'Right, well, Jean,' Shelley managed at last, 'so you've had our confirmation. Basically I just wanted to check if you've got any queries. You're okay as regards the contents of the letter, are you? Unfortunately we won't be in a position to offer you any further employment after the expiry of this current contract. I mean, we had said, hadn't we. I did say.'
Jean said nothing, knowing that her silence would be considered a difficult one.
Shelley told her, 'We don't like terminating people but it's company policy. Town and Country's not in a position to keep people on past retirement age, we're not allowed. It's the insurance.' Breathing of a struggling, bovine kind followed this long speech. 'I mean, you've done sterling work. But you've already had four years past sixty. Right. So.'
Still Jean said nothing, so Shelley changed tack. 'So, you're doing okay, are you, Jean, as regards the location of the property? Okay popping out and getting your bits and pieces? Because they did say it'd be better for a car owner as you've got over a mile to the village and it might be lonely. They said really it'd suit a slightly younger person with a car and maybe a part time job in the area, though I did tell them you were very professional and okay with a mile. You are okay, Jean, are you?'
'There's been a breakage,' Jean announced. 'Today, while I was dusting. A teapot on the sideboard. Blue and white, Chinese, with silver mountings. Not very large.'
There was another wait while Shelley prepared the tone of her reply and Jean heard the breathing grow unmistakably irritated. 'Well, you've just proved my point. We have to fork out the excess on that now. You'll need to find it on the inventory and notify us and we'll have to tell the owners. You have got the inventory, haven't you? It was in with the rest of the paperwork, with our letter and the owners' list, you know, all their do's and don'ts?'
'Yes, I've got the paperwork. And the list, all the do's and don'ts. Plenty of them.'
'Yes, well, that's their prerogative. People can go a bit over the top, especially when they can't meet the sitter themselves. The Standish-Caves had to fly out the day before you arrived, that was all explained, wasn't it?'
The list of instructions and grudging permissions for the house sitter that had come from the owners, via the agency, filled several typed pages. They were wide-ranging: no open fires, no candles, do not use the dining room or drawing room, use TV in small sitting room, use only kitchen crockery, do not use the cappuccino machine or the ice cream maker, always wear gloves to dust the books, beeswax polish onlyno silicone sprays, you are welcome to finish any opened jars, unplug the television at night. Jean hugged her cardigan closer.
'You'd think I'd never house-sat before. You'd think I don't know the first thing.'
'Well, you can't blame them, can you, especially not now something's broken. It is their house.'
'I could have a go at mending it. I've still got the bits.'
'Don't touch it! They'll want it properly mended, if it's even worth doing. These clients are very particular, that's why they're using us. That's why you're there. Oh, Jean.'
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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