They opened the door and were greeted with the dry stuffiness of a house not lived in for many months.
Their instructions were clear.
In the kitchen, all opened packets were to be dumped. Anything intact and within date was to be put to one side for donation to one of the local Food Banks. Any food in the fridge or freezer was to be thrown away regardless but someone had already emptied them as both were unplugged and wedged open. One drawer contained a variety of confectionery, some sticky and globbed together.
The same rule applied to toiletries, anything in use was to be binned, anything unopened put to one side.
Linens and clothes were to be sorted and the good stuff boxed up ready to be delivered to the charity shop in the High Street.
‘Is the electric and water on?’ asked Tom.
‘Yep, just checked. I’ll put the kettle on. I’ve bought tea bags and a carton of milk. What’s happening about the whites and other electrical goods?’
‘Says here they’re to be left. We’ll have a brew and then get started.’
In the bedroom, they emptied the wardrobes and chest of drawers where underwear and hosiery had been neatly folded . Everything was of good quality, some little worn, but not all would be passed on. It didn’t take long and soon there were four boxes on the bed and 2 bin bags for disposal.
The airing cupboard was already empty save for a few towels and a grubby sheet. Another bin bag.
The dining room had a huge dresser full of crockery. A lot was bone china, such delicate porcelains, so each item was carefully wrapped to avoid breakages, and the boxes marked FRAGILE in huge letters with a black marker pen. There was no silverware or photographs, just a few books and half a dozen videos on a dusty shelf. They were boxed up too.
As they were packing up the ornaments in the lounge, there was a tap on the door.
‘Oh, they took her telly then!’
The smartly dressed woman introduced herself and asked if they needed anything.
Making conversation, Tom asked if she knew her neighbour well.
Settling herself in one of the armchairs, she said they had been friends for about 40 years.
‘I’m not one to gossip, but it’s a sorry state of affairs.’
Smiling knowingly, the two men continued with their assignment, .
They were told that there was a daughter and a slimeball of a son-in-law.
‘He was always here with his hand out,’ she explained. ‘Drove a fancy new car and bought himself a boat. He talked her into having that greenhouse. Turned out he’d ordered it for himself but it was too big for their garden, so he arranged for it to be delivered here, then presented her with a bill for nearly a thousand pounds!’
As they continued with the job at hand, they were filled in with the family history.
Pretty much the same as hundreds of other stories: armed forces background, well travelled, one partner dies, the other is left to manage, family drifts apart.
There was a son too apparently
‘Nice lad, came immediately he heard she was in hospital, though nobody told him for a week! He got a key from me and stayed a few days. He and his wife cleaned right through and sorted out the cupboards. Bless them, they restocked the freezer and replaced all the stuff they had to throw away. They told me they found a dead mouse in a cereal box! And she was so house proud!’
‘Well Mrs…..??’ said Tom trying to deter their ‘guest’ so that they could get on.
‘Griffith, but people call be Gerty. Can I help you at all?’
‘No, I’m afraid not. We have to work to a list and the van is coming later this afternoon.’
‘Oh, OK. I’ll be off then. It’s such a shame though. Her boy visited several times even though they live in Scotland. They were prepared to sell their house and come and live here with her you know, once she got out of hospital. She was all for it, then that son- in-law stuck his five eggs worth in, and she turned on him. Accused him of all sorts of things, including being after her money and her house. Even had all the locks changed so they had nowhere to stay. I tried to smooth things over, you know, thinking it was just a misunderstanding, but he showed me the letter. All typed up it was, really nasty, with her proper full signature on the bottom. He’d even got the authorities involved, thinking she was under duress or whatever the term is, and unable to think straight. The poor lad was threatened with legal action if he persisted. The daughter was given full control over monetary affairs after which they moved away, oh about a month ago I think. We visit The Home mind, but we couldn’t do anything because we weren’t family. But then you don’t really want to get involved too much do you?’
And with that, she was gone.
At three thirty, the van arrived. It took less than an hour to load the furniture, but the boxes were left as they would be collected by someone else the following day.
As the men threw the trash bags in the back of their pickup, a hammering in the front garden drew their attention.
‘Oh well, they didn’t waste any time.’