The tiny bricked in garden, dominated by a single thorny overgrown rose bush, grey brick walls, no door and only one small wooden sash window she looks through to see her precious roses.
The estate agent opened the door which stuck half way and had to be pushed with a considerable force to let us all in. I couldn’t help but throw my eyes up to ceiling and breathe a deep sigh.
James threw me a look, one that implicitly said, “for fucks sake”.
“Sorry, it’s been a while since we had anyone view this property.”
Obviously, I could tell. The smell caught me as I went through the door, being pushed along by James.
“It’s well under your budget, but it really is a fixer upper.”
James, enthusiastic until the last suggested, “we take a good look around and reserve judgment”.
“Right, where would you like to start?”
“Your call James,” I really couldn’t be bothered, five houses in and not one was worth the viewing.
I seriously couldn’t understand why of all places he could choose to live. He’d want to live in his hometown in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains with only one road in and out. A slow road to nowhere abruptly stopping at a cliff, next step the ocean.
James and the estate agent went ahead. I followed, it must be said with a fierce amount of resistance. Slowly, slowly along the dark grim corridor, under-foot old brown lino caked in dust, Bakelite light switches with exposed narrow twisted wires, and walls with mould descending from the corners of the ceiling.
I really didn’t get it, how I had suddenly arrived here? Five months ago, I was single, free, maybe not so happy, but doing ok. I had a good job, lived in my own apartment, and now I’m married, in bally go backwards, looking at this shit hole, actually considering moving to here.
A whirlwind. Yes it was a whirlwind, my work colleagues, smiled, but I knew they didn’t think much of my decision to leave. James insisted, we had our lives to lead and I do say I did agree with him. Trading one journey for another, that’s how new stories are made. I dreamt of being a writer, and James, and only James was the first person to believe in me. So I jumped in, and why not?
“Are you coming?”
James sounded like he was already at the top of the house. Three stories from what it looked like on the outside, in the centre of the small village, terraced with houses closely sandwiched side by side, and to the back.
I was just at the first step to the staircase.
“Jesus it’s narrow.” My voice echoes up the staircase and dissipates into the roof.
The smell intensives as I make my way up, the steps narrow and turn at awkward angles toward empty rooms, apart from one room where the door is closed.
Finally reaching the top, the stairs gives way to an open plan space, with the most unusual dimensions.
“So, what do you think of this?” James smiled one of his big toothy grins at me.
I stepped off the last step and up into the top of the house.
“Well this is a surprise.”
Light flooded into the space through windows embedded in the roof, the walls covered in the most charming wallpaper, with the tiniest, rose detail. As I take a closer look it becomes obvious that each rose is completely individually painted.
“Wow, that’s strange.”
The estate agent moves across the room and stands looking over my shoulder, “its quite magnificent isn’t it?”
“Who did this?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I turn looking the estate agent in the face, only then I notice how old she looks. My first impression was she must only have been in her thirties but now she looked closer to fifties.
“A local artist, she shut off the rest of the house and just lived here at the top of the building.”
“Really, how weird.”
“She was how would you say, eccentric, her family lived in the big house just outside the village, long gone now, only the ruins left. They established this village in the early 1800s.”
“When did she die? I mean the house looks like it has been left uninhabited for a very long time?”
“Hey Rose, take a look at this?’ James, who up until this point had been exploring the nooks and crannies, stopped by the wall towards the back of the building.
Turning I could see he was near a very narrow window.
“What?” Walking towards him, “did you know anything of this Rita lady, she sound interesting, may make for a great story.”
“Just look, Rose.”
The window looked really old, an original wooden sash I would have imagined, layers of paint chipping off and the panes of glass barely held in place.
“It’s a window.”
“Not the window, look outside.”
Cupping my hands together I covered the top of forehead and looked downwards, right outside the window I could see a small grey-bricked garden with a huge rambling rose bush growing in the centre.
“Wow how do we get out there? I didn’t see a back door.”
I turned. James had moved right across the room and was standing beside the estate agent.
“Well do you like it?”
“It’s interesting, but you know we’d have to think about it.”
“I’ll leave you for a bit, to chat and see the space on your own.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Really I must insist.”
“I have to agree, some time to ourselves.”
The estate agent turned and left, disappearing down the narrow dark stairs.
“I’m not willing to make a decision just yet I thought we agreed?”
James turned towards the wall, “I really like this one.”
“What, but how can you decide, some of the other houses were ok?”
“No not the houses, this rose.”
“The rose? I get the wall paper is significant, if not kind of creepy, to be honest this is all kind of creepy.”
“I’m sorry Rose.”
“Look just talk to me.”
“Of course you can.”
“Rose, please know I am sorry.”
James turns to face me and suddenly the man I know looks different, younger. The stranger’s eyes are all teared up.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I have no choice Rose, don’t you see I can’t live without her?”
“Who? Look this is too weird for me, I’m leaving.”
As I get to the top of the stairs the closed door on the floor below me swings open with a loud bang.
“She’s coming, Rose.”
In shock, my gaze fixates on the stairs and the long dark shadow making it way up. As the blackened shape reaches the last step, I can see it is the estate agent, now much, much older.
“What is this, who are you?”
“I live here.”
“How, I was told you were long dead.”
“Were you and just who told you that?”
She smiles at me as she moves forward, her bones creaking just like the steps, like the walls, like the door.
“This is my house, I invited you in, you came and now you will stay.”
The voice is coming from James, James the stranger, a James I don’t know.
“Rose, meet my mother, Rita. Mother do you like her?”
“Yes my dear, yes I do.”
“Rose please know I take no joy in what I do, I paint the rose, I paint all the roses, each one beautiful, each one individual, and I will paint you.”
“I don’t understand, look just please let me leave.”
“I can’t Rose, my beautiful boy will die with out you, it is the only way I can make him live again. I never meant for him to die that day, he wanted to leave, I was angry, It was just a small push, but he stumbled and went right through the window. So I buried him right where he fell, sealed off the garden and planted the rose bush. One day as the roses bloomed he walked back in the door, as if nothing had happened, I was over joyed, until the bloom fell from the roses and he passed again from this world. But I found a way to keep him; I paint the roses, all the beautiful roses, each one from the blood of a living Rose, that way I live and he lives.”
Suddenly, there is a sharp pain in the back of my head and everything goes black.