I have been a very bad girl. In fact, I haven’t felt this naughty (and suitably guilty) in a long time. But an inclination towards impulsiveness combined with a severe lack of self-control and a hefty dose of curiosity in equal measure consistently prove to be a volatile mix in my experience.
Elmfield House is a reasonably large building and since my work with Leonard is confined to the ground floor - which comprises of the entrance area, the kitchen, the bathroom, the workroom and the back room - I have never had a valid reason to venture onto the upper floor. Consequently the upstairs rooms have taken on an enigma-like quality and wild and fantastical thoughts race through my mind each time I hear a noise that I cannot locate in the house. I have also wondered for some time whether the upstairs rooms are packed out with books and interesting artefacts in the same fashion as the downstairs rooms, perhaps even more so if the downstairs rooms are tidied for public show.
Leonard has left me alone in the house on many occasions and I have resisted the urge to climb the stairs and explore the rest of the house, choosing instead to sit and wait patiently or to play the piano in the back room until he returns (when Leonard hears me playing the piano he will creep silently into the house and sit listening in the workroom for a while - I am always embarrassed to discover that he has been spying on me and no matter how carefully I listen for the barking of the neighbour’s dogs as he passes them by he always manages to evade their notice!). I have been very patient and well-behaved until now; however it was only a matter of time before my inquisitive nature got the better of me.
I was feeling exceptionally brave yesterday lunch-time so when Leonard left the house to ‘go down to the village for supplies’ (that is, to buy bread for sandwiches and a post-lunch cream cake) I decided that my curiosity could not go unsatisfied for one second longer and I would take a momentary peek at what was hiding away upstairs. Hooter was sound asleep under the front window and he did not stir as I stood out of my chair and crept out of the workroom. The hallway was dark and eerily silent - aside from the tick-tock of the old grandfather clock - and I hurried along the hallway as quickly as possible and came to a halt at the foot of the stairs, peering into the gloomy darkness of the upper floor. The rapid beating of my heart sent me a little light-headed as I took hold of the banister and climbed the steep, creaky steps to the upstairs landing because I knew that if Leonard returned unexpectedly then I did not have a legitimate excuse for venturing upstairs without his permission.
I was greeted at the top of the stairs by a white wooden rocking horse with a huge mop of grey hair, a tall plant that had been tied to a broom handle to keep it upright and three closed doors; one to my left, one to my right and one directly ahead of me. The door in front of me was slightly ajar so, taking a wide step across the creaky floorboards, I leaned against the door and peered into the room. It was a normal, starkly-furnished bedroom; magnolia painted walls, a single bed with crisp white linen, pine furniture and a solitary picture on the wall (which I recognised to be a print of Edvard Munch’s The Sick Child). It was a light and airy room but very plain and functional, like a side room in a hospital ward. No surprises and entirely disappointing. ‘I haven’t taken this risk just to find a boring old bedroom,’ I thought to myself, so I returned to the landing and decided to try another door.
The door to my immediate right was firmly closed but my hand was on the shiny round wooden handle before I could consider the consequences of being caught or discovering something terrible hidden away inside. I’m not entirely sure what I expected to find inside the room but one thing was for certain; if I stumbled across a large wardrobe then I would certainly check inside for fauns! The door was very stiff and it opened with an excruciatingly loud creak which made me curse equally as loudly and I was met with an overpowering smell of paint and chemicals that was similar to the smell of the workroom downstairs but it was accompanied by a pungent stench of decay and stagnant water which suggested that the room had not been ventilated in a while. It appeared to be some kind of storage space as it was terribly cold, the beams of the roof were exposed, the floorboards were bare and dusty and heavy burgundy curtains had been drawn at the window which blocked out most of the natural light and bathed the room in a ruby-red glow. I thought it strange that I had not noticed that these curtains were closed when approaching the house from outside and for a brief moment I recalled witnessing my mother draw all the curtains in our house on the day of my brother’s funeral. A cold shudder coursed through me and I felt instantly ill at ease.
I opened the door a little wider to allow a thin sliver of light to fall into the room from the hallway and illuminate its contents. Framed portraits were stacked against the walls like a makeshift picture gallery and empty canvases and frames were piled on top of one another to form tall wooden pillars. The finished portraits were very intriguing and I ventured cautiously into the room to take a closer look at them, but after two or three steps a loose floorboard underfoot caused me to come to an abrupt halt and peer from my precariously noisy position into the gloomy darkness of the room. The paint on the canvas nearest to me was fairly fresh, but most of the pictures had clearly been in storage for a long time as a thick layer of dust had settled on them, the wooden frames were cracking and the paint flaked to the touch. Although age had worn many of the paintings and the light in the room was very poor, I could just about make out the faces of the subjects in the pictures nearest to the doorway. There was one half-length portrait of a smartly-dressed but painfully gaunt gentleman who was holding a cigar and wearing a top hat and an exceedingly stern expression. Scrawled in black paint at the bottom of this canvas was the name ‘Mr Saturday’. Alongside him was a portrait of a pale lady dressed in an exquisite cream linen blouse adorned with elaborate lacework and wearing a brown cameo at her throat. She was very beautiful indeed, but there were large reddish-brown marks on her face where the canvas had started to deteriorate. In view of the vintage clothing worn by these sitters and their austere appearance, I presumed that Leonard had either inherited these portraits from family members, he had bought them from an art dealer or he had once dabbled with historical dress, but I realised that their identities must remain a mystery because I could not enquire about them without revealing to Leonard that I had been snooping around his house.
As I studied each portrait closely it seemed that the subjects were looking back at me, watching me and accusing me of prying into their personal space and my stomach churned uncomfortably when I met the eyes of one dark-haired young man in particular; it was a portrait of Luke. He was staring straight at me with a furrowed brow and an extremely menacing expression. Unnerved by Luke’s disapproving stare, I moved away quickly and braved a few more steps into the room until I was standing beside the window. The smell of paint and turpentine intensified as I ventured deeper into the room, so I resolved to take two or three minutes at most to explore the remainder of its contents and then my curiosity would be sufficiently satisfied and I would return promptly to the workroom.
The entire back wall was a mountain of boxes containing the usual junk that is typically stored in a loft or spare room; broken electrical equipment, old hairless dolls with missing limbs and tatty Christmas decorations. The abandoned toys and redundant household equipment reminded me that Elmfield House had once been a busy and thriving family home and I was interested to learn more about them, but I was too afraid to move the carefully stacked boxes and I didn’t want to risk damaging anything. As I examined the boxes closer I noticed a large tea crate hidden away in a dark alcove and when I bent to look behind the crate my eye rested on a small figure standing in the farthest corner of the room. My heart leapt into my throat and I let out a loud gasp, taking a few steps backwards and knocking several frames onto the floor. At first I thought that a small child was standing in the corner of the room with his or her back to me, but as I cautiously approached the figure I realised that it was an early-stage clay sculpture and I could see where the malleable clay had been built up by hand and the wire armature was sticking through. The features on the face were not clearly defined but one word - ‘emeth’ - had been carved out with a knife on its forehead and a parcel tag was tied around the arm upon which was written in Leonard’s handwriting:
‘If only I had a voice in my arms
and my hands and my hair and my footsteps,
through the arts of Daedalus.’
A loud buzzing noise to my immediate right startled me and I turned to find a monstrously-sized fly convulsing in its death throes on the dirty window ledge. I considered opening a window and letting it out, but I was afraid that Leonard might see me at the window and so I chose to leave it to die. And I realised that my time in the room was limited too. The smell of dust and damp was causing me to develop a dry and raspy cough and the thought that I could be inhaling toxic fumes from the decaying canvases - combined with the fear that I might be caught prying by Leonard - caused the room to become instantly oppressive, my throat to tighten and an overwhelming sense of panic to set in. It felt as though the room was closing in on me and, although I could see a shaft of light coming through the door from the hallway, I was convinced that the door would slam shut and lock me in. I rallied my nerves and berated myself for leaving the safety of the workroom, but just as I succeeded in calming myself the chime of the grandfather clock in the hallway downstairs and the hair-raising sensation of someone standing beside me startled me beyond belief and sent me fleeing from the room, tripping clumsily across the landing and stumbling down the stairs, taking very little care with my footing on the precariously narrow steps and causing all manner of creaks and groans to ring out downstairs.
Once again in the familiar surroundings of the workroom, I was relieved to find that Leonard had not yet returned and the downstairs rooms were empty, aside from one very bemused looking dog. I played a convincing act when Leonard eventually returned, flicking through a book on Dadaism and faking boredom as though I had been counting every second that he had been away.
“Would you like a cheese sandwich?” he enquired as he carried his bag of shopping into the kitchen.
“Are you having one?” I asked, following him into the kitchen.
“Of course, its lunchtime,” he answered, matter-of-factly.
“Then let me help you…”
“The cheddar is at the back of the fridge, but if you prefer Roquefort then I have crackers...”
Leonard knows that I adore Roquefort cheese and he always keeps some in the fridge for my visits although, if truth be told, I have eaten so much Roquefort cheese over these last few months that even the thought of it makes me feel terribly queasy.
Now the reader might think that this was a rather mundane conversation to recall so precisely, but the reason for this will now become clear. The confusion of locating utensils in an unfamiliar kitchen overcame me and I was more of a hindrance than a help, opening drawers at random, taking out various cooking implements and generally obstructing Leonard in every way humanly possible. I was astounded by the amount of cutlery in the kitchen drawers and the large number of plates and glasses that were hidden away in the cupboards. One cupboard contained a sizeable collection of teapots and one or two of the teapots looked very valuable indeed.
“Wow, these are beautiful, you should have them on display,” I said nonchalantly as I rummaged through the cupboard and took out one teapot for a closer inspection.
“Oh you would be amazed what secrets I have hidden in this house...” Leonard answered, “...you should see what treasures I have stored away upstairs...”
My heart held in my chest. Leonard has never once mentioned the upstairs rooms in all the time that I have known him, so why would he mention them now? Did he know about my little expedition? I swallowed hard and returned the teapot to the cupboard as Leonard continued preparing our sandwiches. He seemed oblivious to my shocked state, which reassured me that there was no hidden meaning in his comment and I was just being paranoid.