"I opened the little drawer and saw that it was the only part of the desk that hadn't been emptied; obviously it hadn't been spotted by whoever cleared out this room. It was full of rubber bands, paper-clips, pens and pencils, erasers and - three keys linked together on a small metal loop"
“What was Mordan House before you took it on?” Kidman asked.
“Uh, some kind of hippy commune or something, I think. These kind of ‘back to nature’ types had the lease, but then the group fell apart. Actually, I think the guy who now owns it bought it quite recently and he was lucky they moved out early. I seem to remember him saying that.”
“Some kind of commune? So you don’t really know.”
“I suppose not. I wasn't interested. I'm here to look after the place until the builders are ready to move in, knock it down and construct their luxury homes on the land. When I took it on, it was of no interest to me what it had been before. Why would it be?”
Kidman was asking questions. Lots of them. I was being defensive. There was lots of defensiveness, in fact.
“Hm. And why do these three rooms that you live in have a lock on them? Why are they self-contained? Practically the entire house is made up of individual rooms and, if you look, the locks have been removed on them all, but this part of the house is more of a suite, isn’t it? But it has a name sticker on it like all the others.”
“Is all this important?”
“So, there are two basement rooms that are locked – the only locked rooms in the house. Then there’s an attic that, you say, you’re too scared to go into. Although that’s not locked?”
“Yes, I don't think it's locked. I was on that floor of the house once and I'm sure the door opened - I don't know, a breeze or something.”
"But you've never tried the handle?"
I was getting irritated now. "No! I was spooked! Spooked! Don't you ever get spooked, Kidman? Uncle Urine visited Auntie Leg and I ran. Ran! Happy now? Jeez, woman, there are ghosts in this house. Do you know how it feels to live in a house as haunted as this one?"
She raised an eyebrow, aligned her nose and breathed in to slightly elevate the little doggies in her bra. I sighed. "Yes, alright, I've seen 'The Others'! You were fabulous!"
"If there was ever a time when Uncle Urine had good cause to visit Auntie Leg, it was in that movie! But I stayed dry, Stephanie! Totally dry, I can assure you!"
"Fine. I believe you."
"In fact, I distinctly recall the director saying to the key grip, 'That Kidman, she's a dry one.' Another question for you: what is a ghost exactly?"
Our conversation - which was more of a 'question and ignorance' session - took place as we looked for the key, or keys, to the basement rooms of Mordan House. We started off with a strategy that would allow us to thoroughly search the house, but then ended up looking in arbitrary places. We initially thought that there would be some places more likely to hold the key than others, but as we looked in various rooms, we found them all to be very similar in size and decor, so we ended up just rummaging around without any real system. And this particular part of the 'question and ignorance' session occurred in another commonplace, bog-standard room on the first floor, that looked, in a way, just like a hotel room for a down-and-out. Old bed, old table, old chest of drawers, old wardrobe, old cupboard built into the wall. Old, old, old!
“What is a ghost?" I repeated Kidman's question, wondering myself what the answer to such a question might be. "I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one. The impression of something dead retained in the place where it lived? And died? Something like that.”
“Well, that's how we think of them. If that’s true, how can an astronaut in a space-suit haunt land that doesn’t require a space-suit?”
I raised a finger with authority and confidence and said, “Ah, now that question I have asked myself!" Then I lowered my shoulders and let my finger sag a little as I admitted, "Although I don’t know the answer.”
Kidman grimaced and threw me a wriggly, agitated look as if a small fly had just decided to die up her nose.“Useless Stephanie Fey. Stilly Stephanie. So, how many astronauts have died in space? In fact, no, how many have died on the ground, more to the point? I take it Scotland doesn’t have a programme of space exploration, so it’s unlikely that an astronaut in training could have died here?”
“What is a ghost? I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one. The impression of something dead retained in the place where it lived? And died?"
“No, no space programme, I'm pretty sure. As for the number that have died in space – or on the ground – I really couldn’t say. Could that be a clue?
"Keep looking for the key! You’re no good at asking questions. I ask great questions! Ask any screenwriter. I once asked a screenwrite so many good, quality questions about a character that eventually one half of his face went numb.”
“Right. Right. The key.” Focus, focus. That's what I needed.
I left the room, again disappointed, but determined to keep looking. Kidman followed. We entered the next room along the corridor and instantly it was clear to me that there was something different about it. It had an old wooden desk, but the desk was turned the wrong way round, so that the drawers were against the wall. Therefore, to all intents and purposes it was just a makeshift table.
“This song, ‘Catch a Falling Star’ – why is that relevant to this house?”
I started to pull out the desk from the wall. “Nope. I don’t know the answer to that either.”
“And when was the last time you had cock in your cock hole?”
I'm sure at this point I banged the desk down hard on the floor, but in an involuntary fashion. “Don’t call it that! That’s so horrible! It's offensive and disgusting!”
“Okay, when was the last time you had cock in your ‘lady cupboard’?”
“I don’t know!” Now my head was down and I was frowning as I opened and closed each empty drawer. Where the hell was that blasted key?
“Why do they say ‘not yet’ all the time in that neighbouring town of yours? 'Not yet. Not yet. No, not yet! Guess what, it hasn't happened yet.' What hasn't happened? What are they waiting for?”
“I've no idea. What relevance has that got? They're all just weird, that's all!” I said these words in a sprightly fashion, now delighted that she was off the subject of what I did and didn't do with my lady cupboard. At the same time, I was disheartened that the desk was thoroughly empty, so I stepped away and looked round the rest of the room.
"It was an old wooden desk. But I remembered something about such desks: they often had a thin little drawer above the standard drawers; almost a secret drawer"
“I’m asking the questions, Stephanie – you’ve obviously asked yourself no questions, so don't start asking the questions now!”
My irritation briefly rose again. “Oh! Well! Thank you!”
Even as I looked round the room, the desk was still annoying me. It was an old wooden desk. But I remembered something about such desks: they often had a thin little drawer above the standard drawers; almost a secret drawer, but it was usually for pens and paperclips and such things.
“When was the last time you did some Spring cleaning in your lady cupboard?”
“Enough! That’ll do, okay?”
“You don't know much, Stephanie Fey!”
“I’m here in this damned house because I asked questions, remember.”
“Oh, is that what you think? That you left because you were asking questions? About the kind of person you'd become? What’s that mark on your face, Stephanie Fey? Where did you get that? I don’t ever hear you mentioning that mark in your web log.”
“Blog! It's a compound word. Blog! You know where I got it. Now shut up, or I may have to kick you hard in your blasted lady cupboard.”
Silence. For a change! Kidman looked haughty and I grimaced in a tight-faced way as I again scrutinised the desk. Was it possible? Yes, it was! A little wooden drawer! It had one!
Kidman was oblivious to my discovery and instead just continued talking: "This time's been very useful to me. It's given me a chance to figure out that you're not one for answering life's questions. You merely blandly react, Stephanie. That's the kind of person you are. You're wet. You're not dry as a bone like me."
I opened the little drawer and saw that it was the only part of the desk that hadn't been emptied; obviously it hadn't been spotted by whoever cleared out this room. It was full of rubber bands, paper-clips, pens and pencils, erasers and - three keys linked together on a small metal loop.
“You understand nothing because you ask yourself nothing. You get haunted, terrorised, and all you do is try to survive it. You don’t ask what you’re trying to survive, your place in it all…”
I jangled the keychain. “Kidman. Look at this!”
“… Unless you care, unless you start looking for answers, you'll find nothing in life …”
“He-llo! Kid-man! See this!” I dangled the keys I’d found, right under her eyebrows, right in front of her nose, and right above her magnanimous puppies.
“What is it?" she snapped, finally looking straight at me. "Can’t you see I’m ranting? Can’t you leave a bod alone when it’s ranting?”
Then ever so softly, gently, I said, "Look."
She folded her arms and looked away. “They’re not keys. They're widgets.”
I stepped back. “Widgets? They're not widgets! What’s a widget? These are keys!”
“I think you'll find they're widgets. For a tractor, I believe. They help you to remove the wheels. They look a bit like keys, I'll grant you that.”
“They're freakin’ keys, Kidman! And I found them! So quit ranting about my inadequacies!”
She did quit ranting, especially when I walked out of the room and started to head for the basement. Keys! But no guarantee, of course, that any of them were the right keys. Not that I was going to tell Kidman that!
“Where are you going?” she called out from behind me.
“More questions? Where do you think, O Great Questioner? I'm going to try these keys in the basement doors before one side of my face goes numb!”
Of course Kidman followed me. She wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to find out an answer to at least one of her questions.
But she couldn’t resist a last parting shot of defiance:“I don’t know why you’re bothering with those. You don’t own a tractor!”