God's Guest

It was foolish to leave it so late but at least he’d started. Rob had laid down the structure, and now it was time to fill in the blanks. It was mainly stuff he knew – which had been swirling around in his head for weeks – but he had yet to distil a conclusion. The issue was how to install the first four wind turbines without killing birds? He’d been trying to push this project through a year. The client was okay with the turbines’ power production and payback period, but stalling on their danger to birds. Sure a few would get mangled; what could you do? This was the cost of green energy.

As he took his last mouthful of pinot noir, his fingers were flowing. Tap-tap-tap. Thank God he could touch-type. That halved the time. Touch-type. Tap-tap. Tap. There was another tapping. Was it the boiler settling? Or some part of the cabin cracking? Tap. No, it was someone knocking. At this time? Tap.

“Hello,” said the woman. “Can I stay here tonight?”

Rob was baffled. Was this a joke? Before him stood a woman of about sixty, in too many layers, surrounded by bags. There wasn’t the tang of pungent oranges, but she hadn’t seen a shower in a while; and her clothes were strangers to the laundry. “Are you lost?” he asked eventually.

“No, I wanted to stay here,” she said, then spoke in a flurry. “Someone gave me a ride up the Valley, they were very kind. It was a little out of their way, but they brought me here. I didn’t tell them where I was going, of course. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the ride. But it was dark you see, and I don’t have a vehicle. I couldn’t have made it otherwise.”

“Where do you think you are?” said Rob, peering behind her.

“At the shelter of course.” She smiled as she spoke, her cheeks becoming hard and round.

“The shelter?”

“Yes, the women’s refuge. You’re less welcoming than I remember.”

“Less welcoming?” said Rob. “Excuse me.” He took a few steps past her, to see if anyone else was there. “Are you really by yourself?” She nodded, still smiling. She was about to speak but didn’t. “Why are you here?”

The woman’s face fell; her eyes jolted as if he’d told her that someone had died. Rob realized that he was “in a situation”. He said, “Ok, come in. Let’s have some tea.”

She cradled the cup between her palms, enjoying its cosy cheer. “Nice cup,” she said, testing the china. Tap-tap. She told him that she had once lived in Lucerne. This building was used as a home for distressed women and their families. Whatever their trauma – financial, marital, or criminal – this was a place of safety for them when they fled their nests. It was in a discreet, out-of-town location, and the neighbours all had dogs, treating visitors to a canine chorus. She’d never needed to stay at the shelter herself, but knew women who had taken flight there. “When was this?” said Rob.

“Twenty years ago,” said the woman.

“Twenty years ago!” said Rob reflexively. He saw her flinch and become fearful.

“Have I made a mistake?” she said. “Oh dear. This isn’t the refuge, is it?” She twisted her hands together and looked down. “I’d better go.” She stood up and began to collect her bags, three in each hand, looking like a fussing bird.

“Hang on a minute,” said Rob. “Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure. Back into town. Do you think I will find a ride at this time?”

“Look, I can give you a ride if you want. I have friends who own a B&B.” Then he realized that a bag lady would not be seeking three-star accommodation. “Scratch that. Listen, why don’t you stay next door?” He felt ashamed even as he said it; a woman like his mother, and he was sending her to an unheated garage. “Scratch that too. Why don’t you stay here tonight?” But here was a single female looking for a women’s shelter, and he was asking her to share with a male. She didn’t say anything, just smiled nervously.

There was no solution to this problem, thought Rob. And on top of that, the old woman had broken his flow of thoughts. He had to present his findings at 9am tomorrow, and now he had a crazy houseguest. What to do?

The woman relaxed after her second cup of tea. Tap-tap. She took off her coats. Beneath was a full length, bright blue dress, filled with white swirls. “It’s amazing what people throw away,” she said.

She looked around and then said, “The local hospital closed down and there are no hospitals nearby. So I have to travel very far. When they do blood tests, they take four big tubes full of my blood. I say why? They say there are four different laboratories. Ginger is good for acidity, garlic is good for joints; onions, I don’t know, but I put them in everything. I do a big shop monthly, someone takes me, and a small shop daily on my walk.” She was an animated speaker, and her dress shifted as she spoke. The white swirls were moving, almost spinning, as they followed her elbow and knees motions.

Rob let her keep talking for a while, and then said, “I have an important meeting tomorrow. Please excuse me, I must go to bed. Will you be alright on the couch here?”

She made a sour face, which annoyed him. Then she said, “Do you have a separate room?”

“Yes, I will be in my bedroom. You will be alone here.”

“No,” she said. “I mean for me. I need privacy.”

The cheek of this woman! Rob could have her thrown out, but where would she go? He said ok, showed her to the bedroom, took her coats and bags there also, and settled himself on the couch. He heard her lock the bedroom door.

When Rob awoke, he realized that he would have to work quickly to complete his presentation. It was best to go straight to the office and finish it there. He knocked on her door. Tap-tap. But there was no reply, and it was locked from within. He peered in from outside. The window was ajar, with a few blue feathers caught in the grille. He called her again but she didn’t answer, and it was too dark within to see. Damn that woman! He didn’t have time to deal with her right now, so drove to work. He opened his windows for fresh air.

Down the Meadows Road, he saw a mass of clouds milling in blue sky. It almost seemed like beats from his dance tunes made them whirl. One tune in particular sent them crazy. It was by a British band fronted by a bald black man. When its powerful riff exploded – a swirling tap-tap-tap-tap – a flock of blue birds shot into the sky and flew away rapidly.

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2 Responses to “God's Guest”

  1. You sometimes put a question mark at the end of a statement, as in “The issue was . . .killing birds?”
    In some cases this changes the intended message. For example in this case it could be interpreted as “Was the issue . . .?”

  2. Seemingly irrelevant detail sometimes gets in the way, as the British band led by the bald black man and the intensifier “rapidly” when the birds have already SHOT into the air. If it were necessary to mention the speed of flight, would it not be better to say they rapidly flew away, rather than tack the rapidly on the end?

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