I unclipped her lead and left Sid exploring the wainscoting. I had a very full van to unload. I could hear my rose-bush calling to be let out of the dark. (Metaphorically. If I started hearing my rose-bush talking to me I would move back to the city after all, into one of those cockroach-infested studio apartments that were in my price range, because clearly the country was bad for me. I could probably adjust to Mr Melmoth and Watermelon Shoulders if I had to. Talking rose-bushes were a delusion too far. Maybe Sid could learn to catch cockroaches.)
I unlocked the van’s rear doors and opened them cautiously. A few dog toys and one of the small sample bags of kibble fell out. Nothing else. I looked at all the stuff and considered despairing. No. Didn’t have time. This was the moment to be grateful that I was poor and had only a small van’s worth of stuff to shift. —Nonsense. If I had more money I’d’ve hired someone to do the shifting.
Unenthusiastically I pulled out the bags from the pet store and piled them to one side. I needed to get started with the book boxes before I lost my nerve. Or twisted the other ankle. Gently I lifted my rose-bush out and set her by the edge of the driveway. She immediately improved the view. In spite of the ruts and the screaming skulls. This was Rose Manor, after all. Rose Manor should have a rose-bush in a knock-off Tiffany pot at the edge of the driveway. Rose Manor should have a phalanx of rose-bushes lining the driveway, but I only had one.
If I’d realised I’d have to carry all of my books up a flight of stairs I’d’ve stuck them in smaller boxes. No, probably not. I’d packed up my old life still under the aegis of Joe the Doorman and when I’d asked for packing boxes this is what one of his janitorial minions had brought. Those last weeks in New York I’d had as much of my brain turned off as I could manage and not set fire to anything that now belonged to Mr Diamond-Studded Shoelaces, like the entire apartment. I knew that Joe was being even more helpful than his demanding vocation required because he felt sorry for me, but I didn’t care. Here were boxes to put things in, and tape to finish the job. Thank you, Joe.
I propped Rose Manor’s front door open with the first book box and began stacking the rest of them immediately inside the door. I’d worry about where they ultimately went later. Like maybe next year. Who needs to read? Um. No. Bad suggestion from someone who earns what passes for her living by people reading. But maybe I’d think about an ereader a little more seriously after this. Supposing I survived, I thought, panting up with my third box. I set it down next to its friends. Sid, tired from her exertions at the wainscoting, was lying stretched out on her side in the middle of the parlour floor. She should have been dwarfed by the size and stark emptiness of the room but it had the opposite effect: she looked enormous. Skeletal but enormous, as if when she stood up her head would brush the ceiling. I hoped not. I really didn’t want to buy enough dog food to fatten up something that size. She raised her head, gave her tail a single thump, and let both head and tail flop back to the floor. Those mice in the wainscoting were very tiring. I scowled. I, however, did not need to gain half my body weight and there were 1,000,000,000 boxes of books out there waiting to help me burn off a little of what Eats had put on.
Five boxes. I was starting to see stars. I hoped this was my blood pressure and not that it had taken me six hours to carry five boxes of books up a flight of stairs and sunset was a while ago.
Six boxes. Maybe I’d just pile the rest of them in the middle of the front garden and have the biggest bonfire Cold Valley had ever seen. Except that I’d read my Ray Bradbury and knew that books don’t actually burn that well. I could siphon some gas out of the van to help the fire along a little. No, how would I explain the gigantic scorch march on the lawn to Hayley when she came to dinner—tomorrow? How could I have invited a real estate agent—my real estate agent—for dinner the day after I moved in? Besides, gigantic scorch marks would lower the tone that my rose-bush was trying so hard to raise.
Seven boxes. I was wheezing like a dragon with asthma. My ankle had stopped hurting—in shock, possibly—but my right knee was starting to protest and I was sure my feet were getting flatter. I had red streaks across the pads at the bottoms of my fingers where the edges of the boxes ground in and at least one blister starting.
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