The front door

Tanda Smith busied herself unnecessarily tidying the room. Her two English friends, Sarah and James, found themselves obeying her every instruction in this pointless farce. It kept their minds off things.

"OK, fold those up real neat, OK. No. Not like that. You done yet? OK, remember how I showed you how to wash the walls? OK, you need THIS type of cloth for the green paper and THIS type for the glossy paper..."

She continued as though nothing untoward were about to happen.

James heard a sound and tried to see what was going on through the frosted glass of the front doors.

Tanda said it was nothing and that he was to carry on cleaning the glass but not to use quite so much water this time.

There was a definite "thump" sound outside the door. They all heard it. This time Tanda physically blocked the door and faced inwards. Nobody could see through it at all.

"We need to put some more paper in the bathroom. I'll do that and you continue with the walls, OK?"

She went upstairs. There was now a horrible, long sound as something wooden was being dragged outside. Tanda wasn't down here to block the view. James tried to look through it. This time it was Sarah's turn to stop him.

"James, no. We'll see when... well, when it's our time."

"I can feel my heartbeat. It's like really 'thump, thump, thump', you know? This is horrible."

Sarah shushed him comfortingly and held him briefly.

"We'd better carry on. I think I'm more frightened of Tanda finding out we've used the wrong kind of mop on the parquet or something!"

He managed a smile. They didn't talk about it again for the rest of their time here.

Dark shadows fell across the front door as silent figures outside carried on with their work.

James and Sarah ran out of work simultaneously.

"Oh, that was funny - we finished together," said Sarah. "Just as we always do!"

Again her boyfriend managed a smile.

"We have made a good team, haven't we?" he asked.

"The best."

They held hands and looked into each others' eyes, each knowing the wonderful memories that the other must be holding.

"You done down there?" called out Tanda.

"Yes, we've finished," called up James.

"Any chance of a cup of coffee up here?"

That reminded James and Sarah of their visitor all those years ago who'd changed their lives so much when he'd popped in to put up a curtain track. Sarah went to make the coffee. James followed on. He tried not to register a reaction when they heard the sound of a hammer outside the front door being dropped. They brought the coffee up to Tanda together and sat with her while she drank it. In between sips she explained to them what chores needed to be done next. Once she'd finished James was detailed to wash the cup and find and wash any other dirty crockery, Sarah was sent to find all the big towels and fold them like the little ones while she herself, she informed them, would clean the shower unit.

They were just starting on their appointed tasks when there came a long, slow knock on the front door. James breathed very deeply. He tried to control the shaking in his voice.

"Tanda, Sarah, it's time."

"Well, they'll have to wait," complained Tanda, "I'm half-way through the shower unit - it's like a dirt bath in there, OK - and I've got these napkins to..."

"Tanda," said Sarah, gently taking Tanda's arm, "it's time."

They all faced the front door together. The light was nearly blocked out by the massive silhouette outside.

"I need to go over that floor again, OK, and those napkins will only... I'm sorry, I'm so not ready for this."

"Will you face it with me?" asked Sarah as she put a hand firstly on her boyfriend's arm and then on the arm of the American girl whom she didn't know very well. "James? Tanda?"

They each clung onto her for support. Sarah realised she'd have to be strong for all three of them.

They headed towards the door, where two eyes could now clearly be seen looking curiously at them.

"We'll face it together," said Sarah. She could feel her friends were shaking. She mustn't show them but she was shaking, too. What could prepare you for this? She put a hand on the door handle and said each friend's name in turn. They each put a hand there as well.

"It's been nice knowing you guys," said Tanda. "I really mean that."

"You too," said Sarah.

"I love you," said James.

"You too," smiled Sarah.

They kissed.

Tanda looked back at the house.

"Never look back," said Sarah.

All their hands had remained on the handle for what seemed like all time and yet no time.

"Right, that's it - let's go," said Sarah, forcing the door handle to turn. The others feebly added their strength too so it wouldn't be like just Sarah who'd opened the door for them all.

They pulled the door open and left the house forever.

The End

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