Ben had time to collect his thoughts, sip his tea and chat very quietly to Raphael in front of the fire. It was nice to be warm and Ben told his new found friend about the shape and size of the teeth that gleamed at him when he went to touch the shoulder of Lanthe the mermaid. Ben even drew a picture of it so he could explain it to Zara and the Dunmours. They showed no visible signs of being impressed they simply took it in their strides and commented that they were still deeply concerned Ben was getting in over his head with creatures that for centuries had been given a wide birth. Ben explained that the bed that was attached to the rope that Taran Macrath pushed into the Dx4H killed the Queen’s husband and Ben got the feeling that the mermaids were after some form of ‘payback’.
It was a meeting that could have turned nasty when both mermaids in the blink of an eye were at his side and waiting for direction from their Queen to kill or capture their new found land person, as they so succinctly put it. Ben was happy to be curling his toes in front of the fire instead of watching them disappear into Lanthe’s veracious choppers. That was just a little too close for comfort for Ben and he decided to curtail his oceanic exploration the next time the mermaids showed up because it was just a little unsettling the speed with which he could have been captured. Maybe he would be able to talk to them on dry land while they stayed comfortably in the water. That would be a safer scenario Ben thought as Raphael moved three pieces on three different boards and won three different games in the blink of an eye.
‘Le Voila Ben!!!!’ whispered Raphael as Ben checked where he went wrong on all three boards. Ben smiled to himself thinking he really needed to practice his games a bit more if he was to have a chance against Raphael who was a master at all three games that Ben left set up around the chair. In many ways playing Raphael at chess, checkers or backgammon was an exercise in futility because the ghost chair had so much time to perfect his game over the centuries playing Ben was like playing an absolute beginner at all games. While Ben thought he was a bit of a backgammon god Raphael was even better than that. Most games ended quickly without hurting Ben’s feelings too much and then it was back into the normal work flow of Amazing and Graceful.
Ben was missing Aubrey and Zara so very much. Aubrey finally answered his messages and told him that she had landed and her mum and dad had picked them both up and all was good. Ben was much relieved to hear that Aubrey and Zara were okay. It meant that now he didn’t have keep sending a fabillion mobile phone messages, he had to send an Octabillion. This was eight times more messages than he had sent before and enough reason to sue his mobile phone company for giving him carpal tunnel in the wrist and fingers.
Tonight the fire and chair were no real conciliation for him as he was really wishing he could be by Aubrey’s side. Ben got up out of his chair and went into the kitchen to see what he could make for dinner. He opened the door to find Agnes stirring a broth on the stove that smelt delicious. Ben was momentarily side tracked from Agnes and he didn’t see her open the lid of some dog food and scoop the contents into Lamb Shanks bowl. All that he saw was Agnes put down the spoon that he thought was from the broth. Ben lifted the spoon and put it into his mouth.
‘Sufferin Duck Ben, that’s wee Lambshankies dog food spoon!!’
Ben’s eyes went wide and he went straight to the old concrete sink and the most evil sounds came from his mouth as he tried to regurgitate the contents of the spoon into the sink. Agnes was trying not to laugh as she held the broth spoon in her hand and was trying to tell Ben the difference between to the two spoons. Lamb Shanks looked from Ben to Agnes and back to Ben again waiting for some sign that his food was about to be placed on the floor so he could commence eating. Ben washed his face and looked up from the running water into the giggling face of Agnes who immediately stopped showing any signs of merriment at Ben’s misfortune with the spoons. Agnes looked away and once she was sure Ben could not see her face she grinned again. She picked up Lamb Shanks dinner and placed it on the floor.
‘Here ya goo me wee boy’o, dig in, ya master loved it,’ said Agnes in a whisper and again she giggled her way out of the kitchen and into the office. Once she was in the office her laughter was heard echoing around the reception area of Amazing and Graceful. Ben heard it too and he quietly chuckled to himself in the kitchen while he made a sandwich to quell the hunger pains he felt. Ham and cheese on white sour dough bread, a big glass of milk and a hand full of shortbreads for afters.
Ben’s mind had rested enough for him to eat again and the messages were now coming from Aubrey about her stay with the parents in Australia. He missed his family but was glad they were resting and all together after the long flight. Ben took his sandwich out to the steps of his home and sat down looking at nothing except the sandwich making its way to his mouth and the sips of milk he took to wash it down.
Mermaids, who would have thought?
Ghosts and chairs that can play three different boards he could understand that, sort of, but mermaids? Never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would ever see one, let alone three of them and to be able to communicate. It was too incredible for words. He had to show these ladies off to someone who would appreciate their very being as much as he did.
He would love this more than anyone.
He loved coming to stay with Ben and Aubrey and he loved the contact with Ghost Zara and her family. You could always see it in his eyes and the way he talked to them that he really enjoyed their company, so mermaids at Amazing and Graceful would throw his enthusiasm into overdrive times twelve. Right now all Ben was thinking about was his wife and daughter and how far away they were. Would they miss him and would they be thinking about him as much as he did of them? Ben thought of Aubrey, the smell of her hair after she was been in the shower, her skin as soft as velvet. He sat very quietly pondering his absent wife’s company. He missed the sounds his daughter made when she was happy. A laughter that struck a chord deep in his heart about the attachment he had with her. The sounds seem to resonate into his soul bringing thoughts of a kinder and gracious correlation with his next of kin than just that of the man who helped give this little soul life.
Becoming a father then watching this little being take form and shape before his very eyes was something that parents for centuries had marvelled, almost revelled in. It was part of the relationship to nurture this feeling that existed between Ben and his daughter. As soon as he knew that Aubrey was going to give birth he changed, instantly. Gone was the reckless abandonment for his own safety and wellbeing, he now had others that depended on him, for love, strength and guidance in all aspects of their lives. Ben missed them to the point of aching with the slightest movement. He sat looking at the flames of the fire and although his home was a hive of activity this time, right now, was peaceful and sombre. He felt the cup in his hands and the half cold tea that rocked within the kiln fired ceramic cup that housed his normally soothing beverage. Tonight however the tea did nothing to lift his spirits, but the ones in the mirror were a hive of activity.
Zara was looking through the library in the cellar to find any old notes that may have been written about the mermaids and so far she found nothing. Lots of old books whose titles were ancient but not of the subject matter she wanted lay not too far from where the wine was shelved displayed before her in an old library. Deep chestnut and mahogany shelves supported the old books but offered no information that would be of any help to Zara. She floated back up the old stairs and in her heart it was so nice to be out of that cellar. That place held no comfort for her now. It was nice to see Agnes hard at work in the office and the daylight casting shadows of her friend against the wall as she glided by. She returned to the chair next to Ben to see if he was alright.
‘Ben, you seem miles away, is there anything we can do to help,’ said Zara with so much care in her voice it was hard for Ben not to let his eyes well with tears of loneliness.
‘Thanks Zara, I’m fine and it’s something I should handle okay?’
Zara got up and floated into the mirror and her family then she turned to look at Ben who was sitting staring into the flames of the fire and she knew. She knew he was missing his family...something terrible. Lamb Shanks sat next to Hambone in front of the fire and because he was on his back and dreaming, his paws moved every so often because of what he was chasing in his dreams. Hambone kept his ghostly nose close to the floor but his eyes were fixed on his friend, Ben, who was troubled and Hambone didn’t know how to fix his problem. All the staff members were concerned about Ben because he was so distant, so quickly. It was as if the whole world had fallen out from under him and there was no other recourse but to sit in front of the fire with his tea, and mope.
‘Excuse moi Bonjiman, why don’t you get some beet, a petite boat and take yourself out on the Loch for sum well-earned alone time and catch some fish for the guests. You always seem better when you do that Mon Ami?’
‘Thanks Raph, I might just do that,’ and Ben got up out of his chair. He then filled a small watering can with fresh water from the tank and watered his flowers at the front door. The chair re-adjusted itself in preparation for Ben’s return. His thoughts filled with his family so many miles away and the little tiny flowers that reminded him of his daughter’s tiny hands and fingers. Ben put the watering can back and went inside, then up the stairs to his bedroom and wasn’t seen for the rest of the night.
(Although Hambone did check on him several times so don’t panic!)