The Mystery Of Anna Grace – Episode 29

The lemon drizzle cakes were cooling on the wire rack. It was lunchtime so Katarina made herself a good cup of coffee and ate a lunch of smoked salami, avocado and some fresh bread.

She checked the white board by the door to see where everyone was: meetings, work or afternoons off. The phone had been switched to the answering service so she picked up her magazine.

She flicked past the recipes, which were far too fiddly and exotic for her taste, involving ingredients she couldn’t get at the supermarket in town.

She looked at the pictures of actresses at an awards ceremony. Katarina’s favourite film star was Audrey Hepburn, closely followed by Julia Roberts.

Julia Roberts was not in evidence. It was all actresses she had never heard of. One was wearing a dress that left little to the imagination.

Dresses. A bell rang in her head. That was it! She thought there was something in the attic that might fit Charlie.

She put down the magazine and went out to the hall, up the stairs to the landing, then to the next level, where a door opened on to a stone staircase that led to the attic rooms.

She had put her mobile in her pocket, just in case anyone was trying to reach her. Ghillie padded after her, never wanting to be left out of anything.

The stone staircase opened into a narrow hall with a series of doors leading on to the old servants’ rooms with their sloping roofs.

Katarina did not much like coming up here. Although the servants’ quarters at Anna Grace had not been as spartan as in some of the grander houses, she still thought with pity of the housemaids who would have had to grope their way down the stone staircase at five-thirty on a winter’s morning.

It was a fine day and she prised open a few windows, moving from room to room methodically, checking for mould, bad smells and any wildlife.

The last three rooms were full of lumber, and had been like that for as long as she could remember. However, one year, when Mrs Cecilia was a little more focused than she was now, she and Katarina had come up and attempted to make sense of some of it, and the four big tea chests now each had a neat label on them.

One said, China dinner service, two plates missing, buttercup pattern, and she looked down to see the china, still wrapped carefully in the newspaper which was now yellowing with age.

Another was labelled Mismatched silver. The thrifty Katarina had a look through this now. This was the old silver – mainly wedding presents for the old Graystones.

It wasn’t practical, but it was beautiful. There were fish knives and silver sugar tongs and a little mustard pot with a tiny spoon.

Katarina didn’t want to get distracted, and turned to the next box. The third tea chest contained a mismatched assortment of toys from various generations: dolls with one leg, a teddy bear whose stuffing was poking through his tummy, and pieces of jigsaw.

Katarina carefully reached her hand into the depths of the chest, but found only two forlorn tennis racquets, still in their presses.

She knew the dresses were here in the wooden trunk, with the name of Robin’s grandfather painted on it in white paint from his time in the Army.

Deftly, Katarina opened it. Mrs Cecilia did not give a fiddle for fish knives, but was particularly careful about clothes. So everything here smelled of lavender, from the lavender bags that Mrs Cecilia used to make herself.

There was the dress, underneath the beautiful wool winter coat Mrs Cecilia could still fit into. She must remind her about it.

They were never quite sure who the dress had belonged to. It was too petite for Mrs Cecilia and too narrow for her formidable mother-in-law, who had apparently been built on more ample lines.

It was an early 1960s black cocktail dress with diamanté straps, a boned bodice and a skirt that was full but not overwhelming.

As Katarina held it up to the light, admiring the stitching, she thought it would fit Charlie very well.

*  *  *  *

It was only when she was chopping vegetables for supper a couple of hours later that Katarina glanced over at the cat food pouches and realised she hadn’t seen Ghillie for a while.

“Oh, that silly cat,” she said and rushed back up to the roof space.

Sure enough, she could hear Ghillie yowling from the upstairs landing and she opened the door to the attic rooms, expecting him to shoot out.

However, though she could still hear the yowling, she couldn’t see any sign of the cat.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.