“Shapes are interesting,” said Serena. “And I wouldn’t be looking around on the floor of Mike’s garage if I didn’t spend so much time there waiting for you.”
“Sob sob grief,” said Gus.
“And I have only one boulder,” said Serena. “It is a very good boulder, and it was worth hiring Ed and his winch to move it here.”
“Even if Ed now crosses to the other side of the street when he sees you coming.”
“Even if,” agreed Serena.
I had picked up a little wooden—something. It was a little curled-up wooden something, with its nose under its front paws. It might be a puppy. I smiled at it. Its spine was maybe three inches long, and as graceful as a swan’s neck.
“Oh yeah,” said Serena. “I also dick around with woodworking a little.”
“Language,” said Gus delightedly.
“Sorry,” said Serena. “Having someone in here actually looking at my stuff is bringing my ancient boho tendencies out of retirement. I fool around with woodworking. My siblings clubbed together a few years ago and got me a set of tools and I didn’t want them to feel unappreciated. The siblings, I mean, not the tools.”
“No, you meant the tools,” said Gus.
“My siblings are wonderful human beings,” said Serena. “They invite my son over for dinner and weekends and holidays, and expose him to normal life.”
“Aunt Anise is not normal.”
“We won’t go there,” said Serena. “Although I do not dispute you.”
There was a distant, somewhat forlorn ping.
“Ah,” said Serena. “Dinner calls.”
“I’m starving,” said Gus.
“How unusual,” said Serena. “There is also broccoli and walnut salad.”
“Broccoli?” said Gus in horror.
Serena sighed. “You’re not that starving, right? I picked up some of Ryuu’s French beans in soy sauce for you, okay?”
“Okay,” said Gus without enthusiasm.
I was last out the door. It’s hard, leaving Aladdin’s cave. (Note to self: it was time Flowerhair met a genie. A female genie.) I was standing on the threshold having a last look when there was a funny noise. Click, it went. Tuk-tuk-tuk-tik-click. It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was extremely clear and definite. I looked around, startled, for the piece of old car that had unexpectedly hot-wired itself.
“Well, well,” said Serena, who had come back to stand beside me in the doorway. “You are exalted among mortals. You not only got the comprehensive cold spot experience, you’re now receiving the gremlin endorsement code. Not many of our visitors do. Nobody from my family. None of Gus’ friends.”
“Not Mike,” said Gus, “who really wants to.”
“Poor Mike,” said Serena. “We’ve told him it’s a mechanical noise, and he’s inclined to take it personally that it won’t perform for him.”
“He thinks he could identify it,” said Gus.
“Which is probably why it won’t play,” said Serena. “At least he doesn’t just think I’m having an attack of artistic temperament.”
“Mom,” said Gus. “You got this house cheap because everyone knows it’s haunted.”
“Sort of,” said Serena. “The locals don’t like it and incomers are mostly looking for a romantic lake retreat. We’ve got the campground and trailer park on one side and a sort of mini industrial park on the other. This house was already cheap. It was just a little cheaper. And an artist moving into a haunted house, and corrupting her son’s innocent mind? Please. So we don’t make an issue of it.”
Tick, said the gremlin.
“Nighty-night,” said Serena, and gently closed the door.
“You leave a bowl of milk out for the hob,” I said thoughtfully, as Serena pulled a heavenly-smelling dish out of the oven, and Gus took plates out of a cupboard. “I’m not sure what you do for a cold spot and a—er—gear shaft.”
“We do the best we can,” said Serena. “Aaugh. Gooey. I’m too hungry to wait, and it’ll cool faster on our plates. The coat rack in the hall is right next to the cold spot, and the black velvet cape is there for it. Nobody wears it. And there’s a bowl of nuts and bolts and old keys and broken-off bits that are—er—interesting shapes of themselves, in a corner by the bay window. I wouldn’t want to say that anything ever moves them around. But I wouldn’t want to say nothing ever does either.” She took a large bowl and a small cardboard box out of the refrigerator and put them on the table, the box in front of Gus. “I hope,” she said to me, “that you do not think broccoli is evil?”
“I love broccoli,” I said. “It’s my favorite vegetable.”
Gus, reluctantly opening his box, gave me a look. It said, middle-aged women are all alike, and not in a good way.
“Favorite green vegetable,” I amended. “Sweetcorn comes first.”
“Sweetcorn to die for, around here,” said Serena. “August and September, every farm stand has truckloads of it. And it’s all fabulous.”
“Excellent,” I said, giving myself a little more broccoli just to watch the expression on Gus’ face. “I knew there was a reason I was moving here.”
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