On Sunday afternoon Semple sat before the laptop and dialed Wrenna on Skype. The older of the twins—by all of 73 seconds—Wrenna worked for an Internet security firm in Germany. When it came to fulfilling the promise of maintaining contact with her father, she was more faithful than Maisie.
However, the girl’s kaleidoscopic lifestyle always caught him off guard. Every time Semple and Wrenna spoke she sported a different hair color and style. In addition, the recent declaration that she was “non-binary” was a head-scratcher.
Semple smiled, taking care not to critique the spiky, silver and electric blue hair that crowned his daughter’s head. “Hullo, darling. Are you well?”
“Oh, yes. Herr Klemperer says I will be one of the staff that accompanies him the next time he visits the New York office.”
“Well done! I am proud of you.”
Coming closer to the screen Wrenna peered at her father. “Is anything wrong? Are you having trouble with the novel?”
After hemming and hawing a bit Semple described taking on Miss Hegyi-Virág and cataloged her curious habits. Wrenna looked relieved.
“The woman is only a housekeeper, Father. Who cares if this Miss H-V is more often invisible than visible? Leaving alone the things in her room alone seems a bit queer, especially the money, but if she discharges her duties so well, I wouldn’t give her the boot. Do you need me to come home and check her out in person?”
“That won’t be necessary, love. I can handle the situation.”
“Just the same, I’ll conduct a little online sleuthing to see what I can uncover regarding the mysterious Miss Hegyi-Virág. What’s her Christian name?”
It embarrassed Semple that he did not know the housekeeper’s first name but that wouldn’t deter Wrenna. She promised to text her father once her information-gathering foray was complete. After the conversation ended he felt more at sea than he had before unburdening himself. Ought I accept Miss H-V’s quirks solely because of her redoubtable culinary skills?
* * *
Having left a note on the kitchen table informing Miss H-V that he would be dining out that evening, a few minutes after six Semple walked to The Red Lion. The weather was comfortably warm and he breathed in scent of roses, carnations and other flowers blooming in the neighbourhood’s tiny front gardens.
The pub, though busy, had a peaceful atmosphere that was balm to Semple’s troubled mind. He exchanged greetings with Gerald Bronwell, who took his meal order and pulled the customary brown ale. The publican watched a young couple take possession of the corner booth.
“I can ask them to move, Mr. Semple.”
“Don’t bother, Mr. Bronwell. There is no Blue Plaque on the booth, and I’m sure Emma won’t mind sharing it now and then.”
He took a table near the kitchen and was sipping his drink when the server brought his food.
“Is this the only dish of ours that you like? It must make for rather boring nights out.”
Fork in hand, Semple considered the bangers and mash before him. Tacy Bronwell’s venturing an opinion regarding his choice of entrée struck a nerve.
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing what I prefer, when dining out. The housekeeper I recently engaged is an excellent cook. Indeed, I am certain someone like you would gain from experiencing her artistry.”
Damn! Why did I let pride get the better of me?
Tacy grinned. “That sounded suspiciously like an invitation to experience her artistry, Mr. Semple. I am happy to accept your offer.“
“Well, uh, it all depends on how—that is, if—your schedule and mine mesh. I am a very busy man . . .”
“Let’s figure it out later. I’ll bring the pudding when I see you are ready for it.”
Semple walked home at a measured pace. In the year since Emma’s death he couldn’t recall ever giving thought to entering into a relationship with another woman. Not that there hadn’t been opportunities: soon after the funeral his wife’s friends from the Oxfam office made overtures about meeting “nice ladies” for tea or a trip to the cinema. Semple appreciated their consideration but he politely turned down all offers.
Back in the house Semple went to the kitchen for a glass of water, looking out the window as he drank. Miss Bronwell’s sense of humor, sparkling eyes and luxuriant hair had the unsettling potential of rekindling feelings he hadn’t felt for a long time. However, it was wrong of her to twist his remark about Miss H-V’s cooking into an expectation of being invited to eat with him.
What he saw when he turned from the sink exasperated him: a covered earthenware dish sat in the center of the table. Why has she ignored my instructions? Removing the cover revealed . . . bangers and mash! A message was appended to the note he’d left for Miss H-V.
Nothing compares with this. And do me the kindness of staying out of my room.
[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]