This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 785 words.
Billy watched the man walk towards the door. He was hobbling, using an elbow crutch on one side, and a walking stick on the other. By the time he stood next to his wife, he seemed to be breathless. Milly turned to her husband. “He is offering to cut the grass, and has his own equipment. I will let you decide”. With that, she walked back into the house, with no acknowledgement to Billy.
After catching his breath, the man spoke. “Mowing the lawn? Yes, it could do with that, front and back”. Billy smiled. “A fair price mister, and I can do other jobs too, anything you need doing I can turn my hand to. Cash only, mind. No cheques”. Edgar looked him up and down. He was about the same age as Adrian had been when he died, but his bright eyes and good physique made him look very different. “Okay, you can cut the grass now, and then we will talk about other jobs when I see how you work”.
Watching from the kitchen window, Edgar saw the man working tidily, and without let up. He stacked the cuttings on the compost pile at the far end of the garden, and produced some shears to trim the borders carefully. He had done a similar job at the front, carrying the cuttings through the side gate, past the dusty tarpaulin covering Adrian’s car. When he was finished, Billy tapped respectfully on the kitchen door, and waited patiently until the man arrived with the money. As he handed over the cash, Edgar looked pleased. “I have some other things that need doing. Can you clear guttering? How about painting fences? As you can see, there are lots of panels on both sides that need painting”.
Although he wanted the work, Billy was hesitant. “I can do all that mister, trouble is I don’t have no ladder for the guttering”. Edgar smiled. “There is a treble extension ladder in the garage, you can use that. Shall we say eight tomorrow morning to get started? What is your name by the way, young man?” Happy to get the work, Billy beamed back at him.
“Ah, just call me Billy”.
Five days later, and Billy had worked four days at the Lexham house. The man had said to call him Edgar, and the lady brought him a mug of tea and a ham sandwich mid-morning. He had done the guttering, and finished the first coat on the fences, using green paint from one of the sheds in the garden. Edgar let him use the downstairs toilet when he needed, and he could wash his hands there when he had finished. The only thing he wasn’t keen on was that the man would spend most of the day watching him work, standing at one of the windows that overlooked whatever he was doing.
But he was paid in cash every day, no argument, and there was talk of painting the sheds, and rearranging the flower beds too, so he didn’t say anything.
On the Wednesday of the second week, a taxi showed up. As Edgar and his wife went out the kitchen door, he turned and called to Billy. “We won’t be long. The kitchen door is open if you want to make a cup of tea or use the toilet”. That was impressive. They trusted him alone in the house.
When they got back, it was almost finishing time, and they had been away longer than he had expected. Edgar came out to watch as he cleared up for the day. Handing over the daily pay, he seemed to be thinking about saying something. Then he said it.
“I am very pleased with your work. I will have more, if you are free to do it. The woodwork around the windows needs rubbing down and repainting, all the sheds need that too. In fact, I could probably employ you exclusively on a short-term basis for a few months, if that suits you”. Billy grinned. “Suits me just fine, Edgar. I like working here. You pay me every day, and treat me right too. Can’t ask for more”. Edgar rested his walking stick against a fence panel, and put his hand on the young man’s shoulder.
“Truth is, I haven’t got that long. Months, not years. Bone cancer, and it’s spreading, so they told me today. I need to get the whole place in good condition to be able to sell it. My wife won’t want to live in this big house alone after I’ve gone. So I’m counting on you, Billy”.
As he drove home in the old Land Rover, Billy felt really sad for the man.