“Word of advice, young lady.”
Shannon Morris pulled a face. “What, Dad?”
“When Granddad tells you it’s time for bed, it’s time for bed, d’you understand?”
“Oh God, they go to bed so early. Granddad thinks half past nine is late!”
“Look, they’re good enough to look after you for two weeks. Feed you, wash your clothes, drive you into town; the least you can do is show them some respect. D’you hear me, young lady. Hey ….”
But she was already heading for her bedroom.
Shannon looked out through the window of her small, austere room onto rows of grimy terraced houses. How she hated the cramped bedroom, the smell of grandma’s cabbage broth and her grandad’s stinking pipe. And worst of all, no internet! All they had was a small black and white television in the front room. It couldn’t even get Channel Four for heaven’s sake! She felt tears of frustration. Her friends were all off on holiday. Spain, Majorca, Ibiza, even the more exotic destinations of Bermuda and Haiti, and here she was – stuck in bloody Blackburn!
But today was different. “Me and your grandad are going to Bingo tonight. We won’t be back till late,” said her grandma. “There’s stewed cabbage on the stove and beef casserole in the oven.”
Shannon brightened up. At least Grandma made good dumplings. And with them out of the way she could find a pop radio station and turn it up! “All right Gran, thank you. Have a nice time.”
Shannon gave them half an hour, then went under the stairs for the stepladder. She carried it upstairs, swearing loudly as it hit the bannister, taking a lump out of it. She’d have to find some shoe polish to disguise it, at least till she’d gone home, though no doubt they’d complain to her parents. She climbed the ladder and pushed on the loft door, smelling mould and feeling a cold draft as it opened. Shannon pulled herself up into the attic and, using her phone as a flashlight, looked around. She spotted an old Bakelite light switch on a rafter and, being careful to stand on a beam, reached out and flicked it. To her surprise, a dim yellow bulb covered in cobwebs sprang into life. She wondered how many months or years it had lain dormant.
She looked around at piles of packing cases and old suitcases. How boring! She’d hoped to find some interesting antiques or books or letters or something, not just bloody suitcases. She tried to open one but it was locked. She tried a couple more. On her third attempt, success. The lid of the case sprang open to reveal a couple of dozen shirts, all neatly folded and stinking of mothballs. They had the old ‘grandad’ style of collar, she observed. How appropriate. And boring! Next to them lay a bunch of desiccated flowers – roses and ferns and the like. A bride’s posy she wondered? Perhaps Gran’s? Hard to imagine her grandmother as a vivacious young woman!
On a cushion in the suitcase lay something more interesting, a small porcelain ornament. She held it up to the light, a round flask decorated with a red dragon, blue clouds and waves. Chinese, she imagined. It must be worth a few quid. She slipped it into a pocket.
As she flicked the light off to go back down into the house, she noticed a glimmer of light from behind the chimney breast. She turned the light back on and made her way gingerly across the beams – she didn’t want to go crashing through into her grandparent’s bedroom. She manoeuvred her way around the chimney. To her surprise, there was a door and from beneath it, a chink of light. From behind the door came a strange sound, a mechanical sound she couldn’t quite place. With her heart in her mouth, she turned the knob and gasped as she stumbled into a well-lit room where a train was running around an expansive model railway layout. Oh God, a bloody boring train set! She turned around to go back when she heard a voice.
“Hello, who are you?”
A young man’s voice. A youth of perhaps eighteen, a couple of years older than her, had appeared. He had a handsome face and curly blonde hair in an inverted ‘v’ shape that hung down to his shoulders. He gave a pearly-toothed smile and his blue eyes twinkled.
“Oh, er, I’m Shannon, actually.”
He laughed’ “Well, pleased to meet you, Shannon Actually! My name’s Marty Brown. What are you doing here?”
Shannon found herself blushing, much to her surprise. “Oh, I’m staying with my grandparents next door. They’d gone to bingo and I … I, er, I thought I’d take a look in the loft.”
“Oh, you’re not a nosy girl then!” Marty laughed. “Do you like model trains? I’m on holiday here for another two weeks. You could help me, er, reorganize the layout.”
Shannon found herself short of breath. She felt dizzy, then Marty’s arms around her, holding her steady.
‘Are you OK?” he asked.
Shannon recovered but didn’t pull away, enjoying the sensation of Marty’s embrace. “Oh, sorry, I felt faint. I think it was … er … climbing that ladder.”
“That’s OK. Glad you’re all right.”
She put her arms around Marty. “Yeah, I’m fine and that’d be great, I mean I love model trains!”
Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth
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