Category: Sad Lisa

Sad Lisa. Chapter Three

Sad Lisa

Chapter Three

Adam, once one of the beaten, church poor, had no serious religious beliefs, and had only attended church (for a friend’s wedding), once since he had left school, so he spent the rest of the morning reading a copy of Thomas Hardy’s, The Mayor of Casterbridge, that he had found, damp, but still readable, on a seat in Hyde Park, earlier in the summer.

At around 1.00 PM he heard the loud chatter of children as the Parsons family returned from church. He got to his feet and hurried across the room as he heard someone rap on his door. He opened it to find Mr Parsons standing in the hall.

‘Mr Sears, I feel I have to apologise for the behaviour of my children earlier today. They have been instructed not to disturb you by running up and down the hallway in future.’

‘They were playing,’ Adam said with a smile. ‘I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, quite the opposite in fact. I always find something joyous in the sound of children’s laughter.’

Mr Parsons nodded, and smiled back.

‘I’m so glad you see it that way, Mr Sears. They are confined upstairs rather too much and they do tend to expend all that built up energy every chance they are given. They visit the park twice a week but I fear that is not enough to let off the steam that builds up.’

‘They are welcome to play in the corridor at any time, Mr Parsons,’ replied Adam. ‘Rest assured, I will never be annoyed by their presence.’

Mr Parsons nodded again. ‘Oh, by the way, if you spot a cat around the area, could you let us know. Our pet, Mr Dickens, appears to have disappeared again. It’s a regular occurrence, so I’m not particularly concerned, but the children do worry about him. He’s not supposed to go into the street but he manages to slip out sometimes, usually when the children aren’t as observant as they promised they would be when we allowed them to take the creature in. He’s a big furry ball of a thing. Mostly ginger with a white flash on his chest.’

‘I’ll keep my eye out for him,’ Adam said, looking to the staircase where Veronica and Catherine waited with hopeful faces.

Mr Parsons turned away.

‘Come along, girls. Mr Sears will let us know if he spots the escapee.’ He patted both girls on the back. ‘He’ll turn up, he always does.’

Adam closed the door and returned to his book.

While visiting the bathroom during the afternoon, Adam thought he heard a baby crying. He turned off the tap, waited for the drain to empty, then cocked his head to listen. The sound came again, faint, but clearer. Adam paced the bathroom pushing his ear against the marble tiles, here and there. He wondered what was on the other side of his bathroom wall. He paced out the distance from the back wall of the bathroom, past a short open space to the kitchen, then through the sitting room until he got to the doorway of the apartment. He opened the door, stepped into the passage and paced out the same number of steps, towards the back wall.

‘Ten paces short,’ he said, as he reached the painted brickwork at the end of the hall. Adam looked to the right and noticed a door, set into the panelling below the staircase. The glossy door was not locked and he opened it and stepped into the dark recess beneath the stairs. Adam squinted into the gloom and saw another door, this one much more substantial. He stepped forward and turned the handle but the door was locked. Adam retraced his steps and returned to his sitting room where he picked up the bunch of keys from the mantel, that his landlady had given him. He had taken the front door keys from the bunch so that he wouldn’t have to carry the unwieldy ring of keys in his pocket.

Adam carried the keys back to the door in the stairwell, selected one of the larger keys and inserted it into the lock. Luck was with him; he turned the key and heard the lock click open. Adam twisted the handle and pushed open the door. Daylight filled the stairwell and Adam blinked a few times as his eyes became accustomed to the light. After a few seconds acclimatisation, he stepped out through the doorway.

Outside, he found himself in a short, high walled garden area. To his left was what he assumed was the extended wall of his bathroom. In front was a paved area with an ash-pit dug into the left side. Facing him, cut into the high wall, was a roughly-painted, wooden gate that showed at least three layers of faded, flaking, paint that has been applied over the years. Along the wall, at the left-hand side of the gate were three, dented, metal dustbins. To his right was an iron built, timber-treaded stairway that led up to the back door of the apartment above. On the third step sat a large ginger cat. It stared at him through narrow, green eyes, flattened back its ears, and hissed.

‘Mr Dickens, I presume,’ said Adam with a laugh. He held out his hand in what he hoped was a cat-friendly gesture. Mr Dickens ignored the offer of a petting, leapt down from the step and ran into the house. Adam looked around his surroundings again, then followed the cat, locking the heavy door behind him.

Temporarily blinded by the darkness, Adam felt his way along the right-hand wall until he found his way back to the stairwell door. He stepped into the bright hallway, decided to leave the door ajar in case the cat was hiding in the dark, and walked back to his sitting room. As he entered the room, he saw the ginger cat watching him carefully from the dining table.

‘There you are,’ said Adam, aloud. He walked slowly around the table so as not to alarm the animal, stepped into the kitchen and returned with a small piece of sliced ham, which he pulled apart and laid on the tablecloth. Mr Dickens looked at the ham, then at Adam, and remained where he was. Adam backed away and sank into an armchair. He pointed towards the tiny pieces of ham. ‘Eat,’ he said.

The cat sniffed the air, then padded across the tablecloth and began to tuck into the unexpected treat. Encouraged, Adam got to his feet, walked slowly to the table, and made what he hoped was soothing noises. Mr Dickens turned his head towards him, then returned to the food.

Adam decided not to risk a clawing by attempting to pet the cat and instead took a step back. The cat ate another sliver of ham, then became stiff, its ears flattened against its head, the hair on its back stood on end. It stared at the open bathroom door, hissed twice then began to growl.

Puzzled, Adam looked to where the cat was staring.

‘It’s alright, puss, there’s nothing there.’

The cat obviously thought otherwise, and still growling, began to back away, never taking its eyes off the bathroom. When it reached the edge of the table, it turned and leapt in one movement. With a swish of its tail it hurtled out of the still open door.

Adam took one last look at the bathroom, shook his head, then turned and walked to the hallway. On the stairs was Catherine, she cradled a still-wary Mr Dickens in her arms.

‘Did you have him all the time?’ she asked accusingly.

‘Of course not,’ replied Adam, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. ‘I found him out on the back stair, near the ash pit. He must have got into the yard when the dustmen came and couldn’t get out again.

Veronica seemed appeased.

‘Well, in that case, thank you for finding him. We were getting worried.’ She ran her fingers through the thick fur on the side of the cat’s head. ‘You’re a very silly cat, going into the yard. There’s nothing there for you, not even a mouse.’ She grunted as she got to her feet lifting the heavy cat. ‘Let’s get you some dinner, you must be starving.’

‘I gave him a little bit of ham,’ said Adam. ‘Not much though, so he should still want his dinner.’

Veronica began to climb the stair. ‘Thank you for rescuing him,’ she said, without looking back.

Adam returned to his flat, picked up the two, tiny pieces of ham that Mr Dickens hadn’t eaten and took them into the bathroom where he dropped the meat into the lavatory and pulled the chain, flushing it into the drains.

Adam put the kettle on the kitchen stove and made tea, adding milk from the pan he had boiled earlier that day. He carried the tea tray to the big table, placed it in the centre and sat down facing the bathroom, wondering what the cat had seen to make it act in such a strange manner.

After two cups of tea and a wasted half hour, Adam decided that it was impossible to understand cat behaviour, and laughing to himself, pulled on his jacket, went out into the quiet street, and made his way to the Dog and Duck for dinner.

The three-course meal cost nine pence, twice as much as he used to pay at the Furling public house in Paddington. The meal consisted of a thin, beef soup, mutton, potatoes, cabbage and gravy, followed by a sweet, lemon pudding. At the Boar restaurant, just up the road, the cost for a similar meal would be a shilling. Adam decided that a shilling was too much to pay for his evening meal on a regular basis, and that he would eat at the Dog and Duck four nights a week, have restaurant food on Saturdays, before visiting the music hall, and dine at home on the other two nights.

Adam remained in the bar of the pub, drinking a decent ale, until eight o’clock, then made his way back home, breathing in the still clean, summer evening air. At midnight, the destructor, a huge furnace built to burn household waste, would start up at the refuse disposal yard and heavy industry boilers and ovens would be relit, ready for the new working week.

It was a relatively short walk home. When he arrived, Adam decided to sit on the top step of the stairs outside his apartment building to watch the world go by. With a full stomach and two pints of heavy beer in his stomach, he was as happy as he had ever been.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. Chapter 2

Sad Lisa

Chapter Two

Adam slept well on the first night in his new home. He woke early on Sunday morning and took a brisk walk through the almost empty streets. In his former lodgings, the streets would have been almost as busy as a weekday, with many children of the less well-heeled spending the early morning of the Sabbath scouring the gutters and pavements for tiny pieces of coal that has been missed by the Saturday evening search patrols. Some scoured the back yards of food shops for half-rotten potatoes, a few, bad smelling leaves of cabbage or a crust of stale bread.

Later, the streets he now walked would be littered with children heading off to Sunday School before meeting up with parents at the church for their regular Sunday morning service. All of the children in Adam’s new, more affluent area, walked to church in their Sunday best clothes to be given bible tuition and made to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the ten commandments before listening to a guest speaker. Sometimes it would be a vicar from a neighbouring parish, sometimes a fiery, American preacher, and sometimes, more interestingly, a missionary, fresh back from Africa with tales of man-eating lions and crocodiles the length of an omnibus.

In Paddington, Adam’s previous district, only the children of the religious poor attended Sunday School. The church official in charge of the poorest of the poor handled things in a very different manner. Unruly children were dragged unceremoniously to the front of the room and beaten with either a thick leather strap or, if the offence was considered blasphemous, a three-foot cane. Threats of hell and damnation would follow the children out of the hall and into the streets where the cursing and fighting would begin anew.

Adam counted three public houses and two, small but well looked-after, restaurants as he surveyed his new neighbourhood for the first time. The chalked-up blackboards outside each establishment showed prices for two or three course evening meals. Even the pubs seemed to have a reasonable menu. They were all twice the price of a meal in the eateries less then half a mile along the road, but he knew he would be enjoying a far superior meal and would have less chance of a seriously upset stomach during the night. Following the recent licencing restrictions, the pubs in this district at least were not allowed to open until 12.00 PM while all of the shops were closed and shuttered, as people adhered to the strict, Lord’s Day rules.

Adam switched from the cobbled streets to the pavement as the private hire and privately owned carriages came onto the roads and walked back to his new apartment at a brisk pace, lifting his hat or nodding to the few fellow citizens who were taking the chance to exercise in the almost deserted streets and the smoke-free air.

Adam had precured a small loaf, some butter, a lump of cheese and an onion on the previous afternoon and when he returned home, he made a pot of tea and sat down to enjoy the first meal in his new abode. Outside, in the hall, he could hear the sound of children’s laughter. He opened the door and looked out to see two girls aged between nine and eleven, wearing smock dresses and lace-up boots, along with a red-faced, wheezy boy, some years younger, sporting a checked knickerbocker suit, acting out a game of tag up and down the long corridor. They stopped dead as he appeared in the doorframe. The older of the girls looked particularly shocked.

‘Shut the door, mister,’ she begged, and began to back her way along the polished wood panelling that lined the bottom of the staircase. She held out her hand to the other girl. ‘Veronica, quickly now, come here.’

Never taking her eyes from Adam, the younger girl edged towards, who he assumed was her sister. She grabbed at her wrist and together they ran up the first three steps to the turn of the stair.

‘Don’t be afraid, children.’ Adam held out both hands. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ He turned to the boy who stood, mouth agape, only three feet away from him. ‘You’re not afraid of me, are you?’ He smiled and crouched down so he was at more or less the same height as the boy.

‘Stanley! Get yourself up here… NOW!’ the older girl commanded.

Stanley looked from Adam to the girl then back again, but remained glued to the spot.

‘Stanley?’ Adam spoke softly. He held out his hand towards the child. The movement seemed to wake Stanley from his stupor, and he spun around on one foot and hurled himself up the steps.

Adam straightened, and held out his palms again. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Please, don’t be afraid.’

‘It’s not you we’re scared of,’ said the younger of the girls. ‘It’s what’s insi—’

‘Shh, Veronica,’ the older girl put her finger to her lips, ‘you’ll entice her out, then we’ll all be for it.’

Adam looked puzzled. He half turned and pushed the heavy door, open wide.

‘There’s no one here but me. See for yourselves.’

The girls looked at each other, the older of the two stretched her neck in an attempt to see past him. Adam stepped into the hallway and stood to the side so the girls had a clear view into his sitting room.

‘See? No one. I live here alone.’

‘Catherine, Veronica. Come along now, let me brush your hair, it’s almost time for Sunday School. Is Stanley with you?’

A tall, slim woman in a grey pleated skirt and a light pink, frilled-collared blouse, descended the stairs. Spotting Adam, she paused, then held out a slender hand towards the children. ‘Come now, we don’t want to be late.’

She began to turn away but stopped as Adam spoke.

‘I’m Adam Sears,’ he said quickly. ‘I appear to have frightened your children. I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.’

The woman smiled thinly.

‘I’m Felicity Parsons,’ she replied. Her face became softer. She ushered the children upstairs then walked elegantly down the stairs to the hallway. She held out a gloved hand. Adam took it as gently as he could.

‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ Adam said. ‘I’m new to the district, I don’t know anyone around here. I’m sorry we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Mrs Parsons replied, stretching to look over Adam’s shoulder and into the sitting room. ‘I hope you last a little bit longer than the previous tenant… previous three tenants, that is. No one seems to stay here long. It seems that just as we get to be on speaking terms, they disappear on us.’

‘I met Mr Parsons last night, he told me the same thing,’ said Adam. He looked back into the apartment, a puzzled look on his face. ‘It’s a lovely place, I really can’t understand what’s wrong with it for the life of me.’

Mrs Parsons patted his arm and walked quickly back to the staircase.

‘Let us hope you never do, Mr Sears,’ she said.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. A ghost story. Chapter 1

Sad Lisa. A ghost story based on the Cat Stevens song. Unedited and seen as written. Part two will be along soon.

 

SAD LISA

by

T. A. Belshaw

Adam Sears sat at the heavy-oak dining table and for the umpteenth time that week, wondered how he, a young man of just twenty-one years, with limited prospects, had managed to acquire such a comfortable apartment in such an elegant house, in this much sought-after district of London.

The room was tastefully decorated with a cornflower patterned wallpaper. The furniture, including the dining table and a drop-leaf side table, was made from sturdy oak. An almost new, oriental style, blue/grey rug, sat on the floor and the bay window was framed by heavy, dark-grey, velvet, curtains.

Adam got to his feet and walked across to the open, sashed-window. Outside, the well-heeled Saturday afternoon crowds strolled the pavements.  Ladies, resplendent in summer hats, walked arm in arm with their heavily moustached, stiff-collared, male companions. Hanson and Landau carriages, pulled by a single or pair of horses, clattered across the cobbled street. Come autumn, the view would be restricted by the heavy smog that would hang in the air like a thick coverlet, but for now, with the sun high in the smoke-hazed sky, he couldn’t imagine a place he’d rather be. Adam stood for five minutes,  wallowing in the spectacle, thinking again how very fortunate he had been to find such a pleasant place to call his home.

Adam was an accounts clerk, working for Lorimar’s Bank. His shiny coat and frayed shirt collars were an embarrassment to him, especially out on the streets of such a genteel district. He felt the eyes of the privileged on him as he climbed the three steps from the pavement to the front door of his residence. Most took him for an Insurance salesman, visiting a client, or a butler to a rich tradesman, returning from running an errand. He was determined to improve his station, Mr Robbins, the branch manager had told him that if he worked hard, he could earn a substantial promotion in the next five years. Old Mr Armitage, the senior clerk, was seventy and had begun to struggle with his sight. Adam had designs on his job, and with it, the extra fifty pounds a year.

He had found the apartment after noticing a poster in a ground-floor window as he passed by on the omnibus. The first evening he just noticed the ‘for rent,’ headline and he had travelled home, daydreaming about what it must be like to live in such a pleasant neighbourhood. The following night, a Hanson cab had lost a wheel and the omnibus came to a halt right outside the building, so Adam had plenty of time to read the entire advertisement.

‘Apartment to let. Furnished, with private bathroom and kitchen. 10 shillings per week. Professional gentlemen only need apply. Deposit and references, required.’

Adam read the poster three times, then got up from his seat, left the omnibus and walked quickly up the steps to the front door of the residence. He brought down the brass, lion’s-head knocker three times and stepped back as the door opened. In front of him was a woman of about forty years. She was smartly dressed in a blue skirt and white frilled blouse. Her greying hair was tied in a tight bun, but wisps of it had escaped and lay across her frowning, forehead,

‘May I help you?’ she asked.

‘It’s about the, umm, the… advertisment… in the window. I’m not sure I read it correctly.’

The woman looked him up and down, took in his much-repaired shirt and coat, his scraped brown boots, then half closed the door. ‘The stipulation is, professional gentleman,’ she said.

‘My name is Adam Sears, I work for Lorimar’s Bank, I look after the accounts of our more affluent clients,’ he said hurriedly. ‘If the apartment really is for rent at ten shillings a week, I can easily afford it. I’ve just had my salary increased.’

The woman looked at him suspiciously. ‘Where are you living at the moment?’

Adam thought quickly. He didn’t want her to know he was renting a tiny attic room in a run-down part of Paddington, so he answered, ‘I live with my aunt in Marylebone, but she is increasingly, frail and is moving to the coast for the sea air.’

She looked him up and down again, quite taken by his piercing blue eyes and the handsome face that was almost pleading with her to accept his word.

‘Lorimar’s Bank you say? Well, I’ll need a reference.’ She stepped back and opened the heavy, black-glossed door. ‘Come inside and take a look. I will require a month’s deposit in advance, plus the current month’s rent.’

Adam’s jaw almost hit his chest when she opened the door to the apartment and showed him around. This was pure opulence, considering the conditions he was living in at present.

‘And, and, it’s definitely, ten shillings a week, the rent won’t increase after the first month, or so?’

‘Ten shillings it is and ten shillings it will remain until the day you leave, or can no longer afford to pay. She looked him over again and sniffed. ‘Defaulter’s deposits are non-refundable,’ she warned.

‘I have to ask, why is it so cheap? I mean, my friend is paying the same amount to share a couple of dingy, rooms in Balham.’ Adam turned a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. ‘This is beautiful.’

‘I just want it let, instead of sitting idle,’ she said. A look of annoyance crossed her face. ‘No one seems to stay very long. The last two tenants left without notice, leaving all their belongings behind them. It seems to have a history of short term, tenancy. I only bought the house a couple of years ago and it has been rented out six times during that period. The rest of the apartments in the house have settled tenants, some have been living here for years.’ She shrugged. ‘Anyone would think the place was haunted.’

Adam laughed nervously. ‘Well, if it is, I don’t care.’ He looked around the beautifully decorated sitting room. ‘As long as I don’t have to pay its share of the rent.’

The woman smiled at the joke. ‘I’m Mrs Prendergast. I live just up the street at number forty-five, you’ll find me there most of the time if you need me for anything… like paying the rental deposit, or settling the monthly account.’ She narrowed her eyes, her mouth so tightly closed that her lips almost vanished. ‘Due on the first day of the month, every month,’ she added.

Adam offered his hand. Mrs Prendergast looked at it, then turned away.

‘We’ll leave the formalities and niceties until the contract is signed, shall we?’ She showed Adam to the front door and watched him onto the top step.

‘I’ll bring the deposit and the first month’s rent around tomorrow after I leave work. It will be about this time of day,’ he said.

He turned away and walked to the pavement before turning back to face her.

‘You won’t let it to anyone else before I come back?’

‘A chance would be a fine thing,’ she muttered under her breath before looking directly into his eyes. ‘The apartment is yours, Mr Sears,’ she said, firmly.

***

The following night, Adam, carrying a large, battered case containing everything he owned, arrived at Mrs Prendergast’s house. She showed him into a neat study where she studiously counted out the money he placed on the table. Adam handed her an envelope containing a reference from his employers, which stated that to the best of their knowledge he was of good character, was a diligent, trustworthy employee with some promotional prospects, and earned a salary of one hundred and seventy pounds per annum.

His new landlady read the document through a pair of narrow-lensed, reading glasses that she picked up from her desk. Satisfied, she turned to a tier of small, gold-embossed drawers, opened the top one and produced a bunch of keys. She handed them to him with a warning.

‘If you lose them, replacements will have to be paid for. I only keep one spare set and that is for my use. I may let myself into the apartment from time to time just to see if you are looking after it. I will inform you when I mean to do that.’

Adam almost ran back to his new abode. He rushed up the steps, keys in hand but as he reached out to insert the largest of them into the lock, the heavy, black door opened.

In the doorway, stood a tall, bearded man wearing a dark suit and a black top hat. He smiled at Adam and stood aside to allow him entry.

Adam put down his case and blushed as he noticed the man take in its battered condition. He held out his hand and smiled.

The man took it and smiled back.

‘Henry Parsons, at your service,’ he said.

‘Adam Sears. I’m your new neighbour.’

Henry’s smile was little more than a grimace. ‘Well, Adam Sears, I hope you last longer then the last tenant. He was here for less than a month. The one before him was only here for two.’

‘I don’t understand it,’ replied Adam with a puzzled frown. ‘The apartment is beautiful, and it’s so cheap, why would anyone want to leave so quickly?’

Henry shrugged and walked back to the door. ‘Perhaps the ghost of Sad Lisa has something to do with it,’ he said quietly.

Adam looked puzzled again. ‘Ghost… Sad Lisa? Who is Sad Lisa? he asked.

‘You’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.’ Henry stepped outside closing the door firmly behind him.

 

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