The Exorcism




Sally gazed down at the newspaper cutting in her hands and eyes misted with tears.  For sale, it said, Small cottage and garden.

‘You could afford it, darling.  After all, you have a good job; you can afford the mortgage,’ her mother had written sternly.  ‘You must give up that dreary flat and forget Timothy completely.’

Forget him!  When the blurred photograph over the advertisement showed exactly the house she and Tim had dreamed of together; the steep tiled roof, the square windows, two up and two down, with the rose-hung porch between them stiff and a little self-conscious.  Like a child’s picture of a house, it was two-dimensional and slightly awry.

‘You’re to see it on Saturday at eleven.  I’ve arranged it with the agent,’ the letter went on dictatorially and Sally found herself clenching her teeth resentfully. Was she never going to be allowed to grow up; to be independent.  She half screwed up the small piece of paper in her hand, but then slowly she smoothed it out again on the table.  What else, after all, had she to do on Saturday?

The lane was narrow, arched with leaves, the air smelt sweet with honeysuckle as she drove slowly towards the cottage through the morning heat.  Her mother was right.  It would be easy to get to the office from here and the tiny cottage was scarcely bigger than her flat.  She peered up through the hedge at the pink walls above her with their covering of pale roses and she found herself smiling.

The gate was stiff and the path knee deep in weeds.  How Tim would have loved it. 

She frowned, not wanting the memories to intrude, but as always they came rushing back.  The summer they had spent together, the dreams they had shared, the special beautiful day when, lying side by side on the beach, watching the great North Sea rollers chasing one another up the shingle, he had put his arm across her sun-warmed shoulders and turned her to him and they had kissed.

Then it was that their dreams had begun to take the form of plans, plans which revolved around one another, happy-ever-after plans, and a little later, armed with those dreams, she had pain her first tentative visit to house agents and spoken them out loud.

It was raining, she remembered, when she found out.  Raining the heavy straight half-warm rain of August and she had leaned on the sill of the living room in the flat – their flat it was almost, were it not for the sparsity of Tim’s belongings – as she answered the telephone, gazing out of the open window at the street, quite unprepared. 

It was Timothy’s mother.

‘Tim’s gone?’ She had repeated the woman’s words stupidly, word blind, not understanding, gazing at his sweater on the chair, his books piled crazily on the shelf beside her own.

‘I’m sorry, Sally dear.  He couldn’t bring himself to tell you.  He so badly didn’t want to hurt you.  It was planned so long ago, you see.’

So long.  All those summer days when they had walked and talked and lain together and he had shared her dreams.  But only in deceit. 

Sick with shock she had stared for hours out of the window, not feeling the raindrops as they spattered in upon her arms and face.  He was never coming back.  He had a house, a job, a car and, his mother had told her at last, a girl, over in the States and he had gone back to them.

‘He didn’t want to hurt you, Sally,’ she had repeated as she rang off – as if that made it all right – and again, ‘I’m so sorry my dear.’

She kept his sweater, dried of tears at last, underneath her pillow and tidied his books amongst her won and somehow she survived.  She welcomed this autumn when it came with its sympathetic dying leaves and buried her hurt deep inside herself.  But it remained.  It was there every time she tried to smile, every time she went out with someone else.  Time had been too close to her, seen too much of her inner soul.  She felt violated and exposed by his betrayal.  And all her dreams were spoiled.

She reached the front door and gave it a push.  It swung open on well-oiled hinges.  The room, immaculate, pretty, was empty.  ‘Is anyone there?’ she called out softly.  But she already sensed the house was deserted.  She peered into the kitchen, spotless and neat, and then climbed the narrow winding staircase to view the two bedrooms snug beneath the overhanging eaves.  The windows were so low she had to kneel to look out.  The back garden was a tangle of flowers and in the midst of it was an old swing, the chains hanging from a rusty frame.

Two minutes later she was seated on it, pushing herself gently with one sandaled foot.  The wind stirred the grass around her, fragrantly rustling the leaves so she did not hear the car in the lane as it drew in beside her own.

It was as she was watching a house martin swoop in beneath the eaves that she caught sight of a shadowy figure standing motionless in the window watching her and she caught at the caught at the swing in surprise, almost slipping from the seat as she tried to save herself from spinning.  It was Timothy.

Shaken by the wave of emotion which hit her, leaving her legs shaking and weak like cotton wool, she stood staring white-faced at the window where he had disappeared.  It was not love she felt, nor relief, nor desire, but pure white-hot anger.  How dare he!  How dare he come back as if nothing had happened, intruding again on her dreams, walking into this tiny secure paradise with his charm and his boyishness and his confidence that she would take him back.

It was her mother’s doing, of course.  The scheming woman had set up the whole thing.  Well it was not going to work!

She stormed through the garden towards the back door, her hands clenched at her sides, and ran into the kitchen.  It was empty.  In the living room next door, the sun was shining obliquely through the windows, throwing a wan chequered light on the bare flags.

‘Tim?’ she called up the staircase.  ‘Tim.  Come on down.  I know you’re there.’

She put her hand on the banisters and looked up.  The bedrooms above were silent.  Two at a time she ran up and looked in each in turn.  They were all deserted.

Puzzled, she looked out of the window.  No, there was no mistake.  She could see another car parked beside her own beyond the hedge.

Seething she went through to the next room and stared out at the garden.  He was there, by the swing.  Tall, casually dressed in jeans and a checked shirt, his blond hair catching the sunlight as he stood, hands in pockets, his back to her, starting across the valley.

Her anger amazed her.  It boiled inside her, feeding on months of resentment and hurt.  All she wanted to do was hurt him as he had hurt her.  She turned and flew down the narrow stairs, through the kitchen and out into the garden.

‘I don’t know why you’ve come, but you can go right now,’ she called.  ‘Go on.  Back to America where you belong.’

She saw his shoulders stiffen as if she had hit him.  Then slowly he turned to face her. 

It was not Timothy.

She stopped abruptly, her cheeks hot with embarrassment, staring at him.

‘I’m sorry.  I thought you were someone else …’

He was like Tim – tall, blond, broad shouldered – but there the likeness ended.  This man had deep brown eyes set in a tanned face.  He was a good ten years older than Tim.  More lined.  He gave a wry grin.

‘I’m glad to hear that.  I should imagine you can pack quite a punch with those.’  He was looking at her clenched fists, half hidden in the folds of her skirt.

She laughed and suddenly the tension inside her broke.  ‘That was the least I was planning.’  She pushed her hair from her eyes and turned away from him, back towards the cottage.  ‘I am very sorry I went straight in, but nobody was there.  Are you the owner?’

‘The agent.’  He smiled again.  ‘And you are Miss Preston?’

She nodded.  ‘You must think I’m quite mad, going for you like that.’

‘Only mad north-north west,’ he said easily, leaning against the tree, gazing at her.  He was completely relaxed.

‘My fiancé turned out to be a louse.  I must have been waiting for the chance to tell him so.’  She found herself responding to his grin.  It was so easy to say it, almost to make a joke of it.

She felt freed suddenly, as if she had been healed of a long illness.

‘You could send him a telegram.’

She did not resent the amusement in his eyes.  ‘Not worth the money.  Especially not if I’m to raise the deposit on this.’

‘You like it?’  His eyes left her face for the first time and he glanced back at the cottage.

‘I love it.  But I don’t know if I can afford it.’

‘We could try and work it out.’  He headed, businesslike, towards the cars.  Then he stopped.  ‘Do you make a habit of hitting the men in your life, Miss Preston?’ he asked.

‘Why?’  She kept her face solemn.

‘There’s a nice place that does morning coffee up the road.  I had thought about suggesting we could do our calculations up there.

She pretended to consider, frowning.  ‘We’d each pay our own share of the bill?’


‘Then I wouldn’t need to hit you.’  She found herself laughing out loud.  Suddenly it was good to be alive again.




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