Chapter two: Chores and chatter
It’s half past seven in the morning when the bell rings for the first time.
I drape the rag I’m holding over the bucket ledge, wipe my hands on my apron and make my way to the front desk.
A young man with a flat cap and a wide smile leans with his elbows on the desk, two suitcases by his side.
“Mister Dovey needs his suitcases brought to room six.” The girl behind the desk explains.
I notice a small golden bunny hanging around her neck and identify her as Harmony. I noticed some time back that the other daughter, Melody, wears a bird instead.
I wonder if it’s on purpose or not, but it’s very useful either way.
I pick up the suitcases, nod politely to the guest and lead the way to the staircase.
Room six is all the way up on the second floor, but that’s okay.
I find to my surprise that the man doesn’t follow me.
I look back puzzled.
“I’ll be with you in a bit.” The man assures me kindly before continuing some chat I don’t think I’m privy to.
All right then?
I arrive at room six alone and more than a bit confused.
It’s not an issue though.
I open the door with my key and set the suitcases by the desk.
The room is small but not uncomfortable.
The beds are big and feathery, which I’ve been told is a good quality.
The windows are big letting in plenty of light and the yellow awnings beyond tint the light a cheerful sunny hue that cheers people up.
Considering the guest isn’t here yet I survey the room one last time to check if it is flawless.
The last tenant here had brought a cat along which went as well as one could expect.
But no traces remain of that unfortunate combination.
I nod approvingly.
Then lock the door behind me before turning back to the front desk.
Where the man is still busily chatting with our receptionist.
It seems they’re so engrossed in the conversation they don’t even notice me coming in.
Harmony smiles a lot around the customers.
I guess she must really like talking to them.
Should I draw their attention to let them know I’m done?
I don’t want to interrupt.
So, I guess that’ll be all then.
Breakfast is starting soon, and I need to tidy up the ground floor rooms then.
Best get started on gathering supplies.
I open up room number one and get to work wiping down surfaces, emptying the little bin and changing the bedding.
It’s interesting to see the rooms transformed by the different guests.
The luggage they bring and the way they use the room vary from person to person.
Where one guest will not even bother unpacking their bag, another brings fabric flowers from home to liven up the place.
A different guest prefers to keep things in the exact spot he puts them and I’m expressly forbidden to move anything from the proper spot.
Even though I myself don’t see sense in keeping books in the water closet.
Won’t they get damp in there?
It does make tidying his room very easy though.
So I won’t complain too much about it
After the morning clean up I head down to the kitchen. T
here’s a recipe laying on the countertop already for a mince pie and it’s up to me to peel the apples and core them.
I grab a small knife from the drawer and get to doing my best.
A small while later the door opens and Melody steps in golden bird and all. She heads straight to the window before realizing I’m here as well.
She turns to me.
“What are you making?”
She looks at the pile of apples with a surprised look on her face, then asks “How many apples does the recipe call for?”
“Eight apples,” I explain.
“Eight apples!? I doubt that.” She strides over to the counter and snatches the recipe notebook off the table. She grunts at it as if it has punched her in the teeth. It says two apples, not eight apples.” She holds out the recipe for me to inspect.
“Really!?” I stare at the page and I guess it could be a two if you squint your eyes at it.
And now I have far too many peeled apples. I cover my face with my hands in embarrassment “I’m so sorry, I must have read it wrong.”
“Mom’s handwriting hasn’t been the easiest to decipher” She shrugs and lays the notebook down on the table “What’s for dinner?”
“Almond and potato pudding.”
“No use for apples in there. Guess we’re making apple cheese then.” She pulls a tea towel off the rack, stuffs it down her belt and then pulls down a large copper pot. “Fetch me the sugar jar and two lemons will you?”
She rolls her eyes at this, I’m not sure what she means with that.
I hope I didn’t insult her.
I hand her the pot and she sets it down on the range with a heavy thunk.
She sets a bowl down on the scales and nearly upturns the jar of sugar entirely into it. She then takes a spoon and adds a little more before dumping the sugar into the pot.
She then adds a little over a cup of water and turns on the heat.
“How’s the rest of preparations for the mince going?”
“I only needed to cut the tongue next.”
“Well, you get on that then. I’ll keep an eye on the pot.”
“Yes, thank you, Melody.”
She shrugs it off, pulls a wooden spoon off the wall and stirs the sugar mixture.
I cut up the blueish meat into small chunks and by the time I’m done with that Melody picks up my bowl of peeled and diced apples and turns it around above the pot.
“Just keep stirring that for twenty minutes. I’ll tell Harmony she can get started assembling the mince pies. give me a shout when it’s ready.”
“I will, thank you.”
She shrugs “Don’t mention it.” Then walks out the door without another word.
She may not talk much.
But she’s nice.
I keep stirring the mixture continually, the apple pieces seem to be falling apart in the heat.
I hope that’s normal.
I’m very grateful Melody came in when she did, I’m not sure what I would have done if I had to figure out my mistake on my own.
“Hello Delaylah, Melody told me I can make the pies.”
“She also told me why you’re making apple cheese, don’t worry about it, happens to the best of us.”
“Thank you, are the apples supposed to fall apart like this?”
She looks over from my cutting work and into the pan “Looks good to me, although I have to admit, Melody is the one who makes the sweets usually.”
She shrugs “I’m not sure, I think it’s because she just liked baking more than I did when we were kids and father took note of that. Now he asks me for dinner and lunch and her for sweets and cakes. In the end, we still spend around the same amount of time in the kitchen so it’s okay by me.”
Harmony smiles comfortingly, then heads back to her task of making mince pies. “This is a very nice dice, do you have experience cooking?”
“I was a baker for a time.”
“Really? Then why did you tell dad you can’t cook?”
I point at my head “My last wig got caught in the dough hooks of the kneading machine, so they had to scrap an entire batch and then they fired me.
“After a single mistake?”
“It wasn’t really the first one. One time I accidentally replaced the sugar with bicarbonate of soda and they had to scrap that batch too.”
“Oh, well I guess I’m glad I’m tasting things in between. But you’re not a bad kitchen help.”
“I still messed up the measurements with the apples though.”
Harmony laughs “Yeah, but that one’s on mom’s handwriting, I can totally see how you read an eight instead of a two.”
“If you say so…”
“Yes, I say so. I guess it’d be kind of scary to start a new job after being let go elsewhere. But you’re gonna do fine here. Dad is nice and Melody and I will help out where needed okay?”
“Okay, thank you, Harmony.”
“That said you should probably get Melody to finish off that apple cheese before your gloop gets too brown.”
I put down the spoon. “Right, thank you, I’ll be right back.”
“Pull the pot off the heat first.”
I head back to the front desk where Melody is sitting, gaze drifting off into the distance.
“I think it’s ready,” I tell her.
Melody shakes her head, “Gotcha, did you turn off the heat?”
“Pull some butter from the icebox, I’ll be with you in a second.”
I nod, make my way to the kitchen and do just that.
Melody enters the kitchen only a minute or two later, tying an apron around her waist and striding to the cupboard. “Hey Harmony, how’s the pies?”
“Going into the oven once you’re done with the range.”
“Excellent. I’m thinking violets for the pudding mould what do you think?”
“Violets is nice and cheery, fits the season.”
“Agreed.” She pulls down a ceramic dish that’s smooth on the outside but has an intricate pattern inside.
“Over here.” I hand her the dish.
“Thanks.” She wipes some butter into the mould with her hand and then sets it down on the table. “All right now dump in the apple goop.”
“I pick up the heavy pot and turn it over.”
“Whoa, not so fast, you need to pour gently, hold up I’ll grab the spoon.” Melody jumps to the counter and picks up the wooden spoon I used for stirring before. She then reaches into the pot and uses it to guide the goop into the mould.“All right now it can go into the ice box and-”
“Melody why aren’t you at the front desk?” Mister Viola asks.
“Oh, uhm, well.” I stammer.
“There was a mistake in the mince recipe, I fixed it now but Delaylah cut too many apples. We can’t use them for dinner so I figured I’d use them for apple cheese instead so they don’t go to waste.”
“Oh, uhm, that’s not a bad idea. But I need someone at the front desk, Harmony why-”
“Busy on the mince pies right now.”
“It’s okay dad, we’re done here, I’ll head back out there again.” She wipes her hands and takes off the apron again, she then sends a little wave in my direction. “Seeya.”
“Yes, uhm, you too.”
Hours after that it’s silent in the parlour.
It was a busy day, but a fun one. Lots of running around, a little planic on the side.
I’m glad Melody came in when she did.
But now the family and guests have all gone out or off to bed.
I open my bag and pull out a book with a handwritten title. The mirror lake it says and opening it up I am transported to a different world. A time before our time, a faraway land. Where two children outsmart a mermaid.
I read the book from front to back, sinking down into that comfortable familiarity.
I could reproduce the book by heart, flipping the pages is quite unnecessary, but it feels better doing it this way.
It feels more real to hold the book and read the pages one by one.
There’s a sound in the kitchen.
I wonder if one of the guests is hungry still.
If so I doubt the family would mind if they had to part with some of their apple cheese.
They got plenty now.
I put the book down and make my way to the kitchen but find there’s no one there.
I guess I misheard or mistook a bird by the window for an intruder.
I walk up to it, the window is open by a crack.
I close it.
Then head back to the parlour with a slightly uneasy feeling.
I try to pick up the book.
But my attention stays split between the words on the page and the lack of sound around me.
And I make a mental note to keep an eye on the kitchen at night.