If you weren’t told of the existence of numbers 105 and 107 then you would never know they were there. I bet when the postman first delivered he was in a quandary as they were set out of sight from the main road a hundred or so metres along a narrow unadopted track. They were out of sorts as this was a domicile part of town where grand 1930’s houses with Tudoresque beams gave way to quiet meandering avenues of 1960’s modernistic homes of brick paved driveways and double garages. They were like two peas in a pod these two age old cottages, secretly tucked away from the world; a pocket of the past, a timeless enclave where the surrounding hedges were grown high as though to protect them from this modern corruption. Originally they were built among fields of wheat and apple orchards with the town a mile and a half distant, but over the passing of time the town burgeoned, grew along its arterial road until they were engulfed on three sides.
The Nichols lived in the larger house: two wise old timers who had gracefully grown old together and were fiercely independent. They had little time for the abomination that had absorbed their living space, though they accepted it as being a part of the ever changing world; but even so they called it the city of the dead, because during the day time everyone vacated their homes for work and the children were at school. I liked coming here as I liked these two old people. There were never any issues: if the coal was dusty or not of a high grade then so be it; the world was not about to end. Two more laid back old timers you would never meet; so much so I could never imagine either of them raising their voices or being angry.
I called on them one day in December when the sky was a cold steely grey and an evil wind that could only come from the north cut through you like a blade: the kind of day when afternoon becomes evening at three o’clock and you wonder why our ancestors in the ancient world ever settled here and procreated.
Their delivery was as long a carry as I can remember and out of compassion the old man invited me to bring my lorry up the track, but I declined as it was too narrow and I would rip off my wing mirrors.
He stood by his front door and watched me carry the four bags the hundred or so metres to his bunker and remarked that I must be some kind of superman to carry hundred weight sacks of coal so briskly over such a distance without a moan or a groan.
It was a day of raw implacable chill and I stood at their kitchen door step, worn by generations of boots awaiting payment. This cottage radiated warmth; not just because of their roaring fire, but because of their radiating personalities. They were wholesome people, old fashioned people of the land. They ate the vegetables from their garden and the apples from their tree. The aroma from the kitchen hit me; a bouquet so heavenly it insatiated my lustful hunger and my stomach gurgled in anticipation. It was lunchtime and she had boiled some lamb bones from the day before and had made the most irresistible lamb and vegetable soup that when I watched her serving it into bowls, for me it was like pornography. She never asked me, she didn’t have to as the look of wanton craving on my face stripped my thoughts naked. She passed me a look that only a mother could, pulled out a chair at the table, laid another place, ladled another generous helping into a bowl, grabbed my coaly hand and led me by the hand to a seat at her kitchen table, and then roughly cut me a hunk of white bread.
I had died and gone to heaven: the taste, the savour was from a bygone age, from the mists of time: it flicked a switch in my brain that illuminated the half forgotten world of my childhood and I bolted it down like a hungry African.
The other cottage was but a stone throw away, yet a light year distant in style and deportment. Miss Shayler’s white weatherboard bungalow reflected her