A week passed. Semple hadn’t churned out manuscript pages in the volume that he’d hoped but he remained upbeat. He was confident that his novel—about a medieval noblewoman, magically transmuted into a dragon that preserved her murdered husband’s fief from his greedy brother—had real potential. Its working title was Allith, Mountain Flower Dragoness.
Semple discovered a tendency to nod off after lunch. Thus, he began tuning in online to BBC Radio 4 as the workday commenced. The white noise provided by its news and arts programmes—even “The Archers,” royally detested by Semple—helped fend off drowsiness. In the evening he decided to celebrate his progress with a trip to the “Red Lion.” Pub grub and beer were bad for his waistline but he deserved a break from the microwaved fare that usually formed the foundation of his tea.
Hearing a rumble of thunder, Semple dropped his key ring on the small rosewood table in the hall and took an umbrella from the door stand. Retrieving the ring he noticed a light coating of dust on the tabletop.
Am I less diligent about the housework than I imagine? The drumbeat of rain on the roof made Semple abandon thoughts of going out. He walked through the house instead, assessing each room’s state of cleanliness. Furniture in those he seldom frequented needed dusting; cobwebs lurked in a few corners of the ceilings; the rugs would benefit from vacuuming; and the second story windows were distressingly dirt-streaked.
In light of the reconnaissance Semple was determined to find a replacement for Mrs. Chamberlain—without delay.
* * *
In the morning Semple headed for the High Street. He carried a roll of cellotape and copies of an advertisement:
LIVE-IN HOUSEKEEPER SOUGHT
Widower of quiet habits (a writer by vocation) seeks a live-in housekeeper.
Duties include cleaning, washing & cooking
Salary commensurate with experience • References required
Please apply in person between 6 and 8, weekday evenings:
3231 Wisteria Lane
Nowadays a plethora of online sites enabled employers and prospective employees to link up but Semple favored a traditional approach to hiring. At first he was reticent to solicit live-in help, for someone banging around was a potential distraction to his writing. Then he concluded that having all his household needs met was worth the risk of occasional interruptions.
Semple posted his advert in upscale shops’ display windows, believing that placement would attract a better sort of applicant. Walking home he considered the person he wanted. A pleasant, mature woman with an understated sense of humor would be just the thing. Acknowledging that he was imagining Emma brought tears to his eyes.
* * *
As the days passed Semple worried that the advertisement might go unanswered. At last the doorbell rang on Thursday, at six, on the dot.
The young woman standing nose-to-nose with him was slim, with blue eyes, auburn hair done up in a tight bun and a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Not exactly what Semple would call pretty but then, looks weren’t a quality he sought.
Despite the early summer heat she wore a green, ankle-length skirt and a long-sleeve peasant blouse, over which cascaded a constellation of sewn-on stars. Both articles were made from the same rough fabric. Semple chalked this up to a desire to defy his generation’s tastes. In their twenties neither he nor Emma had been so unconventional!
The visitor’s ringing tone derailed Semple’s question about whether she had come for an interview. “I am Miss Hegyi-Virág; call me Miss H-V. I accept the position.”
She swept past Semple and went on into the kitchen. With Mary Poppins-esque efficiency she plugged in the kettle and retrieved the tea things. Miss H-V joined her host at the table, adding a dash of milk and three sugar cubes to his tea . . . just the way he liked it. Its as if she knows the house—and me.
Semple blew on his mug as Miss H-V informed him that she would start on Monday next. She left after giving Semple’s hand a firm shake, not turning to wave as she headed down the sidewalk. He poured more tea, surprised at having neglected to ask for Miss H-V’s references. Neither had she inquired about what the position paid.
That evening was devoted to preparing the housekeeper’s lodgings. The twins’ bedroom became the guest room after they left home, so it was already furnished with beds, dressers and nightstands. Semple lugged up a worn but comfortable reading chair and a reading lamp from the basement. He placed towels, sheets and a pillowcase on the bed nearest the window.
The lavatory had been a battlefield during Maisie and Wrenna’s teenage years. Makeup containers, lipsticks and lotions crammed its cabinet and overflowed the counter, sparking arguments about the necessity of sharing the space with their parents. When the girls departed for university Emma joked that she had cleared out enough items to fill a toxic waste dump; after her death Semple discarded even her modest store of cosmetics.
He hoped Miss H-V wouldn’t muck up the lavatory anew, with her own store of war paints. The two of them would have to agree on a schedule for using the lav but that shouldn’t pose a problem.
[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]