Friday, 28 December 2018

Janice Meets Alice WC weekend read...

Janice Meets Alice.

Every now and then, we need a hand, to see us over a difficult time, some one who understands what's required, to get us back on track. This short story shows that help from any quarter is valued...Angels are are Demons...Alice is an Angel...Janice was and still is a hard working Mom. [Now grand-mom]  

Hi, I’m Janice,

The trip from Palmerston North to Whanganui takes about an hour, all going well that is…not a long trip you might think, but twice a day five or six days a week now that’s a different story. I’d done this trip for about a month and let me assure you it was getting to me. I’m a mother of two, with a husband and a dog oh and not forgetting a couple of cats. My husband and two children both of who are in their late teens can do most things. Other than cook, poached eggs on toast or baked beans or even canned soup, yea they can manage that level of culinary fare but healthy three vegetables and meat plus roast spuds with a pudding once in a while seems, like if you’ll excuse the pun ‘pie in the sky’.

No doubt you’ve seen those American television sit-coms where all the family shares in the preparation of meals? Well ours is not like that. Yet we’ve got all the mod-com aids like microwave oven, slow cooker, even an oven with a fan, recipe books to burn including an early edition of the Edmonds cook book. But alas the skill of cooking was deeply lacking amongst the neat team who resided at my address.

My daily plan of action was simple; well it wasn’t so much of a plan more like a routine really. Up at the crack of dawn, visit the small room and straight into the kitchen after washing my hands of course, and prepare the evening meal. Peel some spuds, dice some carrots, peel or is it strip a couple of onions, parsnips. Remove some pork chops from the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw, boil the jug for a coffee using the rest of the water to make a quick jelly into which I place a few quartered peaches. I depart the kitchen just as the others arrive including the dog, oh he is so sweet, and the two cats. The rest of the family feed them along with themselves.

I then head back to the bathroom put the dirty washing in the basket and replace the lid. Then I head for the dresser and powder my nose and other things. Slip into something suitable for the day ahead and head back to the dining room where all my love ones are deep into various breakfast variations. I check my diary for up-dates on the days-organised activities, like dancing lessons, soccer practice times, dog or cat to vets, dry cleaning and urgent requirements from the supermarket. A quick kiss for and from all and it’s off and running to the car.

As you can understand this routine keeps one slim and trim but sometimes can leave one totally exhausted.

One morning I was just so worn out that I said to myself, ‘Damn dinner’ I’m going to stay in bed for another hour. And I did just that. Then I arose and hogged the bathroom and took a slow shower spending lots of time on my neglected spots. Then I spent double my normal time on my hair. I grabbed a slice of toast off my husbands plate and said to all those gathered in the kitchen, ‘dinners your worry’ tossed them all a goodbye kiss, including the cats and the dog and departed the scene. They, human and animal looked in total shock as I departed that domestic environment. Of course after about five or six miles guilt hit me, just as it did, my cell phone buzzed. I switched the car adapter on and answered, ‘It’s me’
‘Are you all right’ I recognised my husband’s voice
‘Sure am’
‘And tonight’s dinner’
‘Your worry’ I said fighting the guilt.
‘But tonight’s football practice’
‘That’s right’
‘Fish and chips is that OK’
‘No way” You know the rules, only on a Friday’.
‘Drive carefully honey’
‘You too, I said and pushed the off button.

Apprehension bugged me all the way home, what would I find when I got home. A meal fit for a queen. Roast Pork, spuds, parsnips all baked to perfection, silver-beet followed by steamed pudding with golden syrup and a blob of whipped cream. As I pulled into the drive, locked the car and headed toward the back door the aroma of roasting meat hit me. No it’s no possible, but that smell that delightful bouquet so powerful and aromatic what the hell can it be. My imagination must be going nutty and I must be dreaming. Then I realised Michael that’s my husband and Bob, he’s our oldest would be at soccer practice and our youngest Jenny would be at her dance lesson, she gets picked by Michael and Bob on their way home around six thirty. So with great trepidation I unlocked the door only to be greeted by two hungry looking cats and an ever-growing aroma of cooking and I might add appetizing food.

Only the pork and roast vegetables were actually cooking hence the wonderful aroma, the silver-beet was in the steamer and had even had a little sugar added rather than salt and as I lifted the lid on the stainless steel pot there was a steam pudding wrapped in muslin. I staggered to a kitchen chair and sat, no I never fainted but it was a near thing. Then I guessed Michael, dear sweet Michael must have done all this before heading off to soccer…he would even have had to come home early to achieve all this…but a steam pudding in muslin…no he must have got someone in to help him his Mother maybe?

Regaining some composure I slipped into jeans and a baggy Tee shirt came back to the kitchen and selected a bottle of white wine and popped it into the fridge. I switch the hot plate under the steam pudding to high, put my finger into the silver-beet and then licked the sugar from my finger thinking; ‘Now this is the life’. I went into the living room and switched on the TV in time for the six o’clock news.

Hi, said Michael, what’s that super smell?
Gee Mom you did cook dinner, Dad said we could be having fish and chips, said Jenny.
Bob, after tossing his soccer boots down in his bedroom came in and said, ‘See I told you Dad that Mom would get tea as usual’.
‘But, I started to say…
‘Don’t you say anything said Michael, you’ve done enough already, I think that sleep in this morning has done you a world of good, he added.
‘And Mom, we’ll do the dishes without a fight tonight, said Jenny.

The meal was wonderful; it was perfection and worthy of the finest chef. We were all sated. While Michael and the kids did the dishes I went outside and sat at patio table with a glass of the chilled white wine and tried to work out what had actually had happened. Who had prepared the meal? Why? I must have been sitting there for what seemed like an hour or so, Michael had switched on the garden lights and given me a soft kiss on the back of my neck and said he was going to work on the computer for an hour or so. The kids were in their rooms deep into their homework. I felt so contented, happy and relaxed. The dog sat at my feet and rubbed his ears against my ankles while one of the cats had curled into a ball of fur and purred on my lap. I dozed off.

Hello…Hi, said a voice unknown to me.
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands and saw an elderly lady, easily in her seventies or eighties…’Sorry but I never heard you arrive’.
‘No you wouldn’t, I’m always very quiet’
‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Alice Bowmont-Harris’
“Oh, I know who you are”
‘You do.’
‘Oh, yes, we’re flat-mates so to speak, flat mates, isn’t that what they call people who live in the same house these days, they used to call them boarders when I was young’.
‘And when was that? I asked.
‘Dear me, it was a long time ago’.

I rubbed my eyes again and Alice was still there. The cat slid off my lap and climbed on Alice’s broad lap, the dog gave a yawn and settled down again. They seemed use to Alice being around.

‘Did you enjoy the meal? She asked.
‘So it was you who cooked dinner tonight?
‘Of course and it felt really good to prepare a meal again after all these years’.
‘Who are you and where are you from?
‘I live here’.
‘No we live here’
‘That’s true but so do I’

I stood up and was about to walk away thinking it must have been the wine when Alice said quietly but with a persuading edge, ’Please sit down and let me explain the circumstances that you and I find ourselves in’.
I sat and the dog nestled once more against my ankle and our second cat took up residence on a spare patio chair, her ears upright and eager to hear Alice’s story, as was I.

Alice leaned slightly forward and began her story. “A long time ago I lived right here where your house is built. This whole area was a farm in those days. But our farmhouse was right where your house stands today. I was newly wed and Richard, my husband had brought the land from the local Iwi and had with his Father developed the farm. It was a good life, the small but growing township of Palmerston North was not far away and we had good markets for both our milk and produce. But these good times couldn’t last and we were hit by huge floods in 1902 we lost everything our stock and sadly I lost Richard…Tears appeared on the cheeks of Alice…I reached out and touched her hand. Alice went on, we searched for days for Richard’s body and both I and his Father continued for months after that. His Father died a few years later and since I had no children there was only me remaining. I continued my search but years had now past. Then one day I was walking down by the Awapuni Lagoon, I would go down there to buy an eel from the Maori families who fished the Lagoon, when I met the daughter of the family who had sold Richard the farm land. She recognised me and we sat on a rough sawn log seat. I told her my story and she listened with great empathy. She said she thought she knew someone who could help and she would get her great aunt to visit me within the week. I thought she was just being nice because of my circumstances, but she was true to her word and four or five days later she and her Aunt arrived at my door. Her Aunt added by a stout walking stick was led at her request to objects that Richard had touched, used or built. Alice paused for a long moment…

‘Please go on I asked, eager to learn more. Even the dog had sat up and was looking at Alice; both cats had stopped purring and were all attention. I felt sure they understood every word Alice had spoken.

Alice then gently continued. The Aunt after touching various objects, a chair on which Richard had sat when smoking his pipe, our bed in which we had first made love and the plow who’s blades he had forged. She then asked me to lie on the earth, which I had prepared for a future garden. This I did, she bent down and touched my forehead and softly recited a short Maori chant, ‘E mohiotia ana a waho kei roto he aha’ ‘One can not know from the outside what is contained within’ and she repeated this three times. Standing both she and her niece helped me to my feet. The Aunt reached into her apron pocket and passed me a handful of dark brown seeds. ‘Plant these seeds in the indentation made by your body, not outside of it but all within, she instructed. When the seedlings appear keep the strongest two and remove the others. If you have not found your husband’s resting place before you are about to die, take a twig from each tree and have them placed in your coffin this will ensure that your spirit remains earth bound until your husband is found and put to rest. I was told that I must remain near the trees and was given the power to appear if the trees were put in danger, for should the trees be felled the spell would be broken. Hence my boarding with you so as to protect those two tall trees in your back yard. Taking a small white-laced handkerchief she wiped her eyes that were over flowing. ‘

I was stunned and confused, lost for words; I accepted the reality of Alice Angel or Demon I knew not which.

‘Your trees are safe with us; we brought this house mainly because of the trees and the garden below’.
‘I know, said Alice, I scared off a couple of other buyers before you came along, she added as a soft and barely perceptible smile crossed her lips.
‘I too smiled, as I asked, why then the meal?’
‘I don’t really know but it’s just that I feel Richards’s discovery is close. It’s nothing more than a feeling and besides that I want you and your family to remain. So I just thought I might help you out during this busy time of your life…simply an old woman’s desire to be useful and active…as a spirit I don’t get any older but nor do I get any younger’.

Well we made a deal, I would protect the trees and she would cook the evening meals. All I had to do was to make sure all the ingredients were available and taught her how to manage the microwave. Alice in turn explained to me that I could communicate by ‘think-talk’ and that she would keep out of sight of the rest of the family. Oh other than the cats and our dog, they had been communicating for a year or so. Alice didn’t realise it but this was every working mother’s dream come true.

Some many months later…

After a great deal of protest the Palmerston North City Council agreed to sell the block of land known as the ‘Railway Land’ to the Warehouse a huge retail business that has taken over the marketing of mainly cheap slave labour goods imported in to New Zealand. It is based on the American Wal-Mart model. That uses cheap labour, low paid staff that allows the clear undercutting of local businesses.

While the contractors were excavating the foundation area in preparation for erecting the massive shell like structure, human bones were found. Building came to a halt and experts were called in. According to the Manawatu Standard it was first thought that the bones were Maori but later were proven to be European and male around thirty years of age. The bones themselves appeared to be between ninety and one hundred years old. A solid silver chain with a small cross-attached was found with the skeleton with the letters R.BH. The remains are to be buried at the Cemetery in James Line and the local Lions Club is providing a plaque with the letters R.BH and the date.

‘I have to leave now’, said Alice. She sat under the two large trees in an old rocking chair that was covered in a coat of green and white moss.
I stood, back resting against one of the broad tree trunks; the sun was beaming down creating defused waves of mystic yellow and orange images on the leaf-strewn lawn. I didn’t know what to say in response to Alice’s words.
‘Say goodbye to Michael, Bob and Jenny for me, although we never met, they have become a part of my family I did so enjoy cooking for you all’. She wept softly. The dog trotted toward Alice and rested at her feet nudging her ankles. Both cats strolled proudly out of a shady patch and with that wonderful dexterity only possessed by felines leapt onto her ample lap. ‘Oh I shall miss you three as well’ she uttered as she stroked the cats gently behind their ears.

A breeze drifted in and rustled the dry leave bed at our feet, I was crying, I went over and stood behind Alice and wrapped my arms around her resting my head on her shoulder. The breeze was growing stronger and I sensed that time was short. “Thank you for your meals, your company, but mostly for being here go and be with your Richard, your darling Richard.’ I held her hand. She smiled that smile that told of life and pain that had lasted a hundred years. Then Alice disappeared into an ever-expanding vertex of wind and leaf. I stood and looked toward the sky as did our dog and two cats…it was over.

‘Mom” What’s for dinner’, shouted Jenny…
‘What say we just have fish and chips”…
‘But, Mom its Wednesday not Friday’ answered Jenny.
“Oh, who cares”.

The following day the need to travel back and forth to Whanganui ended and I was now to be located predominately in Palmerston North.

I never believed in ghosts or spirits until I met Alice. Now I’m not so sure. Maori have a saying, E kimi ana I ngā kāwai I toro ki tawhiti, translated it means: ‘He seeks the branches that stretch far and wide’ said of anyone seeking to claim distant or lost relationships.

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