And I shall try to put down not just what, but why things have happened and why none of it could have turned out any differently. Until now I really haven't thought about the why. Time's the thing. I haven't had time, not time of the right kind, to ask myself why things have gone the way they have. I've been too busy being happy; even now I'm happy, although the time left is of the other kind. But I'm quite content to spend it trying to puzzle it all out and write it down. It's a pleasant way to pass time, sitting over the typewriter at the study window and looking out now and then to wave at them (that's Michael, Steph and Charlie) down there in the garden. They're not doing much. Steph is singing to Charlie and rocking him on her lap: 'Row, row, row the boat'that's one of Charlie's favouritesand the more she rocks the more he likes it. They're waving back now. I've told them I've got to write a report for the agency and in a way, that's almost true, so they're making pretend-sad faces up at me because I can't spend the afternoon with them. And now Steph's got hold of Charlie's wrist and she's making him wave too. Behind them, I can see three different kinds of Michaelmas daisy in the border, three nice shades of purple. But the roses are on their second flowering now and look as if the air's gone out of them, as if they've stayed too long at the party.
Anyway, I'm going off the point. I was saying that I'm going to explain everything. And while I cannot imagine any explanation for anything that does not also contain an element of justification, I am not trying to offer excuses for what we have done. But nor am I apologising, quite, except for the mess and inconvenience, which are bound to be considerable.
So how did it start? With the letter from the agency? Or with the advertisement I placed? Perhaps much earlier, years and years ago, with Jenny. Jenny is the niece I invented for myself. Yes, perhaps that reveals a tendency. She started as just a little harmless face-saving white lie which of course led to others, and in no time at all the fact that she did not exist was neither here nor there. My niece became quite real to me, or as real as somebody living in Australia ever could be, in my mind. I haven't travelled abroad.
No, now that I reflect, it started with this place, with the house itself. Because the house made me feel things from the very first which perhaps I should find strange, it being my fifty-eighth. Memories are a little blurred after fifty-seven in eighteen years, but I do know I'd never felt things before. This is the fifty-eighth house, although I've sat some houses more than once because people used to ask for me again. I specialise, or I did, in long stays. 'We have the perfect lady, flexible, no ties, usually available' was how I was recommended. I spell this out just so that it is clear that I have been well thought of. Inexperience has nothing to do with it. Nor was it anything to do with malice or jealousy.
The house when I came was full of old things; fuller than it is now, for reasons I will come to. Many of them were not in mint condition, and I liked them like that. I liked the way they sat about the house in little settlements, as if they had sought one another out and were sticking together, little colonies of things on small island table tops. There were the boxes: workboxes with velvet linings and silver spools and scissors and dear little buttonhooks, boxes with tiny glass bottles with stoppers missing, writing boxes still cedar scented and ink-stained on the inside, yellowed carved ivory boxes, and painted and enamel onesI suppose for snuff, those onesbut I wasn't concerned about their original purpose. Then there were the small silver things in the drawing room, the heavy paper knife with a swan's head, the magnifying glass, a round box with a dent, the filigree basket with the twisted handle, a vase for a single rose. The blue and white porcelain in the dining room, some of it chipped, and the fans in the case in the library, of beaded lace, faded painted parchment and tired-looking feathers. Even some of the books: nearly everything else was modern, but on three shelves there were sets of very old books with cracked spines and faint titles. They all had that look of being dusted in cinnamon and gave off a leafy smell that reminded me of church. Inside, many of the pages were loose, and so thin that the print on the other side grinned right through the words when I tried to read, as if they were not unreadable enough already.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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