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Roses Aren't Everything: Chapter 58: An Unexpected Visitor

...“Ingrid!” whispered Brian when he saw her, “there’s a squirrel on your roof!”

Ingrid hastened to where he was standing and peered upwards against the glare of the sky. “Where?” she hissed. “I can’t see it.”...

Leanne Hunt continues her absorbing story of at a crisis point in her life in today's ever-changing South Africa.

After breakfast on Saturday, a pale faced Tracey handed Luke to Ingrid in the kitchen and said, “Your turn, Ingrid. If Gavin phones, tell him I’m sick or something.” She looked terrible.

Watching them drive off to Dunmore in the Peugeot, Ingrid tried to imagine what Tracey would say to Warren, the brother whom she must now learn to think of as father. How would she meet such a prospect if it was her? Her own brothers had never been as close to her as Warren had been to Tracey, but the comparison still held.

She thought of the oldest, Matteas. With his passion for snakes, he had tormented her as a child by forcing her to hold them. Several times, she had found a curled up corn snake in her bed. Once, when she was thirteen, he had even made her sit in her bikini with his friend’s python around her neck for a photograph. She shivered to recall it.

What could she say if it were revealed that she was his child? Matteas, with his golden hair and turquoise eyes, could have developed into a handsome, singing star if he had wanted to. He had a talent for music and a voice that made the housewives in their street weep. Instead, he had been caught dealing in dagga on school property, been expelled for assaulting a teacher, and settled for joining her father and uncle in their paving business. None of them ever seemed to do much work, with the result that there was never enough money to go round. Arguments at the end of each week were commonplace. If she were to visit them today, she would be sure to find the three of them lounging in front of the television set while her mother, her sister-in-law and her aunt gossiped over dirty dishes in the kitchen. Shame would descend on her for the disgraceful state of the house and garden, and they would call her a snob for never inviting them to Steelesbury.

Come to think of it, Matteas and her father were cut out of the same cloth. Neither of them had made much effort to get ahead in life. Their tempers were both inclined to flare into violent outbursts, and they had both had several run-ins with the police. Ingrid had been lucky to escape their rage on most occasions, thanks to Miss Brown at the school library. Her younger brother Fritz, however, had been less fortunate. He had frequently got beaten up when Ingrid wasn’t around, and she suspected that his slow manner and slurred speech might have been the direct result of one too many fights.

Luke grizzled and waved his fist to remind her that he was due for a feed. Ingrid closed the front door, jiggled him on her hip, and whispered into his ear, “Your Mummy’s got an important meeting today and we have to pray that it will go well.”

Picking up the bottle of warm milk Tracey had prepared, she settled down with him on the sofa in the lounge. No sooner had he begun to suck than her thoughts wandered to Dunmore. It was a pity she wouldn’t be seeing Peter this week. A mild depression seemed to have slid over her in the past few days. It would have been useful to talk it over and come up with an explanation. It couldn’t possibly still be the result of all that red wine she had drunk at Brian’s. Perhaps the exercise she was doing was causing toxins in her body to be released. On the other hand, it could be that she was worried about Tracey and Gavin. She dreaded to think what people like Beth would say when Tracey’s parentage was revealed.

At eleven o’clock, Ingrid was wiping down the kitchen counters when the sound of voices reached her from the lawn outside the entrance hall. She had just put Luke down for his morning nap and didn’t want the children to shout and wake him up. As she crossed the threshold, she heard Caroline say, “I’ll call my mom.” Then there was the sound of running feet and a stifled squeal of delight.

At first, she was unable to see anyone. A vast Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush stood outside the lounge window at the corner of the house. No car stood in the driveway, and she thought Caroline and Debbie must be playing a game. It was a quiet, still morning in which the sun hid behind a veil of thin white cloud. She registered the sound of a dove cooing somewhere in the vicinity of the location, and felt the warmth of the cement path beneath her bare feet.

Then a stocky built man came around the corner, dressed in brown trousers and a shirt with stripes the colour of honey. Ingrid caught sight of Brian Davies’ face, turned upward as he looked back along the line of the roof. Caroline, too, was gazing up with such intensity that Ingrid couldn’t resist hurrying out to do the same.

“Ingrid!” whispered Brian when he saw her, “there’s a squirrel on your roof!”

Ingrid hastened to where he was standing and peered upwards against the glare of the sky. “Where?” she hissed. “I can’t see it.”

“There! Crouching between the chimney and the TV aerial. He knows we’re watching him and he’s keeping dead still. He looks like a grey pom-pom caught in the roof tiles.”

“I see him!” she breathed. “He’s so tiny. What’s he doing here?”

Brian's brow creased. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen one before in our area.”

The squirrel looked down at them with bright, beady eyes. Then, in the blink of an eye, he vanished over the far side of the roof. Ingrid rubbed her eyes and looked questioningly at Brian. “Come to think of it, what are you doing here?”

He waved a hand to indicate the gate. “I parked my car back there,” he stated. “Your daughters were in the garden and they greeted me. I told them I was here to look at the stained glass windows, so they insisted on giving me a guided tour of the outside of your house. I hope you don’t mind. It was while we were looking up at the tower that I spotted the squirrel.”

Debbie, who had been waiting to get a word in, said enthusiastically, “Dr Davies has a book with pictures of windows in it just like ours!”

Ingrid asked Brian, “Is that so? Are they the same style you were telling me about the other night?”

His expression was cautious. “I think so,” he replied, “but I could easily be mistaken. I’m not an expert.” Caroline was holding the book open, scrutinizing one of the photographs closely. Putting a hand on her shoulder, he urged, “show that to your mother, lass. It could be the same window, it’s so similar.”

Ingrid took the book from Caroline and examined the photograph. It was printed in black and white on poor quality paper, but she immediately recognised the Barn Owl with its charming heart shaped face. She said uncertainly, “I thought you said the glass-smith always produced sets of three panels. Our Barn Owl is one of only two.”

“I know,” said Brian, “but the door’s in the middle. It’s possible that one panel was omitted, or that the windows were made especially for that particular location.”

Ingrid pondered his words. “What does this mean?”

Brian rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If your windows are Aichinger creations, they are among just a handful in this area. Obviously, one would need to look more closely to know. Is it possible for us to look at them from the inside?”

Before she had time to reply, Caroline and Debbie sprinted into the house, followed by the dogs, their tails waving like flags in a festival procession. “Don’t wake Luke!” Ingrid hissed after them.

She explained to Brian that the others had all gone to see Warren at Dunmore. Thankfully, he didn’t inquire as to why she hadn’t gone with them, and she didn’t give a reason. They had to go through the old lounge with its dusty chairs and display cabinets to reach the stairwell of the tower, but she didn’t excuse that either. She figured that he was not someone who fussed about appearances and would not pass judgment on her selective housekeeping even if he did.


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