As with so many personal accounts, this tale of mine may sound fantastic, but it’s all true.
I do change all the names though, otherwise we’d be getting nothing but weird stares and whispering behind our backs from now on. The usual level of gossiping for a country side town is enough.
Average, that was me when I grew up. I had no outstanding abilities, no striking features, finished school without an idea of what to become in the future, hadn’t even had a serious boyfriend. During the summer after graduation I had a couple of temporary jobs filling in for other people, and I was just wondering one evening if my future was growing old working in retail or waiting tables, highlighted by a couple of marriages and divorces, when my mother came to me with a note.
‘I just got off the phone with Jane.’ she said, meaning Jane Finnegan, an elder lady she knew from a charity she sometimes volunteers at. ‘She talked to a friend of hers today who said a writer living near their town was looking for someone to assist him in his work and around the house. Then she remembered I told her how you were looking around for something and suggested you. Her friend asked him if he would meet you if you were interested and he said okay. Here’s the address if you’re interested, he’s at home this week so you could drop in at any day.’
I read the note she handed to me. Barry Richman. Not a name I recognised, but the town he lived near, let’s call it Black Hill, was not too far away. I’ve passed it once when I did deliveries for an electronics shop in town for a couple of weeks.
‘All right.’ I said. ‘Might just be fun. And if it falls through, I’ll spend the afternoon reading at the river with my feet in it.’
‘Since you like to read, maybe you’re just the person he looks for.’ my mother said and left me reading the driving instructions.
I drove the next morning to Black Hill, arriving around ten at a house on the slope of a grassy hill, the forest edge several hundred meters behind it. It was one of those larger Victorian style houses, seemingly a requisite feature of the typical country image. I didn’t mind though, I still think it has a certain charm.
I parked the car next to his, some model from late seventies or early eighties. I have no clue about cars, just that it seemed that old.
I took a minute to look at the scenery, the wide open space until the road at the bottom of the hill, where the forest started at the other side. It was still quite warm at this time of year, but out here there was enough wind to keep it comfortable outside.
I walked up the couple wooden steps in front and rang the doorbell. I heard nothing and saw no movement through the glass next to the door after a while and rang again. When all was still quiet I walked down the steps and went around the house.
Rounding the corner at the back I saw there was a glass house attached to the back of the house. Through the glass I saw someone sitting in a lounge chair, reading. The side door was open and I knocked carefully against it.
The person I saw was a man, I guessed just a little over thirty, and probably Barry. He put his book on the table and walked toward me.
‘Excuse me, my name’s Erin Mitchell.’ I said, and remember, I said I changed names so no use looking me up. ‘I got your name and address through friends who said you were looking for help.’
‘Yes,’ he said with a warm smile as we shook hands. ‘you’re the one who was asked if you could have it if you’re interested in the job? I’m Barry.’ He gestured at the chairs and table. ‘Come in. Want some coffee or tea?’
‘I’ll have what you’re having.’ I said, taking a seat.
‘Coffee it’ll be then.’ he said and pulled out a mug from a small cabinet underneath the table. ‘No trouble finding this place?’
‘No. The directions were clear.’ I said.
He filled the mug, placed it in front of me and moved the cup with sugar closer. ‘If you want, and there’s milk if you’d like that too.’
I poured a little sugar in my mug. ‘Thanks, sugar is enough.’ I said and sat back into the chair.
‘So,’ he said and topped off his mug. ‘you heard I need someone to assist me in my work as a writer, and do work around the house, right?’
‘What I’d need you to do is keep a track on my agenda, set up appointments when needed, run errands like sending off manuscripts and articles to editors and translators, keep track of my business mail, things like that. Anything that would keep me concentrating on writing is appreciated.’ he said, tapping on a notebook on the table. ‘And the other part of the job is being the housekeeper. Which is somewhat obviously since that would distract me a lot from writing as well. So I hope you’re able to cook at least a little bit.’ he chuckled.
I had to laugh a little. ‘I’m no gourmet, but I cook at home often enough.’
He sipped his coffe. ‘Then there’s one more thing, if possible I’d like you to live here as part of the pay. There’s a couple of large rooms upstairs so one can be yours. Think you could accept this offer?’
I hadn’t expected to start as a living-in assistent and housekeeper and had to rethink what it would mean.
‘It’s not a major requirement, but it would make things easier for me, and I expect for you since some meetings and parties with publishers can run late. And I’d like you to join me when I need to travel as well.’ he said.
We have no special circumstances at home, so there’s no need to be there I thought. And if I’d get a steady job I’d leave to live on my own anyway. It would also cut down on travel time a lot. It’s just that it’s almost like living together with someone.
‘If you have any doubt, don’t be afraid to say so.’ he said. ‘I do feel somewhat nervous asking it, and having someone else around the house for the first time.’
I could see the concern in his face. It almost made him look like a teenager asking his crush out on a date and it made me chuckle. ‘Sorry, I was thinking about how it would be a first for me and didn’t think about it being a first for you as well.’ I said.
He laughed, leaned back in his chair and said. ‘I think there will be more firsts for me since I’ve lived alone until now.’
‘Alone?’ I asked.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I was raised by my grandparents after losing my parents at a young age. When they died, of old age so nothing bad, I lived at their house for a while before moving here.’
‘Ah.’ I said and felt comfortable enough to take the plunge into the deep. ‘I think I can accept your offer. I’ve done several odd jobs in the last couple of years outside school so I think I can become assistent and housekeeper.’
‘Great!’ he said, stood up and shook my hand. ‘We’ll run a trial period for a couple of months so there’s no pressure. You can stay or go home when you feel like it if you need time to get used to the situation.’
‘Thanks.’ I said. ‘I expect I’d like to visit home in the weekends, maybe stay over for the night once in a while.’
‘No problem. Weekends are usually quiet.’ he said. ‘So, shall I show you around the house?’
‘Please do.’ I said and we walked into the back room when I asked him about his writing. ‘I like to read a bit of everything, but I didn’t recognise your name.’ I said.
‘Well, I only write under pseudonyms.’ he said. ‘For example, you might know The Staircase?’
I looked surprised at him hearing that title. ‘The novel about romances during the lifetime of a mansion in the south?’ I asked.
‘Really you?’ I asked because I could hardly believe it.
‘Yes.’ he said and I could see a smile of embarrassement on his face.
‘I love that book!’ I said, then realised my reaction and coughed. ‘But then you’d hear that all the time since it’s very popular.’
He chuckled. ‘Most of the time. But I’m glad you like it.’ he said.
‘Damn. I had no idea you were that famous.’ I said.
‘Well, I’d like to keep it that way for most people. I’m not that good with being a celebrity so I only make appearances under my smaller pen names.’ he said.
‘I think I understand.’ I said and we continued the tour of the house.
It had a large kitchen and his study at one side, the other side combined the front and the back room into a large living room. He explained he had the stucture strengthened to take out several inner walls to create more space. Upstairs were his spacious bedroom, another study full of books, and the room I could use for myself. It was large enough to create a sleeping space at the back, which also had its own bathroom, and a living space in front. The windows were large so there was lots of natural light coming in.
‘I already love it.’ I said.
‘I’m glad.’ he said, smiling as he looked outside.
Now, what genre will all this lead to?