It's Not a Donkey Farm

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Chaper 2

The whole process of emptying the house hadn’t been quite as bad as she had expected. Her two best friends, Sandra from work and Amy from her book club, had helped quite a bit during the last few weeks. Their presence had somehow made it easier, especially the evening when they’d taken a bottle of wine to help pack up his kitchen bits or when they’d hired a van to take rubbish to the tip and nobody had actually driven anything that big before. Sandra had suggested not just emptying the house, but spending time there as well. So one evening they cooked a huge meal together and sat around his little dining room table, chatting about husbands and kids, laughing about their times together. Another weekend, they watched the latest chick flick on his DVD player and drank enough to result in all three deciding to spend the night.

Her friends made the mundane fun, the heavy bits lighter and the ordinary different, which helped to take the edge off the sadness. As the house got emptier and emptier, Sandra and Amy had regularly made sure their friend was ok. They phoned and popped round, cooked and listened. It was exactly what Daria needed and her two friends understood how much Opa had meant to Daria. Once, Opa had invited the three of them to a party at his house insisting that they did not bring husbands. When they’d arrived, it was a party just for the four of them and he had supplied half a dozen bottles of champagne. He’d cooked a heaving table full of tapas, far too much for just the four of them and he’d flirted outrageously but innocently with Sandra and Amy. Opa was always doing the unexpected and the night of the party had given the three friends months’ worth of laughter.

By the time a lot of Opa things had gone to a variety of charities or to her sons, which actually meant being left in the house or stored at Daria’s, Daria thought she’d take what could be the last look around before she made final decisions about the items left there. She still wasn’t sure about whether to sell or let or keep it in the family, as she did like the idea of any of her boys living there.

Then, Daria came across quite a long metal trunk. It had been tucked away in a peculiar cupboard just by the stairs. The half door was not obvious and Daria wasn’t even sure that she’d ever noticed it, yet alone looked inside. As a child, she used to freely root around his attic or the spare bedrooms and marvel at the unusual bits and pieces or the black and white photos taken in faraway places that he had stashed away, wrapped in yellowing tissue paper. When she was little, she used to wonder whether he was a pirate and dreamt that when he went away he was swash-buckling his way through some unknown ocean.

Daria dragged the dull green trunk out into the light of the hallway, it was heavier than she’d expected and saw there was faded writing on the top. Wiping and blowing away cobwebs and dust she saw it was his name and then she could just about make out something printed on in French. The lid was locked with a rusting padlock and, rattling it, she decided to try to find the key rather than damage anything. An old bent enamel jug that Daria had decided to keep was still in the kitchen and now contained a variety of bits that Daria had come across. She emptied out a radiator key, some charming hair pins that Daria had never seen before, a belt buckle engraved with a fox’s head, drawing pins and several keys. She picked out possible ones and could hardly believed her luck when the first one opened the padlock.

The trunk looked empty, which surprised her because of its weight, but peering into it she saw something long at the bottom, wedged in at an angle as it was nearly too long. She eased it out with great care as it seemed to be stuck. Once out and turning it over, Daria saw it was an elaborately carved large and dusty frame which housed a rather bad painting. It was a water colour of a young woman with long dark wild hair, holding out an arm and standing against a brick wall next to an old Butler sink with a window behind it. Daria wondered at the delicacy and skill that was involved in making such a frame, which was clearly quite old and hand carved rather than being made from a mould, she was sure. The warm smell of old wood lingered around the trunk and she delicately ran a finger around the detail. Daria felt bewildered at the contrast between the frame and the awful painting. The painting was not good, in fact Daria started giggling about how dreadful it actually was. She felt sure it wasn’t a child’s painting and it seemed totally incongruous to put such a bad picture in something so elaborate. Then she felt guilty for having laughed, as she realised it may have been kept for sentimental reasons that had nothing to do with quality. She peered for a signature. Not having found one, Daria turned the picture over and looked for something that would give her more information. It struck Daria that this was a strange thing for Opa to have kept, particularly as it was hidden away. She was absolutely certain that she had never seen it yet if it was meaningful to Opa in some way, surely she’d have known. Daria carefully placed the picture on the floor, deciding that she wanted to try to find out more about it, even if it meant getting in touch with Aunt Pearl, who actually was his closest living relative.

Peering back into the box, Daria saw an equally dusty, large envelope with Opa’s name on it and an address in somewhere she thought may be France, but it was hard to read. Daria pulled out a large, folded document, the paper was thick and felt waxy, and she was somewhat frustrated to find that not only was it all written in French, but the handwriting was so elaborate that she found it hard to decipher. Desperately trying to remember her French ‘O’ level, she scoured the pages for words she might recognise or understand. It was clearly an official document of some sort as it had a crest at the top and had been signed several times at the bottom. She did see Opa’s name, Eugene Fevrolet, written several times and she also thought that she could just about make out ‘Notaire’ and ‘Conseil supérieur du notariat’. Daria knew that ‘Notaire’ had something to do with houses in France and that ‘Conseil’ might mean Council, but little else made any sense. Then she spotted a date: June 2nd 1946.

Daria really didn’t know what to think. She almost didn’t know how to think as her head was spinning so much. Barely being able to move beyond thinking ‘what?’, she wondered if both objects were connected as they were together. Or were they just random things that happen to be together. And she certainly couldn’t think how to find out. She looked back into the trunk and, seeing it appeared empty, ran her hand along the corners and edges to make sure. This trunk was full of the unexpected and she wanted to make sure she hadn’t missed anything.

Daria carried everything through to Opa’s living room and laid the trunk, then the painting, then the opened document in a row on the floor as if trying to gain some sort of order that would enable an explanation. She thought that if she saw them all together or something, maybe it would all make sense. She sat in front of them, on the only armchair left in that room and looked slowly from one to the other. Then she found herself shaking her head, none of this made any sense to her.

‘Why are they here? But more, why were they hidden? Were they hidden?’ she thought, then she slowly walked into the kitchen, found a cloth and carefully wiped down the lid of the trunk, not really knowing what else to do.

‘Maybe this is just nothing, really’ Daria thought ‘just nothing stuff.’ But she somehow didn’t really believe that. To begin with, she couldn’t understand why she’d never seen that little door before, let alone anything else. So she decided to try to tackle that one first. Walking back into the hall, she stood in front of the little door and stared. Then she realised and felt foolish as the explanation was quite simple really. Opa had always had an old telephone table there and the left hand side of it would have covered the door handle, which was a sort of little latch really. And the spindly legs would have hidden the edge of the door. She simply couldn’t have noticed it when she carted off the table. And then she remembered that Amy had moved the table when they’d hired the van.

‘Now I’m getting somewhere,’ thought Daria and she certainly felt relieved that at least that bit of the puzzle was solved. Surely that would mean that everything else would make sense. She knelt down and peered back in the cupboard but withdrew quickly as the only other thing in there was a rather large spider.

Back in the living room, Daria gently wiped a cloth over the frame and glass covered picture. She could see more detail now, but did not change her mind about the quality of the painting. Peering at the woman, Daria decided it was more like a tall child standing by the sink and she noticed that her long black hair was tied up with a red ribbon. Daria had initially thought she was wearing some sort of bizarre hat that was badly perched on her head, reminding her of Aunt Pearl at the funeral, but the red blobs were definitely ribbon. ‘Hmm, the clothes. That beige dress and the red cardigan have got to be 1940’s or 50′s’ Daria thought ‘and is that supposed to be some sort of orchard through the window. I wonder if they are apples, maybe plums. Whoever did this certainly liked doing red blobs.’

But Daria felt no closer to understanding why the picture had been in the trunk, even though she was beginning to make out a few other items in the painting. Daria thought she could make out a dubious looking piano, or was it a writing bureau, that stood against a wall and there was a rug on the floor that seemed to float. She decided the painter had no idea of perspective and everything looked so flat. And then she noticed what could have been the green trunk except that it was partially hidden behind a grubby mark. She rushed to rinse the cobwebby cloth under the tap. The glass squeaked clean and she glanced back to the trunk. It looked the same. ‘So they are connected, it’s not just random stuff he put in it,’ she thought ‘but why?’ She peered at the picture closely.

‘Bloody hell. What does that mean? It certainly means something. This must all mean something. But what?’ Daria was talking aloud. ‘Oh, Opa, what’s going on?’

After replacing the document carefully in its envelope, Daria boiled the kettle and began to clean the trunk with hot water. Little flakes of green flecked off the trunk, so she turned to the painting. Cleaning the glass all over was clearly a help and she gently wiped the wooden frame. She marvelled at the wood and a reddish, chestnutty hue began to shine through. Gently dabbing at the top corners, she could see a tiny squirrel and a frog carved together on one side, and a lizard and spider on the other. These little animals were hidden amongst the exquisitely carved small branches and leaves that covered the frame. Again she was astounded at its delicacy, and at the talent and skill of the maker.

Turning the painting over, she saw that the back was sealed with brown paper. ‘I’ll have to get that off carefully if I want to see if there’s anything written underneath’ Daria thought. Then she just sat again and stared, not having a single idea of what to do next.

She started quite violently when her mobile rang, as she was deep in the silence in her head.

‘Mum,’ it was Jack. ‘I’ve been trying to ring you for ages. Why aren’t you at home? It’s late.’

‘Is it? How do you know I’m not at home?’ Daria felt as if her head hadn’t cleared properly yet. She felt fuzzy with confusion. Then she realised how ridiculous that question was. ‘Sorry, Jack. I’m at Opa’s. What time is it?’ Daria was astonished to realise exactly how late it was and glanced out of the window for confirmation. ‘When did it get so dark?’ she asked, looking round the room and realising that a late evening gloom had settled.

‘At about the usual time. Mum, what have you been doing? You don’t usually stay out so late on a work night.’

‘Cheeky boy’ said Daria and she laughed. ‘It’s a bit complicated really and I’m not sure what I’ve found or what it means. Did I say I’d found something?’ Daria felt she wasn’t making sense. ‘Look, Jack, I’m going home now. I’ll ring you tomorrow and explain. I’m just too tired now and it’s a long story.’

″I was thinking about coming home for the weekend anyway, so if that’s ok, I definitely will now. It’s not like you to be so mysterious, so expect a visitor.′

‘A visitor? Who? When?’ Daria was definitely confused.

‘Mother.’ Jack laughed. ‘You been at the evil weed again?’

And, Daria seeing the absurdity of her questions again, burst out laughing with him.

‘Oh I’m sorry. I must have been sitting here for ages. When are you arriving? It’ll be lovely to see you and you must come here, to Opa’s, I mean. Unless I take it all home. Or both. I’m waffling again. Just tell me what time you think you’ll arrive. You’re not driving in that ridiculous van again, are you?’

Protesting that his rather noisy and old VW van wasn’t ridiculous, Jack was to arrive the following evening, a Friday, and promised to spend the whole weekend with her and help unravel the obvious mystery. After loading her car with the refilled trunk, Daria drove home wishing it was the weekend already. She’d return to Opa’s with Jack and, hopefully Anthony, to search all the nooks and crannies they’d missed. And to take a final look in the attic. ‘Who knows what else we might find?’ she thought ‘it’s like looking for clues to a mysterious past’. * Jack arrived just as Daria had nearly finished cooking. She heard the key in the door and called out.

‘I’m in the kitchen, Jack. You’re timing is impeccable, as ever.’

‘Hmmm, something smells delicious. What are we having?’ Jack said as he kissed his mother on the cheek ‘I’ll take my stuff up later but right now I want to know what’s going on. What did you find? That was the most bizarre phone call I’ve ever had with you.’

‘Later. And we’re having Mexican wraps, I know you love them. Anthony’s coming over as well, he’s got some departmental meeting or something first and I don’t want to go through it all twice.’

‘Go through all what? ’

‘I’m not saying. Go and take your stuff upstairs. You’ll have to put a clean duvet cover on and there’s hot water if you want a bath or shower before we eat.’‘I’m a guest now you know, guests don’t put their own duvet covers on.’ ‘Guest? Foolish boy. If you think I’m going to start running round after you, well...’ Jack interrupted Daria’s teasing with another kiss on the cheek and he left to get his bags. ‘When I’m not here, do you ever wish you were nicer to me?’ he called as he went upstairs, ‘are there towels in my room?’ ‘No and no’ Daria said ‘and the food will be ready in about ten minutes. One wrap or two?’

‘Three please, as usual’ Jack called out. ‘I do love coming home to my dotty mother.’

*

Anthony arrived just as Jack was scraping the last of the bean stew out of the pan. Daria and Jack heard him sigh as he dropped his bag and hung up his coat. ‘Couldn’t have gone well then,’ Jack whispered, then called out ‘hope you aren’t too hungry, Tony. I’d be quick if you are though, there’s only scraps left.’

Daria had risen and gone to greet him. ‘I’ve saved you some. Bad meeting?’

‘Is there any other sort these days? And yes, I’d love some. It smells delicious, Mexican?’

After they had all eaten and Daria had parried many questions about the mysterious find and sneaky attempts at prising information about it from her, they sat around the table with some cold beers.

The room went silent in anticipation as Daria smiled at the eager, grinning faces in front of her. She let the silence hang, as she momentarily reminisced at the familiarity of those expressions. Christmases when they would be waiting for Paul to ring the little bell on the tree announcing they could enter the living room and see if Santa had been; little faces peeking round the bedroom door at dawn on birthdays or with necks craning out of car windows to be the first to see the sea on holidays.

‘I wish Ben was here’ said Daria ‘he’d enjoy this too.’

‘Mother’ cried Antony as Jack simultaneously said ‘Enjoy what?’

Daria laughed ‘Ok, clear the table and I’ll be back in a second’ and she left the room amid groans and attempts to go with her. She wasn’t too sure why she had enacted this sort of ritual around revealing her finds, but she felt they were unusual enough, and the whole circumstance of her discovering them was so surprising, to warrant something that wasn’t entirely casual. Lugging the heavy trunk into the dining room and then heaving it onto the table certainly caused exclamations of astonishment. Still refusing to answer questions, she opened the trunk and took out the painting and the envelope. Anthony and Jacks responses and reactions were exactly as she’d expected.

‘What is it? Where was it? Whose is it?’

So she told the story of her movements exactly and explained about the link between the trunk and the painting, gave her opinion on the picture and the frame and finally opened the envelope to reveal the document.

‘Except it’s all in French and I can’t make anything out. I have no idea what it is. Why didn’t anyone in this family do a language?’

Anthony and Jack hardly knew what to say or look at first. Then questions bombarded her, she had to retell several parts of her story over and over. Their delight and bewilderment matched hers as they were enchanted with the frame and unkindly smirked at the painting. They stared intensely at the depiction of the trunk, agreeing that even though it was of rather odd and uneven dimensions, it certainly was the same. After scrutinising the trunk and the painting, turning everything over and peering into corners, discussing new discoveries and comparing what they saw, they settled to looking at the document.

‘We need somebody who’s fluent in French. But I’d rather it was someone we didn’t know too well, I think. That way I won’t have to tell the whole story and I’d feel obliged to if it was a friend or take Cindy, that woman I work with. You know, with the long hair and she always looks tanned. She’d ask too many questions and I just don’t want to explain about anything. I haven’t even told Aunt Pearl. I’ve only spoken to her once since the funeral and she wasn’t too pleased that I’d missed the wake.’

Daria grimaced and recounted the reprimand she’d received from Pearl and how hard she found it not to laugh it was all so absurd. She’d wanted to sound contrite and pleaded a headache through all the stress of Opa’s death, but had soon realised that Pearl had claimed the monopoly on grief as his nearest relative which she’d repeated several times.

‘Oh you should have heard her’ Daria laughed ‘my name is mud amongst the family. I was accused of spending too much time with Opa and his bad blood rubbing off on me. And all I could think of was us splashing in the water and you laughing, Anthony. Oh yes, don’t think I didn’t notice that.’

‘Ok, I’ll admit it, it did look hilarious and I think I’d have joined in if I wasn’t wearing a new suit. Maybe. But she had no right speaking to you like that. I might just phone her.’

‘No need, but thank you for being indignant on my behalf’, Daria said ‘she was hurt, that’s all. And angry. It doesn’t matter now, it didn’t matter then either really.’

‘She’s got a bit of a nerve though’ said Jack ‘she’s hardly family minded unless it’s under her terms. God, no wonder Opa had no time for her. Do you remember that time, Easter wasn’t it, when we all had to go round. Summoned from on high, it felt like. I think I was only about nine or ten and we were ceremonially presented with the smallest egg to share and had to be grovellingly grateful. I remember Ben laughing and asked her where the rest were, he thought it was a joke and Dad got cross with him.’

‘Oh, I remember that. Paul was a bit miffed with me for laughing then, too. Pearl has never been intimate with the concept of generosity, shall we say’ said Daria.

‘Ha, you can say that again’ said Jack ‘did we really always get pants for Christmas from her?’

‘Yes’ laughed Anthony ‘always. Even in our teens. The same white baggy y-fronts, just bigger each year. She’s totally off it.’

‘You ought to be in touch with her a bit, you know. The three of you. She’s getting on a bit now. I popped a card in the post, pretty with flowers on it and apologised again. Opa would have hated me doing that.’

‘I’ll say he would’ interjected Jack ′ She doesn’t deserve that from you. She’s always been over critical, of everything and everyone.′

‘Too right’ said Anthony ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a nice thing about anyone.’

‘I know. But she does care, really.’ Daria was beginning to feel a bit guilty about the way the conversation was going. ‘Look, let’s forget about Pearl. What shall we do about getting a translation?’

‘Have you tried Google-ing some sentences and getting it to translate?’ asked Anthony.

‘No, I never thought of that. But how accurate would it be?’ said Daria. ‘I’d like a person to do it really, not a machine.’

‘But you could get a bit of an idea, Anthony’s right. Lets Google the heading then we might know what we were looking at.’ said Ben ‘where’s your laptop?’

‘Ok, but think about if we know anyone as well.’

Daria typed in ‘Conseil supérieur du notariat’ which translated as the High Council of French Notarial Profession.

‘What is a Notarial?’ asked Jack.

‘It’s something to do with houses or property or land. Something. Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see what else we can find’ said Daria.

The three of them jostled for the laptop as they tried different approaches, refreshed with slices of Daria’s fruit cake and hot chocolate. It had almost intuitively felt to the three of them that that’s what they should have. Cake and drinks of hot chocolate were the family snacks, the comfort foods in what felt like an intimate private time. This was something, some new thing, to do with Opa and the three of them had also recognised the possibility that there may be a reason why Opa had never shown these items to them. Not even to Daria.

Anthony and Jack had as much difficulty as Daria in deciphering the handwriting, made doubly difficult because it was a foreign language and so they couldn’t be sure if they’d got spellings right. They squabbled over f″s and t’s, a’s and o’s proved to be equally as provocative and they laughed at some of the totally unpronounceable words they created. They mockingly despaired at their own ignorance in foreign languages with more and more totally implausible excuses becoming rather elaborate. But after a while, they managed to discover that the document definitely related to some property or other and it seemed that Opa must have been the buyer, according to where he had signed.

Finally, having scoured and devoured the document till they could decipher no more, they sat back and wondered. Had they understood and did that mean that Opa still owned the property? If so, that would mean it was Daria’s. But that raised the question, why wasn’t it mentioned in his will?

‘If he knew, I mean of course he knew, but he knew it was there when he wrote his will, so he knew you’d get it anyway.’ Jack searched for an explanation.

‘But why not mention it? Why never mention it? It’s a house in France. A house in France. Not just a post office account with a couple of hundred pounds in it. A house in France. Which probably means it’s not his anymore. It can’t be after all this time anyway. Surely not. Can it?’ said Daria ‘This is so bizarre. Surely not, it’s been too long.’

‘I don’t know how you can say that really’ said Anthony ‘we don’t really know. We barely know a thing really. We need to get it translated mum, you’re right. Machines can’t do this. We can’t even read the words.’

They found themselves sitting in a bewildered silence. They knew they were thinking the same questions for which there seemed no immediate answer. Nobody could work out why Opa hadn’t ever shown them the trunk and its contents, he was one of the most open people any of them had ever met. Or at the very least, not having shown it to Daria or mentioned something about it in his will, so they would know it was significant.

‘Maybe you’re right, mum. Maybe he doesn’t own the house in France anymore and had forgotten that the trunk was there. So there’d be nothing to say.’ said Anthony, breaking the silence.

‘Nothing to mention in the will then’ said Jack.

‘Hmmm. Maybe. That’s plausible. But it doesn’t feel right, somehow. That trunk was hidden. It was the only thing in that cupboard and that table being placed there was sheer genius. It hid the door perfectly’ said Daria. She knew what her sons said made a sort of sense. But she didn’t believe it. Then she sighed heavily.

‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I want this to be more significant than it actually is. I know this means I don’t have to let go of him, if you know what I mean. For as long as this is a mystery, I’m still involved with him. It keeps him with me.’ And to her own great surprise, Daria burst into tears.

Anthony and Jack both leapt to her side, glancing at each other to acknowledge their mutual shock at their mother’s starting to cry so suddenly, so unexpectedly.

‘We don’t know. We just don’t know yet, that’s all’ said Anthony squatting down to look at her.

‘More than that too though’ said Jack ‘You’re right. This is keeping him with you, with us all. A mystery. How brilliant is that? And so, that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?’

‘Although I hate to say it, Jack’s right mum’ said Anthony ‘if this is the least of it, if that document turns out to be nothing, well it’s great. In fact it’s hilarious. How typical of that barmy old bugger. Could he ever do anything like other people?’

Jack was laughing loudly now. ‘No, he couldn’t. Not even after he’d died.’

And the absurd truth of Jack’s words split the tension and allowed the joy of having known Opa to come bursting out.

Daria wiped her tears borne of sadness then joy away with her sleeve.

‘You’re right. Of course you’re right, both of you. God, I feel better. Even if this is it, it’s been brilliant so far.’

‘Let’s get it translated. Professionally. And I agree with you, I don’t want just anyone knowing about this before we do’ said Jack.

‘And before you ask how we find a translator, we look online. Now’ said Anthony seeing the question form in his mother’s eyes. He picked up the laptop.

‘Someone local or shall we post this, get a photocopy?’ he said.

‘I don’t know. Would local be quicker? Do you think there’s someone at the university? Or would you know them, Anthony? Because it’s education?’ Daria said.

‘I don’t know everybody who’s got something to do with teaching, you know.’

‘We could see how long they take online, as well. Just because it’s local, doesn’t mean it’s quicker’ said Jack.

So, once again, they poured over the laptop, impatient for results and over-instructing Anthony with what he should try to find and how he should try to find it.

‘Hang on a minute though’ said Jack ‘what about the writing? This isn’t exactly a simple translation. This is decoding the handwriting as well. We need someone who can actually read it.’

‘Oh god, Jack’s right again’ said Anthony ‘this is a strange evening’ and he grinned at his younger brother.

‘Later bro, later’ said Jack, feigning insult and umbrage. ‘you’ll keep.’

Daria ignored them both.

‘Do they do History at the university? Or Linguistics?’ she said, very unsure if she was asking the right questions. ‘I mean, somebody must do this sort of thing. Who?’

‘History? Linguistics?’ said Anthony.

‘Well, the document is old, that’s history. And it’s written in a language, that’s linguistics. God, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.’

A bursting silence, that lasted a millisecond, preceded the three of them erupted into simultaneous loud laughter.

‘I can’t think anymore’ said Daria ‘let’s do this again in the morning before we go to Opa’s’

‘Before we go to yours, you mean. You’re a woman of potential property now’ said Jack.

‘Potential property? Now you’re just spouting poetic rubbish, Jack. But you’re right, mum. Let’s put this away and think on it tomorrow. My head is still spinning with it all. What a man.’ Anthony spoke about Opa almost reverentially and began folding the document.

‘Any more hot chocolate or cake anyone?’ said Daria, feeling relieved to be having a normal conversation ‘I’m not, but I don’t mind making something for either of you.’

‘Cake for me please mum. It was delicious.’ said Jack as Anthony declined. ‘Shall I put the telly on? Let’s find something funny.’

*

Daria slept deeply and peacefully, when she’d expected the exact opposite. Despite watching some comedy quiz show, she’d felt distracted for the rest of the evening and couldn’t really engage with the humour for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

She woke to smells of coffee and toast filtering through the floorboards and she put on her dressing gown and went downstairs. Anthony was laying a tray.

‘Mum. You’re awake. I was just about to bring this up to you.’

‘Gorgeous, Anthony. But let’s have breakfast together. You’re dressed. Are you off somewhere? I was hoping we could all spend the day together. What time is it?’

Daria glanced up at the kitchen clock, a remnant of Opa’s. It was old and battered but remained delightful to her.

‘Ten o’clock? Why didn’t you wake me?’

‘It’s nearer to half past actually. That thing has stopped again. But how could I wake you? You were shattered last night. But I do have a surprise for you. Later though. Let’s have some of this first.’

‘Surprise? No. No more surprises. Not now. Not yet. What is it?’

‘Ok then, but it’s not a what. It’s a who. I spoke to Ben the day before yesterday and told him you had found something and were being mysterious. He came over as soon as he could, arrived about two a.m. We showed him everything, we chatted a while and he’s asleep upstairs.’

Daria flung her arms round her eldest.

‘You perfect boy. But why didn’t you tell me? And Jack knew? How did he get here? Why didn’t I wake up?’

‘Mum, you were exhausted and you’d have never slept if you knew. And anyway, I wanted to surprise you. He flew yesterday, I managed to get him a cheap flight.’

‘You are so good. Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m just going to have a peek. Pour some coffee will you?’ And Daria crept upstairs and slowly opened Ben’s bedroom door. Sure enough there he was, sprawled out half on top of the duvet wearing only his boxers, as usual. She thought he looked tanned and tranquil as he lightly snored and twitched his foot.

‘Thank you for being here’ she whispered to him as she slowly shut his door. She felt as if she was bouncing down the stairs she felt so happy. Anthony had poured the coffee.

‘What an exciting weekend this is going to be’ said Daria as she crunched into toast and marmalade.

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