KOOL-AID: landlord’s secret

 Another instalment of Almost Drank the Kool-Aid…

When I moved into the gatehouse (yes, after seeing size of main house realised that is what my “cottage” is) Landlord supplied me with two sets of linen for my bed. Because could not be arsed washing linens in bathtub have extended use of linen beyond reasonable measures. Time to wash.

Texted Landlord, asking for use of washer/dryer.

He replied yes, of course, I didn’t have to ask, could come any time, just head around the back to the kitchen; key opens all doors.

A pain carrying linen up the long drive. Who knew sheets could be so heavy? Had put everything in canvas bag plus mine and Landlord’s clothes.

Landlord seemingly very happy to see me. ‘Ah, _____, yes, hello, right through here to the utility room.’

Showed me the very fancy german washer and matching dryer. Has a digital display which noted how long the wash would take. Over an hour!

Was certainly not going to wait around. Landlord suspected this. Gave me two options. First was for him to tend to clothes; putting them in the dryer so I could go home and come back later to collect. Was not about to let Landlord do my washing. Not again. He’d already done too much.

Second option was far more agreeable.

Landlord has a library.

Of course he has a library! Every house this size does. Eyes must have showed excitement — Landlord smiled and led way out of kitchen.

Walked through entrance to double doors. Behind there was a large sitting room. Decorated in old stylings. Drapes, chase lounges, portraits of men and women in wigs. Is where, I suspect, many moons ago, ladies in their finery would sit by candle light, holding fans and listening to each other play the piano forte which sat in the corner. Except there was no piano in this room.

It was in the library; in the corner by the window.

The library was in equal size to the sitting room. Every available wall space was covered in shelves, and every shelf covered in books.

I was in heaven.

I didn’t care that the room was cold. Didn’t notice it until Landlord mentioned it. He didn’t heat the rooms he didn’t use. He told me heating the room would take hours, but if I liked, I could read in his study; through the other door.

Landlord left me to make my selection. A very difficult choice. Overwhelmed by all the old volumes. First editions, most probably. Instead, I headed to the contemporary section. I spotted a book I knew very well. Too well. Didn’t need to read that one. I then saw a volume of books by an author I know. Crime books. Not usually my thing. Yet they peaked my interest, and so I selected the first and took it to Landlord’s study.

Inside, a fire was ranging. From the sight of the room, I could tell Landlord spends a lot of time there. Papers on the desk, a discarded blanket on the leather Chesterfield, books on the coffee table.

Stayed in the study and read for one hour. Returned to the utility room, loading the dryer. Fancy thing. Weighs the clothes and then calculates how long will dry. Longer than washing. Didn’t mind. Was enjoying book, and Landlord left me alone; walking his property. When he came back, darkness was falling. From the hall I heard tinkering in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the footstools of Landlord walking towards the study. He paused at the door. Frowned when he saw the book I was holding.

‘I’m making some dinner if you would like to stay,’ he said.

Imagined sitting through a meal with this man. A one way conversation on his part. Awkward and tense. No. Definitely no.

I smiled, shaking my head.

Regretted my decision when I returned to the kitchen; Landlord’s meal smelt delightful. Steak by the look of his plate. On the stove was the left overs of the potato and vegetable side dish. It smelt of cardamon.

Had I been on my own I would have just thrown the sheets and clothes into my bag. But the utility room is in view of the kitchen. Had to at least pretend I was a half decent human. Adult.

Folded all of the clothes. Struggled with the sheets. Is the swearing I miss the most. Swearing in your head not nearly as satisfying as swearing out loud.

Realised Landlord was swearing, also. Poked head around utility door to see why.

He was there at the table, on the end. He was having difficulty, it seemed, with his knife and fork. His knife primarily. He was trying to cut his steak, but his hand, it was shaking so badly he couldn’t get any purchase. Was no way he was cold — even I was breaking out in a sweat, folding the sheets, and Landlord was closer to the fire than me.

The struggle was frustrating him. He had no strength to cut the meat. The more his right shook, the more his left matched. Tears of anger burned in his eyes until finally Landlord let out an anguished howl and with one wipe of his trembling hand the contents of his dinner shattered around the kitchen.

Crying, properly crying, Landlord rose so quickly from his chair it toppled backwards on the flagstone flooring. He made to walk out of the kitchen but caught sight of me. Think he’d forgotten I was there. Could read the humiliation on his face. I, meanwhile, was frozen to the spot. Couldn’t even find it in me to give him a comforting look.

He stormed out of the kitchen. Heard the door to the entrance — he was heading upstairs.

What had caused it? Not the anger. Could understand that. His hand shook then. Took it for the cold. Assumed he was always cold. But not cold. No. Something more. And me, too caught up in my own problems, didn’t see it.

Wondered what to do. Leave? Clean up the mess? Wasn’t sure. Decisions are hard for me now. Years of being told what to do and when to do it.

The decision I made scared me. Because I feared rejection. Have always feared rejection. And have been rejected a lot.

In the fridge I found another steak; the second from a twin packet.

Has been years since I’ve done any proper cooking. My meals of late have consisted of frozen pizzas, microwave meals and packets of chips. Should probably be getting deliveries from Iceland rather than Waitrose.

Cooked the steak. Was more luck than judgement that it turned out okay. Took it off the heat and sliced it. Added more potatoes and veg to the plate, found a fork, and grabbed a tea towel which I threw over my shoulder.

With a breath, I left the kitchen.

Was cold on the stairs, and dark. At the top, was greeted by a long, wide hallway. To my right; three closed doors. To my left; many more. Apart from the door at the end of the hall. That door stood ajar ever so slightly. Enough for a ghostly light to fan across the hall.

Landlord’s room is huge. Sparsely decorated. Two landscape paintings on the walls, but that’s pretty much all.

The walls of the room were white, though they looked grey in low light. A lot of the room was grey. Grey carpeting, grey curtains, grey duvet cover. There was not much furniture — a chest of drawers, two bedside tables, and armchair… and the bed.

Landlord was lying there, his back to the door.

I approached, silently due to the carpet. Landlord did not notice me until I stood before him, plate in hand. He looked up at me. Wearily. I tried to smile. Moved the towel to under the plate. Ready to sit down on the bed. To do what, I don’t know. Feed him? How ridiculous of me.

Landlord spoke. ‘I don’t need your pity.’ His voice full of anger. Full of disgust. Had no desire to protest, even silently. Slapped plate onto bedside table and threw the tea towel on the floor. I tried. I failed. Was not about to try again.

Left room, shoved clothes and sheets into bag. Left Landlord’s own clothes on the countertop. In a last minute decision, stole one of his knives. I was, after all, knife-less.

For good measure, I left the coat Landlord gifted me on one of the kitchen chairs. If he didn’t need my charity, I didn’t need his.

Regretted it the moment I left the house. Fuck it was cold. Thought walking faster would keep me warmer. Was wrong. Just made the icy wind sharper as it whipped around me.

It’s ah — I don’t know — a ten minute walk back to my cottage? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? Five? Fuck knows. Haven’t timed it. And don’t ask me what length it is. Am shit with distances. Have I mentioned that? Any way, however long it was, it was too long. Was frozen when I got home. Luckily there were still coals in the fire so didn’t have to bother with the whole fire-building scenario. Just threw some logos on it and went to bedroom to make bed.

Heard the buzzing of the gate opening. Was no headlights in my view so could only mean someone exiting the drive. Have never seen Landlord driving a car. But there he was. Looking out to the dark I could not make out the type of vehicle. Four wheel drive, I think, because of the height of the lights.

Moments later; knock on the door. Thought of not answering. Landlord deserved silent treatment. Well. Avoidance. Have already been silent.

Landlord was carrying coat. Face harrowed.

‘I need to apologise to you,’ he told me.

Did not let him in. Waited.

‘I was humiliated. And angry. Would have given anything for you to not see me like that.’

Took a breath. Nodded. Was understandable.

Landlord looked down at his hands, both shaking, the right worse than the left. ‘I’ve been dreading this day,’ he said, ‘the day when these tremors get so bad I can’t even cut my own food. Knew it was coming, knew to expect it. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.’

Landlord gave me a small sad smile. Handed over jacket. ‘Please,’ he said, imploring me to take it, ‘was a gift. And you look far better wearing it then me.’

He left. Got in car, executing a three point turn before leaving through the gates.

So now Landlord’s secret is exposed. Know is not a sign of age — Parkinson’s affect all ages. And yet, knowing what I now do, Landlord suddenly seems like an old man.

The handsome man I kissed on the banks of the Thames is gone. Back in my history, buried beneath the mess of a life I created for self.

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