Month: March 2018

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Short Story: Trostlose Frau


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With the grace and skill of an old wise leopard, Mick landed in a crouch – thud – on the other side of the old and crumbling brick wall. Scaling this high wall into the estate had been surprisingly easy – the bricks were old and full of footholds – and he was pleased to have avoided landing in one of the thick, woody rose bushes. He stayed motionless like this for a few moments to listen and scan the surrounding area for any sign of activity. There was no one around. He crouch-walked, clothes snagging on rose thorns, to a better position where he could sit comfortably among the bushes but not be seen from the big house in the near distance. There were still twenty minutes or so until the Lord Bayrne, or Burn or whatever it was, was due to leave for his afternoon appointments. He could see the navy blue Bentley was still parked on the gravel at the front.
It was a particularly lovely early evening in summer; golden sunshine illuminating the big lawn and the weighty smell of roses drifting around on a gentle breeze. Topiary bushes posed in their various shapes in pots about the place and an old-fashioned stone trough with a hand pump resided stoically in an oval of closely cropped lawn in the middle of the circular gravel driveway. Huge Georgian pillars propped up the grand porch as they had done for generations and tall windows reflected the blue sky back at itself. Mick admired these things as he sat, waiting, though he was also aware of the irony of this given his reason for being there.
Movement from the house: a butler emerges through the large green doors. British racing green; a shade with such history and grandeur. Lord what’s-his-name emerges, bent over slightly and using a cane but well-dressed and looking like a man not willing to accept old age just yet. Tweed jacket, cream-coloured trousers, light blue shirt and a bow tie. White hair. Mick couldn’t quite make out the man’s features.
The butler patiently waits for the Lord to shuffle past before closing the doors again, trotting down the steps to reach the car first and hold the rear passenger door open now. The Lord lowers himself in, unsteady on his cane, thin legs placed inside the car – one… two – and lastly the walking stick is tucked in. The butler ensures all is well before closing the door – clunk – and walking with long strides to the driver’s side. The car starts and crunches slowly across the gravel, around the grass oval and continues out of sight along the lengthy drive.
There are a small number of staff in the house, they told Mick. Use the entrance on the eastern side; the servants’ quarters. He slides the sleeve of his bomber jacket back enough to see the time on his watch. The Trostlose Frau is located in the library, they told him. He squeezes the woollen material of his balaclava between finger and thumb, toying with it in his pocket. Perhaps, after a certain level of wealth, people begin to search for meaning and worth in more and more abstract things because they can afford to buy such increasingly extraneous possessions and, well, why not? What’s forty thousand pounds for a Roman clay pot to a millionaire when it may contain the secret to happiness? A price worth paying. But what happens when they realise that the pot is empty, perhaps not even Roman, and that they are, unexpectedly, still unhappy? Was it the money that caused the unhappiness? Or the useless clay pot? Probably being unhappy but surrounded by luxury is preferable to being unhappy and in poverty, or is it even lonelier? At least poor people know who their real friends are. Mick looks at his watch again. Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, he takes his phone out and types a WhatsApp message:
OK
He sends it. The two blue ticks show the message has been read. Typing… The thumbs-up emoji. He puts the phone back in his pocket and zips it up.
How peculiar it is that an art piece could be worth millions. Mere oil paint dabbed in formation on a bit of canvas. It has no intrinsic value of its own. People invent a value; they make it up based on, what? A feeling they have about the painting. The conviction that one artist is a genius while another is mediocre. These art collectors seem the craziest rich people of all.
The crunching sound of a vehicle on the gravel drive becomes louder. He scans the surrounding area again, absorbing the quiet, gentle scene. A white van travels quickly into sight and brakes to a halt in front of the house with a skid. He stands. Show time.