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Wrong House: A Short Story for Ann Carr

Verlie Burroughs is a west coast writer from Vancouver Island.


It is morning. Eliza is late for work. She can hear Mrs U's piano playing as she walks up the front steps. "Is it Moonlight Sonata?" she wonders. "How lovely." The door is locked. She goes round the back to fetch the key, small birds are chirping in the hedge. A glorious day, daffodils bloom in drifts along the fallen down fence. "Pity," she thinks to herself, "old Mrs U clearly needs help with her yard".

As she steps through the back gate Eliza is surprised to see a small child in a red sweater clutching a handful of daffodils. "Hello," she calls quietly. The child drops the flowers.
"It's OK, take the flowers, take them home to your Mom," she smiles. The boy begins nervously picking up the flowers, gripping them tightly in his tiny hands. Then he runs, leaps over the fallen fence and off through the trees.

"Where does he live?" All the houses in the back lane were destroyed in the flood. Mrs. U's house, and a few others were spared being on higher ground.
She reaches under the mat for the key, it's not there. Then it hits her, she's come to the wrong house, this is not Mrs. U's yard. "Oh gosh, how embarrassing. "And why did the child run away?"

She retraces her steps through the side yard, there's no sound now from within, the music's gone silent.
Is she even on the right street? Eliza checks her phone. 52 Baker Street is the address they gave her at the temp office. "This is 52 Baker! Maybe a text error?" She can't call in, it is Sunday.

What to do?
There's not another bus for an hour. It's a long walk home, should she wait? She knocks again at the front door, hoping to explain her predicament. No answer. But then a loud yowl, like someone stepping on a cat, poor cat. She hears a scuffle behind the door, and then scratching. There must be someone home.

Then, the door opens a crack,
"What do you want?" asks a gravelly old voice. Eliza can see just one eye through the crack. It is bloodshot around the startling blue orb.
"I'm sorry, I'm quite lost, I've come to the wrong house."
The door opens just a lttle, and a tiny old woman gazes at her with both eyes blazing. She's wearing a blue dressing gown and fluffy blue slippers, there's a black cat pushing through her skinny ankles. It rushes out

"Now look what you've done!"
"I'm sorry, I'll catch the cat. I'm so sorry."
The old crone slams the door. Eliza rushes down the front steps after the cat who has disappeared around the side of the house into the back yard. She watches it leap over the fallen fence, and into the trees.
"Oh, this is not my day." Taking a deep breath she jumps the fence, and sure enough the flower boy is standing there holding the black cat in his arms. He holds it out to her, then runs back through the trees.
Eliza carries the cat gingerly back to the house. There's piano music playing again, the same song. The cat is purring.

She waits at the door gripping the squirming cat in one arm, and tries the knob. It is open. She enters quickly, closes the door behind her, and drops the cat.
The piano music is much louder inside, it's soothing notes rising and falling sweetly through a long dark hallway.
The floors are dirty, covered with dust and cat hair, she leaves her boots on, wiping them carefully on a worn rag rug, and follows the music to a room at the end of the hall.

Seated, at the piano, is a stunning young woman in a green silk dress, her long brown hair rises and flows across her face as she plays, lost in the music.
Eliza gasps as she notices the boney old legs in a pair of fluffy blue slippers on the piano pedals. She screams, and rushes out of the house. The music stops, and she hears laughter, a growly laugh, then a high pitched cackle, then a shriek.

"Don't come back here my dear!"

At the office on Monday no one is able to understand her story of the missed appointment with Mrs. U.
"We had a Mrs U who lived on Baker Street years ago, but she drowned in the flood along with her young grandson, and a cat."

© 2018 Verlie Burroughs