Karl arrived this morning in a cheerful mood. He had just sold a nineteenth century sideboard and received a very good price for it. Whilst he was here Madeleine and Benjamin came running over to see me. They were both wearing Halloween masks, waving their arms around, making scary howling noises.
Celine was waiting for us when we arrived at her place. She said she was looking forward to seeing the house. She asked if we knew how old the house was and anything about it's history. I said no and asked Karl if he'd been told anything by the owner, but he was singing along to his blues music and shook his head. I mentioned to Celine that the front of the house looked okay but the back was a mess. We both thought this was odd.
Celine said she couldn't wait to see inside. I had described the place to her but she seemed amazed when we went into the kitchen. Everything was as I remembered it last time. Used plates and cups left out, saucepans on the hob and two chairs pulled out from under the table which was littered with newspapers and magazines. Celine pointed out the wall clock which had stopped at ten to three. On the draining board next to the sink was a vase of dead roses, petals scattered everywhere.
I asked Karl if he remembered these roses from our last visit. He shrugged,saying he wasn't sure. Celine wandered around, opening cupboard doors. She called me over to have a look. The shelves were stacked with tinned soups, cans and packets. She opened the cupboard underneath the large stone sink, pointing out all the cleaning products. She thought it strange that considering the house was for sale the owner hadn't arranged for a cleaner to come in.
Karl was in a hurry to pick up the chest of drawers so we followed him into the living room. Two couches were arranged around the fireplace which was covered with a thick layer of ash and soot. The chest of drawers was in the study, the same room we had collected the filing cabinet from last time.. The drawers were full of papers, documents and notebooks. Once we'd emptied them I helped Karl to carry out and load the chest into the van. Celine followed us. She didn't seem keen to be left in the house alone.
Karl suggested we have a quick look around. We followed him into the hall and up the stairs. Celine made a face, saying she could smell something sweet and sickly. I said Karl and I noticed this on our last visit. As we went up the stairs I became aware of a man's voice. Celine, who was walking between myself and Karl, froze. She gripped onto the stair banisters. Karl laughed and said it was a radio, probably timed to switch on. We went into all of the four bedrooms and sure enough, in the last room, a clock radio was talking away to itself. Something about politics. Karl went over to it and pulled the plug from the wall socket. He laughed, saying he knew there had to be a logical explanation. He smiled but neither of us smiled back.
The master bedroom was very untidy. Sheets were pulled back from the king sized bed. The dressing table was full of lipsticks, mascara, and half used perfume bottles. Celine opened the wardrobes, they were packed with dresses, suits and shirts. On one bedside table stood an alarm clock, a full glass of water and an opened packet of pills. Celine said she was sure the clocks in the study and the kitchen had both stopped at ten to three, the same time as this one.
Karl told us he was going out for a smoke. I got the impression he couldn't wait to get outside.
Celine followed me up to the attic rooms.
We were standing in one, Celine studying the books, when we heard a door shut down below and footsteps coming up the stairs. Celine called out Karl's name. There was no answer so we went downstairs to meet him but when we reached the middle floor there was no sign of him. I looked out of the master bedroom window. Karl was outside, leaning against the van, smoking. I told Celine to come over and see. She said someone must have come into the house, maybe the old lady from next door but I could tell she wasn't convinced. Karl looked up at the window and waved. At the same moment I became conscious of the voice coming from the radio. I told Celine that the timer must have something wrong with it. We both laughed and then Celine stared at me. I asked her what was wrong.
"Karl pulled the plug out. " She reminded me. "It can't be working. "
We both listened. We could both hear the voice prattling on. Downstairs in the kitchen a cupboard door banged shut and something rolled across the tiled floor. Above us in the attic bedrooms a door slammed. Celine ran to the window. Karl was walking towards the front door.
We were halfway down the stairs when Karl strode into the living room.
He looked at us and asked what was wrong. Then he paused and asked if we had plugged the radio back in. We told him no and asked if he'd been back into the house, telling him about the footsteps on the stairs. He shook his head, stared at us for a moment then said "We've finished now. Let's go." We followed him out through the kitchen and as we passed through I noticed the chairs had been pushed back under the table, but I said nothing.
We went next door where after knocking several times and waiting for what seemed like ages, the old lady finally appeared. She listened as Celine spoke to her, asking about the house, trying to discover it's history. She shook her head and held out her hand for the key. Karl handed it over and she closed the door.
"Well, " said Celine. "She's hiding something but I don't know what."
On the way back Karl turned the volume up and sang along to his C.D whilst Celine and I were quiet.
At Karl's we unloaded the chest of drawers and went into his kitchen where we discussed the events of the afternoon. Karl couldn't explain the radio coming back on and wanted to find a rational explanation. Celine said there was never any logic or reason in life but Karl insisted there must be. I could offer no explanation for any of it.