But all these things seemed content in their imperfections; they were not shouting out to be mended the way new things are. New things so often break before there has been time for them to fade and crumble. Here, it was as if the things had simply been around long enough to be dropped or bent or knocked, and every one of these minute, accidental events had been patiently absorbed, as if the things knew themselves to be acceptable and thought beautiful just as they were. If objects could give contented sighs, that's what these would have done. I wanted to be like that. I wondered if I, also fading and crumbling as everything does in the end, could be like that. Yes, I remember wondering that right from the start, in those first few days of January.
The third day, like the first two, slipped away and got lost somewhere in the folds of the afternoon. As before, Jean had made the dusting of the objects in the house last for most of the morning. She had vacuumed the floors again and cleaned her bathroom, unnecessarily. After her lunch of milky instant coffee and biscuits she tidied round the kitchen. When she could fool herself no longer that there was anything left to do she mounted the carved wooden stairs and walked the upper floors, again feeling mildly inquisitive, as if the house and the rest of the day might be conspiring to withhold something from her. Again, pointlessly, she tried the three doors she knew to be locked. Then she wandered with less purpose, pausing here and there, her vague eyes watching how light displaced time in the many other rooms of the house. Light entered by the mullioned windows, stretched over floors and panelled walls and lay down across empty beds. It lay as cold and silent as a held breath over furniture and objects and over Jean lingering in each doorway; it claimed space usually taken by hours and minutes which, outside, continued to pass. Through windows to the west Jean saw how the wind was moving the bare trees that bordered the fields; through the south windows she watched grass shivering in the paddock, watched as clouds pasted onto the sky bulged and heaved a little. Inside, the afternoon aged; its folds sank and deepened, closed over the last of the daylight and sucked it in. When it was quite dark Jean walked again from room to room, touching things gently and drawing curtains. So the third day passed, with Jean watching as it seemed not to do so, unaware that she was waiting.
She was keeping the letter from the agency in the pocket of her thick new cardigan, the Christmas present she had bought and wrapped for herself so that she would have something to open 'from my niece Jenny in Australia' in front of the other residents on Christmas morning. For this year, finding herself again between house-sitting jobs over the holiday, she had been obliged to spend Christmas at the Ardenleigh Guest House. It was Jean's fifth Christmas there in eighteen years, and Jenny had sprung into being the very first time when, one day at breakfast, a depressed old lady had invited Jean to agree with her that Christmas was quite dreadful when you were getting on and nobody wanted you. It had sounded like an accusation; Jean had then been in her late forties but suspected she looked older. She ignored the assumption about her age and concentrated on the 'unwanted' allegation. She heard herself saying, Oh, but I didn't have to come here! In fact my . . . my niece begged me to come to her! But I told her oh no, I shan't come this year, thank you, dear. Thank you, Jenny dear, I said, but no, I'll make other arrangements. And then of course the old lady had asked her why. Oh, well. Well, she's having a baby soon, her third. So I thought, it wouldn't be fair to add to the workload this year. Then she added, in a voice loaded with dread, You see, she's not having an easy pregnancy.
Excerpted from Half Broken Things by Morag Joss Copyright © 2005 by Morag Joss. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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