The Intimacy Of Sash Windows

I’m editing a book of short fiction; it comprises some stories I’ve posted here. This is one such, but I don’t think this works completely. I’m not sure why. Does anyone have any suggestions to improve it?

I’m not sure if anyone will read this. If they do, say I’m sorry.

I’d been looking for a house for ages, ever since I came to this part of the country. A new start, none of the old associations. I always wanted something I could work on and this place was perfect, in a right old state and cheap. The agents didn’t even know they had it on their books; I found their board in the overgrown front garden. It took them ages to find the key and the woman who showed me round that first time – she couldn’t have been more than eighteen – stood by the door while I explored. They couldn’t find the particulars, not that it mattered. After that they gave me the key and let me go on my own. I even did the legal work; after my experiences with lawyers, I wasn’t about to use any of those crooks. I expected problems with the seller’s lawyers, but they never answered the phone, dealing with everything by letter. Not that they said much, not that I cared. When we completed the agents couldn’t give me the keys quickly enough. The guy who owned the agency couldn’t look me in the eye. Maybe he’d heard about me. Reputation works like that sometimes.

The house wasn’t special; a bland mid terrace in a still grimy part of South London. I moved in, in a bitter January. The only room with a carpet was, incongruously, the small back bedroom that looked out over the garden. It was full of rubbish which I understood would be cleared but wasn’t. I didn’t care. It was like I had much of my own, just a sleeping bag and a two ring stove. Not even a toothbrush. They don’t give you much and my money was all dedicated to the house. It spoke to me, told me it needed me and I it.

I’ll never forget the first night. It was nothing special until I turned out the light and lay down. Then it turned into the set of a horror movie, with wind whistling through cracks in the sash windows, yowling as if demons were chasing their prey through every room. I lay awake in the moonless gloom and stared at the inky black glass and the impenetrable sky beyond and wondered if sleep would ever come.

That decided my first job; fix the bloody windows. There was this fusty old general store on the High Road and the chap there had a book that told me what to do. He even had a bag of old tools that eh said someone had left to give to deserving cause and he let me have them. Wouldn’t take a thing for them.

I knew I’d be making mistakes; you learn by your mistakes, right? By that measure I would be getting a fantastic education.

That first afternoon, I set about the window in the back room. It was easy. I won’t bore you with the details. I don’t have the energy. Suffice it to say I had to be brave, prising off the paint-encrusted beading around the frame and loosening the box which contained the weights. I restrung the window and filled in the cracks with the putty I’d bought, before applying a top coat. It was February day, though the weather hinted at spring even if the tips of my fingers and the edges of my ears still echoed with the nip of winter.

I worked my way around the first floor and after three days I only had the master bedroom that filled the whole of the front of the house. The room was the most impressive on the house: it had a beautiful plaster ceiling rose, the most spectacular fireplace and a view over the city and west end of London that was to die for. But it was so cold, that room. That was the reason I rarely went into it, even though I knew it was the room with the noisiest, rattliest windows in the place. I’d told myself to get the rest sorted that when I did these I’d notice the quiet. I didn’t know the truth of that, not then.

I’d fixed the two windows either side of the central picture window and stopped for lunch. The weather had begun to threaten; you could see it coming from above Hampstead and Highgate to the north of London, rolling towards me like a grey blanket. I took a breath and prised the beading away.

That was earlier today. Or yesterday. Maybe. It’s difficult to be sure. My memories are episodic. I’m fairly sure it was as I lifted the weight’s box that the newspaper cutting fluttered loose, a small square the size of a classified ad that had been neatly clipped from some unidentified newspaper. It had that orangey yellow sepia tint that you see in old newspapers, like the ones my gran used to have under her carpets in the days before there was such thing as an underlay. I used to love reading those old news items and must have stopped to read it.

 On one side was an advert for an auction of household goods, listing some items with the time and date and venue. It was a house sale and it was this house. It didn’t say why the sale; maybe the then owner had died. The date stuck though. The date mentioned was exactly fifty years before that February day. Today, or yesterday. I think.

On the other side, was a notice announcing the death of someone called Arbuthnot – some of the notice had been cut off – and there was a contact detail for someone called George Arbuthnot. Below it was another notice of a funeral of another person who’d died that day, or so it said. This person was called Mabel Constance Viziard Martindale and she’d died intestate. Someone had scoured out her surname, though you could still make it out.

I know that was the moment when everything shifted. I went to put the weights back, my mind in turmoil but something was in the way and the window refused to fit. I knew I should fix it, find out what it was but by then the skin on the back of my neck prickled and I felt like I was being watched. I knew there was something familiar about that name and I left the window as it was; I’m sure I did, intending on coming back to it as soon as I’d satisfied my curiosity.

Taking my time – I don’t know why but rushing didn’t seem appropriate – I walked to the back bedroom. My few bits were there with the rubbish from the previous owners.  Under some crumpled clothes I pulled out a cardboard box – my filing cabinet. Still taking my time I dug around for the letter from the seller’s lawyer. It was the one letter which contained any information. It was a packet of old deeds that came after the sale closed. I flicked through the pack until I found what I was looking for.

I stared at the page for a long while. I suppose I was hoping it might make more sense, or maybe it might somehow change. But the details remained precisely as I remembered them from when I read his letter through. The document I held was an old conveyance, also dated precisely fifty years ago. In it one Mabel Constance Viziard Arbuthnot neé Martindale, late of this house I now owned transferred this house to her husband, one Peter Harold Arbuthnot.

I took a breath and sifted through the file. The land registry entries were there. They show the property details and the owner who sold to me. It was a George Arbuthnot and according the entries I held in a shaking hand, George Arbuthnot had been registered as owner exactly fifty years before. My head spun and I sat back heavily ion the ancient piece of carpet. My fingers rubbed at the material which felt matted. Something made me sniff the tips and I recoiled.

The smell. I was still processing when I nearly had a heart attack. The front door bell rang; I didn’t even know there was one. It certainly brought me back to the moment.

My head was still full of the carpet as I headed downstairs. These Victorian terraced houses often have two long stained glass panels in the front door and this was no exception. I could see silhouetted against the sky what looked like a man in some sort of hat with a brim and possibly a woman, also wearing a hat but most likely one of those shapeless felt things beloved of my grandmother.

The man was smartly dressed in a suit though on closer inspection it looked fairly faded and the wide lapels spoke of a different age. The hat too, a brown felt trilby was like something my father wore in photos taken over him in the sixties. The man had a round smooth face, one of those ageless faces that are difficult to place, though such hair (at his temples) that I could see suggested it was grey. The woman seemed determined to stand behind her man. I caught a glimpse of a red mid-calf coat and sensible brown shoes but nothing else.

The man peered past me, staring intently inside the house then slowly brought his gaze back to me, smiling. He had placed his foot on the top step even though he stood on the next step down, making him seem at ease unlike his companion, whose hands – gloved – appeared to be smoothing her coat nervously.

‘Yes?’ I tried for polite, with a hint of firmness; I really wanted them gone and didn’t need to engage anyone in conversation right then.

The man smiled even more broadly and using my name, introduced himself with a small bow, like he was expected. ‘You’re the new owner.  My name is George Arbuthnot and I thought we should meet.’

I managed a nod.

‘Splendid.’ He looked up, towards where the window sat, waiting to be restored to its rightful place. ‘Have you found my mother yet?’

I think he took my arm and helped me back to that front bedroom, but things are unclear. The woman made some tea and we may have replaced the window though we had to shift the obstruction first. At some point, one of them brought in the carpet from the back bedroom and used part of it to wrap up whatever was blocking the sash. They left the rest.

That’s where I am now, lying on the carpet. The windows no longer rattle and it’s warmer. The smell is still there though. It’s definitely blood.

And there’s a lock on the door. They tell me it’s to help me feel safe. I’m used to locked doors.

I’d better put this away now. I’m not sure they’d like me writing it down. I’ve been writing it as small as I can – there’s not much space on the old advert and my blood soaks into the old paper if I’m not careful. They showed me a picture of their mother. Today? Yesterday? They say I need to look out for her. She looks just like the estate agent, just as anxious. Maybe she didn’t want to come into the house either.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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46 Responses to The Intimacy Of Sash Windows

  1. I liked it. A tale to tell on a foggy winter’s night.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. joylennick says:

    It has all the right ingredients, Geoff. I was a bit confused towards the end, but thought it suitably creepy. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right, it doesn’t completely work. It just feels a bit stale – have you gone over it loads of times? Like Joy, I wasn’t sure what was happening at the end and who was who (in past and present lives).
    I know it’s short, but maybe change the structure slightly?
    The most terrifying book I’ve ever read is “Dark Matter”. It was so appalling that after I finished it, I put it outside overnight and then took it straight to the book bank in the morning!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. noelleg44 says:

    Nice a creepy growing out of a normal beginning. I’m a little confused at the end – did the writer die? What did they do with the mother? But I really liked this because I love tales about old houses!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I liked the story, Geoff. But like Joy and Triffle, I was a little confused toward the end. I think it’s worth keeping, but I think you need to give it more substance so it doesn’t feel quite as rushed. Dive into the creepiness. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember being confused when I read it originally and, having read it a few times today, I am still not sure. Had he been released from prison? From a care facility? (He’s used to locked doors) Was he travelling after a split marriage? Why should anyone know him by reputation? How did he have funds to buy the house? Were the visitors real, or ghosts? Had they locked him in or provided locks to help him protect himself? He was writing an account with blood. His own, or someone else’s? Surely parts of the mother were blocking the sash mechanism so why should he look out for her?

    Sorry to question so much, but you did ask!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Darlene says:

    I was a bit confused as well. (But I often am) Perhaps that was the point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      It was intended to be ambiguous, but when i came back to it, i felt that there were too many inexplicable elements for the reader to be satisfied they knew enough but could still wonder. Thanks Darlene

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mick Canning says:

    I tend to agree with what most of the others are saying, it’s too unclear at the end. An ambiguous ending is fine, but I couldn’t work out what was happening. Probably too complicated for a short story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Yes, that point about length is a fair one. I write it for the blog so felt constrained at end it within 1500 words whereas a bit more time and space and I may have left it open but not unsatisfactory.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with everyone above Geoff. The ending doesn’t meld…….. was he formerly in an asylum? Is he being visited by ghosts? Was he witness to murder and nobody believed him. hence him being locked up? He seems caught in a time loop. I like it though, but then I like ghost stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. willowdot21 says:

    Not sure Geoff just not sure 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t mind an unclear ending that makes you think. Fundamentally it is an excellent story. A little proof reading required, but I like the appropriately varied sentence lengths.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Derrick; most seem to prefer some more clarity. I suspect it’s a bit squeezed into an artificial word count for the blog (I should have Given it more depth and split it across two posts probably).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. gordon759 says:

    I agree with many of the comments already made.
    The beginning is fine, a version of a common ghost story, never rent or buy a cheap house. It also has a damaged narrator, which may or may not be relevant to the story.
    Then there is the first reveal, via the press cutting and legal documents.
    After that it gets very confused, and feels rather truncated, as though you weren’t sure where the story was going and wanted to finish it quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I think that may be the problem; it was written to fit the blog and a word count of more than 1500 is usually asking the readership too much. Courage, mon ami, as no one ever said. THANKS

      Like

  13. Personally, I enjoyed it as it was, Geoff. But, as a lot is left to the imagination of the reader, I concluded the narrator had mental health problems and most, if not all, of what happened was in his mind. That said, normally I do prefer to have things spelled out more so I completely get why others have made the comments they have.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. V.M.Sang says:

    I agree with the others. The end is a bit confusing. What did they get from the window that was stopping it? And how was the carpet used to free it?
    And did the protagonist die? Was it his blood?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      It’s a very fair concern. `As you’ll appreciate, being the writer I’ve read it a dozen or more times and clarified in my head where the ambiguities go but a one time reader can be left too confused. Some enjoy the unsettling lack of detail, many not. I think I’ve erred too far towards the confusing. Thanks Viv.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. George says:

    Genuinely creepy and beautifully evoked atmosphere. I quite liked the ending provoking more questions than it answered. It leaves you with an uneasy feeling of “what just happened”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      It’s a tricky one, George; some like the ambiguity, some see it as too cloudy and unsatisfactory. I think I probably erred one the side of not enough clarity, esp when most will read it once whereas I’ve read it a dozen times.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Jennie says:

    I thought the story was excellent, just confusing at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. HI Geoff, I’m late to the party and everyone else has said everything already. Definitely worth salvaging so keep going. I re-wrote a scene in my novella, The Creeping Change, yesterday post a writing group discussion. Sometimes you know it doesn’t work but just don’t know how to fix it. Usually with a lot of effort – haha!

    Liked by 1 person

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