Another Road (Part II)
Night had seeped into the cottage. Myers dropped his bags at his feet and stood for some time peering into the dark. There were shapes in the shadows and the smell of old dust in the air. He tried the light switch. Nothing. With the torch he’d brought, he patrolled the room, a feeler in the dark. Dust circled in the beam, which was now bringing to life a large open space. He caught sight of white sheets over furniture. After some time, he found the fuse box hidden inside a kitchen cupboard, fumbled around, flicked it on. The place lit up. Myers stood very still.
The cottage was spacious, much bigger than he had imagined. It was very old with black slate flooring and an open living space with a kitchen to one side. At one end, under the chimneybreast, was a vigilant stove. His means for warmth. Oak beams stretched overheard and the walls were the colour of rough limestone. With no individual bricks, the walls were not straight or even but jutted out in great lumps as though they had been pressed into place by a giant hand. And all over, everywhere, something oddly familiar. Something dressed in mystery. And that smell? Old oak soaked in lime-wash. The same scent his mother must once have known.
Myers went through each room, turning on all the lights, pulling the sheets off the furniture and sneezing in the dust he disturbed. In the back room were two single beds. No duvets. On a table lay three rag dolls. He picked one up and held it, put it to his face. It felt familiar. Still with the doll in his hand he found the bathroom. It was like a blue cave, utterly different to the rest of the cottage. It had the same stone but was painted blue, like being underwater. To one side was a cast iron bath with gold and white taps, reminiscent of the 40s and out of place against the lagoon-like paint. He turned them on, made sure they worked. On opposite walls, mirrors facing each other gave the appearance of endless rooms, endless Henry’s, endless dimensions.
There was only one room upstairs, the master bedroom. It was warmer here and not just in temperature. It was homely and inviting. The same oak beams of the lounge reached diagonally above the bed, crossing over each other to form an X. When Myers knelt on the bed, he could look through this X to the living room below. The vigilant stove was at the end, black and smooth. Waiting.
Satisfied with his exploration he went downstairs, clutching the doll to his chest. The cottage seemed to be in working order. But there was no kindling, no anthracite. This meant no fire. He found an electric radiator and plugged it in but had to stay close. The walls and floor were like ice. He tightened his scarf about his neck and put on his hat. The stove still had some logs inside, black and singed. He figured he could get them burning once he had more wood and anthracite.
Hunger. He searched the cupboards of the kitchen and found a tin of baked beans. He turned on the cooker, heated the hobs, then the beans in a saucepan. He had ham sandwiches in his bag, and together with the beans he filled himself up until he couldn’t eat anymore. He spent the rest of his first night sitting by the radiator, wondering what he was doing here. He sensed that somewhere, hidden in this cottage, this village, was an answer. He listened. The window frames creaked in the cold. A clock ticked on the wall. And on his lap, he clutched the rag doll.