Entertaining Mr. James


This sample continues the previous scene  – I’m skipping over the description in which Dan goes back to the hotel gets ready for his date. In this section I’m working, as you might tell, on physical description, & dialogue that seems unforced. I also give a sense of life on the east coast – the price of progress that is usually paid by the people living there not the people making from there. Cape Breton suffered from business that took more out than they were willing to put back in.


There was a swing seat on the covered porch of the house. He was about to sit in it to check the view when the front door opened.

“Don’t let me stop you.” A small, grey-haired woman said. “I’m Stan’s mother.” She offered him hand. He took it gently. “Helena. You must be Dan James.”

“Yes.” He sat in the swing.

“It used to be very nice before they built that.” She nodded towards one of those box buildings. “Used to be a great church there. We could sit and see the sun dancing on the stained glass. Now we see it doing nothing on a call centre.”

Dan got up. “The price of progress I guess.”

“Yes Yes.” Helena shook her head. “Do come in. Stan’ll be down directly.”

It was like stepping into another century when he entered the house. A narrow dark hallway with a grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs.  A mirrored coat-and-hat rack with a bottom seat with a hinged lid. Fussy wall paper that looked hand painted.

“My mother did the wall paper in the hall. She was quite the artist.”

The furniture in the living room was dark red velvet with ornately carved arms and feet. The cushions were all hand embroidered with forest scenes.

A round end table fit snugly into the corner between the sofa and the upright piano along the wall. She turned on the table lamp on the end table. The crystals along the edge of the globe tinkled briefly.

“It is electric.” she laughed. “Most people expect gas.”

On the opposite wall was a flat screen TV slightly angled toward the sofa for better viewing.

“Stan insisted on this touch of modernity.” she said. “Sit. I’ll bring you some tea.”

He realized he was still holding the bottle of wine. He handed it to her.

“Thank you. Would you rather a glass of this now. I rarely imbibe this early in the day.”

“Tea will be fine.” Dan sat on the couch.

“Stan thought you might this family album interesting. I’ll be back in bit.”

Even though she was wearing slacks and a sweater under her apron Dan expected to see a bustle as she left the room. Everywhere he looked there was something to see. A glass bell jar on top of the piano held a small stuffed bird on a twig. There were ceramic figurines on the end table whispering into each other’s ears in the lamp light. There was a white lace doily under everything, a long one stretched along the top of the piano. The was even one under the full-screen TV and a separate one had the remote on it.

Shut glass doors separated the living-room from the dining room. The doors were of paned glass beveled along the edges. He could see that the dark wood dining room table had a lace table cloth as well. Over it hung a small crystal chandelier clearly a mate to the table lamps.

The only noise in the house came from the kitchen. A clink of spoons on china rattled as Helena rolled a tea trolly into the living room. More of the same dark wood and more lace under the tea pot & cups.

“I hope this isn’t too strong. Stan likes it very dark.”

She poured him a cup. “Oh perhaps you would rather a mug. These cups aren’t really designed for men you know. Perhaps you didn’t know that either. Here I’ll get you a decent mug.” She was back before Dan could answer. “I’ll give you a fresh pour. Oh I forgot the milk too. Silly me.” She left the room again.

“Here you go.” Stan brought a small jug of milk in.

“Sorry I didn’t get back in time to be early.”

“That’s fine. Your mother has been looking after me.”

“Not my mother. Helena likes that role though. Cousins. Both my parents are dead. We are related though on my mother’s side of the family. Being an east coaster you know how complex these family trees become.” He poured himself a mug of tea and sat beside Dan. “Cheers.”

“Supper will be ready in ten minutes if either of you boys would like to wash up first.” Helena called from the kitchen.

“Okay Hell.” Stan answered.

“Oh I told you not to call me that in front of others.” she said and giggled.

“Washroom is up stairs.” Stan said. ‘Top of the stairs to the left.”

“Thanks.” Dan got up more to ease the tension. Now that he was there he had no idea if what to say to Stan. He had expected to be dining alone with him not to be stepping back in time and chaperoned by a maiden aunt too boot.

The upstairs he found himself in the present century. Wall paper was replaced with pale green neutral paint. Bathroom was recent fixtures. The large tub did not have claw feet. The lighting was fluorescent. Not a scrap of lace was in sight any where.

The doors to the two bedrooms were open so he glanced into each. The large one opposite the bathroom had to be Stan’s as the pants & shirt he had been wearing that afternoon were tossed on the bed. A single bed.

The other room down the hall looked unused. A similar single bed with a comforter on it. Nothing on the dresser. No shoes on the floor. A guest room. There was a landing at the end of hall with flight of stairs down and flight up as well. A window there overlooked the back yard. The flight down took him into the kitchen.

“Oh I see you’ve found the servants’ stairs.” Helena said. “These old houses!”

The kitchen was also early 2000’s modern. Matching dulled chrome stove, fridge and microwave. The bright red coffee machine popped against the metallics.

“Stan likes his coffee.” she handed him pot holder and then a covered ceramic dish. “Just set that on the table, dear. Anywhere, then you set yourself down on the window side.”

Stan was already at the table. “I see she’s put you to work. We don’t entertain much so she’s gone a bit over board.”



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