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Clement's Corner: Kindred Spirits

Is it Ross Gerhardt’s lucky day when he nods off at the wheel and his car crashes into a large gum tree? Owen R Clement’s story involves a meeting of kindred spirits.

Ross Gerhardt’s eyes drooped and then closed. He awoke immediately when the car wheels crunched on the roadside’s loose gravel. Unable to stop in time, he crashed into a large gum tree.

Min Watson was making herself a hot chocolate when she heard the noise. Slipping on her outside canvas shoes she raced out of her house. She heard the car before seeing it. The lights were on and the motor racing.

Min immediately opened the driver’s door and switched off the ignition.
Ross temporarily stunned, initially resisted her efforts to try and free him.

When he was out of the car she calmed him saying, “It’s okay, just relax.” Blood was streaming down his face from a cut over his right eye.

“Do you have a handkerchief”, she asked?

He fumbled in his pocket and finally pulled one out and handed it to her.

“Here,” she said, “hold this firmly over the cut ‘til we get inside.”

She guided him along the driveway to the back door and inside the kitchen.

“Sit here, I won’t be a moment.”

Ross sat on an old bentwood chair and surveyed the large kitchen. Apart from a well-used counter-top electric oven and stove, the kitchen could have been used in any period film complete with cast iron combustion stove with pots and pans and bunches of herbs, onions and garlic hanging from hooks on the wall.

Min soon returned with a portable medicine case. She spoke while she dressed the wound.

“How are you feeling?” She asked.

“Not too bad thanks.”

“My name’s Min Beaumont”.

“Min, did you say?”

“That’s right, Millicent, Have you ever seen anyone less like a Millicent?”

Ross smiled as he took in the stocky masculine looking figure with close-cropped fair hair wearing jeans and a checked flannel shirt.

“Mine’s Ross Gerhardt. I must have dozed off momentarily.”

“It’s a clean cut and not too bad,” she said as she taped on the dressing,

“I have just made myself a hot chocolate, would you like one?” She asked.

“No thanks, could I trouble you for a glass of water instead?”

“Sure,” drawing one from the tap she said “its tank water.”

“That’s fine, thank you.”

Min took a couple of aspirins from her medicine case handed them to him with the glass saying, ‘Here, take these”.

“Thank you. This place must have been an important homestead at one time.” Ross said.

She sat sipping her hot chocolate.

“It was my family’s’; my grandfather had it built. My parents lived here too until they passed on. It’s the only real home I’ve ever known.” She drained the last of her drink and rose saying, “Come on, it’s much too late to find a place to stay and your car is going to need attention before you can drive it I’m afraid. Why don’t I make up a bed in the spare room tonight?”

“That’s very kind of you. I don’t want to Impose.”

“Nonsense - it’s no trouble at all.

Ross stood too quickly and felt slightly dizzy.

Min grabbed his elbow.

“I’m okay. I’ll have to get my things from the car”

“I’ll lead the way.” She said picking up her torch and leading Ross out to the car via the back door.

They soon returned after Ross had picked up his overnight bag and locked the car.

Min led the way up the elegant stairway.

“You go and freshen up in there,” she said pointing to the bathroom, while I make up the bed”.

It wasn’t long before they were both in bed.

Ross came down the next morning when he heard noises in the kitchen.

“Good morning.” Min said, “How’s the head?”

“Good morning. Much better thank you. You really are very kind and not very sensible taking a perfect stranger into your home.”

“Nonsense – anyone would do the same.”

“I doubt it.” Ross commented with a chuckle.

“Out here in the country we would, I don’t know about the city. Why don’t you check on the car while I get us some breakfast?”

“Yes, I think I should.” Ross spoke as he moved to the front door.

”I – I never use the front door these days.” Min called out. “The steps need fixing. That’s one of the reasons I am selling.”

Ross stopped, turned and said, “Oh really! You know - this could be serendipity. “

“Oh! In what way?”

“I set my heart on finding just such a place when I retired, and now that I have, and still have my strength, I planned to fix it up as a project to use as a Bed & Breakfast.”

“On your own?”

“I’ll get some paid help.”

“I meant are you on your own – no wife!”

“No, sadly she died last year.”

Ross left to check on the car.

During breakfast Min gave Ross a brief the history of the house and her family. Being one of two children, she and her brother had inherited the home and its much-reduced property - the bulk having been sold off over the years.

Her childhood sweetheart, who became her husband, was killed in a road accident shortly after they were married. She quit her nursing job and moved back to the family home where she grew and sold organic vegetables and herbs locally for a living. She had cared for both parents until their deaths. Her mother had died only recently.

“I don’t really want to sell,” she said, “but my money-hungry brother is keen to get his share.”

“I bet he didn’t do much about looking after your parents when they were alive?”

“Not a damn thing, that’s what makes me so angry.”

After breakfast Min drove Ross into the nearby town to make arrangements for the car to be towed and repaired. He was concerned to learn that it would take at least a week to get parts and replace the damaged panels.

“Well, “Min said, “it looks like you are going to have to be my guest for a while longer.”

“I couldn’t possibly intrude on you.”

“Are you any good at handyman work?”

“Yes I am.”

“Well then, you can earn your keep by helping me with jobs around here.”

Ross laughed, “I could hardly refuse such an offer could I?”

Before the garage mechanic towed his car away Ross collected his rest of his things including his toolbox.

During that week he repaired the front steps, replaced rotten floorboards, window frames and attended to many other handyman jobs around the house and the long empty stables, which now served as Min’s garage.

“Any stranger seeing us, would think that we were an old married couple” Ross laughed as he said this.

Min too had been thinking how compatible they were. Not once did she have to say what needed fixing. She was going to miss his cheerful company especially in the evenings.

A week later the mechanic rang to say the car was ready. Min drove Ross into the village to pick it up.

Ross insisted on taking her to lunch at the local Italian restaurant before they returned to the house.

“I’ve been thinking Min, the price of this place you and your brother have decided on is way beyond my means. In fact it is twice of what I can afford. However, if you would consider a partnership, I could pay off your brother’s share.”

Min was too taken aback to reply immediately.

Embarrassed by his presumptive remark Ross continued, “I’ll give you time to think about it of course. What if I call you in a few days time?”

“I’m afraid that I couldn’t even consider it. For a start, not being a couple – a married couple, I mean – it could offend some of the travellers.”

“Yes, I see what you mean. Ah well, it could have been a good solution.”

The next morning Ross collected his things, packed up and without telling Min placed a couple of hundred dollars in an envelope marking it “Housekeeping expenses” and left it on his pillow.

Coming into the kitchen he was surprised to see Min wearing jeans and a checked shirt again, something she had not done since the day after his arrival. Her demeanour had also changed. She no longer looked cheerful and her manner was brusque. When he said goodbye he bent forward to give her a kiss on the cheek but she pointedly stuck out her hand.

It wasn’t until he was well on his way that he began to wonder why she had changed so dramatically and if there could have been something more to her comment on marriage.

He stopped, pulled over, turned off the motor and sat for a long while deep in thought.

Deciding that the moment had been lost, he sadly started the car and continued on his way.

© 2005

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