The Strainer Mystery 07/04/16
The family trailed through the gate in dribs and drabs, leaving cars and bicycles parked oddly on the front lawn or half on the dusty gravel edge of the vague footpath that traversed the front of the property. They carried plates of food to share, ranging from Carly’s home-baked lamingtons to cousin Tony’s shop-ordered cheese platter. Aunty Majorie had come in the car with Tony and the two of them had just begun making their way across the lawn to the front door when Carly and her family arrived. Carly was driving today, trying to build up her hours towards her Ps, and Aunty Majorie turned right around and watched her park with a critical eye. Aunty Majorie had never learnt to drive herself, but she liked to give thorough advice about it all the same.
‘Nice job Carly dear.’ She bellowed out, and Carly had to force herself to concentrate on pulling up and ensuring the handbrake was on and not letting the clutch out before she’d switched off the ignition. (The curb at the house was on rather a slope, so it was always safest to leave the car in gear). Once she had made certain the car was staying put, Carly joined Majorie and Tony on the lawn and gave Aunty Majorie a hug.
‘Happy birthday Aunty Majorie! Did you get breakfast in bed?’ Mum, Dad and Max were piling out of the car behind her. Aunty Majorie made a huffy noise.
‘No! Your cousin Tony is such a sleepy head that I was awake long before him and decided to get up and make my porridge.’ She replied, shaking her head slightly. ‘Your grandmother would have highly disapproved; I just can’t help waking up early, no matter what the occasion.’
A bike rocketed round the bend at that juncture and pulled up with a squeak, bringing with it Uncle Jeremy, who beamed and waved and nearly lost his balance. Carly waved back and said to Aunty Majorie,
‘Oh well, we’ll have to make sure you’re thoroughly waited on over lunch then.’ She smiled and went to greet her uncle.
When everyone was inside, Max handed Carly the special box they’d brought, and she pulled out three ancient-looking tea tins.
‘So, we brought a special present.’ She said. She handed the lamington plate to her mother, who carried it over to the big scrubbed table, so she could hold the tea tins properly. ‘These were Grandma’s and two are her tea that she used to always give us all and one we’ve refilled with a different one. We thought it would be fun to see if you can tell which one is not Grandma’s tea, plus it’s an excuse to have three pots!’ Aunty Majorie smiled at this.
‘Ahhh!’ She said. ‘I’ll bet I can tell straight away! Your Grandma’s tea was a very specific kind. Where is the pot, Tony? Lyn?’ She looked around the kitchen. Carly’s mother grabbed a big blue teapot from one of the shelves.
‘This one? It’s my favourite. Oh, but we need a strainer!’ She went and looked in the drawers. ‘I can’t find it! It’s always in here!’ Tony bustled over.
‘Let me look. I know where the imps push things they don’t want us using too often.’ There was a huff as Aunty Majorie expressed her annoyance that Tony was talking about imps again. Carly smiled to herself.
Half an hour later the strainer had not been found, so everyone was crossly drinking the tea from a different, modern pot that had an infuser.
‘This one is definitely the odd one out.’ Aunty Majorie was saying. ‘It’s much smokier and it has more of a smell. Not as subtle as Rose’s.’ Carly shared a secret smile with her mother.
‘Well picked! You win birthday Aunt!’
That evening as they got into the car, Carly found that her seat was very uncomfortable indeed. Poking about behind her, she discovered that something had slipped into the seat-cover lining. She grumbled and tiredly stretched the side of the seat cover up and put her hand inside.
‘What on earth?’ There in the seat cover was the mysteriously missing tea strainer. This mystery, Carly and her family agreed, would not be solved today.
‘We know the answer to another mystery though.’ Said Max. Carly gave him a look.
‘Yep. Grandma used the Foodland Earl Grey.’
Abbey made her way down the stairs behind the shopping centre and ducked into the little park that ran along the median strip. There she could walk amongst the daffodils instead of on the footpath. She thought about the women she had overheard talking behind her in the supermarket. One of them was complaining about their husband’s taste in television and saying how she just wanted to watch a particular soap, and would rush to put it on whenever he left for work. The second woman was agreeing passionately with the first on this topic and they then discussed the recent small incidents in the soap opera in great detail while they made their way through the shop, seeming to follow Abbey down every isle she went into. If she’d had to hear the second woman gasp ‘Oh. My-God!’ one more time, Abbey thought her head might have exploded. When they had exhausted the happenings of television, the pair proceeded to discuss washing powder. At this juncture, Abbey grabbed a random washing powder from the selection and moved on to the checkout. She wondered if she would ever find that kind of stay-at-home banter interesting. She certainly hoped not. After she dropped the shopping home she would go out and seek some new sight to discuss with Tom later, and if nothing of consequence occurred, she would discuss things out of her imagination. Abbey had always produced all manner of scenarios in her head. Not all of them were worth discussion, some weren’t up for discussion, but others were great stories to tell and hear others’ opinions on. At least it seemed so to her.
By the time she turned this thought over in her head Abbey had reached an area where the narrow grass strip widened out and flattened into an area of grassy parkland which she would have to cross to reach home. She paused to pick some of the daffodils, and spontaneously sat down among them to appreciate the view surrounded by their stalks and bright flowers, gently waving in the breeze. Abbey put the shopping bag down beside her and lay down to look at the sky through the bright yellow of the petals. From this point of view, she saw a mass of yellow, white and orange-clad dancers, fluidly swaying in water-like patterns. It was a ballet of sunshine colours. As she watched, squinting against the sun, some of the dancers seemed to take off and swirl above her as though on invisible wings, daintily flitting against the sky. And now Abbey heard a familiar kind of just-audible, tinkling tune. She couldn’t tell if it was being created by the dancers or in her mind, but she appreciated it regardless. After a while, she began to gently hum along, and by the time she finished humming, she found herself unlocking the door to home. This was the story she would tell Tom when he got home today; the tale of colourful dancers against the sky, performing to this tune. She hurried to find something to record what the music had been like, though she didn’t expect her voice to do it justice.
The violin was many generations old. It had seen family musicians grow, from playing so poorly it hurt, or broke strings, to knowing all there was to play, but struggling with arthritic fingers. It had been passed from generation to generation. Right now, it had sat for many months in its case, bored and lonely, and fearing the current generation had not taken to it very well. A horrendous first few plays had been better than this silence. Inside the case was dark, and comfortable in a sleepy way that over time grew claustrophobic. The violin longed to be in the company of other instruments, laughter, and excitement. Yet right now there was only a sense of being forgotten, and the previous owner was sorely missed.
After some weeks more, the case was picked up and carried somewhere, and there many pairs of new hands lifted it from the case and tried a few notes, but they didn’t stay. It was like being new, and unconnected, and it felt awkward. Then, one day, someone recognised this ancient instrument. There was a brief discussion in the air around it, and though this person seemed not to know what to do with it, the violin was carried home anyway. There it was kept on a table and frequently picked up out of the case and admired, but there was no music. The violin felt less lonely, but still neglected and underappreciated.
Sometime later, came the strange and terrible experience of the aeroplane. Its strings were loosened off and the case was packed inside a box with lots of strange, pressing foam, and the whole lot was jolted around between other kinds of bags and parcels. Afterwards it was carried about in this box for some time. Then, the box was opened by hands that fumbled with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The violin was lifted out and placed into small hands. Immediately it could sense that this was new family. Somehow, though it had been passed around all over, it had found its way back to a new generation.
The years that followed brought the discomfort of a squeaking learner, the excitement of first tunes learned and finally the polish and flourish of a seasoned performer. The violin met new instruments, and played together, the way it wished to. Every time it was taken out was a new party to attend. It was no longer lonely or bored. Life was a celebration full of company and bright melodies. Just occasionally, very occasionally, though, it did feel tired, bowed by the pull of the multiple lives to which it was forever connected.