For the story so far
“Where you from,” he asked.
“I came up from Melbourne this morning.”
“That’s a decent drive. Anyway, I best get home to the kids. The Missus is working this afternoon. I’m on kid duty.” Tom swung himself up into his truck. “Give me a call or a Txt when you want the skip removed. I’ll bring you an invoice then.” He waved and pulled out of the driveway.
Amber removed both of her gloves. She’d hoped the man would take the skip further in, but given the history of the lot, she guessed he wouldn’t want to risk his tyres on the driveway.
She grabbed her water bottle and had a long drink before getting into her ute, finding Smith St on her map and heading down to the hardware store.
Amber parked in front of the hardware store, a faded, almost ready for a repaint sign declared the shop as “The Hardware Store”. To make sure you really got the message about the shop being a hardware store, there was a hammer and a saw painted at the end of the sign. Amber smiled, got out of her ute and entered the dark shop. She gave her eyes a minute to get used to the darker area.
“G’day, how can I help you,” an older man came up. He used a cane to walk and he was stooped over slightly.
“Hi, my name is Amber and I’ve just purchased the old place on ReDoux Rd. I need something to help me get the glass and rubbish out of the front yard. Someone suggested a rake and a shovel.”
“That would do it. It’s about time that old place was sold. I suppose you are planning to rip it down and build one of those new fandangled houses without any character.” He spoke slowly but with passion.
“Nope, I love the old girl. I want to restore her but before I can do anything, I want to be able to get outside without stepping on any glass. The last owner was a hoarder so I have no space inside and no space outside.”
“Good. I remember that place in its heyday and it was a beauty. Beautiful gardens, well maintained and painted. It was sold several times in quick succession. One of the owners updated the kitchen not so long ago and then Sam Grant moved in. He’s had the place for the last thirty years. He only started hoarding when his good wife passed away. Come on, I’ll get you a rake and a shovel.”
She followed the old man with his shuffling walk towards the back of the hardware where he gave her a rake.
“Try that for weight. You don’t want one that is too heavy because you have a lot of raking to do.”
Amber tested it out. “It’s pretty light.” She sounded dubious.
“Light but strong, and you are going to be doing a bit of raking. I haven’t driven past the place in a while, but I hear things, you have plenty of work to do. After an hour of raking, you’re going to be glad I sold you a light rake.” He took the rake back off her and headed down a few meters to replete the process with a shovel. In the end, she settled on a spade because she liked the shorter handle and the fact that at the end of it, there was a smaller handle.
“Anything else,” he asked.
“Probably need some extra industrial strength garbage bags. I’m almost through my supply.”
He hobbled to a different area via the front counter to place the spade down there and then disappeared down another aisle to come back with two packages of industrial sized garbage bags.
“These are suitable for Asbestos. They are expensive but will be good for the glass. Have you got a skip,” he quizzed her.
“Yes, I shouted myself the equivalent of a skip a day until I start work again. Then I’ll see.”
“You using Tom or did you go out of town,” he gave her a look. It could have been a squint but it could also have been a glare.
“I am using Tom, he had the quickest response time being a local. The others all wanted 24 hours notice.”
“Tom does a good job,” the old man scanned her again, there was nothing old about his eyes and they seemed to speak volumes if she could just translate what those volumes said. “I have some small cardboard boxes that you can have for all those magazines and newspapers Sam Grant kept. They’d be better than plastic bags. If you drive your ute around the side, I’ll get them loaded.”
The man just headed out the back without warning. Amber took her spade, rake, and bags and put them in the tray of the ute then she drove around the side of the store.
An hour later, she pulled up at her house with a grin on her face. Beside her was the wrapper of her lunch, having eaten it before she had gotten home and a half empty Chocolate milk.
A car was parked on the footpath part of her driveway.
She got out, taking her wrappers with her and throwing them in the wheelie bin. Inside her house, she could hear a vacuum cleaner going. She headed around the back and found the back door open. It was the only one in the house that actually worked, possibly because it was the only door you could get to.
She walked up the back stairs and over the planks that had been laid across the veranda.
“Hello,” she called.
“Oh sorry, I was trying to get this done before you got back, sort of like a phantom house cleaning fairy. You’ve been working so hard cleaning up the yard, I thought I would give the rooms I could get into a vacuum. I’m just about finished.” The woman who spoke would have been in her late thirties Amber guesses and she was a little on the larger side, her blond hair and blue eyes bubbled with brightness and Amber wondered how nice it would be to be happy like that all the time.
“Thanks,” Amber looked around. She’d be willing to place money on the fact that the woman had done more than vacuum. “I’m Amber,” she added, placing her hand out to shake.
The woman wiped her hand on her shorts and shook Amber’s.
“I’m Milly. My parents named me Millicent, but no one calls me that and lives. My husband and I live a few doors down and I can’t get out much. I used to clean for Sam, he was the old owner. The town Environmental Health officer threw a fit one day and threatened to force Sam into a nursing home, only the town doesn’t have one and Sam lived in the area his whole life. So I told the council I would pop in and check on him every day. It’s the most I could do. I’ll just finish up and get out of your hair. I’ve turned the fridge on for you. The council had turned the electricity off whilst the public trustee was selling the house. What are you going to do with it,” Milly asked?
“I’m hoping to restore it.”
“Oh, fantastic. The town will be so happy. There was talk of the council buying the property and renovating it for a museum, but the council decided that the whole thing was just not viable for them.” Milly looked at her watch and then gave a start. “I’d better get back and finish the vacuuming before the kids get home from school.” She turned her back to Amber and restarted the machine.
Amber headed outside and unloaded the boxes placing them in front of the skip. She then took her backpack and daypack out of the front footwell of the ute. She took them into the house making sure to remove her boots first and she placed it just inside. That was the sum total of her belongings:- a ute, a rake, a spade, large backpack and a day pack with her laptop in it. Amber traveled light. It was just who she was. Eighteen years in foster care meant that she could pack really effectively. It wasn’t until she was fifteen that she managed to get a placement that lasted more than six months. Then at 15, she had gotten her lucky break, landing with an older couple who put up with her until she turned 18 and then some, allowing her to stay through her first year of university. It was them that had convinced her that she was worth anything at all and it was them, whom she was closest too in the world. The couple only ever took one child at a time or rarely siblings just so that they could concentrate on giving that child all the assistance they needed. Her last phone call three weeks ago had the pair accepting another foster child. One who needed them deeply which Amber translated to a pain in the bum foster child who was probably an arsonist, but she could hardly comment because foster kids needed that pair more than anything. The couple, Stan and Merry were in their 70s now and showing no signs of slowing down.
She went back to the grass in the front yard, using the rake how the hardware store man had showed her. Milly waved goodbye and drove out of her drive. The skip filled. It was slower going now, but Amber kept at it. The shadows lengthened and the road got busier as businesses closed.
Amber’s phone buzzed and she kept working to fill her final bag for the day. She’d done all she could for the day outside and knowing how she was when she got involved in a task she had set her phone to buzz at 6:30pm so that she would actually not work through the night. Amber often got completely engrossed in a task and unless she set herself reminders she would forget to eat and sleep.
She placed the rake and spade against the veranda with her gloves and headed inside. Milly, the amazing woman had cleaned the bathroom until it shone so even though the place was dated with the brass shower screens and taps, it smelt clean and fresh. She lifted her towel, bathmat and her change of clothes out from the top of the backpack and went to shower.
Five minutes later she was still waiting for hot water. She’d best find a plumber in the morning. She showered in the cold and then headed out to the local grocery store to get her first load of groceries.