The two stunted cottages were squashed together in the village, their rooms small, their doorways shallow. These houses had been there for more than two hundred years and they carried with them the way people used to live here. They faced a river that ran into the city and out again, onto another city and eventually to the sea, a constant flow of water, full, fat, low and dry, depending on the weather.
In one cottage lived Edith, alone since her husband died. She kept a jug and water bowl in her bedroom window that was her mother’s and she hung her washing daily in the front yard. In the other cottage lived Mr and Mrs Drayton. They retired six years ago and recently they took in a stray cat who laid on the paving in the front yard and stretched and meowed to anyone who walked past.
Behind the cottages newer houses rose with the land, an old dry wall separating them from each other. Edith’s husband had liked to fish in the river and Edith sometimes saw other younger men there now when she hung out her washing, sitting for hours still and silent. A congregation of ducks squawked and swam, waddled and flapped. And opposite the cottages a small dip of land, irregular and shaped like a spill of oil, went unnoticed.
Edith had placed a few pots of flowers in her front yard, but there was only just room to turn around in, so one morning early as the light, she took a couple of the pots over to the spare crack of land by the river. She could see the pots from her bedroom window, pink and purple fuchsia like buttercream, potentilla, daydawn, pretty but subdued, like she had been at eighteen.
It was Mrs Drayton’s idea to take a couple of chairs across there. They’d discussed who might legally own this splash of land by the river, but they’d decided that no one ever came by, no one would know, and they were old now so what did it matter? Mrs. Drayton had a spare folding chair, rusted at the hinges and faded blue. Edith had an old wooden chair from the kitchen that would fight the weather and eventually lose. They crossed the lane and placed the chairs beside the pots, over-looking the water. By the summer they had spread to the far reaches of the spill of land, Mr Drayton left a plastic bucket there after he’d watered and fed the plants. Edith planted geraniums in an old wellington boot she found discarded at the back of the cottage. Her husband must have left it there, she thought, and she let her mind reach to the idea of something of his now being there looking over the river when he couldn’t.
No one ever questioned their right to use the mis-shaped patch of land by the river in this way. The cat stretched by the bucket and sat on the old blue chair. Mr and Mrs Drayton checked the soil in the pots. Edith gazed at the old wellington boot from her bedroom window.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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