Edna left the kitchen with Mrs Tard's voice ringing in her ears. Nellie was left behind in the kitchen preparing soup; with Mrs Tard barking at her like a demented hound with the runs.
Edna carried her duster and polish; climbed the stairs stomping with mild frustration; with vague ideas for Mrs Tard's wished for downfall. She reached the top landing; walked along the corridor to Master Timothy's room, which had been left as it was since his death at Passendale in 1917. Mr and Mrs Topdraw had only a daughter surviving who came and went with the regularity of the daily post.
Opening the door, Edna smelt the mothballs, old polish, and stale air. She went to the window and opened it out, letting in fresh morning air and the scent of the cows from a nearby field. She turned and gazed around the room. A dark-stained wardrobe with Master Timothy's clothes still hanging in the order he last placed them, stiff and mothballed; a chest-of-drawers with small items of clothing neatly piled and laid; above the bed, a crucifix with an off-white Christ with a broken arm. Edna stared at it; wondered how the Crucified managed a broken arm. She looked at the bed with its dark-blue covers, starched pillows; remembered the night before when she and Nellie in their own iron bedstead in the attic, clung to each other against the cold and an inner urge of comfort and sexual delight.
She sat on the bed; bounced up and down deciding the bed's merits compared to their own, whose springs clattered at each movement in the night like a small string orchestra tuning up before a concert. She smoothed down the cover with her right hand; imagined what it would be like to sleep there in its whiteness and the warmth from a lit fire in the fireplace by the opposite wall. She sighed. She sniffed the air; she wanted to sleep; she wanted lunch.
After a short recline on the bed, she got up; began to polish the surfaces of the furniture; send a whiff of polish around the air to mix with the odour of a dead man's room and the staleness of mild neglect. Elbow polish, her mother had said, nothing like it. She rubbed and rubbed along the top of the chest-of-draws, thinking of Nellie downstairs enduring Mrs Tard's moans and groans. She paused; held the duster at bay. Her breathing was tight; her chest felt heavy. Asthma. Take it easy, her mother'd say, sit awhile, put your feet up. Edna sat in a chair by the fireplace; stared at a painting on the wall by the window. She knew nothing of art. It was dark and dim and showed a country scene with horses and water. She raised her eyebrows, rubbed her thigh, and coughed. She wondered if Mrs Topdraw would ever get over her son's death and allow the room to breathe again; and for a guest to sleep here instead of them sleeping in one of the old servant's rooms on the top landing beneath the attic, cold and damp. The dead are dead, she mused, breathing slowly, moving her gaze to the Crucified again, at the broken arm and the dusty head with miniature thorns that held a cobweb. Needs a good dust, she mused, thinking not now, but some other time when the summer's here and the room warmer.
She picked up the polish and duster and walked to the door. She'd leave the window open, let in more air to move the staleness. She took one last glance about the room as she opened the door, then with one stiff click closed the door behind her and walked along the corridor to return to the kitchen, and Mrs Tard's mincing moans and grinding groans, and her stares that were as icy as a winter's morning. Maybe a cup of tea; a bun; a five-minute sit and a secret kiss on Nellie's cheek if cook wasn't looking. She smiled and descended the stairs, humming a melody that echoed around in her head like bat trapped in a closed room on a windy night.