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