This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 700 words.
Considering his personal appearance, and the run-down exterior of the farm buildings, Ted’s house was remarkably clean and tidy inside. Upstairs there was a small living room, a double bedroom, and a bathroom and toilet combined. The fixtures were dated, but all serviceable, and the small flat screen television in the living room was a modern one.
As he watched me moving my stuff from the van, he called out various things as I went up and down the stairs. “Dinner is at six. Nothing fancy, you understand, but I’m a fair cook”. “The phone signal is not too good here if you have one of those mobiles. There’s a phone in the house, but make sure you leave the money for the call in the box next to it”. “Oh, and I don’t know if you have a computer or such, but we don’t have that Internet here”. “Breakfast at seven sharp, I can wake you if you want”.
While making my bed, I tried to imagine how anyone could run a business, even a farm, without Internet access. By the time I had unpacked, I could smell the dinner wafting up the stairs. And it made my mouth water.
The portion was huge, and I ate heartily. Sausages and onions, served in a fluffy Yorkshire pudding, accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas. There was bread and butter on the table too, and the promise of a dessert. “There’s steamed sponge and treacle after, boy. You will eat well here, I promise you”. As we ate, he chatted as if we were old friends. I was amazed how trusting he was, as he hadn’t so much as even asked my name.
“The main job here is keeping the birds and vermin away from the fruit. As soon as those blackcurrants start to appear, they are all over them. Then there’s watering, I have a cart for that, and some weeding. But I mainly use chemicals and such around the bushes, to save the back-breaking stuff. Once the season warms up, we will have to get the netting on the bushes. That’s one hell of a job, I tell you boy. I see you have some decent tools, so I was wondering if you could fix the doors on the main barn? Otherwise it wil be hard to store anything in there, come harvest”.
He talked like this throughout the meal, never waiting for me to reply or comment. He also told me that he lived downstairs, with a small living room and bedroom combined at the back, and a toilet too. “I don’t need any bath, shower, or such. I just have a good wash in the sink”. After we had finished all the food, he offered me beer, which I declined. Then he suggested Port Wine or Brandy, but I said no. When I offered to help clear away and wash up, he surprised me by telling me he had a dishwasher in a utility room at the back. “Also got a nice washing machine and tumble drier there boy. Next to the freezer”.
I had imagined that he would have no such conveniences.
Ted remained sitting at the rough wooden dining table for some time, drinking his beer. He told me about how he, his father, and his older brother had run the farm together after his mother had died of cancer. His blackcurrants were all sold in advance, used for fruit drinks made by the brand leader in those products. But the price depended on the abundance of the crop at harvest, and could fluctuate wildly every year. “What we want is a good crop, in a bad year. Do you get my meaning, boy? Then we have the edge, something to sell that they need”.
I slept well that night, with Ted telling me he would wake me in time to bathe before breakfast. I couldn’t recall eating such a big dinner in a long time, and I had quite warmed to my new employer.
It almost seemed a shame that I would have to discover his weakness, before he died of it.