No Trespassing by Tony Billinghurst

Engraver Eddie Russell receives a sinister visit from a customer who may have ulterior motives; by Tony Billinghurst. 

Craig Harding checked himself in front of the hall mirror. With shoes polished, hair immaculate, teeth whitened, suit brushed, drenched in aftershave, he was good to go. He picked up his keys from the hall table and opened the flat door. Eddie kissed him goodbye, again, then handed him his briefcase.

"You take care. Where does everyone think you are today?" Craig looked to the ceiling and pretended to think.

"Liverpool, following up a new lead." Eddie giggled. "Phone me when you can," then watched him go down the stairs, blowing kisses as he went.

After washing the dishes, making the bed and tidying the flat, Eddie went into the workshop and set up the engraving machine and set to work. A few hours later, at nearly noon, the doorbell rang. Eddie opened it to a stranger. The remarkable woman was toothpick thin with lifeless hair and a pale face. Her coat was old fashioned and she wore gloves.

"Mr Edward Russell, please? I've called for my engraving." Her Micky Mouse voice seemed to come from some distant part of her. She offered Eddie a repair receipt. Even through her gloves, Eddie could see her hand was long and bony.

"There's no Mr Russell here, I'm Miss Russell."

"But you're a woman." Eddie looked down at her curvaceous front.

"So I am."

"The woman ignored the comment and, looking puzzled, pointed to the plaque by the bell.

"'Eddie Russell. Engraver.' Not short for Edward?"

"No, Edwina."

The thin woman looked surprised. "Oh... I see... Edwina... Well, I've called for my husband's trophy; Craig Harding." It was Eddie's turn to show emotion. She took an involuntary pace backwards and started to blush.

"Oh! Mrs Harding... the trophy... yes... I've just finished it. I'll get it for you; it's in the workshop." She turned, only to find that Mrs Harding had followed her in. With her mind racing, she pointed to a chair. Mrs Harding didn't sit and was not as her lover had described; not in any way. He described his wife as a younger, more vivacious person altogether. Eddie fumbled as she wrapped the trophy in a piece of newspaper. When she'd finished, the parcel looked like a bag of chips, but Mrs Harding didn't notice, she was looking around the room.

The small room had been a servant's bedroom when the Victorian house was first occupied. The engraving machine was set on a heavy bench in front of the window. The walls and alcoves were covered with shelves piled with cups and trophies. Although she clearly hadn't seen an engraver's workshop before, it wasn't those trinkets that held Mrs Harding's interest but a cheap, framed certificate hanging on a nail by the door.

"I see you're a member of the same Athletics Club as Craig?" The question had loaded undertones; Eddie didn't know where this was going and attempted to sound dismissive.

"Yes, Craig's our star athlete. I do all the club's engraving. Keeps me busy."

"So, how long have you known Craig?" Eddie knew to the day but felt it would be unwise to be precise, especially as Mrs Harding's demeanour was changing and her voice was becoming more assertive.

"Oh, I've been a member for a couple of years or so, since then, I guess." Eddie tried not to look at Mrs Harding.

"A couple of years... I see," Mrs Harding repeated in a distant way as she continued her inspection. Then, for no apparent reason, she laughed and the sound sent a chill through Eddie's whole being. The laugh stopped abruptly and she left the room and strode into the kitchen, sniffing as she went. "Do you live here alone, Miss Russell?" Eddie followed her.

"Yes, quite alone. Just me and my cat Athena."


"Greek goddess of art..."

Mrs Harding laughed again. "And of war strategy I believe. Why Athena?" She turned and stepped close to Eddie and looked her full in the face. "Why, Miss Russell?" Eddie stood back and replied with eyes wide open.

"I teach art... part time."

"Life drawing?" Eddie sensed yet more danger. Having your lover's wife visit you and ask strange questions was more than a little unsettling, especially when you're unprepared.

"I have done," then she spotted a trap and quickly added: "Not recently though," but before she could go further, Mrs Harding interrupted her.

"My husband's handsome, isn't he?" Her voice was becoming harsher and she held Eddie in her fixed stare again. Eddie struggled to avoid it. She pointed to the lounge hoping Mrs Harding would step away from her.

"Yes... yes, he is, very handsome. You're a lucky woman."

"Lucky? You think so?" Mrs Harding stepped closer again. "Before we were married, my mother said: 'You think carefully about this, my girl. When you marry a handsome man like Craig, you'll need eyes in the back of your head. Every little tart will be after him. At first, I didn't believe her... we were so happy. When he went away on business, we'd both look at the moon at ten at night, so we could share the same moment, and he used to phone me during the day for no reason, just to talk. Now he rarely speaks when we're in the same room, except to complain.

Eddie backed away and went to switch the light off over her bench. Floorboards creaked as she walked, which made her wince, but she couldn't think why. Mrs Harding wasn't distracted; she was warming to her subject, "He said I'd changed; I wasn't the woman he'd married. I told him, 'course I have - you have - we all change, it's inevitable. He accused me of becoming odd and obsessive." Mrs Harding looked surprised. "Me? I only vacuum and dust twice a day, I like to keep our home clean" She raised her eyebrows further as if soliciting a sympathetic response. None came. Despite that, she pressed on. "You have to be so careful about germs, haven't you?" Eddie still kept silent. "It wasn't long before I realised my mother was right - he started having affairs." Eddie desperately tried not to blush, but needn't have worried. Mrs Harding laughed again for no apparent reason, then nodded, as if she was agreeing with herself about some secret issue. The sound sent yet more shivers down Eddie's spine and she went pale. "Yes, I told him, your little tarts think they can do what they like - I expect it's all a game for them, but they're forgetting something; you're mine, not theirs and I'm not about to be traded in like a used car." Mrs Harding straightened herself in an attempt to look formidable. Then she rasped: "Not without a fight." Eddie snatched at the first topic that came to mind in an attempt to change the subject and, with all the Am Dram acting skills she could muster, she tried to sound caring.

"Have you a cold Mrs Harding?"

"Cold... me? No - hay fever. I have tablets but they don't really work, but they do dry you up. Give you a very dry mouth - you have to drink a lot." With raised eyebrows, she gave Eddie a knowing look.

"Oh, would you like a glass of water?"

"Water? No, 'fraid it doesn't help much - but tea does." Mrs Harding raised a gloved finger. "But only if you're making one." Eddie didn't waste a second and pushed past Mrs Harding to fill the kettle.

"Funny you should say that... I was about to make one." Woken by the noise, the cat got up from under the table, yawned and stretched. "There's Athena. Do you like cats, Mrs Harding?"

"Cats? I can't abide them. Far too sly. When they look at you, they can read your thoughts. Did you know that?" Eddie smiled, thinking it was a joke and, before she could answer, she realised Mrs Harding was being serious. As she took two mugs from the stand, she replied.

"No, I didn't know that."

"Oh yes. No doubt about it. My oak tree told me." Eddie spun round to face Mrs Harding and dropped the tea bag she'd taken from the box, then, without taking her eyes from her, took out another two.

"Your... oak tree?"

"Yes, it tells me a lot of things."

"You mean - you talk to a tree?"

Mrs Harding glared at Eddie as if she was a slow witted school child. "Don't be stupid - of course not." And then she softened her tone. "They haven't got ears, now, have they?" Eddie shook her head, not daring to say a word, and attempted to slide towards the door. She hadn't got far when Mrs Harding laughed again. Then stopped, suddenly. "But it talks to me. It told me my Craig was having another affair. Can you believe it? He's got another floozie on the go. My husband!" Eddie smiled weakly and carried the tea tray to the lounge, followed so closely by Mrs Harding that she could smell her coal tar soap. Mrs Harding sat on the edge of the brown sofa.

"Would you like to take your coat and gloves off, Mrs Harding?"

"Take my coat off?" She seemed to be considering the suggestion, then came to a conclusion. "No, I think I'll just unbutton it, that's what you would do, isn't it? You wouldn't take your coat off, would you?" Eddie thought it wise to agree. "No lady would remove their gloves, now, would they?" Eddie was about to say she didn't own a pair of gloves to put on or take off but thought that information might not help the discussion.

"No, I'm sure they wouldn't." Eddie sensed that Mrs Harding had now tired of the subject of outer garments and wondered what the next topic would be, but she was unprepared for the one that came.

"My Craig's a sales representative - he travels all over the country." Mrs Harding smiled at Eddie in the manner that a hungry snake would smile at a mouse. "I think he might have a girl in Coventry. Have you ever been to Coventry, Miss Russell?" Eddie tried not to sound like a mouse.

"No, I never have."

"Why haven't you been there, Miss Russell - don't you like Coventry?" But before Eddie could reply, Mrs Harding continued. "And he's got another floozie besides. My oak tree told me that as well." Then, immediately, her smile froze as if switched off. "But I'll stop that little game, I've done it before and I'll do it again." Eddie's hand shook and she tried not to spill the tea as she placed the mug on the coffee table in front of Mrs Harding. To her relief, Mrs Harding charged off in yet another direction. "I don't sleep you know. Do you sleep, Miss Russell?" She didn't wait for a reply to this question either and ploughed on. "I don't sleep in case I have a dream. I couldn't bear a dream of him walking away from me for a younger woman." Eddie desperately tried not to show any emotion and pushed the sugar bowl towards Mrs Harding. "I don't take sugar - I use sweeteners." And as she spoke, she rummaged in her coat pocket and took out a small box. As she was still wearing gloves, she had trouble opening it. As soon as she succeeded, she gasped, looked startled, stared behind Eddie's chair at the door and pointed. "What was that noise - is someone upstairs?" Eddie instinctively turned and a soon as she did, Mrs Harding lent forward and dropped two tablets into Eddie's tea, then sat back and pretended to stir her own mug.

"No, there's no one above, this is the top floor."

"No one above... oh good, that is a relief. I must have imagined it; how silly." Mrs Harding seemed pleased all the same. "You wouldn't like someone to be above, now, would you?" Again. she didn't wait for a response. "Well, my dear, it's so nice to be able to talk to someone like you, woman to woman. Someone who understands the way of things." She sipped her tea. "You see, these days people think they can be what they want and have what they want, but that's not so. Just because you want something doesn't mean you can have it."

"No, I suppose not," Eddie replied, absent mindedly stirring several spoons of sugar into her mug. Mrs Harding then looked vacant and changed to another subject. "The other day, Craig told me he liked silk underwear, so I got some. Red it was. As soon as he saw it, he said he'd gone off that and now preferred black satin - the little imp." Eddie put her mug down and pulled her jumper around her and crossed the two sides over, hoping Mrs Harding wouldn't notice. She didn't but rambled on. "Yes, I've decided to go on a diet. Men don't like fat women, do they? It's the cabbage soup diet you know - people swear by it." She carefully drained her mug; Eddie played for time and drank hers as well. "Yes, men are so stupid..." As Mrs Harding droned on and on, Eddie struggled to concentrate, feeling unusually tired. "My Craig doesn't think I know he's being unfaithful." The statement filtered through Eddie's fog and she struggled to wake up.

"How? She asked, sounding a little drunk.

"As soon as he comes home, he rushes to take a shower, says it's to freshen up after so much driving. Rubbish! He never used to bother. It's to wash the smell of her off him. I don't need to bug his phone or put trackers in his car, I'm a woman - I've got feminine sixth sense. I don't need the next generation electronic gizmo to know what he's doing. Yes, that and the nose gets him every time." Alarms bells now rang on every floor of Eddie's mind. With all the effort she could muster, she asked:

"The nose?"

Mrs Harding warmed to her subject. "My Craig uses an unusual aftershave. It's very strong and it lingers. I've told him a hundred times he uses too much." Mrs Harding waited for Eddie to respond. She didn't, she was too busy using all her will power to get up. "That's right, my dear, I know you're one of his mistresses."


"Aftershave - your flat reeks of it." Mrs Harding didn't say more; she watched instead as Eddie struggled to get up, failed, and sank back into her chair and fell into a deep sleep. "That's right, you have a nice sleep." After waiting a few more minutes, Mrs Harding put her tea mug in her shopping bag, got up and went to the kitchen. She took a pan from the chipboard shelf, filled it with water, put it on the stove, dropped an egg in it, turned the gas on and lit it. As the water came to the boil, she put a plate on the small pine table with a knife and egg cup and spoon, salt and pepper, took butter from the fridge and placed the loaf of bread beside the plate. Looking satisfied with lunch, she set the chairs straight and glanced out of the window at the panorama of rooftops and factory chimneys, then left the room.

With a disdainful look on her face, she inspected the bedroom, found the bathroom and opened a cabinet over the basin. It was filled with dust covered bottles, tubs, tins and boxes of lotions, potions, salves, balms, creams and tablets, many out of date. She pushed them together to make space, then took the part empty box from her pocket and put it in the cabinet. They weren't sweeteners; they were Dr Lechner's Max strength sleeping tablets. She turned the box around so it read: 'Warning - may cause drowsiness.' "They'd better," she muttered and closed the door and checked around the flat. She found her repair receipt in the workshop, put it in her pocket and unwrapped the trophy and put it back on the bench. She returned to the lounge and tidied around and straightened the cushions, then, checking that Eddie was still asleep, she said to her:

"Now, Miss Russell; whether my marriage is good, bad or indifferent is beside the point; it's my marriage and trespassing on it is most unwise. Think on it, my dear." Then with some noticeable colour in her cheeks and a spring in her step, Mrs Harding returned to the kitchen, closed the window, turned the gas up a little more and blew the flame out. With a last look around, she left; quietly shut the front door and, taking her gloves off, went down the stairs humming to herself.


  1. This one gets darker and darker right to the predictable ending...the reader is pulled along helplessly knowing and dreading what they already suspect will be coming. Well done.

    1. Thank you Ron, I decided not to go for a twist ending for this one, just hoped the unhinged MC would be dark enough to carry it through. Appreciate your kind comments. T.B.

  2. I liked this quite a bit in the context that I couldn't quite see the ending coming - until of course it did. I thought that the final few paragraphs were well crafted in the sense of an increase in action and drama. Really well done!

    1. Thank you David. This is the first time I've tackled a character who is becoming unhinged. Glad you liked it, that's encouraging.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.