Bricking It

By: Nick Spalding

HAYLEY

April

£0.00 Spent

What an absolute shit pile.’

I turn and give my brother a tight-lipped smile. ‘It’s not that bad, Danny.’

‘Not that bad?’ he replies in dismay. ‘Half the bloody roof is gone!’

‘It’s certainly seen better days, I can’t argue with you there.’

‘When exactly were they? Before or after someone set fire to it?’

I peer over the vast thicket of overgrown brambles, and look at the large soot marks scorched across the left-hand corner of the house. ‘I don’t think the damage is too bad, actually.’

Danny gives me a look.

‘I’m just trying to stay positive,’ I tell him, through only slightly gritted teeth. ‘This was Grandma’s last gift to us.’

‘Gift?’ he replies incredulously.

‘Yes. It was very generous of her to leave this place to me and you.’

‘Really?’ Danny rolls his eyes, crosses his arms and gently pushes the garden gate open with his foot. The gate, its hinges rusted completely through, falls over onto the cracked garden path with a loud clatter. Birds in the trees and bushes around us take flight, startled by such a loud noise in such a quiet place.

‘Very generous of her,’ he says drily. ‘And what exactly did she leave Mum and Dad again?’

‘£75,000. All her life savings,’ I reply, as quietly as I can, so it doesn’t sound so bad.

‘And just remind me again, sister dearest. What are they doing with all that lovely cash?’

‘You know what they’re doing with it, Dan.’

‘No, no. Come on. Say it again.’ He jabs a finger at the derelict house in front of us. ‘I want that thing to hear.’

‘You’re mental.’

Danny stares at me. He’s not going to let this one go. ‘They’re going on a year-long cruise around the world.’ I sigh.

Danny nods angrily. ‘Yes, indeed. That’s what our loving parents are doing with their part of Grandma’s inheritance.’ He waves a hand at the crumbling house. ‘While we get to stare at this crap magnet and decide what the hell to do with it.’

‘It could be very nice with some work,’ I counter.

‘Would said work involve several sticks of dynamite?’

‘Oh, give it a rest. It’s not that bad. Just try to see the potential.’

Danny opens his mouth to argue, but closes it again, noticing that my eyes have gone flinty and narrow. Instead of making yet another smart-arse comment he returns his gaze to the house. ‘What did you say it was again?’ he asks me, trying to sound more upbeat.

‘A Victorian farmhouse. Built around 1890.’

‘Right.’ Danny stands and stares at the place a little longer. ‘I like the windows.’

‘They are nice.’

‘And the place is quite . . . symmetrical I guess. That’s good.’

‘It is. Double-fronted, I think it’s known as.’

‘The walls haven’t fallen in yet.’

‘No, that’s very true.’

‘Chimney stacks are quite good as well. One on each end.’

‘They are.’

A few moments of silence follow.

‘I’m sure the front door was nice once. You know, when it wasn’t quite so rotten.’

‘You’re reaching now.’

Danny throws his hands up. ‘Oh, give me a break! I’m trying my hardest here.’

‘Sorry.’

He rubs his face with both hands. ‘And nobody knew Grandma owned this place?’

‘Nope.’

‘Not even Mum?’

‘Nope.’

‘Why the hell would she keep it quiet all these years?’

‘I have no idea, Danny.’

‘And why the hell would she leave it to us in her will?’

‘I have no idea about that either, Danny.’

‘And what is that brown pile in the middle of the doorstep?’

‘Ah, I think I can help you there. That, Danny, is a big pile of cow shit.’

‘I thought so.’ He rubs his face again and groans. ‘What a shithole.’ Without saying more, Danny walks over the fallen garden gate, and starts to make his way down the cracked path, pushing the brambles out of the way as he does so.

I let him go.

Sometimes it’s best to not talk to my brother when he’s in one of these moods. He has a habit of dragging you down with him.

Instead, I look back up at the house and try to picture it in all its former glory.

This is a very hard thing to do, since that former glory was a good fifty years ago – if not far further back, considering the house’s age. Since then, the place has been gently rotting into the picturesque Hampshire countryside, and is now what you would charitably describe as a ‘fixer-upper’.

Victorian farmhouses are quite impressive when they’re in decent condition, but the only thing impressive about this particular example is the fact it hasn’t caved in completely after several decades of neglect.

‘What the hell were you thinking, Grandma?’ I say under my breath, as I follow Danny up the garden path towards the house.

We were both gobsmacked to be told that we’d inherited this place. My brother and I knew very little of Grandma’s past before she married Granddad in the sixties, and moved into the vicarage with him. This must have been the house she left behind when she did. But how did she come to own it in the first place? And why did she keep it all these years without telling anyone?

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