This is my piece for today’s Daily Post prompt.
Hayley smiled, grasping the bulky journal the lawyer had so recently handed over. Nana Jameson was a family legend, her death breaking more hearts than she could ever have realised, including that of Abe Jansen, her lawyer and sometime ‘fancy man’. Nana had always insisted Abe was just a friend, but the tears on his cheeks, the caress of his hand over the journal’s leather cover spoke louder.
“She didn’t have much to leave, Hayley. You know how she was.”
Everyone knew how she was. Nana had spent her money on caring; caring for the neighbours, their kids, their animals, the local church and youth centre. No-one was really sure where Nana’s wealth came from, but it never seemed to run short, despite the paucity of her bank account, and lack of mattresses stuffed with illicit gains. Abe had smiled, a sorrowful thing, aching with pain, as he passed over the journal.
“If she mentions me in there…?”
“I’ll be sure and let you know.”
Hayley had offered a gentle hug, extracting herself before his grief could make hers brim over. She was still at the point where small things could precipitate avalanches. Clutching the journal and the keys to Nana’s house, she hurried away.
That Nana had left her only real possession, the single storey house with only four rooms and about an acre of garden, to Hayley, was still a puzzle. The family couldn’t understand it, all believing they had equal or greater claim, but Nana had been savvy, nailing down every word, checked, crossed and witnessed in triplicate. The house was Hayley’s with only one clause; she was not to sell it; it had to stay in the family. At twenty-five, with no steady job or dependents, it didn’t seem such a bad deal.
Clicking the door into the jamb, Hayley felt the weight of years settle over her. The house might be a hand-me down, used and a little abused, but it felt like home. She knew every nook and cranny, every crack in the floorboards into which she had stuffed coins as a visiting toddler, fascinated by the faint thud when they hit whatever lay beneath. She had lain awake in the pale light of dawn, counting the faded butterflies on the spare bedroom wallpaper, eaten countless breakfasts tucked into the kitchen window-seat overlooking the huge garden.
That was where she was heading. The garden was wild, a rambling sprawl of ancient trees, gnarled and twisted into fantastical forms, a rampant rose garden, winding paths of moss-covered stone – a death-trap in the rain – and a pagoda. Set behind a screen of yew at the furthest edge of the garden, the pagoda was a classical folly, straight out of a mythical dream. If Zeus and Hera had wandered from within its confines, Aphrodite chosen to lounge on the cushion-laden couch within, Hayley would not have been surprised. She slipped between its tall columns, cascaded with honeysuckle and ivy. Sinking into the slightly musty, vaguely damp cushions on the settle, Hayley held the book against her chest for a moment, took a steading breath and plunged in.
Three hours later, with dusk gathering, the first star faint in the sky and the chill of autumn wisping through the pagoda, Hayley turned the final page, closed the book and let out a long sigh. Perhaps Nana had gone doolally tap in the end, but what if she hadn’t? What if the strange things she had recorded in her journal were, even in the smallest way, true? There was one way to know. Hayley sat up, clutched the book once more to her chest and whispered ‘Dinny?’
For long moments nothing happened, but as Hayley prepared to call herself a fool and head up to the house she heard the tiniest rustle in the ivy around the pillar to her left. She fought not to hold her breath, watching as a face no bigger than a walnut pushed through the leaves. A wriggle or two later and the pixie stood at her feet, barely reaching her knees, head cocked on one side, studying her as hard as she did him.
“You must be Hayley. Guess you’re the Keeper now. What do you need?”
Hayley paused, whilst the tiny being rolled his eyes, smoothed down his dusky green tunic and gave an exasperated shake of his head.
“She didn’t prepare you, did she? The Keeper is supposed to hand down the knowledge before she goes. Nana knew that!”
“It was too sudden. She… Her heart quit before she was ready, I think.”
For a moment, the little man’s face softened, his hand reaching to brush hers in sympathy.
“She was a good Keeper. She’ll be missed. Now, you have a lot to live up to so we better get going. Do you need money for the youth centre tonight or help for Mrs Graham and her kid with that battering husband of hers? We can send some ogres round if you like.”
The wicked twinkle in his eye and the cheeky tilt of his lips made Hayley giggle, and she gave herself over to learning her new trade, Keeper of the neighbourhood with a little help from the Fae. Second-hand wasn’t so bad in the end.