• Gina Fegan

Chapter 9. A hot bath.

“I’m NOT COVID positive! For goodness sake child, pay attention. I am just not going out, and I need to talk to your mother, where on earth is she?”

Maeve heard Ada’s voice as soon as she opened the door. She moved into the hallway, and took off her coat and shoes, looking down at her muddy legs.

Orla had rigged up the same screen based system on the table and had been chatting to Ada. But just as Maeve had thought, Orla still needed some rest and regular food, so clearly was having trouble staying focused on whatever Ada was saying. That being said, Maeve often had difficulty keeping up with Ada as she flipped from subject to subject, so maybe it was just Ada.

This was definitely not what Maeve had been looking forward to, but she knew if she didn’t make an appearance then there would be a string of missed calls and messages. So she stuck her head into the breakfast room.

Maeve interrupted their conversation with,

“Don’t! Don’t laugh! If you laugh I won’t speak to you. Or I’ll cry. I’m only dropping in to say, I’ll call you back in an hour, and you can see why. Okay?” Maeve did have a comic look with mud splashes on her face. However neither Ada nor Orla were laughing, they were both more concerned that she had had a fall.

“You okay Mum?” “What the hell did you do to yourself?” Orla and Ada’s concern came out at the same time, in different flavours, but genuine on both counts.

“I’m fine, it's just a bit of mud, no damage done, other than to my ego. But I am going for a bath, the vision of which got me home double quick. Talk to you later. I still have questions for you Ada.” With that Maeve was gone.

“Right so.” Ada had settled back into another cup of tea, “Tell me the rest of your adventures. How on God’s earth did you manage to sleep in a tree! I ask you. I never thought a grandchild of mine would get up to such shenanigans, and you are telling me that all this is to save the planet.”

Orla was patient but firm, “Ada if you really do want to know, then you will have to stop talking and let me explain.”

Ada missed social interaction, and had developed the habit of talking over people, or rather just talking herself and not waiting for any input from the other side. Dialogues had become monologues, replete with questions and answers already filled in by Ada. Maeve had noticed this and had already told Ada to be careful, and that she, Maeve, was not prepared to become Ada’s version of Wilson, the football that Tom Hanks talks to, in the movie Castaway. So Ada took Orla’s comment in good part and stopped talking, well almost.

Orla got on very well with her grandmother and loved her eccentricities. But she wasn’t prepared to have this conversation yet, so she changed the subject.

“Tell me what exactly are Cyanotype prints? And what are you doing with them?”

This was all that Ada needed, someone happy to listen,

“Where were you brought up? Not to know Cyanotype prints! Have you ever heard of a blueprint?”

Orla nodded and smiled at how Ada put it, mixing mundane and obscure as if it was self-evident that everyone who had heard of a blueprint knew what a cyanotype print was.

Ada resumed,

“Well blueprints are the original type of photography. And they are the most natural, safest way to print, children can do it. First you prepare the paper, then put an object on the paper, and expose it to sunlight. Then the magic happens. You put the paper in water and like a photograph the image emerges. Everywhere you blocked the sunlight is white and everywhere else turns deep blue. Like a negative.” Now that she was in her stride Ada didn’t want to stop.

“I used to sell prints, years ago. Well with all this isolation I had to do something, so I started again. This time gathering seaweed and objects from the beach. Making images. People told me they were beautiful and wouldn’t I sell them? ‘You can do it online’, they said. And you know how terrible I am with a computer….and neither you nor your sister were around to help me. So guess what?”

Orla was just about keeping track of all this, particularly as Ada had been holding up some of the prints as she spoke. They were lovely ghostly images coming out of this fabulous indigo blue.

“What? You said ‘guess what’, so What?” Orla prompted.

This brought Ada back to the principle point of the call, she drew breath and got excited as she went on,

“There’s this brilliant new shop in Canterbury called…..”

Frustrated that she couldn’t remember the name, Ada was clicking her fingers for Orla to fill in the gaps.

What’s that game you used to play…?”

“Monopoly? Scrabble? Risk?” Orla tried her best, but Ada was looking at her as if she was mad.

“No, no. The one with your hands. What’s it called? Paper, scissors, stone, lizard….”

Orla suddenly got it, “I know, you mean Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

With that Ada was happy to continue,

“That’s the one. Anyway the people are lovely and they are going to take some of my prints. Now I need Maeve to come over and collect them. I have them ready and waiting and I don’t want to miss the Christmas rush.”

Orla didn’t want to throw cold water on Ada’s new found excitement, so hesitantly she put it as a question,

“What about lockdown? I thought only shops that sold essential items could open?”

“Ach, keep up girl. That’s where I started. Charlie has got it all sorted, they have a website and do ‘click ‘n’ collect’. Huston, we are good to go!”

Orla was piecing together parts of the earlier conversation and it was beginning to make sense.

“So Charlie runs the shop? I was wondering who this Charlie was, now I see.”

“How long have you been away? You have missed all the excitement. Yes Charlie and his cousin Liz. It’s Liz’s idea and he’s making it work. Go in with your mother, and have a look in the shop windows, see for yourselves. Talking of which I had better finish framing them in case Maeve gets a fit and decides to come over asap.” Abruptly she was gone.

Orla was glad to be home. She had promised herself a few days of rest and recuperation, which of course would include some of Maeve’s cooking. She knew she needed some good food and lots of sleep, but she was already feeling more positive after her marathon lie-in this morning. Both Maeve and Ada had always had a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. Nothing was impossible, you just have to think it through. Orla needed that kind of back-up to give her the confidence to plan her next steps.

Maeve was still soaking in the bath, so Orla was the first to see the message. It was from Marianne who had already had her COVID-19 test and was due the result shortly.

Marianne didn’t like unknowns so she wanted to make a plan on the basis that the result was negative, and then if it turned out otherwise she could move to her plan B.

Plan B, if the result was positive, was to stay in her rooms until she had recovered and had two negative tests in a row.

So she wanted Maeve to come and pick her up in two days time.

Orla was delighted and she thought that would give her time to sleep and be fully recovered by the time Marianne arrived. Orla wasn’t ready to say it yet but she really wanted to talk her plans through with Marianne as well as Maeve before coming to any decisions.

The two sisters were very different people but as they got older they appreciated each other more.

At last, a fresh and fragrant, Maeve emerged from the bathroom. Orla sorted the hot chocolate while Maeve called Ada back.

Rather than get sidetracked, Maeve went straight in with,

“I’m still working on your question, Ada. But I have a few other things to talk to you about. First is Edward. He has been behaving oddly since I went to the woods for a walk. I don’t think it was connected to the body. He knows something about the woods and he is not sharing the information, he keeps warning me that there are thieves and ‘bad’ people in those woods.”

Maeve was focused so didn’t let Ada interrupt until she had finished.

“Another thing. Today, just now, I slipped and fell in the mud because there was a spirit whispering in my ear. He was asking for money to buy food. What’s that all about? They can’t eat or use money, so why is he asking for it?”

Unusually, Ada was calm and waited patiently until Maeve had finished talking. She had a favour to ask, so she was on her best behaviour.

Ada was reflective,

“Hmm, could they be connected? Edward is unlikely to get agitated about the recently dead, but if there was something connected to him or to his era it might cause a greater reaction. Could your whisperer be from the same time period in history as Edward?”

Maeve frowned, concentrating on the brief encounter said,

“Maybe. His clothes were covered in mud, so it’s hard to tell. But I remember a badly torn heavy, overcoat, with large pockets. Possibly it was brown, dark anyway. And I did notice his boots, they were old fashioned, repaired many times but still with holes and broken laces.”

Ada was mulling it over as she replied,

“I think you need to talk to Edward directly. Ask him about it. You have never really looked into Edward’s past. I know you like having him around. And we all know that if you solve his issue he might leave, but maybe it’s time. It’s almost like an exercise but it should be a whole lot safer than digging up spirits from a slaughterhouse.”

They agreed that Maeve would be over first thing in the morning. Ada would prepare some hot coffee which they could share over the sea wall. She knew that she was COVID clear so she wasn’t going to pass it on to Maeve. That way after Maeve picked up the prints, they could have a few moments talking over the wall and the coffee would keep them warm. Not like normal, but at least with each other in real life.

Maeve hadn’t finished her calls, she realised that she had been saving her call to Steve till last. She wanted to be on her own for this one. There had been a time when he was the last person that she wanted to talk to, but that was before she got to know him. Now she wanted to have that promised catch up, without any more traumas. She was savouring the moment.

She wrapped up warm and took her phone out into the garden. She waved at Anne the ethereal gardener next door, turned away to face the trees and made the call.

As so often happens if you save something up for the moment when you are ready, it can mean you miss out altogether. Steve was too busy to talk today, they swapped text messages and confirmed lunch tomorrow. Steve had news for her but wanted to see her in person. Something to do with the body in the woods. Maeve was intrigued. Why wouldn’t he tell her now?

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