kitchen, she said to Bren, “It must be tough for you, but that place has potential. I know it is a bit of a dump at the moment. I suggest you use the cottage as your place for as long as you like, get things sorted properly before you move in.”
Bren sighed. “Well, I hate it so much. I’m not sure it will change my mind.”
Elfie smiled. “Let the menfolk sort out the basics then why don’t we get together and plan the interior, that way you can make it yours, just the way you want. Katie would be valuable there. She worked as an interior decorator before she married Jake. She would love to feel wanted in that department, too. Their place belonged to Jake’s parents and he doesn’t want to change much. He thinks the rest of the family might regard it as disrespectful.”
Bren felt better for having got her irritation off her chest and then thought with the help of Elfie and Katie, she might come round to liking her new home.
The men helped Andy when they could, and he also had to sort out the farming side of the property. Soon he had the tractor running again and could clean up the veggie garden, which was more of a market garden. He took care to consult Bren on how they should go about developing it. Although she still felt ambivalent about the house, she surprised herself by enjoying planning the veggie beds and preparing the ground. They decided they wanted the orchards and the veggies to be organic. This meant they had to read up and work out rotations and companion planting.
Six months passed before they moved into the house and she had to admit with Katie’s advice and help from Elfie. No one would recognise the beautiful rooms as starting out as a wreck, and she did like the new place after all.
Andy had been so tense, thinking if she did not like it, they would have no alternative but sell up. She smiled at him on their first day in the new home and said, “Andy, I hated this place when I first saw it and I was close to hating you too but now I think we can make a go of it.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and hugged her close as the wind lifted the light curtains to match his mood.