HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition


Harry secured the bolts at top and bottom of the conservatory door. The French windows, giving access to the conservatory, had dead locks which he closed. The route to the front door, through scattered furniture and debris was torturous. He locked it. There had always been a threat since Pearl left him alone. Together, they made the house seem safe and impregnable, and with Pearl at his side, neither had really grown old. He was still the big strong and courageous man she had married. Because he believed that, she had believed it too.
Nobody would have dared intrude on them in the old days. This new threat had started with the repeated appearance of the chap called Sydney. Harry was pleased to let him in at first. Then, as his insistent nosiness got stronger and more irksome, Harry had kept him out by every possible means. He kept coming back and ringing the front door bell urgently. Harry knew it was all about Pearl's jewellery, and he had said no, she couldn't have any of it since he had bought it all and, what's more, if she wanted anything other than the clothes she had left in it was divorce, so sod off. He wondered why she had left them behind, was it in temper? He couldn't remember.
Had Pearl really left? Perhaps she had just gone out. Harry had got used to these small confusions. They seemed to resolve themselves quite quickly but they were a nuisance when they came and broke into his routine. When a little confused he'd only to sit in the front room on the old squashy couch, where he and Pearl had so often shared a gentle passion, and let things right themselves again. 'Put your ducks in order,' she'd say.
Of course, he remembered now. It had been the 'Social' calling so urgently; banging on the door. It had been Malcolm, the social worker, not Sydney. He would have to try and remember that. Malcolm was the 'Social' who had started to call soon after Pearl left. It was Sydney whom he thought of each time he was reminded of Pearl but - and there it was again - he couldn't remember why. It was Sydney he'd seen peering through the windows again and again. He had shouted at him. 'Bugger off, you,' he'd said.
Of course Pearl hadn't left. She died. There had been ham sandwiches on that table, there, and sherry from posh glasses he'd never seen before. That's settled then. He rose from the couch and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and remember. The kettle boiled and he scalded a finger. He'd have to be more careful, and that reminded him. He worried about the intruders he'd seen looking through the conservatory glass and dashing round to the front. He'd heard the front door bell and Malcolm whispering, saying Harry might have been out, alone, or not well. Harry shouted angrily and Malcolm said it was him and Sydney. They'd had a daft conversation that day, through the letter box. Malcolm was only interested in what day it was and who was the Prime Minister, and getting him to sign a piece of paper which he'd had to give back through the slot. Well, if the Social weren't going to help. he would have to look after himself. Pearl would have said. "Keep ourselves to ourselves."
Had he set the locks? Harry made his way around the things that were immoveable and thrust aside the lighter debris to the French windows and into the conservatory and remembered he had already done that. Was the kitchen door locked? Had he checked that?
The dog bowl clanged as he stepped on it as he crossed the kitchen. He'd have to make sure Spot was in. No, Spot had gone too. He wasn't sure about that, so he stumbled back to the thinking couch. Pearl was dead. That's settled, then. Must get on. Lock that kitchen door? It was still unlocked and Harry opened it a few inches. A blast of cool fresh air filled his lungs and he remembered gardening. The big bloke at the conservatory window had been Sydney. Sydney and Malcolm seemed to think they had a right to come into the house and tell Harry what to do. Well, he wouldn't have it. The summer afternoon had warmed the house and he fell asleep. He woke in darkness, a little cold and quite hungry. He'd always had a good old fry-up for breakfast but that was some days ago,. He was always hungry. Pearl will put the lights on, but then he remembered. He would have to do it himself. The living room light didn't come on and he thought it must have been because he made that cup of tea. Was that today? It had always been the electric kettle that used up the last of the electric. Pearl always kept the coin meter well charged with money. That's another thing Malcolm, the Social, had said. He shouldn't be using a coin meter - nobody did these days. He instinctively put his hands deep into empty pockets, then looked in the tins on the mantle shelf where Pearl keeps the gas and electric money. No money. No matter, he'd have a bite to eat and snuggle down on the couch. To his surprise, the kitchen cupboard was brimming with all manner of food that had not been there before. The Social, or that Sydney, interfering again? He shouldn't have let them in the other day, or was that earlier today? Anyhow, it didn't belong to Harry so he wouldn't eat it. He spread a large dollop from his own tin of golden syrup on to a piece of bread - his bread. He ate in the dark and slept again. The beam from a big torch angled itself through the front window and settled on the huddled figure. A second beam penetrated the gloom of the conservatory and ranged over piles of books, and boxes, and furniture. The two lights illuminate Harry who woke with a start and blinked in the glare. The sound of a window breaking near his head made him jump off the couch and he fell, on uselessly numb legs, to the floor. A figure climbed through the opened window and let another in through the front door. Then all the downstairs lights were on, except the one in the front room.
'Bulb must have blown,' said Malcolm. 'He's alive, but frightened. Bring the wheelchair,' Harry knew that was Sydney; big bloke. Be careful. Don't try to tackle him.
'Harry, its OK. We had to come through the window ,' said Malcolm the Social.Then Sydney again, to Malcolm. 'We had to do it, he'll be so much better off, in there.'
In a blinding flash of clarity, Harry knew what was up. He struggled in the arms of the big bloke, Sydney. He didn't want to go anywhere. All that food in the cupboard. Pearl's jewellery. Change for the meter. The garden. Spot. Pearl.
'Come on Dad,' said Sydney. His voice was heavy with grief, and choking with tears.